'I've Got Your Back,' Obama Tells Residents Of Flint, Mich. Amid Water Crisis

President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered Flint water during a meeting with federal officials at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint, Mich. on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama drinks a glass of filtered Flint water during a meeting with federal officials at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint, Mich. on Wednesday. Daniel Mears/AP hide caption

toggle caption Daniel Mears/AP

“I will not rest, and I’m going to make sure that the leaders at every level of government don’t rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink, and safe to cook with, and safe to bathe in,” President Barack Obama told an energetic audience in Flint, Mich. “Because that’s part of the basic responsibilities of a government in the United States of America.”

Obama met with community members in the crisis-stricken city, where a federal state of emergency has been declared as a result of lead leaching into the water supply.

He told the crowd at a Flint high school that this was a “man-made disaster,” and a result of a “broader mindset”:

“I do think that part of what contributed to this crisis was a broader mindset, a bigger attitude, a corrosive attitude that exists in our politics, that exists in too many levels of our government. And it’s a mindset that believes that less government is the highest good, no matter what. It’s a mindset that says environmental rules designed to keep your water clear, or your air clean, are optional or not that important or unnecessarily burden businesses or taxpayers.

“It’s an ideology that undervalues the common good – says ‘We’re all on our own, and what’s in it for me and how do I do well, but I’m not going to invest in what we need as a community.’ And as a consequence you end up seeing an under-investment in the things that we all share, that make us safe, that make us whole, that give us the ability to pursue our own individual dreams.”

He added: “That attitude is as corrosive to our democracy as the stuff that resulted in lead in your water.”

Flint’s problems began in 2014 when the city switched to a new water source, the Flint River, in a bid to save money. Corrosion controls were not implemented and as a result, the water caused lead to leach out of the city’s pipes. Meanwhile, city and state officials denied for months that the water was unsafe.

The Two-Way has gone into depth about how this crisis unfolded. You can find our step-by-step look here.

As we reported, “high blood lead levels are especially harmful to children and pregnant women, and can cause ‘learning disabilities, behavioral problems and mental retardation,’ according to the World Health Organization.”

But Obama stressed that with the right support and health care, Flint’s kids “will be fine.” He said, to a standing ovation:

“You should be angry, but channel that anger. You should be hurt, but don’t sink into despair. And most of all, do not somehow communicate to our children here in this city that they’re going to be saddled with problems for the rest of their lives because they will not. They’ll do just fine…they’ll make it as long as we’re there for them, and looking after them and doing the right thing for them and giving them the resources that they need. Don’t lose hope.”

Obama drank filtered water from Flint at least twice during his visit. In his remarks, he emphasized that top scientists say the filtered water is safe to drink for children over six and for people who are not pregnant.

As we reported, the President announced last month that he would visit the city in response to a letter from a young resident. An eight year old named Mari Copeny wrote to Obama in March asking him to meet her when she visited Washington D.C.

He didn’t respond at the time but later said he would visit Flint, and commended her for “using your voice to speak out on behalf of the children of Flint.”

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How Much Does It Cost To Educate A Student In Michigan? (Or, In The U.S.?)

Map of spending in Michigan

School District Spending In Michigan

There’s no magical spending threshold for student success. Solutions are also complicated by the fact that children with different needs require different levels of support.

To better understand those needs — and what it will cost to meet them — a state can commission what’s called an “adequacy study.”

Most states have already done at least one.

Michigan is a late-comer. Its first adequacy study is due out this month.

Many times, states get back their adequacy studies and do nothing.

But it’s a start.

For more on Michigan’s adequacy math, click here.

The story of Michigan’s quest for the perfect dollar amount is part of the NPR reporting project School Money, a nationwide collaboration between NPR’s Ed Team and 20 member station reporters exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students.

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Justice Department Says North Carolina Bathroom Law Violates Civil Rights

The controversial North Carolina law that prevents transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, and limits protection for LGBT people, violates federal civil rights and can’t be enforced, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.

According to The Associated Press, the DOJ sent a letter to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory warning him that the law violates the Civil Rights Act, which protects people from workplace discrimination based on sex.

The Charlotte Observer writes that “the department gave state officials until Monday to address the situation ‘by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.’ “

“The State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees and both you, in your official capacity, and the state are engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance” of their rights, the letter said, according to the AP.

The warning letter comes after President Obama criticized the law and said it “should be overturned,” as the Two-Way reported last month.

The Justice Department did not immediately release the letter on its website.

The AP adds that “the letter seeks confirmation by Monday that ‘the State will not comply with or implement H.B. 2, and that it has notified employees of the State and public agencies that, consistent with federal law, they are permitted to access bathrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.’ “

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Ex-Chemist In Massachusetts Was High On Drugs At Work For 8 Years

Nearly every day for eight years, a former chemist in Massachusetts was high on drugs — drugs stolen from the lab where she worked.

An investigation by the state attorney general found that from 2005 to 2013, Sonja Farak, 37, heavily abused various drugs including cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines and even manufactured her own crack cocaine using lab supplies. Though Farak was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to jail in 2014, the findings from the state’s investigation into the scope of her misconduct were just released Tuesday.

During her career as a chemist, Farak worked for two years at the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and then for nine years at the state drug lab in Amherst, Mass. According to the attorney general’s report, “her responsibilities involved testing, for authenticity, various controlled substances submitted by law enforcement agencies” and testifying “in court as to her test results, which served as evidence in criminal cases.”

About a year after moving to the Amherst lab, Farak started consuming the lab’s reference “standard” drugs (the term given to substances bought from drug companies to serve as control in testing).

The first standard Farak admitted to using was the methamphetamine standard, which she said she tried out of “curiosity.” From the investigation’s findings:

“Farak testified that her primary reason for first using the drug was ‘curiosity.’ She indicated that she had researched the drug in the past and ‘when she read about it,’ she concluded, ‘that’s the one I am going to try if I am going to try it.’ Farak enjoyed what she called the ‘positive side effects’ of the drug: it lasted a longtime and was an ‘energy boost.’ According to Farak, the ‘high’ from the drug lasted approximately 8 to 10 hours.”

According to the report, by 2009, Farak had “nearly exhausted” the lab’s entire stock of methamphetamine standard, at which point she turned to ketamine, cocaine, MDMA, LSD and other drugs — both lab standards and those submitted by the police.

Though Farak’s drug abuse was rampant, she continued to perform satisfactory work in the lab where she worked, and her addiction went unnoticed, according to testimony from her colleagues.

In fact, one senior chemist who worked with Farak in the Amherst lab testified that she was “meticulous” and “dedicated to her work.” The chemist said that he never noticed anything amiss with Farak until her last few months in the lab when, he said, her physical appearance was “deteriorating” and that she “seemed to be awful nosy about what was coming in,” with regard to police samples from drug trafficking cases.

As Farak used more and more drugs and her supply diminished, she worried she would run out of drugs to feed her habit. The state attorney general’s report says:

“As a result, by the fall of 2011, Farak had begun taking from samples and standards of base (crack) cocaine at the Lab. From that point on, she admitted, she became heavily addicted to base cocaine. This addiction resulted in her using base cocaine during work hours not only throughout the building in which the Lab was housed at UMass, but also in the Lab itself, including at her workstation.”

She also began manufacturing crack cocaine using cocaine from the lab.

While Farak’s drug abuse went wholly undiscovered, she did have a couple of close calls with authorities, as she testified before a grand jury. These accounts are from the investigation:

“In October 2012, the MSP inspected the Amherst Lab in order to assess the work of the Lab and move the Lab toward being fully accredited. Members of the MSP interviewed Farak and the other chemists during their visit. During the recent AGO investigation, Farak testified that she smoked crack cocaine on the morning of the MSP inspection and then also at lunchtime, prior to her 1 p.m. interview. According to Farak, during the course of the fifteen to twenty minute interview, there were no suspicions ever raised about her use of drugs.

“Farak had another close interaction with the MSP on January 18, 2013. Farak was scheduled to testify in a criminal trial at the Hampden County Courthouse. She indicated that she had a ‘pretty fair amount of crack in her car.’ Taking advantage of the opportunity during the lunch break, she went out to her car, ate lunch, and ‘got pretty high.’ However, when MSP members spoke to her in the Hampden County Courthouse about the trial for which she was scheduled to testify, the police never suspected her of being under the influence nor made any comment about her appearance or demeanor.”

Eventually, in 2013, lab personnel discovered missing drug samples and irregularities in Farak’s work. From there the unraveling was swift.

The Amherst lab was shut down, Farak was arrested, and eventually the state’s investigation into the extent of her misconduct was launched. Farak pleaded guilty to four counts of tampering with evidence, four counts of larceny of controlled substances from a dispensary, and two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. In 2014, Farak was sentenced to 18 months in jail.

As NPR member station WBUR reports, this is one of two recent cases of misconduct by state chemists. “In 2013, Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to evidence tampering, perjury and obstruction of justice for falsifying drug tests. Her actions may have affected up to 40,000 criminal cases in the state. Now, state officials worry that the number of cases affected by Farak could be just as high.”

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Syrian Army Declares 48 Hour Truce After Intense Fighting In Aleppo

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria last month.

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria last month. Validated UGC/AP hide caption

toggle caption Validated UGC/AP

The Syrian army says it will apply a 48 hour truce to the city of Aleppo in the north of the country after days of intense fighting with rebel forces.

The truce comes into effect at 1 a.m. on Thursday May 5th, 2016, according to the Syrian state news wire SANA.

But the rebels are “rejecting that Syria’s nationwide truce be broken down into localized ceasefires,” NPR’s Alison Meuse tells our Newscast unit. She adds: “A spokesman for one US-backed rebel group says they’re still waiting for the regime to uphold its commitments to release political detainees and allow aid to besieged areas.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the U.S. said it was working with Russia to restore a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, according to the State Department.

State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement that since this morning, there’s been an “overall decrease in violence” despite “reports of continued fighting in some locations.”

You might remember that back in February, Russia, the U.S. and other world powers reached a cessation of hostilities agreement. Neither the Syrian government nor the rebels were party to it – as we reported, it was an agreement for their powerful international backers to encourage their proxies to stop fighting. It didn’t include areas controlled by the Islamic State or other groups described as terrorists, such as the al-Nusra Front.

February’s cessation of hostilities agreement worked to “some extent,” according to Jan Egeland, an adviser to the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria. He told Morning Edition earlier today that the primary purpose of the agreement was to deliver badly needed humanitarian aid to besieged areas – and last month, they were able to reach 50-60 percent of the 480,000 people in besieged areas.

But the fragile truce rapidly unraveled, he says, especially in Aleppo. That led to “frantic” diplomatic efforts that apparently led to today’s announcement.

As Weekend Edition Saturday reported, “in just 48 hours [last] week, an average of one Syrian has been killed every 25 minutes. One Syrian has been wounded every 13 minutes.” Last week, an airstrike on an Aleppo hospital on the rebel side run by Doctors Without Borders killed at least 50 people. Days later, a government hospital in Aleppo was reportedly hit by rocket fire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the latest round of violence is the worst the area has seen this year, according to Reuters. Quoting the Observatory, the wire service says “279 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by bombardment since April 22 — 155 of them in opposition-held areas and 124 in government-held districts.”

Now, NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports to Newscast unit that while Toner is “urging Russia to put pressure on the Syrian government, [he] says the U.S. will use its influence with opponents of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.” Toner adds that “one problem in Aleppo has been the ‘intermingling’ of moderate rebels and those linked to al-Qaida.”

Earlier this week Morning Edition spoke with New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh, who recently visited Aleppo. He described scenes of devastation and said residents “don’t see an easy way out.” Here’s more from Declan:

“You know, the peace talks that are going on in Geneva and other negotiations that may be taking place in Russia or in America — many people I spoke to, they seem to be vaguely aware of them. They were certainly grateful to some degree that the cease-fire had taken place. But generally, people are quite cynical.

“Five years of war has really ground down people’s hope. … People’s ability to see a way out of this has become extremely diminished.”

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With 'Be As You Are,' Mike Posner Finally Takes His Mom's Advice

Mike Posner

Mike Posner Meredith Truax/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Meredith Truax/Courtesy of the artist

Detroit singer Mike Posner’s latest hit on the pop charts is — ironically — about the down sides of having a hit on the pop charts. It’s called “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”

“I think we as Americans, we see the ride — the ride of being like people who that have notoriety, money and fame,” he says. “All of a sudden, I was invited on the ride.”

That ride was short-lived and disorienting. Following his 2010 hit “Cooler Than Me,” Posner penned hits for other people: Maroon 5 and Justin Bieber, for example. But his own career? “I got thrown off the ride,” he says.

Instead of crashing and burning, Posner took a good, hard look at his life. The result: his sophomore album, At Night, Alone, which comes out on Friday.

One song on that album is called “Be As You Are.” In it, Posner charts his relationship with his mother, starting when he was a teenager.

“You know, I was just finishing high school, I was a little bit of a jerk to my mother,” he says. “When I think about when I was 18 — I was sad a lot of the time, especially in the winter times — the struggle in my life then, pre-being invited onto the ride, if you will, was just in my own head.”

Posner spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about the highs and lows of touring the world and learning to appreciate his mom. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read their conversation below.

Audie Cornish: In “Be As You Are,” you talk about how, in times of trouble, you turn to your mom. What’s she like? What’s her personality?


Mike Posner: She’s brutally honest, which is so important for me. Just to have someone who’s not wrapped up in the little Mike Posner show is unbelievably valuable to me. She’ll tell me if she doesn’t like a song. And when she does like a song, it just means the world to me, because she doesn’t throw around compliments.

And you really try to bring her voice to the music. In some of the early lyrics, it feel like she’s talking. Did you borrow phrases from her, from those conversations?

I think I more borrowed an ethos, more than actual quoted words.

Which is, get up and stop whining.

Yeah! She did not speak to me in rhyme, unfortunately.

So you get to age 22 in the song, and things are still rough, it sounds like. What’s going on?

I’m parading around the world, making more money than I deserve, fornicating and taking my shirt off at concerts. It was a hedonistic ride of debauchery for a year or two — but also lonely, simultaneously.

It’s interesting because one of the lines in the song is, “You don’t always have to speak so loud.” I feel like that is advice that parents often have to give young people at that age — like, “Take it down a notch.”

Yeah. I just was so rude to my mother! And I think because I had my mother’s love — and my father’s love — from the day I was born, that I took it for granted.

When did that hit you?

I remember being 24 in Los Angeles. And up until that moment, when my mom would call my cell phone and it would ring, I would be flushed with some sort of excitement that we all have — a little dopamine rush, when my phone rings — and I’d look down and it would say “mom.” It used to feel like a job to pick that up. And then at some point I just realized, you know, some people never get that call. And this is impermanent. And you’re really lucky. There was no exterior event that caused that change; it just kind of happened one day.

Well, since we’re coming up on Mother’s Day, I have to ask: Do you want to send your mom a greeting?

I’ve done about 10 trillion interviews this week, because my album is coming out. And this is the only one that my mom cares about, and the only one she’ll listen to! But I would like to say — I suppose, publicly: I’m just amazed by your strength, mom, and your poise and your care and your fire. And I’m incredibly blessed to — I mean, how lucky was I to be raised by you? Thank you.

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California Governor Up Against Deadline To Act On Tobacco Restrictions

California Gov. Jerry Brown has until midnight tonight to decide whether to take action on a series of tobacco bills. The legislation would raise the legal smoking age to 21.

California would become the second state, after Hawaii, to increase the age limit for buying tobacco products, as The Two-Way has reported. There is an exemption for military personnel, The Associated Press reports, for whom the age limit would stay at 18.

When the state Senate passed the measures in March, we noted that the legislation also “regulates electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco products, expands smoke-free areas, increases smoking bans and allows counties to levy higher taxes on cigarettes than the 87-cent per pack state tax.”

The package will automatically become law if Brown doesn’t sign, veto or return it to the Legislature in time, the AP reports. It adds, “The Democratic governor has not commented on the package of tobacco proposals or signaled which way he’ll go.”

In a study that looked at tobacco use and age, the Institute of Medicine found: “Among adults who become daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report first use of cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age.”

The March 2015 report, requested by the Food and Drug Administration, concluded that increasing the minimum legal age “will likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults.”

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Frozen Food Recall Expands To 358 Products Amid Listeria Fears

These vegetables are among the frozen products voluntarily recalled by processing plant CRF Frozen Foods.

These vegetables are among the frozen products voluntarily recalled by processing plant CRF Frozen Foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption The U.S. Food and Drug Administration/Flickr

Time to check your frozen fruit and vegetable packages: CRF Frozen Foods has expanded a voluntary recall to include about 358 products under 42 different brands because of potential Listeria contamination.

A full list of the items to avoid was included in the company’s press release on Monday. The recall includes all frozen organic and non-organic fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed at CRF’s facility in Pasco, Wash., since May 1, 2014.

The products have a “best by” or “sell by” date between April 26, 2016, and April 26, 2018, CRF said. The food has been sold across the U.S. and in Canada in grocers including Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Costco.

Initially, the company voluntarily recalled 15 frozen vegetable items after a routine state health inspection in Ohio detected Listeria. The company says it suspended operations at the Pasco plant on April 25 “so a thorough review could be conducted.”

CRF products have been linked to a Listeria outbreak that has infected eight people in three states since September 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two of those people died, but the CDC says that “listeriosis was not considered to be a cause of death.”

If you figure out that you’ve bought recalled products, the CDC recommends you throw them away in a closed plastic bag, clean the area where they were stored and then wash your hands with warm water and soap. Think you’ve eaten recalled products? If you have symptoms — usually fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by gastrointestinal issues — “consider seeking medical care,” the CDC says.

“The disease primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems,” the health agency notes.

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