California Governor Makes Some Water Restrictions Permanent

A view of downtown Los Angeles as seen from Hollywood in November 2015. California faces permanent water restrictions, ordered Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, in its fifth year of drought.

A view of downtown Los Angeles as seen from Hollywood in November 2015. California faces permanent water restrictions, ordered Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown, in its fifth year of drought. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown has made some of the state’s temporary water restrictions permanent. The executive order, in response to the state’s drought, permanently bans wasteful practices like hosing sidewalks and washing cars with hoses that don’t have shut-off nozzles.

“Californians stepped up during this drought and saved more water than ever before,” Brown said in a statement. “But now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

NPR’s Kirk Siegler reports that the order does allow some districts to loosen water restrictions and “it generally gives water districts more local control to set their own conservation targets.” But Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, told reporters:

“This is not a time to start using water like it’s 1999, we need to keep conserving all we can, whenever we can.”

The State Water Board still needs to formally finalize the regulations, which it is expected to do next week, Kirk says.

Nearly 90 percent of the state “remains in moderate drought or worse,” despite extra water and snowfall in Northern California this winter, The Associated Press reports. “Southern California overall is heading deeper into, not out of, the fifth year of drought, the government’s U.S. Drought Monitor said last week.”

The general manager of the South California water district in a statement Monday that the governor’s order “is completely consistent with conservation objectives for Southern California.”

The state approved unprecedented water restrictions in May 2015, as The Two-Way reported, after voluntary conservation efforts didn’t cut it.

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Power Struggle In Brazilian Government Continues To Seesaw

The future of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, pictured here on May 6, has been imperiled since she was accused of tampering with the state budget.

The future of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, pictured here on May 6, has been imperiled since she was accused of tampering with the state budget. Eraldo Peres/AP hide caption

toggle caption Eraldo Peres/AP

The speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Monday annulled last month’s vote on the impeachment of embattled President Dilma Rousseff. But shortly afterward, the leader of Brazil’s Senate announced he will ignore the lower house leader’s decision and press on with the impeachment process.

The political seesawing further complicates the already chaotic struggle for political power in Brazil’s government.

In Rio de Janeiro, Catherine Osborn reports for NPR that House speaker Waldir Maranhão decided to nullify the earlier impeachment vote because he said Congress members voted “on the basis of politics.”

As the Two-Way reported, the “vote was 367 to 137 with seven abstentions,” and “two deputies were not present,” with the total count “easily surpassed the two-thirds majority required to send the proceeding to Brazil’s Senate.”

Catherine reports that the president of Brazil’s Senate, Renan Calheiros, “called the lower house leader’s decision unilateral and undemocratic,” and said that “the Senate will move forward with a vote Wednesday that is expected to suspend Rousseff to trial.”

According to The New York Times, “Raimundo Lira, the senator at the helm of that body’s impeachment commission, said that Mr. Maranhão’s decision had no ‘practical effect.’ “

Rousseff is charged with tampering with the state budget to make the deficit appear smaller than it actually is. As NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explained, “She’s accused of juggling federal accounts to make the economy seem better than it was before her re-election in 2014.”

Lourdes adds that the case is viewed as “insubstantial” by many legal analysts.

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Study: Sanders' Proposals Would Add $18 Trillion To Debt Over 10 Years

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on May 9, 2016.

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on May 9, 2016. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has some of the most ambitious and sweeping policy proposals of all the presidential candidates. His campaign has centered around a promise of “revolution.”

But revolution would be really expensive, according to a new report. The Tax Policy Center estimated on Monday that Sanders’ taxation-and-spending plans — including outlays for programs like Medicare-for-all and free college tuition — would together add $18 trillion to the national debt over a decade. In addition, the center’s Howard Gleckman wrote, it would add $3 trillion in interest costs.

He called it an “unprecedented increase in government borrowing.”

The center had already estimated that Sanders’ tax plan alone would add $15.3 trillion in revenue over 10 years. What happens to that big bump in revenue? The main expense: Sanders’ health care plan. The Health Policy Center (like TPC, a project of the Urban Institute, a D.C. think tank) estimated that Sanders’ health proposal would cost the government an additional $32 trillion to what it pays now.

That’s well more than twice as much as the Sanders campaign says the health plan would cost. They put it at $13.8 trillion over a decade.

Bigger benefits for the 95 percent; big tax hikes on wealthiest

According to TPC, Sanders’ plans would increase taxes across the board, but they would provide bigger benefits than tax hikes for many Americans as well, particularly the lowest-income.

People in the bottom 20 percent of income would pay an average of $209 more in taxes, for example, but receive nearly $10,300 in benefits, on average. Benefits would outweigh the tax costs for the bottom 95 percent in TPC’s breakdown.

The highest-income people, meanwhile, would pay in a lot more than they’d receive. On average, people in the top 5 percent would pay $130,275 more in taxes and receive $19,281 more in benefits.

Hillary Clinton had attacked Sanders earlier in the campaign for calling for a “tax hike on middle-class families.” However, the Sanders campaign countered that the plan would ultimately save people money, giving them “better care at less cost,” as Politico reported in November.

Sanders’ plan might benefit lots of people on the individual level, but according to TPC, the additional spending could cause broader macroeconomic problems.

According to Roberton Williams, a fellow at the center, the effects of this level of government spending would “undoubtedly be pretty severely negative,” as it could crowd out private investment, raise interest rates, and slow down economic growth.

‘Wildly overestimates’?

In a statement, the Sanders campaign said TPC “wildly overestimates the cost of Senator Sanders’ health care plan,” saying that the center “underestimates the savings in administration, paperwork, and prescription drug prices” that the U.S. might realize under Sanders’ plan.

In addition, the Sanders campaign said TPC assumed state and local governments would stop spending on healthcare and just hand over their obligations to the federal government. Gunnels said that under Sanders’ plan, state and local governments would keep spending at current levels.

The center’s estimate isn’t really comparable with its other analyses of candidate plans, because this one includes both Sanders’ taxation and spending plans. TPC has analyzed most other major candidates’ tax plans, for example, but not the accompanying spending (or spending-cut) plans.

For example, the center measured that Donald Trump’s tax plan would cost the government $9.5 trillion in revenues over 10 years. However, they didn’t know exactly how Trump would cut spending to try to offset those revenues. (When Fox’s Chris Wallace pressed him on this in one debate, Trump didn’t have a full explanation.)

Likewise, the center estimated that Clinton’s plans would bring in $1.1 trillion over 10 years. But, according to TPC fellow Roberton Williams, because the Clinton camp hasn’t released all of its tax proposals in one go, it’s hard to compare her plans to Sanders’. For example, when the center estimated Clinton’s tax plan in March, it noted that a middle- and low-income tax cut was still coming.

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West Point Cadets At Center Of Storm After Raising Fists In Photo

West Point cadets pose for a pre-graduation photo. The fist-raising is the center of an investigation by the military academy. Among the commentators on the incident is veteran John Burk, who posted this photo on his website.

West Point is investigating whether black female cadets violated any rules by raising their fists in a photo. The 16 women, following school tradition, posed in historical-style uniforms ahead of graduation later this month.

The investigation will look into whether the cadets violated the school honor code or a Department of Defense rule about political activities while in the Armed Forces.

The women in the photo have not publicly commented on why they held up their fists, but many others — including graduates of the United States Military Academy — have weighed in with their thoughts and experiences.

Here are some of the reactions that stood out to us:

West Point cadets pose for a pre-graduation photo. The fist-raising is the center of an investigation by the military academy. Among the commentators on the incident is veteran John Burk, who posted this photo on his website. John Burk/Screen shot by NPR hide caption

toggle caption John Burk/Screen shot by NPR

‘What It Must Feel Like’

Mary Tobin, who graduated from West Point about 13 years ago, wrote on Facebook about her experience as a black woman there:

“Our attrition rates are on par with the class at large, but can you imagine what it must feel like to live, train, study, eat, cry, laugh, struggle, and succeed in an environment where for 4 years, the majority of the people there don’t look like you, it’s hard for them to relate to you, they oftentimes don’t understand you, and the only way to survive is to shrink your blackness or assimilate.

“We don’t talk about the microagressions that minority cadets experience every single day. We don’t talk about how many times we have to let racial slurs or crass racial jokes roll off our backs because all we want to do is graduate. I don’t talk about how as a black female leader within the Corps, I was told time and time again, that I was a good leader because I was ‘not like the rest of them.’ “

She said the image of the cadets “wasn’t a sign of formal allegiance to any political movement or party. This was an act of unity amongst sisters and a symbol of achievement.”

The New York Times notes:

“The elite public military academy, which trains many of the Army’s future leaders, is overwhelmingly male and 70 percent white. The 16 cadets in the photo represented all but one of the black women in a graduating class of about 1,000, a meager 1.7 percent.”

Pastor Sam Jackson, who says his “proud Army heritage extends as far back as the U.S. Civil War,” wrote about his experience with racism at West Point, saying he was told that the few black students were purposefully separated in campus housing to “maximize [other students’] exposure to Blacks.” (CNN says Jackson attended West Point in the ’80s.) Jackson wrote:

“The Army and Academy had an extra measure of expectation of the minorities of the nation who attended, to help the military to sort out their racial problems, while not so much helping the minorities to sort out theirs.”

‘Completely Unprofessional’

Veteran and blogger John Burk said the pose was an “overt display of the black lives matter movement” and doing so in uniform “is completely unprofessional and not in keeping with what the [United States Military Academy] stands for.” The Times reports:

“Mr. Burk, a former drill sergeant, who is white, said via email that he had disciplined soldiers for making Nazi salutes in photos, and felt the raised fist was not much different.”

In a post titled, “Here’s EXACTLY what I’d do to the West Point cadets who took this dishonorable photo,” Lt. Col. Allen West said the young women should apologize to their class and to the academy. The Fox News contributor wrote on his own website:

“The obvious hypothetical question is what if these were 16 white male West Point Cadets from the south who took a picture in uniform with the Confederate battle flag? Yes, you know exactly what the story would be, and it would be plastered all over the mainstream media. And you know those white male cadets would be in serious danger of not graduating and receiving their commission as an Army officer. …

“These young women carry on the legacy of Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point. All he wanted was to serve his nation and be an Army officer. Thanks to him, these women can be there at West Point, and I was able to become an Army officer. Someone needs to teach them a little history and get them to understand that lesson and see contriteness in their soul.”

Making A Statement?

Atlas Obscura dove into the history of the raised fist — and whether it is inherently political. The site nods to a Smithsonian post about “the dap,” a handshake that started among black G.I.s during Vietnam as a “symbol of unity and survival in a racially turbulent atmosphere.”

An activist in support of the West Point cadets has said that the women’s pose could also be interpreted as the “Army Strong” pose, which she writes “is commonly done by the cadet corps during football games and army victories.”

Potential Consequences

With the investigation ongoing, military law expert Greg Greiner told Army Times that the cadets’ intent may not be the deciding factor in how West Point responds:

“Even if the intent was not to make a political statement — for example, if ‘group think’ set in or the cadets were just ‘messing around’ — they could still be in trouble, Greiner explained.

” ‘My experience with military justice and the way discipline is handled, is that intent doesn’t always matter 100 percent,’ he said. ‘Sometimes the actions themselves are enough to bring discredit.’ “

The New York Times gave an older example of students making a statement with their pre-graduation photo:

“In 1976, the year before women were admitted to the academy, male cadets widely referred to themselves as ‘the last class with balls,’ according to an officer who teaches at West Point. The officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said that a number of seniors that year posed for a photo holding armloads of basketballs, footballs and baseballs. They were not punished, the officer said.”

Greiner told Army Times the women could face charges of conduct unbecoming an officer. He added:

“Leaders have a duty to say to themselves, do we want to create a problem for these young female officers that they’re going to have for the rest of their careers?”

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Journalism Org Releases Full List Of People, Companies Named In 'Panama Papers'

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists just released a searchable database with the names of more than 300,000 people and companies included in the so-called “Panama Papers.”

The database is barebones, containing the name of the entity and how its connected to an offshore account.

As we reported, hundreds of international journalists teamed up to pore over the data and they found information that tied 140 politicians from more than 50 countries to offshore companies. The documents — and the connections made with them — don’t necessarily detail anything illegal, but they do shine a light on the shadowy world of offshore finances.

The database released today includes the names of more than 7,000 entities from the United States.

The name of the de-facto Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears numerous times, but as McClatchy reported, it doesn’t mean much, because Trump sells his name to many investors with capital.

The newspaper chain reports:

“That’s the case with the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama. In the law firm’s files, it is the most frequent association with Trump’s name, since his business partners in the project appear as buyers of condo units, some of whom create offshore shell companies with Mossack Fonseca for the purchase.”

The Washington Post ran a story today that finds that at least 36 Americans listed in the database have been “accused of fraud or other serious financial misconduct.”

The paper adds:

“Some of the Americans have been convicted of fraud or other crimes. They include Martin Frankel, a Connecticut financier who pleaded guilty in 2002 to 20 counts of wire fraud as well as counts of securities fraud and racketeering conspiracy, and Andrew Wiederhorn, an Oregon corporate executive who pleaded guilty to two felonies in a case tied to one of the largest corporate scandals in Oregon history. Frankel could not be reached for comment. Wiederhorn said the offshore company linked to him in the Mossack Fonseca files was used for legitimate overseas real estate investments.

“Others have been sued in civil cases launched by securities regulators or private plaintiffs. Among them are six Americans who were accused in a lawsuit in federal court in Washington state of using an offshore company set up through Mossack Fonseca, Dressel Investment Ltd., to run a Ponzi scheme that cost thousands of middle-class Indonesians nearly $100 million.”

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Watch Live: PBS Presents, 'Armed In America'

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PBS highlights how gun violence affects communities in the United States during Armed In America, a special two-night event featuring two documentaries and town halls. The films air on Monday, May 9 and Tuesday, May 10 followed by town hall discussions moderated by All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin.

On Monday, tune in to Peace Officer, which focuses on shootings involving law enforcement and the debate about the increased militarization of police in the United States.

The Armor of Light, which airs on Tuesday, explores religious perspectives surrounding gun violence.

The documentaries will broadcast on PBS (check your local listings) and simulcast online at PBS.org and NPR.org.

You can tune in to a live stream of the two-night special here beginning on Monday, May 9 at 9 p.m. ET, and then on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET.

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GAO Audit: Feds Failed To Rein In Medicare Advantage Overbilling

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has spent about $117 million on Medicare Advantage audits that have recouped just $14 million related to overcharging.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has spent about $117 million on Medicare Advantage audits that have recouped just $14 million related to overcharging. Jay Mallin/Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jay Mallin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Private Medicare Advantage plans treating the elderly have overbilled the government by billions of dollars, but rarely been forced to repay the money or face other consequences for their actions, according to a congressional audit released Monday.

In a sharply critical report, the Government Accountability Office called for “fundamental improvements” to curb overbilling by the health plans, which are paid more than $160 billion annually. The privately run health plans, an alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare, have proven popular with seniors and have enrolled more than 17 million people. The plans, which were the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation, also enjoy strong support in Congress.

GAO took aim at Medicare’s primary tactic for recouping overcharges, a secretive, and lengthy, audit process called Risk Adjustment Data Validation, or RADV. Unlike many other anti-fraud programs, RADV has cost the government way more than it has returned to the treasury.

The GAO said that the Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, has spent about $117 million on these audits, but so far has recouped just $14 million. CMS officials counter that the mere threat of RADV these audits has caused health plans to voluntarily return approximately $650 million in overpayments – and that upcoming audits will recover tens of millions more.

“As the MA (Medicare Advantage) program continues to grow, safeguarding the program from loss is critical,” the GAO report said. The report did not name any of the health plans studied.

The GAO launched its audit in October 2014 in the wake of the Center for Public Integrity’s “Medicare Advantage Money Grab” series. The articles documented nearly $70 billion in “improper” payments to health plans — mostly inflated fees from overstating patients’ health risks — from 2008 through 2013 alone.

The Center’s investigation traced the overpayments to abuse of a billing formula called a risk score, which pays higher rates for sicker patients and less for people in good health. Since 2004, however, the risk score formula has largely operated as an honor system, despite criticism that many health plans have overstated how sick some patients are to boost their revenues. That practice is known in medical circles as “upcoding.”

In addition, CMS records released to the Center for Public Integrity through a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that overbilling has wasted tax dollars almost since risk scores were introduced in 2004. One confidential review of 2005 payments determined that nearly a third of patients enrolled in 22 health plans weren’t as sick as was claimed. The audit projected overpayments of $4.2 billion as a result. Other CMS documents reveal that officials dubbed these health plans “high-flyers,” but did little to reel them in, while RADV audits dragged on for years without reaching conclusions.

Medicare officials have quietly conducted these audits since 2008. But they have never imposed stiff financial penalties, even as evidence built up that billing errors were deeply rooted and wasting tax dollars at an alarming clip.

GAO in its report noted that CMS has failed to target health plans with “known improper payment risk,” thus allowing the worst performers to escape the net. The GAO also criticized the agency for allowing audits and appeals to drag on for years. Some audits of 2007 payments to health plans are still under appeal, for instance.

In response to the GAO report, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade organization, said that an “unconfirmed diagnosis” in an audit doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t have the disease.

And in recent public comments, the trade group has criticized the RADV audit review process as not yet complete or “fully tested,” to assure that it is “stable and reliable.”

David Lipschuz, an attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said his group was “troubled” by the extent of the improper payments to Medicare Advantage plans and the government’s “lack of progress on recouping and deterring such payments.”

In an emailed statement, he added: “We hope that policymakers who protect MA (Medicare Advantage) profit at all costs, while at the same time often proposing to shift more costs on to the majority of beneficiaries in traditional Medicare, take heed of this GAO report and ensure that the recommendations are implemented.”

GAO reviewers said that CMS is stepping up the RADV audits, but notes that much more needs to be done. GAO noted that officials expect the upcoming audits to recover $370 million, but that’s just three percent of the total estimated annual overpayment.

CMS officials said they have begun auditing Medicare Advantage payments from 2011 and 2012 and have set a goal to have all Medicare Advantage contracts audited yearly.

“HHS is strongly committed to program integrity in the Medicare Advantage (MA) program and takes seriously our responsibility to protect taxpayer dollars by identifying and correcting improper payments,” the agency said.

While federal auditors have struggled for years to root out these overcharges, at least a half-dozen whistleblowers have filed lawsuits accusing Medicare Advantage plans of ripping off the government.

In the most recent Medicare Advantage whistleblower case to surface, South Florida doctor Mario M. Baez alleges that insurance giant Humana Inc. knew of billing fraud at some South Florida clinics but did little to stop it. Baez argues that inflating risk scores not only wastes taxpayer dollars but also can harm patients. The suit, which was unsealed in late February, is pending. Humana has declined to comment on it.

This piece comes from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization. To follow CPI’s investigations into Medicare and Medicare Advantage waste, fraud and abuse, go here. You can follow Fred Schulte on Twitter: @fredschulte.

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Top Medical Journals Give Women Researchers Short Shrift

Women only got top billing in 37 percent of medical studies published in leading journals over the past two decades.

Women only got top billing in 37 percent of medical studies published in leading journals over the past two decades. Tom Werner/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Tom Werner/Getty Images

When you’re settling in to watch a movie, and the music starts playing, it’s hard to ignore the names that flash first in the opening credits: The Director. The Big Stars.

Name placement matters in academia, too. A recent study reveals there’s a gender gap in who gets top billing on medical studies published in several of the most prestigious research journals.

Dr. Carolyn Lam, a cardiologist and faculty member of the Duke-NUS medical school in Singapore, says getting top billing isn’t just about ego. The number of times you nab that “first author” spot on a research paper shapes how you’re evaluated at work — everything from tenure possibilities to pay.

“This is our livelihood,” Lam says. “It’s important.”

Traditionally, the last name in a series of authors on a science paper is also prestigious — it’s reserved for the most established colleague. First and last in the series is best. That’s why she was upset when she heard about the study in the British Medical Journal showing women are under-represented in that first position.

Giovani Filardo and Briget da Graca, with Baylor Healthcare System in Dallas, took a close look at the names atop original research articles published in six of the world’s leading medical journals over two decades.

While women were better represented as first authors in 2014 than 20 years earlier, their numbers have plateaued in recent years, the scientists found, and have declined in some journals.

Though women have been attending U.S. medical schools in roughly equal numbers as men since 2003, “substantial gender differences in rank and leadership remain in academic medicine,” notes Dr. Kathryn M Rexrode, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical, in an editorial accompanying the study.

And that may also be a problem for women’s health, it turns out. In the same way that having more women as writers and directors in the movie business makes it more likely a film will have a female protagonist, research shows that studies of new drugs or therapies that have women as first authors are more likely to include a significant number of women as research subjects.

Dr. Deborah Diercks, who chairs the department of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern, says when she designs studies of why women are more likely to die from heart attacks, she approaches it differently than some male doctors do.

“I think a little bit more than some of my colleagues do about outside pressures,” Diercks says. “Such as, the reasons women delay going to the hospital — is because they’re a caretaker or because they have pressures to finish the wash or pick up the kids?”

She wonders if those pressures might also help explain why women less often get top billing on research papers. Another factor that might contribute, she says, is bias in the review process. The editors who make the decisions about who gets published are often men.

“I struggle with that a lot,” Diercks says. “I do believe it’s truly unconscious and unintentional but it amazes me that [that bias] is still there.”

Gender bias, intentional or not, is something Carolyn Lam thinks about often.

Just one in five students in her medical school class in Singapore in the early 1990s were women. After graduation, Lam entered a male-dominated specialty — cardiology. Still, she doesn’t fault the system entirely for the gender gap among first authors. In part, she blames herself.

For example, Lam was recently working with two male colleagues on a journal submission when they started talking about whose name should appear first. She stayed silent. And her name went second.

“I started examining myself a bit,” Lam says. “Why didn’t I ask to be first author?” She realized she should have advocated for herself.

“I think that sort of behavior is pervasive in many, many fields,” she says.

So, last month, when Lam was finishing up another study she’d worked on with two different men and the question of authorship came up, she spoke out.

“My colleague — whom I totally respect — he wrote himself as first author, our senior colleague as last, and me as second,” she says. “I was about to shoot off an email saying, ‘OK, as long as our data get published.’ “

But she caught herself and, instead, asked to be first author. Her colleague agreed.

This story is part of a NPR’s reporting partnership with local member stations and Kaiser Health News.

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On Victory Day, Russia Stokes Patriotism And Shows Off New Weapons

People in Moscow hold portraits of relatives who fought in World War II during the Immortal Regiment march on the day of the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

People in Moscow hold portraits of relatives who fought in World War II during the Immortal Regiment march on the day of the 71st anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Every May 9, Russian television footage is dominated by one of the country’s most important holidays, which speaks to both the past and the present.

The programming consists of tanks and other military vehicles rolling through Red Square as President Vladimir Putin and other dignitaries look on. Jet fighters scream overhead, streaming the white, blue and red of the Russian flag in their vapor trails.

It’s Victory Day, which this year marks the 71st anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Germany in World War II, known in Russia as the “Great Patriotic War.”

The ceremony in Red Square is all about the pageantry of military power. Army bands play as the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, reviews his troops from an open car, greeting each unit with the formula, “Hello, comrades!” and receiving the reply, bellowed from hundreds of throats, “Good morning, Comrade Defense Minister!”

When he congratulates them on that long-ago victory, they reply with a cheer: “Ooh-rah!”

It’s a largely a made-for-TV production, and Russian television portrays it with dozens of cameras, shooting from every angle, including from right under the marching feet of the soldiers.

Russian president Vladimir Putin holds a portrait of his father who fought in World War II during today's Moscow parade marking Victory Day in Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin holds a portrait of his father who fought in World War II during today’s Moscow parade marking Victory Day in Russia. Kommersant Photo/Kommersant via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Kommersant Photo/Kommersant via Getty Images

Most Russians have to watch it on TV, because tight security makes it difficult to get close to much of the parade route.

Before Putin speaks, there’s a momentous trumpet fanfare. When he calls for a moment of silence in memory of the millions who died in the war, the seconds are counted out by a loud tick-tock.

Very old men and a few women, the surviving veterans, sit behind the president, their chests glinting with medals.

If the first part of the ceremony is about the past, the second part is about the modern Russian military. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines march past. This year, for the first time, military women were represented by a unit of female cadets.

Among the more than 100 military vehicles in the parade are Russia’s newest weapons, including the Armata tank and the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

In a way, this part of the ceremony represents Putin’s fulfillment of a promise to modernize the Russian military. The program originally planned to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bring most of the armed forces up to speed by 2020.

That plan has been slowed somewhat by the drop in oil prices and Russia’s current recession, but Putin has vowed that it will go on.

For ordinary Russians, the holiday begins when the televised production is over, and people go out to public parks. Most parks in Moscow have some sort of program to mark the holiday.

In my neighborhood park, the Heritage Garden, there’s a stage where a Russian Army chorus belts out nostalgic songs from the war years. Here and there, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lead aged veterans to seats, from where they can enjoy the show. People bring the veterans flowers, especially red carnations, and other gifts.

Whole families turn out decked in Red Army garrison caps and sporting the red-and-black stripes of the St. George’s ribbon, which has come to be a symbol of the victory and a sign of support for the current Russian government.

People line up to sample Red Army chow from a smoky field kitchen or try on Soviet greatcoats and helmets to have their photos taken.

Much of this enthusiasm for the military has revived in the past few years. It got a boost with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and it’s been whetted by Russian pride over its military campaign in Syria.

Even with a sagging economy, the Russian government places a premium on stoking Russian patriotism.

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World Cafe Next: Kwesi Foraes

Kwesi Foraes.

Kwesi Foraes. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

  • “Heroin”
  • “Pentacles 13”

23-year-old Long Beach, Calif., singer-songwriter Kwesi Foraes‘ debut EP, 27, reveals blues, R&B and folk influences and an incredible level of emotional depth. Foraes says the aftermath of family turmoil and death affected these songs, which also explore the addictive nature of love. Hear two songs in this week’s World Cafe Next segment, above.

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