Monday, April 24, 2017


"Missouri's blue-city, red-state divide over minimum wage" PBS NewsHour 4/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Some of the fiercest political battles are taking place between Democratic-controlled cities and Republican-led state legislatures over issues like minimum wage and plastic bag bans.  Increasingly, those issues are decided through a political maneuver called preemption, when state lawmakers write laws that prevent cities from enforcing their local ordinances.  NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Chris Bury reports from Missouri.  This is part of an ongoing series of reports called 'Chasing the Dream,' which reports on poverty and opportunity in America.

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 4/21/2017

"Shields and Gerson on Georgia election pressure, Bill O'Reilly's Fox News fall" PBS NewsHour 4/21/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including Democrats falling just short in a surprisingly competitive special election in Georgia, why some Republican lawmakers are starting to criticize the President, foreign policy inaccuracies in the Trump administration and Bill O'Reilly's downfall from Fox News.

INTERVIEW - U.N. Secretary-General Guterres

"U.N. Secretary-General Guterres:  The world needs a U.S. that is engaged" PBS NewsHour 4/21/2017


SUMMARY:  In his first American television interview since becoming Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss why the world needs a United States that is engaged in issues of security, development and human rights, plus opportunities for reforming the U.N., the importance of protecting refugees, the struggle to end the bloodshed in Syria and more.

ADDICTION - Smartphones

"Why your smartphone is irresistible (and why it's worth trying to resist)" PBS NewsHour 4/21/2017


SUMMARY:  Many of us have psychological itches that need scratching, says Adam Alter.  When he was a Ph.D. student, that compulsion took the form of an online slot machine game, which soothed his feelings of isolation.  Today we seem to be constantly in need of interaction with our smart phones or tablets.  Alter offers his Humble Opinion on why it's worth going screen-free part of each day.

RUSSIA - Political Espionage

"Russian think tank planned to influence the U.S. election, new documents reveal" PBS NewsHour 4/20/2017

REMINDER:  Russia is doing the same thing to other nations in Europe and Asia.


SUMMARY:  A Russian government-controlled think tank had outlined plans on how to swing the 2016 U.S. election toward Donald Trump, according to a Reuters report Thursday.  New documents reveal a strategy of using social media to bolster Mr. Trump and undermine faith in America's electoral system.  William Brangham learns more from former CIA officer John Sipher and Ned Parker of Reuters.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Reuters reported today that a think tank controlled by the Russian government outlined detailed plans how to swing the 2016 U.S. election toward Donald Trump.

In two different papers, the think tank said Russia should use social media and Russian-backed media to bolster Trump and to undermine faith in America's electoral system.

For more on these developments, I'm joined now by Ned Parker — he's one of the reporters who broke the story — and by John Sipher.  He served 28 years in the CIA's clandestine service, stationed in Russia and Eastern Europe.  He's now with the consulting firm CrossLead.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Ned Parker, I would like to start with you.

Can you tell us a little bit more?  What is it that you found?  What did you report today?

NED PARKER, Reuters:  Right.

Well, we found are that there are two documents drafted by an in-house policy shop for the Kremlin that reports back to President Vladimir Putin.  And this organization is also headed by former foreign intelligence service officers.

This organization called the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies drafted two reports last year, one in June and one in October.  The first in June talked about, how do you influence the U.S. electorate through a media and social media campaign to overturn the policies of then-President Obama and promote — persuade the U.S. public to chose a new U.S. administration that would promote policies beneficial to both Russia and the United States?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  And, Ned, just staying with you for a second, is this evidence, is this in line with what U.S. intelligence agencies believe the Russians did, in fact, do during the election?


I think that's the significance of these documents.  They came in after the election.  The second document, which is from October, talked about how Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election, so it made sense to change tack in terms of propaganda, and rather than work for her defeat and a new administration under Donald Trump, instead, they should push for a weak Clinton administration, and to bring question about the integrity of the U.S. electoral process through different media and social media information packets.

Now, getting these two documents after the election, it sort of crystallized what the U.S. already knew about motive and intent, including the hacking, for instance, which there was forensics all over the place linking the hacking of the DNC and the Clinton campaign to Russia's military intelligence.

AMERICAN PRESIDENCY - A Totally Owned Subsidiary of Exxon Mobile and Dow Chemical

"Exxon, Dow Chemical requests to Trump administration raise red flags about corporate influence" PBS NewsHour 4/20/2017


SUMMARY:  Companies routinely lobby on their own behalf, a normal practice that helps corporate profits and economic livelihoods.  But moves by ExxonMobil and others are fueling scrutiny of the Trump administration and its corporate influences.  Norman Eisen of the Brookings Institute and The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how these moves are raising red flags.

Brought to you by:

MEDIA - The Alt-Reality News

"How politically polarized media is driving our alternative realities" PBS NewsHour 4/20/2017


SUMMARY:  These days, where Americans get their news is as different as how they vote.  Researchers have found that the proliferation of news sources on cable TV and the internet has upended the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.  John Yang takes us to Arizona to examine how people pic their news sources and the impact that has on how they perceive the world around them.

MEDIA - Celebrate!, the Death of O'Reilly Factor

Couldn't happen to a more deserving non-human.

"What Bill O'Reilly's exit means for the future of Fox News" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2017


SUMMARY:  Bill O'Reilly is officially out at Fox News.  After a review of sexual harassment allegations, the company announced Wednesday that the TV host would not be returning to the network.  The New York Times' Michael S. Schmidt, and Noreen Farrell executive director of the Equal Rights Advocates, join Judy Woodruff to discuss O'Reilly's exit.

AMERICA - Armed Militia Groups

"Why armed militia groups are surging across the nation" PBS NewsHour 4/19/2017

ANSWER:  America is turning into a hate filled and a paranoid nation.  So 'they' lash out at anything that scares them.  These are frightened 'children' playing war with real guns.


SUMMARY:  Today signifies 22 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, an attack carried out by Timothy McVeigh that left 168 dead.  McVeigh sympathized with armed right-wing militia groups, which at the time, were surging in membership.  But armed militias have long been active on the fringes of American society and continue to rise today.  Special correspondent P.J. Tobia reports.

CHRIS “BLOOD AGENT” HILL, Georgia Security Force:  It's for conducting military operations in urban terrain.  We want to practice and rehearse moving out to these structures, covering each other, taking cover and concealment everywhere we can find it.

P.J. TOBIA, special correspondent:  These men and women call themselves the Georgia Security Force.

CHRIS “BLOOD AGENT” HILL:  Our common goal is to provide for security for ourselves, our friends and our families, and the other people in our states, if and when the need should arise to do so.

P.J. TOBIA:  Their leader, Chris Hill, aka 'Blood Agent,' says the need could arise at any time.

CHRIS “BLOOD AGENT” HILL:  I think, what the government gives, the government can take away.  If they're providing the security for us, they can take it away.

TRUMP AGENDA - The 'Black Ops' Government

"Why transparency — on Trump's taxes, visitors and family business — matters" PBS NewsHour 4/18/2017


SUMMARY:  In the Trump administration, questions of transparency start with the President's tax returns and why he's not releasing them.  But there are also questions about White House visitor logs and who's advising the President.  John Yang reports and Judy Woodruff talks to Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota and Noah Bookbinder of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"A special state visit for Trump sparks outcry in the U.K." PBS NewsHour 4/18/2017


SUMMARY:  When British Prime Minister Theresa May met with President Trump in January, she extended a special honor; an invitation for a state visit, which only two Presidents have received since 1952.  But the President's visit to the U.K.  has become politically fraught, prompting protests and petitions, and every aspect of the trip is in flux.  Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports from London.

NEWSHOUR SHARES - With Love, From the Netherlands

"Celebrating spring with 10,000 tulips" PBS NewsHour 4/18/2017


SUMMARY:  In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, as spring begins, the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington showed off one of its biggest exports with a display of some 10,000 tulips.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "A World in Disarray"

"How a former diplomat makes sense of ‘A World in Disarray’" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2017


SUMMARY:  In the new book "A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order," a former American diplomat takes a candid look at the state of international affairs.  Margaret Warner talks to Richard Haass about what’s happened to the world since the end of the Cold War, and the challenges facing President Trump now.


IMHO:  The Republican idea of 'tax reform' is to take as much of OUR taxes away from programs that help us, and give it to the rich.

"Why getting tax reform done is crucial for Republicans" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2017


SUMMARY:  Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss what a win in a surprisingly competitive special election in Georgia would mean for Democrats, how Republicans are learning the difficulty of governing and more.

MEDIA - A Killing OnLine

"A murder video posted online raises debate about Facebook's responsibility" PBS NewsHour 4/17/2017


SUMMARY:  A video of a man being shot to death was posted on Facebook Sunday and stayed online for nearly three hours before it was taken down.  A man identified as Steve Stephens is said to have recorded himself confronting and killing Robert Godwin Sr. in Cleveland, raising questions about the role of social media sites.  John Yang talks to Emily Dreyfuss of Wired magazine.

JOHN YANG (NewsHour):  The 57-second video shows a man identified as Steve Stephens driving the streets of Cleveland while talking on the phone.  He then steps from the car and confronts Robert Godwin Sr., a 74-year-old retired foundry worker, a father of nine and a grandfather of 14, and shoots Godwin dead.

The online killing reportedly remained on the site for nearly three hours before Facebook removed it.

In a statement late today, the company said that the video has “no place on Facebook and goes against our policies and everything we stand for.”  The company said it's reviewing how it operates "to be sure people can report videos that violate our standards as quickly as possible.”

This episode raises fresh questions about the role and responsibility of social media sites like Facebook.

Before the latest statement, I spoke with Emily Dreyfuss, a senior staff writer at Wired magazine.

I began by asking her what Facebook could do.

EMILY DREYFUSS, Wired:  First of all, you know, it is true that Facebook is working very hard to keep videos like this off of its site.

It's easy in a moment like this to say, you know, this is absurd that it was on Facebook for even three hours.  But the fact is that a large apparatus of content moderation and work went into the effort to be able to even get the video down after three hours.  And in order for it to be removed, that means that people on Facebook had to flag it as inappropriate, and then that flag had to be sent to people that Facebook employs all over the world to get rid of content like this.

And they took it down.  And, sometimes, this can take up to 48 hours.  So, three hours here is not even long in the scheme of things.  Now, Facebook could do more.  And they are working hard to figure out what they can do.

One of those things would be to use A.I. and allow artificial intelligence to help humans who are having to flag this sort of terrible, gruesome material so that we don't see it.

One of the problems is that A.I. is not really necessarily ready and up to the task of that yet, so Facebook is still trying to figure out how to make this work.

TRUMP AGENDA - Demonizing Science

"Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things" by Tim Requarth, Slate Magazine 4/19/2017

It won’t.  Try this instead.

If you consider yourself to have even a passing familiarity with science, you likely find yourself in a state of disbelief as the President of the United States calls climate scientists “hoaxsters” and pushes conspiracy theories about vaccines.  The Trump administration seems practically allergic to evidence.  And it's not just Trump—plenty of people across the political spectrum hold bizarre and inaccurate ideas about science, from climate change and vaccines to guns and genetically modified organisms.

If you are a scientist, this disregard for evidence probably drives you crazy.  So what do you do about it?

It seems many scientists would take matters into their own hands by learning how to better communicate their subject to the masses.  I've taught science communication at Columbia University and New York University, and I've run an international network of workshops for scientists and writers for nearly a decade.  I've always had a handful of intrepid graduate students, but now, fueled by the Trump administration's 'Etch A Sketch' relationship to facts, record numbers of scientists are setting aside the pipette for the pen.  Across the country, science communication and advocacy groups report upticks in interest.  Many scientists hope that by doing a better job of explaining science, they can move the needle toward scientific consensus on politically charged issues.  As recent studies from Michigan State University found, scientists' top reason for engaging the public is to inform and defend science from misinformation.

It's an admirable goal, but almost certainly destined to fail.  This is because the way most scientists think about science communication—that just explaining the real science better will help—is plain wrong.  In fact, it's so wrong that it may have the opposite effect of what they're trying to achieve.

Before getting fired up to set the scientific record straight, scientists would do well to first consider the science of science communication.  The theory many scientists seem to swear by is technically known as the deficit model, which states that people's opinions differ from scientific consensus because they lack scientific knowledge.  In 2010, Dan Kahan, a Yale psychologist, essentially proved this theory wrong.  He surveyed over 1,500 Americans, classifying each person's “cultural worldview” on a scale that roughly correlates with politically liberal or conservative.  He then assessed each person's scientific literacy with questions such as “True or False: Electrons are smaller than atoms.”  Finally, he asked them about climate change.  If the deficit model were correct, Kahan reasoned, then people with increased scientific literacy, regardless of worldview, should agree with scientists that climate change poses a serious risk to humanity.

That's not what he found.  Instead, Kahan found that increased scientific literacy actually had a small negative effect: The conservative-leaning respondents who knew the most about science thought climate change posed the least risk.  Scientific literacy, it seemed, increased polarization.  In a later study, Kahan added a twist: He asked respondents what climate scientists believed.  Respondents who knew more about science generally, regardless of political leaning, were better able to identify the scientific consensus—in other words, the polarization disappeared.  Yet, when the same people were asked for their own opinions about climate change, the polarization returned.  It showed that even when people understand the scientific consensus, they may not accept it.

The takeaway is clear: Increasing science literacy alone won't change minds.  In fact, well-meaning attempts by scientists to inform the public might even backfire.  Presenting facts that conflict with an individual's worldview, it turns out, can cause people to dig in further.  Psychologists, aptly, dubbed this the “backfire effect.”

If scientists simply want to explain science to a curious audience, disseminate their research more broadly, or write for fun, this doesn't matter much.  But if scientists are motivated to change minds—and many enrolled in science communication workshops do seem to have this goal—they will be sorely disappointed.

That's not to say scientists should return to the bench and keep their mouths shut.  They should just realize that closing the “information gap” isn't the goal.  And instead, they need to learn how to communicate science strategically.

There are obvious reasons why science communication is a necessary and worthwhile endeavor, but a huge one is that there's a politically motivated push to destabilize scientific authority.  At a Heartland Institute conference last month, Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House science committee, told attendees he would now refer to “climate science” as “politically correct science,” to loud cheers.  This lumps scientists in with the nebulous “left” and, as Daniel Engber pointed out here in Slate about the upcoming March for Science, rebrands scientific authority as just another form of elitism.

Is it any surprise, then, that lectures from scientists built on the premise that they simply know more (even if it's true) fail to convince this audience?  Rather than fill the information deficit by building an arsenal of facts, scientists should instead consider how they deploy their knowledge.  They may have more luck communicating if, in addition to presenting facts and figures, they appeal to emotions.  This could mean not simply explaining the science of how something works but spending time on why it matters to the author and why it ought to matter to the reader.  Research also shows that science communicators can be more effective after they've gained the audience's trust.  With that in mind, it may be more worthwhile to figure out how to talk about science with people they already know, through, say, local and community interactions, than it is to try to publish explainers on national news sites.  And they might consider writing op-eds for their local papers, focusing on why science matters to their particular communities.

Scientists can also learn to avoid certain pitfalls.  I spoke with Gretchen Goldman, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy, which offers communication and advocacy workshops.  A counterintuitive lesson she's learned is that refuting stories that deny climate change by addressing each claim and explaining why it's wrong is not that productive.  In fact, it could be counterproductive: “If you repeat the myth, that's the part people remember even if you immediately debunk it,” she says.  A better approach, she suggests, is to reframe the issue.  Don't just keep explaining why climate change is real—explain how climate change will hurt public health or the local economy.  Communication that appeals to values, not just intellect, research shows, can be far more effective.

Goldman also said scientists can do more than just educate the public: The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, has created a science watchdog team that keeps tabs on the activities of federal agencies.  Signing up helps ensure that policy decisions at all levels are based on good science.

In my own workshops, I've certainly been guilty of focusing on communication skills at the expense of strategy and not fully addressing the flawed deficit model.  But I'm learning to better challenge scientists' assumptions about how communication works.  The deficit model, I've found, is difficult to unlearn.  It's very logical, and my hunch is that it comes naturally to scientists because most have largely spent their lives in school—whether as students, professors, or mentors—and the deficit model perfectly explains how a scientist learns science.  But the obstacles faced by science communicators are not epistemological but cultural.  The skills required are not those of a university lecturer but a rhetorician.

There's a certain irony that scientists, of all people, know so little about, well, the science of science communication.  There's also a certain irony that, right here in this article, I'm lecturing scientists about what they might not know—in other words, I'm guilty of following the deficit model myself.  So in the spirit of doing better, I'll not just write this article but also take the time to talk to scientists in person about how to communicate science strategically and to explain why it matters.  I hope they end up doing the same.

Monday, April 17, 2017

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 4/14/2017

"Shields and Brooks on GOP home-district hostility, Trump policy reversals" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including how Republican members of Congress are facing heat from crowds of their own constituents while home during recess, why President Trump's views have shifted on China, NATO, and Janet Yellen, and more.

ABUSE - Choate Rosemary Hall

"Prep school Choate owns up to decades of abuse allegations" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2017


SUMMARY:  Decades of sexual abuse have been uncovered at one of the nation's elite prep schools.  A new investigation details the experiences of 24 adult alumni of Choate Rosemary Hall who, between 1963 and 2010, allegedly suffered offenses such as kissing, groping and rape.  Hari Sreenivasan discusses the report with Paul Mones, a sexual abuse attorney, and Jonathan Saltzman of The Boston Globe.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  The report released last night focused on a dozen former teachers at the prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, Choate Rosemary Hall.

It recounts the experiences of 24 adult alumni who were allegedly abused between 1963 and 2010.  Investigators said the offenses ranged from kissing to groping to rape.

Choate hired a law firm with no previous ties to the school to lead the investigation.

Jonathan Saltzman was part of The Boston Globe Spotlight team that helped break the story.  And Paul Mones is an attorney who has represented sexual abuse survivors at private schools and other institutions.  He is not involved in any of the Choate cases.

Jonathan, I want to start with you.

You and your team launched this series a while back about this happening at elite prep schools in the Northeast.  What did this report reveal to you?

JONATHAN SALTZMAN, The Boston Globe:  Well, we had reported on about 110 private schools in New England that had faced allegations of sexual abuse over the past 25 years.

And we mentioned Choate.  But this report was initiated in response to that story, and it laid out in extremely graphic detail the accounts of about 24 survivors of abuse.

And as you said in your introduction, some of these are extraordinarily graphic descriptions of abuse, rape.  And, to me, the most startling thing about the report was that, first, the school named 12 teachers that they said had abused kids.  That's an extraordinary number, and we haven't seen that before in other schools.

And then what they also did was they essentially owned up to the fact that they had never reported these cases of abuse to child welfare authorities in Connecticut, even though it had been required.

NEWSHOUR'S IMHO - "Death of Expertise"

aka "Celebration of Ignorance"

"The problem with thinking you know more than the experts" PBS NewsHour 4/14/2017


SUMMARY:  More and more, people don't care about expert views.  That's according to Tom Nichols, author of "The Death of Expertise," who says Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict and debate with others over topics they actually know almost nothing about.  Nichols shares his humble opinion on how we got here.

TRUMP WORLD - The View of the Generalissimo

Fist of all, don't be fooled.  Trump IS and always will be Trump-first.

"Have crises abroad changed President Trump's view of the world?" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2017


SUMMARY:  What began as a Trump presidency emphasizing retrenchment on the home front has been quickly refocused on the U.S. role abroad.  The U.S. response to Syria's use of chemical weapons have raised fresh questions about President Trump's foreign policy.  Judy Woodruff talks to former Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Adm. James Stavridis former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  He bills himself the 'America-First President,' but it's world affairs that have risen to the top of his agenda lately.  Syria's use of chemical weapons, the U.S. response, and President Trump's own words have raised fresh questions about his foreign policy.


"On America's racial terrorism, 'our silence has condemned us'" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2017


SUMMARY:  “I don't think we're free in America,” says attorney Bryan Stevenson, who sees an unwillingness to talk about the terrors of slavery and other racial-based violence as a continuing burden.  But he also sees strength -- in the descendants of those who endured slavery.  Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, offers his "Brief but Spectacular" take on race and justice in America.

MUSIC - "In America"

"Inspired by internment camp history, students write a musical work and hear echoes of today" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2017


SUMMARY:  A California high school is using song to examine a painful chapter in U.S. history.  “In America” is an oratorio composed by students at Van Nuys High School, with help from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, that reflects on the experiences of Japanese-Americans who were forced to leave their homes for internment camps during World War II.  Jeffrey Brown reports from Los Angeles.


"This 'Refugee' author explains what it's like to live between worlds" PBS NewsHour 4/12/2017


SUMMARY:  What does the word "refugee" mean to the author of a short story collection called "The Refugees?"  They “are the unwanted," says Viet Thanh Nguyen, who claims his own identity among them.  Nguyen joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss his stories about living between worlds and being haunted by the past.

AMERICA - Florida is Burning

"Florida is burning and it's just the start of the dry season" PBS NewsHour 4/12/2017


SUMMARY:  In Florida, a state of emergency is underway as more than 100 wildfires burn in and across all corners of the state.  And since February, more than 7,000 acres have burned across the state, as Florida copes with rising temperatures and major drought.  William Brangham sits down with Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service, about how the state is combating the heat.

NASA - In the Trump Era

"Why you should take a closer look at this week's NASA bill" by Andrew Wagner and Nsikan Akpan, PBS NewsHour 3/24/2017

President Donald Trump has signed the 2017 NASA Authorization Act, the first complete authorization for the agency since 2010.  The bill lays out NASA's directives along with a proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year at $19.5 billion — a $0.2 billion raise from the previous year.  It must still run through a congressional appropriations process to set the final funding for NASA.

While the bill reaffirms NASA's commitments to the International Space Station (through 2024) and to future manned missions into deep space, certain elements — or the lack thereof — have caused concern among some scientists, including space baron Elon Musk.

Here are some of the bill's biggest changes.


So long, Earth science

Rewind to 1958:  The act that formally created America's space agency had a set of objectives.  The first goal listed: “The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”

Congress has maintained this objective for NASA, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, until Trump signed this most recent bill Tuesday.

What changed:
  • The new authorization bill removes all mention of earth sciences, a section that was included in the NASA authorization bill signed in 2010.
  • It also removed sections on NASA's collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the investigation of the Earth's atmosphere.

The 2015 Antarctic ozone hole area was larger than the continent of North America, based on research by NASA and NOAA.
Photo by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Why it happened:
  • The new bill was authored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has said in the past that he “is concerned in the current environment, that NASA has lost its focus” by focusing on climate change.
  • During a debate over the new bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said the bill ensures “NASA is not burdened with funding other agency missions.”
Why it matters:
  • “Those programs provide the space-based measurements to help scientists understand the Earth's systems and changing climate to predict space weather events, which can have devastating impacts on our terrestrial infrastructure,” Rep.  Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), said of the missing science and heliophysics programs .
  • Scientists have pointed out that the items in question also include a lot of practical programs, “such as safeguards to avoid eating toxic shellfish, reduce aviation disruptions and tracking unhealthy air quality,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
  • The fate of those programs won't be clear until the bill goes through the budget appropriations process.  The authorization act passed in the Senate with unanimous support and by voice vote in the House.

Who's on the hook if a commercial spaceship goes kaboom?

Meanwhile, the commercialization of space travel has strolled into its heyday.

In the 2017 authorization, Congress restates its dedication to NASA's Commercial Crew Program, a six-year-old initiative that provides government funds to private sector companies — like Blue Origin, SpaceX or Boeing — to develop space transportation vehicles.

What changed:
  • The bill requires NASA to prioritize the use of its own launch vehicles or commercial providers over those of foreign entities like Russia.  Russian space vehicles had transported a number of American astronauts, including Scott Kelly, to the ISS in recent years.
  • The 2017 authorization act also calls on NASA to facilitate the “commercialization and economic development” of low-earth orbit activities, such as lowering the costs of commercial satellite operations and exploring the possibility of transferring the International Space Station into the private sector.
  • The power to invoke indemnity clauses — which place risk, or financial liability for an accident, on the government instead of private suppliers — moves from Congress to the executive branch, in this case, the NASA Administrator.
Shortly after the signing, Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to reinstate the National Space Council.  The space policy committee , which ran from 1958 to 1973 and again under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, has a long legacy of executive control over NASA.

“We're going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector,” said Pence, who will lead the NSC.  “We have elected a builder president and, as he said, America once again has to start building and leading to the stars.”

Why it happened:
  • “This bill will make sure that NASA's most important and effective programs are sustained,” Trump said after Tuesday's signing.  “It orders NASA to continue transitioning activities to the commercial sector where we have seen great progress.  So many people and so many companies are so into exactly what NASA stands for, so the commercial and the private sector will get to use these facilities and I hope they're going to be paying us a lot of money.”
Why it matters:
  • The indemnity clause provisions actually aren't new.  “We have had commercial space transportation law going back to 1984 that codifies a risk-sharing agreement between the government and the private sector,” said Joanne Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief emerita of the Journal of Space Law.  “It would be triggered in the event of a catastrophic loss — and happily, that provision of the law hasn't been needed yet.”  But the shift gives more power to the executive branch rather than Congress.
  • The bill calls on private companies to buy insurance coverage of $500 million for any launch or reentry mission.  This kind of mandate has appeared in similar legislation before, but the 2017 version re-ups the terms.  By comparison, the Mars Curiosity Rover mission cost $2.6 billion.  (Reminder: NASA's current budget is $19.3 billion, approximately 0.5 percent of the total federal budget).
  • Despite the commercial commitments to near-Earth travel, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he wasn't happy with new act's prospects for deep space.  “This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing,” Musk stated via Twitter.  “Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.”

Deep space and cyberspace

Two additional tidbits in the act address NASA prospects in deep space and cyberspace.

What’s changed:
  • The bill creates the TREAT Astronauts Act, which addresses the need for medical coverage for U.S. astronauts that spend extensive time in space flight, such as on future missions to the moon, Mars or elsewhere in the Solar System.
  • Unless new technology is developed, these trips will feature extensive exposure to microgravity and cosmic radiation with unknown ramifications.  The TREAT Act would provide medical monitoring for astronauts years after they return and retire, namely for those who may not have access to military insurance plans.
  • The bill also requires NASA to establish agency-wide information security and to establish accountability, governance and implementation oversight to meet standard cybersecurity best practices.
Why it matters:
  • Scientists have observed bone loss and eye injuries among long-term residents of space stations.
  • But Gabrynowicz pointed out the bill only states the government “may provide” this medical coverage — but “it does not have to be provided,” she said.  “In other words, it is allowed but not obligatory.”
  • Meanwhile, NASA computers, like any connected to a modem, are vulnerable to attacks, as demonstrated last year, when hackers caused breached a drone operated by the space agency.  The hack was minor relative to other recent government hacks, but still exposed the names, phone numbers and emails of more than 2,400 employees.
  • The bill forces the agency to “modernize its cybersecurity defenses into a layered, security-by-design approach,” said James Scott, co-founder and senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT) in Washington D.C.  “These low-level attackers typically exploit trivial vulnerabilities, such as FTP access to servers, that should have been mitigated.”

"What do the stars hold for the Trump administration?  Here's how NASA's mission could change" PBS NewsHour 4/12/2017


SUMMARY:  Some big changes could be in store for American space exploration under President Trump and the Republican Congress.  Sending more humans to the moon, as well as a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa seem to be part of a plan that extends years beyond the Trump administration.  Science correspondent Miles O'Brien explores how NASA's mission could be reshaped.

TRUMP AGENDA - Harsh Treatment of Immigrants

No mercy, no kindness, only the actions of a bully.  A much harsher and unkind Trump America. 😢

"With new policy, Trump administration puts undocumented immigrants on notice" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2017


SUMMARY:  During a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined an aggressive, new approach on immigration.  His message?  “This is the Trump era.”  Judy Woodruff speaks with Nancy Montoya of Arizona Public Media about Sessions' comments and the new policy.

"Deported to Mexico, these men feel lost in a country they no longer know" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2017


SUMMARY:  The Trump administration has vowed to speed up the deportation process, but what exactly happens when undocumented immigrants who have built lives and have families in the U.S. are forced to return to Mexico?  Special correspondent Nick Schifrin follows the lives of men who have been recently deported.

AIRLINES INDUSTRY - The Not So Friendly Skys

"How did United Airlines' startling passenger confrontation happen?" PBS NewsHour 4/11/2017

NOTE:  There was a policy change announced a few days later.  Employees needing to board a flight must show up 60 minutes BEFORE the flight, therefore they would be seated prior to other passengers boarding.  Not that is an excellent fix.


SUMMARY:  The forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight Sunday has caused an international uproar.  Video posted via social media showed passenger Dr. David Dao being dragged from his seat by officers.  How could this have happened?  Ben Mutzabaugh of USA Today joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss what airlines are allowed to do and what United could have done differently.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The international uproar continued over the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight.

Today, the airline's CEO, Oscar Munoz, issued an apology, saying — quote — “No one should ever be mistreated this way.  I want you to know that we take full responsibility, and we will work to make it right.”

Along with the outrage, many were asking, how could this happen?

Our Jeffrey Brown picks up the story.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Well, by now, the video has been watched hundreds of millions of times, including more than 270 million on social media in China, where many wondered if the passenger had been singled out because he is of Asian descent.

The cell phone video shows a bloodied man identified as Dr. David Dao being pulled from his seat on a plane set to depart from Chicago on Sunday night.  The flight was sold out, and passengers were first offered vouchers to take another flight, so members of a United crew could board.  When that didn't work, Dao and three other passengers were asked to leave.

Questions remain about what happened, and what's supposed to happen in a situation like this.

Ben Mutzabaugh is covering it for USA Today, and joins me now.

And welcome to you.

BEN MUTZABAUGH, USA Today:  Thanks for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN:  One thing that was clarified today was that the flight was actually not overbooked, but oversold, right, sold out?

BEN MUTZABAUGH:  Right.  That's correct.

So, it won't move the needle a whole lot, given the video that we saw, but what technically happened was, the plane was full.  United had four employees of their affiliate Republic Airlines that needed to make it to Louisville so more flights didn't end up getting canceled down the line.

They had to make space for them.  They needed four volunteers.  Three were OK with being voluntarily kicked off the plane.  One wasn't, and here we are.

TRUMP AGENDA - Syria, What's Next

The triumph of Generalissimo Trump.  All hale our 'Fearless Leader.'  (visitors pleas bend over so he can bestow his blessing)

"After U.S. missile strikes, what's the next move on Syria?" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2017


SUMMARY:  What does the U.S. plan next in response to civil war in Syria?  Members of the Trump administration have appeared to send mixed messages about U.S. policy going forward, most notably on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

AUTO INDUSTRY - Tesla's Rocketing Stock

"How Tesla's 'story' is driving its skyrocketing stock value" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2017


SUMMARY:  The market value of Tesla, the high-end electric car manufacturer, has surpassed that of American automotive giants like Ford and General Motors, both of which sell millions more cars than Tesla does.  James B. Stewart of The New York Times joins William Brangham to discuss Tesla's brand allure and the state of today's auto industry.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM (NewsHour):  Here are some head-scratching numbers to consider.

Tesla's market value is $50 billion, yet Tesla may lose nearly a billion dollars this year, whereas, combined, Ford and GM are expected to earn more than $15 billion.  Last year, Tesla sold just about 80,000 vehicles.  Ford and GM?  They sold nearly 17 million.

James Stewart is a business columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for The New Yorker, and he's here to help us understand why Tesla's value is skyrocketing.

James Stewart, welcome to the NewsHour.

You know these numbers very, very well.  What is going on here?

JAMES STEWART, The New York Times:  Well, these numbers are pretty amazing.  They make no rational sense, really.

But Tesla is what I call the sort of ultimate story stock, which means investors care about the story.  They don't care about the numbers.  They do not care that it's losing.  They have lost over $500 million last year, may lose a billion this year.  And they don't really care that GM and Ford are making billions of dollars in profit.

The story with Tesla is that they are going to dominate the auto market, that they are going to create the world's safest car, that they are going to take over the battery market, and that they are going to dominate and reinvent the electric grid.

I mean, these are all huge markets, and they think Tesla is going to dominate every one of them.

DEATH OF A TRADITION - "Greatest Show on Earth"

COMMENT:  I am sorry to see them go, but considering all that's change, especially the advent of Cirque du Soleil, it was bound to happen.

"After fame, magic and controversy, Ringling Brothers Circus will take its last bow" PBS NewsHour 4/10/2017


SUMMARY:  For 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been awing audiences with acrobatic spectacles and animal stunts.  But next month, “the greatest show on earth” will take its final bow after its parent company pulled the plug due to declining ticket sales.  Its ringmaster and others weigh in on what has made the circus special to its performers and fans.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  For many years, 146, to be exact, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been awing crowds with acrobatic feats and animal stunts.  But the 'Greatest Show on Earth' is coming to an end next month.

Its parent company made the decision after ticket sales had been dropping for years.  The circus also struggled with a long court battle over the treatment of animals, particularly the elephants.

The circus won in court, but the elephants were dropped from the show.

We caught up as Ringling Brothers rolled through Washington, D.C., one more time, and spoke with longtime performers and their families.

JOHNATHAN LEE IVERSON, Ringmaster:  My name is Johnathan Lee Iverson, Ringmaster of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

It's just pure, unadulterated, unapologetic entertainment.  Where everything you look at now is sort of defiled, circus is the last bit of magic in the world, and your children's imaginations are safe there.  Your imagination is safe here.

TATIANA TCHALABAEV, Queen of the Circus of Fire:  Well, in this amazing show, I'm playing the character of the Queen Tatiana of the Circus of Fire.

We are artists.  We are performers, like the people in the movies.  They're coming out there and they are doing the shot.  We are doing live.

We don't have no repeats.  We basically have to perform our stunts.

TRUMP AGENDA - Toxic Workplaces

"Trump's Policies Are Already Making Workplaces More Toxic" by Elizabeth Grossman, In These Times 4/11/2017

Trump lies, lies and more lies 😡  An agenda to kill American workers.

The “wellbeing of America and the American worker is my North Star,” President Donald Trump trumpeted at a recent White House event.

But the Trump administration's policies are already adversely affecting workers' health by undermining occupational illness prevention—including for cancers, musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory diseases that afflict hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers.

“It couldn't get much worse in terms of the federal government's role in preventing the number of occupational illnesses and diseases,” said Charlotte Brody, vice president of health initiatives at BlueGreen Alliance, an alliance of labor unions and environmental organizations.

Or, as Sidney Shapiro, a professor at Wake Forest's law school, put it, “We weren't doing this terribly well under a reasonably friendly administration so all bets are it's now going to fall completely apart.”

Deaths from occupational diseases

Occupational fatalities remain a grave problem in the United States.  In 2015, 4,836 people died on the job.  Yet the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that approximately ten times more Americans die per year from occupational diseases.  Of the 2,905,900 non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cataloged in 2015, about 187,900 were job-related illnesses.

This number, like all official records of occupational illness, is considered a significant undercount.  Among other omissions, including very small workplaces and self-employed workers, these numbers don't include work-related illnesses diagnosed after someone left a job or fully account for chronic conditions.

“Combine that with people who are immigrant workers with limited English, who are not organized, and low-income, who are vulnerable to exploitation because they'll do anything to get a job—and they're less likely to object to unsafe working conditions, less likely to seek help or speak up,” says Michael Wilson, director of the occupational and environmental health program at BlueGreen Alliance.

The most frequently reported U.S. work-related health problems include respiratory and skin diseases along with musculoskeletal disorders.  Musculoskeletal problems account for about one-third of all reported workplace illnesses and injuries and affect workers in industries ranging from meatpacking to nursing, shipyards, cleaning services, manufacturing and retail grocery stores.

Cancer is one of the hardest occupational diseases to account for given the typically long time between exposure and diagnosis.  But the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate is that past exposure in the workplace caused between 45,872 and 91,745 new cancer cases.  That estimate, which the CDC said is likely an underestimate, was for a single year.

Delays cost lives

Connecting workplace exposure and disease diagnosis precisely can be complicated.  But the links between occupational exposure to silica and beryllium dust and lung disease are well documented.  Cases of these occupational diseases may well increase under Trump.

This month, OSHA delayed by three months the date on which its new silica exposure safety standard for the construction industry will take effect.  This is the first update of the standard in more than 40 years and will reduce by half the silica dust level to which most workers can be exposed and prevent about 900 new silicosis cases each year.

OSHA says the delay will allow it to “conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.”  But the rule “has been decades in the making” and “will save more 600 lives each year,” according to Jessica Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

Major industry trade associations, including in construction, oil and gas extraction, have long opposed the new standard.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor (DOL) has twice postponed implementation of its rule updating standards for workers' protection from carcinogenic beryllium dust.  Like silica, exposure to beryllium, used in construction, shipyards, foundries and industries that use the metal to make electronics, aerospace, defense and other components, causes incurable lung disease and lung cancer.

“OSHA estimates that when fully implemented it [the rule] will save 94 lives a year.  Every four days of delay in the implementation dates costs the life of one American worker,” wrote Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers, in comments submitted to the DOL.

Republicans want the regulation delayed indefinitely and are calling it a “midnight” rule, implying the Obama administration rushed it through.  In fact, the rule results from a process that began in 2002.

Also delayed are Environmental Protection Agency rules to prevent emissions of formaldehyde, a carcinogen and serious respiratory hazard, from manufactured wood products, to increase safety at industrial plants that use and store highly hazardous chemicals and to increase protections for pesticide applicators.

Tracking occupational illness

Trump has now signed two bills that will make it harder to track occupational illness.  One undoes a rule requiring federal contractors to fully report all labor law violations.  The other undoes a rule to strengthen employers' workplace illness and injury recordkeeping requirements.  Both were nullified with Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions that prevent an agency from ever issuing a comparable regulation.  At an April 5 briefing for reporters, White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short called passage of these bills “a huge accomplishment.”

“Recordkeeping is so important because it allows OSHA to research what's really putting workers at risk and to target the most serious hazards affecting workers,” says Emily Gardner, Public Citizen worker health and safety advocate.

And, says Wilson, “Who's bearing the disproportionate burden of exposure to substances like silica and asbestos gets submerged if we don't know it's happening.” Without this evidence, managing the problem becomes harder.

Trump budget threatens safety training and enforcement

The White House “budget blueprint” proposes eliminating OSHA's Susan B. Harwood training grants.  “The Harwood grants include very important training programs to reduce occupational illnesses, like grants that go out to train workers in nail salons and beauty parlors,” on exposure to hazardous chemicals, explained David Michaels, George Washington University professor of environmental and occupational health and Obama administration Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.

These grants, which cost the federal government about $11 million annually, are probably the biggest source of worker “training about rights and procedures” on “preventing and reporting occupational illness,” said Craig Slatin, University of Massachusetts Lowell professor of health education and policy.

Proposed DOL funding cuts will also likely reduce OSHA's already constrained enforcement budget.  “OSHA is primarily an enforcement agency,” said Center for Progressive Reform executive director Matthew Shudtz.  OSHA's budget determines what the agency “can do to fight occupational illness,” he explained.

For example, OSHA funding will help determine what the agency can do to update its limited and outdated chemical safety standards, said Shudtz.  These resources will also influence how OSHA uses what's called the general duty clause.  This sounds obscure but it's key tool for the agency's enforcement of workplace health and safety.  It allows OSHA to enforce a general standard of safety “even when rules are outdated,” Shudtz explained.  “This is really important in the illness context,” he said, particularly where specific safety standards are outdated or non-existent.  The Obama administration pursued such cases but it seems unlikely that the Trump administration will do likewise.

So far, the Trump administration's decisions impacting occupational health “are profoundly political, not scientific,” said Brody.

“How someone gets sick is always complicated,” she said.  “And as long as there's doubt and industry can pay for that doubt to be generated, we don't move ahead on protecting workers.”

Sunday, April 16, 2017

STAR TREK - Trekonomics

"The Economic Lessons of Star Trek's Money-Free Society" Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, Wired 5/28/2016

A FEW YEARS ago Manu Saadia, a longtime Star Trek fan, went looking for a book about the economics of Star Trek.  When he couldn't find one, he decided to write his own.  The result, Trekonomics, has drawn praise from economists such as Brad DeLong and Joshua Gans.  Saadia says that Star Trek is one of the few science fiction universes that grapple with the idea that money may someday become obsolete.

“It's made clear and emphasized several times in the course of the show that the Federation does not have money,” Saadia says in Episode 205 of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast.  “You have Captain Picard saying, 'We've overcome hunger and greed, and we're no longer interested in the accumulation of things.'”

Saadia is fascinated by the idea of a society in which material wealth has become so abundant that possessing it no longer holds any appeal.  In such a world the only way to gain status would be by cultivating talent and intellect.

“What really makes sense in the Star Trek universe and Star Trek society is to compete for reputation,” he says.  “What is not abundant in Star Trek's universe is the captain's chair.”

He points to technologies like GPS and the internet as models for how we can set ourselves on the path to a Star Trek future.

“If we decide as a society to make more of these crucial things available to all as public goods, we're probably going to be well on our way to improving the condition of everybody on Earth,” he says.

But he also warns that technology alone won't create a post-scarcity future.  If we're not careful we could end up like the greedy Ferengi, who charge money for the use of their replicators rather than making them available to everyone.

“This is not something that will be solved by more gizmos or more iPhones,” Saadia says.  “This is something that has to be dealt with on a political level, and we have to face that.”

Listen to our complete interview with Manu Saadia in Episode 205 of Geek's Guide to the Galaxy.  And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Manu Saadia on Isaac Asimov:

“In 1941 he publishes his first story about robots and his great idea and insight is that the robots are not going to be our enemies or our doom as a society, the way robots were usually portrayed, as Frankensteins.  The robots will liberate us, and so Asimov is trying to figure out a world where human labor is no longer necessary for survival.  And that is something you see throughout Star Trek, much more so in The Next Generation than in the original series.  In The Next Generation you have these incredible machines that will make anything for you on the spot and on demand—the replicators—and in a way the replicator is a metaphor for universal automation the way it is described in Asimov's robot stories.”

Manu Saadia on Star Trek characters:

“They are consistent with the economic circumstances in which they live.  Imagine yourself growing up in a society where there is never any want or need or financial insecurity of any sort.  You will be a very different person.  You will be absolutely uninterested in conspicuous consumption.  … You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature—the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art, and discovery.  And so these people are very stoic in that sense, because they have no worldly interests that we today could relate to.  … I usually say that they're all aliens, in a way.  My friend Chris [Black], who wrote on the show, said it was really hard for the writers, because it's a workplace drama, but there's no drama.”

Manu Saadia on the Ferengi:

“I love the Ferengi because they are sort of a parody of the 1990s or 2000s American acquisitive businessman.  … The Ferengi are really ignoble, really awful people, and they're really funny as a result.  But they do change over time.  When you watch the whole arc of the Ferengi in Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi, just by contact with the Federation, become more like the Federation, they become Keynesian social democrats, by the end.  Suddenly you have the right to have unions and strikes, and there's health care for everybody.  … I always thought that this story of the Ferengi becoming more humanitarian just by contact with the Federation was a metaphor for all of us becoming better by watching Star Trek.”

Manu Saadia on the Borg:

“The Borg are such great villains because they're so similar to the Federation, when you think about it.  The Borg have perfect allocation of goods, and supply and demand, and everybody is connected to everybody in the beehive, and they just seem to be extremely efficient.  They're also the other society in Star Trek that could be characterized as 'post-scarcity.'  Any Borg drone never wants or needs anything, it's always provided by the Collective.  So it is the mirror image—and the dangerous image, almost—of what a society that is both redistributive and satiated could look like.  It's almost as if the writers tried to incorporate the criticism of the society they propose.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners in Literature and Journalism

My pro-Free Press, Anti-Trump post.

"2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners" by New York Times 4/10/2017

The Pulitzer Prizes awarded Monday encompassed, among other topics, reporting done on the presidential election; a fatal fire in Oakland, Calif.; and the attempts by the Russian government to assert its power.

The New York Daily News and ProPublica won the Public Service award for a series on the New York Police Department's abuse of a law to force people from their homes over alleged illegal activities.

The New York Times won three prizes, the most for any news organization.

• Colson Whitehead and Lynn Nottage were among the winners in the Arts categories.

Here is the full list:


ProPublica and The Daily News

The series by The Daily News and ProPublica exposed the widespread abuse by the New York Police Department of a decades-old law to bar hundreds of people from their homes and businesses over alleged criminal activity.  The investigation, which was led by Sarah Ryley, 36, a journalist for The Daily News, found that the Police Department almost exclusively targeted households and shops in minority neighborhoods.  The reporting spurred New York City to pass sweeping reforms.

Finalists:  The Chicago Tribune | The Houston Chronicle


The East Bay Times

Dozens of journalists at The East Bay Times worked on the coverage of the deadly “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland, Calif., in December, which killed 36 people at a warehouse party.  “We had everybody involved, from investigative reporters to artists to breaking news reporters,” said Neil Chase, the paper's executive editor.  Mr. Chase said the paper, whose reporting also revealed the city's shortcomings in preventing the tragedy, was donating the cash prize that comes with the award to a local fund for the victims.

Finalists:  The staff of The Dallas Morning News | The staff of The Orlando Sentinel


Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

Mr. Eyre (pronounced AIR), 51, won the award for a series of articles about the opioid abuse epidemic in West Virginia.  Mr. Eyre, the paper's statehouse reporter, began his multipart series with these words: “Follow the pills and you'll find the overdose deaths.”  It took Mr. Eyre years to acquire the documents most important to his reporting, and he did it “in the face of powerful opposition,” according to the Pulitzer citation.  A lawyer defending a drug wholesale company said that it was vital to protect crucial court records “from the intrusive journalistic nose of the Gazette-Mail.”

Finalists:  Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan of The Chicago Tribune | Steve Reilly of USA Today Network


The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy and The Miami Herald

A sprawling network of journalists was awarded the prize for their explosive articles on the so-called Panama Papers.  The Pulitzer board commended the “collaboration of more than 300 reporters on six continents to expose the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens.”  The work was originally submitted for the international reporting award, but the board moved it to the explanatory reporting category.

Finalists:  Joan Garrett McClane and Joy Lukachick Smith of The Chattanooga Times Free Press | Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu, Lauren Kirchner and Terry Parris Jr. of ProPublica | The Staff of National Geographic


The staff of The Salt Lake Tribune

The prize honored reports about “the perverse, punitive and cruel treatment given to sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University.”  The Tribune's first article said that the university, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, investigated students who reported sex crimes — and sometimes disciplined them for breaking rules on curfews and dress codes.  The Tribune also found that the school's Title IX office, to which students could report sexual assaults, regularly alerted the honor code office, which looked into the rule violations.  In November, Brigham Young took steps to restructure the Title IX office.  The school also said that students who reported sexual assaults would no longer risk having their conduct reviewed by the honor code office.

Finalists:  Jenna Russell, Maria Cramer, Michael Rezendes, Todd Wallack and Scott Helman, The Boston Globe | Michael Schwirtz, Michael Winerip and Robert Gebeloff, The New York Times


David A. Fahrenthold, The Washington Post

Mr. Fahrenthold was cited for his reporting during the 2016 presidential campaign, which cast doubt on Donald J. Trump's “assertions of generosity toward charities.”  A month after Mr. Trump skipped a Republican debate in Iowa to attend a fund-raiser for veterans, Mr. Fahrenthold found that only about half of the money had gone to veterans' charities.  Mr. Fahrenthold, 39, later found that Mr. Trump had used his own foundation's money for business-related legal settlements and purchases that included two portraits of himself.  In October, Mr. Fahrenthold received a tip about a video that showed Mr. Trump talking about women in vulgar terms.  “The voice you'd heard in so many other contexts was talking in a way we'd never heard before,” Mr. Fahrenthold said Monday.  “That's what made it so powerful.”

Finalists:  Renee Dudley, Steve Stecklow, Alexandra Harney and other members of the Reuters Staff | The staff of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The staff of The New York Times

In “Russia's Dark Arts,” a team of New York Times journalists across two continents chronicled the covert and sometimes deadly actions taken by President Vladimir V. Putin's government to grow Russian influence abroad.  The series, which began last spring, explored the rise of online “troll armies,” the strategic spreading of disinformation and Russia's unprecedented — and politically consequential — cyberattack on the 2016 American presidential election.

Finalists:  Chris Hamby, BuzzFeed News | The staff of The Wall Street Journal | International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, McClatchy and The Miami Herald


C.J. Chivers, The New York Times

Mr. Chivers, 52, spent months crafting his 18,102-word portrait of a young combat veteran haunted by his experiences in Afghanistan, who was imprisoned after a violent fight with a stranger.  Unflinching yet empathetic, the reporting by Mr. Chivers — himself a former Marine — prompted the state of Illinois to vacate the veteran's jail sentence.  “The truth literally set a young man free,” Jake Silverstein, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, where the story appeared, said Monday.

Finalists:  Adam Entous and Devlin Barrett, The Wall Street Journal | Eli Saslow, The Washington Post


Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Noonan, 66, has been a longtime observer and participant in the political sphere, having worked as a speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan.  Her winning columns addressed the bruising 2016 campaign season and the rise of Mr. Trump, analyzing his populist appeal and his effect on the Republican Party.  Paul Gigot, the editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, wrote in a memo to the newsroom, “Peggy didn't shrink from addressing Trump's many flaws as a candidate, but she always showed great respect for the intelligence of voters and explained the currents of American life and politics that catapulted Trump to the White House.”

Finalists:  Dahleen Glanton, The Chicago Tribune | Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Media Network


Hilton Als, The New Yorker

A staff writer at The New Yorker since 1994, Mr. Als, 56, was praised for reviews that “strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context,” particularly when it comes to themes of gender, sexuality and race.  Mr. Als, who was a finalist last year, is known for stylish and trenchant prose, and won the honor for a set of 10 pieces that covered works including “The Color Purple” and “Dear Evan Hansen.”  American theater, he said in an interview, is an a transitional state.  “We're living in an amazing age,” he said.  “All kinds of stories are going to be told now that just didn't get an audience before.  That's thrilling to me.”

Finalists:  Laura Reiley, The Tampa Bay Times | Ty Burr, The Boston Globe


Art Cullen, The Storm Lake Times

There is no mistaking the anger in the voice of The Storm Lake Times when it writes about the legacy of big agriculture: “Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America.”  That voice is personal, too.  It belongs to Mr. Cullen, 59, who owns the newspaper with his brother John.  The Times comes out twice a week and has a circulation of 3,000.  Among its admiring readers were Pulitzer jurors.  They cited Mr. Cullen's “tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing.”

Finalists:  Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post | Joe Holley, The Houston Chronicle



Jim Morin, The Miami Herald

The looming ogre of “Nationalism,” armed with a malevolent grin and the club of “Racism,” opened the door and cast his menacing shadow last June.  “Hello,” he said.  “Remember me?”  For this and other work portraying a frightening America, Mr. Morin, 64, earned his second Pulitzer Prize.  (The first was in 1996.)  The Pulitzer jurors said he “delivered sharp perspectives through flawless artistry, biting prose and crisp wit.”

Finalists:  Jen Sorensen | Steve Sack, The Star Tribune


Daniel Berehulak, The New York Times

Mr. Berehulak, 41, was recognized for work that showed “the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about by a government assault on drug dealers and users.”  On Monday, Mr. Berehulak described observing “an assembly line of state-sanctioned murder” over 35 days in Manila.  He dedicated his award to the families of those killed, saying he hoped “their pain might somehow be remedied by justice.”  He was previously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2015 for his work documenting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Finalists:  The staff of The Associated Press | Jonathan Bachman, Reuters


E. Jason Wambsgans, The Chicago Tribune

Mr. Wambsgans, 44, was honored for his portrayal of a 10-year-old boy and his mother after the boy survived a shooting in Chicago.  He has mainly photographed violence in the city for the past four years.

“Because he and his mother were so open, it was just a deeper level of intimacy than we're typically able to convey,” Mr. Wambsgans said.  “It's kind of a bittersweet thing because there's not a week that goes by that I don't worry about this boy and his future.”

Finalists:  Jake May, The Flint Journal | Katie Falkenberg, The Los Angeles Times


Colson Whitehead, “The Underground Railroad

When he was working on his hallucinatory and chilling novel, which reimagines American slavery, Mr. Whitehead studied works by masters of magical realism, including Toni Morrison's “Beloved” and Gabriel García Márquez's “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” His aim was to write about “the fantastic with a straight face.”

Mr. Whitehead, 47, said the critical reactions to the book have been enormously gratifying (the novel also won the National Book Award).  But one of the most meaningful responses came from a stranger who approached him in a bookstore.  “She said, 'Your book made me a more empathetic person,'” he said.

Past coverage:  Profile | Review | Sunday Book Review

Finalists:  “Imagine Me Gone,” by Adam Haslett (Sunday Book Review) | “The Sport of Kings,” by C. E. Morgan (Review | Sunday Book Review)


Lynn Nottage, “Sweat”

Ms. Nottage's play explores working-class alienation in Reading, Pa., a city that has been hurt by deindustrialization.  The Pulitzer citation called “Sweat,” which is currently running on Broadway, “a nuanced yet powerful drama that reminds audiences of the stacked deck still facing workers searching for the American dream.”

“I was trying to understand how economic stagnation is reshaping our cultural narrative,” Ms. Nottage said, “and wanting to tell the story of what was happening to people on the ground in a way that was truthful and emotional and unapologetic.”

This is the second Pulitzer Prize for Ms. Nottage, 52, who won in 2009 for “Ruined,” a play about rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Past coverage:  Review | Feature | Off-Broadway Review | Ashland, Ore.  Review

Finalists:  “The Wolves,” by Sarah DeLappe (Review | Off-Broadway Review | Feature) | “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” by Taylor Mac (Review | Feature )


Heather Ann Thompson, “Blood in the Water

Ms. Thompson spent 13 years researching this account of the Attica prison uprising, which the Pulitzer board cited as “a narrative history that sets high standards for scholarly judgment and tenacity of inquiry.”  In addition to extensive archival research, Ms. Thompson, 53, interviewed dozens of survivors, participants and observers, many of whom spent decades fighting to uncover the truth about the violent retaking that left 39 prisoners and hostages dead.

“This was a story that the people inside of that prison have been trying to tell for 45 years,” she said.

Past coverage:  News Feature | Review | Sunday Book Review

Finalists:  Larrie D.  Ferreiro, “Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It” | Wendy Warren, “New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America” (Sunday Book Review)


Hisham Matar, “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between

Mr. Matar was a 19-year-old student in England when his father, a prominent critic of the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi living in exile, was kidnapped and taken to a secret prison in Libya.  This memoir recounts Mr. Matar's return to his homeland 22 years later, after the fall of that government, to find out what happened to him.  The Pulitzer citation called it “a first-person elegy for home and father,” executed with “controlled emotion.”  In an interview last year with The New York Times, Mr. Matar, 46, was asked to imagine what his father would have made of his journey.

“My failure to cure myself of Libya would have amused and perhaps even comforted him,” Mr. Matar said.  “My search for him would have not.  He wanted me, above all things, to be free and happy.”

Past coverage:  Review | Sunday Book Review | Q&A | Excerpt in Sunday Review

Finalists:  Susan Faludi, “In the Darkroom” (Review | Sunday Book Review) | Paul Kalanithi, “When Breath Becomes Air” (Review | Sunday Book Review | Well Review | Q&A With Widow | Essay by Widow)


Tyehimba Jess, “Olio

Mr. Jess's second book of poems is a kaleidoscopic and formally ambitious collection about African-American artists between the Civil War and World War I, and the ways in which they both fought against and tried to make creative use of the cultural pressures of minstrelsy.  Scott Joplin plays a prominent role in the book's imagination, as do less well-known figures, most but not all musicians.  “American music is critically and fundamentally tied to the African-American experience, the experience of a people who were denied access to literacy for most of our time in this country through slavery,”  Mr. Jess, 51, said in an interview in March with The New School.  “They were forced to forge another kind of literacy through the music.”

Finalists:  Adrienne Rich, “Collected Poems: 1950-2012” (Review) | Campbell McGrath, “XX


Matthew Desmond, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

In his meticulously reported book, Mr. Desmond, a sociologist, followed eight impoverished families in Milwaukee as they struggled to make rent.  Mr. Desmond, 37, a director of the Justice and Poverty Project at Harvard, said he decided to investigate the causes and the repercussions of evictions as a way to write about the systemic causes of poverty in the United States.

“America's the richest country, with the worst poverty,” he said.  “That ugly fact has troubled me for a long time, and I wanted to understand the role that housing plays.”

Past Coverage:  Profile | Review | Sunday Book Review | Sunday Review Essay | Op-ed

Finalists:  “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (Sunday Book Review) | “The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery,” by Micki McElya


Du Yun, “Angel's Bone”

Ms. Du, 39, won for her savage chamber opera, a collaboration with the librettist Royce Vavrek, which finds an allegory for human trafficking in the story of two angels who are brutally mistreated after they crash-land in a suburban backyard.

“In the U.S., trafficking seems very far from us, in Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe,” she said.  “But it's happening right in front of our eyes.  And that's how this arose, to be able to create a platform that's not didactic, but a work that allows ideas to blossom.”

Past coverage:  Review

Finalists:  Ashley Fure, “Bound to the Bow” (Review) | Kate Soper, “Ipsa Dixit”