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Trump Is No FDR: Public Electricity Proves it

The Free Press WV

Trump is no FDR, no matter what he claims. To see why, we need look no further than his efforts to dismantle one of FDR’s greatest achievements: public investment in electric power.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sells electricity from 31 federally owned hydroelectric dams along the Columbia River Basin. This publicly-owned utility also operates three-quarters of the Northwest’s high-voltage transmission lines.

Thanks to the BPA, electric rates for Northwest families and entrepreneurs are more affordable than in many other parts of the country. And like many of the New Deal’s public-sector programs –  which successfully lifted this country out of the Great Depression, and still meet the needs of millions of Americans – the BPA is now under attack by the Trump administration.

The Trump budget specifically singles out the BPA for sale and privatization, reasoning that “Ownership of transmission assets is best carried out by the private sector where there are appropriate market and regulatory incentives.”

Selling off the BPA, the budget says, “would encourage a more efficient allocation of economic resources and mitigate risk to taxpayers.”


The New Deal’s Legacy

The BPA owes its existence to Roosevelt’s commitment to federal investment in publicly owned electric infrastructure, one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. This program contained two key elements that directly improve the lives of rural communities:

Rural Electrification

The Rural Electrification Act created a system of low-cost loans that allowed farmers and rural communities to develop member-owned rural electric cooperatives that would build transmission infrastructure. This was necessary because private energy companies were failing to meet the needs of the more geographically dispersed rural populations.

Generating Additional Supply with Publicly Owned Hydropower

In order to generate additional electricity supply, as well as for “development” of water resources, the Roosevelt Administration facilitated building a network of hydro-driven turbines and dams on many rivers. The dams and generating capacity were also tied to a series of publicly-owned electric delivery lines. This system of electricity production and distribution, known as the Power Marketing Administrations, remains in operation today generating approximately 7 percent of U. S. energy supplies.


Keeping the Power On

With respect to the BPA, a bipartisan coalition of Senators is speaking out against the proposed selloff of the publicly owned Power Marketing Administrations. My Representative in the House, Derek Kilmer (D-WA), also understands that privatizing the BPA is a bad idea, as he wrote in an email to constituents.

For decades, the Bonneville Power Administration has provided affordable and reliable power to over 12 million people and businesses. As a guy who worked professionally in economic development, I’ve seen firsthand what that’s meant to the effort to grow jobs in our region. Dismantling the BPA as the Trump administration has proposed would hike up electric bills for homeowners and local employers, and would hurt jobs in the Northwest. That’s why Democrats and Republicans have said that we intend to work for a smarter budget that isn’t built on the backs of local ratepayers.

Trump’s proposed sell off of the BPA contains some very specific, and odd, numbers. Ted Sickinger, of the Oregonian, reports that the Trump budget undervalues the BPA assets compared with industry experts by a huge number: a sale price of $4.9 billion compared with a value of $15.2 billion on the BPA balance sheet.

Energy economist Robert McCullough of Portland told Sickinger the BPA valuation in the Trump budget is “an unheard of low price” and asked the question:

“Why would they discount it below minimum market price out of the chute?” he asked. “Has the negotiation already happened? If it was any other president I wouldn’t fall into this conspiracy, but given what we’ve seen in the first 100 days, I’m far less trusting in common sense than I was when I started.”


Trump’s Budget

In looking for answers to these valid questions, it’s instructive to dig into the details of the budget proposals to understand where the President and his team are headed. it’s also important to remember that President Trump outsourced his budget to right-wing “experts” that stand behind the principles of privatizing public resources to further bolster the super-rich.

The Republican-allied Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have long called for privatizing the BPA and other public resources. The Republican Study Committee also lists BPA privatization as one of its key proposals. Given these advisors, selling off the BPA for a fraction of its value is a predictable outcome.

It’s not that the BPA and other public energy developments are perfect. Damming rivers is an environmental mess with serious impacts to fish and riparian ecology. Siting and accessibility of resources has been an historical challenge. The BPA has had an often-contentious relationship with our region’s Native American tribes. Still, despite these challenges, the BPA and other public sector infrastructure projects have successfully met the needs of many Americans.


Learning from Our Grandparents

I grew up in an agricultural family in West Missouri in the 1980s. We farmed and worked in a small-town butcher shop that my grandparents owned. My grandparents had direct interactions with “the government,” as we described it, who operated daily meat inspections. While normally not a problem, the sometimes inconsistent and arbitrary manner in which the regulations were applied was a consistent thorn in my Grandpa’s side.

As this was the 1980s, Grandpa and his sons were solid Reagan Republicans, in the small-business mode.

That said, nearly all of the members of my grandparents’ generation spoke with deep reverence about the Democrats of old. West Missouri is Harry Truman country, after all, and the memory of the New Deal and President Roosevelt’s track record for supporting rural communities was still alive and well.

As we move forward with developing the next generation of energy assets, hopefully from wind and solar production feeding an updated energy transmission system, we’ll learn from our grandparents.

We’ll embrace public infrastructure so that affordable, clean energy becomes a reality. And we’ll reject the Trump administration’s pro-privatization agenda that sells off public resources for a pittance.

~~  Bryce Oates ~~

National News

The Free Press WV

 

►  Sessions staying as attorney general despite Trump rebuke

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he has no immediate plans to resign after Donald Trump excoriated the nation’s top prosecutor for recusing himself from the probe of suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. political campaign.

“We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” Sessions said.

A former senator from Alabama, Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest and ardent supporters and became attorney general in February. A month later, he took himself out of a Justice Department-led inquiry into the election following revelations he’d failed to disclose his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

At a news conference Thursday on an unrelated matter, Sessions was asked how he could continue to serve as attorney general without the confidence of the president. His response: “We’re serving right now. The work we’re doing today is the kind of work we intend to continue.”

But in a sign of his challenges, Sessions was unable to focus public attention on the case he wanted to talk about — an international takedown of a hidden Internet marketplace that officials said was 10 times larger than the Silk Road bazaar. The news conference on that case was ended once it was clear reporters had no questions on the investigation.

Trump on Wednesday told The New York Times he never would have tapped Sessions for the job had he known a recusal was coming.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump told the newspaper. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Trump’s blistering rebuke underscored his continuing fury with Sessions more than four months after the recusal and came during an interview in which he also lashed out at Robert Mueller, the special counsel now leading the federal probe; James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired; Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director who replaced Comey; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed the special counsel.

Trump’s denouncement reflected a long-simmering frustration with one of his staunchest allies, but was not a calculated attempt to force Sessions from the Cabinet, according to two Trump advisers. For weeks, the president has seethed about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during last year’s election.

The White House notably made no effort to walk back Trump’s comments in the interview or display confidence in the attorney general. Instead, the two Trump advisers acknowledged that the president’s public comments largely reflected what they have heard him say about Sessions privately.

The advisers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the president’s thinking. The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s remarks.

Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, stepped away from the Russia probe following revelations that he had failed to disclose meetings with the Kremlin’s ambassador to the U.S. His decision was made without consulting with the president and essentially paved the way for the appointment of Mueller as special counsel. Mueller’s investigation, along with separate congressional probes, has overshadowed much of Trump’s agenda and ensnared several of his associates, including son Donald Trump Jr. and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Despite his protest to the contrary, Trump continues to heavily watch cable news coverage of the Russia investigations. At times he has told allies he’s convinced that the White House has turned the corner and the controversy will soon be behind him. But at other points, he has expressed fears that it will dog him for his entire time in office.

Few developments in the snowballing controversy have irked Trump more than Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigations. The advisers said the president viewed the move as an act of disloyalty — arguably the most grievous offense in the president’s mind — and was angry that Sessions did not consult with him ahead of time.

At one point, Sessions privately told Trump he was willing to resign his post, but the president did not accept the offer. One adviser said the president’s comments to the Times did not reflect any new desire by Trump to fire Sessions, though they acknowledged that the attorney general’s response to the public denigration was less certain.

Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump during the presidential campaign, and the two bonded over their hard-line immigration views. Some of Sessions’ long-serving advisers are now working alongside the president in the West Wing, including senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who was one of the architects of Trump’s controversial travel ban.

A potential Sessions resignation could throw Mueller’s investigation into a state of uncertainty. Trump would nominate a replacement and could seek assurances that his pick would not recuse himself from the investigations.

Trump raised the prospect of firing Mueller in his interview with the Times, suggesting he had damaging information on the former FBI director. The president said Mueller’s selection for the job was a conflict of interest because Trump had spoken with him about returning to the FBI after the firing of James Comey in May.

“There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point,” Trump said.

He lobbed similar conflict of interest charges at acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also accused Comey of briefing him on a dossier of unverified, incriminating information in an effort to gain leverage over the soon-to-be president.

The president has repeatedly told those close to him that he fears there is a movement underway, fueled in part by Comey, Rosenstein and potentially Mueller, to discredit his presidency. He has denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia during the election, though that assertion has been challenged by his son’s acknowledgment that he accepted a meeting that was billed as part of the Russian government’s efforts to help the Republican win the election.


►  Something old: Historic bank’s beauty lures brides-to-be

The Second Bank of the United States might not be Philadelphia’s top tourist draw, having to compete with neighbors like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, but its regal architecture is luring a whole different type of visitor: wedding photographers and soon-to-be brides and grooms.

The Greek Revival-style bank is one of the most popular places for wedding photos in the city, so much so that the National Park Service set up a permit office to accommodate wedding photo shoot requests.

Kaitlyn Daly, 25, of Vineland, New Jersey, thought the spot was perfect for her February wedding photos. But she had to convince her husband, Michael Daly, 29, who was pushing for pictures atop the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, which Sylvester Stallone bounded up in the “Rocky” movies.

“My husband is a huge Rocky fan,” Daly said. “He was like ‘we have to, we have to get a photo on the Rocky steps,’ and I was not sold on the idea.”

She came upon the bank while researching popular locations for wedding photo shoots, and her husband was persuaded.

“It’s a beautiful piece of history in Philly,” she said.

The Second Bank of the U.S. served as the nation’s financial hub, beginning in 1816 under a 20-year charter. It was designed by architect William Strickland, who based the design on the Parthenon. Construction finished around 1824.

It now houses the “People of Independence” exhibit, a collection of over 150 portraits of 18th and 19th-century leaders, including the country’s earliest presidents. It’s a staid counterpoint to the bustle and excitement of the portraits being taken outside.

Independence National Historical Park issued over a dozen wedding shoot permits at the bank in June, its busiest month for wedding shoots and about 400 permits in 2016, according to park ranger Adam Duncan. But the number is likely much higher because not all couples apply for a permit.

“Some people aren’t aware that it is a part of the national park here,” Duncan said.

On a recent Saturday, wedding parties filed onto the lawn of the south facade awaiting their photo op, while colonial re-enactors marched nearby, accompanied by fife and drum, and groups of tourists milled about.

Melissa Andresko, 41, in a blush pink Maggie Sottero gown and her husband Ross Mabon, 43, a native of Scotland wearing a traditional kilt, posed on the steps as their photographer snapped away.

The couple, who now live in Allentown, Pennsylvania, set out to find a location that matched their vintage Hollywood glam-themed wedding.

The bank “just took our breath away,” Andresko said.


►  Texas A&M cites business conflict in removing provost

Texas A&M has removed a provost and executive vice president from her post after an audit found “significant” conflicts of interest after university contracts were awarded to a business run by her spouse.

Documents obtained by The Eagle newspaper show in the seven years that Provost Karan Watson held her post, her spouse — who owns a conflict-resolution firm — received nearly $440,000 for university training services. That included almost $10,000 paid by the provost’s office and more than $100,000 from the Office of Diversity, which reports to the provost.

Watson says she tried to avoid violating any university policy and regularly reported her spouse’s work on disclosure forms.

Watson had already announced her retirement, but was planning to remain until her replacement arrived.


►  17 of 200 results Download Assets Justices allow strict refugee ban but say grandparents OK

The Supreme Court says the Trump administration can strictly enforce its ban on refugees, but at the same time is leaving in place a weakened travel ban that includes grandparents among relatives who can help visitors from six mostly Muslim countries get into the U.S.

The justices acted Wednesday on the administration’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling last week. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ordered the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States. Watson also vastly expanded the family relations that refugees and visitors can use to get into the country.

The high court blocked Watson’s order as it applies to refugees for now, but not the expanded list of relatives. The justices said the federal appeals court in San Francisco should now consider the appeal. It’s not clear how quickly that will happen.

In the meantime, though, up to 24,000 refugees who already have been assigned to a charity or religious organization in the U.S. will not be able to use that connection to get into the country.

“This ruling jeopardizes the safety of thousands of people across the world including vulnerable families fleeing war and violence,“ said Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA’s senior director of campaigns.

That part of the court’s ruling was a victory for Donald Trump, who rolled out a first ban on travelers and refugees after just a week in office, prompting a legal fight that has raged ever since.

But the Supreme Court also denied the administration’s request to clarify its ruling last month that allowed the administration to partially reinstate a 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees from anywhere in the world.

The court’s ruling exempted a large swath of refugees and travelers with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or an entity in the U.S. The justices did not define those relationships but said they could include a close relative, a job offer or admission to a college or university.

Watson’s order added grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins to a list that already included a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling in the U.S. The expanded list of relatives remains in effect, and the State Department already has instructed diplomats to use the broader list when considering visa applicants from the six countries.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said the court’s order Wednesday “confirms we were right to say that the Trump administration over-reached in trying to unilaterally keep families apart from each other.“

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have blocked Watson’s order in its entirety. Those same three justices said last month they would have allowed the Trump travel ban to take full effect.

Also on Wednesday, the court scheduled argument over the travel ban for October 10, though the 90-day pause will have expired by then.


►  California farm region plagued by dirty air looks to Trump

California’s vast San Joaquin Valley, the country’s most productive farming region, is engulfed by some of the nation’s dirtiest skies, forcing the state’s largest air district to spend more than $40 billion in the past quarter-century to enforce hundreds of stringent pollution rules.

The investment has steadily driven down the number of days with unhealthy air — but on hot, windless days, a brown haze still hangs overhead, sending wheezing people with tight chests to emergency rooms and hundreds each year to an early grave.

Despite the air district’s efforts, the valley’s air still violates federal standards for sooty pollution that comes from industry, businesses and vehicles.

In California, where Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is an outspoken leader in the global fight against climate change, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District now is waging a very public campaign against enforcement of the landmark U.S. Clean Air Act that includes ever-tightening air quality standards the district says it cannot meet.

Officials in the relatively conservative region have seized upon the election of Donald Trump, who won the popular vote in half of the district’s eight counties in November — a far stronger performance than in most of California.

The district’s website prominently displays a report titled “Presidential Transition White Paper” that the director provided to the incoming Trump administration in calling for the elimination of the federal Air Act’s “costly bureaucratic red tape.”

District Executive Director Seyed Sadredin also reached out to Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s U.S. House majority leader. And he testified in Washington for a bill co-authored by McCarthy that would limit new air standards under the Air Act to once every 10 years, instead of five.

“Regulators in Washington have issued blanket regulations that would unfairly impact the Central Valley’s unique air challenges,” McCarthy said in a statement.

The San Joaquin Valley, with more than 4 million residents, produces nearly half the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, annually generating $47 billion.

Its bad air is the byproduct of booming farms, oil production, two major highways, a web of rail lines — and the valley’s bowl-shaped geography. The Sierra Nevada and two other mountain ranges wall in the 250-mile-long (400-kilometer-long) valley.

The pollution is aggravated in winter when residents burn wood in fireplaces. In the blistering summer, an atmospheric lid traps haze, sometimes darkened by mountain forest fires.

This summer, the San Joaquin Valley must report how it will meet a federal standard for fine particulate matter — harmful air pollution from dust, soot, smoke or chemical reactions.

Sadredin says there’s no way the district can meet the deadline. He contends the district could be subject to billions of dollars in annual penalties if it fails to comply within three years. At his request, language was inserted into McCarthy’s bill that would protect the district from sanctions for vehicle pollution, which he says is beyond his authority to control.

Sadredin said he hopes that with a Republican-dominated Congress and Trump’s election, regulators will be more sensitive to his district’s plight than during the Obama administration. Already, he said, officials at the Environment Protection Agency, now headed by business-friendly former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have shown a “greater willingness to be cooperative.”

EPA officials said they have never exacted strict penalties on a district and that harsh action would kick in only if a district refused to file an air cleanup plan or submitted a grossly insufficient one.

Elizabeth Adams, acting director of the EPA’s regional air division, said she’ll work with the air district to help meet requirements. “That’s the ultimate goal for all our agencies,” she said. “It’s important for people to breathe clean air.”

On the worst days, Natalie Sua keeps her six children inside their Fresno home, especially two sons with asthma. They’d rather be roughhousing on their backyard trampoline, but the risks are too high.

When her 11-year-old, Javier, was a preschooler, she found him lying on the sofa one night, struggling for breath.

Sua rushed the boy to the emergency room, where she says a doctor concluded the bad air and a chest cold triggered an asthma attack that nearly shut down his airway.

“Oh, my gosh. If it would have closed up all the way, I don’t even know what would have happened,” Sua said.

Roughly 1,200 people each year die prematurely from the valley’s polluted air, the California Air Resources Control Board says.

The pollution is strongly linked to increased emergency room visits for asthma, especially in children, according to a 2011 California State University, Fresno study funded by the valley air district.

Since 2002, the district has helped drive down the number of unhealthy days by 80 percent, an Associated Press review found. In Fresno County, 25 unhealthy air warnings were issued last year, and 15 were issued in Bakersfield and other parts of Kern County.

Fresno, with about 500,000 residents, and Bakersfield, with 370,000, were among the three worst cities nationwide in the American Lung Association’s annual report on unhealthy air.

Environmentalists accuse the San Joaquin Valley district of giving in to business interests and sounding alarms about looming sanctions, rather than making the air healthier.

“If he’s unable to clean up the air for the people in the valley with the tools he has, then he ought to be lobbying for more authority to be more strict,” said Brent Newell, legal director for the nonprofit Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “He’s going the other direction.”

While the district resists federal rules, officials in famously hazy Los Angeles are working to meet the standards for particulate matter and don’t anticipate penalties, said Sam Atwood, a South Coast Air Quality Management District spokesman.

The valley air district’s authority mainly is limited to stationary pollution sources such as oil refineries, power plants and food processors, as well as dispersed sources such as fireplaces, commercial barbecues and road paving.

But Sadredin says he has no direct control over mobile sources such as trucks and trains hauling produce. He has asked the EPA to crack down on them with stricter rules .

Freight trains can be heard passing day and night near Sua’s Fresno home, where her two asthmatic sons stay cooped up inside with their four siblings on bad air days.

“I wish I could just get up and relocate, but it’s kind of hard,” she said. “You just have to deal with it.”


►  Tribe wants centuries-old remains found in Idaho

A tribe says it will seek possession of human bones found protruding from an Idaho badger hole after tests determined they weren’t from modern day homicide victims but belonged to people who lived five centuries ago.

Shoshone-Paiute Tribe Chairman Ted Howard said Thursday that Shoshones have occupied the southwestern Idaho area for thousands of years and the well-preserved bones of a young adult and a 10- to 15-year-old should be returned to the tribe for proper burial.

Law enforcement officials initially treated the fluke finding in high desert sagebrush in April as a double homicide until announcing Wednesday that carbon dating determined the bones to be hundreds of years old.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it’s storing the remains in a secure federal facility in Boise.


►  Honorably discharged veterans will soon get to shop tax-free

Hey veterans, you can soon shop tax free.

Starting later this year, all honorably discharged veterans, no matter their branch of service, will be eligible to shop tax-free online at the Army & Air Force Exchange Service with the same discounts they enjoyed on base while in the military. It’s the latest way in which the organization is trying to keep its customers as the armed forces shrink and airmen and soldiers buy more for delivery.

Adding 13 million potential new customers will give extra ammunition to the group that runs the stores on U.S. Army and Air Force bases worldwide as it fights Amazon and other retailers for veterans’ online shopping dollars.

Since hiring its first civilian CEO five years ago, the Exchange has upgraded the brands at base stores to include items like Disney toys, Michael Kors fashions and other top names. Like private stores, it’s also imposed tighter cost controls, reduced the number of employees and improved people’s experience on the website.

“The intent is to really beat Amazon at their game because we have locations literally on the installations,” said CEO Tom Shull. “We’re leaning toward not just ship-from-store but pick-up-from-store and eventually deliver-from-store.”

The Exchange is adding shipping centers within its stores to allow it to send products directly from those locations more cheaply and quickly. Twenty-six stores now ship orders, and that will expand to 55 by the end of the year.

Within the next three years, Shull said the goal is to deliver something on base within two hours of when it is ordered. That’s possible partly because the Exchanges are already on base, cleared by security.

The Exchange delivers most orders on the second day now. Shull said shipping from stores will make a big difference in regions around bases, which are often in more rural areas.

Expanding online shopping to all honorably discharged veterans is expected to add about $200 million annually within three years to the $8.3 billion in sales the Exchanges generated last year.

Adding those shoppers, what Shull called “the foundation of our growth,” is critical to help offset the 13 percent decline in the number of active-duty Army and Air Force soldiers since 2011 when the Exchange generated $10.3 billion revenue.

“It’s a modest benefit, but it can save you thousands of dollars a year,” said Shull, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who served in the Army for a decade before starting a retail career at chains including Macy’s.

Former Marine Forrest Cornelius was among the first to sign up at the verification website when it launched in June, and got a chance to start shopping early to test it out. The 51-year-old was impressed by the site and a deal he found on Ray-Ban sunglasses.

“The biggest thing is price. They’re always going to be a little bit cheaper,” said Cornelius, who lives in Dallas.

But competing on price in today’s retail environment is increasingly difficult, said Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough. Just look at how much trouble Walmart has competing with Amazon, he said, because Walmart has the fixed costs associated with its stores.

“To think you’re going to compete on price, you’re going to have a hard time there,” he said.

Under Shull’s leadership, the Exchange stores have traded their industrial feel and reliance on off-brand merchandise for a more modern look featuring well-known labels.

Two-thirds of the main Exchange store at Offutt Air Force Base resembles any department store, with prominent displays of name-brand makeup, Nike fitness gear and Carter’s clothes for kids. The rest is filled with the kind of electronics, appliances, housewares and toys found at Walmart or Sears, with major brands in every section.

The Exchanges don’t pay rent for their military base locations, and the government transports some of their supplies and goods to far-flung locations, but otherwise they operate mostly like an independent retailer. Roughly two-thirds of the employees are family members of soldiers or airmen.

The Exchange, which is part of the Defense Department, reported earnings of $384 million last year. That’s a sharp contrast from five years ago when Shull arrived to projections of $180 million in losses.

Of last year’s profit, $225 million was returned to the defense department to help pay for quality-of-life programs on bases like child development and fitness centers. Besides the main stores, the Exchanges also operate more than 70 movie theaters and bring in franchise restaurants and other vendors for the shopping malls it operates on bases.

Shull feels those are good reasons for the new online shopping privileges to draw veterans to do their shopping there.

“Veterans value the cost savings and what they can do to support the military,” he said.


►  Dakota Access developer’s new pipeline rankling regulators

The company that developed the Dakota Access oil pipeline is entangled in another fight, this time in Ohio where work on its multi-state natural gas pipeline has wrecked wetlands, flooded farm fields and flattened a 170-year-old farmhouse.

The federal commission that oversees gas pipelines told Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners last week to clean up its mess before it will allow the Rover Pipeline to flow. New drilling on unfinished sections also remains halted after 2 million gallons (7.6 million liters) of drilling mud seeped into a wetland in the spring.

While the $4.2 billion pipeline that will carry gas from Appalachian shale fields to Canada, and states in the Midwest and Gulf Coast, hasn’t been besieged by protests that erupted in North Dakota, opponents say the spills and snags highlight the risks that come with building huge pipelines needed for growing the natural gas and oil industries.

Much of the 700-mile (1,126-kilometer) Rover Pipeline is being built across Ohio and will extend into Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Ohio’s environmental regulators and landowners say construction crews have been laying pipe at warp speed since March to meet the company’s ambitious plan of finishing the first phase this month and the entire project by November.

“As soon as they started, they began having problems,” said Craig Butler, director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s just a function of them moving too quickly, trying to meet a deadline and cutting corners.”

The state EPA has proposed nearly $1 million in fines over violations that include allowing drilling mud to spill into wetlands, ponds and streams along with pumping storm water into streams and fields. Most of the violations were in March and April but some problems continue.

Just last week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Energy Transfer Partners to clean up and restore 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of wetlands coated with more than a foot (30 centimeters) of drilling mud, remove mud contaminated with diesel fuel from two quarries and monitor water wells near those sites.

The federal agency is continuing to investigate and could issue more orders. It also accused the company of not being truthful about its intention to demolish a 170-year-old farmhouse that stood in the pipeline’s path.

Energy Transfer Partners later agreed to pay $3.8 million to Ohio’s historic preservation efforts for knocking down the house last year.

The company now is working to comply with regulators on the cleanup orders, said spokeswoman Alexis Daniel. But doing that will delay completing the pipeline’s first phase until later this summer, she said Wednesday.

“Our pipelines are always constructed to the highest standards, so I would unequivocally deny any assertion to the contrary,” Daniels said.

In Michigan, the state’s two U.S. senators want federal regulators to pause construction and consider moving the path of the pipeline away from a popular lake and summer camp for children.

Dozens of Ohio farmers have complained that their fields have been flooded after heavy rains by crews pumping storm water out of open trenches. Some have asked a federal judge to tell the company to stop doing it, arguing it violates their land agreements.

Those agreements compensate the owners for putting the pipeline on their land, but farmers say it doesn’t give the company the right to flood their adjacent land. Energy Transfer Partners said it has been dealing with unprecedented rainfall and is trying to avoid and minimize impact on crops.

Doug Phenicie, whose family farms about 1,800 acres (728 hectares) near New Washington in northern Ohio, said he watched this spring as a bulldozer pushed standing water onto a neighbor’s field. “It looked like waves at the ocean,” he said.

A muddy, brown stream rippled across his soybean field last week following another big storm as crews pumped out more water. It’s become a common sight, he said.

The concern for farmers is that not only will some of this year’s crop be ruined, but that it will be hurt for years to come in areas where the floodwaters have coated the ground with heavy clay and the heavy equipment has packed down the soil.

They’ve been told that the pipeline company will fix the fields and broken drainage tiles and reimburse farmers for future losses, Phenicie said, but he’s not convinced.

“Who’s going to answer the phone when they’re gone?” he said.

Mulvaney’s MAGAnomics Mix of Groundhog Day and Flat Out Lies

The Free Press WV

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had a Wall Street Journal column highlighting the benefits of “MAGAnomics.” The piece can best be described as a combination of Groundhog Day and outright lies.

In terms of Groundhog Day, we have actually tried MAGAnomics twice before and it didn’t work. We had huge cuts in taxes and regulation under both President Reagan and George W. Bush. In neither case, was there any huge uptick in growth and investment. In fact, the Bush years were striking for the weak growth in the economy and especially the labor market. We saw what was at the time the longest period without net job growth since the Great Depression. And of course, his policy of giving finance free rein gave us the housing bubble and the Great Recession.

The story of the 1980s was somewhat better but hardly follows the MAGAnomics script. The economy did bounce back in 1983, following a steep recession in 1981–1982. That is generally what economies do following steep recessions that were not caused by collapsed asset bubbles. Furthermore, the bounceback was based on increased consumption, not investment as the MAGAnomics folks claim. In fact, investment in the late 1980s fell to extraordinarily low levels. It is also worth pointing out that following both tax cuts, the deficit exploded, just as conventional economics predicts.

By contrast, Clinton raised taxes in 1993 and the economy subsequently soared. It would be silly to attribute the strong growth of the 1990s to the Clinton tax increase; other factors like an IT driven productivity boom and the stock bubble were the key factors, but obviously, the tax increase did not prevent strong growth.

The outright lies part stem from the comparison to prior periods’ growth rates. Mulvaney notes that the 2.0 percent growth rate projected for the next decade is markedly lower than the 3.5 percent rate that we had seen for most of the post-World War II era.This comparison doesn’t make sense.

We are now seeing very slow labor force growth due to the retirement of the baby boom cohort and the fact that the secular rise in the female labor force participation rate is largely at an end. MAGAnomics can do nothing about either of these facts. Slower labor force growth translates into slower overall growth.

Mulvaney also complains about government benefits keeping people from working. The idea that large numbers of people aren’t working because of the generosity of welfare benefits shows a startling degree of ignorance. The United States has the least generous welfare state of any wealthy country, yet we also have among the lowest labor force participation rates. The idea that we will get any substantial boost to the labor force from gutting benefits further is absurd on its face.

Mulvaney apparently missed the fact that energy prices have plummeted in the last three years. Oil had been over $100 a barrel, today it is less than $50. While it is always possible that it could fall still further, any boost to the economy from further declines will be trivial compared to what we have seen already. It would be amazing if Mulvaney was ignorant of the recent path in energy prices.

In short, there is nothing here at all. Mulvaney has given us absolutely zero reason that Trump’s policies will lead to anything other than larger deficits, fewer people with health care, more dangerous workplaces, and a dirtier environment.

~~  Dean Baker ~~

Center for Economic and Policy Research

National News

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►  Q&A: How Trump could help sink Obama health law

Health insurance markets created by the Affordable Care Act may not be on the verge of collapse, but Donald Trump could nudge them in that direction by following through on his plan to let the Obama-era law fail.

Simply raising the threat of failure makes already-skittish insurers more nervous, and could lead them to stop selling coverage in some areas. And there are a few moves the administration could make that would further destabilize markets. That includes withholding subsidy payments to insurers that the law established or declining to enforce a mandate requiring people to buy coverage.

“This is actively trying to provoke failure,” said Sheryl Skolnick, a Mizuho Securities USA analyst who follows the insurance industry. “This is a bizarre policy outcome.”

Customers looking to buy insurance in the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces have seen prices rise and choices dwindle in recent years, and that trend looks set to continue. That has led to claims by some Republicans that the law is collapsing. After a Republican push to dismantle the Affordable Care Act fell apart in the Senate this week, Trump took to Twitter to tell Americans he has always said, “Let ‘ObamaCare’ fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan.”

Health policy experts say the market isn’t failing, even if it is wobbly. But there are a few things the administration can do that would make insurers even more likely to raise prices or pull out of markets altogether.

WHAT ARE THE SUBSIDY PAYMENTS?

Money paid to insurers by the federal government to help consumers with low incomes cover out-of-pocket expenses like deductibles and copayments. They are separate from income-based tax credits that help people afford coverage, the monthly expense known as the premium.

The Trump administration can withhold those subsidy payments to insurers, the result of a ruling by a federal judge in a case filed by Republicans against the Obama Administration. The ruling is on hold. White House officials said Wednesday the subsidies will be paid this month, but spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the status is “undetermined beyond that.” Trump has suggested withholding the money to force Democrats to negotiate.

WHAT IF THE SUBSIDIES GO AWAY?

Premiums for insurance on the exchanges could soar.

Insurance companies would still be forced to keep customer out-of-pocket costs like deductibles at the same level whether they get a subsidy from the federal government to help offset that or not. In order to make up that shortfall, they would likely charge far higher premiums.

Insurance regulators in several states are asking companies to file two sets of rates for next year, one assuming these payments do not return, and one assuming that they do. Ana Gupte, an analysts at Leerink, surveyed several states and found that insurers are asking for price hikes of around 36 percent when they assume the subsidies go away and about 18 percent if they stay.

WHAT IS THE MANDATE?

The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to buy health coverage or face a fine. It’s one of the most unpopular elements of the law, but insurers need it to compel healthy people to sign up for their coverage. Like with all insurance, the people who buy insurance but don’t use it help pay for the people who suffer a problem and need help.

WHAT CAN THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DO?

Not enforce the requirement.

The mandate in the current law failed to compel everyone to buy coverage, but insurers say it helped. Healthy customers might not be as motivated to sign up if the threat of a fine goes away, and that would push prices up for everyone and further destabilize the market.

Insurers also are concerned about whether the administration will promote enrollment in the plans as the sign-up period for 2018 coverage approaches this fall. The Obama administration heavily advertised HealthCare.gov, but those promotions were scaled back after Trump took office in January.

HOW WILL INSURERS RESPOND TO ALL THIS UNCERTAINTY?

“Further inaction at the federal level will lead to higher premiums, fewer consumer options, and, in some places, collapsing markets,” leaders of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said in a letter sent Wednesday to Senate leaders.

Most insurers who sold coverage on the exchanges for this year have made preliminary plans to return in 2018. Many, especially non-profit Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans, say they are hesitant to abandon markets, especially if they have been there for decades. But insurers have until late September to decide for sure.


►  Rural hospitals face uncertainty with health care proposals

Kathy Holbrook was at home one night last year when she started having chest pains, so the 63-year-old former office manager drove to a hospital near her home in the eastern Kentucky mountains.

“I am a Christian lady, so I believe in the power of prayer and I was just praying to God to give me the strength to get there,” she said.

She made it, and doctors treated her for a small blockage in her heart. Because Holbrook has Medicaid, the hospital got paid for its services, helping it keep its doors open and preventing Holbrook from a more perilous drive to the next nearest hospital more than 30 miles away.

Millions of Americans got health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid programs in 31 states under the Affordable Care Act. Though efforts in Congress to overhaul the law collapsed, many remain nervous as some Republicans, including Donald Trump, say they haven’t given up on repealing the law.

People who work at hundreds of rural hospitals are also watching closely. Those hospitals have struggling budgets that were propped up by the massive influx of poor people who gained taxpayer-funded health insurance.

The transformation has been especially dramatic in Kentucky, where rural hospitals are not just a lifeline for patients who may not have the means to travel far for the help they need. They also sustain local economies, providing jobs and services that people there have come to see as indispensable in some of the nation’s poorest and most isolated communities.

“It’s been a financial buoy for them to help keep them afloat,” said Steve Williams, the former CEO of Norton Healthcare who now is an adviser for the 22-bed Livingston Hospital in Salem, Kentucky. “The reality is there are 400,000 people on the rolls in Kentucky that weren’t there, and a lot of them (are) rural.”

Just two years ago, 15 of Kentucky’s 65 rural hospitals were in danger of closing. Since then, more than 440,000 Kentuckians — nearly 10 percent of the state’s population — got health coverage through Medicaid after the state chose to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, Kentucky hospitals provided $2.4 billion worth of “uncompensated care.” Three years later, it was $786 million, a 67 percent drop.

“It has helped them tremendously,” said Mike Rust, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Hospital Association.

But the Medicaid expansion could disappear under Republican proposals. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates as many as 23 million Americans could lose their health insurance under a House-approved bill. Despite Republicans’ failure so far to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Rust said hospitals are still “very nervous.”

“There is still a lot of uncertainty going on with what’s going to come out of Washington,” he said.

Rural hospitals in states that chose to expand Medicaid would be the most vulnerable. An analysis by The Commonwealth Fund, a health care advocacy group, showed the uncompensated care costs could rise 123 percent for those hospitals by 2026. In six states — California, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — the costs could rise more than 200 percent. Of the top 10 counties in the country with the highest percentage of adults relying on Medicaid, six are in Kentucky.

“An increase of uncompensated care of this level may not be sustainable for these vulnerable hospitals,” according to the report.

Nationwide, 81 of the more than 1,800 rural hospitals in America have closed since 2010, according to research from the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. They include 12 closures in Texas, the most of any state.

While a closed hospital would be bad for doctors and patients, it would also do disproportionate damage to delicate rural economies where the local hospital is often one of the largest employers along with the public school system.

When Parkway Regional Medical Center in Fulton, Kentucky, closed in 2015, the city lost $200,000 in tax revenue, or about 8 percent of its annual budget. City leaders responded by raising a tax on alcoholic beverages so they could continue to fund their police department.

“It had a devastating effect on our community,” Fulton City Manager Cubb Stokes said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, noted that rural hospitals “are in trouble already,” adding to the challenges of crafting a health care bill. He said his “principle concern is the collapsing private health insurance market.” Last month, insurance regulators in Kentucky announced individual rates could increase by as much as 34 percent next year.

“That’s the immediate emergency,” McConnell said.

Costs are rising for taxpayers, too. The Medicaid expansion is expected to cost Kentucky nearly $300 million by 2020, adding pressure to a state budget already stressed by a multi-billion public pension debt. That’s why Ralph Alvarado, a Republican state senator and an emergency room doctor, supports the GOP health care bill. He said if states have more authority over Medicaid spending, they can design a program to protect rural hospitals.

“Give us the power to do what we think is best,” Alvarado said. “The one size fits all from the feds doesn’t work.”

Some Kentuckians say the stakes are too high to take a chance on anything that could hurt local hospitals. Jonathan Nickell, a 29-year-old machinist from Mount Sterling, recently stood outside the St. Joseph Mount Sterling hospital while his wife was having surgery. He voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election, but said he would not support him anymore if the Medicaid expansion were to disappear.

“Most people live off Medicaid. If they don’t have that, they don’t have nothing,” he said. “You will be sending them to their deathbeds.”


►  Trump exhorts Senate anew to rid U.S. of Obamacare

Lecturing fellow Republicans, Donald Trump summoned GOP senators to the White House Wednesday and told them face-to-face they must not leave town for their August recess without sending him an “Obamacare” repeal bill to sign. Senators responded by vowing to revive legislative efforts left for dead twice already this week.

Success was far from assured, but Trump declared “I’m ready to act,” putting the responsibility on Republican lawmakers, not himself. During last year’s presidential campaign he had declared repeatedly it would be “so easy” to get rid of the Obama law.

The developments Wednesday came just a day after the latest GOP health care plan collapsed in the Senate, leading Trump himself to say it was time to simply let President Barack Obama’s health care law fail. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had indicated he was prepared to stick a fork in the Republican bill and move on to other issues including overhauling the tax code.

But in an apparent change of heart, in keeping with his erratic engagement on the issue, Trump pressured McConnell to delay the key vote until next week, and he invited Republican senators to the White House for lunch.

There, with the cameras rolling in the State Dining Room, Trump spoke at length as he cajoled, scolded and issued veiled threats to his fellow Republicans, all aimed at wringing a health care bill out of a divided caucus that’s been unable to produce one so far.

“For seven years you promised the American people that you would repeal Obamacare. People are hurting. Inaction is not an option and frankly I don’t think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan,” he said.

Seated next to Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections, Trump remarked: “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” as Heller gave a strained grin.

It was not clear that the White House lunch would change the calculus in the Senate, where McConnell has failed repeatedly to come up with a bill that can satisfy both conservatives and moderates in his Republican conference. Two different versions of repeal-and-replace legislation fell short of votes before coming to the floor, pushing him to announce Monday night that he would retreat to a repeal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in office.

But that bill, too, died a premature death as three GOP senators announced their opposition on Tuesday, one more than McConnell can lose in the closely divided Senate. And at the White House lunch, the discussion was not simply about repealing “Obamacare” but also how to replace it as Republicans said that after seven years of promises, they could not let their efforts die without one last fight.

“This is more than just a health care debate,” said Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas as he left the meeting. “It really means, can we come together as a conference, can we come together as a Republican Party, can we come together on a signature piece of legislation we’ve talked about for seven years.

“If we don’t, I think it’s pretty clear the political consequences are staring us right in the face,” Roberts added.

The administration scheduled a late-night meeting at the Capitol with Pence and others for undecided senators to air their concerns.

McConnell announced that the Senate would vote next week to open debate, and “I have every expectation that we will be able to get on the bill” — although no one seemed quite sure what bill it will be.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who on Tuesday announced she would vote “no” on the “motion to proceed” to the repeal-only bill, demurred when asked after Wednesday’s lunch whether she remains “no,” telling reporters: “We don’t know what the motion to proceed is for all certainty. ... I think that there’s going to be a lot more discussion before there’s a motion to proceed.”

Trump’s sudden re-resolve to get “Obamacare” repeal-and-replace passed came after he’s been on all sides of the issue in a whiplash-inducing series of remarks over recent days and weeks, supporting repeal and replace, straight repeal, and finally doing nothing so “we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” as he declared on Tuesday.

He’s also failed to use his “bully pulpit” to sell the GOP legislation to the public, something he promised senators he would remedy, according to Roberts.

Yet for all the determined rhetoric Wednesday, the basic divisions haven’t changed in the Senate, where conservatives like Rand Paul of Kentucky want legislation that fully repeals the Obama law while moderates like Susan Collins of Maine want something incompatible with that, a more generous bill that provides for Americans including those who gained Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“We don’t have any delusions about the fact that this is going to be very hard,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican. “And we still have members who are not there yet.”


►  Cigarette consolidation: British American wins Reynolds

The consolidation of Big Tobacco companies looking as much to nicotine replacements and e-cigarettes for revenues as traditional smokes continued Wednesday with what will become the world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company.

Shareholders approved British American Tobacco taking over Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc., the latest in a string of mergers that has seen the number of cigarette companies shrink this century.

The deal gives London-based BAT greater access to the U.S. market, where cigarette prices and taxes are low relative to consumer incomes, but the customer base is shrinking. The combined company gains strength to increase sales in developing countries, where health regulations aren’t as strict. The combination also improves the sales push of vapor and nicotine replacement products and development of other new products.

“We look forward to welcoming Reynolds group employees to British American Tobacco and to realising the benefits of operating these two great companies as one stronger, global tobacco and Next Generation Products business,” BAT Chief Executive Nicandro Durante said in a prepared statement.

Here’s a look at the companies and the takeover:

THE BRANDS

BAT sells Dunhill, Rothmans, Kent, Benson & Hedges and Lucky Strike cigarettes. The company said its cigarettes reach about 12 percent of the world’s 1 billion smokers. The company also sells roll-your-own cut tobacco, snus, cigars, and vapor products.

Reynolds is the second-largest U.S. cigarette company and owns the Camel and Pall Mall cigarette brands. Reynolds estimates that about half of its consolidated net sales last year were from menthol cigarettes, driven by segment-leader Newport. The company also sells smokeless tobacco, Natural American Spirit cigarettes and nicotine replacement products.

ORIGIN STORIES

British-American Tobacco was established in 1902 and spread across the former British Empire including India and East Africa.

Reynolds traces its roots to 1875, when Richard Joshua Reynolds started a chewing tobacco company in the city that has been its headquarters since. The takeover marks an end for what became R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, which stamped its home state of North Carolina as a center during a bygone era of smoking’s popularity through its Winston and Salem brands.

The company’s links with British American Tobacco date to 2004, when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. merged with BAT’s Brown & Williamson unit, creating Reynolds American. The two companies already have a technology-sharing agreement in the development of electronic cigarettes.

THE IMPACT

BAT projects saving at least $400 million a year through cost-cutting of corporate operations, increased purchasing power, and other supply-chain efficiencies. BAT also expects to add about $38 billion of debt with the acquisition on top of nearly $22 billion at the end of last year, the company said in a securities filing last month.

THE DEAL

Shareholders of both companies approved BAT buying the 57.8 percent of Reynolds it does not already own. The purchase is expected to become effective next week. Each Reynolds share will convert to $29.44 in cash and 0.5260 BAT shares.

The $49 billion cash-and-stock offer announced in January valued each Reynolds share at $59.64, up from $56.50 offered in October. The price is nearly 40 percent above the value of Reynolds shares before the October offer, BAT said in a disclosure to U.S. securities regulators.


►  Attorneys general: Keep protections for sex assault victims

Attorneys general from Pennsylvania, New Mexico and more than a dozen other states are urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to keep in place protections for victims of sexual assault on college campuses.

The attorneys on Wednesday sent a letter to DeVos voicing their concerns about reports that suggest her office is preparing to roll back guidance from President Barack Obama’s era for stepped-up investigations of sexual assault at universities and colleges across the country.

DeVos said last week that the current system isn’t working. While allegations of sexual assault can’t be dismissed, she said, a system without due process ultimately will serve no one.

The debate continues to percolate following remarks made by the Education Department’s top civil rights official, Candice Jackson, who said the vast majority of sexual assault claims resulted from both parties having been drunk. Jackson has repeatedly apologized for her comments.

In their letter, the attorneys general say they see the effects sexual assault has on victims, the educational institutions themselves and the communities.

“We’re calling on Secretary DeVos to listen to law enforcement and trust survivors of sexual assault by keeping these protections in place and putting student safety first,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

A dozen schools in Shapiro’s state are being investigated for improperly handling sexual assault allegations made by students.

In New Mexico, a 2016 investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found that state’s flagship university had failed in its handling of such cases.

“Violence on America’s campuses must be taken seriously,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat.

He noted that rolling back the guidance would amount to turning back the clock on the progress some states have made when it comes to improving reporting and implementing programs aimed at curbing sexual assaults.

As of last week, there were 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postsecondary schools, according to a Title IX report provided by the Education Department.

The attorneys general said in their letter that any effort to address the problem of sexual assault on college campuses “must be deliberate and allow for meaningful input from all stakeholders, and it must focus on the ultimate goal of ensuring that all students are protected from discrimination, including sexual harassment, assault, stalking and domestic violence, under Title IX.”


►  As Florida sinkhole widens, some are determined to stay put

The Florida sinkhole that swallowed two homes last week isn’t getting any deeper, but it’s getting wider, officials said Wednesday — and one resident who’s back home after being evacuated is vowing to stay unless the hole consumes her house.

“I’m apprehensive, a little nervous,” said Patty Camunas, 57, whose family lives near the sinkhole.

But she added, “Where are you going to go? There are sinkholes all over Florida. Unless something happens that the sinkhole takes my house, I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.”

Camunas was at work Friday morning when the sinkhole swallowed one house about 200 feet behind hers. Her husband and daughter were home when officials told them to evacuate. They were allowed to return Saturday but decided to give it an additional 24 hours. On Sunday, they returned.

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“The only thing we lost is the food from the power being shut off,” she said.

Now, she said, the main commotion on her cul-de-sac is from curious people driving to the neighborhood to take selfies with the sinkhole in the background.

During a news conference Wednesday, officials in Pasco County — a suburban area north of Tampa — said that because of the sinkhole’s growth, residents of two additional homes in the neighborhood have been warned they may need to evacuate. They were told to gather their possessions in preparation of leaving, said Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant administrator for public safety.

Five homes near the sinkhole already had been evacuated.

“This is not a time for panic. We have somebody out here monitoring this sinkhole, monitoring the expansion. We will let people know in plenty of time that they need to get their stuff together and be ready to go,” Guthrie said. “When we say, ‘Now is the time to leave.’ It’s time to leave. It’s not time to pack things up.”

The edges of the sinkhole are caving in because there’s no support for the sandy soil as it dries out, officials said.

It’s now about 235 feet (72 meters) wide, about 10 feet (3 meters) wider than it was several days ago. It remains 50 feet (15 meters) deep.

As the water in the sinkhole recedes, the sand on the right-angled banks can’t support the weight of the ground and it’s giving away. Engineers believe the solution lies in quickly getting dirt into the area to create a sloping bank that can keep the edges of the sinkhole from falling in, Guthrie said.

“We’re working to that end right now,” Guthrie said.

Engineers hope to start bringing in dirt and removing debris over the weekend, or early next week.

None of 20 water wells tested came back positive for E. coli, but water samples from 17 of the wells will be re-tested for any signs of contamination. Greg Crumpton, a local health official, said elements found in water from those wells may be the result of improper maintenance by homeowners, but health officials want to make sure it’s not from the sinkhole.

Pasco County’s risk manager has told officials that the response to the sinkhole could cost at least $1.5 million but it will be likely much more, Guthrie said.

For Camunas, a lifelong Florida resident who built her home in Pasco in 1982, sinkholes are part of life. She’d heard about a sinkhole in years past in another part of her subdivision.

Florida is highly prone to naturally occurring sinkholes because there are caverns below ground of limestone, a porous rock that easily dissolves in water.

Acidic rain can, over time, eat away the limestone and natural caverns that lie under much of the state, causing sinkholes. Both extremely dry weather and very wet weather can trigger sinkholes. State geologists generally consider March-September “sinkhole season” because that’s when the state receives most of its rainfall.

In 2013 in Florida, a 37-year-old man was killed when a hole opened up underneath his bedroom. That sinkhole, which garnered international headlines, opened in Hillsborough County, about an hour south of the sinkhole that swallowed two homes this month.

Engineering experts said it was too dangerous to retrieve the man’s body, so they demolished the home and filled the hole with gravel.


►  ‘Couldn’t even see the sun’: Fire races near Yosemite park

A surging wildfire raced through California mountains and foothills west of Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, forcing thousands to flee tiny, Gold Rush-era towns and wafting smoky haze over the park’s landmark Half Dome rock face.

The 4-day-old blaze nearly doubled in size overnight from about 40 square miles (100 kilometers) to more than 70 square miles (180 square kilometers), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

At its closest, the blaze was still about 35 miles from the boundary of Yosemite, where campgrounds are open, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. The fire closed one of several roads into the park during its busy summer season, and rangers warned visitors with respiratory problems to be mindful of the haze, Gediman said.

The fire has forced more than 4,000 people from their homes, officials said.

Heavy smoke hung in the air over Mariposa, a town of 2,000 with century-old wooden buildings, including what’s touted as the oldest active courthouse west of the Rocky Mountains.

Tony Munoz, 63 and his wife, Edna Munoz, 59, were ordered out of their home outside Mariposa on Tuesday. They grabbed clothes, medicine and their three dogs and a cat and fled.

Driving out on narrow roads clogged by others getting out, “you couldn’t even see the sun” in the ash-filled sky, said Tony Munoz, a school custodian.

Downtown Mariposa was empty except for firefighters and other emergency workers. Fierce flames were visible on slopes about a mile away.

The fire was threatening about 1,500 homes and other buildings, after already destroying eight structures. It’s not clear what type of buildings burned. It is burning near Highway 49, a historical route winding its way up California foothills of the western Sierra Nevada dotted with little towns that sprouted along the gold Mother Lode that drew miners to California in the 1800s.

Record rain and snowfall in the mountains this winter abruptly ended California’s five-year drought. But that has increased the challenge for crews battling flames feeding on dense vegetation.

“There’s ample fuel and steep terrain,” Cal Fire spokeswoman DeeDee Garcia said. “It makes firefighting difficult.”

Statewide, about 6,000 firefighters were battling 17 large wildfires, including about 2,200 at the fire near Yosemite.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared an emergency, bolstering the state’s resources to battle the fire that he said has forced thousands of residents to flee and is expected to continue burning.

In Nevada, firefighters got a handle on a wind-driven wildfire that destroyed four homes and damaged several more. Bureau of Land Management spokesman Greg Deimel said Wednesday that no one was hurt in the fire that broke out in extremely windy conditions just east of Elko.

Ozone Rule Delay Brings Suit Against EPA

A lawsuit filed last week in Washington, D.C., asks the federal courts to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s delay in implementing revised smog standards.

The EPA itself estimates that when communities meet the standards, it will save hundreds of lives and prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks and 160,000 missed school days each year.

Seth Johnson is an attorney with the environmental law group Earthjustice. He said states have submitted the required data on ozone levels, but the EPA now wants the delay.

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Reducing ozone will require new sources to use the best emissions-control technology.


“Every state in the country did what they were supposed to do,” Johnson said. “Now, it’s time for EPA to do what it’s supposed to do, and that is to issue designations under the statute and start the implementation process.“

The EPA said it needs more time to review the standard and designate the areas that must clean up their air.

The groups now suing to stop the delay are concerned that the EPA intends to weaken the standard. Johnson said the standard was revised in 2015 in order to bring communities into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

“EPA’s independent science advisers unanimously said that the 2008 standard was too weak to satisfy the statutory requirements,” he said.

Ozone is a corrosive greenhouse gas, and children and the elderly are especially vulnerable. But, Johnson added, it can harm healthy adults too. Once the standard is implemented, Johnson said, designated areas will be required to reduce ozone-forming pollution to bring their communities into compliance, beginning with new construction.

“If you want to build a new, big source of air pollution, you’re going to have to use the most stringent emissions-reducing technology that’s available,” Johnson said.

The groups joining the lawsuit include the American Lung Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Sierra Club.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

America Leaves Future Generations with Massive Debts, Obligations

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The United States is heading down the path to becoming an insurance company with a really big army.

Let’s start with Medicaid.  The most recent report shows that federal and state spending on health care for lower income Americans rose nearly sixteen percent from 2014 to 2016, to $576 billion. Much of the rapid rise is attributable to the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

If nothing changes—and we don’t know yet what, if anything, Congress will do—Medicaid spending will approach $1 trillion by 2025.  Congressional Republicans are trying to curb the rise in Medicaid spending, but that’s politically difficult.

Nearly lost in the healthcare debate is a new release on the status of Social Security and Medicare programs. The annual report quantifies the worsening threat to the long-term fiscal soundness of both programs.

“Both Social Security and Medicare will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging caused by the large baby-boom generation entering retirement and lower birth rate generations entering employment,” the report said.

That’s the essential problem for all three of the programs; they are growing faster than the economy. If no changes are made, they will swamp the country in debt and generate an even larger drag on the economy.

The report says the combined retirement and disability programs under Social Security are okay for now, but by 2034 the trust funds will be depleted. At that point, benefits will need to be reduced or taxes will have to be raised.

(One additional note: Trust fund is a misnomer. The federal government has already spent that money and replaced it with special treasury bonds that amount to I.O.U.s from Uncle Sam.)

Investor’s Business Daily reports, “Waiting only makes the problem worse.  Putting off fixes would require a payroll tax hike of nearly 4 percentage points or across-the-board benefit cuts of 23 percent.”

Medicare is also in trouble.  The report says the hospital insurance trust fund portion of the program will be depleted in 2029. “At that time, dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 88 percent of HI costs.”

Our policy makers have willingly indebted future generations, and Americans have been complicit because we recoil against more taxes, benefit cuts and increases in retirement age—anything we fear will impact our quality of life.

Future generations will not look back fondly on us. They will wonder why, for all the talk from us about wanting a better life for our children and grandchildren, we spent their retirement and burdened them with debt that made it harder for them to achieve their dreams.

National News

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►  ‘Let Obamacare fail,’ Trump declares as GOP plan collapses

Donald Trump declared Tuesday it’s time to “let Obamacare fail” after the latest GOP health care plan crashed and burned in the Senate, a stunning failure for the president, Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a party that has vowed for years to abolish the law.

In a head-spinning series of developments, rank-and-file Republican senators turned on McConnell and Trump for the third time in a row, denying the votes to move forward with a plan for a straight-up repeal of “Obamacare.” This time, it was three GOP women — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — who delivered the death blow.

All had been shut out of McConnell’s initial all-male working group on health care.

McConnell, who could afford to lose only two votes in the narrowly divided Senate, had turned to the repeal-only bill after his earlier repeal-and-replace measure was rejected on Monday. That had followed the failure of an earlier version of the bill last month.

The successive defeats made clear that despite seven years of promises to repeal former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Republicans apparently cannot deliver. Nonetheless, McConnell insisted he would move forward with a vote on his measure to repeal the law, effective in two years, with a promise to work — along with Democrats — to replace it in the meantime.

The vote to move ahead to the bill will take place early next week, McConnell announced late Tuesday. It appears doomed to fail, but GOP leaders want to put lawmakers on record on the issue and move on.

At the White House, Trump appeared to recognize defeat, at least for the moment, while insisting he bore none of the blame.

“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” the president said. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they’re going to say, ‘How do we fix it?’”

Despite the current law’s problems, most health care experts do not believe it is at immediate risk of outright failure, and Democratic cooperation to adjust the law is far from assured.

Nor does it appear likely that Republicans can escape owning the problems with the law and the health care system overall, now that they control the House, Senate and White House, partly on the strength of campaigning against the law.

“They seem to have this notion that they can be a majority party, and have control of the White House, and not be responsible for bringing down the health care system,” said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Asked how he would justify the GOP’s failure on health care to voters, McConnell responded: “Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice” — suggesting inaction on health care would be forgiven because of that success along with some regulatory roll-backs.

As the day began Tuesday, McConnell was hunting for votes to open debate on a revived version of legislation Congress sent to Obama’s desk in 2015 that would have repealed major portions of Obamacare, with a two-year delay built in. He had turned to that approach after getting stunned Monday night by defections by Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on a repeal-and-replace bill.

Many Republicans support the repeal-only approach, and they questioned how senators who voted for the legislation two years ago could oppose it now.

“We’re going to find out if there’s hypocrisy in the United States Senate in the next few days I’m afraid,” said Senator David Perdue, R-Georgia.

But for others, the implications were too severe now that the bill could actually become law with a Republican president in the White House ready to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that more than 30 million people would lose insurance over a decade under the legislation.

Collins voted against the legislation in 2015 while Murkowski and Capito both supported it. Murkowski told reporters Tuesday that repealing the Affordable Care Act without the promise of a replacement would cause uncertainty and chaos.

“To just say repeal and ‘Trust us, we’re going to fix it in a couple of years,’ that’s not going to provide comfort to the anxiety that a lot of Alaskan families are feeling right now,” she said.

Said Capito: “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

What’s next? Go back to the committee room and work on a bipartisan basis “in a way that the public feels that we are really working toward their best interests,” Murkowski said. “It’s where we should have started. ... And yes, this is hard.”

Sure enough, later in the day health committee chairman Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced he planned hearings on the issue in the next few weeks, a step Senate Republicans have not taken to date.

The GOP’s struggles over the latest measures came down to differences between moderates who feared the implications of a full-blown repeal, and conservatives who wanted nothing less. Speaker Paul Ryan managed to bridge those divides in the House in May, barely passing a bill that would have eliminated the coverage mandates and tax hikes in the Affordable Care Act, while unwinding the Medicaid expansion and removing insurance coverage for millions.

But the GOP bills polled poorly, and Trump never tried to sell them to the country. Meanwhile, Obama’s law grew steadily more popular in polls, and Republicans learned anew that a benefit, once given, is hard to take away.


►  Trump blasts Congress over failure of GOP health care bill

Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and “a few Republicans” Tuesday over the collapse of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a vote on a backup plan simply repealing the statute, but that idea was on the brink of rejection, too.

Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said they opposed McConnell’s Plan B. If a third GOP senator opposes it — and several are expected to — it would be defeated, and that might send a message to conservative Republicans that it is time to abandon efforts to tear down Obama’s law.

All Senate Democrats are opposed.

Trump’s early morning tweet led off a barrage of Republican criticism of Congress over the party’s failure on its flagship legislative priority. For seven years, the GOP has pledged to repeal President Barack Obama’s law.

“Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.”

He added, “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Two GOP senators — Utah’s Mike Lee and Jerry Moran of Kansas — sealed the measure’s doom late Monday when they announced they would vote “no” in an initial, critical vote that had been expected as soon as next week. That meant that at least four of the 52 GOP senators were ready to block the measure — two more than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had to spare in the face of unanimous Democratic opposition.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell conceded that the legislation repealing the 2010 law and replacing it with GOP-preferred programs “will not be successful,” essentially waving a white flag.

He said instead, the Senate would vote on legislation dismantling much of Obama’s statute that would take effect in two years, which Republicans say would give Congress time to approve replacement legislation. But such legislation seems unlikely to be approved, with many Republicans concerned the two-year gap would roil insurance markets and produce a political backlash against the GOP.

Moderate Republican Senator Capito said she’d oppose scuttling Obama’s statute “without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians.” She’s criticized the GOP bill’s cuts in Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people that her state relies on heavily.

Another moderate, Susan Collins, also said she’d oppose McConnell’s measure. She said repealing the law without an immediate replacement would produce “great anxiety for individuals” who benefit from Obama’s statute and “cause the insurance markets to go into turmoil.”

This is the second stinging setback on the issue in three weeks for McConnell, whose reputation as a legislative mastermind has been marred as he’s failed to unite his chamber’s Republicans behind a health overhaul package that highlighted jagged divides between conservatives and moderates. In late June, he abandoned an initial package after he lacked enough GOP support to pass.

The episode has also been jarring for Trump, whose intermittent lobbying and nebulous, often contradictory descriptions of what he’s wanted have shown he has limited clout with senators. That despite a determination by Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to demonstrate that a GOP running the White House and Congress can govern effectively.

McConnell’s failed bill would have left 22 million uninsured by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a number that many Republicans found unpalatable. But the vetoed 2015 measure would be even worse, the budget office said last January, producing 32 million additional uninsured people by 2026 — figures that seemed likely to drive a stake into that bill’s prospects for passing Congress.

That would seem to leave McConnell with an option he described last month — negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. That would likely be on a narrower package aimed more at keeping insurers in difficult marketplaces they’re either abandoning or imposing rapidly growing premiums.

“The core of this bill is unworkable,” Schumer said in a statement. He said Republicans “should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Similar to legislation the House approved in May after its own setbacks, McConnell’s bill would repeal Obama’s tax penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and cut the Medicaid program for the poor, elderly and nursing home residents. It rolled back many of the statute’s requirements for the policies insurers can sell and eliminated many tax increases that raised money for Obama’s expansion to 20 million more people, though it retained the law’s tax boosts on high earners.

Besides Lee and Moran, two other GOP senators had previously declared their opposition to McConnell’s bill: Collins and conservative Rand Paul of Kentucky. And other moderates were wavering and could have been difficult for McConnell and Trump to win over because of the bill’s Medicaid cuts: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Rob Portman of Ohio, Capito of West Virginia and Dean Heller of Nevada, probably the most endangered Senate Republican in next year’s elections.

The range of objections lodged by the dissident senators underscored the warring viewpoints within his own party that McConnell had to try patching over. Lee complained that the GOP bill didn’t go far enough in rolling back Obama’s robust coverage requirements, while moderates like Collins berated its Medicaid cuts and the millions it would leave without insurance.


►  John Glenn memorial plans abound on July birth date

Some plans to honor John Glenn didn’t fly, but that hasn’t stopped the late astronaut’s devotees from pushing forward with other ideas.

Numerous memorials and honors were being pursued as Glenn’s birth date arrived Tuesday for the first time since his death in December at age 95.

They span from Glenn’s childhood birthplace and first flight school, to the starry skies over Glenn’s native Ohio, to the shores of New York where he touched down after setting the transcontinental speed record.

An application to place Glenn’s birthplace in Cambridge in eastern Ohio on the National Register of Historic Places was rejected, on grounds that the Glenn family lived there only two years after his birth. The National Park Service said New Concord, site of Glenn’s boyhood home, is a more appropriate spot to honor him.

But Cambridge still thinks it has the right stuff to memorialize Glenn, the hometown boy who made history as a military aviator in two wars, a longtime U.S. senator and, most notably, the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. He became the oldest person to travel to space in 1977.

Debbie Robinson, executive director of the Cambridge/Guernsey County Visitors and Convention Bureau, said St. John’s University graduate student Adam Sackowitz is working with the current owners to get a plaque placed there. In the meantime, the bureau has made one of its own.

“I have a beautiful brown, Ohio-shaped sign that I just had made that I’m getting ready to give to the mayor, to place wherever he wants it,” she said. It bears Glenn’s birth date of July 18, 1921.

A Glenn sculpture envisioned for the Ohio Statehouse also hit a snag, but the city of New Philadelphia, about 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) north of New Concord, is exploring placing one at Harry Clever Field, where Glenn learned to fly.

Airport Manager Eric Hubbard said two airport commission members have been approached about the sculpture, but a decision hasn’t been made. In the meantime, the airport still sells its John Glenn T-shirts.

In southern Ohio’s Hocking Hills, ground was broken last week on the John Glenn Astronomy Park . The Friends of the Hocking Hills, which is spearheading the project, hopes to have the project completed by year’s end.

Ohio lawmaker Nickie Antonio is preparing a resolution for the fall urging Congress to award Glenn and his 97-year-old widow, Annie, the Medal of Honor. Sackowitz said he would also like to see a plaque or statue placed at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City, where Glenn touched down after setting the transcontinental speed record on July 16, 1957.


►  Veterans hospital officials removed over care allegations

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has removed two top officials at New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital and has ordered a review of the facility starting Monday amid allegations of “dangerously substandard care.“

The Boston Globe reported that 11 physicians and medical employees alleged the Manchester VA Medical Center was endangering patients. They described a fly-infested operating room; surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized; and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.

The Office of the Special Counsel, a federal whistle-blower agency, found “substantial likelihood” the allegations were true and ordered an investigation, which began in January. Shulkin also said the VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection were starting a “top-to-bottom review” of the hospital, beginning Monday.

Following the newspaper report Sunday, Shulkin removed hospital Director Danielle Ocker and Chief of Staff James Schlosser. A VA spokesman told the newspaper the two would be assigned other duties in the interim.

“We will stop at nothing short of delivering the best care for our veterans,“ said Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who said he called Shulkin on Sunday morning.

Representative Annie Kuster, a member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — both Democrats — met with VA doctors last year about their allegations and brought the concerns to the VA’s Office of Special Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General for further investigation. Kuster said she was “deeply concerned.“

“I appreciate the seriousness with which Secretary Shulkin is taking this matter,“ Kuster said in a statement.

The Globe reported in a recent interview, Ocker and Schlosser acknowledged significant cuts in services, such as the elimination of cataract surgery, and administrative problems, such as ordering a $1 million nuclear medicine camera but never installing it because it was too big for the examination room. As a result, the hospital stopped offering nuclear stress tests for heart disease risk and bone scans that can detect tumors this year.

But Ocker and Schlosser said they were surprised that so many medical staff members reported the problems to federal investigators. They said the hospital was addressing the shortcomings and patient safety hasn’t been compromised.

Much of the Globe’s report focused on accounts from Dr. William “Ed” Kois, head of Manchester VA’s spinal cord clinic, who compiled a list of at least 80 patients at the hospital over five years suffering from advanced and potentially crippling nerve compression in the neck, and using canes, wheelchairs and walkers, instead of getting surgery. He said the condition is easy to diagnose and treat with surgery before it progresses too far.

“It’s like if you suddenly saw cases of syphilis — a disease that has long been curable with penicillin,“ Kois said.

New Hampshire is one of a few states without a full-service VA hospital. The Manchester center provides urgent care, primary care, ambulatory surgery, mental health treatment and other services, but it contracts with Concord Hospital and others for more elaborate surgery and inpatient care. Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have lobbied for the hospital to become full-service going back at least a decade.

Dave Kenney, chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which brings together numerous veterans organizations to advise New Hampshire’s Legislature about veterans affairs, said he hopes the investigation results in significant change.

“They need to put their money where their mouth is,“ he said. “They need to put the resources in to get it done and fix it.“
Veterans hospital officials removed over care allegations

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has removed two top officials at New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital and has ordered a review of the facility starting Monday amid allegations of “dangerously substandard care.“

The Boston Globe reported that 11 physicians and medical employees alleged the Manchester VA Medical Center was endangering patients. They described a fly-infested operating room; surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized; and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.

The Office of the Special Counsel, a federal whistle-blower agency, found “substantial likelihood” the allegations were true and ordered an investigation, which began in January. Shulkin also said the VA Office of the Medical Inspector and the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection were starting a “top-to-bottom review” of the hospital, beginning Monday.

Following the newspaper report Sunday, Shulkin removed hospital Director Danielle Ocker and Chief of Staff James Schlosser. A VA spokesman told the newspaper the two would be assigned other duties in the interim.

“We will stop at nothing short of delivering the best care for our veterans,“ said Republican Governor Chris Sununu, who said he called Shulkin on Sunday morning.

Representative Annie Kuster, a member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — both Democrats — met with VA doctors last year about their allegations and brought the concerns to the VA’s Office of Special Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General for further investigation. Kuster said she was “deeply concerned.“

“I appreciate the seriousness with which Secretary Shulkin is taking this matter,“ Kuster said in a statement.

The Globe reported in a recent interview, Ocker and Schlosser acknowledged significant cuts in services, such as the elimination of cataract surgery, and administrative problems, such as ordering a $1 million nuclear medicine camera but never installing it because it was too big for the examination room. As a result, the hospital stopped offering nuclear stress tests for heart disease risk and bone scans that can detect tumors this year.

But Ocker and Schlosser said they were surprised that so many medical staff members reported the problems to federal investigators. They said the hospital was addressing the shortcomings and patient safety hasn’t been compromised.

Much of the Globe’s report focused on accounts from Dr. William “Ed” Kois, head of Manchester VA’s spinal cord clinic, who compiled a list of at least 80 patients at the hospital over five years suffering from advanced and potentially crippling nerve compression in the neck, and using canes, wheelchairs and walkers, instead of getting surgery. He said the condition is easy to diagnose and treat with surgery before it progresses too far.

“It’s like if you suddenly saw cases of syphilis — a disease that has long been curable with penicillin,“ Kois said.

New Hampshire is one of a few states without a full-service VA hospital. The Manchester center provides urgent care, primary care, ambulatory surgery, mental health treatment and other services, but it contracts with Concord Hospital and others for more elaborate surgery and inpatient care. Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have lobbied for the hospital to become full-service going back at least a decade.

Dave Kenney, chairman of the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which brings together numerous veterans organizations to advise New Hampshire’s Legislature about veterans affairs, said he hopes the investigation results in significant change.

“They need to put their money where their mouth is,“ he said. “They need to put the resources in to get it done and fix it.“


►  Delta tells Ann Coulter her insults are ‘unacceptable’

Delta Air Lines has pushed back at Ann Coulter after the conservative commentator berated the carrier on Twitter over a changed seat assignment.

Coulter began tweeting about the episode Saturday in which she said the airline gave away an “extra room seat” she reserved before a flight from New York to Florida departed. Coulter had booked an aisle seat, but got a window seat.

She joked that Delta hires people who seek to be prison guards, animal handlers or East German police. She also tweeted a photo of a woman she said took the seat she booked and labeled her “dachshund-legged.“

Delta responded to Coulter on Twitter on Sunday night that it was refunding her the extra $30 she paid for her preferred seat. It added that “your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.“ In a separate statement on its website, the company called Coulter’s comments “derogatory and slanderous.“

Coulter was moved to a window seat at the time of boarding as the airline was “working to accommodate several passengers with seating requests,“ Delta said in the statement. Delta said that during some confusion over the assignments, a flight attendant asked everyone to move to the seats listed on their tickets. Coulter and the other passengers complied, according to the airline, and the flight departed.

Coulter has continued her online rant against Delta.

National News

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►  2 more GOP senators oppose health bill, killing it for now

The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.

The announcements from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation reeling. Next steps, if any, were not immediately clear.

Lee and Moran both said they could not support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislation in its current form. They joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill last Thursday.

McConnell is now at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate and may have to go back to the drawing board or even begin to negotiate with Democrats, a prospect he’s threatened but resisted so far. Or he could abandon the health care effort, which has proven more difficult than many Republicans envisioned after campaigning on the issue for years, and move on to tax legislation, a bigger Trump priority to begin with.

McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one,” said Moran.

Lee said, “In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

It was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of the bill last month when defeat became inevitable.

Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night’s development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been the GOP’s trademark issue for seven years — ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. Republicans won the White House and full control of Congress in large part on the basis of their promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” but have struggled to overcome their deep internal divisions and deliver.

The Senate bill, like an earlier version that barely passed the House, eliminated mandates and taxes under Obamacare, and unraveled an expansion of the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled. But for conservatives like Lee and Paul it didn’t go far enough in delivering on Republican Party promises to undo Obama’s law, while moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.

McConnell’s latest version aimed to satisfy both camps, by incorporating language by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas allowing insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones, and by adding billions to treat opioid addiction and to defray consumer costs.

But his efforts did not achieve the intended result.

There was no immediate reaction from McConnell’s office. But Democrats could barely contain their glee.

“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health care system.”

Prior to the stunning announcements from Lee and Moran, the GOP bill stood on the knife’s edge, with zero votes to spare but not dead yet. It was apparent that no GOP senator wanted to be the third to announce opposition and become responsible for killing the bill, so the news from Lee and Moran came simultaneously.

It arrived as about a half-dozen senators were at the White House meeting with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the next steps in the GOP effort to ensure passage of the bill.

There are at least a half-dozen or so others who are undecided, so it’s quite likely that more “no” votes will be announced in the hours and days ahead.

In a Senate divided 52-48 between Republicans and Democrats, McConnell could lose only two senators and still prevail on a procedural vote to open debate on the bill. He had hoped to hold that vote this week, but Sen. John McCain’s recovery following surgery in Arizona had already pushed back that timeframe.

Earlier this month, Moran faced tough questions from constituents at a town hall in tiny Palco, Kansas, about the impact of the GOP bill. About 150 people tried to squeeze into a community center room and many applauded his opposition to the initial health care bill. The session underscored the evolving position of many Americans to government-run health care, with loud approval for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“I will choose country over party,” Moran told the town hall. “I will choose Kansans over party.”


►  ‘It’s raining needles’: Drug crisis creates pollution threat

They hide in weeds along hiking trails and in playground grass. They wash into rivers and float downstream to land on beaches. They pepper baseball dugouts, sidewalks and streets. Syringes left by drug users amid the heroin crisis are turning up everywhere.

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900 gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 the same month in 2016.

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People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

It’s unclear whether anyone has gotten sick, but the reports of children finding the needles can be sickening in their own right. One 6-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a thermometer and put it in her mouth; she was unharmed.

“I just want more awareness that this is happening,” said Nancy Holmes, whose 11-year-old daughter stepped on a needle in Santa Cruz, California, while swimming. “You would hear stories about finding needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that it wouldn’t happen to you. Sure enough.”

They are a growing problem in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, two states that have seen many overdose deaths in recent years.

“We would certainly characterize this as a health hazard,” said Tim Soucy, health director in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, which collected 570 needles in 2016, the first year it began tracking the problem. It has found 247 needles so far this year.

Needles turn up in places like parks, baseball diamonds, trails and beaches — isolated spots where drug users can gather and attract little attention, and often the same spots used by the public for recreation. The needles are tossed out of carelessness or the fear of being prosecuted for possessing them.

One child was poked by a needle left on the grounds of a Utah elementary school. Another youngster stepped on one while playing on a beach in New Hampshire.

Even if adults or children don’t get sick, they still must endure an unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn’t catch anything. The girl who put a syringe in her mouth was not poked but had to be tested for hepatitis B and C, her mother said.

Some community advocates are trying to sweep up the pollution.

Rocky Morrison leads a cleanup effort along the Merrimack River, which winds through the old milling city of Lowell, and has recovered hundreds of needles in abandoned homeless camps that dot the banks, as well as in piles of debris that collect in floating booms he recently started setting.

He has a collection of several hundred needles in a fishbowl, a prop he uses to illustrate that the problem is real and that towns must do more to combat it.

“We started seeing it last year here and there. But now, it’s just raining needles everywhere we go,” said Morrison, a burly, tattooed construction worker whose Clean River Project has six boats working parts of the 117-mile (188-kilometer) river.

Among the oldest tracking programs is in Santa Cruz, California, where the community group Take Back Santa Cruz has reported finding more than 14,500 needles in the county over the past 4 1/2 years. It says it has gotten reports of 12 people getting stuck, half of them children.

“It’s become pretty commonplace to find them. We call it a rite of passage for a child to find their first needle,” said Gabrielle Korte, a member of the group’s needle team. “It’s very depressing. It’s infuriating. It’s just gross.”

Some experts say the problem will ease only when more users get treatment and more funding is directed to treatment programs.

Others are counting on needle exchange programs, now present in more than 30 states, or the creation of safe spaces to shoot up — already introduced in Canada and proposed by U.S. state and city officials from New York to Seattle.

Studies have found that needle exchange programs can reduce pollution, said Don Des Jarlais, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

But Morrison and Korte complain poor supervision at needle exchanges will simply put more syringes in the hands of people who may not dispose of them properly.

After complaints of discarded needles, Santa Cruz County took over its exchange from a nonprofit in 2013 and implemented changes. It did away with mobile exchanges and stopped allowing drug users to get needles without turning in an equal number of used ones, said Jason Hoppin, a spokesman for Santa Cruz County.

Along the Merrimack, nearly three dozen riverfront towns are debating how to stem the flow of needles. Two regional planning commissions are drafting a request for proposals for a cleanup plan. They hope to have it ready by the end of July.

“We are all trying to get a grip on the problem,” said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini. “The stuff comes from somewhere. If we can work together to stop it at the source, I am all for it.”


►  Federal court’s agenda has topics that draw Trump’s ire

The nation’s largest federal court circuit has clashed repeatedly with Donald Trump over the past six months, and the agenda for its annual meeting is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire.

Immigration, fake news and meddling in the U.S. election are among the subjects to be discussed or touched on at the four-day conference of the 9th Circuit courts in San Francisco starting Monday.

Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s bans on travelers from a group of mostly Muslim countries and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

Trump has fired back, referring to a judge who blocked his first travel ban as a “so-called judge” and calling the ruling that upheld the decision disgraceful. Republicans have accused the 9th Circuit appeals court of a liberal slant and renewed efforts to break it up – a move Trump supports.

The 9th Circuit’s spokesman, David Madden, acknowledged that someone could see a connection between the conference agenda and the administration, but he said there was no intention to link the two.

At least some of the topics were timely even before the election, and they all reflect issues that could come before judges in the circuit, which includes the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and district and bankruptcy courts in California and eight other western states, Madden said.

“We live in interesting times and the court cannot choose which cases are brought before it,“ he said.

A panel on Monday will discuss cases that set aside the convictions of men who resisted an executive order that led to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The panelists include 9th Circuit appeals court Judge Mary Schroeder and retired U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, each of whom ruled in a case challenging such a conviction.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order allowing the U.S. government to hold roughly 110,000 Japanese-Americans in camps on the grounds of national security turned 75 this year. It has drawn comparisons to Trump’s travel ban, which detractors say discriminates against Muslims.

Another panel at the conference will discuss programs designed to keep people out of federal prison. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible against the vast majority of suspects, which will likely send more people to prison and for much longer terms.

Also Monday, the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, will speak to new U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the conference. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy – the 9th Circuit’s liaison on the U.S. Supreme Court – was scheduled to give the talk, but cancelled after his wife fractured her hip.

On Tuesday, a panel will discuss voter fraud, voter suppression and “foreign interference in U.S. elections.“ Another panel will tackle fake news.

“Maybe the appearance is that there’s some kind of resistance coming from the court,“ said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who follows the 9th Circuit. “On the other hand, some of these issues are very topical and timely and in the district and appellate courts of the 9th Circuit.“

The conference will also feature awards, tributes and panels about more innocuous subjects.

In addition to ruling against Trump’s executive orders, 9th Circuit judges have taken more direct swipes at the president.

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Stephen Reinhardt in a May opinion said a Trump administration order to deport a man was “inhumane.“

“Trump has claimed that his immigration policies would target the ‘bad hombres,‘“ Reinhardt said. “The government’s decision to remove Magana Ortiz shows that even the ‘good hombres’ are not safe.“

Ninth Circuit appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski joined four fellow conservative judges in an opinion in March that did not mention Trump by name, but said “personal attacks” on judges who blocked the administration’s first travel ban were “out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse.“

Kozinski said Thursday he saw nothing unusual or political about the program for the court circuit’s meeting.


►  Needles all over: What to do if you find syringes in public

Syringes left by drug users are increasingly turning up in public places, and authorities offer this advice if you or your children should encounter any:

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DON’T PICK THEM UP

You could get exposed to drugs or disease, or unwittingly dispose of them improperly.

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CALL SOMEONE TO PICK THEM UP

Check with your local information hotline or health department, which can take care of it or direct you to people who can. Don’t call 911 unless directed, or unless there is imminent danger or an emergency.

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IF YOU DO IT YOURSELF

You’re not advised to pick them up, but if you do, minimize any hand contact. Use sturdy gloves, disposable tongs, a shovel or dustpan, and put them in a puncture-proof container.

___

IF YOU GET POKED

Don’t panic. Don’t suck the wound. Go to your doctor, an emergency room or an urgent care clinic for further guidance, as well as possible medical tests and immunizations.

___

WHAT TO TELL YOUR KIDS

Show them what a syringe looks like and use age-appropriate language to describe why they should stay away from it. Tell them that if they see any to get an adult, who should follow the steps described above.


►  Afghan girls robotics team competes after visa obstacles

A robotics team of six girls from Afghanistan is taking part in an international competition in Washington, after clearing visa obstacles that prompted intervention from Donald Trump.

The team’s ball-sorting robot played in its first game on Monday morning.

The team is competing against teams from more than 150 countries in the FIRST Global Challenge. It’s a robotics competition designed to encourage youths to pursue careers in math and science.

Like other robots in the competition, the girls’ robot can recognize blue and orange and sort balls into correct locations.

The team was twice rejected for U.S. visas. They arrived in Washington from their hometown of Herat, Afghanistan, early Saturday after Trump’s last-minute intervention to sidestep the visa system.


►  Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country

A longtime Arkansas soybean farmer, Mike Wallace thought of his neighbors as a community and always was willing to lend a hand if they faced any hardships with their crops.

“Mike would do anything for any farmer,” his wife, Karen, said. “If there was a farmer who got sick in harvest time or planting time or whatever, he would say, ‘What can I do to help? Here’s my equipment. Here’s my guys. Let’s go do it.’”

But across much of farm country, a dispute over a common weed killer is turning neighbor against neighbor. The furor surrounding the herbicide known as dicamba has quickly become the biggest controversy of its kind in U.S. agriculture, and it is even suspected as a factor in Wallace’s death in October, when he was allegedly shot by a worker from a nearby farm where the chemical had been sprayed.

Concern about the herbicide drifting onto unprotected crops, especially soybeans, has spawned lawsuits and prompted Arkansas and Missouri to impose temporary bans on dicamba. Losses blamed on accidental chemical damage could climb into the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher, and may have a ripple effect on other products that rely on soybeans, including chicken.

The number of complaints “far exceeds anything we’ve ever seen,” Arkansas Plant Board Director Terry Walker recently told lawmakers.

Dicamba has been around for decades, but problems arose over the past couple of years as farmers began to use it on soybean and cotton fields where they planted new seeds engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. Because it can easily evaporate after being applied, the chemical sometimes settles onto neighboring fields. Some farmers illegally sprayed dicamba before federal regulators approved versions that were designed to be less volatile.

The chemical “has made good neighbors look like bad neighbors,” said Reed Storey, an Arkansas farmer who says about half of his soybean crop has shown damage from drifting dicamba.

As the herbicide was put into broader use, complaints began pouring in from farmers in Arkansas and other states. Crops near many dicamba-treated soybean fields turned up with leaves that were cupped and crinkled. The Plant Board has received more than 630 complaints about dicamba so far this year, many more than the 250 or so total complaints normally received in a full year. Complaints have also been registered in Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The issue illustrates the struggle to control agricultural pests as they gradually mutate to render the chemicals used against them less effective. And while some farmers fear damage from their neighbors’ dicamba, others are worried that their fields will be defenseless against weeds without it.

The drifting herbicide has been particularly damaging for soybeans. A group of farmers in Arkansas filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against BASF and Monsanto, which make dicamba.

The chemical has hurt other crops too, including vegetables and peanuts. As the damage piles up, dicamba has also made it more difficult for one company, Ozark Mountain Poultry, to find non-genetically modified soybeans to use as feed for chickens because more farmers are relying on seeds engineered by Monsanto to resist the herbicide. Non-modified soybeans are needed to market chicken as non-GMO.

Dicamba’s makers insist the problem is not with the herbicide but how some farmers apply it. They say the states should focus on other restrictions, such as limiting spraying to daytime hours.

“It is premature at this point to conclude that it is a fault of the product,” Dan Westberg of BASF told lawmakers this month.

Farmers say the herbicide is desperately needed to kill pigweed, which can grow and spread seeds rapidly, threatening a soybean farmer’s yield.

“We cannot lose this technology,” Perry Galloway, an Arkansas farmer who has used dicamba and dicamba-tolerant soybean seeds. “We’ve come too far at this point to just throw it away.”

It’s not clear what states will do about the herbicide after this year. Missouri lifted its sale-and-use ban for three dicamba herbicides after approving new labels and restrictions for its use. The ban on other dicamba products will be in effect until December 1. Arkansas’ ban expires in November. Governor Asa Hutchinson has said a task force needs to study the issue further.

“This debate will continue into future planting seasons, and Arkansas needs a long-term solution,” he wrote in a letter last month to state agriculture officials.

Wallace’s relatives said they are glad the herbicide will be banned for the time being in Arkansas. For them, too much damage has already been done.

Farm worker Allan Curtis Jones, 27, is accused of shooting Wallace, 55, in a confrontation over dicamba, which Wallace believed had drifted from the farm where Jones worked to damage his soybean crop.

Jones told authorities that Wallace called him to talk about the spraying. Jones brought his cousin with him as a witness because he believed Wallace wanted to fight, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in October.

When the two men met, Jones told police, Wallace grabbed him by the arm. Jones said he pulled a handgun from his pocket and fired “until the gun was empty,” Mississippi County Sheriff Dale Cook told the paper. He is set to go on trial this fall.

Wallace “did not want to hurt his neighbor, and he could not understand why people would spray things that would hurt others,” said Kerin Hawkins, his sister, who has also seen crops damaged by dicamba. “He could not understand because you were supposed to be a good neighbor.”


►  Construction of new Outer Banks bridge attracts sightseers

Construction of a North Carolina bridge to replace the one that links isolated Hatteras Island to the mainland is attracting sightseers even though it’s not quite halfway finished.

Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the old Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos of the new structure.

Island resident and Dare County commissioner Danny Couch tells The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia, that people enjoy crossing the current Bonner Bridge, stopping on the sandy roadside and taking photos.

“It’s going to be one of the single biggest attractions down here just to cross it,” Couch said. “It’s absolutely fascinating.”

The $250 million span across the Oregon Inlet along North Carolina’s Outer Banks will be 2.8 miles long. It’s scheduled to open in late 2018.

Engineers ran the design through more than 100,000 computer simulations of the 45 worst storms to strike the Outer Banks in the past 160 years, the newspaper reported. They even accounted for a big barge slamming into its supports as happened to the current bridge in 1990.

No other bridge in North Carolina is quite like the Bonner Bridge replacement, said Pablo Hernandez, the bridge’s engineer.

“It is a civil engineer’s dream to work on a project like this,” Hernandez said. “The people here depend on Highway 12.”

Both residents and tourists have waited years for the new bridge, which was delayed by legal wrangling and budget concerns. When the original Bonner Bridge was built in 1963, it had an expected life span of 30 years.

State transportation officials and environmental groups reached an agreement in June 2015 that allowed for construction of the new bridge. The environmental groups had wanted a 17-mile route around the wildlife refuge to connect the village of Rodanthe and other communities on Hatteras Island. State officials said it would have cost more than $1 billion.

Here’s the new bridge by the numbers:

— The high-rise portion will cover more than a half mile, with seven spans 300 feet wide. That will make travel safer for boats.

— The new bridge will be nearly 20 feet higher and a half-mile longer than the current one.

— Underwater foundations are made up of as many as 30 individual concrete pilings imbedded in the soil below as deep as 100 feet and set at an angle for extra strength. The current bridge pilings go into the soil 30 feet to 50 feet.

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Only woman to win math equivalent of Nobel Prize dies

STANFORD — Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal in mathematics, has died. She was 40.

Mirzakhani, who battled breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university announced. It did not indicate where she died.

In 2014 Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields Medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.

“Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry,“ according to the Stanford press announcement. “Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces_spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas - in as great detail as possible.“

The work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to “the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist,“ the university said.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran, and studied there and at Harvard University. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement Saturday praising Mirzakhani. “The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heartrending,“ Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the Tehran Times reported.

“The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhani’s passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists,“ Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account. “I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.“

Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics.

When she was working, Mirzakhani would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, according to the Stanford statement.

Mirzakhani once described her work as “like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.“

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne called Mirzakhani a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and daughter, Anahita.


►  Trump’s no ‘dying in the streets’ pledge faces reality check

Donald Trump has often said he doesn’t want people “dying in the streets” for lack of health care.

But in the United States, where chronic conditions are the major diseases, people decline slowly. Preventive care and routine screening can make a big difference for those at risk for things such as heart problems and cancer, especially over time.

That edge is what doctors and patients fear will be compromised if Republican efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law lead to more uninsured people. The uninsured tend to postpone care until problems break through.

It’s a message that lawmakers are hearing from doctors’ groups and constituents, in letters and emails, and at town hall meetings.

About 10 years ago, Cathy Cooper of Ocala, Florida, was battling a blood cancer. Against doctor’s advice, she continued to work full time as a paralegal, through chemotherapy and radiation, just to preserve her health insurance. Cooper said she would schedule chemo on Fridays, spend the weekend sick from side effects and report back to work Monday.

Now in her early 30s, Cooper is healthy. She has her own business as a photographer specializing in maternity, newborns, families and seniors, and a family of her own. Her health insurance is through HealthCare.Governor With her cancer history, Cooper is worried about changes under debate that may reduce options for people with medical conditions. She said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.

“The ‘dying in the streets’ thing — it’s an over-time process,” said Cooper. “If I didn’t have insurance, it (cancer) could just keep forming inside me and I wouldn’t know. Then I’d go into the hospital, and there’s nothing they could do. And then, yeah, I could die in the street. But that’s because I wouldn’t have had insurance to get things checked out prior to that point.”

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Octavia Cannon said that’s basically what happened to one of her patients several years ago. The patient, a working mother with three young children and more than one job, was uninsured after losing previous Medicaid coverage. She went to Cannon, an osteopathic ob-gyn, because of abnormal bleeding. Cannon said she knew something was horribly wrong on the basis of her initial physical examination. The pathology lab confirmed advanced cervical cancer.

“In six months, she was dead,” Cannon recalled. “All I could think was ‘Who is going to take care of these babies?’ If she had only come in for a Pap smear.”

Such stories are swirling around the Senate debate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes toward a vote on legislation rolling back much of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill has been facing headwinds since the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would lead to 22 million more uninsured people by 2026.

Administration officials say the nonpartisan budget office has been wrong before about health coverage, and its analytical methods may give too much weight to the current requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines. (Republicans would repeal that immediately.) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Trump’s goal is more people with health insurance, not fewer.

“Nobody is looking at it in its totality,” Price said recently on NBC. “We will bring down premiums, we will increase coverage, we’ll increase choices. And I believe we’ll increase the quality of care provided in this nation.”

There’s not much debate about the negative consequences of being uninsured.

Studies by the National Academies have found that the uninsured are more likely to receive too little care, and too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care in the hospital.

But surprisingly, there are questions about whether gaining coverage produces tangible health benefits.

Major government surveys have documented clear improvements to family finances associated with Obama’s coverage expansion. On health itself, the evidence is mixed.

Medicaid expansions in New York, Maine and Arizona in the early 2000s were associated with a 6 percent decline in death rates in those states, compared with neighboring states that did not expand coverage for low-income people. A study of Massachusetts found a similar trend.

But in Oregon a Medicaid expansion study that found a marked reduction in depression failed to detect significant improvement in blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Cyrus Hamidi, a solo family medicine practitioner in Sparks, Maryland, said having insurance is a start, reducing barriers to access for patients.

“If you have to pay to go to the doctor, then you worry about payment instead of what you need to do to reduce the risk of dropping dead,” he said.

Gaywin Day, a union electrician from Austin, Texas, said being able to get coverage under Obama’s law in the aftermath of a medical crisis has been “a lifesaver.”

Day, in his early 60s, was between jobs and uninsured when he had a stroke in March. A couple of months later, a “special enrollment period” enabled him to get subsidized coverage through HealthCare.gov, opening doors to physical therapy and follow-up medical care.

Now, Day no longer uses a walker or cane. He’s thinking about returning to work.

“Nobody wants anybody dying in the streets, but if I hadn’t got this. ... I could just be shriveling up in my bed,” he said.

He didn’t cast a ballot last year. “I don’t vote,” said Day. “I do a lot of praying.”


►  NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen last week

A roundup of some of the most popular, but completely untrue, headlines of the week. None of these stories are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked these out; here are the real facts:

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NOT REAL: Trump Jr.: “My Russian Meetings Prove I’m A Real American That Knows How To Create Opportunities And Fake Advantages”

THE FACTS: Hoax site politicot.com published a lengthy defense attributed to Donald Trump Jr. of his meeting with a Russian lawyer last summer during the campaign against Hillary Clinton, featuring a screen grab of the president’s son speaking on Fox News. Trump never made the remarks, with quotes like “our people value results above all else” and “the end justifies the means,” in public statements. In his Fox interview this week, the president’s eldest son called the meeting routine opposition research, but added he “probably would have done things a little differently.”

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NOT REAL: Nancy Pelosi Taken From Her Home By DEA After Her Own Daughters Sold Her Out

THE FACTS: A series of stories from several sites claim House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is embroiled in a drug scandal after daughters were caught with cocaine in Berkeley, California, or the Mexican border. The names of the daughters in the stories vary, but none of them are the names of Pelosi’s actual daughters, Christine, Alexandra, Jacqueline and Nancy. A search of the federal court system reveals no pending drug cases against anyone named Pelosi.

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NOT REAL: Rapper Lil Wayne Makes A Shocking Announcement, He Is Left With Just A Month To Live

THE FACTS: The story from huntingforusa.com claims Lil’ Wayne held a news conference in Atlanta to announce that he has stage 4 skin cancer brought on by his numerous tattoos. Wayne never held such a news conference and it appears the hoax has been circulating online for more than a year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation , doctors have never found an increased prevalence of skin cancer in people with tattoos.

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NOT REAL: Muslim Figure: “We must have Pork-Free Menus Or We Will Leave U.S.”

THE FACTS: This headline leads multiple sites’ stories featuring photographs of different women, all unnamed, wearing head coverings traditionally worn by Muslims. The piece never mentions the Muslim figure again or the claim. Instead, it recounts a mayor’s effort to ban school menus that exclude pork, a meat that is forbidden under Islamic dietary law, and presented Donald Trump’s travel ban visitors from several Muslim-majority nations as “an ideal solution.” The mayor named in the piece is from France, not the U.S., and the controversy in France is in no way connected to the U.S. travel ban.

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NOT REAL: Dead Body Of Homeless Man Turns Out To Be The Legendary Elvis Presley

THE FACTS: This story from Now8News, an admitted hoax site, resurrects an old claim by Elvis conspiracy theorists that the King didn’t actually die and instead entered the “witness protection program.” The theory was the basis for a now-shuttered facility in Missouri called The Elvis Is Alive Museum. Elvis Presley was buried at Graceland, his Memphis, Tennessee, home following his death in 1977.


►  Guns, churches and immigrants: What’s in that spending bill?

WASHINGTON — Out of the spotlight, a House panel has taken steps to help victims of gun violence, allow robust politicking from the pulpit, and prevent doctors in the District of Columbia from helping terminally ill people commit suicide.

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee passed a $20 billion spending bill Thursday to fund the Treasury Department, the Judiciary and other federal agencies.

Quietly tucked inside were numerous provisions that have little to do with funding the federal government. These are called riders. Some are controversial while others are bipartisan. Many will be discarded when Republicans and Democrats negotiate a final spending package this fall — though some will survive.

The bill now goes to the full House. A look at some of the provisions:

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YOUNG IMMIGRANTS

The bill would allow young immigrants enrolled in former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrival program to apply for jobs with the federal government.

Representative Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said young people brought into the country as children “identify as Americans.” For many, he said, the U.S. is the only country they have ever called home.

“Denying Dreamers the opportunity to serve their community and country through public service stands in stark contrast to our nation’s core values,” Aguilar said, using a nickname applied to people enrolled in the DACA program.

The DACA program gives hundreds of thousands of young people illegally brought into the U.S. as children a work permit and protection from deportation.

Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said Americans will be outraged to learn that people in the U.S. illegally would be able to compete for federal jobs.

“So much for Republican promises of making decisions that put American workers first,” Beck said.

Donald Trump pledged as a candidate to “immediately end” the DACA program. But as president, he has said that class of immigrants will not be targets for deportation. He said his administration is “not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals.”

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POLITICAL CHURCHES

One provision prevents the IRS from enforcing a 63-year-old law that prevents churches and other nonprofits from backing political candidates. Under the law, nonprofits could lose their tax-exempt status if they get directly involved in political campaigns, either by donating to them or publicly endorsing candidates.

The law doesn’t stop religious groups from weighing in on public policy or organizing in ways that may benefit one side in a campaign.

The provision forbids the IRS from spending money to enforce the law against “a church, or a convention or association of churches,” unless the IRS commissioner signs off on it and notifies Congress.

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ASSISTED SUICIDE

The bill would prohibit funding for doctor-assisted suicide in the District of Columbia. It also repeals the DC Death with Dignity Act.

In December, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a law that makes it legal for doctors to prescribe fatal medication to terminally ill residents.

Congress granted District residents an elected mayor and legislature in 1973, though Congress retained broad authority over the city, including the ability to block local laws.

The House Oversight Committee passed a bill earlier this year to block the assisted-suicide law, but the deadline passed for Congress to act.

On Thursday, the appropriations committee adopted an amendment by Representative Andy Harris, R-Md., that tries to stop the law by blocking money to implement it.

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GUN VIOLENCE

The bill encourages states to use funding from the Crime Victims Fund to establish or expand hospital-based programs that help victims of gun violence.

Under such programs, gunshot victims receive counseling at hospitals to help them access community services and avoid getting shot again.

“This provision will not only allow more firearms assault victims to receive the services they need, it will save lives in at-risk communities,” said Robin Lloyd of Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group started by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

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REPEAL DODD-FRANK

The bill takes aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created under the Dodd-Frank Act in the wake of the economic crisis. The agency gets funding from the Federal Reserve, a move designed to promote independence. House Republicans want Congress to control the agency’s purse strings, which would give lawmakers greater say over manpower and priorities.

The bill would also strip the agency of its primary enforcement tool, the authority to go after lenders and debt collectors that it determines have engaged in unfair, deceptive or abusive practices. The agency has used that authority to return billions of dollars to consumers.


►  Travel ruling paves way for more refugees, but appeal awaits

WASHINGTON — A court decision on Donald Trump’s travel ban has reopened a window for tens of thousands of refugees to enter the United States, and the government is looking to quickly close it.

The administration said Friday that it would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court after a federal judge in Hawaii ordered it to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson also vastly expanded the list of U.S. family relationships that refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries can use to get into the country, including grandparents and grandchildren.

The ruling Thursday was the latest twist in a long, tangled legal fight that will culminate with arguments before the nation’s high court in October.

It could help more than 24,000 refugees who had already been vetted and approved by the United States but would have been barred by the 120-day freeze on refugee admissions, said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, a resettlement agency.

“Many of them had already sold all of their belongings to start their new lives in safety,“ she said. “This decision gives back hope to so many who would otherwise be stranded indefinitely.“

Citing a need to review its vetting process to ensure national security, the administration capped refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 12-month period ending September 30, a ceiling it hit this week.

The federal budget can accommodate up to 75,000 refugees, but admissions have slowed under Trump, and the government could hold them to a trickle, resettlement agencies say.

“Absolutely this is good news for refugees, but there’s a lot of uncertainty,“ said Melanie Nezer, spokeswoman for HIAS, a resettlement agency. “It’s really going to depend on how the administration reacts to this.“

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in, bypassing the San Francisco-based 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against it in the case.

The Supreme Court allowed a scaled-back version of the travel ban to take effect last month.

“Once again, we are faced with a situation in which a single federal district court has undertaken by a nationwide injunction to micromanage decisions of the co-equal executive branch related to our national security,“ Sessions said. “By this decision, the district court has improperly substituted its policy preferences for the national security judgments of the executive branch in a time of grave threats.“

The administration took a first step by filing a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit, allowing it to use a rule to petition the high court directly. There’s no timetable for the Supreme Court to act, but the administration will be seeking quick action that clarifies the court’s June opinion.

The justices now are scattered during their summer recess, so any short-term action would come in written filings.

The administration has lost most legal challenges on the travel ban, which applies to citizens of Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen.

The Supreme Court’s ruling exempted a large swath of refugees and travelers with a “bona fide relationship” with a person or an entity in the U.S. The justices did not define those relationships but said they could include a close relative, a job offer or admission to a college or university.

The Trump administration defined the relationships as people who had a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S.

Watson enlarged that group to include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S. Chin, who sought the broader definition, said Thursday’s ruling “makes clear that the U.S. government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit.“

“Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough,“ Chin said.


►  Major insurance groups call part of health bill ‘unworkable’

WASHINGTON — Two of the insurance industry’s most powerful organizations say a crucial provision in the Senate Republican health care bill allowing the sale of bare-bones policies is “unworkable in any form,“ delivering a blow to party leaders’ efforts to win support for their legislation.

The language was crafted by conservative Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and leaders have included it in the overall bill in hopes of winning votes from other congressional conservatives. But moderates have worried it will cause people with serious illnesses to lose coverage, and some conservatives say it doesn’t go far enough.

Two of the 52 GOP senators have already said they will oppose the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot lose any others for the legislation to survive a showdown vote expected next week.

The overall measure represents the Senate GOP’s attempt to deliver on the party’s promise to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, which they’ve been pledging to do since its 2010 enactment.

The criticism of Cruz’s provision was lodged in a rare joint statement by America’s Health Care Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association. The two groups released it late Friday in the form of a letter to McConnell, R-Ky.

“It is simply unworkable in any form,“ the letter said. They said it would “undermine protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions,“ increase premiums and lead many to lose coverage.

The provision would let insurers sell low-cost policies with skimpy coverage, as long as they also sell policies that meet a stringent list of services they’re required to provide under Obama’s law, like mental health counseling and prescription drugs.

Cruz says the proposal would drive down premiums and give people the option of buying the coverage they feel they need.

Critics say the measure would encourage healthy people to buy the skimpy, low-cost plans, leaving sicker consumers who need more comprehensive coverage confronting unaffordable costs. The insurers’ statement backs up that assertion, lending credence to wary senators’ worries and complicating McConnell’s task of winning them over.

The two groups say premiums would “skyrocket” for people with preexisting conditions, especially for middle-income families who don’t qualify for the bill’s tax credit. They also say the plan would leave consumers with fewer insurance options, so “millions of more individuals will become uninsured.“

According to an analysis by the BlueCross BlueShield Association, major federal consumer protections would not be required for new plans permitted by the Cruz amendment.

Among them: guaranteed coverage at standard rates for people with pre-existing conditions, comprehensive benefits, coverage of preventive care — including birth control for women — at no added cost to the consumer, and limits on out-of-pocket spending for deductibles and copayments.

The bill provides $70 billion for states to use to help contain rising costs for people with serious conditions. But the insurance groups’ statement says that amount “is insufficient and additional funding will not make the provision workable for consumers or taxpayers.“

The Cruz provision language in the bill is not final. McConnell and other Republicans are considering ways to revise it in hopes of winning broader support.

McConnell and top Trump administration officials plan to spend the next few days cajoling senators and home-state governors in an effort to nail down support for the bill.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its analysis of McConnell’s revised bill early next week, including an assessment of Cruz’s plan.

The office estimated that McConnell’s initial bill would have caused 22 million additional people to be uninsured.


►  Trump’s no ‘dying in the streets’ pledge faces reality check

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has often said he doesn’t want people “dying in the streets” for lack of health care.

But in the United States, where chronic conditions are the major diseases, people decline slowly. Preventive care and routine screening can make a big difference for those at risk for things such as heart problems and cancer, especially over time.

That edge is what doctors and patients fear will be compromised if Republican efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law lead to more uninsured people. The uninsured tend to postpone care until problems break through.

It’s a message that lawmakers are hearing from doctors’ groups and constituents, in letters and emails, and at town hall meetings.

About 10 years ago, Cathy Cooper of Ocala, Florida, was battling a blood cancer. Against doctor’s advice, she continued to work full time as a paralegal, through chemotherapy and radiation, just to preserve her health insurance. Cooper said she would schedule chemo on Fridays, spend the weekend sick from side effects and report back to work Monday.

Now in her early 30s, Cooper is healthy. She has her own business as a photographer specializing in maternity, newborns, families and seniors, and a family of her own. Her health insurance is through HealthCare.Governor With her cancer history, Cooper is worried about changes under debate that may reduce options for people with medical conditions. She said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.

“The ‘dying in the streets’ thing — it’s an over-time process,“ said Cooper. “If I didn’t have insurance, it (cancer) could just keep forming inside me and I wouldn’t know. Then I’d go into the hospital, and there’s nothing they could do. And then, yeah, I could die in the street. But that’s because I wouldn’t have had insurance to get things checked out prior to that point.“

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Octavia Cannon said that’s basically what happened to one of her patients several years ago. The patient, a working mother with three young children and more than one job, was uninsured after losing previous Medicaid coverage. She went to Cannon, an osteopathic ob-gyn, because of abnormal bleeding. Cannon said she knew something was horribly wrong on the basis of her initial physical examination. The pathology lab confirmed advanced cervical cancer.

“In six months, she was dead,“ Cannon recalled. “All I could think was ‘Who is going to take care of these babies?‘ If she had only come in for a Pap smear.“

Such stories are swirling around the Senate debate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes toward a vote on legislation rolling back much of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill has been facing headwinds since the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would lead to 22 million more uninsured people by 2026.

Administration officials say the nonpartisan budget office has been wrong before about health coverage, and its analytical methods may give too much weight to the current requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines. (Republicans would repeal that immediately.) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Trump’s goal is more people with health insurance, not fewer.

“Nobody is looking at it in its totality,“ Price said recently on NBC. “We will bring down premiums, we will increase coverage, we’ll increase choices. And I believe we’ll increase the quality of care provided in this nation.“

There’s not much debate about the negative consequences of being uninsured.

Studies by the National Academies have found that the uninsured are more likely to receive too little care, and too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care in the hospital.

But surprisingly, there are questions about whether gaining coverage produces tangible health benefits.

Major government surveys have documented clear improvements to family finances associated with Obama’s coverage expansion. On health itself, the evidence is mixed.

Medicaid expansions in New York, Maine and Arizona in the early 2000s were associated with a 6 percent decline in death rates in those states, compared with neighboring states that did not expand coverage for low-income people. A study of Massachusetts found a similar trend.

But in Oregon a Medicaid expansion study that found a marked reduction in depression failed to detect significant improvement in blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Cyrus Hamidi, a solo family medicine practitioner in Sparks, Maryland, said having insurance is a start, reducing barriers to access for patients.

“If you have to pay to go to the doctor, then you worry about payment instead of what you need to do to reduce the risk of dropping dead,“ he said.

Gaywin Day, a union electrician from Austin, Texas, said being able to get coverage under Obama’s law in the aftermath of a medical crisis has been “a lifesaver.“

Day, in his early 60s, was between jobs and uninsured when he had a stroke in March. A couple of months later, a “special enrollment period” enabled him to get subsidized coverage through HealthCare.gov, opening doors to physical therapy and follow-up medical care.

Now, Day no longer uses a walker or cane. He’s thinking about returning to work.

“Nobody wants anybody dying in the streets, but if I hadn’t got this. ... I could just be shriveling up in my bed,“ he said.

He didn’t cast a ballot last year. “I don’t vote,“ said Day. “I do a lot of praying.“


►  Canceled $30K wedding becomes dinner for Indiana homeless

An Indiana woman didn’t want her canceled $30,000 wedding to go to waste, so she threw a dinner party for the homeless.

A bus pulled up to the swanky event center on Saturday that Sarah Cummins had booked for the reception in Carmel, a suburb north of Indianapolis. About a dozen veterans from a local organization were among the guests who dined on bourbon-glazed meatballs, roasted garlic bruschetta and wedding cake.

Cummins told the Indianapolis Star that she and her fiance called off the wedding a week ago. She declined to give a reason, but she said they were left with a nonrefundable contract for the Ritz Charles in Carmel and a plated dinner for 170 guests.

“For me, it was an opportunity to let these people know they deserved to be at a place like this just as much as everyone else does,” Cummins said.

Cummins said she decided that rather than throw away the food she would bring some purpose to the event and contacted area homeless shelters. She cheerfully greeted and welcomed her guests when they arrived Saturday.

Several local businesses and residents donated suits, dresses and other items for the guests to wear.

Charlie Allen, who’s spent three months at a homeless mission, received a donated jacket.

“I didn’t have a sport coat,” he said, tugging gently at the lapels. “I think I look pretty nice in it.”

Like other guests, Allen said he was grateful for the invitation.

“For a lot of us, this is a good time to show us what we can have,” he said. “Or to remind us what we had.”

Three of Cummins’ seven bridesmaids, along with her mother and aunts, came to support her at the event. Guests also dined on chicken breast with artichokes and Chardonnay cream sauce and wedding cake.

Cummins, a 25-year-old Purdue University pharmacy student, said her ex-fiance, Logan Araujo, footed most of the bill for the wedding contract, with Cummins and her parents, along with one of Araujo’s family friends, paying the rest. Cummins said that when she approached Araujo about donating the dinner, he agreed to what he believed was a selfless way to handle the situation.

Cummins said she is not sure yet what she will do with the wedding dress.

“It’s too painful to think about.”

What the Gutting of Sears Tells Us About America

The Free Press WV

Sears is fading. Fast. The 124-year-old retailer — the place where all America once shopped — is tumbling into a shopping horror.

At some Sears stores, recent news accounts report, ceilings are collapsing, rats are racing, and toilets aren’t working “for weeks on end.” Job cutbacks and a decade of under-investment have left store shelves bare — and customers on their own.

“You could fire a cannon in any direction and not hit one salesperson,” Michael Looney, a former Sears employee in California, recently told Business Insider.


Lampert’s Way

Meanwhile, the hedge-fund billionaire who’s been running Sears the last dozen years is keeping up a brave front. Eddie Lampert is sticking to his story that Sears is wondrously transforming itself into a “member”-oriented retailer for the online age.

But business analysts have been ridiculing these claims ever since Lampert started making them. They see the Ayn Rand acolyte as an ideologue who’s left Sears “ravaged by infighting.” In 2014, one business media survey found that Lampert had more negative ratings from employees than any other major top exec in America.

By standard bottom-line yardsticks, Lampert’s reign at Sears has been one of the biggest disasters in modern business history. Between 2011 and 2016, the giant retailer’s revenues plummeted by almost half. The company lost $8.2 billion over that span. Over the last decade, meanwhile, Sears stock price has sunk from nearly $200 per share to under $10.

Lampert’s colossal failure at Sears, some observers believe, simply reflects a broader trend, the epochal economic shift from bricks-and-mortar to online retail. Few major enterprises built for success in one business epoch, the argument goes, have ever been able to prosper in another.

But Sears as an enterprise has, ironically, already pulled off an epochal transformation. That epochal shift came in the middle of the 20th century under Robert E. Wood, the West Point-trained, former Army general who led Sears from just before the Great Depression into the 1950s.


What Wood Would Do

Wood understood early on that the automobile had changed the retail landscape. Before the auto age, average Americans had shopped by mail-order catalog, a retail category Sears dominated. With cars a mass phenomenon, Wood realized, shoppers could now drive to shop. The future belonged to general merchandise department stores, and Sears, under Wood, would open up hundreds of them. By Wood’s 1954 retirement, Sears towered over American retail.

Why did Wood succeed where Lampert fails? Sheer genius on Wood’s part? Hardly. The more important factor: Wood understood a basic element of enterprise effectiveness. Successful enterprises share, he believed, both credit and rewards.

Wood didn’t prance about Sears as a self-styled savior. Nor did he tolerate pomposity from anyone else in Sears management. During Wood’s tenure, editors at the Sears employee newspaper regularly ran articles that irreverently teased top Sears execs.

Sears execs would also receive no special perks. Seniority at Sears, not corporate rank, determined benefits like vacation and sick days. General Wood also kept management salaries below their level at other retailers. Wood wanted Sears known as the “workingman’s friend.”

The Sears profit-sharing plan bolstered that reputation. The plan applied to Sears workers who stuck with the company more than a year. Those who worked 15 years would see the company put into the “Savings and Profit Sharing Pension Fund of Sears, Roebuck and Co.” a sum that equaled five times the employee contribution.

These dollars would be invested in various assets, mostly Sears stock, and the assets would pay dividends than went to profit-sharing participants. Veteran employees would routinely receive more from profit-sharing payouts than their wages. Janitors making $40 a week could waltz into retirement with $2,500 in savings.

During Wood’s tenure, current and retired Sears employees would end up holding a third of the company’s shares, the highest employee-share percentage anywhere in Corporate America.

What explains Wood’s readiness to share? Did he grow up in abject poverty? Did he come from a family of progressive political activists? None of the above.

Wood had a conventional, conservative business political outlook. By 1938, he had emerged as a strong critic of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. After World War II, he moved into America’s right-wing fringes.


Unions and Taxes Matter

So why did this right-winger share the wealth at Sears? He had little choice. Robert E. Wood operated in an America where two major institutions — the tax system and the labor market — were combining to make a sharing of sorts the national default.

The federal income tax throughout the mid-century Sears golden years subjected individual income over $200,000 to a tax rate that hovered around 90 percent. That left top executives like Wood with little incentive to feather their own nests. Why bother? They had little personally to gain from squeezing workers or cooking corporate books.

Trade unions, meanwhile, dominated the labor market. In major metro areas outside the South, most private-sector workers carried union cards. But not at Sears. Unions in the mid-century United States represented less than 8 percent of the Sears domestic workforce.

Wood liked things that way. He kept unions away, notes historian James Worthy, by having Sears match the gains unions at other companies were bargaining to win. Sears offered life and health insurance, sick pay, vacations, and separation allowances “long before they became common practice in American industry.”

Sears would be an outlier in the nonunion private sector. Few nonunion concerns worked as hard as Sears to provide economic security to their employees. But most all major nonunion companies — outside the South — made some effort to ratchet up worker pay and benefits. With unions representing such a significant share of the workforce, nonunion concerns had to try to approximate union-level wages and fringes or go without workers.

The result? The bottom 90 percent of American families would see their incomes soar in the post-war years, from a $10,513 average — in current dollars — in 1940 to $20,036 in 1950 to $26,665 in 1960.


Fast Forward

Sears chief Eddie Lampert, by contrast, is operating today in an entirely different economic environment. In huge swatches of the private sector, unions have no presence at all. Lampert has been able to shortchange workers left and right and not worry about any consequences.

And the tax system? The top federal tax rate on income has, over the past three decades, bounced around between 28 and 39.6 percent, less than half the top rate that Wood faced.

In other words, power suits like Lampert can keep, after taxes, the vast bulk of whatever income they can grab. That gives them a powerful incentive to grab, by any means necessary, as much as they can. Lampert has been free, in effect, to run Sears into the ground — and enrich himself in the process.

The most arrogant instance of this enriching? Two years ago, with Sears already on the ropes, Lampert and the hedge fund he also runs created a real-estate investment trust, then engineered a deal that had Sears sell to the trust over 200 of its best brick-and-mortar stores.

Lampert’s real-estate trust then rented space in the stores back to Sears, retaining the right to rent to other retailers as well. The deal guaranteed Lampert’s trust $135 million in rent money the first year and 2 percent annual hikes starting in the second.

Sears does get to cut the lease short on stores that prove “unprofitable,” but only if the Lampert-run retailer pays the Lampert-run trust an extra year’s rent and a year’s worth of operating expenses.

This maneuvering understandably outraged a good many Sears shareholders. They subsequently filed a lawsuit charging that Lampert was stripping Sears of its most valuable assets for his own personal gain.

The Lampert-friendly Sears board of directors vigorously denied that charge, then, this past February, agreed to pay out $40 million to settle the shareholder lawsuit.

Various other shifty moves have left Lampert well-positioned to survive any Sears bankruptcy and continue his lush luxury life. Should Sears go under, Lampert figures to be able to spend more time at his $40-million waterfront getaway on South Florida’s ultra-exclusive Indian Creek Island, a 32-home enclave that has its own mayor and full-time police force.


The Trump Connection

Eddie Lampert, living large at the expense of hard-working men and women of modest means, may just personify almost everything wrong with the modern American economy. He seems like just the kind of “swamp” creature Donald Trump once railed against.

But Eddie Lampert isn’t worrying about anybody draining his particular chunk of swampland, and he has some excellent reasons to feel confident.

Here’s one: Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin didn’t just room with Lampert at Yale and didn’t just get his wheeling and dealing start in life, like Lampert, as a mover and shaker at Goldman Sachs. Mnuchin, before stepping down this past December to join the Trump cabinet, had spent the last 12 years sitting on the Sears board of directors.

~~  Sam Pizzigati ~~

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Trump’s ‘dying in the streets’ line vs. health care reality

Donald Trump has often said he doesn’t want people “dying in the streets” for lack of health care.

But in the United States, where chronic conditions are the major diseases, people decline slowly. Preventive care and routine screening can make a big difference for those at risk for things such as heart problems and cancer, especially over time.

That edge is what doctors and patients fear will be compromised if Republican efforts to repeal the Obama-era health law lead to more uninsured people. The uninsured tend to postpone care until problems break through.

It’s a message that lawmakers are hearing from doctors’ groups and constituents, in letters and emails, and at town hall meetings.

About 10 years ago, Cathy Cooper of Ocala, Florida, was battling a blood cancer. Against doctor’s advice, she continued to work full time as a paralegal, through chemotherapy and radiation, just to preserve her health insurance. Cooper said she would schedule chemo on Fridays, spend the weekend sick from side effects and report back to work Monday.

Now in her early 30s, Cooper is healthy. She has her own business as a photographer specializing in maternity, newborns, families and seniors, and a family of her own. Her health insurance is through HealthCare.Governor With her cancer history, Cooper is worried about changes under debate that may reduce options for people with medical conditions. She said she voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.

“The ‘dying in the streets’ thing — it’s an over-time process,” said Cooper. “If I didn’t have insurance, it (cancer) could just keep forming inside me and I wouldn’t know. Then I’d go into the hospital, and there’s nothing they could do. And then, yeah, I could die in the street. But that’s because I wouldn’t have had insurance to get things checked out prior to that point.”

In Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Octavia Cannon said that’s basically what happened to one of her patients several years ago. The patient, a working mother with three young children and more than one job, was uninsured after losing previous Medicaid coverage. She went to Cannon, an osteopathic ob-gyn, because of abnormal bleeding. Cannon said she knew something was horribly wrong on the basis of her initial physical examination. The pathology lab confirmed advanced cervical cancer.

“In six months, she was dead,” Cannon recalled. “All I could think was ‘Who is going to take care of these babies?’ If she had only come in for a Pap smear.”

Such stories are swirling around the Senate debate as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes toward a vote on legislation rolling back much of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The GOP bill has been facing headwinds since the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would lead to 22 million more uninsured people by 2026.

Administration officials say the nonpartisan budget office has been wrong before about health coverage, and its analytical methods may give too much weight to the current requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines. (Republicans would repeal that immediately.) Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Trump’s goal is more people with health insurance, not fewer.

“Nobody is looking at it in its totality,” Price said recently on NBC. “We will bring down premiums, we will increase coverage, we’ll increase choices. And I believe we’ll increase the quality of care provided in this nation.”

There’s not much debate about the negative consequences of being uninsured.

Studies by the National Academies have found that the uninsured are more likely to receive too little care, and too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care in the hospital.

But surprisingly, there are questions about whether gaining coverage produces tangible health benefits.

Major government surveys have documented clear improvements to family finances associated with Obama’s coverage expansion. On health itself, the evidence is mixed.

Medicaid expansions in New York, Maine and Arizona in the early 2000s were associated with a 6 percent decline in death rates in those states, compared with neighboring states that did not expand coverage for low-income people. A study of Massachusetts found a similar trend.

But in Oregon a Medicaid expansion study that found a marked reduction in depression failed to detect significant improvement in blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol levels — risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Cyrus Hamidi, a solo family medicine practitioner in Sparks, Maryland, said having insurance is a start, reducing barriers to access for patients.

“If you have to pay to go to the doctor, then you worry about payment instead of what you need to do to reduce the risk of dropping dead,” he said.

Gaywin Day, a union electrician from Austin, Texas, said being able to get coverage under Obama’s law in the aftermath of a medical crisis has been “a lifesaver.”

Day, in his early 60s, was between jobs and uninsured when he had a stroke in March. A couple of months later, a “special enrollment period” enabled him to get subsidized coverage through HealthCare.gov, opening doors to physical therapy and follow-up medical care.

Now, Day no longer uses a walker or cane. He’s thinking about returning to work.

“Nobody wants anybody dying in the streets, but if I hadn’t got this. ... I could just be shriveling up in my bed,” he said.

He didn’t cast a ballot last year. “I don’t vote,” said Day. “I do a lot of praying.”


►  Trustees project biggest Social Security increase in years

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans who rely on Social Security can expect to receive their biggest payment increase in years this January, according to projections released Thursday by the trustees who oversee the program.

But older Americans shouldn’t get too excited.

The increase is projected to be just 2.2 percent, or about $28 a month for the average recipient. Social Security recipients have gone years with tiny increases in benefits. This year they received an increase of 0.3 percent, after getting nothing last year.

Some good news for seniors: The trustees project that Medicare Part B premiums will remain unchanged next year. Most beneficiaries pay $134 a month, though retirees with higher incomes pay more.

Both Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment and the Medicare Part B premium are to be announced in the fall.

The trustees released the 2018 projections Thursday, along with their annual warning about the long-term financial problems of Social Security and Medicare, the federal government’s two bedrock retirement programs.

More than 61 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,253. Medicare provides health insurance to about 58 million people, most of whom are at least 65 years old.

Unless Congress acts, the trust funds that support Social Security are estimated to run dry in 2034, the same year as last year’s projection. Medicare’s trust fund for inpatient care is projected to be depleted in 2029, a year later than last year’s forecast.

If Congress allows either fund to be depleted, millions of Americans living on fixed incomes would face steep cuts in benefits.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare faces an immediate crisis — they both currently have surpluses. But the trustees warn that the longer Congress waits to address the programs’ problems, the harder it will be to sustain Social Security and Medicare without steep cuts in benefits, big tax increases or both.

For example, in 2034, Social Security is projected to have a $546 billion shortfall, which would grow to more than $3 trillion in the first five years.

“Congress must act to ensure the long-term fiscal viability and sustainability and survival of Medicare and Social Security,“ said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. “There are a great many ways that the situation can be addressed. The bottom line is that it must be addressed.“

Republicans in Washington have long clamored to address the long-term financial problems of Social Security and Medicare, the largest benefit programs run by the federal government. But don’t expect them to do much about it.

Over the years, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has insisted on overhauling the programs, proposing a voucher-like system for Medicare and calling for partially privatizing Social Security.

Now that Republicans control Congress and the White House, Ryan says he doesn’t want to tackle Social Security. Instead, Republicans and the White House are focused on repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Donald Trump has promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare, though his budget proposal for next year would reduce Social Security’s disability benefits by nearly $70 billion over the next decade. The savings would come from encouraging, and in some cases requiring, people receiving the benefits to re-enter the workforce.

But even if Trump finds the savings, it wouldn’t come close to solving the program’s long-term financial problems.

A big reason why Congress doesn’t shore up Social Security and Medicare is that Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on the urgency of the problem. Many Democrats and liberals focus on the fact that both programs are funded for years to come.

“Opponents of Social Security may once again try to use this report as an excuse to cut benefits, including raising the retirement age,“ said Max Richtman, who heads the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “We must, instead, look to modest and manageable solutions that will keep Social Security solvent well into the future without punishing seniors and disabled Americans.“

Republicans, meanwhile, note that both programs face steep shortfalls as soon as their trust funds run out of money.

“With an aging population, our nation’s most critical retirement programs — Medicare and Social Security — are feeling an increased financial squeeze that puts their future viability at serious risk,“ said Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Over the past decade, Social Security and Medicare made up about 40 percent of federal spending, excluding interest on the debt — and that share is projected to grow in the future, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Fifty years ago, the two programs accounted for 16 percent of federal spending.

The programs are expanding in part because the U.S. is growing older.

In 1960, there were 5.1 workers for each person getting Social Security benefits. Today, there are about 2.8 workers for each beneficiary.

In addition to Price, the trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill.


►  White House: Budget deficit to spike to $702B

WASHINGTON — The White House said Friday that worsening tax revenues will cause the budget deficit to jump to $702 billion this year. That’s a $99 billion spike from what was predicted less than two months ago.

The report from the Office of Management and Budget comes on the heels of a rival Congressional Budget Office analysis that scuttled White House claims that its May budget, if implemented to the letter, would balance the federal ledger within 10 years. The OMB report doesn’t repeat that claim and instead provides just two years of updated projections.

The White House budget office also says the deficit for the 2018 budget year that starts on October 1 will increase by $149 billion to $589 billion. But lawmakers are already working on spending bills that promise to boost that number even higher by adding to Trump’s Pentagon proposal and ignoring many of Trump’s cuts to domestic programs.

Last year’s deficit registered $585 billion.

The White House kept the report to a bare-bones minimum and cast blame on “the failed policies of the previous administration.”

“The rising near-term deficits underscore the critical need to restore fiscal discipline to the nation’s finances,” said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. “Our nation must make substantial changes to the policies and spending priorities of the previous administration if our citizens are to be safe and prosperous in the future.”

In late May, Trump released a budget plan proposing jarring cuts to domestic programs and promising to balance the budget within a decade. But it relied on rosy predictions of economic growth to promise a slight surplus in 2027. Trump’s budget, however, left alone Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare, though House Republicans are poised next week to again propose cutting Medicare as they unveil their nonbinding budget outline.

CBO says that Trump relied on far too optimistic predictions of economic growth and that Trump’s rosy projections are the chief reason his budget doesn’t balance as promised.

Trump’s budget predicts that the U.S. economy will soon ramp up to annual growth in gross domestic product of 3 percent; CBO’s long-term projections predict annual GDP growth averaging 1.9 percent.


►  Election security flaws mark Kemp 2018 campaign for governor

Georgia’s top elections official stood out by refusing help from the Department of Homeland Security last August amid national concerns about the integrity of U.S. elections.

Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp called it an attempted federal takeover and insisted his office was already protecting Georgia’s vote from hackers.

That stance earned him national media coverage ahead of his campaign for governor. But Kemp’s assurances threatened to become a liability after new details emerged last month about major security mistakes at the center managing Georgia’s election technology. It turns out that the contractor left critical data wide open for months on the internet, and that for the second time under Kemp’s tenure, the personal information of every Georgia voter was exposed.

With his critics demanding accountability, Kemp announced Friday that he plans to bring the center’s operations in-house within a year. His brief statement made no mention of the security flaws, saying “the ever-changing landscape of technology demands that we change with it.”

“The Secretary of State’s office is equipped, trained, and tested to handle these operations in-house. I am confident that this move will ensure Georgia continues to have secure, accessible, and fair elections for years to come,” his statement said.

Georgia effectively outsourced management of the touch-screen voting machines it adopted statewide 15 years ago to the center, which earned $792,000 in its most recent annual contract. The work has been all-encompassing, from designing ballots to creating memory cards with lists of registered voters for each county to testing and certifying each piece of equipment after repairs. The new, $815,000 contract Kemp announced Friday calls for moving that work to the Secretary of State’s office by June 30, 2018.

Merle King, the center’s director, didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment about the change. He had referred earlier questions about the mistakes to Kennesaw State University, which houses the center. Its president, Sam Olens, issued a brief statement: “We support the Secretary of State’s decision and look forward to helping facilitate a smooth transition.”

Details first made public last month raised questions about the center’s security measures. A cybersecurity expert warned King in August — only days after Kemp turned away federal help — that he had been able to copy records on Georgia’s 6.7 million voters and other critical documents from the center’s public website, including passwords poll workers used to sign into a central server on Election Day. The same data was available seven months later, the university determined.

This extended exposure was first detailed by Politico magazine in June, raising the heat on Kemp, whose office mistakenly sent out CDs containing the birth dates and Social Security numbers of every registered voter in 2015, costing the state $1.2 million for credit monitoring.

Republican state Representative Scot Turner called it a “series of botches.”

“My criticism of him isn’t personal and it’s not political,” Turner said. “It’s based on having a factual discussion of what’s going on, without politicizing it, because it’s so important we get this right.”

Republican secretaries of state commonly build their profiles backing strict voter identification laws, but Kemp’s predecessor, Republican Karen Handel, had already implemented one. Kemp also used intensive procedures to verify voters’ registration status, prompting accusations from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Georgia NAACP and Common Cause that thousands of eligible citizens lost their right to vote.

When launching his gubernatorial bid this April, Kemp said their lawsuits were trying to “undermine the integrity of the ballot box.” And when voting-rights activists demanded an independent, system-wide security review ahead of Handel’s June 20 special congressional election victory, Kemp dismissed their experts as “Ivy League professors.”

A judge dismissed their challenge in early June, ruling that Kemp had immunity and she saw no evidence of harm justifying drastic changes with early voting already underway. Kemp said the ruling verified “voting machines in Georgia are safe and accurate.”

Then Politico revealed details of the center’s mistakes: that researcher Logan Lamb alerted King in August, warning him to assume that the exposed data had been downloaded already. Lamb said he followed King’s directive to keep quiet until telling a colleague who checked the site and found the data still exposed months later.

According to their emails, obtained by voting-technology activists, KSU officials were most concerned that the “personally identifiable information” of all registered voters had been easily accessible. If that data had been “maliciously disclosed,” the credit monitoring for affected voters would cost about $2 million, it said.

A damning report by KSU’s information technology department also said the center’s reportedly secure private network for creating and testing ballots was in a closet with a live internet connection and a door that “was not latching properly,” in an office with a wireless access point.

King told the AP that he “did not believe there was any risk” after speaking with Lamb in August.

“In hindsight, I should have let (Kemp) know that I had been contacted,” he wrote in an email to the AP. “The responsibility for maintaining the security of the data entrusted to the center is ours.”

Kemp called it “inexcusable” that he didn’t learn of the security lapses until March. He said the center “didn’t report back to us in the middle of the most critical time — when all we were literally talking about was cybersecurity. And even though they knew it, they didn’t follow up on it. I think that blame is clearly on them.”

More than three months later, Kemp announced the change.

Common Cause Georgia’s director, Sara Henderson, told the AP before Kemp’s announcement that she questions his commitment to voting security.

“Running elections across the state is a nonpartisan issue and the fundamental task of the secretary of state. If he can’t accomplish that, why can Georgians trust him as governor?”


►  Tuskegee Syphilis Study descendants to seek settlement money

Descendants of hundreds of black men who were left untreated for syphilis during an infamous government study want a judge to give them any money remaining from a $9 million legal settlement over the program.

The head of an organization for descendants of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study said the money could help fund college scholarships the group provides, and members would like to develop a memorial garden dedicated to the men.

Some of the funds also could go to a county-owned museum located in Tuskegee that has separately requested the funds, but the decision should be up to the descendants, said Lillie Tyson Head, president of the Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation.

“It was meant to go to the descendants in the first place,” Head, who lives in Virginia, said in an interview Friday.

The Voices group has sent a letter to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson asking him to withhold a decision on the money until they have time to hire a lawyer and file documents in the long-running, class-action lawsuit over the study.

Fred Gray, an attorney who heads the museum and represented study participants in the lawsuit, said he had not seen the group’s letter and declined comment on the request. Gray has requested the money for the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, which includes an exhibit about the study and a memorial to the men.

Beginning in 1932 in the impoverished, segregated South, government medical worker in rural Alabama withheld treatment from unsuspecting black men infected with syphilis so doctors could track the disease and dissect their bodies afterward. Finally revealed by The Associated Press in 1972, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in the settlement.

More than 6,000 heirs of the roughly 600 men who were involved in the study received settlement payments through the decades, court officials say, but an undisclosed amount remains in court-controlled accounts. Court officials say they can’t find additional descendants, if any exist. All the men who participated in the study are dead.

The amount of money at stake hasn’t been made public, but court documents describe it as a “relatively small” amount of interest earnings.

The Trump administration has filed documents saying any unclaimed settlement money should revert to the government under terms of the original settlement, reached in 1975.


►  Lighting should have made pilots aware of potential disaster

Investigators looking into the frighteningly close call involving an airliner that nearly hit planes on the ground at San Francisco International Airport will try to determine why the pilots made such a rookie mistake and nearly landed on a busy taxiway instead of the runway.

The Air Canada plane with 140 people aboard came within 100 feet of crashing onto the first two of four passenger-filled planes readying for takeoff.

Runways are edged with rows of white lights, and another system of lights on the side of the runway helps guide pilots on their descent. By contrast, taxiways have blue lights on the edges and green lights down the center.

“The lighting is different for good reason,” said Steven Wallace, a former director of accident investigations at the Federal Aviation Administration. “Some of these visual mistakes are hard to believe, but a crew gets fixated with thinking ‘That’s the runway,’ and it’s not.”

Then there is the radio transmission in which one of the Air Canada pilots sounded puzzled about seeing what appeared to be the lights of other planes on the runway. Safety experts said that should have prompted the crew to abort their approach long before they did.

When investigators interview the pilots, they will focus on understanding how mistakes occurred “and why they did not realize the sequence of errors,” said John Cox, a safety consultant and former airline pilot. Investigators will look at the pilots’ use of automated-flying systems, their manual flying skills, and how they interacted with each other as uncertainty set in, he said.

Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board may arrive this weekend and interview the pilots and air traffic controllers, an agency spokesman said Friday. They will examine information from the flight data recorder, which will tell them the plane’s exact location and how it was being flown. They also will listen to the cockpit voice recorder, which may indicate whether the pilots were focused on their job or distracted.

Canada’s transportation safety board said the Air Canada jet skimmed just 100 feet over the tops of two planes waiting for takeoff. After an air traffic controller ordered them to abandon their landing, the pilots pulled up their Airbus A320 just in time, circled and landed correctly on the runway. No one was injured.

The Canadian agency’s summary was the first official account of just how dangerous the situation was.

An Air Canada spokeswoman said she could not comment because the incident is under investigation. She declined to describe the amount of experience of the pilots.

A recording of the radio calls between pilots and the control tower captured uncertainty in the Air Canada cockpit as the plane approached shortly before midnight on July 7. One of the pilots radioed to the tower that he saw lights — presumably other planes — on the runway. An air traffic controller assured him the runway was clear.

After a pilot apparently in one of the planes on the ground said the Air Canada jet was heading straight for the taxiway, a controller ordered the Air Canada crew to abort the landing.

From the vantage point of the Air Canada crew, four parallel surfaces appeared below them — from left to right they were taxiway F; runway 28L, which was closed; runway 28R, on which they were supposed to land, and taxiway C, where the other planes were waiting their turn to take off.

“I could see where you get lined up incorrectly, but once you start seeing lights on the runway you’re not necessarily looking at a runway,” said William Waldock, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said investigators will look at “all the visual cues that might have confused them.”

Chris Manno, an American Airlines pilot, said the Air Canada crew should have stopped their approach while they figured out why they were seeing lights from other planes on what they thought was the runway.

Taxiway landings are rare, and most of them involve small planes.

In February, actor Harrison Ford landed his single-engine propeller plane on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport in Southern California after narrowly missing an American Airlines plane with 100 passengers. The actor, an experienced pilot, realized his mistake immediately and was not punished by the FAA.

Some airliners have mistakenly landed or taken off from taxiways.

In 2006 a Continental Airlines jet passed through rain that reduced visibility before landing on a taxiway in Newark, New Jersey. The captain took control of the plane from the co-pilot when he realized the mistake.

In 2009, a Delta Air Lines jet landed on a taxiway in Atlanta. In 2015, an Alaska Airlines jet landed safely on a taxiway between runways in Seattle.

Traveling on airlines has become remarkably safe. No U.S. airline has had a fatal accident since 2009.

The last fatal accident involving a foreign airline on U.S. soil was the 2013 crash at San Francisco International Airport of an Asiana Boeing 777 carrying 307. Three passengers died after the plane’s tail struck a seawall while landing on runway 28L — next to the runway where the Air Canada jet landed.

The Asiana pilots came in too low and were unable to execute the kind of go-around that the Air Canada jet did.

Throughout aviation history, deadly accidents have led to safety improvements. As fatal crashes have become rare, “the only way to get better is to learn from close calls and incidents,” Wallace said.


►  Drought in High Plains the worst some farmers have ever seen

Drought in North Dakota is laying waste to fields of normally bountiful food and hay crops and searing pastures that typically would be home to multitudes of grazing cattle.

Some longtime farmers and ranchers say it’s the worst conditions they’ve seen in decades — possibly their lifetimes — and simple survival has become their goal as a dry summer drags on without a raincloud in sight.

“We’ve never been in this sort of boat, honestly,” said Dawn Martin, who raises beef cattle with her parents and husband in the southwestern part of the state, an area the U.S. Drought Monitor says is in “extreme” drought.

“We’re just trying to make it through and work it out,” she said. “There are a lot of people in the same boat. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The drought’s impact likely will be felt not just by farmers but also consumers, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. Agriculture in North Dakota is an $11 billion a year industry, and the state leads the nation in the production of nearly a dozen crops.

“It’s going to affect bread at the grocery store counter,” Goehring said, though he didn’t put a figure on how much costs might go up for shoppers. “Dry beans — navies, pintos — are going to be affected to a degree. Canola, that production is going to be cut, and that’s going to have an effect on vegetable oil.”

The latest Drought Monitor map shows nearly all of western North Dakota in severe or extreme drought, conditions that extend into northern South Dakota and northeastern Montana. Most of the rest of North Dakota is in moderate drought or abnormally dry.

John Weinand has had less than 2.5 inches of rain on his farm near Beulah, which is northwest of Bismarck, since the beginning of May. He’s used to getting more than 3 inches in June alone.

Weinand figures his wheat crop will be half what it usually is. As for his field peas, he expects to harvest fewer than 100 pounds per acre, compared with a typical 3,000 pounds per acre. He won’t even try to sell his barley; he’s already rolled it up into hay to feed his cows.

“If we get some rain we’ll have some corn and soybeans, but at this point it doesn’t look very promising,” he said.

The Martins have sold off about one-third of their cattle because the grass in their pastures is brown and brittle and they’ve already started dipping into winter hay reserves. They’ll likely send their remaining animals to a feedlot for the winter, but they might need to find second jobs to cover the expense.

“What we’re trying to do is hold onto our main cow herd, get through the year, and hopefully next year is better,” Martin said.

The situation is much the same across ranching country, with the best hay production about a fourth of normal. In pastures where grass might typically be 2 feet tall, “now we’re talking grass that if you laid a pop can on its side, it would be taller,” Goehring said.

More than one-third of North Dakota’s staple spring wheat crop and nearly three-fourths of the state’s pasture and rangelands are rated in poor or very poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA estimates spring wheat production will be down 27 percent from last year; oats, barley, durum wheat and winter wheat also will be down dramatically. The production reports released Wednesday for South Dakota and Montana are much the same.

USDA has designated numerous counties in the three states as natural disasters, paving the way for emergency loans for producers. The Agriculture Department has authorized other aid, including forage disaster payments and emergency haying and grazing of land enrolled in conservation and wetland programs.

That helps, but doesn’t cover everything, Goehring said. Neither does crop insurance, which pays only a portion of what a farmer would get by selling a typical crop, said Goehring, who in addition to heading the state Agriculture Department is a farmer who has worked in the insurance industry.

The state has taken several steps, including adding more money to its Drought Disaster Livestock Water Supply cost-share program and relaxing commercial driving restrictions to help with the transport of livestock, water and hay.

Hay is in great demand — a North Dakota State University website that helps match hay buyers with sellers lists nearly 60 ranchers seeking hay. The demand has pushed prices to as much as double the normal cost.

“Everything good is pretty far away,” Martin said. “The hay is going to be expensive, and the trucking is going to be expensive to get it here. That’s where we’re at — weighing the cost.”

If the drought persists into next year, it could start pushing producers out of business, officials and farmers say. But one year of extreme conditions, though a hardship, will be manageable for most.

“We’ll make it through,” Martin said. “We’re a resilient bunch.”

National News

The Free Press WV


►  Kushner lawyer says she’s stepping aside

WASHINGTON — The Latest on Donald Trump and the investigation into his campaign’s potential ties to Russia (all times local):

5:24 p.m.

One of Jared Kushner’s lawyers says she’s stepping aside from Russia-related investigations and turning over that portfolio to criminal defense attorney Abbe Lowell.

Jamie Gorelick said Friday that she remains part of the legal team of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and will continue to help Lowell. She says while she’ll be helping Kushner on questions of ethics compliance and the security clearance process, Lowell will be handling Russia investigations.

Congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mueller previously work at the same law firm as Gorelick and took three partners with him to join his team.

Once that happened, Gorelick says she advised Kushner to get independent legal advice on whether he wanted to stay with her and her team.

___

12:05 p.m.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee says reports that a second Russian person was in a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. last summer “adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting.”

Representative Adam Schiff of California says Trump Jr.’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended the June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump’s son. The detail marks another shift in the account of the meeting, which was described as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign. Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation to The Associated Press on Friday.

Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies, though he denies ever working as an intelligence agent.

___

9:50 a.m.

House Democrats are renewing calls for a vote on an independent commission to investigate Russia’s election meddling and ties to the Trump administration.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California also says that presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.

Pelosi and other top House Democrats spoke at a news conference Friday insisting they would try to force votes on the issue on the House floor — although their ability to do so is limited.

Pelosi said that “House Democrats are not going to let the Republicans off the hook for their complicity, ... They have become enablers of the violations of our Constitution, the attack on the integrity of our elections.”

She added that “House Republicans will have to answer for their actions.”

___

9:40 a.m.

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump’s son that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican campaign.

Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation to The Associated Press Friday. His disclosure marks another shift in the account of the meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. did not disclose Akhmetshin’s presence in statements and emails he released on the meeting earlier this week.

Emails posted by Trump Jr. show that he was told by an associate that the meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump in the election. The associate who helped arrange the meeting told Trump Jr. that the lawyer had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting.

—-

9 a.m.

Donald Trump’s campaign data and digital director says he will speak with the House intelligence committee later this month as part of its Russia probe.

Brad Parscale says in a statement to The Associated Press he’s “unaware of any Russian involvement” in the data and digital operations of Trump’s campaign. He says he will appear voluntarily before the panel.

Representative Adam Schiff is the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. Schiff says lawmakers are reviewing whether the campaign worked with Russians in any way, including distributing “fake news.”

Parscale says the campaign “used the exact same digital marketing strategies that are used every day by corporate America.”

Trump’s campaign paid Parscale’s firm more than $90 million to advertise on social media, analyze data and perform other functions.


►  Russian-American lobbyist says he was in Trump son’s meeting

A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump’s son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation to The Associated Press on Friday. Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but was never formally trained as a spy.

The meeting has heightened questions about whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Russian government during the election, which is the focus of federal and congressional investigations. In emails posted by Donald Trump Jr. earlier this week, a music publicist who arranged the meeting said a Russian lawyer wanted to pass on negative information about Democrat Hillary Clinton and stated that the discussion was part of a Russian government effort to help the GOP candidate.

While Trump Jr. has confirmed that Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya was in the meeting, he did not disclose Akhmetshin’s presence. The president’s son has tried to discount the meeting, saying that he did not receive the information he was promised.

In a statement Sunday, Trump Jr. said the attorney said that she had information that people tied to Russia were funding the DNC and supporting Clinton, a description that Akhmetshin backed up in his interview with the AP.

In his first public interview about the meeting, Akhmetshin said he accompanied Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower where they met an interpreter who participated in the meeting. He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.

Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had all the evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.

“They couldn’t wait for the meeting to end,” he said.

Akhmetshin said he does not know if Veselnitskaya’s documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials with the Trump associates. It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and current White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended the meeting. Akhmetshin said he recognized Kushner and Trump Jr. He also said he recognized Manafort because they worked in “adjacent political circles” but never together.

He said there were others in the room but he didn’t know them. Publicist Rob Goldstone, who brokered the meeting via email with Trump Jr., has told the AP that he also participated in the meeting.

Asked about Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined comment. A spokesman for Kushner did not respond to inquiries, nor did Trump Jr.’s attorney.

The confirmation of Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting drew swift reaction from the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said it “adds another deeply disturbing fact about this secret meeting.” Representative Adam Schiff of California said Trump Jr.’s omission of Akhmetshin’s role in his public account of the meeting and the president’s son’s shifting explanations “paint a portrait of consistent dissembling and deceit.”

Akhmetshin said the meeting was “not substantive” and he “actually expected more serious” discussion.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal to be honest,” he told AP.

The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the June 2016 meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “We don’t know anything about this person.”

In reports this week, Akhmetshin has been identified as a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service known as the GRU. He has denied that, saying he served in the Soviet Army from 1986 to 1988 after he was drafted but was not trained in spy tradecraft. He said his unit operated in the Baltics and was “loosely part of counterintelligence.”

Akhmetshin said he has not been contacted by the special counsel’s office or the FBI about the meeting with Trump Jr. He said he’s willing to talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman has pressed the Justice Department about why Akhmetshin has not registered as a foreign agent.

The chairman, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in a March letter that Akhmetshin has “reportedly admitted to being a ‘Soviet counterintelligence officer’ and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters.”

Akhmetshin said that the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit sent him a letter in April and told him, “it has come to our attention you should have filed for FARA.” He said he didn’t believe he needed to file as a foreign agent. He has previously registered with Congress for the lobbying work, and he plans to raise this issue before Grassley’s committee.

“I think I have a legal right to tell my story,” he said.

Separately on Friday, the data and digital director for Trump’s presidential campaign said he will speak with the House Intelligence committee later this month as part of its own Russia probe.

Brad Parscale said in a statement that he is “unaware of any Russian involvement” in the data and digital operations but will voluntarily appear before the panel and looks forward to “sharing with them everything I know.”


►  Trump’s travel ban watered down by another court setback

In another setback for Donald Trump, a federal judge in Hawaii further weakened the already-diluted travel ban by vastly expanding the list of U.S. family relationships that visitors from six Muslim-majority countries can use to get into the country.

The ruling Thursday was the latest volley in the fierce fight over the ban Trump first tried to put in place in January. It will culminate with arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in October.

The rules are not so much an outright ban as a tightening of tough visa policies affecting citizens from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen. People from those countries who already have visas will be allowed into the U.S.

Only narrow categories of people, including those with relatives named in the ruling, will be considered for new visas. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson ordered the government not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the U.S.

“Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents,” Watson said in his ruling. “Indeed grandparents are the epitome of close family members.”

The State Department said Friday that it was reviewing the decision and will be consulting with the Justice Department “to ensure immediate implementation.”

Watson also ruled that the government may not exclude refugees who have formal assurance and promise of placement services from a resettlement agency in the U.S.

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters Friday that Trump administration lawyers will closely review the ruling, but it appears to be broad enough to “cover every refugee.”

Bossert said he does not believe that was the interpretation the U.S. Supreme Court intended when it allowed a scaled-back version of the travel ban to take effect against those without a “bona fide relationship” with a person or an entity in the U.S.

The justices didn’t define a bona fide relationship but said it could include a close relative, a job offer or admission to a college or university. A relationship created to avoid the ban would not be acceptable, they said.

The Trump administration defined it as those who had a parent, spouse, fiance, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the U.S.

The case came back to Watson when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he had the authority to interpret the Supreme Court’s order and block any violation of it. He broadened the definition of what counts as a close relationship.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S. Chin, who filed the case for the broader definition, said the court made clear “that the U.S. government may not ignore the scope of the partial travel ban as it sees fit.”

“Family members have been separated and real people have suffered enough,” Chin said in a statement.

Trump has said the policy is a necessary tool for national security and fighting terrorism. His initial travel ban in January set off massive protests at airports nationwide and sparked a sprawling legal fight.

Courts blocked the first ban and the administration’s revised version until the Supreme Court weighed in.

It’s unclear how significantly the new rules have affected or will affect travel. In most of the countries singled out, few people have the means for leisure travel. Those that do already face intensive screenings before receiving visas.


►  Court: Commissioners’ prayer practice violated Constitution

Elected officials in North Carolina violated the Constitution by opening meetings with Christian prayers and inviting audience members to join, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a closely watched case likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that found the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ prayer practice to be “unconstitutionally coercive.”

The Supreme Court already has ruled that it’s appropriate for local clergy to deliver predominantly Christian prayers and town meetings in New York. The question in the Rowan County case was whether it makes a difference that the prayers were given by the commissioners themselves and whether their invitation for the audience to join them in prayer was coercive.

The 4th Circuit, located in Richmond, Virginia, stressed that it’s not inherently unconstitutional for lawmakers to lead prayers. But the fact that the Rowan County commissioners were the exclusive prayer givers combined with them consistently invoking one faith and inviting the audience members to participate sent the message that they preferred Christianity above other religions, the court said.

“The principle at stake here may be a profound one, but it is also simple. The Establishment Clause does not permit a seat of government to wrap itself in a single faith,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the majority opinion that was joined by nine other judges.

The Board of Commissioners can appeal to the Supreme Court. Attorneys for the commission didn’t immediately return phone and email messages on Friday.

Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in a dissent that the majority opinion “actively undermines the appropriate role of prayer in American civil life.”

“In finding Rowan County’s prayer practice unconstitutional, essentially because the prayers were sectarian, the majority’s opinion strikes at the very trunk of religion, seeking to outlaw most prayer given in government assemblies, even though such prayer has been an important part of the fabric of our democracy and civic life,” he wrote. Four other judges also dissented.

The full 4th Circuit heard the case in March after a divided three-judge panel said Rowan County commissioners had a constitutional right to open meetings with prayers as long as they don’t pressure observers to participate.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of non-Christians who say the prayers made them feel excluded and sent the message that the board favored a particular religion.

Attorneys for Rowan County argued that the prayers fell within the bounds of the practice endorsed by the Supreme Court. The commissioners don’t force anyone to participate, their attorneys said, noting that people can leave the room or stay seated during the prayer. Since the lower court’s decision deemed the prayers unconstitutional, the commission has invited a volunteer chaplain to lead prayer.

The full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard arguments in a similar case challenging a Michigan county’s tradition of Christian-only prayers. A divided three judge panel of that court said the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ prayer tradition was unconstitutional.

If the two circuits split, the Supreme Court may feel more compelled to take up the issue.

The 4th Circuit said the intimate local board meeting setting, as opposed to a gathering of Congress or state lawmakers, increases the risk that residents would feel coerced to participate in the prayers moments before seeking approval for things such as zoning petitions and permits applications. The judges also found it troubling that the commissioners’ prayers sometimes implied that other faiths were “in some way condemned,” with messages suggesting that Christianity was “the one and only way to salvation.”

“By proclaiming the spiritual and moral supremacy of Christianity, characterizing the political community as a Christian one, and urging adherents of other religions to embrace Christianity as the sole path to salvation, the Board in its prayer practice stepped over the line,” Wilkinson wrote.

ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook, who argued the case, called the ruling a “great victory for the rights of all residents to participate in their local government without fearing discrimination.”

“No one in this community should fear being forced by government officials to participate in a prayer, or fear being discriminated against because they didn’t participate in a prayer before a meeting for all the public,” Nan Lund, one of the residents who brought the case, said in a statement.


►  Portland cleans dirty river, invites residents to take a dip

Portland is well-known as a tree-hugging, outdoorsy city, but the river that powers through its downtown has never been part of that green reputation.

For decades, residents have been repulsed by the idea of swimming in the Willamette River because of weekly sewage overflows that created a bacterial stew.

Now, the recent completion of a $1.4 billion sewage pipe has flushed those worries — and the river once shunned by swimmers is enjoying a rapid renaissance.

The city has partnered with a civic group called the Human Access Project to entice residents into the Willamette this summer with a roster of public swimming events and a flood of announcements that the river, finally, is safe for human use. The campaign is aimed at reversing the impact of decades of public health warnings in an eco-savvy city with a hard-earned green reputation.

The push mirrors efforts to revive ailing rivers in other U.S. cities, from the Charles River in Boston — where occasional city-sanctioned swimming started in 2013 — to the concrete-lined Los Angeles River, where efforts have been underway in recent years to reverse decades of environmental damage along an 11-mile (18-kilometer) stretch.

In Portland, the movement has clearly found its moment.

The river is the city’s largest public space, but less than 5 percent of the city’s footprint has access to the waterfront, said Willie Levenson, who heads the Human Access Project and is working closely with Portland to expand swimming options.

Beaches in other communities along the river attract crowds, but swimmers in downtown Portland have nowhere to dive in despite increasing demand. Since the completion of the sewage control project in 2011, swimmers have been congregating on a floating esplanade for bikers and runners and sneaking onto city docks reserved for fire boats.

“We cannot pretend that swimming isn’t happening in downtown Portland anymore. It’s a livability issue, and Portland cares about livability,” Levenson said. “It’s time for our community to stop making jokes about our river and start digging in and looking to make a difference.”

The Human Access Project has been working for several years to generate interest in the Willamette and has found a willing partner in new Mayor Ted Wheeler.

This week, a new beach with lifeguards and safety ropes opened on the city’s south waterfront, within walking distance of hipster-friendly cafes and shops.

An inner tube river parade planned by the Human Access Project for this weekend is expected to attract several thousand participants, and members of a river swim group cross the Willamette several times a week in fluorescent green swim caps bearing the name River Huggers.

Wheeler, himself a swimmer, laid out a multipoint plan for increasing access to the river earlier this year and plans to swim the river later this month with 500 residents in the inaugural “mayoral swim.” The city hopes to open two more beaches in coming years, install floating docks along the riverbank and place public restrooms, picnic benches, umbrellas and showers on site.

In a recent state-of-the-city address, Wheeler even spoke of one day eliminating Interstate 5 where it snakes along the Willamette’s east bank to improve river access.

“We have a chance to reshape the face of our city,” he said. “I also believe we have a chance to reshape our spirit.”

Portland’s relationship with the Willamette River hasn’t always been easy to navigate.

For decades, the river was considered a watery highway, and industrial pollution severely contaminated its waters. This winter, after a 16-year wait, federal environmental officials released a plan to clean a 10-mile (16-kilometer) stretch near its confluence with the Columbia River in a project that will take decades of work and billions of dollars.

But in the heart of Portland, the primary problem has been human excrement. Residents grew accustomed to seeing near-weekly warnings about water quality during the winter rainy season, where even one-tenth of an inch (2.5 millimeters) of rain could trigger overflows.

Now, the city issues just a handful of warnings in winter and none during the peak swimming months of July and August, said Diane Dulken, spokeswoman for Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services. Testing at sites where people are already using the river show the water is safe, she added.

“We are really making a push to publicize our weekly testing because there is absolutely still a public perception out there, ‘I will not go in the river.’”

On a recent blazing afternoon, Portland resident Alex Johnson was ready to take the city at its word.

The 24-year-old swim teacher and lifeguard began diving into the Willamette with the River Huggers swim group this month.

On this day, he joined 30 others as they swam from the Hawthorne Bridge to the Morrison Bridge — through Portland’s bustling business district — and back in the 70-degree (21 Celsius) water. Teenagers lounged like harbor seals on a nearby dock and jet skis zipped by as the swimmers completed the more than half-mile (0.8-kilometer) journey.

“I’ve heard stories that it’s pretty polluted. It tastes a little funny, but it is river water,” Johnson said. “It’s a huge resource, and we don’t take advantage of it — and it feels great.”


►  Should police be allowed to shame suspects on Facebook?

A driver mows down six mailboxes, slurs her words and tells police she has a lizard in her bra. Throw in a wisecracking police officer, and what do you get? A flippant post on Facebook, along with photos of the woman, and of course, her lizard.

Not everyone is amused.

Police departments are increasingly using Facebook to inform the community about what they’re doing and who they’re arresting. Some add a little humor to the mix. But civil rights advocates say posting mugshots and written, pejorative descriptions of suspects amounts to public shaming of people who have not yet been convicted.

“It makes them the butt of a joke on what for many people is probably their worst day,” said Arisha Hatch, campaign director of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy organization that recently got Philadelphia police to stop posting mugshots on its Special Operations Facebook page.

“The impact of having a mugshot posted on social media for all to see can be incredibly damaging for folks that are parents, for folks that have jobs, for folks that have lives they have to come back to,” she said.

In Taunton, a city of 57,000 about 40 miles south of Boston, the police department’s post about the woman with a lizard in her bra was shared around Facebook and got heavy news coverage.

Lt. Paul Roderick wrote that Amy Rebello-McCarthy hit mailboxes, sending some airborne, before her car left the road, tore up a lawn and came to rest among trees. When police arrived, she asked them to call a tow truck so she and a male companion “could be on their way,” Roderick wrote.

“Sorry Amy, we can’t move the car right now. If we do, what will you use to hold yourself up?” he wrote.

Roderick described how she told police she had a lizard.

“Where does one hold a Bearded Dragon Lizard while driving you ask? Answer: In their brassiere of course!!”

Many commenters praised police. “Great job (getting drunks off the road and entertaining us),” one woman wrote.

But others said the tone was inappropriate.

“Hey Taunton Police Department ... Your holier than thou attitude is part of the reason why people don’t like/don’t respect police,” one man wrote.

Rebello-McCarthy, who has pleaded not guilty to drunken driving and other charges, did not respond to attempts for comment.

Police have traditionally made mugshots and details on suspects available to journalists for publication. But journalists, for the most part, selectively choose to write stories and use mugshots based on the severity or unusual nature of the crime. Many crimes don’t get any coverage.

Roderick said everything he wrote in the posting about Rebello-McCarthy was true.

“I guess I don’t see a problem with it,” he said in an interview.

“Can you go too far? I guess you could. I don’t think I did. I’m just trying to report what’s happening.”

Still, Roderick did get a mild reprimand from the police chief. “He basically said, ‘Tone it down a little bit,’” Roderick said.

Jaleel Bussey, 24, of Philadelphia, said he nearly got kicked out of a cosmetology school when instructors saw his mugshot on Facebook. Bussey was charged in 2016 after drugs were found during a police search of a house he was visiting to style a client’s hair. Most of the charges were dismissed before trial; he was acquitted of the final charge, according to the Philadelphia public defender’s office.

Bussey said he was allowed to continue school after explaining that he did not have any drugs and that the charges had been dropped. He felt humiliated, he said, when his family and teachers saw his mugshot.

“I was angry at the time,” he said. “I was found not guilty. They’re just putting people’s faces up there like it’s OK.”

In Marietta, Georgia, police poked fun at a man suspected of shoplifting from a pawn shop.

“Sir, you must have forgot that you gave the clerk your driver’s license with ALL of your personal information as well as providing him with your fingerprint when completing the pawn ticket before you stole from him which, by the way was also all on camera. ... When you make it this easy it takes all the fun out of chasing bad guys!” police wrote in December.

In some communities, posting mugshots and glib write-ups has created a backlash.

In South Burlington, Vermont, Police Chief Trevor Whipple was in favor of posting mugshots at first, but then he started noticing disparaging comments about everything from suspects’ hairstyles to their intelligence. The department stopped the practice after about a year.

“Do we want to use our Facebook page to shame people?” Whipple said. “Legally, there’s no problem — all mugshots are public — but the question became, is this what we want to do?”


►  Florida sinkhole swallows home, boat; 11 others evacuated

A sinkhole that started out the size of a small swimming pool and continued to grow in Florida swallowed a boat, destroyed two homes and prompted officials to evacuate residents from 10 other homes on Friday.

Dramatic video showed the home, north of Tampa in Pasco County, collapsing into the hole on Friday morning. The hole quickly grew to 200 feet (60 meters) wide and 50 feet (15 meters) deep.

Pasco County Fire Chief Shawn Whited told reporters that no one was at the home when crews arrived just after 7:30 a.m. Someone had called about a “depression” under a boat parked next to the house in Lake Padgett Estates in Land O’Lakes. Within minutes, he said, “the hole opened up.” The boat fell in.

Firefighters were able to get two dogs out of the home and retrieve some belongings before the home started collapsing into the quickly-expanding hole.

County property records show there was a sinkhole previously at the property where the house was swallowed up, and that it had been “stabilized,” in 2012. The home last sold in 2015, according to records.

Sinkholes are stabilized by boring holes into the ground and injecting concrete

Kevin Guthrie, Pasco County’s assistant county administrator for public safety, said 11 homes in the neighborhood have been tagged unsafe and the residents have been voluntarily evacuated. He said firefighters and deputies helped people get some of their belongings out of their homes.

“It was frightening,” Guthrie said. “The people coming out of those houses were frightened. Mother Nature is going to take what Mother Nature takes.”

Officials say Duke Energy cut power to about 100 homes in the neighborhood.

Claims About Net Neutrality Used Biased Data, Researcher Says

The Free Press WV

As the Federal Communications Commission considers reversing net neutrality, researchers say a key assumption for the move does not hold water.

In his argument to revisit the Obama-era rule designed to protect a free and open Internet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited a paper published in an academic journal that maintained the agency had failed to consider the economic impacts on industry.

But Jefferson Pooley, co-author of a new study published in the same International Journal for Communication, says Pai’s position is based on a paper riddled with factual errors and unsubstantiated claims.

“We showed that this core claim was incorrect, that, in fact, economists had been perhaps more active in coming up with the net neutrality rules than ever before,“ Pooley states.

Pooley’s team also found that the article cited by Pai was paid for by CALinnovates, a PR group that specializes in promoting policy for AT and T, an internet service provider that Pooley says could benefit if open Internet rules are reversed.

Proponents of rolling back net neutrality say regulating ISPs as a utility hampers innovation and investment.

Pooley maintains the failure to disclose industry funding amounts to “information laundering,“ making it possible for the FCC chairman to cite an academic publication without any trace of AT and T’s fingerprints.

He says it’s important for the public, and public officials, to know whose interests are behind research.

“We would probably dismiss a claim that AT and T made directly against net neutrality, since they stand to gain financially,” Pooley states. “So instead of making the argument directly, they funded academics who published an article in an academic journal.“

Pooley adds that CALinnovates threatened legal action against the journal and the University of Southern California, its host, unless material involving the firm was removed.

The FCC is accepting public comments on its plan, called “Restoring Internet Freedom,“ through Monday at www.fcc.gov.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

National News

The Free Press WV

 

►  McConnell reveals new health bill; will his GOP support it?

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell released his new but still-reeling health care bill Thursday, bidding for conservative support by letting insurers sell low-cost, skimpy policies and reaching for moderates with added billions to combat opioid abuse and help states rein in consumers’ skyrocketing insurance costs.

However, allowing insurers to offer bare-bones plans threatens to alienate moderates and perhaps other conservatives. And the measure retains cuts in Medicaid — the health insurance plan for the poor, disabled and nursing home patients — that moderate Republican senators have fought.

The legislation, the Senate GOP’s plan for rolling back much of President Barack Obama’s health care law, faces a do-or-die vote next week on which McConnell has no margin for error. Since Democrats uniformly oppose the effort, McConnell needs the votes of 50 of the 52 GOP senators to prevail, and two seem certain to vote “no” — conservative Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and moderate Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Conservative Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has demanded language letting insurers sell plans with minimal coverage, as long as they also sell policies that meet strict coverage requirements set by Obama’s 2010 statute. Moderate Republicans have objected that the idea would make policies excessively costly for people with serious illnesses because healthy people would flock to the cheaper coverage.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who’d partnered with Cruz, tweeted that the version they crafted wasn’t put in the bill, adding, “Something based on it has, but I have not seen it or agreed to it.”

Adding to the uncertainty, the Cruz provision appeared in the legislative text in brackets, meaning specific language was still being composed. That could give McConnell, Cruz and other conservatives time to work out a provision with broader support.

The retooled measure retains McConnell’s plan to phase out the extra money 31 states have used to expand Medicaid under Obama’s statute, and to tightly limit the overall program’s future growth. Since its creation in 1965, the program has provided open-ended federal funds to help states pay the program’s costs.

The rewritten package would add $70 billion to the $112 billion McConnell originally sought that states could use to help insurers curb the growth of premiums and consumers’ other out-of-pocket costs.

It has an added $45 billion for states to combat the misuse of drugs like opioids. That’s a boost over the $2 billion in the initial bill and an addition demanded by ok

Republicans from states in the Midwest and Northeast that have been ravaged by the drugs.

To help pay for the added spending, the measure would retain three tax increases Obama’s law slapped on higher- earning people to help finance his law’s expansion of coverage. Under the current statute, families earning more than $250,000 annually got a 3.8 percent boost on their investment income tax and a 0.9 percent increase in their payroll tax. Obama also imposed a new tax on the salaries of high-paid insurance executives.

The revised bill would also allow people to use money from tax-favored health savings accounts to pay health insurance premiums, another favorite proposal of conservatives.

McConnell’s new bill offered only modest departures from the original version, which he yanked off the Senate floor two weeks ago to avoid certain defeat at the hands of a broad range of unhappy Republicans.

The reworked measure’s key elements remain. It would ease Obama’s requirements that insurers cover specified services like hospital care, erase Obama’s penalties on people who don’t buy coverage and make federal health care subsidies be less generous.

In an interview Wednesday with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” Donald Trump said he will be “very angry” if the Senate fails to pass the health care measure and said McConnell must “pull it off.”

Paul told reporters the revised measure has nothing “remotely resembling repeal.”

Collins has long complained the measure will toss millions off coverage. Spokeswoman Annie Clarke said Collins would vote “no” next week “if the Medicaid cuts remain the same” as those that have been discussed.

Besides Paul and Collins, other Republican senators have also been noncommittal on whether they will back McConnell’s bill next week, including Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio.


►  Latest financial warning due on Social Security, Medicare

Republicans in Washington have long clamored to address the long-term financial problems of Social Security and Medicare, the federal government’s two largest benefit programs.

On Thursday afternoon, the trustees who oversee the programs were to issue their annual warning about finances.

Don’t expect Republicans to do much about it.

Over the years, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has insisted on overhauling those programs, proposing a voucher-like system for Medicare and calling for partially privatizing Social Security.

Now that Republicans control Congress and the White House, Ryan says he doesn’t want to tackle Social Security. Instead, Republicans and the White House are focused on repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama’s health care law, an effort that is stalled in the Senate.

Donald Trump has promised not to cut Social Security or Medicare, though his budget proposal for next year would reduce Social Security’s disability benefits by nearly $70 billion over the next decade. The savings would come from encouraging and, in some cases, requiring people receiving the benefits to re-enter the workforce.

But even if Trump finds the savings, it wouldn’t come close to solving the program’s long-term financial problems.

In 2034, Social Security faces a $500 billion shortfall, according to last year’s report by the trustees. In just five years, the shortfalls add up to more than $3 trillion.

Neither Social Security nor Medicare faces an immediate crisis. But the trustees warn that the longer Congress waits to address the program’s problems, the harder it will be to sustain Social Security and Medicare without significant cuts in benefits, big tax increases or both.

Last year, the trustees said Social Security had enough money in its trust funds to pay full benefits until 2034. They said Medicare’s trust fund for inpatient care would be exhausted in 2028.

Those projections were to be updated Thursday.

If Congress allows either fund to run dry, millions of people living on fixed incomes would face steep cuts in benefits.

Social Security is independently funded by payroll taxes, so it not subject to annual spending bills approved by Congress. AARP hopes it stays that way.

“Social Security should remain separate from the budget. Medicare can improve if we reduce the overall cost of health care, rather than impose an age tax, and if we lower prescription costs, instead of giving tax breaks to drug and insurance companies,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins.

More than 61 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,253.

Medicare provides health insurance to about 58 million people, most of whom are at least 65 years old.

Over the past decade, Social Security and Medicare made up about 40 percent of federal spending, excluding interest on the debt — and that share is projected to grow in the future, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Fifty years ago, the two programs accounted for 16 percent of federal spending.

The programs are expanding in part because the U.S. is growing older.

In 1960, there were 5.1 workers for each person getting Social Security benefits. Today, there are about 2.8 workers for each beneficiary. That ratio will drop to 2.1 workers by 2040, according to the CBO.

The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy Berryhill.


►  Education official sorry for ‘flippant’ sex assault remarks

The Education Department’s civil rights chief says she’s sorry for making “flippant” remarks attributing 90 percent of campus sexual assault claims to both parties being drunk.

Wednesday’s apology by Candice Jackson, acting assistant secretary for civil rights, came on the eve of a series of meetings that her boss, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is holding to examine the impact of the Obama administration’s stepped-up efforts to hold schools accountable for investigating sexual violence.

Jackson was quoted in The New York Times on Wednesday as saying federal rules have resulted in many false accusations under the law known as Title IX.

In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”

“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Jackson is quoted as saying in an interview.

In her statement of apology, Jackson said she was a rape survivor. “I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience,” she said. “My words in The New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry.”

Survivors of sexual violence, people who say they were falsely accused and disciplined and representatives of colleges and universities were among those invited to meet with DeVos on Thursday to talk about enforcement of Title IX as it relates to sexual assault.

Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing the Education Department, said in a letter sent Wednesday night to DeVos that Jackson’s remark “suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of campus sexual assault and suggests that (Jackson’s office) is not prepared to take accounts from survivors seriously.”

Advocates for assault survivors who have spent years trying to get schools to take victims and a “rape culture” seriously worry that DeVos’ series of roundtable meetings are really a preview for a rollback of Obama’s guidance, which said sexual assault is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX for schools that receive federal funding.

But groups representing those who say they have been falsely accused suggest the Obama-era guidance weighted campus justice systems in favor of those alleging sexual violence. Jackson said in the Times interview that investigations have not been “fairly balanced between the accusing victim and the accused student.”

Many of those who want Obama’s guidance reversed have said they want assault cases referred to law enforcement.

Jackson sought to issue reassurances that both she and the department take the position that “all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously.”

As of Wednesday, there were 344 open sexual violence investigations at 242 postsecondary schools, according to a Title IX report provided by the Education Department.

Several schools had multiple cases pending, including Kansas State University and Indiana University at Bloomington with five each, the department list shows.

Baylor University in Texas had a single open case. The school has been embroiled in controversy over its handling of sexual assault allegations, and several women have sued. Art Briles was fired as football coach and Ken Starr was demoted from president and later resigned after a law firm reported in May 2016 that an investigation had found that the school had “created barriers” discouraging the reporting of sexual assaults.


►  Panel calls on FDA to review safety of opioid painkillers

An expert panel of scientists says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should review the safety and effectiveness of all opioids, and consider the real-world impacts the powerful painkillers have, not only on patients, but also on families, crime and the demand for heroin.

In a sweeping report Thursday, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine pushed the FDA to bolster a public health approach that already has resulted in one painkiller being pulled from the market. Last week, the maker of opioid painkiller Opana ER withdrew its drug at the FDA’s request following a 2015 outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C in southern Indiana linked to sharing needles to inject the pills.

“Our recommendation is for a much more systematic approach, integrating public health decision-making into all aspects of opioid review and approval,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Harvard Medical School, a member of the report committee. “It would be an ambitious undertaking.”

The report details how two intertwining epidemics — prescription painkillers and heroin — led to the worst addiction crisis in U.S. history and provides a plan for turning back the tide of overdose deaths.

Prescribed, legal drugs are a gateway to illicit drugs for some, the report says. Other users start with pills diverted to the black market. Crush-resistant pills and other restrictions have unintended consequences, shifting use to heroin and illicit fentanyl.

The epidemic’s broad reach into rural and suburban America “has blurred the formerly distinct social boundary between use of prescribed opioids and use of heroin and other illegally manufactured ones,” the report says.

The authors say it will be possible to stem the crisis without denying opioids to patients whose doctors prescribe them responsibly. But long-term use of opioids by people with chronic pain should be discouraged because it increases dangers of overdose and addiction.

Requested by the FDA last year under the Obama administration, the report was greeted by FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a Trump appointee. Gottlieb said in a statement that the opioid epidemic is his “highest immediate priority” and he “was encouraged to see that many of (the) recommendations for the FDA are in areas where we’ve already made new commitments.”

Still, no immediate review of opioids as a class of drugs is planned by the FDA, other than the agency’s routine safety surveillance. Gottlieb said the FDA re-evaluates the safety of approved drugs with post-market information required from drugmakers and other sources.

“We will continue to consider what additional information is needed to ensure we have the right data to make important, science-based decisions,” he said.

Beyond the FDA, the report recommends:

— Better access to treatment for opioid addiction, including use of medications such as buprenorphine, in settings including hospitals, prisons and treatment programs.

—Year-round programs that allow people to return unused opioids to any pharmacy at any time, rather than only at occasional events. Some pharmacies, including Walgreens, have installed kiosks where people can get rid of pills.

—Insurers pay for pain control that goes beyond opioids to include non-drug treatment. The report doesn’t specify which treatments insurers should cover, but does outline what early evidence exists for acupuncture, physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation, calling them “powerful tools.”

—More research on the nature of pain and dependency on opioids and development of new non-addictive treatments.


►  Face scans for U.S. citizens flying abroad stir privacy issues

If the Trump administration gets its way, U.S. citizens boarding international flights will have to submit to a face scan, a plan privacy advocates call a step toward a surveillance state.

The Department of Homeland Security says it’s the only way to successfully expand a program that tracks nonimmigrant foreigners. They have been required by law since 2004 to submit to biometric identity scans — but to date have only had their fingerprints and photos collected prior to entry.

Now, DHS says it’s finally ready to implement face scans on departure — aimed mainly at better tracking visa overstays but also at tightening security. But, the agency says, U.S. citizens must also be scanned for the program to work.

Privacy advocates say that oversteps Congress’ mandate.

“Congress authorized scans of foreign nationals. DHS heard that and decided to scan everyone. That’s not how a democracy is supposed to work,“ said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University.

Trials are underway at six U.S. airports — Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Kennedy Airport in New York City and Dulles in the Washington, D.C., area. DHS aims to have high-volume U.S. international airports engaged beginning next year.

During the trials, passengers will be able to opt out. But a DHS assessment of the privacy impact indicates that won’t always be the case.

“The only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling,“ says the June 12 document on the website of Customs and Border Protection, which runs the DHS program.

John Wagner, the Customs deputy executive assistant commissioner in charge of the program, confirmed in an interview that U.S. citizens departing on international flights will submit to face scans.

Wagner says the agency has no plans to retain the biometric data of U.S. citizens and will delete all scans of them within 14 days. However, he doesn’t rule out CBP keeping them in the future after going “through the appropriate privacy reviews and approvals.“

A CBP spokeswoman, Jennifer Gabris, said the agency has not yet examined whether what would require a law change

Privacy advocates say making the scans mandatory for U.S. citizens pushes the nation toward a Big Brother future of pervasive surveillance where local and state police and federal agencies, and even foreign governments, could leverage citizens collected “digital faceprints” to track them wherever they go.

Jay Stanley, an American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst, says U.S. law enforcement and security agencies already exert “sufficient gravitational pulls in wanting to record and track what masses of individuals are doing,“ he says.

Senator Edward Markey, D-Mass., said U.S. citizens should be able to opt out.

“I intend to closely monitor this facial recognition program to ensure that Americans can say ‘no’ to being subject to facial recognition and that DHS and airlines are fully transparent with the public about their future plans,“ he said in an emailed statement.

A network of government databases collects face scans from mug shots, driver’s license and other images.

In an October report, the Georgetown center estimated more than one in four U.S. state and local law enforcement agencies can run or request face-recognition searches and federal agencies including the IRS have all had access to one or more state or local face recognition systems.

Bedoya said the images of at least 130 million U.S. adults in 29 states are stored in face recognition databases.

The FBI alone has more than 30 million photos in a single database, and New York state recently announced it would begin scanning the faces of drivers entering New York City bridges and tunnels.Another DHS initiative worrying privacy advocates is TSA’s Precheck, the voluntary program designed to speed enrollees through airport security with more than 5 million enrollees.

Participants are not being told the digital fingerprints and biographical data they submit for background checks when enrolling are retained in an FBI identity database for life, said Jeramie Scott, an attorney with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest nonprofit. Since last month, trials that let enrollees use a digital fingerprint scanner to speed through TSA security are underway in Atlanta and Denver.

EPIC worries not just about potential governmental abuse but also the vulnerability to hackers. In the 2015 breach of the federal Office of Personnel Management, 5.6 million sets of fingerprint images were stolen.

The biometric exit endeavor will cost billions. That’s partly because U.S. airports don’t have dedicated secure immigration areas for departing international flights. Domestic and international passengers commingle in the same concourses.

Currently, foreigners arriving in the U.S. submit to photo and digital fingerprint recording but there are no “exit” scans. U.S. citizens are subject to neither; their photos are digitally stored in a microchip in their passports with biographical data.

In written testimony to Congress in May, CBP said U.S. citizens leaving on international flights cannot be exempted from face scans because 1) It’s not practical to run separate boarding systems for citizens and non-citizens and 2) Scanning U.S. citizens’ passports will ensure they don’t travel on a passport not their own.

“This is a technologically advanced way to check identity as opposed to the ‘analog’ way it happens now,“ said DHS spokeswoman Jenny Burke.

Face recognition technology is getting better, but is far from perfect, however. A smile recorded at the gate could, for example, trigger a mismatch when compared to a serious gaze in a passport photo.

Even the most accurate systems fail 5 percent to 10 percent of the time, said Anil Jain, a Michigan State professor.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, New York, said such a failure rate would be “a non-starter” by slowing the boarding process.

Congress last year approved up to $1 billion over the next decade collected from visa fees to get the program rolling technically. That won’t cover the additional border agents needed for gate checks, for starters.

DHS officials hope to defray costs through partnerships with airlines that are incorporating biometrics to boost efficiencies. Two airlines in the pilot program — Delta and JetBlue — tout identity-verification technology’s convenience for other ends: Delta for speeding baggage handling, JetBlue for eliminating boarding passes.

CBP knows it won’t have a full picture of who is overstaying visas until face scans are also done at U.S. land and sea borders.

Such concerns shouldn’t stop the government from moving ahead with the program and U.S. citizens have already sacrificed considerable privacy as the price of fighting terrorists, said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which promotes restrictions on immigration.

He called it a “moral and security imperative.“

More than 700,000 overstayed their visas in the year ending September 30.

But Ben Ball, a biometrics consultant and former DHS analyst, says the government hasn’t yet addressed the thorniest questions.

“This is still a theoretical system,“ he said. “We are the first country on earth to attempt a comprehensive biometric system and it’s technically very complicated.“

Australia is among global pioneers in facial recognition for traveler processing. It is currently an option for bypassing manual immigration controls for arriving and departing international air travelers. Citizens from 15 nations including the United States are eligible.

The European Union is also moving toward face scans and fingerprint collection — but limited to third-country nationals crossing external borders. An agreement reached June 30 will now be submitted to the European Parliament.


►  Re-creating old weapons for new discoveries of human history

Metin Eren wasn’t satisfied just digging up ancient arrowheads to learn about the past. He wanted to use them for their intended purpose.

But shooting and shattering priceless millennia-old tips is out of the question, so instead, the archaeologist chips replicas of the stone-age weapons by hand.

“We can break ’em and throw ’em,” he says. “Our imagination is the limit.”

The 34-year-old Kent State University professor specializes in experimental archaeology — re-creating ancient pots, knives and arrows. By testing the replicas in ways impossible with the originals, archaeologists study how tools found in archaeological digs were actually used.

“The stuff that we find, it’s just stuff,” says Brian Andrews, an archaeologist at Rogers State University. “Stuff’s cool, but we’re not interested in stuff for the sake of itself. We’re interested in the human behaviors that went into making it.”

Eren’s experiments focus on making sense of ancient weapons littered across the Americas, illustrating how humans first settled the Western Hemisphere: through careful preparation, long-term planning, and refined technology.

“Even though it’s the Stone Age, they’re still thinking in a very modern way,” Eren says.

Already he has cracked one longtime mystery. In the early 1900s, archaeologists found unusually shaped arrowheads in North America, with grooves carved from the base halfway to the head’s tip. They first appeared over 13,000 years ago and spread rapidly across the continent, but existed nowhere else. Researchers were puzzled why the grooves were carved, with speculation running from religious rituals to mere decoration.

That’s where experimental archaeology came in. By testing the pressure at which the arrowheads would crack using a $30,000 crusher and computer models, Eren discovered the grooves act as a shock absorber. It allows the arrowhead’s thinned base to crumple slightly and absorb energy upon the arrow’s impact, making the head less likely to break.

Archaeologists call it the “first truly American invention.”

Scientists from Brazil to Britain previously conducted many kinds of experiments with re-creations, and borrowing techniques and technologies from other scientists has been long-standing practice.

Still, Eren’s lab, only a year old, stands out for its cutting-edge equipment and singular focus on archaeological experimentation, says Briggs Buchanan, a professor at the University of Tulsa.

“Metin’s lab is setting an exceptional example by conducting rigorous controlled experiments,” said Buchanan, who has co-authored papers with Eren. “Earlier experimental studies suffered from being of variable quality and rarely built on previous studies.”

On a Thursday morning, Eren hunches over a pile of flint shavings. Donning goggles, he grips a chunk of obsidian the size of a large pickle jar and cracks a moose antler down on one edge. With a resounding snap, a blade of obsidian chips off.

He examines it gingerly. Obsidian blades are “sharp to the molecule,” he says, and one nearly sliced off his left pinky in graduate school.

In his hand, he’s holding a piece of the puzzle of how humans came to rule the world. By refining their weapons, ancient Americans learned how to adapt to all sorts of conditions.

“They knew they were going into unknown territory, and because of that they actually prepared extremely well technologically,” Eren says. “Understanding this process of colonization is important to understanding how we are today.”


►  Moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong to be sold at auction

Moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong during the first lunar landing is being sold at a New York auction.

The lunar dust plus some tiny rocks that Armstrong also collected are zipped up in a small bag and are worth an estimated $2 million to $4 million.

They’re just some of the items linked to space travel that Sotheby’s is auctioning off to mark the 48th anniversary of the first lunar landing on July 20.

Armstrong’s snapshot of fellow Apollo 11 astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin standing on the moon could go for up to $4,000. Also on the block, is a documented flight plan that astronauts used to return to Earth.

Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. He died in 2012 in Ohio.


►  Tennessee cities adjust to law letting guns in buses, hubs

The four biggest cities in Tennessee are now letting guns on their buses due to a new state law, but the change might not be obvious to riders from the vaguely worded rules posted by cities that opposed the law.

Transit policy changes in Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga rely on riders to know beforehand, or at least look up on their own, who can carry a gun. Memphis officials are still changing the wording of their policy on guns on buses and in stations, but have started letting permit holders carry their guns.

To comply with the law, which took effect July 1, Nashville changed its transit system’s code of conduct, which had banned all weapons, to banning only those that are “unauthorized.“ No mention is made of the new law.

But the change in Nashville’s rules doesn’t provide much comfort to some parents whose children are among the thousands who use the city bus system to get to school every day.

“There’s not going to be any way of knowing whether or not someone’s gun is ‘authorized’ or ‘unauthorized,‘“ said Beth Joslin Roth, a gun-control advocate whose son takes Nashville buses to school and who heads the Safe Tennessee Project.

The law, which was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association, gives cities and counties a choice: either they must use metal detectors, hire security guards and check people’s bags at many local facilities; or they must let handgun permit-holders bring in their guns.

Between 4,500 and 5,600 students use Nashville’s free city bus pass program. All public high schoolers and some students in grades 5 through 8 qualify, and the downtown station teems with students when school is in session, as police and security guards watch guard.

Signs at Nashville’s Music City Central bus terminal still say “no weapons” more than a week after the law took effect, but Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said they’re in the process of revising them.

In Chattanooga, the new transit policy says, “Weapons are prohibited except as permitted in accordance with T.C.A. 39-17-1351,“ without explaining that the law being referenced lets permit-holders carry guns.

Lisa Maragnano, Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority executive director, hardly endorsed the law.

“We will comply with the law, we won’t encourage it,“ she said in an email.

Signs at Knoxville’s downtown station and on buses were similarly worded, said the mayor’s spokesman, Jesse Mayshark.

Transit officials have said it’s logistically impossible to add metal detectors at stations and secure all city buses. Even trying to apply airport-style security to a public transit system would cost millions and create commuter chaos.

Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority spokeswoman Amanda Clelland said that, under the new policy, officials can remove someone from transit property who is carrying a gun without a permit.

Roth said her son, then a middle schooler, was on a city bus pulling into Music City Central last spring when four teenagers were wounded in a shooting. The bus driver immediately drove away from the station, she said.

Gun rights and gun control groups have mentioned the same crime to argue opposite perspectives about who should be allowed guns at the station and on buses.

Representative William Lamberth, the Cottontown Republican who sponsored the bill, said the shooting revealed that security at the station was insufficient. Under his law’s choices, he said, either metal detectors would assure people aren’t getting guns into the station, or people with permits would have guns to protect themselves in case of a shooting.

The law also gives groups like the NRA standing to sue for triple attorney’s fees if they believe a local government wrongly barred someone from carrying guns.

Critics have also said the law could conflict with existing state law, which makes it a felony to bring guns into a facility used for school purposes, including Nashville’s bus station.


►  U.S. hits 50,000 refugee cap, but some others still allowed in

The U.S. has reached the Trump administration’s limit of 50,000 refugees for this budget year. That won’t stop some additional refugees from entering the United States in the next few months, but they will now face tighter standards.

A Supreme Court order last month said the administration must admit refugees beyond the 50,000 cap if they can prove a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. That was part of a broader ruling that allowed Donald Trump to partially administer his contested travel ban affecting six Muslim majority countries.

As of Wednesday, 50,086 refugees have been admitted since the budget year began last October. All those refugees have to undergo a strict screening process. Additional refugees will face the same screening, but will also need to prove they have a close relative living in the United States, a job awaiting them, or admission to a college or university.

The State Department, which oversees the refugee program, said Wednesday that it had advised resettlement agencies that the cap was reached, though anyone traveling to the U.S. would still be admitted.

The additional requirements are supposed to be in place for 120 days, while the government examines security and screening procedures that Trump suggested aren’t stringent enough. But a new cap will take effect before then, when the new budget year begins in October, and everything is subject to change after the Supreme Court hears arguments on the travel and refugee bans that month. It’s unclear what the new cap will be.

Trump set the refugee limit as part of the broader executive order that sought to keep out foreigners from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen. The first iteration of the order in January caused panic and confusion at airports in the U.S. and abroad as foreigners were either denied boarding for U.S.-bound flights or stopped at a U.S. airport and sent back overseas. A federal court blocked that order, and Trump issued a second order that sought to overcome the legal challenges. The Supreme Court opinion lets the government partially enforce the order against anyone without a bona fide relationship.

Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said Wednesday that her group and other aid agencies still expect to welcome some refugees in the coming months.

Bellor said roughly 26,000 refugees have already been vetted, interviewed and approved for relocation to the United States and an untold number of those people will be able to prove a valid relationship.

Lee Williams, vice president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said some refugees his agency is helping have strong relationships with people in the United States, but they are in limbo while the government examines their cases.

“It’s a sad day for the U.S.,“ Williams said. “This is a travel ban that destroys families and does nothing to add security to the process.“

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