Monday, November 26, 2018

OPINION - Brooks and Marcus 11/23/2018

"Brooks and Marcus on what’s fueling the President’s ‘ramped up’ rhetoric" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2018


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join John Yang to discuss the week in politics, including President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration policy and the federal judiciary, his denial of Saudi involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the upcoming U.S. Senate runoff in Mississippi.

John Yang (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus.

That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus.

David, Ruth, thank you for coming in and joining us.

The President, judging by social media, has been spending Thanksgiving worrying a lot about the border, threatening to through shut the border down, close it all altogether, railing against this — the migrants moving their way north.

David, what's going on?  Is this just base maintenance here, or what's going on?

David Brooks, New York Times:  I'm going with bluster.

Ruth Marcus, Washington Post:  I had bluster.


You steal my bluster?


David Brooks:  Yes, it looks like Teddy Roosevelt tweeting up San Juan Hill.  But you have to remember the troops that are down there, the actual military troops, according to Secretary Mattis, will not be carrying weapons.  They will be in the background somewhere.  They're there in a supportive role, which is a null and void role, basically.

So I'm pretty sure the President — I can understand why he's upset.  There's been more illegal immigration under his term than under President Obama.  But it's hard to believe this administration wants — after the separation of families, wants more bad pictures coming out of the border.

So I'm sure some — I'm not sure — reasonably confident this is mostly bluster and they will find some muddling solution.

Ruth Marcus:  Well, this is bluster — I get to say it too — with a little bit of a purpose, though probably not a very effective one, which is the congressional lame-duck session has begun.

And there is — are funding bills to be done, as there are at this time of year, it seems, every year.  And the President still hasn't gotten, after two years in office, what he insisted he was going to get from Mexico before he was elected, which is funding for his wall.

And so I think a little bit of this bluster, he will end up standing down on it, is trying to raise the prospect of a government shutdown.  That wouldn't make a lot of sense, when the House and the Senate — the House just for another brief few weeks — and the Presidency are all controlled by the same party.

If you're shutting down the government in that situation, you're not doing very well.  But that's a little bit of the shut-down-the-border rhetoric that we're seeing ramped up right now as well.

John Yang:  He's saying that we need to get a deal now that includes money for the wall.  But he has said this every time, and every time it doesn't happen.

David Brooks:  Yes.

To me, one of the questions is, has anything changed because of the election?  Is his mood changed?  Is his emotional state changed?

So, previously, there was a pretty good method, that he would bluster his way toward something, and then there'd be some bad press, and then he would quietly backtrack.  And somebody compared it to vaporware.  You just send something out there that you don't really have, send a policy out there, even though there's no policy.

The question becomes, has he decided he's rattled by the election, he's angered by the election, he is angered by everybody else around, and that's something has changed?  So far, there's been no evidence that his mental state has changed.

John Yang:  Ruth?

Ruth Marcus:  Ooh, evidence that his mental state has changed.


He doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of accepting the reality that, yes, his — he and his party suffered a fairly massive and near historic defeat in the House.

And while they are have slightly expanded their Senate majority, which is important, that's one piece of reality he hasn't taken in and that might affect his mood.

There is also the looming Mueller situation.  And this report — it does come from a while ago.  So maybe the mood has been bad for a while.  But the reports about arguing that we should have prosecutions of Hillary Clinton and prosecutions of Jim Comey don't suggest a President with a great mood.

John Yang:  The list of people that the President has public spats with or feuds with in social media grew this week.

John Roberts, the chief justice, responded to something that the President said.  And the President, the famous counterpuncher, punched back.

Ruth, you covered the Supreme Court.  How unusual is this that John Roberts would do this in a public way?  And, also, what does this mean, that these two people are going at it in public now?

Ruth Marcus:  So, it's remarkable.

Presidents get into fights with the Supreme Court, not all the time, but on regular basis.  Richard Nixon ran against that Warren court when he was running for President.  President Obama famously criticized the justices to their face over the Citizens United decision.  And President Trump has criticized the court and Justice Roberts in particular in the past.

What's really unusual — and you have to stretch back to well before I covered the court to the New Deal — is to have the court bite back.  When FDR was trying to do his court-packing plan, the chief justice then famously helped to torpedo that plan by sending a critical letter to the Senate.  They didn't have either Twitter or probably a court press officer to respond these days.

The fact that the chief justice could not be a more different human being than President Trump — if you had two polar opposites and personalities, this is who you would have, a very restrained — he was judicious before he was a judge, the chief justice, human being.

The fact that he chose to respond to the President's assault on judges, Ninth Circuit judges, Obama judges just suggests how alarmed he is, and — by the President's behavior and how out of the ordinary the President's behavior is.

David Brooks:  Yes.

And I would say what's interesting is what — they weren't arguing about a case.  And if Justice Roberts responded about a decision, I think that would be out of bounds.  It was just defending the idea of an independent judiciary.  And so justices normally do that.

And I do think it's important to maintain the truth — at least the three-quarters truth — that there are no such thing as Obama judges and Bush judges.  There are conservatives and liberals.  And it's true the court, Supreme Court, votes more on party line than they used to, but it's still not totally true that they are political appointees.

They have — they do have some sense of independence.  And most of the cases are not 5-4, are not strict Republican-Democratic cases.  There are lots of different modes of argumentation that come into these things.  And maintaining that in public seems to me tremendously important if we're going to respect decisions.

And if Trump wants to delegitimize the court by saying, oh, it's just Republican vs. Democrat, it's just like Congress, that really does undermine our trust, the credibility and the deference we should pay to judicial judgments.

John Yang:  The fact that he punched back against someone like John Roberts, who is not a liberal justice, is — does that threaten him with his base, with the Republicans?

David Brooks:  No.


No, I wouldn't think so.

It's of a piece, which is that the only kind of power he [Trump] acknowledges his personal power, not institutional power.  And the idea that the attorney general or a judge has some independent mandate to do a constitutional role, that's not really part of his mental vocabulary.  And so it's all, are you loyal to me or are you not loyal to me?

And this, by the way, if you look at how — I don't to want get hysterical here, but if you look at the way regimes decay all across the world from democracy toward authoritarianism, this is a classic thing that happens in almost every case, where the institutional power gets devolved back into personal power, and you return toward the rule of the clan.

FALL FILMS - "Green Book"

"In ‘Green Book,’ a black pianist and his white driver forge a bond amidst Jim Crow" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2018


SUMMARY:  "Green Book," a new film based on the true story of black concert pianist Don Shirley, explores what happens when he hires a white bouncer to drive him through the dangerous Deep South in the Jim Crow era.  Director Peter Farrelly explains to Jeffrey Brown how the movie proves that "ultimately, we're all the same."

CLIMATE CHANGE - It's Happening, It's Now

"‘It’s happening, it’s now,’ says U.S. government report on climate change" PBS NewsHour 11/23/2018


SUMMARY:  On Friday, the federal government released its most dramatic report yet on the effects of climate change.  According to scientists, the country is already experiencing serious consequences from rising global temperatures, including more frequent and severe storms, fires and flooding.  John Yang talks to Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

AMERICAN CHESS - Fabiano Caruana

"Fabiano Caruana helps usher in a new era for American chess" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2018


SUMMARY:  Twenty-six-year-old American Fabiano Caruana is poised to become the next chess world champion.  Despite his success, most Americans don't know his name.  Yet they still remember Bobby Fischer, whose iconic triumph over a Soviet rival is imprinted in popular consciousness.  William Brangham speaks to Stefan Fatsis, of the “Hang Up and Listen” podcast, about why we don't pay more attention to chess.


"Why the rise of American Judaism offers a ‘great political story’" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2018


SUMMARY:  On our Bookshelf tonight, the dramatic struggles to turn an ancient faith into an American religion.  Judy Woodruff speaks with longtime journalist Steven Weisman, author of “The Chosen Wars,” about why he decided to examine the evolution of Judaism in the United States, the religion’s “history of conflict” and the great personalities that created a story worth telling.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL - Most Scrutinized Position

"The most scrutinized position in the country’s most popular sport" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2018


SUMMARY:  Football quarterbacks have the most coveted, high-profile and high-pressure positions in American sports, says author John Feinstein.  The role demands athletic prowess and strategic thinking--but it also takes a huge toll on the body and mind.  Feinstein, whose new book profiles five current and former NFL quarterbacks, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss racial bias and why "football will never be safe."

TRUMP TRADE WAR - Affect on American Farmers

"How Trump’s trade wars are affecting American farmers" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2018


SUMMARY:  The Trump administration's tariffs against China and Mexico have sparked retaliation by both countries on American agriculture.  As a result, dairy producers have experienced a painful drop in demand, but many hope a promised $12 billion bailout will improve business in the long run.  Lisa Desjardins speaks to Jim Mulhern, head of the National Milk Producers Federation, for his perspective.

FACEBOOK - Needs Regulation?

"After latest scandal, does Facebook need to be regulated?" PBS NewsHour 11/22/2018


SUMMARY:  Facebook has been on the defensive since a New York Times investigation found it had hired a consulting firm--founded by Republican operatives--to push negative stories about its critics.  Among them: liberal billionaire George Soros, a favorite target of far-right conspiracy theorists.  John Yang speaks with the Wilson Center's Nina Jankowicz about whether social media needs to be regulated.

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - Kellogg Brothers of Battle Creek

"How the Kellogg brothers transformed breakfast and pioneered ‘wellness’" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2018


SUMMARY:  The Kellogg brothers transformed the American breakfast.  They promoted revolutionary ideas we now consider central to wellness, and celebrities flocked to their famous sanitarium and spa in Battle Creek, Michigan.  But their commercial success came at a heavy personal cost.  William Brangham talks to Dr.  Howard Markel about his new book, "The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek."

RUSSIA'S WAR ON AMERICA - Long History of Disinformation

"The long history of Russian disinformation targeting the U.S." PBS NewsHour 11/21/2018


SUMMARY:  From Pizzagate to George Soros conspiracies, “fake news” has become a noxious presence in public discourse, especially since the 2016 presidential election.  A recent New York Times video series explores the long history of Russian disinformation and its origins in what the Soviets dubbed “active measures.”  Nick Schifrin speaks to Adam Ellick, who created the series, for more.

TRUMP AGENDA - Chief Justice Roberts Fires Back on Rule of Law

"Why Chief Justice Roberts’ response to Trump matters" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2018


SUMMARY:  In a rare move, Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts responded to President Trump’s recent criticism of a judge who ruled against his new asylum rules.  Roberts countered that “the U.S. does not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.”  Judy Woodruff speaks with the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle for insight into this “very unusual” development.

TRUMP AGENDA - New Border Directive

It may not violate the law, but it IS still immoral and unethical.

"Does Trump’s new border directive violate federal law?" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2018


SUMMARY:  More than 5,700 service members are providing support at the U.S.-Mexico border.  Now, the President has authorized troops to defend border patrol agents, “including a show or use of force (including lethal force).”  Nick Schifrin talks to former Army lawyer Geoffrey Corn, who teaches at South Texas College of Law Houston, about how Secretary of Defense James Mattis is walking a legal “tight rope.”

MAESTRO - Reject the Elitist View

"This conductor wants you to reject an ‘elitist’ view of the symphony" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  Gustavo Dudamel is one of the world's most celebrated classical musicians, as well as conductor of the Los Angeles PhilharmonicStriving to make music more accessible, he is working with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a program that offers free, high-quality music instruction to students in underserved communities.  Dudamel speaks to Jeffrey Brown about why he sees art as "access to beauty."

THANKSGIVING - Myths and the Turkey Pardon

"How teachers are debunking some of the myths of Thanksgiving" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  School children in the U.S. often celebrate Thanksgiving by dressing up as pilgrims and “Indians.”  But these traditions tend to perpetuate myths that are offensive to Native American communities.  Education correspondent Kavitha Cardoza takes a look at a new movement aiming to reinvent the way schools teach Thanksgiving.

"The surprising history behind the Thanksgiving turkey pardon" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  The tradition of the U.S. President’s pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving was repeated once again at the White House, as President Trump performed the ritual before heading to Mar-a-Lago.  But what started this peculiar custom?  Yamiche Alcindor reports on the surprising history behind the holiday practice.

AMORAL PRESIDENT - Khashoggi Decision

aka "Amorality by all Presidents"

Trump will sell his soul for money to anyone.

"With Khashoggi decision, Trump places strategic interests above human rights" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  President Trump announced he will not sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The President indicated he had no intention of breaking with the longtime American ally.  Nick Schifrin reports, and the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt joins Judy Woodruff to analyze the administration's response to the international incident.

CALIFORNIA - Wildfires' Aftermath

"The daunting task of identifying victims of the Camp Fire" PBS NewsHour 11/19/2018


SUMMARY:  In the 11 days since Northern California's Camp Fire ignited, residents have experienced “hell on earth."  Firefighters have now contained about 66 percent of the fire.  But as rain approaches, rescuers scramble to locate the nearly 1,000 people still missing--fearing that piles of ash will become treacherous mud.  William Brangham speaks with Jim Wood, a forensic dentist helping to identify victims.

"After the flames, what challenges lie ahead for Northern California?" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  The Camp Fire destroyed the town of Paradise but is now 70 percent contained, marking progress for Northern California.  Predicted rain should reduce risk of additional fires, but heavy smoke and threats of mudslides and flooding loom over residents’ heads.  The situation remains dire for the thousands who lost their homes.  William Brangham talks to Mat Honan of BuzzFeed News from South Lake Tahoe.

REF:  "There's No Looking Away From This Year's California Fires" BuzzFeed News

"Thanks to this lab, we can better protect our homes from fire" PBS NewsHour 11/20/2018


SUMMARY:  California's recent spate of wildfires has caused devastating death and destruction.  Can scientific experimentation help us minimize the scope of fire disasters?  Scientists at the National Fire Research Laboratory in Gaithersburg, Maryland, are studying how materials burn and combust, in an effort to inform us about avoiding and mitigating fires.  Science producer Nsikan Akpan has the details.

"Housing California residents displaced by fires proves difficult" PBS NewsHour 11/21/2018


SUMMARY:  In the areas of California hit hard by recent wildfires, displaced residents are struggling to find shelter.  In some of these places, like Chico, there was already a housing shortage even before the fires hit.  What resources are available to help?  Judy Woodruff speaks with Raquel Dillon of KQED for an update on the services being provided by FEMA and other organizations during the crisis.

LOOKING BACK - Surviving Jonestown

"40 years later, Rep. Speier looks back on surviving Jonestown" PBS NewsHour 11/19/2018


SUMMARY:  This weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, in which more than 900 followers of Jim Jones were victims of a cult mass murder-suicide in Guyana.  Among the survivors was Jackie Speier, now a Democratic congresswoman from California.  She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss her new book, “Undaunted: Surviving Jonestown, Summoning Courage, and Fighting Back" and current politics.

TRUMP AGENDA - Attack on Medicaid

"With new work requirement, thousands lose Medicaid coverage in Arkansas" PBS NewsHour 11/19/2018

More evidence that to Republicans you are not worth spending money on.


SUMMARY:  A major initiative of the Trump administration has been adding work requirements to benefit programs for the poor, now including Medicaid.  This year, Arkansas became the first state to roll out the requirement.  As a result, more than 12,000 people there have lost their coverage.  Special correspondent and Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell travels to Arkansas to explore what’s at stake.

NORTH CAROLINA - Hog Farm Hazard

"A Hog Waste Agreement Lacked Teeth, and Some North Carolinians Say They’re Left to Suffer" by Talia Buford, ProPublica 11/23/2018

Today, many farmers continue to store the waste in open pits despite the millions of dollars in private investment spent and years of research and political promises.  The practice grows more hazardous with each hurricane that pounds the state.

This story was co-published with The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The lagoons were supposed to be gone by now.

Nearly 20 years ago, North Carolina faced a reckoning.  Hurricane Floyd inundated the state, flooding the open pits where farmers store hog waste.  The nation looked on in horror as pink sludge from the lagoons mingled with rising floodwaters to force stranded animals atop hog houses and drowned thousands of pigs.

State officials vowed change and in 2000 delivered a plan.  The centerpiece was an agreement with Smithfield Foods, the world’s leading pork producer and one of North Carolina’s biggest businesses.  Smithfield agreed to finance research into alternatives to the lagoons and to install within three years whatever system emerged as environmentally effective and economically viable.  In place of open-air lagoons would be a newer, safer system that put North Carolina on the cutting edge of commercial agriculture.

Today, many North Carolina hog farmers continue to store hog waste in open pits despite the millions of dollars in private investment spent and years of research and political promises.  Little has changed, storms are intensifying and the clock is ticking on the Smithfield agreement, which expires in 2025.

The state has yet to come up a viable replacement system, and the momentum — and money — behind the research ran out years ago, leaving in place a crude practice that grows more hazardous with each hurricane that pounds North Carolina.

In September, it was Florence, which dumped record-breaking rains on the state — 8 trillion gallons over four days — and swelled the Cape Fear River, which winds through this region.  Thirty-three lagoons overflowed, the pink slurry again mixing with floodwaters.

Now, nearly 20 years on, it’s not hard to see how the agreement was doomed.

It sought transformative change, but lacked teeth.  The all-or-nothing strategy meant that unless a perfect system was developed, nothing would change.  The deal required the “substantial” elimination of odors, ammonia emissions, bacteria, soil and groundwater contamination, and waste discharges, yet it did not state what that threshold was or what costs the industry was obliged to absorb.  The deal also was mum on the odors, pests and other nuisances that people who live near the lagoons continue to endure.

In the end, the agreement let legislators avoid the messy work of defining restrictions for a politically influential industry, and instead it shifted that responsibility to academics.  When no silver bullet emerged from the early research, the push for change waned as the country faced a staggering recession and North Carolina’s politics shifted rightward.

“There’s not a whole lot of clean hands,” said former Gov. Michael F. Easley.  “Everyone figures the status quo should be sufficient.”

This time, residents aren’t waiting for officials to deliver change.  More than 500 residents have joined 26 nuisance lawsuits filed in federal court against a Smithfield subsidiary since 2014, arguing that living next to industrial hog operations forces them to live with noxious odors, flies and heavy truck traffic.

Juries have awarded multimillion-dollar damages to plaintiffs in three of the lawsuits so far, targeting farms in Bladen, Pender and Duplin counties.  A fourth trial, focused on a farm in Sampson County, began this month.  Smithfield has said in investor reports that it “believes that the claims are unfounded and intends to defend the suits vigorously.”

The division between farmer and neighbor is palpable here — and falls along racial lines in a state where agriculture has its roots in the plantation system, and where Confederate monuments still stand on the Capitol’s grounds.

Smithfield — now owned by WH Group Ltd., a Chinese pork company — has tried to position itself as a responsible corporate citizen.  Company officials declined multiple requests for an interview with ProPublica but said in a statement that the 2000 agreement on hog waste was a “demonstration of our company’s long-standing commitment to responsible and sustainable hog production ...  a commitment that continues to this day.”

On Oct. 25, the company announced plans to cover existing waste lagoons to capture the gases they release and install “manure-to-energy” projects at 90 percent of the company’s hog finishing spaces around the country.  Smithfield did not respond to specific questions about whether the technology meets the standards set out by the 2000 agreement, but a fact sheet said covering the lagoons will “mitigate potential issues associated with severe rain events such as hurricanes.”

Company CEO Kenneth M. Sullivan called the project “audacious” in a press release.

“When we set an objective,” he said, “we go big at Smithfield to achieve it.”

Growth of Hogs, and Negotiating the Agreement

Before it was hog country, eastern North Carolina was the home of Big Tobacco.  But as the industry buckled under the weight of lawsuit settlements in the 1990s, pork supplanted cigarettes as the region’s economic engine.  According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, in 1987, there were 6,921 hog farms and just about 2.5 million pigs in North Carolina.  By 1997, there were fewer farms but more than 9.6 million pigs.

That year, the state put a moratorium on new or expanded hog farms, and farmers rushed to complete their facilities before the deadline.  The increase in supply flooded the market in 1998, bringing prices crashing down and forcing some smaller farms out of business.  The destruction left behind by Hurricane Floyd forced others out of the market, while the state began its initial buyout of hog farms in the 100-year flood plain after the storm.  There have been four more rounds of buyouts since then.

Today, there are about 10 million people in North Carolina and still about 9 million hogs, each producing, on average, 11 pounds of waste a day.  Operations became more concentrated as farms began standardizing diets and creating what are called “concentrated animal feeding operations.”

The slats in a hog house floor allow manure and urine to fall through to pits beneath the houses.  The wastewater is then sent to a large, earthen basin, or lagoon, nearby.  Anaerobic bacteria in the lagoon break down the manure — similar to the process used for composting.  The liquid can then be sprayed onto crops as fertilizer.  There are roughly 3,300 permitted hog lagoons in North Carolina, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates the structures.

Today, portions of Duplin County look like a patchwork of light green fields — likely soybeans and corn — dappled with thick patches of forest.  Long silver-topped buildings, hog houses, are lined up in rows, with black or pink shiny pools, hog lagoons, sitting to one side.

“This is the concentration we talk about here in Duplin,” Larry Baldwin of Waterkeeper Alliance said as the single-engine plane we’re in coasts about 1,000 feet above ground on a warm October day.  “There’s three.  There’s four.  There’s five.  Six.  Seven.  There’s eight.  They’re all over the place.”

State environmental standards require that lagoons be built to withstand 24 hours of rain, but new research shows that climate change is causing wetter hurricanes with more extreme rainfall to be more common.  If the system fails, and lagoons breach or overtop, nutrients such as ammonia and nitrates may seep into rivers, stoking the growth of algae blooms that can choke out other aquatic life.

But even when the system works exactly as it is supposed to, there are still issues for those who live near the lagoons or the crops where the waste is sprayed — people like Elsie Herring, a Wallace resident who is an environmental organizer and a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Smithfield.

“We’re being held prisoners in our own homes because you can’t cook out, can’t open your windows, can’t open your doors, you can’t hang your clothes on the line,” she said.  “We didn’t need to have that to have to deal with on top of having to smell this animal waste and it blowing on our houses and cars and our persons if we’re outside.”

The North Carolina Pork Council defends the practice on its blog, saying reports of the smell and nuisance claims in the ongoing litigation are exaggerated.  And farmers, like Justin Edwards of Beulaville, say lagoons are effective and safe.

Edwards’ two hog houses are about a mile from his home, and they hold about 1,700 hogs.  He uses the lagoon and sprayfield system to manage hog waste on his farm, spraying it on the 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton he also grows.

“We just don’t deserve the vilification,” Edwards said.  “We’re human beings, and we are doing our contribution to society with the technology we’ve been given.  We’re using the technology that our state has told us that we’ve got to use.”

The state’s efforts to change hog waste disposal had a dramatic starting point.

Twenty-five million gallons of hog waste spilled from a lagoon at Oceanview Farms in Onslow County into the New River in June 1995.  The spill prompted the state legislature to fast track new regulations and, in 1997, to enact a temporary moratorium on new hog operations and expansions to existing ones.  Gov.  Jim Hunt proposed a plan in April 1999 to phase out lagoons within 10 years — a plan that one local newspaper called, in hindsight, “empty from the start.”

That September, Hurricane Floyd hit.  Public health fears about overflowing hog lagoons were a campaign issue, and a public relations nightmare for the hog industry.

With public opinion turning, Easley, who was then the attorney general, told Smithfield it had a choice: negotiate a voluntary agreement or take a chance on a new administration.  Easley was a candidate for governor.  He promised that if he won, he would push for legislation to force the industry to change its waste management practices.

“The problems with the hog lagoons had been pretty front and center in the public discourse at the time,” said Alan Hirsch, former deputy attorney general and Easley’s policy director, who now runs a health care nonprofit.  “Smithfield well understood that they were under a lot of pressure to do something.”

On July 25, 2000, in the thick of the gubernatorial campaign, Smithfield entered into an agreement with Easley to find better technologies to manage waste from the company’s hog farms in the state.  Smithfield committed to providing a total of $17 million for research at North Carolina State University into other waste management methods and agreed to install the chosen technology on its farms.  The company also committed to donating $50 million over the next 25 years to programs that protect the state’s environment.

Even as Smithfield signed the agreement, the company’s vice president at the time, Richard J. M. Poulson, said during a press conference that the lagoon and sprayfield system was the “best available technology for swine waste management.”

“Nevertheless, all of us support the development of superior economically viable disposal technologies so that the swine industry, which is so vitally important to North Carolina's economy, can continue to prosper,” he said.

Easley was elected governor that November.

Smithfield’s Profile

By then, Smithfield had grown from a small Virginia-based company to the producer of nearly one out of every seven hogs in the United States.

Smithfield grew by buying up competitors, and in 2013, Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. — now WH Group Ltd. — bought Smithfield for $4.7 billion.  Today, the company exports ham, pork chops, sausages and other foods to more than 40 countries under labels such as Eckrich, Nathan’s Famous and Healthy Ones.  It has some 54,000 employees in North America and Europe, and it recorded $15 billion in sales last year.

For all its international reach, Smithfield still feels like a hometown company in North Carolina.

Driving through Duplin County, the black-and-white signs marking a hog farm as a Smithfield affiliate are common, and a corporate office sits on the county’s western edge in Warsaw.  Smithfield has 225 company-owned farms in North Carolina, in addition to contract farms and feed mills.  Seven plants around the state produce everything from Italian stuffed breads and heat-to-eat products to bacon, fresh pork and cracklins.

For years, the pork industry has exerted considerable influence over North Carolina politics, in part because in many areas, it’s the economic driver.  Eastern North Carolina’s agricultural areas, which grew out of plantations and slavery, lack the amenities that would draw economic investment or a new technology revolution, said Peter A. Coclanis, an economic historian at the University of North Carolina.

“Without the hog industry, there wouldn’t be much else,” Coclanis said.  “You’re not going to get an IBM or Amazon to move to Duplin.”

All told, agriculture and agribusiness — from food and tobacco products to lumber and furniture and textiles — account for 17 percent of North Carolina’s economic output.  Hog farms constituted about 20 percent of the state’s agriculture revenue in 2016, bringing in $2.1 billion of the state’s $10.6 billion farm cash receipts, according to the state Agriculture Department.  There are roughly 2,300 hog farms in North Carolina, according to the 2012 Agricultural census, the most data recent available.

Coclanis said instead of investing in education and infrastructure, the state has competed on incentives and lower taxes to encourage the industry to economically buoy the area.  For the areas that rely on them, Coclanis said, “the only thing worse than hog farms is if there weren’t any of them.”

Legislators have been key in ensuring the industry stays firm in North Carolina.

In 1995, the Raleigh News & Observer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Boss Hog series laid bare the environmental and health risks of hog lagoons and the political connections that kept them in place.  Among the focuses of the reporting was Wendell Murphy, head of Murphy Family Farms (which was ultimately bought by Smithfield).  Murphy spent nearly a decade in the General Assembly, sponsoring bills that shielded the industry from environmental regulations, allowed farms to sidestep county zoning rules and delivered tax breaks on farming equipment.  At the time, he defended his agricultural votes, telling the newspaper, “I did what I thought was right for the industry of Duplin County.”

The agricultural industry as a whole has contributed $16.6 million to political candidates and campaigns since 2000, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics.  The livestock and meat processing sectors have contributed more than $2 million within that same time period.  Among all donors since 1996, the North Carolina Farm Bureau ($1,684,880), North Carolina Pork Council ($957,175) and Smithfield Foods ($406,600) are the leading contributors.

Testing the Technologies

From the beginning, the 2000 agreement allowed those in power to sidestep tighter regulation of the hog industry.  Instead, the onus was on academia, and in particular C. Mike Williams.

He’d grown up on a tobacco farm in Zebulon, studied poultry science and eventually earned his doctorate in nutrition at NC State.  After a stint at an animal waste remediation company, Williams returned to NC State to lead the Animal and Poultry Waste Management Center in 1993.

There, he was tapped to oversee the testing of technologies developed as potential alternatives to the lagoon system.  The task was herculean: find environmentally sound technology that was also cheap to implement.

“It was always going to be true that a lagoon is cheaper than anything that’s not a lagoon,” said Ryke Longest, a state lawyer who served as a liaison for the Smithfield agreement and is now a law professor at Duke University.  “If you’re doing something other than digging a hole in the ground and lining it … every time you add a capital expenditure, cost comes along with that.”

The legislature had already laid out parameters for what constituted environmentally superior technologies.  Mostly, to meet that criteria, the technology had to eliminate something — surface or groundwater discharges, ammonia emissions, bacteria and pathogens, or detectable odors.  But so much remained undefined.  Williams had to convene a nine-member engineering committee to set the threshold for “substantial” elimination, and a 27-member economic committee that included industry representatives, environmental advocates and economists to figure out what costs were acceptable.

As the committee worked, Williams narrowed 100 proposals down to 15 to test on full-scale farms.  The team looked at projects that covered the lagoons and used the wastewater to water a greenhouse, those that used a conveyor belt system and others that separated solid from liquid waste or treated the waste with chemicals.  Williams produced two interim reports, in 2004 and 2005, providing detailed analysis on the odors, pathogens and nitrogens that the technologies sought to reduce.

Meanwhile, the engineering committee determined that substantial elimination of odors and nutrients would be set at 60 percent.  The economic committee attempted to hash out how much of an impact was too much.  Environmental advocates pushed for social benefits to factor into the calculation.  Industry representatives pushed against anything they said would put North Carolina hog companies at a competitive disadvantage unless there were byproducts, like energy, that could be sold to offset the costs.

“It was a position I thought was unreasonable at the time and wrong, that I still think is unreasonable today,” said Richard B. Whisnant, a University of North Carolina professor who chaired the economic committee.  “That’s my first memory: realizing they were going to take a hard line and what I thought was an unreasonable line.”

The committee settled on a threshold: No more than 12 percent of the state’s hog farms could be forced out of business in exchange for more advanced technologies.  The majority of the committee signed onto the report, but the industry representatives — Smithfield, two of its subsidiaries and an agricultural bank — prepared a dissenting report.

Williams looked at the promising technology again, this time, through an economic lens to prepare his final report.  The findings Williams presented to the state Environmental Review Commission in March 2006 landed with a thud.

One technology met all of the environmental criteria for newly constructed hog farms, but it was too expensive to retrofit existing hog farms.  At the time, it cost around $400 per 1,000 pounds of pigs to install — the lagoon system cost $87.

The next year, the legislature permanently banned using open lagoons to store hog waste and required new or expanded farms to meet strict environmental standards.  But any farm whose permit had been issued before 2007 was grandfathered in, allowing it to continue operating without installing any new technology.

Though the research dollars were exhausted, Williams was still hopeful.  He cobbled together grant money to test new generations of the technology, issuing additional reports as recently as 2013.  At last check, the third-generation of the system was around $200 per 1,000 pounds of pigs — still too high to qualify as economically feasible.

Williams, who retired from NC State in 2017, said the change envisioned by the Smithfield agreement must happen.  The current system “has served its purpose,” he said, “and we need to move to a new technology.”

“There has to be a better system,” Williams said.  “There has to be.”

Lawsuits and Moving Forward

The state is doing what it can to mend the destruction Hurricane Florence brought.  Cleanup comes first.

During an October visit, front doors sat open, the contents of homes — refrigerators, chairs, trash cans and clothes — piled in the ditch that runs along the side of Route 41 into Beulaville in Duplin County.  Blue tarps served as temporary roof patches, and cottony pink insulation seemed to be everywhere.  Weeks after the storm, hotels from Wallace to Goldsboro remained sold out, their rooms housing residents still displaced from Florence.

The North Carolina General Assembly approved $850 million in relief aid for those affected by Hurricane Florence.  The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is offering its fifth buyout of farms in the 100-year flood plain — the same program it started after Hurricane Floyd.

For their part, the current top elected officials in North Carolina aren’t open to addressing questions about the Smithfield agreement.

Roy Cooper, who served as attorney general from 2001 until he became governor in 2017, referred questions about hog lagoons to the state Department of Environmental Quality and to former state lawyers for information about the Smithfield agreement’s progress during his tenure as attorney general.

Attorney General Josh Stein declined to be interviewed but through a spokeswoman said that he “believes there are technologies that can help address problems related to hog waste,” and that he “intends to work with hog farmers and producers like Smithfield to help move North Carolina to embrace technological advancements in this area.”

Easley, who as attorney general negotiated the Smithfield agreement, said no one in the state’s leadership wants to take this on.  “The will is not there,” he said.  “It’s still don’t trouble until trouble troubles you.  As long as nobody was complaining, they were not going to respond much to it.  They have to be nudged along, pushed along.”

Around this region, everywhere there are signs of staunch loyalty to the industry.  They stand like political endorsements on yards, on billboards and on church marquees around Duplin County.  They are in response to the nuisance lawsuits filed by other residents who live near hog farms around the state.  The suits do not name any individual farmers but instead target the parent company for the waste management practices on its contract farms.  However, hogs have been reportedly pulled off of at least two of the farms that have been subject to lawsuits so far.  So, the farming community takes the lawsuits personally.

Outside the Dobson Chapel Baptist Church, a white sign with a black silhouette of a farmer on a tractor, a barn and silo sit amid the words “Pray for our Farmers and their Farms.”  In most signs, though, a hog silhouette sits on or near an outline of the state of North Carolina.  The messages blare out in bright, bold capital letters: “Stand for NC Farm Families,” “Stand for Farmers No Farms No Food,” “Stop Complaining or Put Down the Bacon.”

The state legislature has taken sides since 2013 when the lawsuits were filed.  In 2017, the General Assembly overrode a veto to pass a law that caps damages in nuisance lawsuits to the value of the plaintiff’s property.  And in June 2018, the legislature passed a bill that put additional strict restrictions on when those suits can be filed and when punitive damages can be awarded.

“[Smithfield has] been politically powerful enough in the state to be able to stand pat with the status quo and fight off efforts to change,” said Whisnant, the University of North Carolina professor.  “It’s just easier for a group to play defense on legislation than it is to enforce change.”

This year, Smithfield contributed $72,800 to candidates in state races, according to campaign finance data from the state Board of Elections.  Rep. Jimmy Dixon, who sponsored the 2017 law, got the biggest slice of Smithfield’s contributions: $10,400.  The leadership of the House and Senate — Tim Moore and Phil Berger, respectively — each got $7,700, while coastal Sen. Bill Rabon, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, got \$6,500.

Dixon said in an interview that he is a “promoter of agriculture,” but that his political actions are not tied to campaign contributions.  As a retired turkey and hog farmer, Dixon said that he understands livestock operations, that he believes the legal claims against Smithfield are “enormously exaggerated” and that some of the plaintiffs have “outright been dishonest.”

Herring, the Wallace resident who is a plaintiff in one of the nuisance lawsuits, brushes off those critical of her case.

“We are the avenue of least resistance,” Herring said.  “We don’t have any money.  We don’t have a voice.  We don’t have any representation.  So they have all the power and as we say this is happening to us, they’re saying that it’s not.”

For her, the case isn’t about money.  If she wins, she said she plans to stay in her home — a pink house with a screened in porch, on a gravel street named after her mother.

“They just want us to become complacent, shut up and just live under the stench and all the other outgrowths that come from this,” she said.  “They make all the profits and keep the farmers believing that we’re out to hurt them and that’s not the truth.  It’s not true at all.  No one is out to hurt the hog farmers.  But why should the hog farmers have more rights than the people?”

Sunday, November 25, 2018

TRUMP INC - Financial Vampire

"Following Trump's money exposes the awful truth: Our president is a 'financial vampire'" by David Cay Johnston, Los Angeles Times 11/4/2018

Americans were confronted Tuesday with a profound problem, one that challenges our commitment to accountable democratic government and justice.  It is an awful truth that we must face now that the New York Times has published a richly documented, 14,000-word expose alleging decades of deeply corrupt Trump family finances.

After 18 months of interviewing people who worked for or with the Trump family and scrutinizing more than 100,000 documents, the newspaper painted a portrait “unprecedented in scope and precision” of Trump family money, including “outright fraud” that enriched the man who is now the sitting President.  Those extraordinary words require us to pay close attention.

Leaked financial records reveal decades of calculated tax cheating, according to the New York Times.  Father Fred Trump created 295 revenue streams to transfer money to his children, many of which appear to have broken laws.  A lawyer for the President claims the published allegations are false and the reporting “extremely inaccurate,” but the reporters cite bank statements, canceled checks, invoices and tax filings that reveal the apparent evasion of close to half a billion dollars of taxes in today’s money.

In one scheme the value of properties transferred from Fred Trump to his children was discounted by 94%.  Prices paid for refrigerators and stoves were inflated 46%, which enabled dishonest tax deductions while cheating people in rent-stabilized Trump apartments by justifying higher rents.

Not a scintilla of verifiable evidence shows that Donald is anything like as rich as he claims.

As that paper’s former tax reporter and a journalist who has covered Donald Trump for more than 30 years, this was no surprise.  In 1990 I broke the story that Trump was no billionaire.  He called me a liar for months, until he had to put documents in the public record showing he was worth negative-$295 million.

Not a scintilla of verifiable evidence shows that Donald is anything like as rich as he claims.  Candidate Trump said he was worth more than $10 billion, but his 2017 presidential disclosure statement shows just $1.4 billion.

Yet millions of Americans believe Trump is a modern Midas.  They believe the President will lift them out of hard times, after a half-century during which the super-rich flourished and their incomes were mostly flat.  The awful truth is that the man in the Oval Office is not a wealth-building entrepreneur, but a financial vampire who extracts cash from enterprises, leaving behind unpaid workers, vendors and governments.

The President’s father got his start profiteering, to the tune of millions of dollars, from programs to help returning GIs get housing, which prompted President Eisenhower to throw a fit.  Donald Trump is already a proven tax cheat.  He admitted to sales tax fraud in 1983.  He lost two income tax civil fraud trials.  His own tax lawyer, Jack Mitnick, testified that Trump’s 1984 tax return was fraudulent.

Court records show how Trump and his children misled investors in failed condo projects in Baja California and Florida.  Trump promised strivers who paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend Trump University that he would hand-pick a faculty and give them a better education than the best business schools.  That’s not what happened.  In the end, Trump gave back $25 million after insisting he had done nothing wrong.

A Trump project in New York employed hundreds of workers who were in America without permission, paid them laughably low wages and worked them beyond legal limits.  He denied knowledge of the situation, but a judge said Trump’s testimony was not credible.  Trump promised to show voters that his immigrant third wife, Melania, always worked legally.  Business records show she worked illegally as a model.

Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, is talking to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.  So is his former campaign manager, who along with Trump’s first son and son-in-law eagerly embraced the Kremlin’s offer of campaign help.  Trump’s first national security advisor has pleaded guilty to being an unregistered agent for Russian interests in Turkey.  Son-in-law Jared Kushner sought to use Russian diplomatic channels to communicate secretly with Moscow.

For many Americans the truth too horrible to consider is that Donald Trump could be a criminal, a wildly successful con artist.  He may well be disloyal.  For those who grasp what Trump is, the corollary truth is that our Constitution’s checks and balances are failing us.

The Republican majority in Congress refuses to properly investigate Trump.  Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is rushing a vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose legal writings indicate he might protect Trump from law enforcement.

Prosecutors, tax authorities, casino regulators and other government officials appear to have let the Trump family get away with dishonest conduct again and again.  Trump has bragged that in return for campaign donations politicians always obeyed his wishes, and it seems many did.

The latest expose focuses mainly on the 1950s through the 1990s.  We need to see Trump’s tax returns, and the books and records behind them, from this century.  And if they show cheating, we need to enforce the laws Trump violated.

David Cay Johnston, a former Los Angeles Times and New York Times reporter, is the author of “The Making of Donald Trump” and “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.”

Monday, November 19, 2018

OPINION - David Brooks and Ruth Marcus 11/16/2018

"David Brooks and Ruth Marcus on a ‘moderate’ new congressional class" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2018


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the President's ongoing friction with the press, a leadership battle in Congress and proposed prison reform.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  As we wait for results from a handful of still-unresolved midterm races, most of the newly elected members of Congress were getting familiar with Washington [DC] this week.

And for analysis on that and more, as we watch this new class get comfortable in Washington, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Marcus.  That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

Mark Shields is away.

So, before we talk about this new Congress, let's talk about our lead story tonight, and that is this judge's ruling today that CNN should get — that CNN correspondent Jim Acosta should have his pass press returned by the Trump White House.  They took it away last week, saying he had behaved in a way that was disrespectful.

It's a temporary win, it looks like, for CNN.  But in the longer term, David, what do we see in this relationship between the White House and the press?

David Brooks, New York Times:  I see it as a parable of American decline.


David Brooks:  A little, actually.

When you have grownups behaving like grownups, you don't need to have these big confrontations.  There are certain sets of manners.  If we go to a dinner party, probably we behave in a decently, civil-mannered way.  And then we have a pleasant dinner party.

You can do that with a press conference, even though that is more contentious.  But then you get one person breaks all the norms — and, in this case, it's the President — and then the other people, in order to be heard, have to get a little ruder.  And then it just escalates.

And because it's America, it has to go to a law court and have somebody sue each other.  And so what Acosta did was marginally rude, I think only marginally, but given the atmosphere that Trump has set, well within the bounds of what is now the normal.

What — the White House overreacted.  So I think this is basically a win for civility.  It's just sad that we have to be in a case where people are shouting at each other in this way.

Judy Woodruff:  What should we expect, Ruth, in the relationship between the White House and the press?

Ruth Marcus, Washington Post:  Well, what we should expect is — which is something that we have not gotten from this President from the start of this administration, which is an understanding that, yes, the media is going to be annoying, but we are not the enemy of the people.

We are going to be contentious and sometimes maybe even a little bit obstreperous and grandstanding, but we are not scum, as he likes to call us at rallies, and that the solution to the frustration that every single President has felt is not what only this President has done, which is to yank the hard pass of a reporter and basically stop him from being able to easily do his job.

And David calls this a win for civility.  And it may be, but it's very scary moment, I think, in American democracy.  I'm looking at the brief that the Justice Department filed.  And it says: "More broadly, there is no First Amendment right of access to the White House.  Where the White House has determined it wants to scale back its interactions with a particular journalist, denying that journalist a hard pass is a permissible way to accomplish that goal."

And what I would ask is, what would conservatives be saying if the Barack Obama White House had kicked FOX News out or even an individual obnoxious FOX News reporter?

We don't — have not tolerated that previously, and we shouldn't tolerate now.

Judy Woodruff:  It is a change in approach, isn't it, David?

David Brooks:  Yes, well, they — basically, as Ruth read, it's just the maximal possible interpretation, that we basically have the right to control who comes here, even though it is the public house, it's not Donald Trump's house.  It's the people's house.

On the other hand, there's just such a vast middle here.  The White House is — their argument was clearly ridiculous, that they can control, totally control, when they're just doing a public service, they're part of a public servant.

On the other hand, if there is some complete troublemaker, then obviously that person doesn't get to monopolize — who has reported — becomes a reporter, that person doesn't get to monopolize the room.

And so there's — take away Donald Trump.  President Smith or President Jones should have some discretion if somebody well outside the bounds.  Nobody in that White House room is well outside the bounds right now.

I mean, we have had confrontational people before.  Sam Donaldson was pretty confrontational.  Helen Thomas could be confrontational.  But nobody's really been outside of the grounds.  These are professionals.  They work for professional news organizations.  They basically do their job within the realm of the human variable.

And so — the one — the one extreme, which was the White House position, is clearly wrong.  The other extreme, that anybody should have complete access, that is also wrong.  It's just a question of discretion.

Judy Woodruff:  And, Ruth, the concern on the part of the press is that, if there is a decision made by the White House to limit who can cover, we're looking at potentially a change in the ability of the press to do its work.

Ruth Marcus:  You have to be able to get in — you have to be able to be in the briefing, you have to be able to be in the press room to be able to see the President.  You have to be able to go on these trips.

And the argument that what — certainly, if you stood up and you cried fire in a crowded Briefing Room, or started shouting obscenities, yes.  And, in fact, the norms would be that your colleagues would come down on you.  But that, as David said, is not what happened here.

And just to sort of argue one — one point on the President's behalf, I'm not arguing that he needs to grant interviews to reporters that he doesn't like or news organizations that he doesn't like, just equal access.

And, by the way, he manufactured this moment.  He didn't need to call on Jim Acosta.  He was looking for a fight or an issue.  And he got it.

David Brooks:  But it is an underlying theme of this administration that there's no such thing as institutional power in this White House.  It's all personal power.

And so they're not serving the Presidency.  They're serving Donald Trump.  And everything Trump says goes.  And it's the — it's the unwillingness to acknowledge that they are in public office, doing — serving public duties and acting in public roles that is a theme throughout the administration.

FACEBOOK - Under Fire

"Did Facebook merely ‘deflect’ after realizing Russian disinformation?" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2018


SUMMARY:  A New York Times investigative report published this week details how Facebook reacted to the discovery of massive disinformation campaigns run by Russian operatives.  Sheera Frenkel, who helped write the story, joins William Brangham to explain what the social network’s leadership knew before the 2016 presidential election and what, if anything, they did to address the problem.

AT THE MOVIES - "Widows"

"Why ‘Widows’ isn’t just another heist movie" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2018

WOW:  Note the cast (see trailer).


SUMMARY:  The new fall film “Widows” looks like a heist movie, featuring plenty of star power, thrilling plot twists and explosions, as the widows of four armed robbers band together to finish the job their late husbands’ began.  But director Steve McQueen wanted more than tired tropes.  He explains to Jeffrey Brown how he stimulates his audience with a perspective that breaks from ordinary convention.


REMINDER:  DeVos is NOT a real educator, she is a Trump political hack.

"DeVos moves the pendulum on how colleges deal with sexual assault" PBS NewsHour 11/16/2018


SUMMARY:  The Trump administration has announced new rules governing how colleges respond to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.  The changes broaden rights for those accused of misconduct and narrow the definition of sexual harassment.  But will they discourage victims from coming forward?  Amna Nawaz speaks to Scott Jaschik, editor at Inside Higher Ed, for more on this policy “pendulum swing."


"Female vets who disabled bombs find a path to healing: ‘Not everything in life is going to hurt you’" PBS NewsHour 11/15/2018


SUMMARY:  How do former service members cope with one of the most stressful jobs in the military?  Judy, Ty and Jamie, three female veterans who served in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, offer their Brief but Spectacular takes on post-traumatic growth and transitioning into civilian life.


This is what I call a DUH issue.  Have a system where your transportation can be left anywhere after using and not expect people to leave it on private property or where it blocks other people?  Dumb, really dumb.

"Why the rise of the electric scooter has been a bumpy ride" PBS NewsHour 11/15/2018


SUMMARY:  It began with just 10 electric scooters in Santa Monica, California, but soon sidewalks and streets were flooded with thousands of them.  Essentially skateboards with handles that can be picked up and dropped off anywhere, they've been rolled out in scores of U.S. cities, where local officials have struggled to cope and residents have mixed feelings.  Special correspondent Catherine Rampell reports.

FDA - The Vaping/Smoking War

"Will FDA’s latest restrictions reduce underage vaping and smoking?" PBS NewsHour 11/15/2018


SUMMARY:  The Food and Drug Administration moved to ban sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars while announcing new guidelines for retailers selling flavored e-cigarettes in order to curb the rise in underage smoking and vaping.  The ban is the biggest tobacco measure taken by the FDA in nearly a decade.  Amna Nawaz interviews FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb about the moves.

UNITED KINGDOM - Brexit, Beyer's Remorse?

"Brexit proves that breaking up is hard to do" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2018

IMHO:  Brexit, the most stupid move by Britain.


SUMMARY:  Theresa May's cabinet has approved a deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union on terms for Brexit.  But the process of gathering consensus was long and difficult.  Nick Schifrin speaks to Sebastian Mallaby, author, journalist and senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, about the ‘cold reality shock’ of trying to deliver the referendum’s promises and what might lie ahead.


"For some House Democrats, leadership choice is ‘establishment vs. change’" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2018


SUMMARY:  One of the largest groups of congressional freshmen in recent memory has begun orientation on Capitol Hill.  Will party leadership reflect the new representatives or rely on established legislators?  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) is confident she’ll become Speaker of the House, but not all of her Democratic colleagues agree.  Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss the details.

TRUMP AGENDA - Criminal Justice Reform?

"Is Trump’s criminal justice plan ‘rehabilitative and redemptive?’" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2018


SUMMARY:  President Trump has outlined a new bipartisan agreement on criminal justice reform.  The plan ends the “three strikes” policy mandating life in prison for third-time drug offenders and adds incentives for low-risk inmates.  Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, which advocated for the proposal, joins Judy Woodruff to explain why he thinks the reform “makes communities safer.”

"Why Trump’s criminal justice reform plan could represent a ‘breakthrough’" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2018


SUMMARY:  President Trump has announced a criminal justice reform plan that would enact major changes to the nation’s sentencing laws -- and reduce prison terms for some inmates.  NPR's Carrie Johnson joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why the new bipartisan agreement is a ‘big deal’ and what its chances are for garnering Senate support.  Plus, analysis of Matt Whitaker's status as acting attorney general.

NORTH CAROLINA - After Florence

"After Florence, half of this town was underwater for days.  Now residents wonder if they should rebuild." PBS NewsHour 11/13/2018


SUMMARY:  It’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina and then drenched the state for days, leading to devastating flooding in many inland areas and causing an estimated $17 billion dollars worth of damage.  Special correspondent Cat Wise traveled to Jones County recently, where one hard-hit town is still struggling with the storm’s messy aftermath.

ELECTIONS - Old Voting Technology

"‘Virtually tied’ Florida races highlight challenges with voting technology" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2018


SUMMARY:  In Florida, extremely close vote margins have triggered machine recounts in three races, including those for governor and Senate.  As in the presidential election of 2000, Broward County finds its election practices under intense scrutiny.  Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the technical details and how confident Florida voters can feel about the results.

Adam Smith, The Tampa Bay Times:  Because Broward has a track record of just botching these elections, election after election after election, Palm Beach County to a lesser extent, too.

And so they were — after the votes seemed to have been counted on election night, it turned out there were a lot more coming from Broward County.  That's why Bill Nelson didn't concede.  That's why Andrew Gillum, running for governor, took back his concession.

ELECTION 2018 - CIA Case Officer Goes to Washington

This is definitely a person that should be on the Intelligence Committee.  Can anyone else be more qualified?

"After historic Virginia win, a former CIA case officer goes to Washington" PBS NewsHour 11/12/2018


SUMMARY:  Among the record number of women elected to Congress last week is former CIA case officer Abigail Spanberger [D], who defeated two-term Republican Rep. Dave Brat in Virginia's 7th DistrictRep.-elect Spanberger will become the first woman ever to represent the district and the first Democrat in nearly 50 years.  She speaks with Judy Woodruff about her landmark victory and her Washington agenda.

CALIFORNIA - From Paradise to 'Hell'

"From Paradise to ‘hell,’ California fires blaze statewide" PBS NewsHour 11/12/2018


SUMMARY:  Over a dozen active fires continue to wreak destruction across California, from the northern part of the state to Malibu and Oak Park outside Los Angeles.  Nearly a quarter million people have been displaced and hundreds are missing.  Amidst dry, windy weather, 8,000 firefighters statewide struggle to contain the blazes.  Mary MacCarthy of Feature Story News joins Judy Woodruff with the latest.

"Responders to Northern California fires face ‘unprecedented’ ordeal" PBS NewsHour 11/12/2018


SUMMARY:  A ‘monumental’ ordeal lies ahead for authorities dealing with fires in Northern California.  Sheriff Kory Honea, who is also the coroner of Butte County, and his colleagues must lead evacuation efforts, attempt to locate missing people and tragically, sift through the ruins for bodies -- which are difficult to identify due to the intensity of the flames.  He speaks by phone with Judy Woodruff.

"After the flames, California recovery crews face grim search for victims" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2018


SUMMARY:  In California, the effort to control two major wildfires remains a struggle.  Northern California's Camp Fire has become the deadliest fire in the state's history, claiming at least 42 lives and covering nearly 200 square miles.  Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire in the southern part of the state remains 35 percent contained but has left 200,000 people under evacuation orders.  William Brangham reports.

"The science behind California’s surging wildfires" PBS NewsHour 11/13/2018


SUMMARY:  As three major fires blaze in California, we consider some of their causes, both human and meteorological.  Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has been filming a NOVA documentary on megafires and witnessed the Camp Fire not long after it began.  He joins William Brangham to describe that stunning experience, along with the broader scientific context around these destructive phenomena.

"Fire recovery continues across California, as new fire blazes east of LA" PBS NewsHour 11/14/2018


SUMMARY:  Fifty miles east of Los Angeles, a brush fire has quickly grown into a wall of fast-moving flames.  The new “Sierra Fire” is spreading south from the edge of the Angeles National Forest, though firefighters say they’re making gains against the blaze.  Meanwhile, 100 more National Guard troops arrived in Northern California to search for people missing after the Camp Fire and help identify victims.

"Paradise gone, wildfire evacuees faced with rebuilding their lives" PBS NewsHour 11/15/2018


SUMMARY:  In the tally of death and destruction from California's Camp fire, officials confirm that 56 people died, 130 are missing and 8,800 homes have been destroyed in the town of Paradise.  Special correspondent Cat Wise reports from Chico, California, where a Walmart parking lot is now home to hundreds of evacuees who are left with nothing and unsure of where to go.