Nearly All Puerto Rico Tap Water Violates Safety Standards, Says Environmental Group

An environmental group finds a high rate of water quality violations in Puerto Rico and calls on officials on the island and in Washington to invest in safety improvements.

Ricardo Arduengo/AP

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Ricardo Arduengo/AP

Problems continue to mount for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. To high unemployment, a lagging economy and billions in public debt, add unsafe drinking water to the island’s list of woes. A new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council says nearly all of the tap water available on the island violates federal safety standards.

The report says many municipal waters systems in Puerto Rico aren’t tested regularly. Among those that are tested, the NRDC says it found the nation’s highest rate of drinking water violations. More than 2.4 million people in the U.S. territory draw their water from systems which contain harmful bacteria or other contaminants. And almost none of the municipal water systems on the island test for lead contamination. The environmental group is calling on federal, commonwealth and local authorities to make a major investment in the island’s water infrastructure and to upgrade testing for contaminants.

Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority is one of the many public agencies on the island struggling to provide services. It holds some $5 billion of the commonwealth’s $73 billion public debt.

Next week in San Juan, a federal judge will begin overseeing a hearing to restructure that debt under a special law passed by Congress. As part of the proceedings, similar to bankruptcy, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain will decide how Puerto Rico’s assets will be distributed among its various classes of bondholders.

A fiscal oversight board set up by Congress has approved a spending plan submitted by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello that imposes severe spending cuts. As part of that plan, the island last week announced its closing 179 public schools, a move expected to save more than $7 million. Rossello’s administration also wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the University of Puerto Rico, a proposal that’s been met by protests, faculty resignations and a student strike.

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German Publishers' Lawsuit Against Google Threatens To Backfire

The Google logo hangs among plants at a juice stand in Berlin.

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This was not exactly the decision VG Media had hoped for.

The collective of German publishers had sued Google, arguing that the tech giant has infringed on copyright protections by offering snippets of the publishers’ articles in search results. Those snippets, according to VG Media, hurt the publishers’ bottom line by sating potential readers’ curiosity and violated a 2013 German law that requires compensation for those snippets of text.

Yet on Tuesday a Berlin court raised some concerns with the law itself often known in English as the Ancillary Copyright for Press Publishers. The judge questioned whether Germany had properly notified the European Commission — the executive arm of the European Union — before enacting the regulation, suspending the case until the Court of Justice of the European Union could weigh in on whether the law is even valid.

The issue hinges on an EU directive that requires member countries such as Germany to alert the organization about “any draft technical regulation prior to its adoption.”

Handelsblatt Global, a German business publication, explains why Germany decided not to notify the EU about the draft of this law:

“While typically a formality, notification reviews of national laws by Brussels can take up to two years or more. In 2013, Germany did not submit the copyright law for notification, citing a Justice Ministry argument that the law’s scope was so limited, it didn’t fall under the E.U.’s notification requirement.”

The court proved skeptical about this reasoning, though its ruling did note that the publishers complaint is at least partially justified — without offering further explanation on this point.

At any rate, Google applauded the decision, saying that it demonstrated the failings of the law.

“Today’s decision in Berlin highlights that there are still many contradictions and unanswered questions in the law of ancillary copyright for publishers,” Google said in a statement quoted by PCWorld.

“We’ve said many times that we don’t want to fight legal battles with publishers,” the statement continues. “We’d much rather work with them to drive traffic to their websites and apps, promote their brands, and support online journalism — and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Nieman Lab reported in 2014 that the law has had something of a rocky life in practice:

“The law went into effect last August and, while some details still need to be ironed out in court, the controversial heart of it — whether search engines will pay money to publishers — has an uncertain future. Google has refused to pay fees to publish snippets from news sites, and instead asked German publishers last year to opt in if they want to be included in Google News search results, waiving their right to cash in on the use of their content according to the new law. To avoid paying the collection agency, VG Media, which represents the publishers that chose not to opt in, Google stopped showing snippets from their news articles on Oct. 23 [2014]. Shortly after that, the publishers in VG Media gave Google a license to restore snippets to their search results — for free. Berlin-based Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest publishers, announced on Nov. 5 [2014] that it had caved to Google’s pressure after traffic to its websites from Google dropped by 40 percent and from Google News by 80 percent when snippets were left out of search results.”

If the law should be invalidated, a prospect that now looms over the case as it heads to the European court, the decision would not only represent a blow to the publishers who brought the case in the first place. It might also raise doubts about a proposed EU-wide directive that has some similar stipulations to the German copyright rule.

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Flap Over Kushner Family High-Rise Pitch Prompts Concern Over Visa Incentive

A real estate company with ties to Jared Kushner has drawn criticism for invoking the family’s ties to the White House to raise money for a luxury high-rise in One Journal Square, Jersey City, N.J. For now the site is an empty lot surrounded by a chain-link fence.

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Joel Rose/NPR

The family business of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, wants to build a pair of skyscrapers in a gritty New Jersey neighborhood.

But the Jersey City project faces a number of hurdles.

This week, it ran headlong into a new one — an ethics flap, after Kushner’s sister highlighted her family ties to the White House while pitching the development to wealthy Chinese investors. That’s prompting closer scrutiny of the project, and the controversial immigrant investor visa program that could help finance it.

The EB-5 visa program gives immigrants a visa and a shot at a green card, if they invest in a project that creates jobs in the U.S. It was meant to support hard-to-finance projects, particularly in rural areas and distressed urban neighborhoods. But some question if that incentive is really needed to build luxury residential towers.

“It’s an example of a project which probably could attract capital without the benefit of EB-5,” said Gary Friedland, a scholar-in residence at the NYU Stern School of Business.

Friedland and his wife Jeanne Calderon, a professor at NYU, have been studying the EB-5 program for years. They found that developers across the country have raised at least $10 billion dollars for more than 50 major projects this way. They say immigrants are willing to lend money for the promise of almost no financial return, because what they really want is a visa. So the EB-5 program helps developers pad their profits.

“It could save the developers tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in financing costs,” said Calderon.

The Kushner Companies is looking to raise $150 million from investors overseas for the project known as One Journal Square. When it’s finished, the developers say it will include two towers and hundreds of luxury apartments with commanding views of lower Manhattan.

But for now, it’s an empty lot surrounded by a chain-link fence.

“I have watched Journal Square go up, and go down,” said Don Smartt, who runs the Journal Square Special Improvement District. While Jersey City neighborhoods across the river from Manhattan have been booming for a decade or more, Journal Square has fallen behind. It’s a mix of crumbling movie theaters, office buildings and chain stores that feels a long way from the city’s downtown renaissance. That’s why Smartt is excited about One Journal Square.

“We hope that the current developer finds the support necessary through all legal means to make this project a reality,” Smartt said.

The Kushners have used EB-5 financing before. For example, raising $50 million for Trump Bay Street, a luxury apartment building on the Jersey City waterfront.

Nothing about what they’ve been doing is out of the ordinary in what many real estate developers in NYC have been doing over the last few years,” said Jason Barr, the author of the book Building the Skyline, and a professor of economics at Rutgers University, Newark.

But the Kushners are out of the ordinary, because Jared Kushner is President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor. Ethics watchdogs howled when the Kushner Companies pointed out its connection to the White House in a presentation to investors in China last weekend. The company has apologized, and says Kushner has stepped away from his role at the company.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration is evaluating all visa programs, including EB-5, “and whether or not they are serving the purpose that they were intended to, whether or not we’re making sure that we do what’s in the best interest of the American worker.”

The controversy over EB-5 is just one of the problems facing the Kushner Companies’ project in Jersey City. Under pressure from constituents, Jersey City’s mayor announced that he’s no longer supporting a big tax break for One Journal Square. And the project’s anchor tenant, the office space provider WeWork, decided not to sign a lease.

Don Smartt with the Journal Square Special Improvement District says he doesn’t care how the financing for One Journal Square comes together. As long as it does.

“Journal Square’s future and the city’s future requires something better than an empty lot,” Smartt said.

The last time somebody tried to a build a skyscraper on this site, Smartt added, the developer spent nearly a decade trying to put the financing together. And then finally gave up.

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Milwaukee Reaches Tentative Settlement Agreement Over Fatal 2014 Police Shooting

Maria Hamilton holds a photo of her son Dontre Hamilton, who was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in April 2014.

Carrie Antlfinger/AP

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Carrie Antlfinger/AP

The city of Milwaukee and the family of a black man with schizophrenia who was shot dead by a police officer have reached a tentative $2.3 million settlement agreement, three years after his death.

“Officer Christopher Manney never faced criminal charges, but was fired from the police department for failing to follow protocol,” LaToya Dennis of member station WUWM tells our Newscast unit. She adds that the settlement still requires the approval of the Milwaukee Common Council.

Dontre Hamilton was sleeping in a public park in April 2014 when a Starbucks employee reported him to the police. The Two-Way previously described how the events enfolded:

“Officer Christopher Manney, who is white, was trying to frisk Dontre Hamilton when the altercation happened. The two exchanged punches. Manney fired his gun 14 times after Hamilton grabbed the officer’s baton, striking him with it.”

It took an estimated three to four seconds for Manney to discharge 14 rounds, according to a report from the Milwaukee County District Attorney. Before the altercation, two other officers had interacted with Hamilton and had not attempted to pat him down.

A Hamilton family attorney said Tuesday that “the parties have been in negotiations and have reached a tentative agreement at that amount, but we will not be making further comments until after the proposed settlement is approved,” according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

In December 2014, the district attorney announced that he would not seek charges against the officer, saying that he acted in self-defense.

Hamilton’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Manney and the city of Milwaukee in April 2016, seeking damages for the “serious personal injuries and resulting death of Dontre Hamilton, who was unlawfully detained, unreasonably searched and then subjected to excessive force.”

The lawsuit alleged the officer’s conduct “occurred as a direct result of the unconstitutional policies of the City of Milwaukee.”

Last month, the judge ruled in favor of Hamilton’s family that the pat-down violated his civil rights. The city has appealed.

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Don't Be Fooled: 'Generation Wealth' Is More About Wanting Than Having

Jackie and friends with Versace handbags at a private opening at the Versace store, Beverly Hills, California, 2007.

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Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE

Plastic surgery, private jets, toddlers in designer clothes, magnums of champagne — Lauren Greenfield’s 500-page photo collection,Generation Wealth, shows all of that. But this book isn’t just about people who are wealthy, it’s about people who want to be wealthy.

I met up with Greenfield at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, where there’s an exhibit to accompany the new book. She says some of her early work was photographing kids here in LA, where she grew up. This project, about wealth and striving for wealth, developed from there, even though she didn’t know it was about that at the time.

“I started it as a kind of looking back at the culture I grew up in,” she says. “And then I went on to do other things, about gender, about fashion, about consumerism, about how our values have been exported. It wasn’t until the 2008 financial crash I realized that the stories that I’d been doing for a couple of decades were all connected, and kind of formed a morality tale.”

Left: Crenshaw High School girls selected by a magazine to receive “Oscar treatment” for a prom photo shoot take a limo to the event with their dates. Right: Film director and producer Brett Ratner (right), and Russell Simmons, a businessman and cofounder of hip-hop label Def Jam, at L’Iguane restaurant, St. Barts, 1998.

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Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE

So Greenfield went back through her old work to see “how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.” She also identified what was missing, and began filling in the holes to see “what it all added up to.”

If you’re doing a story about growing up in LA, the kids told Greenfield, you have to show money. Then there’s the photo of high school kids who’ve skipped school to cruise the beach in their convertibles. But, she says, these kids actually aren’t rich.

“The thing about this project is: It’s not about the rich, it’s really about our aspiration to wealth, and our needing to show it off whether we have it or not,” she explains. “So, with the rich kids, I was looking at how they were growing up quickly, and how they were influenced by the values of Hollywood. But they were really influenced by the media, and MTV and … hip-hop culture for inspiration. So then I also photographed kids from East LA and South LA who, on the other side, were emulating the trappings of wealth.”

It’s like a feedback loop, she says. The rich kids want to look like the poor kids, and the poor kids want to look like the rich kids. We look at another picture of a kid in a pin-striped suit and rose boutonniere, paying for a limo outside his prom date’s house.

“Enrique was living in South Central, his mother was a seamstress, and he spent two years saving the $600 that he spent on prom,” Greenfield says. “His mother thought money could go to better use, but she knew how important it was to him, and he said it was completely worth it. They had a limo, it picked them up in South Central, everybody was looking, and he said he ‘felt like the king that day.’ I think it’s really important to understand that these values go beyond the rich, they go beyond the poor. They cross class and race and even border.”

There’s a section in the exhibit called “The Queen of Versailles,” about a wealthy couple that builds a huge mansion, and another section called “Cult of Celebrity,” with early images of the Kardashians. Greenfield has captured famous people learning how to be famous.

“Fame has been an important driver in the work …” Greenfield explains. “With the rise of reality TV and social media, everybody can be a celebrity and fame has currency. And so, in a lot of my interviews, when you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up they say: rich and famous.”

People will also pay to have the trappings of wealth — there’s a “fake it ’till you make it” mentality. In the images — of lavish pool parties and the like — it looks like people are having fun … but are they happy?

To answer that question, Greenfield quotes David Siegel, from the Queen of Versailles, who said, “Money doesn’t make you happy. It just makes you unhappy in a better section of town.”

Xue Qiwen, 43, in her Shanghai apartment, decorated with furniture from her favorite brand, Versace, 2005.

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Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE

“There’s a striving that kind of continues among rich,” Greenfield says. “The Queen of Versailles was a perfect example — they lived in a 26,000-square-foot house and then built a 90,000-square-foot house. … There’s kind of a theme of addiction and the addiction of consumerism. And so with addiction, you never have enough and there’s no satisfaction and eventually you hit rock bottom.”

Which brings us to a section called “The Fall,” in which Greenfield captures the damage done by the 2008 economic crash. The pictures are different here: There are no pool parties; this is wealth pursued and taken away — people who reached up and discovered they reached too far. Her images depict a GM worker who lost his job and ended up in foreclosure; a real estate agent who became a phone sex operator; an empty home where a child’s trophies were all left in the garage.

Finally, there’s a section called “Make it Rain” — where dollar bills float down as naked women crawl on the floor to pick them up at a famous strip club in Atlanta. In another image, a T-shirt simply states: “Being broke is not an option.”

Greenfield says, now, decades after she started taking these pictures, projecting wealth is more important than ever.

“I think the backdrop of these 25 years is that we’ve never had more inequality and we’ve never had less social mobility,” she says. “So, in a way, fictitious social mobility — bling and presentation — has replaced real social mobility … because it’s all you can get.”

Greenfield believes there’s been a shift in values — from “hard work, and thrift, and frugality and modesty” to “bling and showing off and narcissism.”

Materialism, she says, is the new spirituality.

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