Monday, August 15, 2022

CHAMPION FOR FREE SPEECH - Salman Rushdie

"Examining Salman Rushdie’s lifelong fight for free speechPBS NewsHour 8/15/2022

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Three days after being repeatedly stabbed onstage as he was preparing to give a lecture, author Salman Rushdie is recovering while the man accused of attacking him has been charged with attempted murder.  Ayad Akhtar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist and president of PEN America, joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss Rushdie's life, work and the wider impact of the attack against him.



AFGHANISTAN - One Year After U.S. Abandonment

"One year after evacuating Afghanistan, teen refugee pursues musical dreamsPBS NewsHour 8/13/2022

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SUMMARY:  This month marks one year since the U.S. withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, leading to the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan nationals since last August.  Now, one teen refugee is pursuing her musical dreams thanks to a guitar donated through a youth-led organization in Phoenix.  PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs' Alexis Schmidt reports.



THE ATLANTIC - Trump Era "Zero Tolerance" Immigration Policy

"How a Trump-era policy that separated thousands of migrant families came to passPBS NewsHour 8/13/2022

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SUMMARY:  The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy separated over 5,000 children from their parents, with no tracking process or records that would allow them to be reunited.  Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Dickerson joins Geoff Bennett to discuss her investigation into the policy.



OPINION - Brooks and Capehart 8/12/2022

"Brooks and Capehart on the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the investigations surrounding TrumpPBS NewsHour 8/12/2022

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including the multiple investigations hanging over former President Trump and primary victories by his supporters who are election deniers.

Judy Woodruff (News:Hour):  The press, politicians and the public are struggling to untangle a knot of questions, new and old, following the unprecedented FBI search of a former President home earlier this week, which leads us to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.

That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.

Hello to both of you.  It's Friday night.  Good to have you with us again.

And there's one story that's dominating the news today.

Jonathan, I'm going to start with you.

I hardly know where to begin.  But what do you make of this?  I mean, the FBI carted off 11 boxes, we're learning, of various degrees of confidential material this week.

Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post):  My head is still spinning.

And not just any material.  Some of the material, we now know from the released warrant, have to — have either classified markings, top-secret markings, or sensitive, compartmented information, which is probably the highest level of security intelligence documents there are.  You can only read those in secure locations, and they're not meant to be taken out of those secured locations.

Judy I'm trying to look at this, not from a partisan lens, not from my particular perspective, as someone center and left, but as just an American, taking out the name of the person involved.

We have just seen a former President of the United States be subpoenaed in June for documents, ignored the subpoena.  The FBI gets a search warrant based on three aspects of the Espionage Act.  They wait three days to execute it.  They execute that search warrant against a former President of the United States.

And now we're learning that some of the most sensitive information a government official can have access to, he had with him more than a year after being out of office at his private residence.

Judy Woodruff:  What should we make of this?

Jonathan Capehart:  Under normal circumstances…

Judy Woodruff:  Oh, I'm sorry.  I thought you were stopping.

Go ahead, Jonathan.

Jonathan Capehart:  No, I was just going to say, under normal circumstances, everything's should be on fire, because we should not be in the situation.  No President has done this.  No President should do this.  But Donald Trump did it.

David Brooks (New York Times):  Yes, when I first heard about it, I have to confess my stomach sank.

And my reaction was, does the FBI understand the political firestorm they're about to set off?  As the days have gone by, the gravity of what the FBI did and the justification for what they did have grown.

And so, first, we learned this was not a rash thing, that it has been months in the making.  They did issue a subpoena.  They walked through this step by step.  And then, even in the last few hours, we have learned that, as Jonathan said, if these documents are top-secret documents, the people who know more about this than I, they say that's a really big deal.

And the — one of the acts the President is being investigated for is the Espionage Act.  This is a serious act, which could be a decade in prison for a normal human being.  And there are other acts, the potential falsification and mutilation of documents.  That's also years in prison.

And so these are — these are not small crimes.  These are major, major criminal, if they get to it, accusations.  And if you have that kind of crime, and you're a law enforcement officer, you have got to do something.

Judy Woodruff:  Jonathan, how much of this depends on what actually was in those documents, how secret, how confidential, how explosive that material was?

Jonathan Capehart:  Well, I think that sort of gradation depends on what potential charges could come down the road.

But we're still talking about documents that should never have left the White House, should be in the possession of the National Archives, because they are the official custodian of Presidential records.

There are laws to ensure that those records go to the National Archives.  No President, no former President, should have the documents that Donald Trump had before the FBI took them out, so — out of Mar-a-Lago.  So that's what we should be focused on, that, to my mind, yes, it matters what's in the documents.

What's even more important is that he took them, against the — against statutes, once he left the White House.  I cannot express how serious the situation is that the country finds itself in right now.

Judy Woodruff:  David, you started a minute ago by saying, initially, you had the sinking feeling that this could lead to sympathy, greater support for former President Trump.

How much is that still something that's a concern?

David Brooks:  Yes.

No, I do think this is — both things are true.  The FBI was probably right to do what they did.  This will help Donald Trump.  And it helps Donald Trump in a number of ways.

First, as a number of his potential primary opponents' consultants have been saying off the record on — in the media, their campaigns are now — have the air taken out this — out of their sails.  A couple — a month ago, a couple of months ago, half of all Republicans were saying they want to move on.

Now, in the last week, at least, and maybe short term, in the last week, the whole party is rallying around Donald Trump; 80 percent of Republicans say they're more motivated to vote in 2022 because of what they call this raid.

The vast majority are saying this is not an impartial investigation, [it] is a political hack job, something like 75 percent.  Half of all Americans believe that.  And so you get this situation where Trump — people are rallying around Trump.  His opponents now have a little to run on, because everyone's defending the guy who has been attacked.

And then here's where I get to the nightmare scenario.  What happens if, in a couple of years, a year or two from now, Donald Trump is cruising to the Republican nomination because he's winning primary after primary, and he gets convicted of something?

What happens if, a year-and-a-half from now, the American public decides he's going to be elected President…

Judy Woodruff:  Yes.

David Brooks:  … and the American legal system decides, oh, no, he's going to prison?  What happens then to our country?

Because I assume he has to be arrested.  And I assume half the country is just going to erupt in rage and, frankly, political violence.

So this — the presupposition for all this, we live in a society where there's incredibly low social trust.  [A] So people don't trust the institutions.  And (B) in a normal party, your candidacy is hurt if you're investigated by the FBI.  That is not the current Republican Party right now, at least right now.

And so the — this is — you can see down the road to a potential where our legal system and our political system crash, and society is really disrupted.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Jonathan, it's not even having a charge leveled against the former President.

I mean, just this week, this man went after the FBI in Cincinnati.  He was later killed.  He was somebody involved in January 6.  He's a very, very strong Trump believer.

I mean, so, how much do you think the former President is helped by this politically, as David is saying, and how worried are you about it leading to something else?

Jonathan Capehart:  Oh, Donald Trump is absolutely helped by this.  The people who believe in Donald Trump and love Donald Trump will believe everything that he says and believe that anything that is done — quote, unquote — "against him" is persecuting him and therefore persecuting them.

I do not think that fear of potential violence or fear of whatever political benefit could come to Donald Trump should factor into the wheels of justice turning.  He cannot be allowed to be above the law.

And if the Justice Department or the wheels of justice were to cower in the face of the potential of benefiting him, then our democracy is lost.  He must be held accountable, just like anyone else potentially accused or investigated, tried for or found guilty of the things that we're talking about right now.

Just because he was a sitting President, a former President of the United States does not mean he's above the law.  And if — let's say that crash happens that David is talking about, and he's elected, but he's convicted.

Well, he won't be President of the United States.  I just — Judy, David, I am so — I am so concerned about where we are right now, because we are in uncharted territory.  We don't know what the charges are going to be, what the real impact is going to be.

I do agree with David, however, that anything that happens negative, from Trump and Trump supporters' perspective, is going to lead to things that I don't think we're prepared for.  But we must get prepared for it, because our democracy is on the line.

Judy Woodruff:  David, should any of this worry about what this could lead to affect the judicial process in any way?

David Brooks:  Yes, I absolutely think it should.

We're all responsible for the consequences of our actions.  And prosecutors and investigators use discretion every single day.  And so they — if they're indicting a candidate for a major party (A), my own personal opinion is the bar should be pretty high, that they really — (A) it's a very serious crime, and, (B) it's a very crystal clear case that the whole country can see.

That doesn't mean you don't — as the experts of even the last few hours have talked about what Donald Trump may have done with these documents probably clears the bar.  January 6, I became more to think it clears the bar.

But you just can't ignore the society around you.  You can't ignore a society that is in perilously close danger of rupturing.  And does that determine what you do?  Do you let somebody get away with a major crime?  Obviously not.

But you can — and none of us can be blind to the consequences of our actions.  And I think prosecutors are comfortable with that.

Judy Woodruff:  What about that, Jonathan?

Jonathan Capehart:  Well, I don't disagree.  I don't disagree with David.

I do think that the facts as we know them now, in terms of that FBI surge, that high bar was there, and that the Justice Department cleared those bars, and then some, because they understand the consequences of what they're going to do and the public, the public reaction, knowing that the subpoena was issued in June and ignored, that they got the search warrant three days before it was — it was executed.

Judy Woodruff:  Right.

Jonathan Capehart:  That, to me, says that the Justice Department and those people are exercising extreme caution and care.

Judy Woodruff:  Just a little bit of time left, but I do want to ask you both about more election results this week.

David, it's the election deniers who are doing well in so many of these primary contests.  And, in race after race, they seem to be the folks Donald Trump has endorsed.

David Brooks:  Yes, I'd say, in some weeks, we have had a mixed bag, that some non-Trump people did well.

But pretty much, in the recent ones, Arizona, Wisconsin, elsewhere, Trump people more or less swept the field.  The election, I can't remember if it was the day before or after the house raid.  I can't remember if it was affected by it.  But they had a very good — and then progressives did pretty well.

And so I'd say the overall story from all these primaries so far is increased polarization.

Judy Woodruff:  Jonathan, less than a minute.

What does this set up November to look like?

Jonathan Capehart:  A wild November, Judy.

But the thing that I'm looking at is, we now have five Republican gubernatorial candidates across the country who are election deniers, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Any one of them, if they actually become governor of their particular state, the 2024 Presidential election is in deep trouble.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, on this light note that we're ending on, on this Friday night…

David Brooks:  Another sober week in politics.

(LAUGHTER)

Judy Woodruff:  Another — Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you.  Thank you both.

David Brooks:  Thank you.

Jonathan Capehart:  Thanks, Judy.



CHARLOTTESVILLE - Trauma Remains 5 Years Later

"Charlottesville reckons with trauma 5 years after a deadly white supremacist rallyPBS NewsHour 8/12/2022

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  Five years ago on Friday, extremists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia in a violent demonstration that forced the city and the nation to confront the growing threats of white supremacy and domestic terrorism.  Laura Barrón-López visited the city to see what's changed and how residents think President Biden and the country have reckoned with what they witnessed that summer.



THREAT TO AMERICA - Extremism on the Far-Right

"Assessing threats of political violence and rising extremism on the far-rightPBS NewsHour 8/12/2022

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SUMMARY:  In response to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, Trump supporters have increased calls for a civil war.  Those dangerous threats are being fueled by conspiracy theories, and mistrust of the FBI and Justice Department promoted by many Republican politicians.  Barbara Walter, professor at UC San Diego and author of “How Civil Wars Start," joins Laura Barrón-López to discuss.



GUNS - Firearms Industry Scrutiny

#StandAgainstTheNRA  Murder Incorparated

"Firearms industry scrutinized for how it markets to consumersPBS NewsHour 8/11/2022

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SUMMARY:  The debate over gun control in America often centers around firearms production and distribution.  But in recent years gun company marketing techniques have come under scrutiny, as major manufacturers seek out a new and arguably vulnerable audience.  Paul Solman has the story.



RELIGION vs CONSTITUTION - What Faith Leaders Say

IMO:  Any attempt to make a religious belief into a law that punishes citizens for NOT practicing that belief is unconstitutional.  It is NOT allowing people to follow their beliefs and morals, it IS theocrasy.

"Faith leaders discuss how their religions approach the divisive issue of abortionPBS NewsHour 8/11/2022

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SUMMARY:  While many say the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v.  Wade is the answer to decades of prayer, some faith leaders fear their religious rights will be infringed amid new abortion restrictions.  Amna Nawaz spoke with three faith leaders about how their religions approach the issue of abortion.



RAINFORESTS - Congo Basin

"Rainforests in the Congo Basin are under threat as the DRC opens land to oil, gas drillingPBS NewsHour 8/11/2022

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SUMMARY:  On a multi-country tour of Africa this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been making the case that the U.S. can be a quote "equal partner" with African nations.  In that vein, he recently announced a new partnership between the U.S. and the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] in an effort to protect some of that nation's natural treasures.  William Brangham reports.



LOUISIANA - Oil and Natural Gas Pollution

"Abandoned oil and natural gas wells pollute the environment across LouisianaPBS NewsHour 8/10/2022

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SUMMARY:  Tens of thousands of abandoned oil and natural gas wells sit idle across the United States.  Known as orphan wells, they pose significant dangers to nearby residents and the environment after being ignored or forgotten by the companies who drilled them.  States and taxpayers are often left to clean them up.  Roby Chavez, who has been reporting on this from Louisiana, joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.



AMERICAN POLITICS - Focus on Midterms

"What Republicans and Democrats are focusing on for midterm electionsPBS NewsHour 8/10/2022

WHAT I KNOW:  The Republican will lie, cheat, rig, and anything else to gain power.  The GOP no longer supports or believes in democracy.

Excerpt

SUMMARY:  With less than three months until the midterms, Democrats hope recent legislative successes will help bolster their campaigns.  But Republicans are betting they can win back control of Congress.  Democratic strategist Joel Benenson who worked with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and Neil Newhouse lead pollster for Mitt Romney and John McCain’s presidential bids, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.



ASSASSINATION - Attempt on John Bolton

"Iranian man charged for trying to assassinate former national security adviser John BoltonPBS NewsHour 8/10/2022

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SUMMARY:  The U.S. Justice Department charged an Iranian national with plotting to kill John Bolton, who was National Security Adviser to President Trump.  Federal officials say the suspect was a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, who allegedly tried to hire a hitman for $300,000 that was actually an FBI informant.  Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.



CANVAS - ‘The Last White Man’

"Author Mohsin Hamid explores the construct of race in his new novel ‘The Last White Man’PBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  A work of imagination asks us to see race in a new way from a novelist once again taking on magical realism in his fiction.  Jeffrey Brown talks with Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid for our arts and culture series, "CANVAS."



AFRICA - U.S. Diplomacy

"U.S. makes diplomatic push in Africa to counteract Russian and Chinese influencePBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo Tuesday as part of a tour across sub-Saharan Africa to unveil the Biden administration's new strategy for the region.  It comes as Russia and China try to raise their own influence.  Cameron Hudson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Kholood Khair of Confluence Advisory join Nick Schifrin to discuss.



SEARCH FOR TRUTH - FBI's Search For Possible Violation of Espionage Act

"What we know about the FBI’s search of Trump’s Florida homePBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  Former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence was searched Monday night by the FBI.  Reports suggest the search was a part of investigations into whether Trump took classified records from the White House to his Florida home, marking a dramatic escalation into various investigations swirling around him.  Carrie Johnson, who covers the Justice Department NPR, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

 

 

"Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson calls FBI search on Trump’s estate ‘alarming’PBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  Questions are swirling after the FBI searched former President Trump's Florida home. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas under President Reagan, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the political implications.

 

 

"Why former Sen. Jones believes facts will back up FBI search at Trump estatePBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  Former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who served as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under President Clinton, joins Judy Woodruff with some perspective from the Democratic side of the aisle on the FBI search of Trump's residence.

 

 

"DOJ files motion to unseal search warrant used for Trump’s Florida residencePBS NewsHour 8/11/2022

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SUMMARY:  U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday he personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant for former President Trump's home in Palm Beach, Florida.  FBI agents executed the warrant at Mar-a-Lago this week.  They were reportedly searching for classified documents but more details could soon be revealed.  Former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth joins William Brangham to discuss.

 

 

"FBI retrieved top secret documents from Trump’s Florida homePBS NewsHour 8/12/2022

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SUMMARY:  A federal judge on Friday unsealed and made public the search warrant for former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.  A review of the warrant reveals that the FBI collected more than 20 boxes of items, including some material classified as top secret.  Sadie Gurman of The Wall Street Journal and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.



IN MEMORIAM - David McCullough 1993-2022

"Remembering the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCulloughPBS NewsHour 8/8/2022

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SUMMARY:  Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and writer David McCullough, who died on Sunday at the age of 89, was perhaps best known for his biographies of two often overlooked presidents: John Adams and Harry Truman.  But his interests ranged far and wide, including in the arts.  In this excerpt of a 2011 interview with NewsHour's Jeffrey Brown, McCullough reflects on his love of research and discovery.



NUCLEAR INDUSTRY - Nuclear Ore Extraction

"Residents in the Southwest struggle with the health effects of nuclear ore extractionPBS NewsHour 8/8/2022

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SUMMARY:  Residents of the Southwest including many Indigenous people have for years been exposed to high levels of radiation from uranium extraction and refining, a toxic legacy from the Cold War's weapons program and nuclear power generation.  Stephanie Sy reports in partnership with investigative news outlet ProPublica on a community’s fight for survival and to hold a company and government accountable.



GOVERNANCE - Inflation Reduction Act

"How Democrats coalesced around the Inflation Reduction ActPBS NewsHour 8/8/2022

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SUMMARY:  After working through the weekend, Democrats are on the cusp of passing an historic, half-trillion dollar spending package.  It's a mere fraction of what President Biden first sought more than a year ago, but significant nonetheless.  Lisa Desjardins is here to unpack what's in the deal and how party leaders managed to shepherd it to the finish line when losing a single vote would have sunk it.

 

 

"What the reconciliation bill would do to boost clean energy and combat global warmingPBS NewsHour 8/8/2022

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SUMMARY:  If the House passes the Inflation Reduction Act in the coming days it will lead to by far the biggest investment the federal government has made on tackling climate change.  Several estimates have indicated the initiative may mean a 40 percent reduction in America’s carbon emissions by 2030 from 2005 figures.  Paul Bledsoe of the Progressive Policy Institute joins William Brangham to discuss.

 

 

"Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer discusses Democrats’ major climate and health billPBS NewsHour 8/9/2022

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SUMMARY:  President Biden on Tuesday signed the bipartisan CHIPS Act into law, just days before his top health care, tax and climate change bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act heads to the House, where it's likely to pass after proceeding through the Senate along party lines.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who played a key role in getting the bill passed, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

 

 

"How the Inflation Reduction Act could affect your taxesPBS NewsHour 8/10/2022

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SUMMARY:  There’s a $1 trillion gap between what Americans owe in taxes and what the government collects.  The Democrats’ budget deal would unleash nearly 100,000 new IRS agents to round up all that missing money.  Former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss the impact the crackdown on tax evaders will have on the nation’s bottom line.

 

 

"Democrats celebrate legislative win in passing of climate, health and tax billPBS NewsHour 8/8/2022

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SUMMARY:  Congressional Democrats are celebrating a landmark legislative victory after passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden is set to sign into law this week.  Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating Donald Trump for potentially violating the Espionage Act after classified documents were found in his home.  Special correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.



Monday, August 08, 2022

PROPUBLICA - Homestake Uranium Mills

"A Uranium Ghost Town in the MakingPropublica 8/8/2022

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.  This piece was originally published in The Weekly Dispatch, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country.

The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres.  Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.


Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die.  Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.

“We were sacrificed a long time ago,” said Candace Head-Dylla, who created the death map with her mother after Head-Dylla had her thyroid removed and her mother developed breast cancer.  Research has linked both types of illnesses to uranium exposure.

Beginning in 1958, a uranium mill owned by Homestake Mining Company of California processed and refined ore mined nearby.  The waste it left behind leaked uranium and selenium into groundwater and released the cancer-causing gas radon into the air.  State and federal regulators knew the mill was polluting groundwater almost immediately after it started operating, but years passed before they informed residents and demanded fixes.

The contamination continued to spread even after the mill closed in 1990.

The failures at Homestake are emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry, one that has been well-documented from its boom during the Cold War until falling uranium prices and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power decimated the industry in the 1980s.  Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history.

But for four decades, the management of more than 250 million tons of radioactive uranium mill waste has been largely overlooked, continuing to pose a public health threat.

ProPublica found that regulators have failed to hold companies to account when they missed cleanup targets and accepted incorrect forecasts that pollution wouldn’t spread.  The federal government will eventually assume responsibility for the more than 50 defunct mills that generated this waste.

At Homestake, which was among the largest mills, the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away.  Interviews with dozens of residents, along with radon testing and thousands of pages of company and government records, reveal a community sacrificed to build the nation's nuclear arsenal and atomic energy industry.

Time and again, Homestake and government agencies promised to clean up the area.  Time and again, they missed their deadlines while further spreading pollution in the communities.  In the 1980s, Homestake promised residents groundwater would be cleaned within a decade, locals told the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and ProPublica.  After missing that target, the company told regulators it would complete the job around 2006, then by 2013.

In 2014, an EPA report confirmed the site posed an unacceptable cancer risk and identified radon as the greatest threat to residents’ health.  Still, the cleanup target date continued shifting, to 2017, then 2022.

Rather than finish the cleanup, Homestake’s current owner, the Toronto-based mining giant Barrick Gold, is now preparing to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC], the independent federal agency that oversees the cleanup of uranium mills, for permission to demolish its groundwater treatment systems and hand the site and remaining waste over to the U.S. Department of Energy to monitor and maintain forever.

Before it can transfer the site to the Department of Energy, Homestake must prove that the contamination, which exceeds federal safety levels, won’t pose a risk to nearby residents or taint the drinking water of communities downstream.

Part of Homestake’s strategy: buy out nearby residents and demolish their homes.  Local real estate agents and residents say the company’s offers do not account for the region’s skyrocketing housing costs, pushing some who accept them back into debt in order to buy a new home.  Those who do sell are required to sign agreements to refrain from disparaging Homestake and absolve the company of liability, even though illnesses caused by exposure to radioactive waste can take decades to manifest.

Property records reveal the company had, by the end of 2021, purchased 574 parcels covering 14,425 acres around the mill site.  This April, Homestake staff indicated they had 123 properties left to buy.  One resident said the area was quickly becoming a “ghost town.”

Even after the community is gone, more than 15,000 people who live nearby, many of them Indigenous, will continue to rely on water threatened by Homestake’s pollution.

The company said it has produced models showing that its waste won't imperil the region's water if it walks away.  The NRC says it will only grant a groundwater cleanup exemption if that’s the case.

But while Homestake and other mining companies have polluted the region, it’s been the NRC and various other agencies that stood by as it happened.  ProPublica found the NRC has issued exemptions from groundwater cleanup standards to uranium mills around the country, only to see pollution continue to spread.  This has occurred as climate change hammers the West, making water ever scarcer.

“Groundwater moves.  Groundwater doesn’t care about regulations,” said Earle Dixon, a hydrogeologist who reviewed the government’s oversight of uranium cleanup and pollution around Homestake for the New Mexico Environment Department and the EPA.  Dixon and other researchers predict contamination at Homestake will likely spread if cleanup ends.

The company has denied that its waste caused residents’ illnesses, and judges ruled in Homestake’s favor in a case residents filed in 2004 alleging the site caused cancer.  Doctors testified that the pollution was a substantial factor contributing to residents’ cancers, but tying particular cases to a single source requires communitywide blood, urine and other testing, which hadn’t been done.

“We are proud of our work done in remediating the Homestake Uranium Mill site,” Patrick Malone, Homestake's president, said in a letter responding to questions from ProPublica.  He said Homestake was entering the final stages of cleanup because “the site is at a point where it is not technically feasible to provide additional, sustainable improvements to water quality.”

David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, attributed cleanup delays to the area’s complex groundwater system.  “We understand and share the concern that remediation is taking so long,” McIntyre said, adding that the agency’s priority is to protect public and environmental health rather than meet particular deadlines.

The EPA has oversight of the former mill’s cleanup under its Superfund program that aims to clean the country’s most toxic land.  The EPA regional office did not respond to questions.

Larry Carver has implored an endless stream of regulators to take action since his family moved to Murray Acres in 1964, and neighbors defer to him to tell the community’s story.  The 83-year-old leaned against his Chevrolet pickup on a blustery spring morning, peering from beneath a baseball cap at Homestake’s 10-story pile of waste.  He lamented that the community would be sacrificed so uranium waste could remain.

For Carver, arrows on a map don’t tell the full story of uranium’s impact.  His wife’s aunt and uncle owned the home closest to the waste piles.  Her aunt died of liver cancer when she was 66 years old, and her son, who grew up playing in unfenced waste ponds, died of colon cancer when he was 55 years old.  Now, Carver and his wife both have spots on their lungs, with hers recently requiring radiation treatment.

“All the houses are going to be gone.  The wells are being plugged.  The septic systems are being torn up,” Carver said.  “There will be nothing.”

Homestake Has Bought More Than 14,000 Acres Surrounding the Mill

Larry Carver, who has lived in his home since 1970, has refused to sell his property to the company.

“A Long Time to Keep the Secret”

Saturday, April 26, 1958, was a momentous day in the towns of Grants and Milan, New Mexico.

Full-page newspaper ads announced the opening of Homestake’s new uranium mill.  A military flyover kicked off the festivities, a high school band played, and the New Mexico secretary of state unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion.  An estimated 6,000 people, nearly three times Grants’ population at the beginning of that decade, toured the mill, the local newspaper, the Grants Beacon, reported.  Grants would be the Carrot Capital of America no more.  It was running headlong into the Atomic Age.

But the celebration was short-lived: Less than a year and a half after operations began, state and federal regulators, with the company’s help, began investigating whether contaminants were leaking from Homestake’s waste.

ProPublica found that, as with most uranium mills in the U.S., Homestake built no liner between the earth and the sandy waste left over from milling, known as tailings.  This happened even though an engineer with the New Mexico Department of Health warned the company only weeks after the mill opened that it needed to at least compact the soil underneath its waste to prevent leaks.  Without a liner, pollution seeped into aquifers that supplied drinking water.  In 1961, the same engineer wrote that groundwater samples showed radium 226, a radioactive and cancer-causing element, at levels as much as 31 times higher than naturally occur in the area, indicating “definite pollution of the shallow ground water table by the uranium mill tailings’ ponds.”

A federal report a year later identified even higher levels of radium 226 in groundwater.

Residents drank that water, fed it to livestock and applied it to crops.  They weren’t told of the issue or supplied with bottled water until the mid-1970s, neighbors said.  “A long time to keep the secret,” Carver said.

The EPA in the 1970s found elevated levels of selenium, which can damage the nervous system at high doses.  Homestake disputes what levels of contaminants are attributable to the mill versus other sources, a question regulators are currently studying.  The company confirmed in 1976 that its waste had created a plume of contamination in the groundwater but waited another decade to connect residents to an uncontaminated water system, only doing so after pressure from the EPA.

Seventeen years after pollution was first detected, Homestake began a series of ultimately unsuccessful attempts to clean the groundwater.  The company pumped contaminated water out of aquifers and evaporated it aboveground, treated it in filtration systems and dumped hundreds of millions of gallons of clean water on the waste to flush uranium out of the pile, collecting the newly contaminated water for disposal.

Homestake was still left with more polluted water than it could process, so the company irrigated crops, applying more than 3.1 billion gallons to farmland in the subdivisions.  As a result, the topsoil contained elevated levels of uranium and selenium.  The state and the NRC halted the practice, which the NRC said the company had done without its approval.

Much of the now-fallow farmland has turned to dust that’s an incessant headache for residents.  Windstorms whip it up, piling it on roadways and pushing it through the slightest cracks in homes.  Regulators have issued dozens of violation notices to the company, including for failing to fence off contaminated land and for exposing workers to high uranium levels without alerting them.

At the state level, New Mexico regulators waited until 2009, 49 years after first finding water pollution, to issue a formal warning that groundwater included substances that cause cancer and birth defects.  They waited another nine years before barring people from drilling new or replacement wells in aquifers near the cleanup effort, but the order did not require existing wells to be plugged.  A spokesperson for the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer said authorities had issued a “relatively small” number of domestic or livestock well permits in the contaminated area.  That number, the spokesperson said, is 122.

Uranium exposure is pervasive in this part of the world.

Miners who worked before 1971, when the government was the sole purchaser of uranium, are eligible for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.  In June, President Joe Biden signed a bill postponing its expiration for two years.  But miners who worked in the industry after other uranium buyers entered the market, as well as residents of communities that were impacted by uranium extraction and processing, like those next to Homestake, still receive no benefits.  Spearheaded by the New Mexican delegation, bills pending before Congress would expand the legislation to include more miners and appropriate funds to study the health impacts of living near these sites.

Linda Evers is waiting on those reforms.  She worked in the area’s mines and mills, including Homestake, after the 1971 cutoff.  She stayed on the job through two pregnancies, removing trash from the ore until hours before she gave birth to her son.  Both her children have birth defects, and she now lives with kidney failure, cysts on her organs and a degenerative bone disease.

“You worked in a never-ending dirt storm,” Evers remembered.  “You were supplied a paper mask that was worthless in about 20 minutes.”

She also dealt with contamination at home.  For more than 15 years, Evers lived across the street from Homestake.  Her well water was so foul it stunted the plants in her garden, she said.  Evers eventually accepted the company’s buyout offer and moved to a new home farther from the waste.  A half-built greenhouse sits in her former backyard, her once-lively home stripped of its porch and part of the roof.

“I’m Just Left on the Ground to Seep”

Down the road, John Boomer doesn’t know where he’ll go if he sells to Homestake.  An artist who paints with a Southwestern palette of sand and soil, he lives in an art studio and home he shares with his partner, Maggie Billiman, a member of the Navajo Nation and fellow artist.

The consequences of uranium production are constantly on the couple’s minds.  More than 500 abandoned uranium mines pockmark the Navajo Nation, and Billiman’s father, a Navajo Code Talker in World War II, died of stomach cancer, an illness associated with downwind exposure to nuclear tests.  Boomer has written the story of uranium into lyrics, singing about the harm caused by the waste that was left behind.

Those corporate little creeps

Will cause many a widow to cry and weep

While I’m just left on the ground to seep

Homestake is working on requests to both the NRC and the EPA for groundwater cleanup waivers, arguing it’s done all it can to clean up the area.

The company excavated soil from more than 3,500 acres where wind had carried contaminants off-site.  Homestake also collected about 1.3 million pounds of uranium and 75,000 pounds of selenium by treating or evaporating more than 10 billion gallons of groundwater, according to company data.

Other uranium mines and mills polluted the area’s main drinking water aquifer upstream of Homestake.  Residents worry what will happen to contamination from those sites and from Homestake when the company halts its water treatment.

Homestake says it has built a hydrological model that shows the former mill’s contamination will stay close to the site.  (The model won’t be released until the company files its formal application for cleanup exemptions, likely in August.)

But researchers who have studied the hydrology around Homestake said the contamination will head downstream.  “Would it keep on moving? Yes, that’s nature,” said Dixon, the hydrogeologist.  The real question, he said, one that modeling can’t answer, is how quickly the pollution will migrate.

ProPublica identified sites across the West where regulators approved waivers based on modeling, only to later discover the predictions were flawed.

At a site in Wyoming called Bear Creek, the NRC found concentrations of uranium in groundwater more than 10 times higher than a model had predicted.  At a site along the banks of the Colorado River, in Rifle, Colorado, the NRC approved a cleanup plan based on groundwater modeling that predicted uranium would fall to safe levels within 10 years.  Monitoring showed concentrations remained dangerously high about a decade later, and new modeling predicted uranium levels wouldn't reach safe levels for more than a century.

There’s also the cleanup of another Wyoming mill named Split Rock, which Homestake has compared its site to as it seeks a cleanup exemption.  Regulators granted a waiver in 2006 after the responsible company presented a model showing contamination wouldn’t reach downstream wells for 1,000 years.  “The recent data, however, have shown results that are not consistent with the model predictions,” the NRC wrote seven years later.  Nitrates, which are sometimes used in the uranium refining process, were measured in a downstream monitoring well at more than four times approved limits.

McIntyre, the NRC spokesperson, said that in those cases, “NRC staff reviewed groundwater monitoring results and verified that the levels were and remain protective of public health and safety,” adding that the agency requires models used in waiver requests be conservative in their predictions.

Leaders of communities downstream from Homestake, including the Pueblo of Acoma, fear that wishful thinking could allow pollution from the waste to taint their water.  The Acoma Reservation, about 20 miles from Homestake’s tailings, has been continuously inhabited since before 1200.  Its residents use groundwater for drinking and surface water for irrigating alfalfa and corn, but Donna Martinez, program coordinator for the pueblo’s Environment Department, said the pueblo government can’t afford to do as much air and water monitoring as staff would like.

“There are always going to be concerns with the plumes,” Martinez said.

Most days, Billiman contemplates this “poison” and whether she and Boomer might move away from it as she prays to Mother Earth and Father Sky toward Mount Taylor, one of the four sacred Diné peaks, which rises just east of the subdivisions.

“I tell her, gosh, we did this to you.  I’m sorry,” Billiman said.  “Then, we just say ‘hózho náhásdlii, hózho náhásdlii’ four times.”

“All will be beautiful again,” Boomer roughly translated.

As they prayed one recent morning, the dawn light tumbled over the mountain, illuminating the nearby Haystack Mountain, where a Diné man named Paddy Martinez discovered economically recoverable uranium in 1950 and ignited the region’s mining boom.  The light cascaded over Homestake’s tailings piles, across the valley and onto the five subdivisions.

“Doing It Right… …Right to the End”

The smell of pizza wafted through a Village of Milan government building down the road from the mill site, as about 20 locals trickled in to meet with Homestake one April evening.  They caught up while JoAnne Martinez, a community liaison for Homestake, beseeched them to tuck into the food she had set out.  A map taped to the wall showed the location of groundwater contamination, and a stack of glossy booklets celebrated the company’s reclamation project with the slogan: “Doing it right… …Right to the end.”

Tensions rose when residents spoke about the company’s offers to buy their properties.  Homestake, whose parent company Barrick had nearly $12 billion in revenue last year, pays market value based on past sales prices of comparable properties, rather than the cost to replace what residents have, which is ballooning rapidly amid the housing crunch.  Over the past five years, prices for residential properties around New Mexico have increased about 59%, while they’ve spent about half as long on the market, according to data from real estate companies Zillow and Redfin, respectively.

In the meeting, residents explained what that trend, coupled with Homestake’s offers, has meant for their own housing searches.  “It’s like you spit on me,” one resident said of the company’s proposal to buy the property where she has lived for 61 years.  Another neighbor told ProPublica she had asked a builder to assess the cost of constructing a nearly identical home and got an estimate $60,000 higher than what Homestake offered.  But Homestake didn’t budge.

Neighbors have worried about Homestake’s impact on their property value for decades.  They filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in 1983 for alleged property damages, later settling the case for what they deemed to be small payouts.  In exchange, those residents agreed to release the company from further liability.

More recently, the company has rejected residents’ requests to move the waste to a lined disposal cell, which could prevent additional groundwater contamination and radon exposure and possibly allow them to stay in their homes.  So far, cleanup has cost more than $230 million, including about $103 million that came from taxpayers through the Department of Energy.  Homestake estimates it could cost as much as $2 billion more to move the entire pile.  Buying out five subdivisions is the cheaper option.

Homestake argues capping the site and walking away is safer, citing reports that conclude moving the pile would lead to at least one workplace traffic-related death and a high likelihood of workers and residents developing cancer.  The reports used calculations from the Department of Energy, which is moving 16 million tons of uranium waste off of a site in Moab, Utah.  The department’s report found it posed far less risk to workers than later estimates for Homestake.  Department of Energy staff said they could not comment on why there are such different risks for the Homestake and Moab sites.

As more neighbors at the meeting demurred about the company’s offers, Orson Tingey, a land manager for Homestake and Barrick, explained that the company has continued to offer the same rates for properties as it did before the COVID-19 pandemic to remain consistent.  “We know that doesn’t necessarily work for everybody,” he said.

“I Don’t Even Know How You Fight It”

Jackie Langford set a radon detector on her kitchen table and shooed away her inquisitive 12-year-old, who was more interested in talking uranium policy than finishing his homework.  She recalled when her family moved in a decade ago for her husband’s job.  No one mentioned the risks posed by Homestake’s tailings pile, which looms less than a mile away.Now, as a registered nurse tending to former uranium miners, Langford knows too much about the dangers.  When it’s inhaled, radon breaks down in the lungs, releasing bursts of radiation that can damage tissue and cause cancer.  Her patients have respiratory issues as well as lung cancer.  They lose their breath simply lifting themselves out of a chair.

Radon, the radioactive gas formed as uranium decays, poses Homestake’s main cancer threat to residents, according to the EPA’s 2014 study.  It is more concentrated in outdoor air near Homestake than in a nearby community with a former uranium mill that has fully covered its waste.

It hasn’t helped that the company has struggled to control radon emanating from its larger waste pile, exceeding federal safety standards each of the last six years, according to company readings reported to the NRC.  This year, Homestake requested permission to add a new cover to the pile to reduce radon emissions, which the NRC is now reviewing.

During the pandemic Langford and her family began thinking more about Homestake’s possible impact on their respiratory health, driving them to buy a radon detector.  The gas can seep into buildings through cracks in foundations.  Indoor radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, behind smoking.

When Langford measured levels in her home, the radon detector registered 4 picocuries per liter and rose as high as 7 pCi/L, she said — levels high enough that the EPA recommends remediation.

She brought her concerns to Homestake, but “for the longest time, they wouldn’t talk to me,” she said.  The company eventually connected her with one of their consultants, who told her not to worry because his own home tested above 4 pCi/L and the results did not concern him.  He also told Langford, as well as ProPublica, that he is not a radon expert and suggested she complete a longer-term radon test and contact people better versed on the topic.

In 2010, before Langford moved in, EPA contractors placed radon detectors in homes near Homestake and found unsafe radon levels in a dozen homes.

While independent researchers suggested the uranium waste could be a source of indoor radon, the EPA has not determined that is the case, instead identifying naturally occurring gas seeping from the soil.  The agency required Homestake to fund radon mitigation in homes but has not done any more radon testing or mitigation since.

“Best practice would be retesting at least every other year to assure things have not gotten worse,” said Michael Murphy, who is retired from the EPA’s indoor air quality team.

ProPublica spoke with eight households the EPA monitored, and all said they were never retested or advised to retest on their own.  An EPA staffer told one resident the agency had no plans to conduct follow-up studies.

Because the EPA did not return to test, ProPublica did, placing certified indoor radon kits in nine area households.  Three returned readings that exceeded the EPA’s threshold for mitigation, while a fourth registered above the World Health Organization’s lower suggested mitigation level.  Langford’s tests averaged 6.95 pCi/L.

She immediately thought about her son.  Children are more vulnerable to radon.

Early this spring, Homestake approached Langford and her husband with an offer to purchase their home.  They wavered.  The family loved the area and knew neighbors who had sold, only to find it impossible to buy a similar property elsewhere.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Langford said, “but at this point I don’t even know how you fight it.”

With the results from their radon testing front of mind, Langford’s husband signed Homestake’s buyout deal.  The family had made a decision.  Their health was too important to remain in their home.

How We Reported the Story

Methodology:  To report on the Homestake uranium mill’s impact on the area, ProPublica worked with residents to crowdsource indoor radon levels, home purchasing contracts and health-related documents.

Radon Testing:  Indoor radon levels were collected using Air Chek 3- to 7-day radon test kits placed in nine houses in Milan and Grants, New Mexico.  Air Chek’s devices and laboratories are included on the National Radon Proficiency Program’s approved device and analysis provider list.

Radon levels vary day to day and season to season, so ProPublica followed EPA recommendations to conduct two sequential short-term tests.  A ProPublica reporter helped install the first test at each house to ensure the testing locations adhered to EPA testing protocols.  After about five days, residents took down each test and sent the kits to Air Chek’s laboratory.  Residents immediately placed the second Air Chek 3- to 7-day test in the same location.  About five days later, residents shipped the second test to the lab.  We averaged the results of the two tests to obtain an estimated indoor radon level for each house.

Three households were only able to obtain one result.  In one case, this was because a test was not properly sealed and could not be analyzed; in another, a test had a manufacturing defect; due to a shipping delay the third arrived at the laboratory beyond the necessary time frame for testing.  For these three households, we relied on the readings from one test.  Each of the households that received only one test showed levels below the EPA and World Health Organization thresholds for radon mitigation.

Before placing the tests, we interviewed seven professionals with radon testing expertise and reviewed the EPA and American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists’ testing guidelines.  These independent experts reviewed ProPublica’s methodology and provided feedback.  After testing, ProPublica presented the results to the same experts.

We also discussed the results with residents of each household that hosted tests.

Outreach Methodology:  To interview as many households living near the mill site as possible, we mirrored community engagement efforts conducted by federal and state authorities during previous environmental health studies.  This included:

  • publishing advertisements in the Cibola Citizen and Gallup Independent
  • sending letters to every household in the area
  • following up with phone calls and text messages to numbers associated with every area household
  • door-knocking at households that did not respond to the ads, letters and phone calls