Trump Organization Cuts Ties To Controversial SoHo Hotel

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. stand before the rendering of the under-construction Trump SoHo Hotel Condominium in September 2007.

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Jennifer Altman/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Trump Organization is severing ties with the controversial Trump SoHo building in New York City.

The development, which is a hybrid hotel-condominium building where owners of units can only live in their properties for a certain amount of time each year, has the potential to be a thorn in the side of President Trump — linking him to murky financing arrangements, allegations of fraud and a Russian-born developer with a criminal past.

The skyscraper has been one of the Trump Organization’s many business interests. When Trump was elected president last year, ethics experts urged him to sell off his private holdings to avoid distractions and conflicts of interest. Instead, Trump moved his businesses into a revocable trust, managed by his two older sons. Trump is the sole beneficiary of the trust.

And the building’s history — which NPR explored in a recent episode of the Embedded podcast — has repeatedly drawn controversy, including a lawsuit alleging fraud and shady financing.

On Wednesday, Trump International Hotels Management and the board of the Trump SoHo Condominium New York said in a press release that they would wind down the Trump Organization’s involvement by the end of the year. The announcement did not specify what led to this move.

The unexpected end of the business relationship with the SoHo development comes at a time when Trump’s financial ties are reportedly being investigated by Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller in connection with a larger probe into Russian election interference last year and its possiblelinkstoTrump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The Trumps do not own the hotel, but the Trump Organization has managed it and been paid for licensing the Trump name. Donald Trump had personally announced the project on a 2006 episode of his TV show The Apprentice and his children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — led its development. The hotel opened in 2010.

As NPR has reported, the project made news from the very beginning: from the discovery of a burial vault on the construction site, to a heated standoff with the neighborhood and a grisly death of a construction worker.

One particularly sensitive matter involved one of the SoHo developers, called Bayrock, which has been accused of being a money-laundering operation used to conceal transfers of illicit funds from overseas, according toa lawsuit by Bayrock’s former finance director. Bayrock has denied the allegations.

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Video Shows North Korean Soldier's Dramatic Sprint Across Border

Newly-released Closed-circuit television footage released shows a North Korean soldier sprinting south across the border while his fellow soldiers fire on him. The incident occurred last week.

Screengrab by NPR/United Nations Command

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Screengrab by NPR/United Nations Command

The closed-circuit television footage is silent, but that makes it no less dramatic.

A jeep speeds through the North Korean countryside, crossing what’s known as the 72-Hour Bridge.

Inside the vehicle is a North Korean soldier, making a desperate escape. All but the headlights disappear behind tree cover.

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The video changes. We see North Korean soldiers running from their posts.

The video shifts again. The jeep is stuck in a ditch. The driver leaps from it and he sprints south under gunfire from his fellow soldiers. In a separate frame, we see him run across the border.

In pursuit, a North Korean soldier also runs across the border. He looks down and seems to realize what he’s done. He turns around and dodges behind a building on the North Korean side.

The episode transpired on Nov. 13 in the Joint Security Area, according to The Associated Press.

Infrared video shows South Korean soldiers forty minutes later, crawling toward the defector, who lies wounded about 55 yards south of the border. They drag him to safety; he’s then taken aboard a U.S. Black Hawk military helicopter and rushed into surgery at a hospital near Seoul.

The Joint Security Area is the only portion of the border where soldiers from the two countries stand just feet apart – and thus is one of the only areas where a sprint across is feasible, The New York Timesreports. The last time a North Korean soldier defected across the Joint Security Area was 2007.

Footage of the incident was released this week by the American-led United Nations Command, which administers the site on the southern side of the border. The Joint Security Area lies within the Demilitarized Zone.

The UN Command said it had completed its investigation of the incident, and said the North Korean army had violated the UN Armistice Agreement twice: by firing weapons across the border and when the North Korean soldier briefly crossed the border chasing the defector.

Gen. Vincent Brooks, the American who leads the UN Command, said in a statement dated Tuesday, that the battalion acted “in a manner that is consistent with the Armistice Agreement, namely – to respect the Demilitarized Zone and to take actions that deter a resumption of hostilities. The armistice agreement was challenged, but it remains in place.”

The defector is being identified only with the surname Oh, according to Reuters. In the gunfire during his escape, he was shot five times.

Dr. Lee Cook-jong, a surgeon who treated Oh following his escape, told outlets, including The New York Times that when doctors performed surgery on the his intestinal wounds, they found parasitic worms 11 inches long.

“In my 20 years as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a medical textbook,” Lee said.

But the Times reports that the parasites should come as no surprise:

“Defectors to the South have cited the existence of parasites and abysmal nutrition. Because it lacks chemical fertilizers, North Korea still relies on human excrement to fertilize its fields, helping parasites to spread, the experts said.

“In a 2014 study, South Korean doctors checked a sample of 17 female defectors from North Korea and found seven of them infected with parasitic worms.”

Lee told a news conference on Wednesday that the man had regained consciousness and was now stable.

“He is fine,” Lee said, according to Reuters. “He’s not going to die.”

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Remembering The 'Monstrous' Legacy Of Ratko Mladic

Nura Mustafic, one of the Mothers of Srebrenica, wipes away tears as she reacts to the verdict handed down against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, in The Hague on Wednesday. Mladic was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison for atrocities perpetrated during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.

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Phil Nijhuis/AP

I have covered many wars during my years at NPR, but never did I encounter such a monstrous man as Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

I first heard his name when I was staying in Sarajevo in June 1992. It was a time of constant and brutal shelling carried out on the explicit orders of Mladic, who was intent on terrorizing and dividing the city and killing or expelling all non-Serbs.

“Fire on Velusici!” he was heard telling his artillery officers on one intercepted radio communication, referring to a residential Sarajevo neighborhood. “There aren’t many Serbs living there!”

Ratko Mladic (center) arrives at Sarajevo airport on Aug. 10, 1993.

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Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Fortunately, my own neighborhood had enough Serb residents to spare it the worst attacks.

The conviction of Mladic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes may not bring much solace to those Bosnians who survived his murderous campaigns, but it serves as a reminder of the evil one man can do with an army at his command.

I saw it firsthand over many months in besieged Sarajevo, and while visiting towns and cities that were targeted by Mladic’s forces.

In October 1992, near the northwestern Bosnian city of Kozarac, I interviewed Bosnian Muslim women who told horrifying stories of their husbands, brothers and sons being tortured and executed before their eyes by Bosnian Serb soldiers. By the time I met them in a nearby town, Kozarac had been entirely emptied of its non-Serb population.

Six months later, in the town of Tuzla, I met Bosnians who had fled Srebrenica, the Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia that had been surrounded and bombarded by Mladic’s army. All had stories of death and hunger and exhaustion.

A 31-year-old doctor, Nedric Muconivic, who set up a tiny war hospital in Srebrenica, had just been evacuated by U.N. forces. He told me he had conducted about 100 amputations, mostly of legs, without the benefit of anesthetics. His patients were almost entirely civilians injured by shelling.

At the time, Srebrenica was packed with more than 20,000 refugees, all of them Muslims who had fled nearby towns and villages to escape the advancing Bosnian Serb army.

Two more years passed before the Serb army finally managed to take the city, and what ensued in July 1995 was the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War, with more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys executed.

Photos of Bosnian Muslim victims are seen on a banner outside the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. The tribunal sentenced Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for the war crimes and genocide he committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnia war.

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Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Most were bound with their hands behind their backs, blindfolded and made to stand at the edge of open pits, where their bodies tumbled as they were shot.

Mladic, the commander-in-chief, entered Srebrenica moments after his soldiers, accompanied by a Belgrade television crew.

“We present this city to the Serbian people as a gift,” Mladic declared, speaking directly into the camera. “Finally, after the rebellion of the Dahis, the time has come to take revenge on the Turks in this region.”

Mladic was citing history as justification for the crimes carried out by his army. The Dahis were Muslim mercenaries in the service of the Ottoman Empire and had brutally put down a Serbian insurrection in the early 19th century.

For Mladic, the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica were the modern-day “Turks” and had to pay with their lives for the deeds of some distant co-religionists nearly two centuries earlier.

It would be weeks before the extent of the Srebrenica massacre was known, but Hague tribunal prosecutors already had enough evidence of Mladic’s criminal record. His genocide indictment followed days after.

Bosnian refugees peer out from a U.N. truck in March 1993 after being evacuated from Srebrenica.

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Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

By the time of his conviction in The Hague on Wednesday, more than two decades later, the world had learned much more about the killings for which Mladic bore personal responsibility — in Sarajevo, Kozarac and many other cities.

Bone by bone, the remains of 6,971 victims from Srebrenica had been exhumed, identified by name and reburied. Survivors had come forward to share what they had experienced, and a high-ranking Serb army officer had acknowledged his own role in the massacre.

As a journalist, rarely have I been more motivated to report atrocity than I was in Bosnia. Many of us who were on the ground during the war sensed it was not getting the attention it deserved. We had the responsibility of highlighting the actions of an army whose commander was committing crimes that, in the words of Hague tribunal Judge Alphons Orie, “rank among the most heinous known to humankind.”

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Just Look At These Fancy Port-A-Potties

The portable toilets in San Francisco’s Pit Stop fleet are all staffed by paid attendants during their hours of operation and cleaned frequently. Most of them, however, don’t look like the city’s famous “Painted Lady” Victorian houses.

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Courtesy San Francisco Public Works

Brand new. Custom-made. Solar-powered. Brightly colored. Classic Victorian design. Location, location, location — conveniently situated in downtown San Francisco.

We’re referring, of course, to the latest addition to the city’s fleet of public toilets.

San Francisco rolled out its new “Painted Lady” toilet model this week. And we mean literally rolled out — the toilet is part of the city’s Pit Stop fleet of mobile, fully staffed public toilet facilities.

Honestly, we’re sharing this story because the news has been draining lately — a lot of us are wiped out. A brightly colored, high-tech port-a-potty that apes an ornately embellished house? We couldn’t hold in our delight.

But these fancified loos are also part of a serious story about public health and human dignity.

The toilets are brand new, custom-made, solar-powered, brightly-colored, and have a Victorian-inspired design.

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

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Courtesy of San Francisco Public Works

The Pit Stop program delivers clean, portable toilets to serve San Francisco’s large homeless population. That helps keep human feces and urine off of public streets, as the Los Angeles Timesreported two years ago.

They also help bring dignity and privacy to the homeless population. Many businesses in dense areas of San Francisco don’t offer public toilet access, and self-cleaning toilets around the city “break often and double as dens for drug use and prostitution,” the Times said in 2015.

The portable toilets in the Pit Stop fleet are different. They’re staffed by paid attendants during their hours of operation and cleaned frequently. (The toilets also serve as a used-needle disposal site, and offer free dog waste bags.)

“It’s private, it’s clean, it has a sink, it has soap, it has seat covers, it has paper towels, it has a light,” Mischa Fisher, a homeless woman, told the Times. The newspaper described her as gazing “with adoration” at a Pit Stop in the Tenderloin.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s a blessing. It’s the way I was raised.”

The city first took the plunge and launched the Pit Stop pilot in 2014. Since then, the program has been on a roll — it expanded from three locations to 17. The city is flush with Pit stops now.

The Public Works department described the program as “successful,” even when the privies were plain gray boxes instead of polychrome mini-homes. (“If you build it,” wrote member station KQED, “they will go.”)

So, if they were already sitting comfortably, why fancy the toilets up even more?

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru says in a statement the city is trying out “innovative designs that are inviting,” to try to encourage more people to use the toilets.

Entrepreneur Nick Bovis, owner of Tiny Potties, collaborated with the city for the Painted Lady toilet design.

“If you give someone a little dignity you can remove a little humiliation from their life,” he said. “By creating a real-house bathroom and bringing it to people who don’t have a home, you bring them a little dignity.”

The Painted Lady toilets will be rotating between the various Pit Stop locations, the city says.

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'I Don't Believe In Science,' Says Flat-Earther Set To Launch Himself In Own Rocket

Mike Hughes stands beside his steam-powered rocket, which he built from salvaged parts.

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Waldo Stakes/AP

On Saturday, a limousine driver plans to launch himself on a mile-long flight over the Mojave Desert in a rocket of his own making.

His name is “Mad” Mike Hughes, his steam-powered rocket is built of salvaged metals, his launchpad is repurposed from a used mobile home — and he is confident this will mark the first step toward proving the Earth is flat, after all.

“It’s the most interesting story in the world,” Hughes told The Associated Press of his jury-rigged quest to overturn more than two millennia of scientific knowledge. And the whole thing is costing him just $20,000, according to the AP. (It goes without saying, but we’ll say this anyway: Do not try this at home — or anywhere.)

“I don’t believe in science,” Hughes added. “I know about aerodynamics and fluid dynamics and how things move through the air, about the certain size of rocket nozzles, and thrust. But that’s not science, that’s just a formula. There’s no difference between science and science fiction.”

The plan, as stated, is to send himself 1,800 feet high in the air at a speed of 500 mph before finally pulling out his parachutes — which, one hopes, will not be the same ones he used for another launch in 2014. Hughes, 61, told a flat-earth community Web show that the flight, which the AP said took him a quarter-mile across Arizona desert, ended when he pulled his parachutes — two of which he said were at least 20 years old at the time and one of which didn’t open.

“Yeah, it was a scary moment,” he said in the interview, adding that he had to use a walker for several weeks after his landing. “I had never parachuted before.”

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It was not his first time tinkering with a big hunk of metal, however. Though Hughes may drive limousines for a living, he says he has worked in NASCAR pit crews, and The Washington Post reports he has been “has been building rockets for years.”

Just don’t liken the man’s entrepreneurial spirit to Elon Musk, who “is a giant fraud,” according to Hughes. In fact, many notable space explorers came in for Hughes’ criticism during the interview, including the “Freemason” NASA astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. Hughes maintained that all of them have been involved in “the roots of the deception” that the Earth is round.

Now, it must be noted that humans knew the world was round long, long before NASA launched astronauts into space and we saw pictures of our spherical planet from afar. As the BBC points out, Aristotle — a Greek man with no known connections to NASA or Freemasonry — explained how we know back around 350 B.C.:

“Again, our observations of the stars make it evident, not only that the Earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size. For quite a small change of position to south or north causes a manifest alteration of the horizon.”

Other famed explorers who have circumnavigated the globe, such as Ferdinand Magellan and Sir Francis Drake, also failed to report observing the sea ice that many flat-Earthers believe marks the ends of our earthly disc.

Still, Hughes converted to the flat Earth belief recently, shortly after his first fundraising campaign for the rocket earned just $310 of its $150,000 goal. His second campaign, this time posted after his conversion and with the support of the flat-Earth community, succeeded in hitting its $7,875 goal.

“I’ve been a believer for maybe almost a year. I researched it for several months in between doing everything else — you know, I’ve still got to make a living and all that kind of stuff, and building this rocket actually eats up a lot of my time,” he told the flat-Earth Web show. “But when I’m not doing that, I research things.”

And Hughes intends that research to continue well beyond Saturday’s launch, which he says he will be streaming online. He envisions the launch as just one step toward eventually getting himself into space, at which point he plans to take a photograph “to prove once and for all this Earth is flat,” he told his interviewer.

“This is the king of the deceptions,” Hughes said. “Once this domino falls, this is it.”

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Zimbabwe's President-To-Be Returns Home After Brief Exile

Zimbabwe’s incoming president Emmerson Mnangagwa gestures as he speaks at Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party headquarters in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday. The former vice president flew home from a short exile to take power after the resignation of Robert Mugabe put an end to 37 years of authoritarian rule.

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Zinyange Auntony/AFP/Getty Images

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president of Zimbabwe who is poised to take the helm of the country, was met with cheers in the capital city Harare when he returned to the country on Wednesday.

Mnangagwa fled the country earlier this month, citing fears for his life after Zimbabwe’s authoritarian president Robert Mugabe fired him. That firing helped trigger a massive political upheaval.

Now Mugabe — the only leader Zimbabwe has ever known — has resigned under immense pressure, and Mnangagwa is set to be sworn in as president on Friday.

His return to Zimbabwe was met with joy, NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Harare.

“You can hear the atmosphere here at the party headquarters,” she says. “Thousands, thousands and thousands of supporters have turned out to welcome home Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new leader of the party and the man who is going to be sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president on Friday.

“All the banners say things like, ‘Welcome back our hero,’ ‘Welcome back our president,’ ” she says.

Mugabe, 93, resigned after Zimbabwe’s military seized control of the country, an act the military refused to call a coup but instead described as a “bloodless correction.”

NPR’s Bill Chappell provides some background on the split between Mugabe, the country’s strongman leader, and his deputy Mnangagwa:

“A public schism had formed between Mugabe and Mnangagwa at least as early as the summer of 2016, when veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation withdrew their support for Mugabe. In a letter explaining that move, the veterans cited widespread corruption and mismanagement in the government, stating, ‘This rot needs to be uprooted, and right now.’

“The schism resulted in two camps forming — one loyal to Mnangagwa and another loyal to Mugabe’s wife, Grace,” NPR’s Merrit Kennedy reported.

“Many saw Mnangagwa’s removal ‘as a prelude to Mugabe promoting the politically ambitious but controversial first lady to one of two vice presidential posts,’ ” NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton and Scott Neuman reported.

When Mugabe fired Mnangagwa, the military warned it would take action if revolutionary fighters continued to be purged from the government.

It’s not clear how much of a change in policy Mnangagwa will implement, as we wrote yesterday.

“He’s no savior,” Ofeibea reported last week. “He’s cut from the same cloth [as Mugabe], the cloth that has seen Zimbabwe’s economy tumble. This was the breadbasket of southern Africa. He’s also seen as having been absolutely brutal in the ’80s in Matabeleland when there was a massacre. So people shouldn’t think of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who may come back and head an interim government, as being a savior for Zimbabwe — certainly not.”

“Zimbabweans I know — I’m Zimbabwean — we’re ululating all around the world and we are celebrating,” journalist Michelle Faul told Weekend All Things Considered, “but we need to be cautious. This is not a revolution to bring reform. This is about an internal ZANU-PF coup to ensure that ZANU continues its one-party rule of Zimbabwe.”

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Earth Increasingly Looks Lit-Up At Night

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this image of southern Scandinavia lit up at night. A green aurora is visible over the horizon.

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NASA

The ever-widening use of artificial lights is making the nighttime Earth glow increasingly brighter, with the amount of global light growing about 2 percent each year.

That worries advocates for the protection of dark skies, who say that artificial night glow can affect wildlife like migrating birds and keeps people from connecting to the stars. What’s more, they say, all that wasted light sent out into space is effectively wasted money.

The findings are in a new study in the journal Science Advances that used five years of data from a satellite launched in 2011. This satellite has an instrument that gives scientists a more reliable way to measure nighttime light than they’ve had in the past.

“The areas that are getting brighter rapidly are developing countries,” says Christopher Kyba, a researcher at the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. “So a lot of places in South America, Africa and Asia are brightening really, really rapidly, up to 10 percent or more per year, even, in some cases.”

Only a few countries — like war-ravaged Yemen and Syria — showed a decrease. Some of the very brightest places on Earth, such as the United States, Spain, and Italy, appeared to remain relatively stable.

Paris, often referred to as the “City of Light”, as photographed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

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NASA

With new solid-state lighting technology becoming available, some areas have started making a switch to LEDs. And because this satellite is not able to see all of the light emitted by LEDs, Kyba says the brightening that’s actually happening is probably greater than what’s been measured.

“For the United States, for example, we don’t see much of a change. But we know that a lot of LEDs are going in. And that means that the United States is almost certainly getting brighter, in terms of how people see the world with their human eyes,” Kyba explains.

Some have suggested that energy-savings from LEDs will reduce the cost of lighting. But the researchers found that “as light gets cheaper, we use more of it, nearly proportionately to the rate at which it’s getting cheaper,” Kyba says.

On a global or national scale, all this wasted light is expensive, he says: “It costs a lot of money to radiate that light into space and it’s not doing anybody any good.”

He and others argue that lighting efforts must be well-designed to reduce the amount of light going out into space while still providing a safe and comfortable experience for people on the ground who need to see at night.

The rapid increase in night lighting has been a profound change, a kind of global experiment, that has happened in just the last 100 years.“My mum, for example, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, in a time before they had electrification,” Kyba says. “So she grew up with an amazing starry sky, and now she lives, within one lifetime, under a very light-polluted sky.”

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White House Personnel Reassigned After Charges Of Inappropriate Behavior On Asia Trip

Three members of the White House Communications Agency have been reassigned after allegations of improper behavior on a recent presidential visit to Vietnam. President Trump, seen here with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi.

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Amid allegations of improper contact with foreign women and breaking curfew, three members of the White House Communications Agency have been reassigned. The Washington Post describes the personnel as Army non-commissioned officers who were on a team to ensure secure communications on President Donald Trump’s November trip to Asia.

Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, confirmed to The Associated Press that “the incident is under investigation.” The names of the military personnel have not been released. They risk consequences from loss of security clearance to court martial if found guilty.

The communications agency describes itself as “a one-of-a-kind military unit dedicated to providing premier, worldwide, vital information services and communications support to the president and his staff.” Members of all branches of the U.S. military are eligible to apply for acceptance and training in the program.

The Post reports that the goal of the WHCA is to ensure no one eavesdrops on official communication. It also ensures that the president, vice president and necessary White House staff are immediately reachable when traveling.

This is the second time members of teams traveling on presidential and vice presidential trips with the Trump administration have been accused of inappropriate behavior. Two Army and two Air Force personnel were reassigned from their duties alongside Vice President Mike Pence’s August trip to Panama, the Post reported. The four face allegations that they brought foreign women to a secure area without proper approval.

In 2012, members of the Secret Service under President Obama resigned after it came to light that they cavorted with prostitutes while on security duty in Colombia in advance of Obama’s arrival for a tour of Latin America. NPR reported that the scandal resulted in the Secret Services clarifying protocol for what’s expected and acceptable for agents when traveling abroad.

A communications official for the Pentagon referred NPR to the Army and Air Force, respectively for official comment. Neither branch offered official comment on any of the charges.

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If The Developing World Can Go Solar, Maybe Puerto Rico Can Too

These solar panels were set up by Tesla at the San Juan Children’s Hospital after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria.

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Alvin Baez/Reuters

Puerto Rico is in the midst of the worst electricity outage in U.S. history. Most of the island remains without power more than two months after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

Some Puerto Ricans are saying that the current crisis should be a wake-up call that the island needs to move to a less centralized power system — and that solar power might be part of the solution. In other words, they believe Puerto Rico should follow the lead of many developing nations where solar power production is expanding rapidly.

Despite being part of the United States, Puerto Rico has electrical woes similar to those facing deeply impoverished nations in Africa and Southeast Asia. Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on September 20 as a Category 4 hurricane, caused the entire electric grid to collapse.

But things weren’t exactly in good shape pre-Maria. The transmission lines and power plants of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, also known as PREPA, were crumbling due to a lack of maintenance. The rates it charged were higher than any utility on the mainland, yet still PREPA was financially broke. This summer the power authority filed for bankruptcy after failing to make payments on part of its $9 billion in debts.

“PREPA has failed,” says Arturo Massol Deyá, who lives in the small city of Adjuntas in the island’s mountainous interior. Weeks after Maria hit, most of the 20,000 residents of Adjuntas are still without electricity. “The only people that have power are the ones that own their own generators.But from the government … zero, nothing.” Massol is a professor of microbiology and ecology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and is on the board of directors of Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit community group based in Adjuntas.

And Massol is one of the islanders who still has power because he has solar panels. Massol and other activists from Casa Pueblo have been advocating for years for Puerto Rico to embrace alternative forms of energy. The group installed its first array of solar panels 18 years ago.

Massol and others are saying Puerto Rico should use this disaster as an opportunity to move away from what Massol refers to as an “obsolete, corrupt model of power generation.” Currently utility crews, FEMA and the Puerto Rico government are frantically trying to re-string electric lines and get power back across the island.

Casa Pueblo is pushing a program they’re calling “50 with Sun” which sets a goal of generating 50 percent of the island’s electricity from solar. “Engineers at the University of Puerto Rico have stated that if 60 to 65 percent of all the roof surfaces that we have in the island right now were covered with solar power panels, we can generate 100 percent of that demand energy demand at peak hours,” Massol says. “So what we’re saying is the potential is out there.”

But that would be a huge shift for Puerto Rico. Prior to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was getting only a tiny percentage of its electricity from solar.According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration only two percent of island’s power last year was coming from renewable energy sources of any kind. “The commonwealth has some renewable solar, wind, hydropower and biomass resources but relies primarily on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs,” the EIA states in its latest profile of Puerto Rico.

The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too. Such a decision would be in the hands of the PR govt, PUC, any commercial stakeholders and, most importantly, the people of PR.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 5, 2017

Elon Musk the founder of Tesla suggested on Twitter in early October that his company could build an entirely new power system for the island based on solar panels and batteries.

Governor Ricardo Rossello quickly tweeted back, “Let’s talk.”

Rossello has publicly endorsed installing more solar panels across Puerto yet with most of the island still without power he’s also charging forward to rebuild the old electrical system much the way it was before.

The new solar arrays that are getting installed are being put in piecemeal mainly as an alternative to diesel generators.

Weeks after Elon Musk’s tweet, Tesla erected a 200 kilowatt solar array along with a battery storage system at a children’s hospital in Guaynabo, Puerto Ricom just outside of San Juan.

“We’d been more than a month without electricity,” says Julianna Canino Rivera, the administrator of the hospital, looking out at the rows of solar panels covering what used to be the hospital staff parking lot.

The hospital provides 24-hour residential care to 35 kids. It also offers inpatient and outpatient medical services for children.The hospital has two diesel generators and was alternating between them to keep the lights on.

“We had a plan to try to not overuse the generators.Generators are not created to be running 24 hours. They are for an emergency,” Canino says.”So we tried to turn them off for four hours at a time. But the reality is that it was too hot or too dark and I would rather run the generators than have the kids feeling afraid and have complications to their health.”

She was worried, however, that one of the generators might just break down completely.

The solar-powered system now covers the hospital’s electricity needs for 20 hours a day.

Globally solar power generation capacity is booming but the largest expansion has been outside of the Global North. China is investing more in photovoltaics than any other nation in the world. And according to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, over the course of 2016 China boosted the amount of electricity it gets from photovoltaic cells by 45 percent. South Africa is investing heavily in solar power. Barbados leads the world in solar hot water production on a per capita basis.

Many countries in Africa have found it easier to expand access to electricity with relatively small solar farms as opposed to running more lines out of what are often overburdened fossil fuel burning plants.

“In some places like Ghana we actually put a [solar] system in that was parallel to an existing grid because the existing grid is not reliable and costs too much,” says Bryan Quinn, an electrical engineer from the University of Maryland.Quinn has worked with several non-profit groups designing and installing solar power systems in Africa.

He says small, self-contained micro-grids can be a highly efficient way to expand access to electricity.

“You don’t need to build big infrastructure,” he says. “You can do this on a community-by-community basis as dollars and time permit.”

He says smaller solar-powered systems can allow developing countries to leapfrog the cumbersome and daunting process of building nationwide electric grids that are dependent on huge power plants.

And he says that in a lot of developing countries that’s already happening. And at the Children’s Hospital in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Julianna Canino Rivera says that in the midst of her island’s ongoing power outage solar panels are not only a lot quieter than her diesel generators they’re more reliable.

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A Paul Winter Solstice Concert 2017

This year’s Paul Winter Solstice celebration took place at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Dec. 14-16.

Courtesy of Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration

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Courtesy of Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration

Keyboardist Gary Brooker is featured in this year’s celebration.

Carsten Andersen/Courtesy of the artist

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Carsten Andersen/Courtesy of the artist

Since 1980, saxophonist Paul Winter has brought musicians from around the world together for his Winter Solstice Celebration, a festive performance marking the passing of the longest night and the return of the sun. The annual concert draws thousands of visitors to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Upper Manhattan. Winter’s soprano sax echoes throughout the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, leading a spectacle of music, dance and theater. As he has since its inception, WNYC’s John Schaefer hosts NPR’s broadcast.

Brazilian vocalist Fabiana Cozza is one of several international guests.

Marina Decourt/Courtesy of the artist

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Marina Decourt/Courtesy of the artist

Drummers, singers and players from all continents participate in one of New York’s largest holiday events. As always, Winter is backed by the Paul Winter Consort, which is celebrating its 50th year. The saxophonist formed the group in 1967 after a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Latin America sparked a lifelong fascination with world music.

Oboist Paul McCandless joins the consort in this broadcast.

Bryn Forbes/Courtesy of Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration

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Bryn Forbes/Courtesy of Paul Winter’s Winter Solstice Celebration

Joining the Consort in this broadcast are the stunning Brazilian vocalist Fabiana Cozza; Renato Braz, a musician and songwriter whose calm, high tenor embodies saudade, that uniquely Brazilian sense of well-being; Procul Harum’s founder and keyboardist Gary Brooker; the roof-raising gospel star Theresa Thomasson; and renowned oboist Paul McCandless, Paul Winter’s collaborator from the original Consort.

A small army of stage technicians highlights all the drama of the quarter-mile-long cathedral, and the Murray Street and Living Music broadcast production team renders the dynamic portrait in sound.

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