Religion A Large Presence As U.S. Embassy Opens In Jerusalem

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin unveil the entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

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The religious leader invited to give the opening prayer at the dedication of the American Embassy in Jerusalem is an evangelical Christian who once said that Judaism, along with Mormonism, Islam and Hinduism, is one of the religions “that lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell.”

Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, has come under intense criticism for those comments, but he was also one of Donald Trump’s earliest and most enthusiastic Christian supporters. In his prayer, while thanking God for protecting Israel, Jeffress managed to shower praise on the president.

“We want to thank you for the tremendous leadership of our great president, Donald J. Trump,” Jeffress said. “Without President Trump’s determination, resolve and courage, we would not be here today.”

Jeffress is also a passionate supporter of the State of Israel, but in choosing him to give the opening prayer at the embassy, the Trump administration offended some who otherwise applauded the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pastor Robert Jeffress, seen here in July 2017, delivered the invocation at a ceremony marking the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Jeffress is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.

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Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, blasted Jeffress on Sunday in a tweet.

“Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem,” Romney wrote.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has long advocated moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, weighed in with similar criticism.

“We are disappointed by the selection of Pastor Robert Jeffress to offer a prayer at the historic dedication of the American Embassy in Jerusalem,” the ADL said Monday in a statement. “Jeffress is an unrepentant religious bigot who has a history of making hateful comments,” the ADL said.

“This is a moment when we should be trying to send out a message of hope, of peace and of inclusion, and that’s not the message that many people associate with Pastor Jeffress,” said Rabbi David Sandamel, the ADL’s director of inter-religious engagement.

Appearing on the “Fox and Friends” television program on Monday morning, Jeffress said remarks he has made in the past about Jews and others not going to heaven merely reflect Christian doctrine.

“Historic Christianity for 2,000 years has taught that salvation is through faith in Christ alone,” he said. “The fact that I and tens of millions of evangelical Christians still believe that is not bigoted, and it’s not newsworthy.”

A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, noted that Jeffress has had “strong relationships with many people in the faith community, as well as folks in the [Trump] administration and Republicans on [Capitol] Hill, Democrats as well.”

But at least one Republican congressman objected to the invitations to Jeffress and to John Hagee, another evangelical Christian pastor, who gave the benediction at the embassy ceremony.

“If it were me, it would be a radically different panel,” said Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, in an interview on CNN. Rooney, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President George W. Bush, objected in particular to past comments by both Jeffress and Hagee that were critical of the Roman Catholic Church.

“I would rather have had a balanced scorecard,” Rooney said. “It would have suited me to have had as broad a list of ecumenical speakers and participants as they could get.”

A State Department official, speaking on background, noted that Jerusalem “is a holy city for millions of people around the world. We sought to reflect that in this event.”

The Israeli government apparently had no objection to the role of Pastors Jeffress and Hagee at the embassy opening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the ceremony, quoted Zechariah 8:3, in which God promises “to return to Zion and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.”

The Book of Zechariah happens to be a favorite of those Christians whose support for the State of Israel is based on a belief that the Hebrew Bible prophesizes that when Jesus Christ returns to earth, it will be in Jerusalem.

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Charge Dropped In Case of Missouri Governor, But Prosecutors Plan To Refile

A felony invasion-of-privacy charge against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has been dropped, although prosecutors say they will refile the case. He is pictured in January in Palmyra, Mo.

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The trial of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was halted Monday, the third day of jury selection, but officials said they would refile the felony invasion-of-privacy case using a special prosecutor.

Greitens has been accused of taking a photo of a partially nude woman without her consent. He has denied taking the photo, although he has acknowledged having an extramarital affair with the woman. She hasn’t spoken publicly about the case. Her former husband told a local television station about the allegations in January.

Assistant St. Louis Circuit Attorney Ronald Sullivan announced that he was withdrawing the case Monday, and said he wanted to switch to using a special prosecutor because Greitens’ lawyers planned to call the St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner as a witness in a case being conducted by her own subordinates. The defense attorneys have criticized her handling of the case and accused a private investigator she hired of committing perjury.

A forensic expert has examined a cellphone used by the governor and has not found evidence of the nude photo. It is not known whether the phone examined is the same one Greitens was using during the time the photo allegedly was taken.

The governor has been accused of threatening that if the woman revealed their affair, damaging his political interests, he would distribute the photo.

A special investigative committee of the Missouri House has also issued a report saying the woman told her now-ex-husband that Greitens subjected her to physical assault and emotional abuse.

In a separate prosecution, Greitens has been charged with tampering with computer data by illegally obtaining a list of donors to his veterans charity and using it to seek contributions for his 2016 political campaign.

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Fatal Pedestrian Crashes Increasingly Involve SUVs, Study Finds

Pedestrians walk along a Manhattan street in New York City in March. A new report finds that SUVs are increasingly involved in fatal crashes with pedestrians.

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Pedestrian deaths in 2016 were the highest they’ve been since 1990. And SUVs were responsible for a growing number of those fatalities.

A new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that between 2009 and 2016, pedestrian fatalities increased in nearly every circumstance examined. But among all types of vehicles, SUVs had the biggest spike in single-vehicle fatal pedestrian crashes, and crashes were increasingly likely to involve high-horsepower vehicles.

During that eight-year period, the number of such crashes involving SUVs increased by 81 percent. “The average annual increase in crashes involving SUVs was 3.1% higher than the increase in other vehicle types combined, and the difference was significant,” the study’s authors wrote.

The study comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization that’s funded by auto insurance companies and associations. Its mission is to find ways to reduce crashes and the losses that result from them.

The report notes that SUVs have increased in popularity in recent years, according to U.S. vehicle registration data: “the number of registered SUVs increased 37% from 2009 to 2016, while the number of other registered passenger vehicles decreased by less than 1%.” Trucks and SUVs now make up 67 percent of the U.S. auto market, according to Automobile magazine.

“Although larger, heavier vehicles provide more protection to their occupants and thus have lower driver death rates per registered vehicle than smaller cars,” the insurance report says, “previous research has found that SUVs and other light trucks and vans were associated with increased risks of severely injuring or killing pedestrians in an impact when compared with cars.”

Part of what makes SUVs so deadly to pedestrians is their design, the institute explains: SUVs’ front ends are higher and often more vertical, so they are more likely to hit a pedestrian in the head or chest, rather than the legs.

While pedestrians 70 and older are the most likely to be killed, the highest increase in per capita pedestrian death rates was among adults 20-69.

It’s not yet clear what accounts for that increase, but the authors note that it could be simply that adults in this age range are walking more: “the estimated number of Americans who reported walking as their primary method of commuting to work in the past week increased from 3.3 million in 2005 to 4.2 million in 2015.”

Cars moving at faster speeds make for deadlier and more frequent crashes, and speed limits have been going higher and higher.

Road design also plays a major role in pedestrian deaths. The most typical pedestrian fatality occurs midblock, on an arterial street, in the dark.

Phoenix and Albuquerque topped the 2016 list of cities over 500,000 people with the highest per capita pedestrian fatalities. Detroit also was also high on that list.

“As a Detroiter, I can give you a few reasons why: crumbling infrastructure, poorly designed public spaces and poverty,” Erin Marquis writes at Jalopnik. “Detroit is a poor city built with multilane surface streets cutting through it, even in the heart of downtown, with barely any crosswalks. Jaywalking across five lanes of traffic on streets with little to no illumination is something of a pastime here.”

Road diets are one way to make the streets safer for walkers, by narrowing the distance required to cross, and slowing the speed of vehicles. Median crossing islands, curb extensions, and pedestrian-activated beacons can help, too.

The institute notes that making changes to vehicles can also make them less deadly to pedestrians. Approaches include making vehicle fronts softer, headlights brighter, and adding rearview cameras that can prevent crashes in which drivers back over pedestrians.

Another strategy is adding pedestrian airbags that inflate if the car hits someone. The airbags are meant to protect the pedestrian from striking the front roof pillars, which can be especially deadly.

Volvo announced pedestrian airbags on one of its cars for the European market in 2012, and in December GM said it had been issued a patent for a “fender-located pedestrian protection airbag.” Mercedes-Benz has filed a patent for its own pedestrian airbag design.

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Australia's 'Man With The Golden Arm' Retires After Saving 2.4 Million Babies

James Harrison, known as “the man with the golden arm,” is pictured in 2003, when he was recognized for the number of times he had donated blood. At the time it was his 808th donation. The Australian man has now donated well over 1,000 times.

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James Harrison, an Australian man whose blood contains a rare antibody that can create a treatment that saves babies’ lives, has donated plasma one last time.

Harrison, 81, is now over the age limit for donors — in fact, he hit the cap months ago.

But the Australian Red Cross Blood Service let him donate one last time on Friday. The service estimates that over the course of his life, he has helped save some 2.4 million babies.

Harrison, known as “the man with a golden arm,” has donated blood and plasma regularly for more than six decades, from age 18 to age 81. All told, he donated 1,172 times — 1,162 from his right arm, 10 from his left, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“I hope it’s a record that somebody breaks,” Harrison told the Blood Service.

Harrison spoke to NPR in 2015 and explained his long history with blood donation. He had a lung removed when he was 14, in a procedure that required multiple blood transfusions:

” ‘I was in the hospital for three months and I had 100 stitches,’ he recalls.

“After receiving 13 units — almost 2 gallons — of donated blood, Harrison knew right away that he wanted to give back.

” ‘I was always looking forward to donating, right from the operation, because I don’t know how many people it took to save my life,’ he says. ‘I never met them, didn’t know them.’ “

So, as soon as he turned 18, he started donating blood and plasma. He kept it up for years.

Then researchers discovered that his plasma had a property that could save infants’ lives.

When a woman with Rh-negative blood has an Rh-positive fetus, it’s known as Rh incompatibility. Her body can develop an immune reaction that attacks her baby’s blood cells, and those antibodies put future children at risk.

Then, in the 1960s, scientists discovered that the same antibody — Rho(D) immune globulin, also known in Australia as anti-D — can also be used to create a treatment. It saves babies that would otherwise get sick or die.

And Harrison, it just so happens, has anti-D in his blood stream. A lot of it.

“Very few people have the these antibodies in such strong concentrations,” Jemma Falkenmire, of the Australian Red Cross Blood Donor Service, told the Herald. “His body produces a lot of them, and when he donates his body produces more.”

Harrison was happy to hear that he could help save babies’ lives. He switched from giving blood to giving plasma, as often as the service would allow him.

He contributed to treatments for millions of Australian women, including his own daughter.

Today, although researchers are testing methods to make the antibody in a lab, donors who produce the antibody are still the only source for anti-D.

Such donors are rare these days, at least in developed countries. The antibodies are produced naturally by women with Rh incompatibility. But the same treatment that saves babies prevents mothers from developing that immune reaction.

To fill that gap, some Rh-negative men agree to be exposed to Rh-positive blood so they can become donors, either as volunteers or for money.

And a small number of people develop the antibodies after accidentally receiving a transfusion of the wrong kind of blood.

That’s probably what happened to Harrison. And he made the best of the mistake by voluntarily donating life-saving plasma for many years.

Harrison is one of about 200 people in Australia who are known to create the antibody.

When Harrison spoke to NPR a few years ago, he knew his “retirement” was coming soon. He said it was time for other people to step up.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, you’re a hero,’ ” he told NPR. “But I’m in a safe room, donating blood.

“They give me a cup of coffee and something to nibble on. And then I just go on my way. … No problem, no hardship.”

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The Semiconductor Standoff

ZTE

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About three years ago, the Chinese government introduced an economic plan, Made in China 2025. The goal was for China to elevate itself from a middle-income country to a high-income country, upgrading its domestic companies so that they can compete with the most technologically advanced companies in the world. This meant reducing China’s reliance on importing certain high-tech goods from abroad, including from the United States.

But in order to increase its technological capabilities, China has to first acquire the technologies that its companies need to compete. And the way that China has gone about acquiring those technologies is at the heart of its trade disputes with the US.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts and NPR One.

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Trump Administration's 3 Biggest Ideas For Lowering Drug Prices

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar talked Friday about the administration’s plans to lower drug prices as President Trump looked on in the White House Rose Garden.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has this pen. It’s not all that remarkable looking, but he held it up multiple times Monday at a briefing with reporters.

“This pen,” he said, “has a lot of power.”

And he said he’s prepared to use it.

Azar was making the point that in the area of drug prices, the head of HHS – which runs the Medicare and Medicaid programs and buys about $130 billion in prescription drugs each year — can make a lot of changes in the pharmaceutical market. And he doesn’t need congressional approval to do it.

He’s got plans to use that pen to change how Medicare and Medicaid pay for medications and how the Food and Drug Administration goes about approving drugs for marketing.

Lots of the ideas are wonky and esoteric, but analysts say some could make a big difference over the long term.

So here are three of the big ideas Azar laid out Monday, three days after President Trump unveiled a blueprint to lower the cost of prescription drugs that was criticized for being light on substance.

Restructure How Pharmacy Benefit Managers Deal With Drugmakers

Azar’s most ambitious initiative would ban pharmacy benefit managers – the companies that administer prescription drug plans for insurance companies or employers – from negotiating discounts with drugmakers as a percentage of list prices.

Today PBMs, such as CVS Caremark or Express Scripts, make deals in the form of rebates. Pharmaceutical companies offer something like 30 percent off the list price of their drugs if the PBM places the medicines in a favorable spot on their preferred drug lists. When prices go up, PBMs often make more money as rebates grow.

“They’re taking money from both sides,” Azar said. “They’ve built into their system a regime where they get more money when the list price goes up.”

Azar said he intends to force PBMs to write contracts based on a set price for drugs, rather than a percentage-based rebate. And, he said, he’s looking to ban them from making any money at all from pharmaceutical companies. Instead, the companies would earn money only from the fees paid by the insurance companies or employers who hire them.

“This is nothing short of the complete and fundamental restructuring of over $400 billion of the U.S. economy,” he said.

David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs, approves of the idea. “If they could do away with the rebates and have transparent net prices, I think that’s an enormous step forward,” he said.

But Express Scripts spokesman Brian Henry takes issue with targeting PBMs. “The root cause is the pharmaceutical companies who set these prices,” he said. “We are the ones who help drive down the costs. We drive competition.”

Change How Medicare Pays for Some Expensive Drugs

Azar says he wants to simplify how Medicare pays for many drugs by moving some expensive medications that are administered in doctors’ offices – like cancer drugs — into the standard Medicare prescription drug program.

Today many of those expensive drugs are paid for through Medicare Part B. It’s a system in which doctors buy the drugs and get paid a percentage of their cost to administer them to patients. Under this system, the government pays the full list price and doctors make more money when they prescribe more expensive drugs.

Azar said he wants to move some of the most expensive of those drugs to the Part D program, which is administered by private health insurance companies that negotiate discounts with drug companies.

“This move from B to D gives us the power to negotiate against drug companies,” he said.

But analysts caution it could lead to higher out-of-pocket costs and less choice for patients.

“Moving drugs from Part B to Part D could get the prices of some drugs down by allowing insurers to bargain with drug makers, but it would likely come with more restrictions on which drugs are covered,” said Larry Levitt, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Some Part B drugs – many of which are infusions like chemotherapy — don’t have competitors, so negotiation may not help much.”

Make Prices More Transparent

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday will release new versions of its Medicare and Medicaid drug price dashboards that HHS says will have more detail on what the programs are paying for the medications they buy.

And on top of that, Azar says he’s looking at whether he can require drug companies to include the price of their products in those television ads that already include seemingly endless lists of scary side effects.

Mitchell and Levitt both doubt that drug companies can be shamed into lowering prices and losing profit.

“It’s not going to lower drug prices,” Mitchell says. “But it would probably help for patients to know that the drug they’re getting costs $100,000.”

And finally, he wants to get rid of what he calls a “gag rule” in some PBM contracts that forbid pharmacists from telling patients if they can get their drug cheaper by going outside their insurance plan.

“Note that there are a number of proposals they are suggesting that are controversial and will result in pitched battles,” says Rodney Whitlock, vice president of health policy at ML Strategies, a lobbying firm. “That said, they sure are talking a good game and should be given deference that action will approach rhetoric.”

Azar, who came to HHS after a stint at president of the U.S. operations of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly opened his talk by dispensing with the industry’s long-embraced argument that high prices are necessary to pay for research into future cures.

“I’ve been a drug company executive. I know the tired talking points: the idea that if one penny disappears from pharma profit margins, American innovation will grind to a halt,” Azar said. “I’m not interested in hearing those talking points anymore.”

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Months After Election, Italy's Populist Parties Seek More Time To Negotiate Coalition

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, speaks to the media Monday after meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome for coalition talks.

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It has been 10 weeks since Italian voters handed the country’s populist parties big gains at the ballot box — but if the general election’s big winners, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right, anti-immigrant League party, are to form a governing coalition, it appears they will need at least a few days more.

“We agree we have to move quickly,” 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio told reporters after speaking with President Sergio Mattarella, according to Reuters, “but as we are writing what will be the government programme for the next five years, it’s very important for us to do it as well as possible, so we told the president we needed a few more days.”

During the campaign, both parties often mobilized skepticism of the European Union, frustration with a stagnant domestic economy and virulent anger over migrant arrivals in recent years. Yet, while their appeals against the current political order resonated among voters, their attempts to forge a new order between themselves have proven much more complicated. The move toward compromise has proved to be halting and hesitant.

The main things they appear to have agreed upon are dramatic tax cuts and big boosts to entitlement programs — a combination that has set some alarm bells ringing among Italy’s European partners, but that has also brought the two parties closer to a long-awaited coalition agreement. So close, in fact, that some onlookers assumed that when leaders of both parties met separately with Mattarella at the presidential palace Monday, they might finally emerge with a deal.

Instead, they emerged with some more leeway granted by the president.

#Quirinale: Il Presidente #Mattarella riceve la delegazione del “MoVimento 5 stelle” #consultazioni pic.twitter.com/0HMof5k8SV

— Quirinale (@Quirinale) May 14, 2018

#Quirinale: il Presidente #Mattarella riceve la delegazione “Lega – Salvini Premier” #consultazioni pic.twitter.com/Tn0wRTjbxG

— Quirinale (@Quirinale) May 14, 2018

At issue now is a key question: Who, exactly, should serve as prime minister of a coalition between the 5-Star Movement and the League?

Neither Di Maio, 31, nor Matteo Salvini, the 31-year-old League leader, has publicly sought the role. In their place, several prominent academics have reportedly emerged as potential candidates to suit both parties, though none has solidified a position as a favorite. As the Financial Times notes, Italian media has reported that something of a two-man race has developed — between Giulio Sapelli, an economic historian with ties to Italy’s biggest oil and gas group, and law professor Giuseppe Conte.

Any final decision reached by both parties will need the approval of Mattarella, who is responsible for appointing the prime minister and the major cabinet positions. FT adds that 5-Star “has also pledged to put its ‘contract’ with the League to an online vote among its members, introducing some uncertainty about the latest accord.”

Compounding this uncertainty is the unlikely revival of Silvio Berlusconi’s political prospects. The 81-year-old former prime minister, who won four terms in that office, had been barred from public office as part of his 2013 sentence for tax fraud, but an Italian court upended that sentence earlier this month.

NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports, the court ruled that Berlusconi’s public office ban “can be lifted one year early thanks to good conduct.”

Shortly before that ruling, Berlusconi had given the League — a political ally of his Forza Italia party — a pass to negotiate a government with 5-Star. However, should those talks fail, with new elections called as a result, the BBC explains the longtime leader could angle for the position of premier again.

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