Natural Disasters May Widen Income Gap, Report Says

Hurricane Katrina victims wait at the Convention Center in New Orleans, in September 2005. A report from Scientific American says such natural disasters may increase the gap between rich and poor in affected communities.

Eric Gray/AP

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Eric Gray/AP

Natural disasters in the United States may cause an increase in poverty and a widening economic gap between rich and poor, according to a new study published in Scientific American.

The magazine looks at events in the United States from 1920 to 2010 and finds that major natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes resulted on average in a one percentage point increase in poverty in affected areas.

The trend also shows that wealthier residents with the resources to move away from the disasters do so, while they leave behind “a population that is disproportionately poor,” the magazine writes.

“We contrasted decades with high disaster activity to decades of comparable calm, thus making it unlikely that we are simply observing areas with higher poverty rates,” Scientific American writes.

The magazine notes that the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1978 appears to have little or no effect on the trend.

” … we found that, if anything, residents were more likely to migrate out of counties struck by natural disasters after FEMA was created. This pattern is consistent with recent research documenting that the federal funds that flow to victims of disasters come mainly in the form of non-place-based programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps. It appears that many people in disaster-affected areas take the money and move to another county.”

Scientific American writes that even as technology and early-warning systems reduce the impact of some disasters, with the “wild card” of climate change, “Basic climate science suggests that, as global greenhouse gas emissions increase, so too will the quantity and severity of natural disasters.”

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Florida Governor Schedules An Execution After Year And A Half Hiatus

Florida Gov. Rick Scott last May. Monday he approved the state’s first execution in 18 months.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

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Wilfredo Lee/AP

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has scheduled the state’s first execution in more than 18 months.

Executions have been on hold in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court deemed parts of the state’s sentencing procedure unconstitutional in January 2016.

That same month, Scott first signed a death warrant for Mark Asay, as member station WFSU reported. Now, “in a letter to the prison warden, Scott is setting Thursday, August 24 for Mark Asay’s execution.”

Asay was convicted of two murders 30 years ago, the Miami Herald reports.

Florida has one of the largest populations of death row inmates in the country, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported. She explained why the Supreme Court ruled against the state’s sentencing system last year:

“Florida law allows juries in capital cases to recommend a sentence of death, or life in prison without parole — but it is the judge who is charged with finding facts, and judges can and do frequently disregard the jury’s recommendation. Indeed, since the state death penalty law was enacted in 1972, judges have disregarded the jury’s advisory on some 300 occasions, imposing either the harsher penalty of death or the lesser penalty of life.

“In declaring that system unconstitutional, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court majority, said that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial ‘requires a jury and not a judge to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death.’ A jury’s ‘mere recommendation is not enough,’ she said.”

Eight of the nine justices on the bench at the time agreed.

The state’s system since then has been engulfed in uncertainty. The legislature has changed the law twice since the Supreme Court ruling, The Associated Press reports, “most recently this year when it required a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty.”

Now, WFSU reports, “after more than a year of wrangling in the state Legislature and the courts, Scott is picking up where he left off.”

Since Scott took office in 2011, the AP reports, 23 people have been executed in Florida.

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New Jersey Marks Day 3 Of Government Shutdown Over Budget Impasse

State offices were closed and employees were furloughed as New Jersey marked day three of its government shutdown. Gov. Chris Christie and state legislators are at an impasse over the state’s $35 million budget. The governor remained defiant, despite taking heat for spending the weekend with his family at a state beach that was off-limits to the public.

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A Remote Chinese Province Uses Its Climate To Grow A Big-Data Industry

Visitors look at a booth explaining the Chinese government’s plans for the big-data industry at an expo in southwest China’s Guizhou province.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

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Anthony Kuhn/NPR

To the rest of China, the remote, landlocked region known as Guizhou province has been a wild and rugged backwater, for all but the last 500 years of the country’s history. Now, it’s at the leading edge of China’s technological ambitions.

Aboriginal tribes inhabited this part of Southwest China until members of the majority Han ethnic group began settling there around the 10th century B.C. It didn’t become a province of a unified China until five centuries after that.

Today, Guizhou’s economy ranks 25th out of 31 Chinese provinces. Jagged karst peaks make the landscape difficult to navigate and cultivate.

It is home to a disproportionate number of China’s roughly 60 million “left-behind children,” whose parents have sought work in the cities, leaving them in the care of relatives.

But the province is pursuing an ambitious strategy to surge to the forefront of China’s high-tech sector. It has picked big data as the industry that will make the most of its natural advantages.

Guizhou’s story illustrates how China simultaneously inhabits multiple developmental eras. While parts of Guizhou remain mired in the pre-industrial stage, others are edging into the space age.

It also illustrates how China is trying to upgrade its industries, from labor-intensive factories making goods for export, to cleaner and more capital-intensive high-tech and service companies.

For each of the past three years, Guizhou has put on a big international expo to highlight its new role as a big data hub. Dell, Qualcomm and other tech firms have booths here.

In just about a decade, the provincial capital of Guiyang has taken a cluster of suburban hill towns and converted them into a new urban district, bristling with skyscrapers that surround the convention center where the expo is held.

A new urban district and an annual big-data expo have arisen in recent years as the centerpiece of the high-tech industry in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

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Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Guizhou has broken out of its isolation by building high-speed railways, bridges, tunnels and added international flights to link it to domestic and foreign cities. China’s state-owned telecom firms have integrated it into the backbone of China’s Internet infrastructure.

The central government has offered a raft of incentives to attract big-data firms, establishing experimental zones and pilot programs, and giving discounts on electricity from the province’s plentiful supply of hydropower.

Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn, which makes iPhones, Kindles, PlayStations and other gadgets in China, has set up a factory and data center in an industrial zone an hour’s drive from the provincial capital.

“We got our start in manufacturing, but we’re actually transforming ourselves into a service company,” explains Ray Chan, who has designed Foxconn’s data centers in China.

Like many companies in China, Foxconn is trying to make its manufacturing operations more efficient, through the use of cloud computing, networked machines and eventually, artificial intelligence. All of this requires analyzing huge amounts of data, and storing it on servers.

Chan designed Foxconn’s data center to sit on a natural plateau, where the altitude and monsoon climate keep the average annual temperature at 59 degrees. Chan designed a natural wind tunnel, wedged between two mountains, so that the 6,000 data servers installed there receive free, natural cooling.

Servers store data at a center built by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn. The design of the center, between two mountains, provides enough wind to cool the servers.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

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Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Companies in Guizhou are not just collecting big data on businesses. They’re collecting it on people, in order to improve urban services and education.

At the big data expo, Xia Yiping, co-founder of the bike-sharing firm Mobike, gives a presentation on how big data allows his company to augment and integrate with Chinese cities’ urban transport systems.

Riders use a smartphone app to locate and unlock their bikes, which are equipped with tracking devices. Xia says all this generates a lot of useful data.

“We use this data to improve our product experience,” Xia says. “And secondly we use the data to dispatch, redistribute the bicycles based on the [users’] requirements.” This helps commuters get to destinations not served by bus and subway lines, Xia adds, while reducing millions of tons of carbon emissions each year.

Xia notes, however, that he fields a lot of requests from Chinese government agencies for his data, and these agencies have different security standards, which could lead to the loss of data. Xia says the agencies are asking for riders’ routes, in order to improve city planning, and not asking for personal information.

The Foxconn data center was designed to sit on a natural plateau, where the altitude and monsoon climate keep the average annual temperature at 59 degrees.

Anthony Kuhn/NPR

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Anthony Kuhn/NPR

But some privacy advocates are concerned that the rise of big data could empower Big Brother. When asked if he’s concerned about increasing government surveillance of citizens, Xia says the government is “drafting a lot of legislation around that, to protect private information.”

Last month, China’s new cybersecurity law came into effect. It bans companies from selling users’ personal data to third parties. It also gives broad powers to China’s cyber administration to control domestic Internet activity, which has triggered criticism from international human rights groups.

Some cities, such as Shanghai, plan to use big data to establish voluntary “public credit rating” systems to promote or discourage certain kinds of behavior. In Guizhou, state media report, some local governments intend to put tracking devices on “left-behind children,” and use the big data for “monitoring their security.”

“The development of big data is an era, an historical trend,” says Chen Gang, the Communist Party secretary of the provincial capital, Guiyang, speaking to reporters during the big data expo.

Thanks to big data, he asserts, Guizhou’s air is cleaner, “our city is more orderly, and our society more civilized.”

And with the help of abundant surveillance cameras on the city’s streets, he adds, “we’ve protected the good guys, and punished the criminal elements.”

Chen points out that Guizhou has received important political support from none other than President Xi Jinping, who will preside over a national Communist Party congress this fall as a Guizhou delegate. The meeting is expected to approve a second five-year term for him as head of the party.

Xi Jinping “has always been worried about our poor,” Chen says, “and he uses this method to express his hope that Guizhou can accelerate its development, while protecting its environment.”

Chen’s star seems to be rising as well. Not long after the big-data expo, state media reported that Chen was appointed party boss of a new, special economic zone near the capital, which Xi Jinping has made one of his signature domestic policies.

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Reddit User Taking Credit For Trump Tweet Video Has History Of Bigoted Posts

Within the confines of a Reddit group dedicated to Donald Trump, one user has become a hero.

A video posted five days ago by user “HanAssholeSolo” shows a man in a business suit, with the CNN logo superimposed over his head, getting slammed into the floor outside a wrestling ring by Trump. It appears to be the same video shared by the president himself on Twitter Sunday morning.

#FraudNewsCNN#FNNpic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017

By Monday, the post had been retweeted 295,000 times.

“Congratulations,” one Reddit user commented. “Your dankery has been tweeted by the president of the United States.”

“Solo” posted Sunday night that he was “honored” to have his post re-shared by the “the MAGA EMPORER himself!!!” (Here is a link to the group, with the warning that certain posts may be considered offensive by some.)

The White House denies that the president got the video from Reddit, according to CNN, but has not provided an explanation for where it came from.

While it’s not easy to verify that this user actually created the video that dominated Sunday’s news cycle, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the Reddit group arguing his claim. He commented Sunday saying that the moving CNN logo in the video Trump posted matched the one he created.

A cursory glance at this user’s posting history, even just the posts he penned this weekend, show material that could be described at best as questionable, and at worst racist and xenophobic.

There was backlash to the CNN video, because it was interpreted by some as sending a message of support for violence against journalists.

“Around the world, journalists are murdered with impunity on a regular basis,” said Ben Mullin, an editor with the journalism nonprofit Poynter Institute. “This isn’t funny.”

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert was asked about such criticism on ABC’s This Week, and he responded, “I think no one would perceive that as a threat. I hope they don’t. But I do think that he’s beating up in a way on cable platforms that he has a right to respond to.”

HanAssholeSolo’s user page reveals a focus on race, religion and politics that is often threatening and violent.

On Sunday, he wrote “most blacks don’t know who their fathers are,” in a thread about how much money Americans spend on holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

In a post about a Swedish music festival being cancelled, he wrote “F—- ISLAM.”

The left is also a frequent target. He said he would get satisfaction out of seeing billionaire investor and prominent Democratic supporter George Soros’ “dead bloated corpse being dragged through the streets.”

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement Monday condemning his language, and the fact that President Trump chose to retweet a video he appears to have created.

“This individual traffics in online hatred and at times violent rhetoric, has created an image labeling CNN journalists with Stars of David and has written about stabbing Muslims among other violent rhetoric,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League CEO, in a statement.

“When those on the fringes of society feel their messaging is getting mainstream attention, that should raise alarms for all Americans across the political spectrum that reject hatred and bigotry.”

HanAssholeSolo did not reply on Reddit to an NPR interview request.

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Trump Offers 'Help' To British Baby After Court Rules Life Support Should End

President Trump offered to “help” after the parents of a terminally ill baby lost their legal battle to take him out of a British hospital and receive experimental treatment in the United States.

AP

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AP

On Monday the Vatican and the White House offered support to the family of a terminally ill British baby whom the European courts ruled could be taken off life support against the will of his parents.

Charlie Gard suffers from a rare mitochondrial disorder, known as MDDS, that leaves him unable to hear or see and unable to move or breathe unaided, according to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he is being treated. The condition is currently incurable.

A series of British court rulings have found that continuing Charlie’s treatment could cause “significant harm.” And on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the hospital can take him off life support, in accordance with Charlie’s doctors wishes.

His parents, however, have raised nearly $2 million to bring Charlie to an American hospital to undergo experimental treatment. As is written on their GoFundMe page,

“we found hope in a medication that may help him and a Dr in America has accepted him in his hospital. It hasn’t been tried on anyone with his gene before (he’s only number 16 in the world ever reported) but it’s had success with another mitochondrial depletion syndrome called TK2 which is similar – it’s helping children to get their strength back and live longer!”

And while the American doctor has agreed to treat Charlie if he could make it to the United States, he also told a British court that “it is very unlikely that he will improve with that therapy.”

On Monday President Trump tweeted, “If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so.”

If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2017

How the president might be able to help is unclear, but a spokeswoman tried to clarify on Monday.

“Although the President himself has not spoken to the family, he does not want to pressure them in any way, members of the administration have spoken to the family in calls facilitated by the British government,” said Helen Ferre, the director of media affairs at the White House. “The President is just trying to be helpful if at all possible.”

Ferre added that legal issues prevent her from confirming the name of the doctor or hospital where the baby could be treated in the United States.

Earlier in the day, the Vatican released a statement saying that “the Pope prays for 10-month old Charlie Gard’s parents and hopes ‘that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end is not ignored.'”

The Daily Mail reports that life support was due to be switched off on Friday, July 7, but Charlie’s mother told the British newspaper last week that she and her husband asked the hospital for more time with their son.

“We have been in talks today with Great Ormond Street and they have agreed to give us a little bit more time with Charlie,” said the baby’s mother, Connie Yates. “We’re making precious memories that we can treasure forever with very heavy hearts.”

While Trump’s tweet was re-posted to Yates’ social media accounts, by Monday afternoon Charlie’s parents had not publicly commented on his offer to help.

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