Puerto Rico Reports Increase in Overall Deaths After Storm
The pace of deaths quickened on Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria — well beyond the number of deaths officially attributed to the Category 4 storm.
Officials in the U.S. territory on Wednesday reported the island had an average of 82 deaths a day in the two weeks before Maria hit Sept. 20. The average increased to 117 deaths a day through the rest of the month, but the rate then fell below usual in October.
“The truth is, that’s not normal,” said Jose Lopez Rodriguez, a demographer with the island’s Demographic Register. “We saw a difference, and it was a significant difference.”
The territory’s government has said 55 people died during the hurricane or later as a direct result of the storm, which knocked out power across the island.
The overall daily death figures hint that the storm could have caused other, harder-to-detect fatalities as well, though officials at the government’s forensic institute said they did not have evidence to attribute them to Maria. They also rejected some media reports that suggested hundreds of people had died as a direct result of the hurricane.
“Those figures of 200, 400, 1,000 — no. Those deaths have not been reported to the institute,” said Edwin Crespo, director of the island’s Bureau of Forensic Science. “The institute has no reason to hide bodies.”
Crespo said death certificates sent to his agency involving natural deaths didn’t state whether a lack of power could have been a factor. “If the hospital or doctor didn’t make the connection,” he said, then paused before adding: “We weren’t there.”
Hector Pesquera, secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety, acknowledged that some deaths classified as natural possibly might have been linked to the hurricane.
“Yes, they could have occurred,” he said. “We cannot deny that categorically.”
Wanda Llovet, director of the Demographic Register, said a total of 2,838 deaths were reported for September, a 20 percent increase from the 2,366 deaths reported for the same month in 2016 and up from 2,242 in September 2015.
But, she said, the number of deaths last month totaled 2,119, which was down about 10 percent from 2,353 in October 2016 and 2,379 in October 2015.
Pesquera said the government does not plan to investigate whether any deaths should have been classified as having a link to the hurricane.
“Why would there be an investigation?” he asked, saying a doctor would not risk losing his license by signing an erroneous death certificate.
Cost to Visit Some US National Parks to Double
America’s national parks are a popular destination for tourists and vacationers from across the country and around the world. More than 330 million people visited them in 2016, enjoying the spectacular scenery and natural wonders… and increasing the need for road repairs, additional park staff and habitat restoration.
For over a century, the federal government has paid to protect the parks through subsidies, plus entry fees at the most popular parks, fees that have remained relatively low and unchanged for more than 50 years. That may change next year, when the National Park Service plans to more than double the cost of a day pass at the most popular parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.
The great outdoors
Although not as well-known as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park is the fourth most visited park in the country, with more than 4.5 million visitors last year.
An entry fee of $30 lets a carload of visitors in for a week. Many pay just for an afternoon to drive through the 100,000 hectare wilderness and admire the snow-capped mountains and pristine meadows. The park includes a huge network of hiking trails and an abundance of wildlife.
As children from Pueblo, Colorado, skip through a pine forest back to their car, their father says he’s enjoyed their visit. “We just came, like I said, to tour around a little bit.”
But when he learns that next year, the entry fee might jump to $70 a car, this dad lets out a gasp. “That’s pretty pricey. . . . Just to drive up and down and just look at a view. But increasing it? I think that’s a little bit too much.”
It would also be too much for a Houston, Texas, couple, who are finishing their first-ever mountain hike. The husband says a fee of more than $30 or $40 “would start scaring me away.”
Money for the parks, nearby businesses
What’s scaring park officials is the prospect of budget cuts. Next year, federal funding for the parks is expected to drop 10 percent, a cut of $300 million. The plan to raise entry fees at 17 of the nation’s most popular parks won’t replace that money, but it might generate an additional $70 million a year. The parks plan to use those funds to slowly help with an $11 billion backlog in overdue maintenance for aging roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms, and other wear and tear caused by visitors who sometimes love Nature to death.
The increased fees will also impact businesses in towns near those parks, where tourism is the economic engine. In Estes Park, Colorado, just up the road from Rocky Mountain, large crowds amble in and out of picture-perfect shops that offer everything from fancy jewelry to year-round Christmas ornaments and candied apples.
Jewelry shop manager Norma Wiggins gives a thumbs up to higher entry fees. “We’re thinking it will be a good thing,” she says, predicting that people will not be upset with the rate hike “because you can pack up a car, a full car, and I believe the amount is $70. Correct? And I think people will pay it.”
Down the street, coffee shop owner Richard Mazza wonders whether higher entry fees are a strategy to increase revenue while reducing overcrowding. “Disney World, I guess it was maybe about a year back when they had raised the prices from wherever it was to about $100 a day to get in. And I think it was part of a control mechanism to decrease the amount of people coming into the park so that it would increase the experience. Over the years, we’re moving up to five million visits in the Rocky Mountain National Park. And you know I think it’s being used quite heavily.”
Back inside Rocky Mountain National Park, a reduction in visitors is exactly what a nature lover from Fort Collins Colorado fears. Coupled with the administration’s proposed budget cut, she worries that the nation’s commitment to the parks will weaken. “The National Parks are the soul of this country. Truly so. And it almost makes me cry.”
But a couple from Pennsylvania is more optimistic, at least about themselves. “Whatever it takes, I’m willing to pay to enjoy the scenery and nature,” the husband says. But his wife has a different perspective. “We’re able to do that,” she points out. “But I’m a little concerned it would be cost prohibitive, for families that can’t afford $70 to come into the park.” Her husband admits, “That’s a good point,” as she nods knowingly.
The National Park Service is taking comments on their website about the proposals until Thanksgiving.
Trump’s Low Approval Rating Masks His Support Among Likely Voters
President Donald Trump is more popular with likely voters than he is with the general public, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that underscores why Republican lawmakers have largely stuck with the polarizing president despite his plunging approval ratings.
The poll, released Wednesday, shows he polls better among people who voted in the 2016 presidential election than with the overall U.S. adult population – a group that includes both voters and non-voters. Only about 60 percent of the voting-age public took part in last year’s election.
In October, for example, 44 percent of 2016 voters said they approved of Trump’s performance in office, compared with 37 percent of the general population.
Among Republicans, 82 percent of voters approved of Trump in October, compared with 75 percent of all Republicans. Some 85 percent of those who voted for Trump in 2016 said they would do so again, the poll found.
The findings suggest that Republican candidates in the 2018 congressional elections who shun the president risk alienating his followers, Republican strategists and political scientists said. At the same time, those who embrace him in the early primary races that choose party candidates risk losing moderate voters in the general election.
“It’s very difficult for any Republican candidate to distance themselves from Trump,” said Michael McDonald, an expert on voter turnout at the University of Florida.
That dilemma played out in Virginia on Tuesday, when Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate in the governor’s race, was soundly beaten by his Democratic opponent. Gillespie had adopted some of Trump’s hardline positions but had avoided campaigning with the unpopular president.
Gillespie’s strategy had been closely watched within the party to see if it could provide a template for other Republican candidates in 2018, when control of the House of Representatives and the Senate will be up for grabs.
Gillespie’s loss sparked debate among Republicans on the way forward on Wednesday. Trump suggested in a tweet that the outcome could have been different had Gillespie fully embraced him, but critics pointed out that exit polls showed that a third of Virginian voters had turned out to signal displeasure with Trump, double the number who cast ballots to express support for the president.
Tuesday’s results clearly signal that opposition to Trump has grown, even though he remains popular among 2016 Republican voters, said Elaine Kamarck, an expert in presidential politics at the Brookings Institution.
For Republicans, “the hurdle won’t be with getting out the base,” Kamarck said. “It will be in getting anyone else to vote for you” in elections where Republican voters are outnumbered.
Reuters/Ipsos was able to compare the opinions of voters with the general public by creating two separate surveys: a poll of voters and a poll of the public.
For the voter poll, Reuters/Ipsos reconnected with people who took its exit poll on November 8, 2016, the day of the U.S. presidential election. Those voters were sent additional questionnaires in May, July and October that asked if they approved or disapproved of the president.
Their responses were then compared with the results of a separate survey – the Reuters/Ipsos national tracking poll – that surveys all adults in the United States.
In May and July, the results of both polls were nearly
identical, with about 40 percent of voters and the general adult population expressing approval for the president.
The two polls diverged in October, however, with voters expressing stronger levels of approval than the general public.
Jan Leighley, an expert on political behavior at American University, said it makes sense that Trump is more popular among people who voted in the 2016 election. They were more likely to be white and less likely to identify with Democrats than the general public, she said.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll is conducted online in English throughout the country. Some 1,206 of those 2016 voters took the survey between May 10-12, followed by 1,296 who took the July 11-12 survey and 1,195 who took the survey between October 18-19.
Individual responses were weighted so they would reflect the latest population estimates, as well as the support their presidential pick received in the election. Each of the voter polls had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3 percentage points for the entire group and 5 percentage points for Republican voters.
Texas Massacre is Seized on By Both Sides in Gun Debate
Gun-rights supporters have seized on the Texas church massacre as proof of the well-worn saying that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, say the tragedy shows once more that it is too easy to get a weapon in the U.S.
To no one’s surprise, many Americans on opposite sides of the gun debate are using the latest mass shooting to reaffirm their opinions about firearms, drawing very different lessons from the rampage.
The bloodbath is proving to have elements both sides of the gun debate can use: More than two dozen were killed, from babies to the elderly. The slaughter took place in a house of worship. The killer had a history of domestic violence that legally should have prevented him from buying his guns. And a National Rifle Association member pulled out his own rifle and wounded the killer, helping to end the danger.
“Both sides are following the respective scripts that we have seen many times before,” said Robert Spitzer, chairman of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland and an expert on firearms and Second Amendment issues.
On Sunday, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, traveled to a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire with a Ruger AR rifle with a 30-round magazine, going from aisle to aisle as he shot parishioners. He killed himself after being shot and chased down by a church neighbor. Authorities said 26 victims died, including the unborn baby of one of the slain women.
Kelley was able to buy the rifle and three other weapons even though the former Air Force man was convicted at a court-martial of choking his wife and cracking her son’s skull and was given a bad-conduct discharge in 2014. It turned out the Air Force did not submit his criminal history to the FBI database that is used to conduct background checks for gun shops.
President Donald Trump, a longtime supporter of the gun lobby and the first president since Ronald Reagan to address the NRA, said the attack was the work of a mentally ill man.
He said that rather than use the shooting as justification to restrict access to firearms, it should be seen as a shining example of the benefits of gun ownership. If the neighbor who confronted the gunman hadn’t had a rifle, Trump said, “instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”
That thought resonated with gun owners around the country.
“There’s an old saying: ‘The best answer for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,’” said Tiffany Teasdale-Causer, owner of Lynnwood Gun and Ammunition in Lynnwood, Washington.
Former Special Forces Col. Jim Patterson in San Antonio said “an armed society is a polite society.”
“I get the emotional argument – let’s ban all guns – but you’re imposing a law on people who disobey the law to begin with,” he said. “We are free men and women and we control our destiny. When seconds count, the police are minutes away. What do you do in those minutes? Do you hide under a table or do you retain your right to protect yourself?”
But Stephanie Ervin of Civic Ventures, an advocacy group in Seattle, said having more guns in public settings such as stadiums is “a recipe for tragedy” and increases the risk of something bad happening.
The problem of mass shootings won’t be solved “by grandmas bringing guns to church in their handbags,” she said. “It will be resolved by introducing and passing more laws that keep people from accessing firearms in a moment of crisis.”
Since Trump’s election, gun-rights advocates are feeling emboldened for the first time in nearly a decade, while gun-control activists fear the unraveling of restrictions on firearms.
At the top of the gun-rights agenda is winning passage in Congress of “national reciprocity,” which would allow concealed-carry gun permits issued in one state to be valid in all others. The gun lobby also wants an easing of restrictions on silencers.
With each mass shooting, gun-control advocates have seized on the events to point to what they see as failings or loopholes in the law.
When a gunman in Las Vegas slaughtered 58 people last month in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, there was talk of outlawing “bump stocks,” the device he used to enable his semiautomatic rifles to fire like fully automatic weapons.
For Sandy Phillips, each mass shooting brings back memories of when her daughter was killed in the 2012 movie theater attack in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 people dead. Phillips, a gun owner who lives in Texas, bristles at the good-guy-with-a-gun argument.
In the Texas rampage, “they didn’t even succeed in killing him. He killed himself,” Phillips said. “The bottom line is people are killing people with guns and they’re killing them in large numbers because we have easy access to guns.”
Trump Praises China’s Xi for Help on North Korea
Before his scheduled arrival in China Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the help he says the head of the world’s second largest economy has provided in response to threats from North Korea. The American leader also hinted that perhaps more help is on the horizon. VOA’s Bill Ide reports from Beijing.
Trump Warns North Korea: Do Not ‘Try Us’
In a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, U.S. President Donald Trump has sent a message north of the border, calling on leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang to give up all his nuclear weapons for a chance to step on to “a better path.”
Trump on Wednesday also warned, “Do not underestimate us and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity and our sacred liberty.”
His words were underscored by the presence of three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and nuclear submarines, which the president said “are appropriately positioned” near the peninsula.
The U.S president referred to North Korea as a failure, a “twisted regime” ruled by a cult and a tyrant who enslaves his people – a characterization certain to provoke a harsh rhetorical reply from Pyongyang, which has repeatedly accused the United States of preparing to attack and refers to Trump as a deplorable crazed man.
“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” said Trump in his speech. “All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea – to deny it any form of support.”
Trump had effusive praise for South Korea, contrasting its economic success with the dark situation in the North.
“The more successful South Korea becomes, the more decisively you discredit the dark fantasy at the heart of the Kim regime,” said the U.S. president.
Trump’s 35-minute address, which he was still editing at the last minute, according to the National Assembly speaker, came after a surprise but aborted Wednesday morning trip to the Korean DMZ. But it ended on a hopeful note, which is the Korean dream: the peaceful reunification of the peninsula.
But with Kim’s weapons of mass destruction posing a greater threat, Trump warned, “the longer we wait, the greater the danger grows and the few the options become.”
President Trump generally took a more optimistic view of diplomacy during his visit to Seoul, which included meetings on Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said progress has been made to diffuse heightened tensions in the region, a striking departure from the tone of his tweets in recent weeks suggesting talks with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear crisis were “a waste of time.”
The president will now travel to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping that are expected to focus on the situation in North Korea as well as trade.
One Year On, Trump’s Election Draws Protests, Re-Evaluation
Thousands of Americans are planning to “scream helplessly at the sky” in a show of what organizers say is disgust and frustration at Donald Trump’s election as president exactly one year earlier.
The unprecedented protest being played out in many American cities has been mocked by conservatives, sparking incendiary exchanges on the Internet that illustrate the depth of the partisan chasm that divides the significant minority of staunch Trump loyalists and the equally vocal, and arguably larger group that detests him.
“American politics had begun to polarize long before President Trump, and crystallized into a sense of tribalism that now pervades politics,” said Dan Mahaffee, executive director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. “We increasingly see ardent Democrats, ardent Republicans, and little in the middle in terms of pragmatism.”
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week is evidence that Trump is the least popular president in the 70 years since polling began. Fewer than four in 10 Americans say they approve of his handling of the job. Almost 60 percent say they disapprove, most of them “strongly”.
Even many members of Trump’s traditional Middle American support base say he’s not their ideal president.
“He can be awfully hard to like,” said retired Colorado business executive Eugene Bourque. “But I want someone in the White House who I believe supports the four Cs [Christianity, Capitalism, Conservatism and the Constitution] and is willing to fight down and dirty to protect them.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shrugs off the low approval ratings, noting public dissatisfaction with Congress is significantly greater.
“His numbers are a lot better than the Congress. I’d take the president’s numbers over Congress any day,” Huckabee Sanders said during a panel discussion at George Washington University marking the election anniversary.
The press secretary attributes Trump’s unpopularity in part to overwhelmingly negative reporting from a hostile press. She cited an independent study showing coverage on several TV networks had been 93 percent negative, compared to 40 percent negative during the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“For people to pretend like there isn’t a greater sense of hostility towards this administration, I think would be to ignore real facts.”
Faced with this perceived animosity, Trump has rewritten the rulebook on presidential communications.
“Trump uses [Twitter] to bypass the press in ways that convey an utter disregard for the role of journalism in democratic societies,” says Stanford University professor of communications Theodore Glasser. “Presidents often have an adversarial relationship with journalists, but I can’t think of a single president, including Richard Nixon, who comes close to Trump in terms of his fear of public scrutiny.”
Presidential scholar Mahaffee said Trump understood early-on how to exploit the partisan divide and public distrust of the media.
“Social media allows for rancor and sensationalism to triumph over fact and reason,” Mahaffee told VOA. “President Trump harnessed these divides for his own ends to get elected, and his approach has been to further them for his own ends to govern.”
When it comes to assessing Trump’s accomplishments, academics interviewed for this report were generally dismissive. “What accomplishments?” replied Stanford’s Theodore Glasser, noting that Republicans had failed to fulfill promised health care and tax reform despite controlling both houses of Congress.
Spokeswoman Huckabee Sanders, however, pointed to successes on foreign policy, battling Islamist extremism and the economy.
“He’s done a very good job of developing relationships with a lot of key partners and allies, particularly…[Japanese Prime Minister] Abe and [Chinese President] Xi that are helping to grow the amount of pressure being put on North Korea.”
Huckabee Sanders called Trump’s Middle East trip a “major moment in his presidency.”
“In Saudi Arabia, the speech he gave to, I believe it was 68 Muslim majority countries, bringing a lot of those individuals to talk about working together to combat terrorism; that was a historic moment,” she said.
The economy is doing remarkably well since Election Day, but economists disagree about how much is the “due to the “Trump effect.”
“Ahead of the election, everyone thought Trump would tank markets — futures markets fell the night of the election as it became clear he had won. But as he gave his victory speech, sentiment changed, and by the morning, stocks were up,” analyst Emily Stewart of thestreet.com told VOA .
In a tweet this week Trump noted that market value has increased $5.4 trillion since Election Day, and remains at record high levels.
Unemployment is down to 4.1 percent, lowest in 17 years. 1.5 million new jobs created since I took office. Highest stock Market ever, up $5.4 trill
Experts say that among the factors spurring the steady market growth is one Trump rarely trumpets. Yahoo News White House correspondent Olivier Knox told last week’s George Washington University panel discussion that rolling back regulations is Trump’s untold success story.
“It’s one of the signal successes of the Trump administration, something that doesn’t get as much coverage as the latest tweet, but it’s a very important story. The systematic methodical rollback of regulations,” Knox said.
Rights Groups Urge Trump to Address China’s Human Rights Violations
Rights advocates at home and abroad are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to use his first presidential visit to China to address the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
Advocates are calling for the release of Liu Xia, the widow of the late Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and many other Chinese political prisoners including four rights lawyers who are either awaiting trial or verdicts. They are also calling for the release of a Taiwanese rights activist detained in China for more than 230 days.
Failing to do so, they warn, will only worsen the situation Chinese rights defenders face. Room for dissent and alternative views in China has been shrinking rapidly since Xi Jinping came to power in 2013.
Deteriorating rights conditions
“The international environment, in which few leaders are willing to stand up for human rights internationally and particularly in relations to China, has emboldened the Chinese government even further in undermining human rights at home,” Maya Wang, China researcher of Human Rights Watch, told VOA.
The most recent case that has gained the attention of rights advocates is the criminal detention of lawyer Li Yuhan. Li has been missing since early last month and officially charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” in late October by the Public Security Bureau in Shenyang, Liaoning province, according to Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
It’s not clear if she will be able to hire a lawyer of her own choosing. And her family has also been denied any visits to her in prison.
Shenyang authorities have “made various attempts to revenge her as she used to report the police’s malpractices…. It is apparent to us that both power abuses and malfeasances form part of the case,” the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a written statement.
Retaliation by authorities
Li, 60, suffers from hypertension and has a heart condition. But despite that, she has taken up a series of sensitive cases including that of lawyer Wang Yu, one of the main targets of a massive nationwide crackdown on lawyers in China that began over two years ago. She has also taken on other religious freedom cases as well as the case of a wronged police officer in Anhui.
Rights advocates believe her decision to take on Wang Yu’s case is the main reason behind her detention.
“It may be related to her legal representation for Fengrui lawyer Wang Yu that maybe a possibility as a retaliation against her by the authorities” after she had visited the Wang’s in Mongolia, said Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, calling on the international society, including President Trump, to address Li’s case as well as other rights violation cases in China.
Amnesty International joined other international rights groups as well as 85 Chinese lawyers and citizens to call for the immediate release of Li while expressing concerns over her health and the possible use of torture against her.
Shaky trade relations
However, rights advocates at home and abroad said the chance that President Trump will criticize China’s human rights records is slim as he, like many other world leaders, is likely to put more emphasis on trade relations with China.
But true progress in trade, some argue, is dependent on advances in human rights.
“It’ll be a sad thing if [trade] cooperation with China is prioritized before [the improvement of] human rights. I believe human rights pave the core foundation for the world’s development. Without [the protection of] human rights, any such economic cooperation won’t be sustainable,” said Ou Biaofeng, a rights activist from Human province.
Under the banner of “America First” the Trump administration has pledged not to interfere in other countries domestic politics and that is sending a worrying signal, one analysts worry may heighten authoritarianism in the region.
United Nations’ human rights experts have urged Hong Kong to uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly before the court heard a final appeal of Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who were granted bail on Oct 24, against their respective jail sentences of six months and eight months.
The top court in Hong Kong on Tuesday decided to grant a bid by Wong and Law to appeal their prison terms in a hearing to be scheduled in January.
In Taiwan, various non-governmental organizations gathered in Taipei on Tuesday to voice their support for the Taiwanese rights activist Lee Ming-che, whom China has detained since late March, pending a verdict.
Lin Hsiu-hsin, Taiwan Association of University Professors president, told the Associated Press that “China not only didn’t respect international regulations and human rights, but also didn’t care about its own laws because it has detained a Taiwanese citizen,” who hasn’t been freed yet.
Free Liu Xia
Meanwhile, last week, more than 50 internationally-celebrated writers, artists and supporters of PEN America, including Chimamanda Achibie, Margaret Atwood, and Khaled Hosseini, issued a written petition urging China to end all restrictions and surveillance imposed on Liu Xia, saying the only reason for her detention is her connection to her deceased husband.
The writers further called upon President Trump to seek the release of Liu, who was last seen in an online video in late August.
Also, international rights groups are concerned that thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are being held in re-education camps, which are now formally referred to as “Professional Education Schools,” without contact with their families under a policy designed to counter extremism in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, according to local officials.