Is the world finally ready to end the deadliest infectious disease?

Maybe the short answer is: We need a better imagination?

The global health world hasn’t set its goals high enough, hasn’t dreamed big enough when it comes to stopping tuberculosis, says Dr. Paul Farmer, physician at Harvard Medical School and founder of the nonprofit Partners In Health.

“We’ve had a failure of imagination,” he says. “We haven’t had the same optimism, commitment and high ambitious goals around TB that we’ve seen around HIV. And what’s the downside of setting high goals? I think it’s very limited.”

This week, world leaders are starting to give Farmer what he’s been hoping for.

On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly hosted the first-ever high level meeting focused exclusively on tuberculosis. World leaders pledged an ambitious goal: to try and nearly wipe out the disease by 2030.

A cure for TB has been widely available since the 1950s. And yet TB is still the deadliest infectious disease on earth. It kills about 1.5 million people each year, or 4,000 people each day, including 600 children. It kills more people than HIV or car accidents.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to end TB,” the World Health Organization’s Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the U.N. General Assembly.

One of the big obstacles is that TB strikes the poorest people in the world, who can’t afford — or don’t have access — to medications, Dr. Tedros said. In response, world leaders committed Wednesday to treating 40 million people in the next five years. By comparison, only about 54 million people were successfully treated since 2000. Each year about, there are about 10 million new infections. So the goal is to treat about 80 percent of the new cases. They also pledged to provide preventive treatments to 30 million people who are at risk of catching TB from a friend or family member.

The overall goal is to reduce TB deaths by 90 percent by 2030.

“These are bold promises,” Tedros said.

In global health, goals are often lofty but aren’t easy to reach. So could a big meeting like this — big promises like these actually make a dent in the fight against a disease that’s been neglected for decades.

The medical nonprofit Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is skeptical, given how few leaders showed up at the historic meeting.

“Out of the 193 U.N. member states, fewer than 30 leaders chose to attend the meeting today,” Sharonann Lynch, who advises MSF on TB and HIV, wrote in a press statement. “Leaders missing from this critical meeting include many from high-burden TB countries and donors that have been promising to help fund the fight to ‘end TB.’ Shame on the more than 160 leaders who were absent today.”

But Dr. Paul Farmer is more optimistic. He is hopeful the meeting could be a turning point in the global fight against TB.

“I have been a skeptic about the relevance of yet another meeting about a problem that really hasn’t been addressed ever,” Farmer says. “I felt that way about a similar meeting focused on AIDS, but then that meeting ended up being radically life-altering.”

That meeting, held back in 2001, ended up spurring the launch of one of the most successful anti-HIV programs ever — the U.S. program PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. At the same time, the meeting spurred a surge in money for HIV treatment and research.

Farmer is hopeful that this year’s UNGA meeting may have similar effect on the fight against TB because, right now, he spends a huge amount of his time doing one thing: Begging.

“Begging for money, begging for social support for patients,” Farmer says. “[Treating people for TB] involves a lot of begging.”

Currently, the funding for TB treatment and research falls short each year by about $5 billion, said the president of the UNGA, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, on Wednesday.

Farmer regularly sees patients falling through this funding gap.

“I just got back from eastern Sierra Leone — the same part of Sierra Leone where diamonds come from — blood diamonds,” he explains. “I saw a patient who was 33 years old and had a very confusing illness. It was clearly killing him.”

His name is Moses, and eventually Farmer figured out that TB was killing him. But treating him wasn’t easy. The hospital was struggling to acquire the drugs and resources Moses needed.

“He needs nutritional support. He needs physical therapy. He needs lots of medications,” Farmer says. “If I could, I would part all the Red Seas in the world so that a young person like Moses could live a healthy life and not have it be over at 33- or 34-years-old.

“It shouldn’t be that hard for my colleagues in Sierra Leone to find the resources necessary to diagnose a young man like that and bring him to cure,” Farmer adds.

In a few years, maybe it won’t be as hard, if leaders of the world keep their promise — and their commitment to imagine a world without TB.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Elon Musk settles with SEC, agrees to step down as Tesla chairman

Updated at 1:02 a.m. ET Sunday

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has reached a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle a securities fraud charge brought against him on Thursday, the agency announced on Saturday.

Under the terms of the settlement, Musk has agreed to step down as chairman of the Silicon Valley-based company, but will remain in his post as CEO.

Tesla and Musk will each pay a separate fine of $20 million, the SEC said in a press release, and Musk will resign as chairman within 45 days. After that, he’ll be ineligible to be re-elected chairman for three years.

The resolution comes two days after the SEC sued Musk in federal court for fraud, alleging that he misled investors when he announced on Twitter last month that he had “funding secured” to take the electric-car company private at $420 a share. Musk later admitted that the share price — a nod to marijuana culture — was a calculated stunt meant to amuse his girlfriend, the musician Grimes.

As NPR’s Vanessa Romo reported on Thursday:

The court documents note the calculation resulted in a price of $419, but that Musk later admitted he had added the extra dollar — $420 — “because he had recently learned about the number’s significance in marijuana culture and thought his girlfriend ‘would find it funny, which admittedly is not a great reason to pick a price.’ “

The SEC says that Musk and Tesla agreed to the deal without admitting or denying the allegations brought against them.

The day after the SEC filed its lawsuit, Tesla’s stock sank 14 percent, dissolving more than $7 billion in shareholder returns. Since the Aug. 7 tweet, Tesla’s stock has fallen 30 percent, closing Friday at $264.77, according to The Associated Press.

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U.S. closes consulate in Basra, citing Iran-backed violence

The State Department is temporarily closing the U.S. Consulate in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and evacuating all diplomats stationed there, following a rocket attack early Friday morning.

Although there were no casualties, concerns back in Washington grew. The decision comes out of concern for the safety of U.S. personnel stationed in that Iraqi city near the border with Iran.

In a statement released Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “repeated incidents of fire” from Iranian-backed militias.

“I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” Pompeo said.

He blamed the security threat specifically on Iran, its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and militias under the control of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force.

The Basra airport was also the target of an attack earlier this month. NPR’s Jane Arraf reported that according to Iraqi security officials, the attacks didn’t land on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate compounds. There were no injuries or serious damage, but the White House, in a statement, called them “life-threatening attacks” against its diplomatic missions.

“Iran did not act to stop these attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training and weapons,” the White House said.

Basra hosts one of three U.S. diplomatic missions in Iraq. It is the country’s oil capital and main port but has been battered by successive wars and neglect for decades. After the U.S. invasion in 2003, Basra fell under militia control and as a result, there was rampant corruption.

Hundreds of anti-government protests have descended on the city since the beginning of July.

Protesters duck as Iraqi security forces fire tear gas during a demonstration against unemployment and a lack of basic services in Basra. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Arraf reported that protesters are demanding much needed government services, and a water crisis has pushed them to the edge.

Nasser Jabar, one of the protesters, told Arraf, “We are tired of their killing. We are tired of their corruption. All the parties in the government now — they are corrupted, all of them.”

“We want to change them,” he added.

Earlier this month, protesters turned their rage on neighboring Iran, blaming its outsize influence on Iraq’s political affairs for their misery. They stormed the Iranian Consulate and set it on fire, causing significant damage.

An Iraqi protester waves a national flag while demonstrating outside the burned-down local government headquarters in the southern city of Basra on Sept. 7, during demonstrations over problems including poor public services. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Pompeo tweeted Tuesday that militias supported by Iran had launched the attacks, warning, “We’ll hold Iran’s regime accountable for any attack on our personnel or facilities, and respond swiftly and decisively in defense of American lives.”

“I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” Pompeo added in the statement.

The decision comes at a particularly fraught time as tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated during the Trump presidency.

In a speech addressing the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, President Trump hammered Iran over its support for terrorism and aggression against U.S. allies in the Middle East.

“Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction,” Trump said.

“They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.”

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Matt Damon is a sniffing, shouting Brett Kavanaugh on ‘SNL’ season premiere

Saturday Night Live kicked off its 44th season in a sketch many of us expected in some form or another: a send-up of the emotionally charged hearings into the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The show skipped any impression of accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, starting the scene just before Kavanaugh’s entrance.

“We’ve heard from the alleged victim, but now it’s time to hear from the hero, Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” says Sen. Chuck Grassley, played by cast member Alex Moffat.

In walks a shouting, sniffing Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in an appearance by Matt Damon.

“I’m gonna start at an 11, I’ma take it to about a 15 real quick!” he yells.

He talks a lot about beer. “I’m usually an optimist, I’m a keg is half-full kind of guy,” he says.

Echoing the real Kavanaugh’s statement that “you’ll never get me to quit,” Damon’s judge notes, “I’m not backing down … I don’t know the meaning of the word stop.”

Aidy Bryant played Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor brought in to question Ford, who says, “I’m here mostly for Twitter.”

Later on in the scene, Kate McKinnon, who can do a good impression of pretty much anybody, channeled the indignation of Sen. Lindsey Graham, who lashed out on Thursday at Democrats.

“You put this man on the Supreme Court now,” McKinnon’s Graham says. “No vote, no discussion. You give him a damn robe and you let him do whatever the hell he wants. Because this right now, this is my audition for Mr. Trump’s Cabinet. And also for a regional production of The Crucible.

Weekend Update had its usual digs at the week in politics, beginning with the Ford and Kavanaugh appearances. “A classic debate of she said, he yelled,” as Colin Jost described it.

Kate McKinnon was back (again!) as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, giving her take on Kavanaugh and his calendars. Today on Ginsburg’s agenda: “Don’t die.”

Kanye West was the night’s musical guest. He performed three times, the first of which was … in a costume of a bottle of Perrier.


He ended the show with a song performed wearing a Make America Great Again hat. West is a noted fan of President Trump.

The show is back live next week with host Awkwafina and musical guest Travis Scott.

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More than 800 confirmed killed after tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia

Updated at 5:49 a.m. ET Sunday

The number of people confirmed killed after a tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia rose dramatically to 832 on Sunday, Indonesian authorities said.

Officials warned that the number of people killed could even reach into the thousands as rescuers reach more affected areas.

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake triggered an unexpected tsunami in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi Friday, leaving hospitals and rescuers struggling to respond.

Most of the confirmed deaths are from the city of Palu. But rescuers worry that they could find more victims of the disaster in the Donggala region, which is closer to the epicenter of the earthquake.

Indonesian disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said earlier that bodies of some victims were found trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings, adding that hundreds more were injured and many were missing, according to Reuters.

Authorities said that “tens to hundreds” of people were by the ocean in the hard-hit city Palu for a beach festival when the tsunami struck on Friday just after 5:02 PM Western Indonesian Time.

“The tsunami didn’t come by itself, it dragged cars, logs, houses, it hit everything on land,” Nugroho told reporters.

Nugroho tweeted that Indonesia’s military has been mobilized to assist search and rescue teams.


Yenni Suryani, Catholic Relief Services’ country manager in Indonesia, said that this number “doesn’t yet account for anyone who might have been swept to sea by the tsunami.”

“I’m worried about people who might have been washed away,” she added.

Nugrogo tweeted photos of local hospitals that are overflowing with the injured. Many people are being treated in makeshift medical tents set up out on the streets.

Medical team members help patients outside a hospital after an earthquake and a tsunami hit Palu, on Sulawesi island on September 29, 2018. (Muhammad Rifki /AFP/Getty Images)

Multiple attempts have been made to reach out to Palu’s main hospital, but it appears that its telephone lines may be disconnected.

Dramatic videos show rising waves smashing into buildings and people running away in fear.


Other footage has shown the aftermath: destroyed buildings and body bags lying in the street.

A man looks for his belongings amid the debris of his destroyed house in Palu after a strong earthquake and tsunami struck the area. (Bay Ismoyo /AFP/Getty Images)

Several mosques, a shopping mall and many houses have collapsed, according to the CRS. The impact is significant, but the scope of the destruction is unclear because communications are down and emergency teams have not reached all affected areas.

Palu’s airport also suffered damages, its runway badly cracked from the quake.

The Jakarta Post reported that one of the air traffic controllers, Anthonius Gunawan Agung, 21, died after he jumped off the traffic control tower when the earthquake hit the area.


His colleagues had evacuated the tower when they felt the trembling, but he stayed behind to ensure that an airplane safely took off, Air Nav Indonesia, the agency that oversees aircraft navigation, said in a statement.

Nugroho said that the casualties and the damage could be greater along the coastline 190 miles north of Palu in Donggala.

Communications “were totally crippled with no information” from Donggala, he added. More than 600,000 people live in Donggala and Palu.

NPR’s Anthony Kuhn tells our Newscast unit that this is the most serious quake to hit Indonesia since August, when a series of tremors killed hundreds on Lombok Island.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Government may gain new power to track, shoot down drones

An aviation bill Congress is rushing to approve contains a little-noticed section that would give authorities the power to track, intercept and destroy drones they consider a security threat, without needing a judge’s approval.

Supporters say law enforcement needs this power to protect Americans from terrorists who are learning how to use drones as deadly weapons.

They point to the Islamic State terrorist group’s use of bomb-carrying drones on battlefields in Iraq, and warn that terrorists could go after civilian targets in the United States.

Critics say the provision would give the government unchecked power to decide when drones are a threat. They say the government could use its newfound power to restrict drone-camera news coverage of protests or controversial government facilities, such as the new detention centers for young migrants.

The provision is tucked in a huge bill that provides $1.7 billion in disaster relief and authorizes programs of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates drones. The House approved the measure Wednesday by a 398-23 vote, and the Senate is expected pass it on to President Donald Trump’s desk in the coming days. The White House signaled support of the drone provision in July.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced the Preventing Emerging Threats Act this year. It would give the Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department power to develop and deploy a system to spot, track and shoot down drones, as unmanned aircraft are called. Officers would have the authority to hack a drone operator’s signal and take control of the device.

The bill was never considered on its own by the full Senate or the House. Instead, in private negotiations that ended last weekend, it was tucked into a “must-pass” piece of FAA legislation.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in a recent op-ed that the threat of drone attacks “is outpacing our ability to respond.” She said criminals use drones to smuggle drugs across the border, but worse, terrorists like the Islamic State are deploying them on the battlefield.

“We need to acknowledge that our first and last chance to stop a malicious drone might be during its final approach to a target,” she wrote.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement this week that the measure “would finally give federal law enforcement the authority we need to counter the use of drones by drug traffickers, terrorists and criminals.”

The National Football League’s top security executive recently endorsed the bill’s intent but said it should go further by letting trained local police officers intercept drones. The official, Cathy Lanier, a former Washington, D.C., police chief, said the NFL is alarmed by an increase in drone flyovers at stadiums.

Opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union argue that the proposal gives the government unchecked power to track and seize drones without regard for the privacy and free-speech rights of legitimate drone operators. It exempts the government agencies from certain laws, including limits on wiretapping.

The bill provides no oversight or means to question a government decision about what is a “credible threat” and what is an “asset” or “facility” in need of protection when drones are nearby.

News organizations are increasingly using drones. They deploy them to cover natural disasters like the recent flooding from Hurricane Florence and also controversies such as the Trump administration’s construction of new camps for migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Being able to see footage of protests, the size of protests, being able to see facilities like those at the border is useful — those are newsworthy events,” said India McKinney, a legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Without a specific means to protect First Amendment rights — something not in the bill — “it’s entirely feasible to think that the DOJ or DHS could just decide that a drone owned by a news organization provides a credible threat and then destroys the footage,” she said.

The National Press Photographers Association has joined in opposing the provision.

“It will chill newsgathering using drones by news organizations and individual journalists,” said Mickey Osterreicher, lawyer for the press photographers group.

___

David Koenig can be reached at http://twitter.com/airlinewriter

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FBI contacts Deborah Ramirez, Kavanaugh accuser, as investigation begins

Updated at 7:35 a.m. ET Sunday

The FBI on Saturday began its first full day of work on an additional background investigation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and has reached out to the woman who alleges that the Supreme Court nominee exposed himself to her while the two were students at Yale University.

The woman, Deborah Ramirez, has agreed to cooperate with the FBI investigation, according to a statement issued by her attorney, John Clune. “Out of respect for the integrity of the process, we will have no further comment at this time,” the statement said.

Ramirez’s allegations, outlined in a report by The New Yorker last Sunday, come on top of the allegations brought against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, who in dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday testified that the judge sexually assaulted her at a high school party more than 30 years ago. As part of a deal negotiated yesterday by Senate Republicans, the FBI will have one week to look into the allegations, which Kavanaugh has strenuously denied.

President Trump formally ordered the FBI to conduct the probe on Friday, but according to a report by NBC News, the White House is limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation. The agency is examining the claims brought against Kavanaugh by Ford and Ramirez, but according to NBC, agents have not been permitted to investigate allegations made by a third woman, Julie Swetnick.

In a sworn declaration released Wednesday by her attorney, Michael Avenatti, Swetnick alleges that from 1981 to 1983, she went to several parties that Kavanaugh also attended and observed him drunkenly pressing himself against girls without their consent. The judge has denied those allegations as well.

Rather than investigating Swetnick’s allegations, NBC reported, the White House counsel’s office has given the FBI a list of witnesses it is permitted to interview. According to the report, officials who spoke to NBC on the condition of anonymity “characterized the White House instructions as a significant constraint on the FBI investigation and caution that such a limited scope, while not unusual in normal circumstances, may make it difficult to pursue additional leads in a case in which a Supreme Court nominee has been accused of sexual assault.”

The FBI declined to comment to NBC about its report. White House spokesman Raj Shah said “the White House is letting the FBI agents do what they are trained to do.”

Late on Saturday, Trump called the NBC report incorrect on Twitter, saying, “Actually, I want them to interview whoever they deem appropriate, at their discretion. Please correct your reporting!”


Asked about the FBI investigation earlier on Saturday, President Trump told reporters he thought the probe was “going very well.”

“They have free reign, they can do whatever they have to do, whatever it is that they do,” said President Trump. “They’ll be doing things we have never even thought of … and hopefully at the conclusion, everything will be fine.”

The president also said he wanted the FBI to identify who may have leaked a confidential letter written by Ford about the alleged assault to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

“Was it Sen. Feinstein? Certainly her body language was not exactly very good when they asked her that question,” the president said. “I would like to find out as part of it who leaked the papers. Which Democrat leaked the papers.”

Feinstein has denied that she or anyone on her staff leaked the letter.

White it remains unclear who else the FBI may engage during the investigation, at least two potentially key witnesses have said they intend to cooperate.

The first is Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh who according to Ford, was in the room during the alleged assault. Judge has said he has no memory of such an assault ever occurring.

An attorney for Leland Keyser, who Ford says was at the party, was also willing to cooperate with the FBI, but Keyser’s attorney has said her client has no recollection of the party where the assault is said to have happened.

In a statement issued by the White House on Friday, Kavanaugh said he will continue cooperating with the confirmation process.

“Throughout this process, I’ve been interviewed by the FBI, I’ve done a number of ‘background’ calls directly with the Senate, and yesterday, I answered questions under oath about every topic the Senators and their counsel asked me. I’ve done everything they have requested and will continue to cooperate.”

The FBI is expected to produce a final report for the White House, which the administration will then give to the Senate. As NPR’s Philip Ewing reported:

“The FBI is unlikely to open a criminal investigation. Instead, its investigators are expected to pursue the same kind of background inquiry they have conducted on Kavanaugh in the past, focused on the new allegations.”

The FBI will not provide a determination about the truthfulness of what witnesses tell investigators in interviews, but as Ewing noted, “Even if the bureau serves only as a gold-plated transcription service in this case, the completeness of those transcripts might exceed the body of evidence that now exists — and it would be evidence obtained from witnesses who could be prosecuted if they lied to the feds.”

The Senate moved ahead with a procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination late on Friday, but is expected to put off the final floor vote until the FBI finishes its review.

Asked on Saturday about whether he needs a backup plan in the event that Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, President Trump said, “I don’t need a backup plan. I think he’s going to be fine.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Fire ecologists say more fires should be left to burn. So why aren’t they?

When a wildfire starts, whether by lightning or human hand, it is almost always smothered.

Firefighters and aircraft are dispatched at the first sign of smoke. Ground crews build tight containment lines, contouring where they can with the fire’s edge. Helicopters douse hot spots and flames with deluges of foamy water.

The public and media extol their efforts. The headline reads, “Brave firefighters tame destructive fire.”

Malcolm North, a fire ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis, gets it. He once worked as a wildland firefighter himself.

The problem, he says, is that approach to wildfire is not just short-sighted, it’s dangerous.

Overgrown forests, the result of a century of aggressive firefighting, are one of the biggest contributors to the types of massive, catastrophic fires that are becoming more common in much of the west.

A lesson we learn over, and over, and over.

“Every time you get one of these big fires, it is the result of 100 years of management decisions where they went and put out lightning strikes, they limited or shut down prescribed fire. And those decisions eventually accumulate and bite you in the butt,” he says, between quick breaths, hiking up a rock-strewn trail in the Sierra Nevada.

Miles back, North passed a sign declaring the trail closed due to a fire ahead. The sky is a muted blue and the jagged Sierra peaks to the west are fuzzy from a haze of drifting smoke.

North is hiking towards the fire — the Lions Fire — because it’s an example of a different approach. It was, for a brief moment, the rare fire that forest managers decided not to smother, but to let burn.

It’s also a good example of just how difficult that decision can be.

A rare opportunity

The Lions Fire started the way a wildfire should, when lightning struck a tree-covered ridge in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, south of Yosemite National Park.

That already made it a rarity. The vast majority of wildfires, 84 percent, are human-caused.

It also made the fire an opportunity.

The Forest Service has been talking about letting more naturally-caused wildfires burn for decades. There’s a recognition that wildfire is part of the landscape across much of America. Forests evolved with fire. They depend on it.

The area the Lions Fire was burning hadn’t burned in a long time, and there were indications that fire was needed. Half of the trees in the surrounding forest were already dead, killed by beetles. A windstorm, years earlier, had downed thousands of trees to the east of the fire, creating a jumbled mess on the forest floor.

For forest managers like Denise Tolmie, a district ranger in the Sierra National Forest, the Lions Fire seemed like an opportunity to restore some health to the forest.

Denise Tolmie, a district ranger on the Sierra National Forest, says she believes that fire needs to be part of the forests she manages, but a fire has to fit in a “very, very tight window,” to not be suppressed. (Courtesy of Denise Tolmie, USFS)

It checked all of the boxes.

It started naturally, early in the season. It was far away from people and property. It was in an area that had seen fire historically but hadn’t burned in some time.

“Initially we said, ‘Yup. This fire is in a good place,’” Tolmie says. “Can we have positive effects from the fire? Yes we can.”

So the Forest Service allowed the fire to burn over a 2,000 acre area, she says. Fire crews were sent in to make sure the fire stayed in that area, but they didn’t go with the goal of stamping out every flame. They were there to manage the fire, not fight it.

This decision is incredibly rare.

“It’s a nail-biter,” Tolmie says. “You’re making a decision where — I usually do it as: Did I dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’?”

The Forest Service stopped counting how many fires it and other agencies manage this way in 2009, as part of a larger policy change. From the years 1998 to 2008 though, the last with data, less than half of one percent — 0.4 percent — of all ignitions in the U.S. were allowed to burn. The rest were put out.

The Lions Fire would be no different.

Delaying the inevitable

A stump burns in a swirl of flame on the eastern edge of the Lions Fire. Smoke rises from downed logs and stump holes under a canopy of tall trees.

The forest is quiet, apart from the occasional crack or pop of wood and flame.

“It almost seems peaceful,” North says. “It’s kind of nice.”

The Lions Fire is burning through this area at a low-intensity, slowly creeping through pine needles, branches and brush on the forest floor.

Historically, North says, a lot of the forests in the Sierras saw fire like this about every 20 years. For the last century, the Forest Service has been aggressively putting those fires out.

But the conifers didn’t stop dropping needles. Trees didn’t stop growing or falling down. Without fire, that vegetation has built up over time.

North looks at that accumulation as a debt that society, someday, is going to have to pay off.

“Every time you put a fire out, you’re just postponing it. You’re just kicking the can down the road,” he says. “And not only are you postponing it, but you just increase the actual fuel load that is out there, so when it does happen you get these massive megafire events.”

Fire ecologist Malcolm North looks down at the still-burning Lions Fire from a ridge in the Sierra Nevadas. (Nathan Rott/NPR)

Climate change is another major contributor to the those types of fires. And the effects of it are only expected to worsen the problem going forward.

But there has been more political attention on the issue of overgrown forests of late.

The Trump administration is calling for more ‘active’ logging and thinning in western forests. The goal is to reduce fire risk and jump-start resource-dependent economies in parts of the rural west.

There are logistical challenges to doing that though. The Lions Fire, for example, is burning in the wilderness, an area where mechanical thinning or logging is prohibited.

“We can’t thin our way out of this,” North says.

Prescribed fire needs to be utilized more often, he says, and more fires need to be allowed to burn.

Full suppression

A couple of days after forest managers decided to let the Lions Fire burn, a weather event brought high winds to the area. The fire jumped from a couple dozen acres to over 1,000 overnight, expanding beyond the area in which forest managers wanted to keep it.

With the change in conditions, management of the fire changed too. Helicopters went in to douse the flames. Fire crews came in by aircraft to stop the fire’s spread. It was now being fully suppressed.

That was welcome news to the residents of Mammoth Lakes, a resort ski town about seven miles from where the fire was burning.

For weeks, smoke from the Lions Fire had inundated the town, driving away tourists and vacation home owners.

“Nature has to do its thing, but there comes a point where it gets too close for comfort,” says Cruz Jonathan Valleflores, who works at a local car rental agency. “Tourism is a huge part of this community, so if tourism doesn’t come through, there’s no money. There’s no jobs.”

Those concerns were shared by many in the community. Some wrote angry op-eds in the local newspaper. Others vented their frustrations on social media.

“We are all angry about the smoke,” says John Wentworth, a town councilman. “But personally, I know there’s no future in denial. There’s no future in just saying, ‘put out every fire that you see,’ because that’s just going to put money in the bank for the big one that’s going to come here and burn us to the ground.”

North was disappointed with the decision to suppress the fire.

A section of the Lions Fire creeps through the duff on the forest floor, consuming pine needles and downed vegetation.
(Nathan Rott/NPR)

He understands why it was made, but he points to a section of forest floor in the still-smoldering Lions Fire. The pine needles and branches are gone, replaced by a layer of black ash.

“These are the fire effects you want to see,” he says. “High-severity catastrophic fire — it’s going to be a lot harder for that to happen here.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Airport workers in New York, New Jersey to receive minimum of $19 per hour

It’s being called the highest minimum wage in the country. Thousands of airport workers in New York and New Jersey — baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, people at concession stands — will see their hourly pay rise to $19 by 2023, after the Port Authority Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to require businesses to increase the minimum wage.

“We believe this substantially improved minimum wage for airport workers will greatly reduce turnover, improve morale and develop better trained workers as critical contributors to airport operations and security in this post 9/11 world,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said in a statement.

The Port Authority manages some of the country’s most bustling airports. Its decision follows nearly 800 messages written to the board by workers, businesses, academics and elected officials — and years in which airport workers marched, held strikes “and even got arrested on Martin Luther King Day,” a major union representing workers wrote.

Under the new policy, changes begin Nov. 1. Hourly earnings of $10.45 for workers at Newark Liberty International Airport are scheduled to increase to $12.45.

Workers at JFK International and LaGuardia airports in New York, who currently earn a minimum wage of $13 per hour, will see a bump of 60 cents in November before the state’s minimum wage becomes $15 in January. Wages for workers at the three airports will continue to increase in stages over a five-year period.

“This historic victory will give thousands of airport workers a fair living wage for decent work,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said, “With today’s vote, the agency has made it clear that they’ve heard the voices of approximately 40,000 workers who will be impacted by increased wages on both sides of the Hudson.” He said that all of New Jersey’s workers should earn a living wage.

Michael Saltsman, managing director at Employment Policies Institute, tells NPR that “it’s deeply concerning” that authorities think a $15 minimum wage in New York that goes into effect Jan. 1 “is not enough.” He thinks decisions for increases are coming too quickly, “without taking a rest stop to say, ‘What are the consequences of $15?’ ”

Saltsman says that if businesses at the airport can’t offset their higher costs with higher prices for consumers, then workers could see their hours cut or jobs eliminated. “The trend, as cost rises, is heading toward fewer employees and more automation,” he says. “They feel like conveniences but they were actually part of someone’s job description.”

On the first day of 2018, 18 states saw minimum wage increases — from 4 cents in Alaska to a dollar in Maine.

Sylvia Wallingford, a business owner in Maine, told NPR’s Joel Rose, “I hired fewer people because I can’t — you can’t afford to promise everybody a certain number of hours regardless of whether we’re busy or not.”

An “Analysis and Justification” report by the Port Authority found the increased minimum wage was unlikely to be offset by higher unemployment. Instead, it found evidence that businesses developed “channels of adjustment” to maintain stable levels of employment.

The agency also said there has been a turnover of more than 30 percent of privately employed airport workers every year, according to the statement. The high turnover limits their ability “to play a critical security role,” the Port Authority said.

One employer, United Airlines, wouldn’t comment on whether it plans to oppose the wage increases in court, according to WNYC.

Yasmeen Holmes, who has worked at Newark’s airport for 16 years, spoke to WNYC about the wage increase. “I figured it would never happen. Maybe now I won’t have to do so much overtime, and I can stay home with my kids.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Google CEO holds ‘very productive’ meeting with U.S. lawmakers

Google CEO Sundar Pichai went to Washington Friday to discuss concerns about the company’s business practices with members of Congress and emerged with an invitation to meet with President Donald Trump during an upcoming roundtable.

Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council, extended the invitation while meeting with Pichai and the offer was accepted, according to the White House.

Other “internet stakeholders” will be invited to the same roundtable with Trump, the White House said, with other details, including the date, still to come.

Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump has recently accused Google of rigging the results of its influential search engine to suppress conservative viewpoints and highlight coverage from media that he says distribute “fake news.” Google has denied any political bias.

The White House said Kudlow discussed the internet and the economy with Pichai on Friday, and described the talks as “positive and productive.”

Pichai made the rounds in Washington just a few weeks after he and his boss, Google co-founder Larry Page, irked lawmakers by skipping a public hearing.

There was plenty to talk about, based on recent remarks by both lawmakers and Trump.

That includes recent reports that Google is poised to re-enter China with a search engine generating censored results to comply with the demands of that country’s Communist government. Also potential new regulations that would define how much personal information that internet companies can collect about people using their services.

Both Trump and some U.S. lawmakers have been raising the possibility of asking government regulators to investigate whether Google has abused its power to thwart competition through its dominant search engine and other widely used services, which include Gmail, YouTube, the Chrome web browser and its Android software that runs most of the world’s smartphones.

Pichai’s meeting with about two dozen Republican lawmakers was held in the Capitol office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents a district in Google’s home state of California.

“We held a very productive meeting with Google CEO Sundar Pichai to discuss concerns regarding Google’s business practices,” said Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. He said Pichai will be invited to attend a public hearing that the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold in November, after the midterm elections.

Before the meeting with Republican lawmakers, Pichai also indicated he planned to meet with Democrats.

“These meetings will continue Google’s long history of engaging with Congress, including testifying seven times to Congress this year,” he said.

Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet, also may have been trying to mend some political fences after Pichai and Page — now Alphabet’s CEO — snubbed Congress a few weeks ago. Neither of them appeared at a high-profile hearing looking into what Twitter, Facebook and Google have been doing to prevent Russia and other foreign governments from using their services to sow discord among U.S. voters in an attempt to sway elections.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified at the hearing, as did Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, but Google was only willing to send its general counsel. That didn’t satisfy lawmakers, who left a vacant chair that they hoped either Pichai or Page would occupy. The no-show prompted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to call Google “arrogant.”

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Camden Bishop pleads with faithful to forgive Catholic church

On Friday evening the Catholic Bishop of the Camden Diocese Dennis Sullivan began his homily at Saint Agnes Church in Blackwood by lying prostrate before the altar, his forehead pressed to the floor.

The service was held as an evening of prayer for the victims of sexual abuse by leaders of the Catholic Church and came in light of the grand jury report released in August in Pennsylvania. The report revealed more than 300 priests in six Pennsylvanian dioceses had committed sexual abuse which spanned decades and resulted in more than 1,000 victims. At least four of the priests named in the report had ties to parishes in New Jersey.

After four minutes of lying on the floor in silence, Bishop Sullivan stood and offered an apology on behalf of the Church.

“To those who have suffered abuse by a minister of the Church of Camden, I am sorry. To those who tried to bring that abuse to light, but did not experience the care and concern they deserved, I am sorry. To the family members of the abused, who have watched devastating effects of that abuse impact their families, I am sorry.”

For many in the crowd, like Mary Anne Serra, this apology was a welcome act of humility by a respected leader.

“I was very proud of our Bishop for being very straightforward and saying he was sorry,” Serra said after the service. “Laying down on the ground is not always the easiest thing and he’s very sincere in what he is doing. So I was proud of him.”

But the evening which started out in silence ended with a bold call to action by the bishop.

“Words will not do it, they are not enough,” he said. “There must be actions. Concrete actions on behalf of the victims and specific actions, decisions on the manner the church will conduct itself when a member of the clergy commits a crime.”

The service was one of several taking place to address the instances of sexual abuse in South Jersey. A similar one was held at Philadelphia’s cathedral, but Archbishop Charles Chaput did not attend. For those who missed this evening of prayer, six other parishes will hold similar services on Friday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

Reflecting on the service, Serra is hopeful for the church moving forward.

“For the church here in Camden and for the church throughout the world,” she said, “make sure everything is cleared up so that we can go ahead stronger and better than we were before.”

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A Nicetown factory goes to auction

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

When O’Dell Brown first moved to Nicetown, 42-years ago, there was no escaping the Budd Manufacturing Company. The car, airplane, and rail parts factory looms just across the street from Brown’s two-story rowhome, its campus larger than the entire town of Millbourne, PA.

Built over decades to fabricate massive goods, the booming assembly line once echoed all day and all night, stamping out airplane bodies or rail cars for the city’s Market Frankford Line.

It ran every day. And every night. Budd soundproofed around 1980, but Brown, a pastor at New Birth Deliverance Church, says the noise never bothered him. It was the sound of industry. It was the sound of money being made by Budd’s thousands of union employees, many of whom lived in Nicetown.

“It was the heartbeat of this neighborhood,” he says today, of the factory.

But that heart stopped beating in 2003, when Budd ceased operations at its Hunting Park Avenue plant, some 91 years after the company’s foundation. Today, the shattered complex is largely abandoned, a husk passed from one speculator to another. About half of the old campus will go up for auction Tuesday, Oct. 4, covering 26 acres of land, five parcels, and six gigantic former Budd Co. buildings. The largest is nearly 700,000 square feet.

In truth, this was more than just the heart of Nicetown. Budd, which filed for bankruptcy in 2014, employed a workforce of some 2,400 people at its Philadelphia plants in the 1980s. And, nearby, once rumbled other erstwhile powerhouses like Tasty Baking, Atwater-Kent, Philco, Midvale Steel, and the American Pulley Company, employing thousands more.

O’Dell Brown, pictured here with his daughters in their home, moved to a home across the street from the Budd Co. plant 42 years ago. (Provided)

In this industrial promise land, Budd Co., with its sprawling campus, was far and away the biggest player.  With its demise have come similar fates for other companies too, and many neighboring factory buildings have wrestled with abandonment.

But many have also recently come back to life. Tasty Baking’s old property was reimagined as a strip mall and storage facility called Bakers Square, with the help of state grants, in 2011. The Kroc Center, a world-class rec center, was built atop the old American Pulley Company with support from the Salvation Army and a philanthropy connected to McDonald’s fast food fortune. The old HQ of Atwater-Kent was transformed into a clearinghouse for kitschy home decor.

To local developer Ken Weinstein, who has renovated former industrial buildings in nearby Wayne Junction, the sale of the remaining Budd site is the last piece of the puzzle for a neighborhood whose time has come.

“Just two or three years ago it might have been dismissed as another junk property. But we’re at a point where almost every neighborhood in Philadelphia has the potential for revitalization,” Weinstein said. “It’s the right time. My only hope is that it doesn’t just go to another speculator.”

The last time the property was in the news, Donald Trump was merely a billionaire with a pitch to transform the recently vacated complex into a casino. He lobbied the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board with the help of celebrity hype men like Boyz II Men and Pat Croce. Suffice to say; it didn’t work out.

That was back in 2005. Not all of the remaining acreage on the former Budd property has been left entirely abandoned. Over the years, a church floated in and then out of the complex. An appropriately dystopian M. Night Shyamalan movie called “After Earth,” starring Will Smith, was shot on the site in 2012. A dialysis center and a roller derby track still occupy two of the old buildings. Temple University Hospital has an administrative outpost and a large parking lot in another outbuilding that was parceled off.

The biggest piece of property would come into the possession of a holding company controlled by a car dealer from Montgomery County who would eventually fall deep into debt to the city over unpaid tax and utilities, triggering the impending fire sale.

But Weinstein insists times have changed. He believes Nicetown, despite higher-than-average crime and poverty rates can attract private development once again, without the aid of the state or sympathetic philanthropists. The site is well situated near well-off neighborhoods in Northwest Philadelphia, like East Falls, a highway ramp and the intersection of several key SEPTA bus lines.

“The point of using (state economic development grants) at Baker’s Square was to show it can work and attract future development to the area,” he said. “With the Budd site available, now is the time to prove that correct.”

Lauren Gilchrist, a VP for commercial real estate consulting firm JLL, isn’t as rosy about the prospects for sale.

It’s true that some industrial conversion projects – high-ceilinged factory floors being flipped into modern apartments or office space for “creatives” – have cropped up in outlying neighborhoods as formerly industrial areas closer to downtown, like Kensington, have gentrified, she said. Yet few have been so distant from the core. Few so massive.

“We’ve gotten a couple of calls about conversions moving to North Philadelphia, but I haven’t seen anyone moving that far north,” she said. “This is a tough one, from a market-driven perspective, to make it work. These are very large buildings.”

The 26-acre Budd Co.site has drawn graffiti artists.(Kimberly Paynter/ WHYY)

The buildings going to auction cover some 1.8 million square feet of combined floor space. Gilchrist said that possible environmental contamination from years of industrial fabrication could entail costly remediation or even necessitate the teardown of buildings.

One piece of good news for the project comes via its former suitor, President Donald Trump. The project sits within a Qualified Opportunity Zone – a program enacted as part of Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that provides a break on capital gains tax for investors who sink money into projects in certain low-income census tracts.

“That could make a project like this, that was not viable potentially viable, more attractive to investors,” she said.

Taking on such a large project is beyond Weinstein’s scope, but he said that he’s talked to other parties who are interested. He wouldn’t name names.

“They can picture buying smaller pieces of the property and doing adaptive reuse,” he said. “Bakers Square is doing well from a retail perspective. I think the area could probably support some more retail, maybe more offices. Maybe some housing, although that’s still untested over there.”

To Weinstein, anything would beat a giant factory in a neverending half-life of decay. But Brown, the pastor, would ideally like to see Temple University expand its presence in the neighborhood to bring back good paying jobs. He dreams that the university would take over the site, flatten the derelict buildings and open a new medical campus.

“The neighborhood took a big financial hit when [Budd] closed,” he said. “Temple could be a lifeline.”

O’Dell Brown shows an image of a home he would like to buy in Delaware. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

It seems a certainty that anything resembling Budd Co. isn’t coming back to the neighborhood. The trickle of recent redevelopment has brought few jobs and most with modest pay, a far cry from the days when a younger Brown and his neighbors would sell burgers from their rowhouse steps as factory workers swarmed out for lunch.

But even if Temple were interested — the University declined to comment — Brown won’t be around to see what comes next. He has his sights set on a bigger home in Delaware.

He ticks off the reasons for moving: He has four little girls, a fifth on the way, and a granddaughter living in a small rowhome. There are vacant houses on either side of his property. The only noises coming from the factory these days are scrappers and trespassers who’ve returned, again and again, to shoot off late night fireworks, like some ghost of the assembly line.

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Zinke talks LNG exports, pipeline constraints, offshore wind in Pa. visit

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stopped in Pittsburgh on Friday to say that natural gas from places like Pennsylvania plays a key role in helping the United States deal with foreign adversaries.

If an energy-rich nation like Russia or Iran were to act aggressively toward the United States, he said having an abundance of natural gas would help counter that move.

“We can make sure their energy does not go to markets if we need to, and place great economic leverage,” he said. The U.S. can do that because it’s the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, he said.

Zinke’s comments came during a conference hosted by the Consumer Energy Alliance, whose members include businesses, unions and energy groups, among other organizations.

He said he foresees the United States helping supply places like Japan and South Korea that rely on energy imports.

“I think the big gun is probably liquid natural gas because the market overseas is liquid natural gas, and the U.S. has a lot of it,” he said.

Liquefied natural gas terminals such as Maryland’s Cove Point recently began shipping Marcellus Shale gas to Asian nations.

The CEO of pipeline developer Williams, who also spoke at the conference, said Pennsylvania continues to be constrained by a lack of pipelines that can carry gas out of the state.

“The problem is you’ve got to get it where there is new market,” Alan Armstrong said. “Most of the new market is developing in the southeast states and in the Gulf Coast.”

Work on several new liquefied natural gas export terminals is underway in Texas and Georgia.

Zinke, in his remarks, touched on an issue that has plagued Williams in recent years.

The company ran into an obstacle constructing its Constitution Pipeline, which would carry Marcellus Shale gas north out of Pennsylvania. New York denied the project a key permit in 2016. Williams challenged that decision, but the U.S. Supreme Court this year opted to leave in place a lower court ruling that sided with New York.

Zinke added that other states have blocked energy-related infrastructure projects, including Washington, which has held up proposals to build a coal export terminal and an oil-by-rail facility.

“We’re going to have to have a discussion on whether a state has the right to diminish the economic livelihood of another state, of an adjacent state,” he said.

Zinke painted a bright future for several other energy resources, namely oil, solar and wind.

The Interior Department has made recent moves to help two of those industries develop offshore. Earlier this year, Zinke opened up much of the U.S. coast to offshore oil and gas development. That decision has drawn widespread protests, including in New Jersey.

The department this spring announced a proposed lease sale to build wind farms in the ocean. Zinke said he hopes to learn from Europe’s offshore wind projects as the industry is still in its infancy in the United States. The nation’s first offshore wind farm went up two years ago near the Rhode Island coast.

He said his department and wind developers will need to work through a couple issues, including building the turbines far enough from shore that they are not an eyesore, and making sure the towers don’t conflict with fishing.

“I think it’s an enormous opportunity,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement about offshore wind. We just want to make sure we do it right.”

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Trump administration moves to escalate census lawsuits to Supreme Court

The Trump administration is taking steps to move the legal fight over its controversial plan to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a court filing submitted Friday, attorneys at the Justice Department — which is representing the administration in the six lawsuits around the country over the hotly contested question — are preparing to appeal recent orders by lower courts for the depositions of two key Trump administration officials behind the question: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Justice Department official John Gore.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the two lead cases have been gearing up to question Ross and Gore in their final weeks of evidence gathering. A potential trial for the two New York cases is set to start on Nov. 5 at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

But in the administration’s request to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, its lawyers asked to block all remaining depositions and document requests for those two cases “pending review” by the Supreme Court.

Read the Sept. 28, 2018 Letter Motion to Stay Discovery Pending Supreme Court Review here.

The Trump administration is challenging Furman’s order allowing the plaintiffs’ attorneys to question Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau as the head of the Commerce Department. Ross announced in March that he approved the Justice Department’s request to add a citizenship question to forms for the upcoming national head count. On Friday, a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put his deposition on hold while the appeals court reviews the administration’s request to block it.

Earlier this week, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit upheld Furman’s order for the deposition of Gore. He leads the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which argues that it needs responses to the citizenship question in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act’s protections against discrimination of racial and language minorities.

The plaintiffs, which include dozens of states, cities and other groups that want the question removed, claim that Ross misused his authority and discriminated against immigrant communities of color by ordering the 2020 census to inquire about U.S. citizenship status — a topic the Census Bureau has not asked all U.S. households since 1950.

Critics of the question point to Census Bureau research suggesting that asking about citizenship status could discourage households with noncitizens, including unauthorized immigrants, from participating in the once-a-decade head count of every person living in the U.S. as required under the Constitution.

The Trump administration argues that deposing Ross and Gore is not necessary to resolve these lawsuits, and that the courts should instead rely on the record of internal memos, emails and other documents already released by the administration.

“The validity of the Secretary’s decision is properly judged on that objective record, without inquiry into Secretary Ross’s deliberative process and any subjective reasons he might have had for favoring the reinstatement of a citizenship question,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote in their request for the 2nd Circuit to block Ross’ deposition.

But Judge Furman has ruled, in part, that the officials should be deposed because of documents suggesting that better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was not the main driver behind the push for a citizenship question.

“Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases,” Furman wrote in an opinion filed last week.

As NPR has reported, an internal email exchange released as part of the lawsuits provided an early indication that the Trump administration was preparing to defend the citizenship question at the Supreme Court months before the Justice Department formally submitted its request for the question in December 2017.

“Since this issue will go to the Supreme Court,” Commerce Department official Earl Comstock wrote to Ross in an August 2017 email discussing a citizenship question, “we need to be diligent in preparing the administrative record.”

Ross later wrote back: “we should be very careful,about everything,whether or not it is likely to end up in the SC.”

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Optimistic Wagner opens Philly office

Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner opened a campaign office in the heart of the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia on Saturday.

Wagner told about 30 people wearing “Democrats for Wagner” t-shirts in the new office on 5th Street near Lombard that he’d work hard to bring good jobs and better schools to the city.

The Wagner campaign has run video ads filmed in Philadelphia focusing on the needs of urban communities.

“Democrats are starting to come out of the woodwork,” Wagner said in an interview after the opening. “The level of poverty here is just saddening. More and more people are coming out, and I believe we’re going to do well. I’ll never win Philadelphia, but I’m going to move the needle here.”

The founder of Democrats for Wagner is Tracey L. Fisher, director of Gateway to Re-entry, a non-profit based in Southwest Philadelphia that works with former inmates and provides other community services.

Wagner took an interest in the group last year and bought the group two new vans for its work.

The vans were then seen bearing “Wagner for Governor” campaign signs that Fisher and the campaign said were legally-permitted campaign advertising.

Fisher said he was troubled that Democratic leaders had failed to improve conditions in the city’s struggling neighborhoods.

“I’ll take my chances [with Republicans],” Fisher said in an interview at the new campaign office. “We have to make the Democrats respect our votes again. They don’t work for our votes.”

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf holds a substantial leads over Wagner in independent polls and fundraising, but Wagner said he’s done 600 events, and expects to win.

The candidates’ only debate is Monday night in Hershey.

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