Episode 466: DIY Finance

Harlem funeral directors Tamara Bullock and Patricia Hamilton are going to spend their next savings-club payout on a sky-diving trip (unless Bullock can get out of it).
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Harlem funeral directors Tamara Bullock and Patricia Hamilton are going to spend their next savings-club payout on a sky-diving trip (unless Bullock can get out of it). Marianne McCune/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Marianne McCune/NPR

This episode originally ran in June 2013.

On today’s show, we look at how people create their own financial systems from scratch.

One man has thousands of dollars stashed around his house in different “accounts.” Tamara Bullock and Patricia Hamilton are part of an informal savings club. Miguelo Rada has a whole bank in his pocket — he gives out loans and acts like an ATM who looks out for your best interest.

Data and some biographical information for this story come to us via the U.S. Financial Diaries Project. Since the show originally aired, they’ve completed their field work and are now publishing detailed biographies, charts and more about how Americans at the bottom of the economic pyramid really spend their money.

Music: “Indie Dance” and “Pawn Shop.” Find us: Twitter/ Facebook.

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Justice Department Sues Ferguson After City Amends Police Reform Deal

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the city of Ferguson, Mo., for unjust policing that violates the civil and constitutional rights of citizens, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit came one day after the Ferguson City Council voted to change a proposed consent decree to reform the police and courts, which had been negotiated between the DOJ and city officials. The council said it cost too much.

In a news conference, Lynch said the DOJ was sensitive to the city’s cost concerns throughout the months-long negotiation. She also said, “There is no price for constitutional policing.”

Lynch was adamant that the council’s move to amend the agreement constituted a rejection, and said she was disappointed in the decision. She said the violations by the police and courts in Ferguson “were not only egregious — they were routine.”

“We intend to prosecute this case and we intend to prevail,” she said.

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Lisa Lucas Takes The Reins At The National Book Foundation

Lisa Lucas, publisher of Guernica magazine, will take over as executive director of the National Book Foundation on March 14.

The National Book Foundation announced Wednesday that it will soon have a new leader at the helm. Lisa Lucas, the 36-year-old publisher of Guernica magazine, is set to become only the third executive director in the history of the foundation, which oversees the annual National Book Awards.

Lisa Lucas has been named the new Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. Welcome, @likaluca! https://t.co/k7z7wwm7l5

— National Book (@nationalbook) February 10, 2016

“It has just been an ecstatic joy to be able to do work in service of readers,” Lucas tells NPR. “And it just feels like an extraordinary opportunity to build on the work they’ve done, and to keep figuring out ways to engage readers.”

Lisa Lucas, publisher of Guernica magazine, will take over as executive director of the National Book Foundation on March 14. Beowulf Sheehan/Courtesy of Lisa Lucas hide caption

toggle caption Beowulf Sheehan/Courtesy of Lisa Lucas

National Book Awards have been given out since 1950 — with a brief interlude in the ’80s, when they got a makeover as The American Book Awards, in an attempt to broaden their mainstream appeal. That ill-fated experiment was ditched in 1986, the same year the National Book Foundation was established to oversee the awards. Since then, the foundation has had two executive directors: author Neil Baldwin and his successor, Harold Augenbraum, who announced his retirement last year.

Lucas takes over on March 14.

Despite the abandonment of the ABAs, the foundation, decades later, remains intent on broadening its base of readers, through its awards and its philanthropic projects. And so does Lucas.

“How do you leverage the resources that the foundation has — the voice, the platform, the awards themselves, the relationships with readers — to reach even more audiences?” she says. “How do you take that and build a bigger core of readers who engage with the work that the foundation does?”

These are the questions that will drive her, she says — and they’re questions that have taken on added dimension with renewed scrutiny on diversity in the publishing industry. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, for example, drew attention to the lack of color in kids’ literature, opening new programs and forcing change at the industry’s annual convention, BookExpo America.

Even at the 2014 National Book Awards ceremony, host Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) brought on a miniature firestorm over his racially charged jokes. He apologized quickly afterward.

While Lucas, who’s African-American, applauds the foundation’s efforts to support diversity — in its programming, its winners and its judges — she says that this shouldn’t be the whole focus.

“The focus for me is inclusivity — and that’s everyone: That’s regional, that’s racial, that’s socioeconomic,” Lucas says. “Yes, I’m a person of color, and we need to be a part of that conversation. But I think that, in the end, it needs to be about everyone actually being at the table.”

Ultimately, she says it’s a matter of incremental improvement, not necessarily revolution.

“It’s the kind of organization that does the kind of work that I believe in,” she says. “I didn’t take the job because I thought I could fix it and tear it up. It’s because we actually share a common cause of wanting people to read, and not really seeing that reader as a particular person.”

And where do you find these readers? Well, she says, they’re everywhere.

“Everyone is either a reader or a potential reader. The potential audience is everyone.”

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The Thistle & Shamrock: From Vinyl To MP3

Máire Brennan performs on Mountain Stage.
57:03

Máire Brennan performs on Mountain Stage. Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage hide caption

toggle caption Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage

Music collections have migrated from record shelves to hard drives and beyond, but great performances endure regardless of the storage media. Enjoy an hour of Celtic masterpieces from across a quarter of a century, including music by Máire Brennan, Robin Bullock, Dougie MacLean and more.

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Thai Police Nab Mysterious Master Forger Known As 'The Doctor'

Fake passports and the tools used to make them are displayed at the immigration bureau in Bangkok on Wednesday after Thai police broke up a major fake passport ring led by an Iranian known as "The Doctor."

Fake passports and the tools used to make them are displayed at the immigration bureau in Bangkok on Wednesday after Thai police broke up a major fake passport ring led by an Iranian known as “The Doctor.” Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

For years, Thai police have been trying to track down a master passport forger known only as “The Doctor.”

All they had was a rough description of the suspect: “a bald Iranian in his 40s,” Thailand’s The Nation reported.

The publication says ‘”The Doctor’ had kept himself away from the public eye and contacted customers only via 4-5 agents,” so his face and name remained a mystery.

The hunt came to an end on Monday, when Thai police raided a house east of Bangkok and arrested Hamid Reza Jafary. In subsequent operations, they also arrested five Pakistanis who allegedly acted as middlemen, AFP reports.

Authorities found nearly 200 passports in the house — some completely forged, while others were real travel documents that he allegedly altered, according to AFP.

Thai officials accuse Jafary of sending “thousands of passports to Middle Eastern customers trying to enter Europe,” the wire service says, though it is not clear whether any of the forged documents were used in the current massive wave of migration to Europe.

The raid also uncovered “a laser engraving machine, rolls of thin leather for passport covers and metal stamps from various countries,” according to AFP.

That equipment was on display at a Wednesday press conference held by police in Bangkok.

Counterfeit passport printing plates allegedly used by "The Doctor" are displayed at the immigration bureau in Bangkok.

Counterfeit passport printing plates allegedly used by “The Doctor” are displayed at the immigration bureau in Bangkok. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Also on display: The Doctor himself.

Photos published by The Nation show police leading a handcuffed, bald man wearing a yellow jacket into the news conference. His face is obscured by dark sunglasses and he wears a medical mask over his mouth.

Police say that Jafary “confessed to forging passports” which cost about $1,450 to $2,325, The Telegraph reports.

It adds that “Thailand has a flourishing market in bogus passports that supplies human trafficking gangs and crime and terror networks.”

AFP says immigration police commander Lt. Gen. Natthorn Phrosunthorn told reporters that the suspect “used six different passports — three from Brazil, and one from each of Peru, Portugal and New Zealand. He was wanted by security agencies in many countries, especially the EU and Japan.”

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This Mosquito Likes Us Too Much For Our Own Good

Matthew Twombly for NPR

Matthew Twombly for NPR

Aedes aegypti is the dog of the mosquito world. It acts as if it’s man’s best friend.

“It’s been with us for a long time, probably for at least 5,000 years when we started keeping water next to our homes [ideal for laying eggs] and it’s adapted to people,” says Marten Edwards, an entomologist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. “It loves us. It loves our cities. It loves our blood. It functions very well with us.”

There’s just one problem. This mosquito makes us sick.

Aedes aegypti is the primary mosquito responsible for spreading the Zika virus that’s sweeping through Latin America and the Caribbean. For a long time it was known as the “Yellow Fever” mosquito because it’s the primary vector for the virus that causes yellow fever. Aedes aegypti also spreads dengue and chikungunya.

A promotional press release amid the media frenzy over Zika called Aedes aegypti “a heat-driven missile of disease.” While the tiny bug might not be able to blow anything up, it is very efficient at delivering viruses from one person to another.

This story is part of our ongoing coverage of Zika virus.

“It’s not like a mosquito can just suck up a virus and immediately inject into somebody else,” says Marten. “The biology of the virus is connected to the biology of the mosquito.” The stomach of Aedes aegypti is a fertile place for the Zika virus to reproduce. “This doesn’t happen in the vast majority of mosquitoes,” he says. “So that’s what makes the Aedes aegypti unusual.”

The mosquito’s feeding habits are another boon for virus spreading. In general female mosquitoes bite people or other warm-blooded creatures because they need the blood to hatch their eggs. Most mosquitoes get some blood in one bite and get on with reproduction. But Aedes aegypti is what’s known as a “sip feeder.” It takes lots of little sips of blood from lots of people. So once an Aedes aegypti mosquito is infected with a virus it’s able to spread it multiple times in its 2-to-4 week life.

That’s partly why Zika has spread “explosively”, as the World Health Organization head Margaret Chan characterized it, in the Americas.

Globally there are thousands of different types of mosquitoes. Aedes aegypti primarily is found in the tropics. Entomologists say that its habitat is expanding but currently its range extends from the southern United States to northern Argentina in the Americas. It prospers across sub-Saharan Africa, in India and in warmer, wetter parts of Southeast Asia. Basically Aedes aegypti hangs out in a wide band around the equator.

And it likes cities.

“This is an urban mosquito,” says Audrey Lenhart, an entomologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “It tends to breed in close proximity to human habitations.” Trash is a favorite breeding site. So are abandoned tires because of the water trapped inside.

Other mosquitoes, by contrast, breed in swamps and feed off deer.

Lenhart is now part of the CDC’s emergency response to the Zika outbreak. Her earlier work looked at how Aedes aegypti spreads dengue in Latin America and what can be done to control it.

“It’s a tricky mosquito to control. It doesn’t bite at night like the mosquitoes that transmit malaria so bed nets are not necessarily useful. They rest both inside and outside houses so there’s not an easy way to target the adult mosquito [with pesticide].”

“It’s domesticated,” says Rebekah Kading, an entomologist at Colorado State University. She reiterates that Aedes aegypti has developed a lot of habits that make it really good at spreading disease.

“It’s feeding on people almost exclusively. It doesn’t fly very far so it’s just circulating virus in an area.” Its flight span is about a quarter of a mile, according to one study.

How do we get rid of this unwanted friend?

The researchers interviewed for this story said that people need to make their homes and neighborhoods less friendly to mosquitoes. For example, dump out any containers with even a little standing water in the bottom — Aedes aegypti’s larvae can develop in a bottle cap full of water. And even without water, the eggs can survive for months, until the rains arrive.

As with any complex, long-term relationship, breaking up with Aedes aegypti may be hard for humans to do.

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Video: UCLA Gymast Sophina DeJesus Whips, Nae Naes, And Slays

YouTube

In 1996, when Dominque Dawes became the first black woman to win an individual gymnastics medal at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, critics said her look wasn’t quite right.

In 2012, Gabby Douglas became the first black woman to win the title of Individual All-Around Champion at the London Summer Olympics. She was then asked again and again to comment on critiques about her hair.

In 2013, Simone Biles became the first black woman to be world all-around champion at the gymnastics World Championship. Following her win, Italian Gymnastics Federation official David Ciaralli said there was “a trend in gymnastics at this moment, which is going towards a technique that opens up new chances to athletes of colour (well-known for power) while penalising the more artistic Eastern European style that allowed Russians and Romanians to dominate the sport for years.” Ciarelli also said black people were unsuited to be field managers, general managers, or swimmers.

Black women athletes, especially the ones who make it to the very top, have faced a history of being criticized for their bodies, their hair and their strength. In performative sports, like gymnastics, figure skating, and ballet, they’re often subject to more elusive critiques about style and grace. The exact meaning of these comments can be hard to pin down but, they still send a clear message. This is not a black woman’s sport. Black women don’t belong here.

Which is part of what makes a video that went viral this weekend so exciting. It shows a young woman named Sophina DeJesus, a senior on the gymnastics team at UCLA who identifies as African American and Puerto Rican, incorporate dance moves into her Saturday floor routine that are strongly rooted in blackness.

She whips, nae naes, and hits the quan while also expertly landing difficult tumbling sequences. The routine earned her a 9.925 from the judges, but the crowd was screaming for a 10. On Facebook, the video has been watched over 26 million times.

how can you not love black ppl? we lit ?? #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackExcellence https://t.co/Z7p7dc2mdg

— 7 GOD (@iiBreakNecks) February 9, 2016

DeJesus’s routine doesn’t show an athlete dominating at a traditionally white sport despite her race. It was an athlete celebrating her race in the context of a traditionally white sport. In under two minutes, DeJesus — blue hair, hip-hop beats and all — showed that black bodies and black culture belong in gymnastics.

Nevertheless, that sensibility probably won’t carry over to higher level competitions, at least for now. In an interview with the New York Times, former Olympic silver medalist and former Bruin Samantha Peszek said that “international judges seem to appreciate more traditional style of floor choreography,” and that the strict Olympic requirements don’t allow much room for “elaborate choreography.”

But that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get your fix of hip-hop-infused backflips. DeJesus’s UCLA team competes again on February 13, and every weekend after that until mid-April.

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After More Than 450 Years, Catholicism Returns To King Henry VIII's Palace

Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (left) and Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, (right) take Vespers at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London on Tuesday.

Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (left) and Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, (right) take Vespers at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London on Tuesday. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

In 1530, at Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII and his advisers penned a letter to Rome. In it, for the first time, Henry threatened to break with the Vatican and split off from the Catholic Church.

Four years later, in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry carried through on that threat — and the Church of England was born.

Now British newspapers suggest Henry may be turning over in his grave — because Roman Catholic services have returned to Hampton Court, with a Vespers service held on Tuesday night.

It’s believed to be the first Catholic service at the palace since the Tudor era (but not the first since Henry’s split with the church — his daughter, the famously Catholic Queen Mary I, held services there during her brief reign in the 1550s, The Guardian notes).

Tuesday’s service, called “Faith and the Crown,” was led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and the highest-ranking Catholic in the United Kingdom.

It featured music by Thomas Tallis and John Taverner — composers from the Tudor era who wrote music “while trying to meet the complex and ever-changing spiritual needs of successive monarchs,” as a Chapel Royal statement tactfully puts it.

The service was a symbol of unity between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Before it was held, The Guardian writes, Archbishop Nichols and Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, had a conversation about the relationship between their respective churches, the English royalty and broader society:

“Their discussion ranged from the civil wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe to the response of churches to increasing secularisation and religious violence in the modern times.

“Chartres joked that most people would think that an Anglican dean and a Catholic archbishop ‘must fight like ferrets in a sack’. But, he added, unity would be built ‘as we look together at the problems facing humanity rather than looking at the differences between us.’

“Saying that the service was a ‘celebration of a common agenda’, Chartres concluded: ‘Welcome home, cardinal.’ “

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In Hong Kong, A Tussle Over Academic Freedom

Students take part in a protest at the University of Hong Kong on Jan. 20. They protested after a pro-Beijing official was appointed to a senior role, amid growing worry over increasing political interference in academia.

Students take part in a protest at the University of Hong Kong on Jan. 20. They protested after a pro-Beijing official was appointed to a senior role, amid growing worry over increasing political interference in academia. Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Talking to some Hong Kong residents, you might think their territory was under siege. Their press is censoring itself. Its judiciary is required to be “patriotic.” Even their mother tongue, Cantonese, is under assault, some believe, from Mandarin speakers to the north.

Now add academic freedom to that list, as pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps have rushed to take sides in an ongoing battle over leadership of the territory’s oldest institution of higher learning, the University of Hong Kong.

The dispute came to a climax on the night of Jan. 26, when students surrounded a meeting of the university’s governing council. “Dialogue, dialogue,” they shouted, jostling with police and demanding to speak to newly appointed council chairman Arthur Li. He refused.

“Mr. Arthur Li was protected by the police and sneaked away,” says student leader Yvonne Leung. “So we could feel that he is not that sincere to have a talk with the students.”

Leung opposes the appointment of Li, who is pro-Beijing, and led students in a one-week boycott of classes starting Jan. 20, to push for more democratic university governance. In 2014, she was a student leader in the Umbrella Movement, pro-democracy protests that occupied key streets in Hong Kong for nearly three months.

Yvonne Leung, the former head of the University of Hong Kong's student union, and a prominent figure during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, led students in a protest last month to call for a more democratic governance structure at the university.

Yvonne Leung, the former head of the University of Hong Kong’s student union, and a prominent figure during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, led students in a protest last month to call for a more democratic governance structure at the university. Anthony Kuhn/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Anthony Kuhn/NPR

Li chastised the students and said they were acting irrationally. “Sadly, these small number of students are rather like someone who has taken drugs, who’s been poisoned by drugs,” he told reporters at a Jan. 28 press conference. “And they’ve been manipulated.”

They were manipulated, Li alleged, by Hong Kong’s liberal opposition parties, which want more democracy and less interference from Beijing. Li singled out Leung for criticism, pointing out that she was previously an intern with the leader of the opposition Civic Party.

Links To Beijing

In an interview at the student union, Leung points out that Li is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Communist-controlled government’s top advisory body. “You can see the one who is politically controlled,” she says. “It must be him and not the students.”

Li, 70, is the British-educated heir of the founder of the Bank of East Asia, Hong Kong’s third-largest bank. In addition to chairing the Hong Kong University governing council and sitting on the CPPCC, he also sits on Hong Kong’s cabinet. His critics accuse him of a high-handed management style, for which they have dubbed him “King Arthur.”

Li is a political ally of Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive C. Y. Leung, who appointed Li to his job leading the university governing council. Leung, in turn, was selected by a pro-Beijing electoral college of Hong Kong elites.

As Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung serves as the ex officio chancellor of every university in the territory and has the power to appoint the members of governing councils which make university policy. The system is a vestige of British colonial rule.

Timothy O’Leary, a university governing council member and humanities professor is pushing to change this arrangement. “At the very least, it leaves them open to the appearance of political interference,” he says. “And even the appearance is bad, because that does cause people to begin to engage in self-censorship.”

Critics howled political interference back in September, when Li helped block human rights scholar and law faculty head Johannes Chan from a top university management post because of Chan’s ties to Benny Tai, a fellow law professor and a leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong published a slew of articles declaring Chan a “mediocre scholar” who was unfit to lead.

Threats To Hong Kong’s Freedoms

O’Leary says the debate about university autonomy comes amid fears that Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, including freedom of the press and judicial independence, are under threat.

“Those different kinds of freedom are all connected,” he says. “If you lose one, you’re going to lose them all. ‘Academic freedom,’ people will say, ‘we haven’t yet lost it, so what are you worried about?’ The point is it’s under threat.”

Hong Kong citizens have successfully organized and resisted measures that Beijing and Hong Kong’s government have tried to impose on them, O’Leary says. They were able to stop a draconian security law in 2003 and a 2012 school curriculum that some critics considered pro-Communist.

But the biggest protest of all, the Umbrella Movement, failed to win Hong Kong people the right to elect their own leaders or nominate political candidates. And that may be fueling pro-democracy activists’ feeling of urgency now about the University of Hong Kong.

The school’s governing council has said it will form a panel to discuss reforming its governance structure. The students want a clear timetable, but O’Leary urges them to give the panel time to work.

For now, the students and council chairman Li are deadlocked and have failed to agree on terms to meet with each other.

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Chris Christie To Drop Out Of Republican Race For President

Chris Christie makes a midday stop at T-Bones Great American Eatery in Derry, N.H., as he canvasses for votes on Tuesday.

Chris Christie makes a midday stop at T-Bones Great American Eatery in Derry, N.H., as he canvasses for votes on Tuesday. Meredith Nierman/WGBH hide caption

toggle caption Meredith Nierman/WGBH

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to suspend his campaign for president, a source close to the Christie campaign tells member station WNYC.

The decision comes after a sixth-place finish in New Hampshire, where Christie had banked so much of his political capital.

“I love New Hampshire,” the governor tweeted Tuesday. “I am comfortable to have my fate in your hands.”

It was the second disappointing finish in a row for Christie. Unlike John Kasich and Jeb Bush — the governor and former governor who he was often grouped with — Christie had campaigned hard in Iowa. He spent more than 40 days in the state, according to member station WNYC, despite a moderate resume that history suggested wouldn’t appeal to conservative caucusgoers. Christie ended up with less than 2 percent of the vote.

But for Christie, New Hampshire had been the do-or-die state. And after winning less than 7 percent of the vote there, he’s calling it quits.

Of all the “what ifs” in the Republican presidential campaign, Christie’s is perhaps the most alluring. What if he had run for president in 2012, instead of 2016? Many Republicans were dissatisfied with eventual nominee Mitt Romney that year, and Christie carried on a long flirtation with entering the race himself before deciding not to.

Although Christie faced the biggest challenge of his gubernatorial tenure that fall, when Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, he would never again hold the popular appeal that he did with his party before 2012. He angered many Republicans by publicly embracing President Obama during a disaster tour days before the election. And one year later, Christie was dragged into what became known as “Bridgegate,” when some of his top aides created several days of gridlock in the New York City suburb of Fort Lee, N.J., as an alleged act of political retribution.

While Christie never broke from the pack, he still made a lasting mark on the New Hampshire primary, knocking the surging Marco Rubio off his game at Saturday’s debate by berating Rubio for repeating the same talking point over and over. Rubio ended up finishing fifth, but as WNYC’s Matt Katz put it, the move may have ultimately cost Christie votes, too.

“Christie didn’t really attack like he knows how to attack until last Saturday night, when he knocked out Rubio at the debate,” Katz wrote. “That was apparently a murder-suicide, because while Rubio’s reputation was gravely damaged, Christie didn’t help himself.”

Christie’s departure, along with the recently announced exit of Carly Fiorina, leaves seven major Republican candidates in the race.

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