Texas Shooter's History Raises Questions About Mental Health and Mass Murder

At a press conference in Japan on Monday, President Donald Trump blamed mental illness, not guns, for the Texas massacre.

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Devin Kelley, the man we now know killed more than two dozen people at a Texas church on Sunday, escaped a mental health facility before the Air Force could try him on charges that he beat his wife and baby stepson back in 2012.

And President Trump, like many people before him, is pointing to mental health — not guns — as the cause of the church massacre.

“Mental health is your problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries,” he said in a news conference in Japan on Monday.

And yet the statistics don’t bear this out. Yes, some people with mental illness become mass shooters but most people with mental health problems — which is estimated to be up to 18 percent of adults, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — do not.

All Things Considered host Kelly McEvers talked with NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak about the Trump administration’s record on mental health care.

McEvers: So I want to start first with a fact check on what President Trump said — and other politicians too — that there’s a direct link between gun violence and mental health. What do the experts say?

Actually, most mental health professionals would dispute that, says Kodjak.

In fact, “there is no real connection between an individual with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings. That connection according to all experts doesn’t exist,” says Bethany Lilly of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

“Having all of our attention focused on mental illness is not particularly helpful,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, Md., told NPR Monday.

An issue brief from the Bazelon Center, written back in 2013 after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, says it’s unfair to tie the two. “We know how to enable individuals with significant psychiatric disabilities to succeed,” the paper says. It says services such as supported employment and housing, er very effective at keeping people with mental illness out of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals and jails.

“Affording people with serious mental illnesses the services they need is a critical goal, but it is not a solution to gun violence,” the report says.

That’s not to say that people who commit mass shooting never suffer from mental health issues, Kodjak points out, in Texas and in other shootings.

But research shows that people who suffer from mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or anxiety are no more likely than the average person to become violent. And people with mental illness are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

McEvers: So what about the record of this White House on mental health?

One of the first thing President Trump did after taking office was to repeal an Obama administration rule that blocked gun sales to some people with mental health diagnoses.

As far as mental health care goes — the president’s record isn’t very strong if you measure it by where he puts federal money, Kodjak says.

He supports repealing the affordable Affordable Care Act, which for the first time required insurance companies to cover mental health care. The law also expanded that coverage to millions of people who didn’t have it before.

McEvers: So a repeal of Obamacare could reduce access to mental health care. What other policies are being considered that might affect those who need mental health services?

The biggest is the proposed cuts to Medicaid that have been in all the GOP health care bills. They would reducing future Medicaid spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Today Medicaid pays for about 27 percent of mental health services, according to Lilly of the Bazelon Center, so cutting the program that much is likely to take money away from mental health care for the poor, Kodjak says.

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GOP Tax Bill Could Pass The House By Next Week

House Speaker Paul Ryan talks about the GOP tax bill during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.

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House Republicans made steady progress Tuesday on their goal to pass a sweeping tax bill in their chamber by Thanksgiving, as Senate leaders prepared to release their own tax legislation later this week.

The quick progress comes as Republicans race to pass steep tax cuts into law by Christmas in order to meet a deadline set by President Trump. But significant challenges lie ahead as Republicans try to avoid repeating the bitter party infighting that doomed earlier attempts to pass a GOP health care bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said the House plan to cut taxes for most American businesses and individuals was shaping up to be “the kind of relief that people need.”

“It levels the playing field for our business so they don’t ship jobs overseas anymore,” Ryan said at a weekly press conference. “And it gives hardworking taxpayers in the middle the kind of relief that they need to get ahead.”

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to approve that tax bill within the next several days, paving the way for a full House vote as early as next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that the Senate is also on an aggressive path, with a plan to release their own version of a tax bill by the end of the week. The Senate Finance Committee aims to release their bill Thursday and start hearings on the legislation as early as the following week, according to several committee members. If the Senate and House each pass their own tax bills, they would then go through a conference to reconcile the differences before a final bill could be passed and sent to President Trump to be signed into law.

Republicans view passing a tax bill this year as a political imperative that is necessary to prove their ability to govern. They worry that a failure on taxes could give voters a reason to abandon them in the 2018 midterm elections.

Arguments have emerged within the GOP over policy details, like a proposed cap on the mortgage interest deduction and the elimination of credits for most taxes paid to state and local governments.

House leaders are confident they can overcome the concerns and pass a bill by the end of the month. But internal party bickering could make it difficult for the Senate and House to reach an agreement on a final bill.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Tuesday that he would review the House GOP proposal but would not endorse the bill entirely.

“We’re going to look at the House bill first and certainly try to take everything we can from that bill and go from there,” Hatch told reporters. “There may be some differences, sure.”

Senate Republicans have generally avoided taking a formal position on the House bill as they await their own alternative. Behind the scenes, some members have expressed concerns that moderates in the Senate could reject attempts to scale back mortgage benefits and other tax breaks typically used by upper-middle class families. Conservatives have their own concerns that the House bill would add too much to the deficit.

That split could be perilous in the Senate, even under special budget rules that would allow the GOP to pass a tax bill with 50 votes instead of the 60 needed for most other legislation. Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate, leaving only a slim margin of error.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed legislation that would allow tax writers to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over ten years, upsetting deficit hawks like Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and James Lankford, R-Okla., who want to reign in the debt.

“I’m actually not comfortable with increasing the debt,” Lankford said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I want to make sure we have reasonable assumptions in the process for growth estimates.”

The House legislation narrowly meets the Senate deficit requirements, according to official congressional score keepers at the Joint Committee on Taxation. But there is evidence that the GOP may have overestimated the amount of economic growth the bill can achieve. A recent study from the conservative Tax Foundation found that House plan would still cost the federal government nearly $1 trillion over a decade, even after accounting for economic growth.

Ryan downplayed those concerns Tuesday, telling reporters he remains confident that the bill will grow the economy as projected.

“We believe that we’re going to be fine on that,” Ryan said. “We believe that when you look at other analysis, whether it’s going to be Treasury or the rest, that we’re right there in the sweet spot, with economic growth that gives us more revenue with where we need to be.”

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Report: Weinstein Hired Agents To Investigate And Suppress Accusations Against Him

A report in The New Yorker says Harvey Weinstein hired an Israeli intelligence firm to collect information on the allegations against him.

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When women started telling their stories of sexual harassment and assault by Harvey Weinstein, many talked about the fear they had of him. Likewise, some journalists spoke of the pressure the powerful film executive had applied on them or their bosses to quash reports of his misconduct.

Now a new report by Ronan Farrow, published Monday evening in The New Yorker, shows that Weinstein hired “an army of spies” to investigate the women who were considering speaking out and the journalists who were digging into the allegations.

Though Farrow lays out the details plainly, it still reads like an espionage thriller. It involves multiple “international high-level corporate intelligence firms, using very aggressive tactics,” Farrow told NPR.

One firm’s tactics included “targeting women, targeting journalists,” Farrow said. “Showing up in their lives using fake identities. Using fake companies as a front. This was detailed, this was aggressive, and according to the women I spoke to — this was terrifying.”

According to Farrow’s reporting, this is the plot:

Last fall, Weinstein began hiring private security firms to collect information on the women who might speak out against him. One firm was Kroll, a major corporate intelligence firm. Another was Black Cube, a much newer company founded by two former Israeli intelligence officers, Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus, and which touts its staff of “veterans of elite units” from Israeli intelligence.

Black Cube was hired by Weinstein’s lawyer, David Boies. Boies is well-known attorney: he represented Al Gore in the disputed 2000 presidential election, and he fought California’s ban on same-sex marriage. He has also provided legal counsel to The New York Timesin three matters over the last decade.

That last part is problematic because his law firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, hired Black Cube to accomplish two objectives. One was to learn the contents of a book – a forthcoming memoir by actress Rose McGowan – that “includes harmful negative information” about Weinstein. The other was to provide intelligence that would help Weinstein stop the Times from publishing a negative article about him.

That would be this article, published in the Times on October 5. Weinstein was fired from his company three days later.

Farrow obtained the contract between the law firm and Black Cube, which lays out some details of the deal. A key part of the mission was an agent known as “Anna,” who managed to meet and befriend McGowan, who says Weinstein assaulted her. Anna told McGowan her name was Diana Filip, an advocate for women’s empowerment at a London-based wealth management firm.

But Anna and Diana Filip are both aliases for a former Israeli Defense Force officer, Farrow reports. The operative also met with Ben Wallace, a reporter at New York magazine who was working on a possible Weinstein story. The agent and others were apparently gathering intelligence on who was likely to come forward, and which reporters were working on Weinstein stories.

Another intelligence firm, PSOPS, sent Weinstein research on Farrow, Wallace, Times reporter Jodi Kantor, and New York editor Adam Moss. Weinstein had hired Kroll to collect information on the late journalist David Carr back in the early 2000s, Farrow reports, and Carr’s widow says he “believed that he was being surveilled, though he didn’t know by whom.”

In the contract, Black Cube promised that “due to the urgency of the project,” it would use its “blitz methodology” to bring its resources to the Weinstein job.

Black Cube said its team would include a project manager, a legal advisor, “avatar operators” fluent in media analysis, linguists, an investigative journalist, a full-time agent (“Anna”), and operations experts with “extensive experience in social engineering.” It also promised the support of its board and advisors: “businessmen in key positions in Israel and abroad” and former heads of Israeli intelligence forces.

That’s a lot of firepower to unleash on actresses and journalists.

But this kind of intelligence work on behalf of private clients “is huge in Israel,” according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.

The Weinstein scheme sounds like “the same sort of mindset and originality and experience that someone who served many, many years in Israeli intelligence” would have deployed on behalf of the state of Israel, Bergman told NPR. Only now, those former officers are doing that work on behalf of a private company.

Farrow reported that Boies’ firm paid Black Cube $100,000 on Oct. 28, 2016, toward an eventual $600,000 invoice. Black Cube was promised a “success fee” of $300,000 if it managed to block the Times from publishing its report on Weinstein. It would get an additional $50,000 if it managed to acquire the second half of McGowan’s book.

The mission failed, of course. The Timespublished its story and The New Yorkerpublished its own (reported by Farrow). Now police in New York are building a case that Weinstein raped an actress there seven years ago.

It’s not known how much money Weinstein paid out to to all the firms he hired. Bergman, the Israeli journalist, says articles like the one you’re reading are good business development for such firms – suggesting they’ll do whatever possible for their clients, and they’ll bring significant capabilities to the task.

For Boies Shiller Flexner, the outlook is less rosy. As Farrow notes, law firms are often used as the middlemen between clients and intelligence firms, “to place investigative materials under the aegis of attorney-client privilege, which can prevent the disclosure of communications, even in court.”

Boies defended his actions, telling Farrow that he didn’t think it was a conflict of interest to hire Black Cube to work on stopping the Times story, while he was also representing the paper in a libel suit. He said he never pressured any news outlets, and that Weinstein was at that point denying the allegations.

“Given what was known at the time, I thought it was entirely appropriate to investigate precisely what he was accused of doing, and to investigate whether there were facts that would rebut those accusations,” he said.

The Times feels differently.

“We learned today that the law firm of Boies Schiller and Flexner secretly worked to stop our reporting on Harvey Weinstein at the same time as the firm’s lawyers were representing us in other matters,” the newspaper said in a statement Monday. “We consider this intolerable conduct, a grave betrayal of trust, and a breach of the basic professional standards that all lawyers are required to observe. It is inexcusable and we will be pursuing appropriate remedies.”

And it seems that Weinstein’s intense efforts to keep a lid on the allegations against him weren’t enough in the end.

It’s proof, Bergman says, that sometimes even the most highly trained staff and whole lot of money “cannot stop a truthful and profound and deep investigative journalism.”

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Roy Halladay, Retired Cy Young-Winning Pitcher, Dies In Plane Crash At Age 40

Roy Halladay, during his final year with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013.

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For years, Roy Halladay stood not only atop the pitcher’s mound but atop Major League Baseball, too. Over the course of his career, the pitcher racked up two Cy Young awards and earned All-Star honors eight times. Even after retirement, he also achieved great heights — albeit in a different way, getting his pilot’s license and posting often on social media about his beloved new plane.

On Tuesday, that new avocation ended in tragedy. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Halladay’s small aircraft crashed in the waters off Florida, killing him at the age of 40.

“Many know Roy as a Cy Young winner, a future Hall of Famer, one of the best pitchers to ever pitch in the game of baseball. We know Roy as a person, as a caring husband who loved his wife, Brandy, and loved his two boys tremendously,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a news conference Tuesday.

Nocco said Halladay even donated a dog to the sheriff’s office to serve as a K9 officer.

Roy Halladay bought a dog for his local Sheriff’s office. This is K9 Doc. pic.twitter.com/kM7Rjj1UsK

— Blake Schuster (@Schustee) November 7, 2017

“He was probably one of the most humble human beings you’ll ever meet,” Nocco continued, later adding:. “You wouldn’t know what Roy did because Roy would never tell you what he did. And that’s the legacy of a great man.”

“We are numb over the very tragic news about Roy Halladay’s untimely death,” one of his former teams, the Philadelphia Phillies, said in a statement. “There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play the game.”

We are saddened by the tragic news that Roy Halladay, 2-time Cy Young Award winner & 8-time All-Star, has died in a plane crash. He was 40. pic.twitter.com/SOFv3bOLyt

— MLB (@MLB) November 7, 2017

During Halladay’s 16 years in the league, he recorded a staggering 67 complete games — the most by any one player since he made his professional debut in 1998, according to MLB network columnist Jon Morosi. In 2010, he also pitched what was then only the 20th perfect game in MLB history.

He retired in 2013.

Roy Halladay’s cap and ball from his 2010 perfect game. His legacy lives on in Cooperstown. Rest in peace, Doc. pic.twitter.com/PqASdhK8bf

— Baseball Hall ⚾ (@baseballhall) November 7, 2017

Lately, as discussion of his career turned to when he’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Halladay himself turned to another passion: flight. Just last month, ICON Aircraft delivered one of its aircraft — the first of its kind — to Halladay, prompting a meditation on his love for flying.

“I’ve been dreaming about flying since I was a boy but was only able to become a pilot once I retired from baseball,” said Halladay, before going on to praise the plane he received, an A5.

What do clouds feel like? I didn’t know either until I got my new Icon A5! I’m getting bruises on my arms from constantly pinching myself! pic.twitter.com/BaObEUj3Xo

— Roy Halladay (@RoyHalladay) October 13, 2017

Authorities say they found him after a private resident reported a crash at about midday and officials launched an hourslong search and rescue effort. Law enforcement ultimately found Halladay’s plane in shallow water, with only Halladay on board.

Nocco asked that people give the late pitcher’s family privacy.

On social media, his loss drew an outpouring of support from friends, teammates, rivals and even some admirers, whom Halladay inspired to pursue baseball themselves.

In shock over the terrible news about Roy Halladay… a pitcher I grew up admiring & rooting for. Praying for his family & friends. #RIPDoc

— Mike Trout (@MikeTrout) November 7, 2017

Heart is broken to hear about Roy Halladay .great friend, teammate, father and husband. One of the best teammates ever! You will be missed !

— Roy Oswalt (@royoswalt44net) November 7, 2017

It was our honor to share a field with the incredible Roy Halladay. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans. pic.twitter.com/rwtSYsgpgm

— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) November 7, 2017

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Shark Fin Trade Faces Troubled Waters As Global Pressure Mounts

A waitress serving shark fin soup in a restaurant in Guangzhou, in southern China’s Guangdong province. Environmental and animal rights groups have campaigned for decades against consumption of shark fin, arguing that demand for the delicacy has decimated the world’s shark population and that the methods used to obtain it are inhumane.

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At many Chinese restaurants in the United States, there’s a special dish called shark fin soup. It’s expensive — a delicacy and status symbol in Chinese culture that’s served during banquets.

The soup is a hotly debated item in both the scientific and political communities, and it’s illegal in 12 states, including Hawaii, Illinois and Texas.

Now, Congress is once again considering a federal ban on the shark fin trade.

Two bipartisan bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, would make it illegal to possess, buy, sell or transport shark fins in the United States. House and Senate politicians introduced similar bills last year, but they didn’t make it out of committee.

The new Senate bill asserts that many shark populations are in peril worldwide, and that some fishermen harvest shark fins by finning, a “cruel practice in which the fins of a shark are cut off” on a ship at sea, and the rest of the animal is “then thrown back into the water to drown, starve or die a slow death.”

A 2013 study in the journal Marine Policy estimates that between 63 and 273 million sharks are killed each year, including those killed for their fins.

But not all scientists agree that banning shark fins would be the way to protect sharks. Last month, two marine biologists wrote inMarine Policy that a ban would not prevent sharks from being killed worldwide.

David Shiffman, a marine biologist who co-wrote the article, studies sharks at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. He says that shark fisheries in the U.S. harvest sharks sustainably, shark finning has already been banned, and if the U.S. just withdraws from the shark trade altogether, it’ll be harder to encourage other countries to follow the U.S. lead in adopting the same kinds of policies.

“It’s a lot easier to say, ‘You should do it this way, see we’re doing it and it works,’ than it is to say, ‘You should do it this way, pay no attention to the fact that we’re not involved anymore,’ ” he says.

Scientist Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami pushes back on that argument, explaining that the U.S. can only lead by example for countries that have the same resources that the U.S. does, including infrastructure to enforce fisheries management.

“But the same policies would not work in some of the big fishing countries which don’t really have the capacity,” he says.

Several conservation groups, including the nonprofit Oceana, responded to Shiffman’s article against the ban in Marine Policy, saying that if the U.S. allows imports of shark fins from countries that don’t have sustainable practices, like Myanmar and China, then it is “complicit in the catch of at-risk species and condoning their lack of finning regulations.” They say they support the bill because it aims to eliminate U.S. demand for shark fins altogether.

Lora Snyder, an Oceana campaign director for responsible fishing and sharks, explains why she thinks the U.S. should just get out of the global fin trade altogether:

“Demand for shark fins is one of the primary drivers of population declines of these species,” she says, drawing a comparison between shark fins and the ivory trade. It is a global problem, she says, which “needs a global solution.”

Snyder points out that 150 scientists came out in support of the shark fin ban — in an open letter of support, they called shark conservation “one of the most pressing biodiversity issues today.”

“Science is saying sharks are in trouble,” Snyder says. “It’s necessary to look at policy solutions that are rooted in science through multiple lenses.”

Shelley Clarke is a fisheries management scientist who has studied the shark fin trade in Hong Kong and works with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Like Shiffman, she’s skeptical of the idea that the U.S. needs to get out of the trade altogether.

“I would rather focus on the point of the kill, which is on the water, determining what the fishermen do with the sharks that are caught on their fishing lines, and making sure that the number of sharks that are killed every year in fisheries is at a sustainable level,” she says.

She works with tuna fisheries to gather better data on how many sharks are caught, which species are most at risk, and how to manage populations through measures like catch limits.

“I think at some point we’re going to need to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘You can’t catch any more sharks than this, because we don’t believe the populations can keep pace with that,’ ” she says.

The shark fin trade is being pressured worldwide, even in China and Hong Kong, a global hub for the trade.

Many companies have banned shark fin in their cargo, including shipping giants Maersk and OOCL, Hong Kong’s flagship airlines Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, and China’s biggest airline, China Southern.

Ernest Kao, an environmental reporter in Hong Kong, says these multinational companies are responding to pressure from conservation groups like WildAID and the World Wildlife Fund.

He adds that even the Hong Kong government stopped serving shark fin at official events, partly citing conservation concerns. After the Chinese Communist Party banned shark fin at official dinners in 2013 to fight “extravagance,” the trade dropped significantly the following year, though Kao says that drop has mostly leveled off.

He says traders he has spoken to are not pleased, but know there’s not much they can do.

“Many of these traders actually are feeling the hit,” Kao says. “They are expecting demand for shark fin to go down in the long run, so many of them are actually switching to more trade in other seafood or dried marine products.”

But regardless of a ban, Hammerschlag says that eating shark fins or shark meat is a health risk.

“One thing that I think potentially people should be aware of when it comes to shark fin … is that they do have toxins in them,” he says.

Sharks are toward the top of the food web, so they have higher levels of mercury and other toxins that have been linked to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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NPR CEO Takes Medical Leave Amid Newsroom Sexual Harassment Scandal

NPR CEO Jarl Mohn, shown here in 2015, said today that he is going on leave for medical reasons for at least four weeks.

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NPR CEO Jarl Mohn is going on medical leave for at least one month.

It comes less than a week after the ouster of NPR’s head of news, Michael Oreskes, over sexual harassment allegations by multiple women.

“[L]ast March I suffered a nearly fatal ruptured aorta. I returned to work with the blessing of my physician with one important caveat—I cannot allow my blood pressure to rise,” Mohn said in an email to staff. “Regretfully, the hypertension has returned to a dangerous level, and I have been instructed to take medical leave until my health returns to normal, at a minimum of four weeks.”

Mohn has faced tough questions from staff over his handling of the Oreskes scandal.

He had previously stated that Oreskes was formally rebuked by NPR after a staff member, journalist Rebecca Hersher, filed a formal complaint with human resources in October 2015.

But he admitted Tuesday that a “second similar complaint” had also been filed at “about the same time.”

“Since the woman who had filed that second complaint was promised that it would be kept confidential, and it had not been publicly reported, I did not raise it earlier,” he states. “Mike was disciplined at the time for both incidents.”

Additional women have also filed formal complaints against Oreskes in the last week.

During his leave, chief operating officer, Loren Mayor will handle his duties.

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Twitter Users Have Sued Trump Over His Practice Of Blocking Critics

Seven Twitter users have sued President Trump claiming he has violated their First Amendment rights. Now, some constitutional scholars have joined the suit, which challenges Trump’s practice of blocking critics from his @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed. The suit maintains that Trump’s feed is a “public forum” and that users should not be blocked from seeing and responding to his tweets simply because they disagree with his views. The government responds that critics have plenty of others ways of reacting to Trump’s tweets.

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More Than Half Of Latinos Surveyed Say Applying To College Wasn't Discussed With Them

A recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health asked: When you were growing up, were you encouraged to apply to college, discouraged from applying or was this never discussed? Of the Latinos who responded, 52 percent said applying to college was never discussed while growing up.

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Under Saudi Blockade, Yemen Torn By Competing Powers — And Facing Catastrophe

A Yemeni man stands at the site of an airstrike in the capital, Sanaa, on Sunday.

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Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has accused Iran of committing an act of “direct military aggression” by supplying Houthi fighters in Yemen with ballistic missiles. Mohammed bin Salman’s claim, stated in a phone call with the British foreign minister, comes just days after the Saudi military shot down a missile aimed at an international airport near Riyadh — and subsequently shut down land, air and sea routes into Yemen in retaliation.

“The Crown Prince stressed that the involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the Kingdom,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said in a statement Tuesday.

The agency also noted that Boris Johnson “expressed his condemnation” of the missile attack and reaffirmed the U.K.’s commitment to Saudi Arabia.

Iran, for its part, denies playing any role in Saturday’s attempted attack, which Human Rights Watch says “is most likely a war crime.” The Houthi rebels — an Iran-backed Shiite militia that controls much of Yemen, including its capital, Sanaa — fired what has been reported to be a Burkan H2 missile at the airport, only to see Saudi missile defense forces intercept it in flight. Some fragments of the destroyed missile did rain down on King Khalid International Airport.

“The Houthis’ launching of an indiscriminate ballistic missile at a predominantly civilian airport is an apparent war crime,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Tuesday.

“But this unlawful attack is no justification for Saudi Arabia to exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe by further restricting aid and access to the country.”

Indeed, the closure of Yemen’s ports of entry threatens to worsen a situation that United Nations officials have also described as “catastrophic.”

As of Saturday, the World Health Organization was reporting that more than 900,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported since late April in Yemen, where years of war and privation have debilitated the infrastructure and medical system. The WHO says the outbreak of cholera, a disease that under most circumstances should be both preventable and treatable, has claimed the lives of at least 2,188 people in that period.

To date, 900,312 suspected #cholera cases and 2,188 associated deaths have been reported in #Yemen since 27 April 2017. pic.twitter.com/J3G09Asxqj

— WHO Yemen (@WHOYemen) November 4, 2017

“They’re lacking in everything from beds to basic medicines. Doctors said they didn’t even have enough antibiotics,” NPR’s Ruth Sherlock told Morning Edition on Tuesday.

Ruth, who just left Yemen this week, said it’s not just cholera that threatens civilians in the war-ravaged country but random violence, as well. She said she met one 12-year-old boy at a hospital who “stood on a landmine just outside his home seven months ago. He lost much of his left leg and the toes on his right foot.”

And that’s not to mention the food shortage that has ravaged Yemeni civilians, leaving 2 million children “acutely malnourished & at grave risk of dying,” according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“It is the worst food crisis we are looking at today, seven million people are on the brink of famine, millions of people being kept alive by our humanitarian operations,” spokesman Jens Laerke told reporters this week, as Deutsche Welle reports.

“If these channels, these lifelines, are not kept open it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have already called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” said Laerke.

As Ruth notes, both the U.N. and Doctors Without Borders say their flights have been grounded. And Saudi leaders, who say they’ve undertaken to stem the flow of weapons from Iran, have as yet shown no inclination to lift the blockade.

The past week’s events represent a significant escalation in what has become something of a proxy struggle between Saudi Arabia, a Sunni-led country, and a predominantly Shiite Iran. The two Gulf powers for years have been “engaged in a regional ‘Cold War,’ ” as the BBC puts it, and Yemen’s internecine conflict between the rebels and its exiled — but still internationally recognized — government has seen the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition since March 2015.

The violence, which began with a Houthi uprising but intensified with the start of a sustained Saudi air campaign, has been locked in stalemate for some time. But it has continued to wreak a deadly toll: Al Jazeera reports that more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the war.

It has also prompted criticism of the U.S., which has at times offered the Saudis logistical and targeting support in their bombing campaign.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or KSA, “bombs #Yemen to smithereens, killing 1000’s of innocents including babies, spreads cholera and famine, but of course blames Iran,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, tweeted Monday. “KSA is engaged in wars of aggression, regional bullying, destabilizing behavior & risky provocations. It blames Iran for the consequences.”

And in Tehran, Iran’s capital, The Guardian reports the anger with Saudi Arabia has pervaded cartoons and newspaper headlines such as this one: “Are we hearing the drums of war?”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen in July.

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AP

The U.S., which sells billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, waded into this war of words Tuesday with an allegation of its own: Citing Saudi information, the office of Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis — and also shot down — in July was of Iranian make. It was “a type of weapon that had not been present in Yemen before the conflict, constituting violations of UN Security Council Resolutions 2216 and 2231,” Haley’s office said.

“Saudi Arabia’s announcement confirms once again the Iranian regime’s complete disregard for its international obligations,” Haley said in a statement. “The United States is committed to containing Iran’s destabilizing actions and will not turn a blind eye to these serious violations of international law by the Iranian regime.”

Haley’s office added that the missile launched Saturday “may also be of Iranian origin,” supporting Salman’s claim.

Meanwhile, the U.N. continues to work to open Yemen’s ports to humanitarian traffic again, as the group’s deputy spokesman told The Associated Press. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations.”

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How Do Gravitational Waves Really Work?

The original historical documents related to Albert Einstein’s prediction of the existence of gravitational waves are seen at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Feb. 11, 2016.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Sebastian Scheiner/AP

A couple weeks ago, astronomers announced they had detected gravitational waves from a “kilonova” (I hate that name but we’ll wait for another blog post to explain why).

A few weeks before that, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the work that went into LIGO, the gravitational wave observatory.

So gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time — are a big deal in the world of science. But how, exactly, do they work — and how, exactly, can you learn about them in under four minutes?

Thanks to folks at Minute Physics and The Kids Should See This you can now get the answers you crave so desperately — just watch this video.

Happy waving.

YouTube

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education. You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebookand Twitter: @adamfrank4

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