Picture An America With #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner

Imagine a world where you can buy fresh, delicious tacos on every street corner. T. Tseng/Flickr Creative Commons hide caption

toggle caption T. Tseng/Flickr Creative Commons


If you’ve been on social media today, you’ve probably noticed there’s a lot of talk about taco trucks. Confused? It started like this. Marco Gutierrez, a Mexican immigrant and the founder of a group called Latinos for Trump, went on MSNBC Thursday night and said something had to be done about Mexican immigration to the U.S.

“My culture is a very dominant culture. And it’s imposing, and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks every corner,” Gutierrez said.

Almost instantly, the hashtag #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner was born and the pile-on grew faster than a Chipotle taco bowl moving down the line. By midnight, #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner was the number one trending topic in the U.S.

Jorge Gutierrez, a filmmaker with no relation to Marco, took the warning as more of a campaign promise:

Historians will look back to this monumental day in history as the day the 2016 USA election was actually decided. #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner

— Jorge R. Gutierrez (@mexopolis) September 2, 2016

Stacey Rayner said she could vouch for how awesome this new reality would be:

I actually live off of a street that has #tacotrucksoneverycorner. It’s pretty much the best street ever. #houston

— SNL (@USMexSpain) September 2, 2016

And Daniel Jacox tweeted that it could, as Donald Trump has promised, make America safer:

If there were #TacoTrucksOnEveryCorner there’d be less crime. Unless you consider paying extra for guacamole an injustice.

— Daniel (@Daroja5891) September 2, 2016

OK, you get the point. There are just so many good ones. But let’s get serious for a bit.

I called up one of the nation’s foremost taco experts, Gustavo Arellano. He writes the OC Weekly’s syndicated column “Ask A Mexican,” and is also the author of Taco USA. He says that, as absurd as Gutierrez’s warning sounded to many people, it’s part of a long tradition of using Mexican foods as a way to scare white Americans.

“You’d call people beaners, greasers, you’d talk about ‘Montezuma’s Revenge,'” Arellano says. “And even with taco trucks, you’d call them roach coaches…this idea that somehow Mexican food is not healthy for you, and even poisonous.”

But Arellano says those days are mostly gone.

“We’re now of a generation where almost everyone has grown up eating Mexican food of some sort or other, whether it’s breakfast tacos, breakfast burritos, or big huge combo platters. So to try to say that more Mexicans means more Mexican food, if anything, that’s the one thing all Americans like. You may not like the Mexican, but you sure love Mexican food.”

I wanted to find out if this was true. So I took a walk to the long line of food trucks about a block from NPR headquarters in D.C. There was a fried chicken truck, an Afghan cuisine truck, and then a Mexican-Korean taco truck good enough.

Gina Cordero was taking a selfie to post to Twitter under the hashtag. She’d just ordered two pork tacos and one chicken. I asked her how she felt about the prospect of a taco truck on every corner. “As a Republican, I support small business,” she said. “It’s a good thing for the economy!”

I tried to get one more interview, with the food truck’s owner. But he was too busy, selling tacos.

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Why Is Calcutta Now Kolkata? What Other Names In India Are Changing?

In 1957, the West Bengal government ordered the removal of the bronze statue of General James Outram, a landmark in Calcutta. He was commander of the British forces during the 1857 Indian mutiny. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP

When I moved from California to Calcutta in 2011 I would joke that I had merely exchanged one Cal for another. It was not technically true. Calcutta the bustling metropolis where I was born, once the First City of the British Raj, had already rechristened itself as Kolkata in 2001.

The British left India in 1947 but they left behind quite a bit of baggage — starchy clubs with antiquated jacket-and-tie dress codes completely unsuitable for Indian weather, a passion for cricket and English and Anglicized names. Every city had streets and squares named after English viceroys and governor-generals: Clive, Hastings, Dalhousie. Soon the new government was busy renaming those roads and landmarks after Indian freedom fighters. Lala Lajpat Rai. Tilak, Gandhi. Nehru. A lot of Gandhis and Nehrus.

Kolkata was always called Kolkata in Bengali — derived from the name of one of the three villages said to have become the modern city of Kolkata. But the British called it Calcutta. I don’t know why Calcutta rolled off British tongues more easily than Kolkata, but then I had American roommates who asked if they could call me Sandy instead of Sandip even though both names were two syllables.

In 2001 the government of West Bengal decided to officially change its capitol city’s name to Kolkata to reflect its original Bengali pronunciation. It didn’t really affect us much. We were used to calling it Kolkata in Bengali and Calcutta in English, and we switched between both names with as much fluency as we switched between those two languages.

Other name changes were far more loaded — Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, for example. The rejection of the British styling and the return to Indian roots was seen as erasing some of the cosmopolitan pasts of those cities, of favoring one linguistic group over another, of a rising tide of parochialism where some names tried to mark the true sons of the soil from named preferred by those who came from outside, even if that outside was just another state in India. It became an ideological statement to use one name over the other, a sort of linguistic version of planting your flag in the sand.

But Calcutta became Kolkata with minimal fuss. And for many of its residents it remained both, just as it had always been. Of course, more politically correct visitors tripped all the time trying to carefully enunciate Kolkata and putting the stress in all the wrong places. To make matters even more confusing, some institutions stayed Calcutta for reasons best known to them. The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation gave Kolkata electricity. We studied at Calcutta University. The elite partied at Calcutta Club in a city served by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. And if anyone revives that famous Broadway production it will never be “Oh! Kolkata!”

Also many Kolkatans whose names had been Anglicized retained those surnames. The Thakurs still called themselves Tagore. The Mitras who had become Mitters stayed Mitter. It was a sort of pick-and-choose Anglicism.

Now an even more dramatic name change is underway. Just this August the entire state of West Bengal has decided to rechristen itself. West Bengal came alphabetically dead last in the long list of Indian states. The state’s chief minister decided to leapfrog to Number 4 by simply dropping the West. It actually made sense in practical terms. There is no East Bengal anymore. That’s long been the independent country of Bangladesh. To add to the geographical confusion of hapless tourists, we were a West Bengal located in the eastern part of India.

This time, however, there was more resistance. For many the “West” in West Bengal was an emotive reminder that this state had once been partitioned by the British, that thousands had lost everything as they fled from one side to the other, as the eastern wing of Bengal became East Pakistan and eventually Bangladesh in 1971.

In West Bengal, there was still great nostalgia and yearning for the lands left behind. The mango never tasted as good as the mango in the orchards in the east. The hilsa fish of West Bengal’s Hooghly river was a poor cousin of the great hilsa cruising down the might Padma in the east. When I returned to Kolkata after my first visit to Bangladesh the most common question I was asked was, “Did you have their hilsa? Is it as good as they say?”

Time has made the longing even sharper. Dropping the West seems like wiping away that whole history, pretending it never happened.

The name change has gone through the state government (though the national parliament in New Delhi is yet to ratify it). Now comes the fun part. Firmly believing in the adage “the more the merrier,” the state will be called Bangla in Bengali, Bengal in English and Bangal in Hindi. That of course should mean that my home city should be called Kolkata in Bengali, Calcutta in English and Kalkutta in Hindi, but logic was never the strong point of governments. In the toxic fight over naming states, it’s almost welcome that the new state of Bangla is open to different strokes from different folks.

Bangla also happens to be the word for the local country liquor in these parts. Perhaps that’s the secret to its nonchalance about its name. Bangla, Bengal, Bangal — it does not matter as long as it’s not last call at the bar.

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RNC Hires Staff To Supplement Trump's Lacking Ground Game In Critical States

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The RNC is largely supplementing the Trump campaign when it comes to on-the-ground staff. J. Scott Applewhite/AP hide caption

toggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/AP

With less than 70 days to go before Election Day, the Republican National Committee announced it is making significant strides when it comes to competing in battleground states in the fall.

That still falls far short of the ground game already in place by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

On Friday, the RNC announced 392 additional staffers and 98 new offices across 11 battleground states.

The new staff and field offices will be added to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

With this beefing up of personnel, the RNC said the total number of paid employees across the country now exceeds 1,000 and “currently has more staff in the field than at any point in the 2012 cycle.”

“Our organizing efforts began years ago and this new wave of hires will seamlessly plug into our operation as we head into the final stretch of the campaign season,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “The RNC is committed to sending Donald Trump to the White House and solidifying our majorities in Congress.”

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has leveraged his celebrity and unorthodox campaign style to gain a tremendous amount so-called “free media” throughout his campaign. But he’s also had to heavily rely on the RNC to build an on-the-ground campaign infrastructure — opening campaign offices, hiring staff and volunteers — things campaigns traditionally to do much of on their own.

By comparison, Clinton’s has more than three times as many field offices in 15 competitive states this fall, according to a PBS NewsHour tally. As of the end of August Clinton had 291 field offices to Trump’s 88. Per NewsHour:

“The contrast is a test for the conventional campaign model and points to the candidates’ stark differences in methods. Clinton is cleaving to the data-driven, on-the-ground machine that won two elections for Barack Obama. Trump, on the other hand, insists he does not need traditional campaign tactics to win the election, pointing to his overwhelming nomination victory achieved with a relatively small team and little spending.

“Nevertheless, the ground game is poised to be critical in 2016. Undecided voters are becoming scarce, and targeted turnout may be the deciding factor on Nov. 8. That usually requires field offices with phone banks, organized volunteers and a coordinated effort to knock on doors and get people to the polls.”

Trump defended his campaign’s infrastructure, tweeting Friday that people shouldn’t doubt the strength of his ground game.

People will be very surprised by our ground game on Nov. 8. We have an army of volunteers and people with GREAT SPIRIT! They want to #MAGA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 2, 2016

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U.S.-Funded Afghan Hospital Is Expensive, Late And Poorly Built, Report Finds

The Gardez Hospital in Afghanistan’s Paktia province as seen in 2012. The U.S.-funded hospital still has construction deficiencies nearly five years after the original target date for its completion. SIGAR hide caption

toggle caption SIGAR

A hospital in Afghanistan paid for by the U.S. is poorly built, years late and might be too expensive for the Afghan government to run on its own in the long-term.

The findings are detailed in the latest report, published Friday, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, a military agency set up by Congress to audit U.S. spending in the country.

SIGAR has periodically released reports on the Gardez Hospital, which serves Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan. It’s a mountainous area that has frequently been a front line in the fighting between the Taliban and U.S. and Afghan forces. Just this month, the Taliban reportedly seized a district about 35 miles east of Gardez.

The hospital is not a military project — it was built to treat civilians. Construction began in 2008 as part of a three-year contract between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the International Organization for Migration, which would handle hiring the contractors. It was supposed to be finished and handed over to the Afghan ministry of health by November 2011.

But that didn’t happen. Right from the get-go, the completion date was pushed back — first to June 2013, in a contract with an Afghan building contractor. In October of that year, SIGAR found that the IOM had overpaid the contractor by at least $507,000 for diesel fuel and a thermostat device. The IOM eventually repaid the money to USAID.

Then, when the work wasn’t done on time, the contractor was fired. A new contractor, another Afghan construction firm, was supposed to finish the hospital by April 2014.

By that summer, however, the hospital still wasn’t finished. It took another year and a half for the hospital to be completed enough to hand over to Afghan authorities. USAID formally shifted control of the hospital in March 2016, nearly five years late, saying it was mostly finished and with only minor repairs left to do.

The almost-done hospital has cost the U.S. $14.6 million.

Shoddy construction

An inspection of the hospital by SIGAR auditors last year found 42 construction deficiencies. Despite millions of dollars and years of work, parts of the roof were leaking or contained standing water. Doors were missing handles, one of the water towers was leaking, and the hospital had not been reinforced to withstand earthquakes. The hospital is built on the active Chaman fault.

Fire alarms were missing in some parts of the hospital, and if there was a fire, there was no emergency lighting. Some exit signs pointed the wrong direction.

Today’s report finds 13 of the 42 deficiencies have been fully addressed.

In a statement emailed to NPR following the release of the SIGAR reporting, Jason Foley, the deputy assistant administrator for USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs wrote:

“The Gardez Hospital is a modern, state-of-the-art facility that will provide medical services to a critically underserved population in eastern Afghanistan. For the first time, mothers and children in this region will have local access to higher-quality medical services, including general surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology. Patients previously had to travel long distances to Kabul to receive such medical care.”

SIGAR has not sent inspectors back to the hospital since March 2015 — saying it is too dangerous. The IOM says it has fixed cracks in the building, repaired peeling paint, that the water tower no longer leaks and the exit signs now point toward exits. It still has to fix the leaky roof.

But they disagree with the inspector general’s assessment of the fire precaution system, saying there is no need to upgrade the fire system to include emergency lighting or sprinklers, or to brace hospital equipment in case an earthquake happens.

A more expensive hospital

The hospital is a large facility — 100 beds and multiple wings, including separate wards for men and women having surgery, an emergency ward, a pharmacy, a laboratory and a rehabilitation ward. It has its own deep water well, two diesel generators for electricity and a wastewater treatment plant on site.

There used to be a 70-bed hospital in Gardez. USAID and SIGAR agree that the new facility can provide more complete and advanced medical care to the people who rely on it. But the inspector general notes that, though it has only 30 more beds, the hospital will cost the Afghan government almost four times as much to operate.

The old hospital cost $600,000 per year; the Afghan government estimates the new one will cost $2.3 million, in part because of the more sophisticated medical equipment and the cost of powering it with diesel generators. “It is unclear what steps USAID took to determine whether the ministry [of health] had the ability to operate this facility,” the audit’s conclusion reads.

Foley of USAID tells NPR that the Afghan ministry of health “intends to fully fund” Gardez Hospital and is trying to connect the hospital to the electrical grid so that it is not dependent on diesel.

“They have developed a plan to run the hospital with funding from the Government of Afghanistan and the World Bank,” he writes.

The SIGAR report also calls on USAID to finally finish the hospital, noting that while the Americans have handed it over to the Afghan government, most of the construction deficiencies identified in 2015 have not been fixed. “The number of deficiencies resulting from poor workmanship raises questions about the quality of project oversight,” the report concludes.

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8 Myths About Suicide That Every Educator And Parent Should Know

Loss at the dinner table

LA Johnson/NPR

Every day, thousands of teens attempt suicide in the U.S. — the most extreme outcome for the millions of children in this country who struggle with mental health issues.

As we’ve reported all week, schools play a key role, along with parents and medical professionals, in identifying children who may be at risk of suicide. And one of the biggest challenges: Myths that can cloud their judgment.

“People are afraid of the whole topic,” says David Jobes, the head of Catholic University’s Suicide Prevention Lab. “It just feels like something that’s left unsaid or untouched.”

Jobes says one of the most common — and most dangerous — myths about suicide is that young children just don’t kill themselves.

It’s just not true.

Children as young as 5 take their own lives every year. Another myth? Suicides are an impulsive decision, made in the heat of the moment.

Again, not true.

Jobes says kids can spend weeks thinking about and planning for their own deaths. And that, he says, is where schools have a role to play.

“They’re going to be letting their friends know, dropping hints, writing essays that their English teacher might pick up, telling coaches,” Jobes says. One thing teens considering suicide won’t do is tell their parents.

We asked Jobes to walk us through a few other common misperceptions of suicide.

Myth 1: Asking someone about suicide will cause them to become suicidal.

“There’s already issues and struggles around mental illness within our culture and society. It’s highly stigmatized, and suicide is even more stigmatized. It feels like something that’s just best left unsaid or untouched, kept under the rug, and that’s a problem in terms of saving lives. Because we need to ask, and we need to intervene to actually save lives. You need to be direct. ‘Sounds like you’re really down, have you thought about taking your life?’ Just very direct. The more direct the better.”

Myth 2: Depression causes all suicides.

“That’s just not true. So, we have millions of Americans who are depressed. A small fraction of them take their lives, a very small fraction. So depression and suicide are not synonymous.

“On average, about a hundred and some Americans die each day [from suicide]. About 40 to 50 of them might be depressed. Other diagnoses are relevant — like schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, substance abuse, anxiety disorders. It’s not just all about depression.”

Myth 3: We cannot really prevent suicides.

“We know very clearly that, with proper identification, proper support and treatments that are suicide-specific, we absolutely can make a difference and save lives. Most suicidal people who talk about suicide don’t really want to be dead. They’re giving other people lots of indications, lots of warning signs, lots of communications that this is something that they would like to not do, but it requires people identifying that and getting them the proper help.

“Some of the warning signs would certainly be depression and … loss of concentration. People not seeming like themselves. Insomnia can be a big risk factor. Other warning signs might include irritability, withdrawal. And the thing that’s really critical: Lots of people have those symptoms and are not thinking about suicide. It’s really when the symptoms add up in the mind of that person, where they think ‘The way I deal with this is to take my life.’ “

Myth 4: Suicides always happen in an impulsive moment.

“People contemplate, think about it, imagine it, fantasize about it, write suicide notes, post things on the web. After many days or weeks, [they] then perhaps make a fatal attempt. There is a major theory in the field that says that no suicides are impulsive. That there is always a history if you dig deep enough.

“The idea that they come out of the blue may happen, but it’s actually quite rare. A small number of people, especially among adolescents or school kids, are not going to communicate their intent. But that’s the exception. They’re going to be mostly letting their friends know, dropping hints, writing essays that their English teacher might pick up, telling teachers and coaches. So when people say this, they’re not crying wolf. It’s something to take seriously.

“Kids telling other kids is really critical because that’s who they’re gonna tell. They are not going to typically tell their parents. They get oftentimes a very negative reaction, even a punitive reaction. So, schools are in a position to try to communicate to kids that talking to your friends is fine, but if you really are a friend of this person, keeping a secret about something as serious as suicide is not in their best interest. And they need to pass that information up to teachers or the principal or to guidance counselors who are in a position to get professional help involved.”

Myth 5: Young children, ages 5 through 12, cannot be suicidal.

“Young children do take their lives. In the United States each year, about 30 to 35 children under the age of 12 take their own lives.

“It’s hard for a lot of us to imagine that a child that young — a 5, 6, 7-year-old — could actually know what it means to say, ‘I want to kill myself.’ But we do research with young children and know that kids are saying these words.

“They do intend it, and they do sometimes take their lives. Oftentimes, by running into traffic and getting hit by a car. We don’t know a lot about young children taking their lives. The suicide prevention literature kind of begins at age 12 to 14. It’s almost as if, even in the professional literature, young children can’t be suicidal. And it’s just not the case.”

Myth 6: When there has been a suicide, having a school assembly seems like a good idea.

“There’s literature and a professional take on all this that in postvention, which is intervening after a suicide has occurred in a school, you want to find a response that is not overreacting, which would cause other kids to copycat or to follow that behavior.

“Alternatively, you don’t want to under-react. And so there is a very useful literature out there, professional associations that provide guidelines where we try to find that sweet spot of attending to the fact that this happened, providing necessary information and then resources, but not letting the whole school out to go to the funeral. Or not having an assembly where everybody comes to hear from an expert about suicide.

“We really want to have these conversations in smaller groups, especially among those kids who were most affected by the suicide. So, just a wholesale didactic event is not necessarily in the school’s best interest. And not necessarily the best way to prevent copycat suicides or additional suicides.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does have very useful guidelines that are specific to schools. The American Association of Suicidology has also had a task force. There is extensive literature that is accessed through those organizations about what is optimal, school-based postvention.

“We certainly know that children and adolescents are heavily influenced, especially teenagers, by their peers. And that’s developmentally normal. So one of the things that we do worry about with kids is the idea of copycat effects, or modeling effects. That a child in a school system who may seem sort of invisible takes their life and then suddenly everybody is abuzz about this horrific event.

“For other kids who look at that, they might say, ‘Wow, that’s something I could do, too.’ And that’s the nature of the suicidal mind in a child — to not really think about this in a rational way. And that’s where modeling effects are especially worrisome. And then we, of course, worry about clusters or contagion effects. And there is an extensive literature on how to manage that modeling effect so that there aren’t additional suicides to add on top of what is a tragic event in most school systems.

“High school guidance counselors are mostly focused on getting kids into college or getting them registered for courses. They don’t typically, in fact rarely do they have a mental health background. So, when a suicide does occur, a lot of these counselors are naturally approached assuming that they have a mental health background, and they don’t.

“That’s where school systems need to have access to mental health professionals and to people who really know what they’re talking about. And that’s where different guidelines [come in] — for example, the ones from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or Sources of Strength. There are different programs that are out there, especially Sources of Strength, which have an excellent evidence base that have been shown to be effective in adolescent populations.”

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FBI Docs: Clinton Says Concerns About Email Setup Never Reached Her

Hillary Clinton checking her phone after addressing the Security Council at the United Nations as secretary of state in 2012. Richard Drew/AP hide caption

toggle caption Richard Drew/AP

Hillary Clinton told FBI investigators no one at the State Department raised concerns with her about using private email servers to conduct government business during her time as secretary of state.

Clinton repeatedly told investigators she relied on seasoned professionals at the department to ensure that classified information was handled properly. And she insisted her use of the private server was for convenience, not an attempt to evade Freedom of Information Act requests or government record-keeping laws.

Clinton’s statements are detailed in a record of the July 2 interview released today by the FBI. (You can read that and the FBI’s longer investigative report here.)

The bureau investigated Clinton’s server use to determine whether classified information was illegally stored or distributed, and for any sign that hackers might have accessed information without authorization.

FBI Director James Comey previously described Clinton and her aides as “extremely careless” in their handling of sensitive information. But he recommended against pressing criminal charges against the Democratic presidential nominee, telling reporters “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

The notes and investigative report made public Friday offer a glimpse into the yearlong probe that led up that recommendation. Clinton’s interview, conducted at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, was one of the last steps in that process.

The interview notes, which are partially redacted, suggest some warnings were raised over Clinton’s reliance on private servers, but they didn’t reach the former secretary herself.

“CLINTON was not aware of State employee (redacted) expressing concerns CLINTON’s email server was not compliant with the FRA,” or Federal Records Act, the notes read.

FBI agents identified 52 email chains containing classified information that were improperly transmitted to Clinton’s unsecured server. During her interview, Clinton was shown some of those emails, but typically did not recall the details.

“CLINTON was not concerned the displayed email contained classified information,” says a typical notation. “CLINTON relied on the judgment of the people that worked for her to handle the information appropriately.”

When shown an email paragraph marked with a “C,” Clinton told agents she didn’t know that meant the paragraph was classified. Instead, she speculated that it was preceded by paragraphs marked “A” and “B.”

Clinton was asked during the interview about an email from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also relied on a personal email account while in office.

“This email did not factor into her decision to use a personal email account,” the FBI notes say.

Clinton, Powell and other former secretaries, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, were all asked in the fall of 2014 to turn over to the State Department any emails from their personal servers concerning government business. Clinton told investigators she “directed her legal team to assist in any way they could.”

“CLINTON never deleted, nor did she instruct anyone to delete, her email to avoid complying with the Federal Records Act, FOIA, or State or FBI requests for information,” the interview notes say.

The FBI did uncover several thousand work-related emails that Clinton failed to turn over. But Comey told reporters, “We found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”

Details of the FBI probe did little to mollify Clinton’s critics, including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“These documents demonstrate Hillary Clinton’s reckless and downright dangerous handling of classified information during her tenure as Secretary of State,” Ryan said in a statement. “They also cast further doubt on the Justice Department’s decision to avoid prosecuting what is a clear violation of the law. This is exactly why I have called for her to be denied access to classified information.”

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