Browsing articles from "June, 2018"

Justice Kennedy May Soon Find Himself Disappointed And His Legacy Undermined

Jun 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Justice Kennedy May Soon Find Himself Disappointed And His Legacy Undermined

A statue sits on a flag pole in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The high court is likely entering a new, more conservative era.

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A statue sits on a flag pole in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. The high court is likely entering a new, more conservative era.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

For four decades, the Supreme Court has been like a balance board, tilting this way and that. And, while it has moved more and more to the right with each reset, the center has held.

This term, and for the foreseeable future, however, the board looks more like a slide.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement this week, may feel secure in his legacy. But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did, too, only to be disappointed.

Supreme Court To Lose Its Swing Voter: Justice Anthony Kennedy To Retire

In the early 2000s, O’Connor sat at the center of the court alongside Kennedy. When she retired, she thought her legacy was secure – including the protection of women’s rights, abortion rights and the ability of the legislative branch of the government to regulate campaign money in order to prevent influence-peddling and corruption.

    NPR Politics Podcast

In subsequent years, she would privately make clear how unhappy she was with her replacement – Samuel Alito – for what she perceived as the undermining much of that legacy.

Now, it is Anthony Kennedy. After 30 years on the court, he believes that rights that, once recognized, will not be taken away. That includes the right to abortion that he helped to preserve, and rights for gay people that he helped establish – including the right to marry and to be treated equally.

A Brief History Of Anthony Kennedy's Swing Vote — And The Landmark Cases It Swayed

Time, of course, will tell. But every indication is that President Trump in a little over a week will name a future justice who does not think that those are rights fully protected by the Constitution.

Once a nominee is confirmed, the only real question will be how far he or she will go to undermine or outright reverse the Supreme Court’s prior rulings on these and other subjects – from regulation of the environment to presidential powers.

Trump Says He Will Announce Supreme Court Pick On July 9

The Supreme Court term that just concluded was a small taste of what is to come. In all, 13 of the cases decided by a liberal-conservative split, Justice Kennedy provided the fifth and deciding conservative vote.

Moreover, his unwillingness to take a clear position on the question of partisan gerrymandering meant that the court punted on the issue for now and probably for generations to come. Technically, the court could again consider whether partisan gerrymandering is ever so extreme that it justifies being policed by the courts. But, in reality, Kennedy’s vote was the only one that was really up for grabs, with the rest of the court split between the liberals, who favor intervention in extreme cases, and the conservatives unilaterally opposed.

Similarly, while a cake designer who refused to design a wedding cake for a gay couple technically won his case, the court left unresolved the issue of whether commercial business owners can refuse to sell products and services to gay people because of the business owner’s religious beliefs.

Kennedy’s vote was pivotal, too, in sustaining the Trump travel ban, a decision that enhances the president’s powers to regulate immigration in the name of national security.

Labor Clout Takes A Hit In Supreme Court Ruling On Dues

    NPR Politics Podcast

His vote was critical in throwing out a California law that required anti-abortion health clinics to post signs informing patients that the clinics are not licensed medical facilities.

On the voting-rights front, he cast the decisive fifth vote making it easier for states to purge voters from the rolls when they haven’t cast a ballot for two consecutive elections.

Supreme Court Sides With California Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers

And in a case involving the 2011 Texas redistricting, he joined a decision written by Justice Alito, making it more difficult to challenge racial gerrymanders that dilute the power of minority voters.

In that case, Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch joined Justice Clarence Thomas in his long-held but until now idiosyncratic view, that the Voting Rights Act does not cover the drawing of legislative districts at all.

Kennedy’s vote was also decisive in two other cases, involving workers’ rights: one declared that employees have no right to sue their employers as a group when the employer has in place a waiver of the right to sue. The decision involved several large employers who have standard provisions that bar all their workers from bringing class-action suits on any subject – from wage grievances to sex and race discrimination claims.

While that decision undercut the ability of private employees to challenge their employers in court, a second decision undercut the effectiveness of labor unions. In Janus v AFSCME, Justice Alito capped a six-year campaign to weaken the influence of labor unions. Overturning a 41-year-old Supreme Court precedent, he wrote the decision for the conservative majority declaring that it is unconstitutional to require non-union members who work for state and local governments to pay partial fees to help pay for negotiating a contract that, by law, provides salary raises and benefits for union and non-union workers alike.

Labor Clout Takes A Hit In Supreme Court Ruling On Dues

The conservative majority called such partial fees “compelled speech,” in violation of the First Amendment. The liberal minority noted that 28 states do not allow such partial fees, but 22 do, and making that choice, the liberals contended, should be up to the state governments.

The decision undoes a careful compromise on labor rights that has, for more than four decades, promoted “labor peace” and enabled more efficient government, the dissenters said. But the majority said that the price for peace and efficiency cannot be paid by compelling individuals to support the labor unions, their goals and their influence.

Taken together, the labor decision for public employees and the decision barring class actions by private employees are bound to have significant economic consequences for workers in both sectors. In states where Republican governors have recently gotten legislation enacted to get rid of mandatory union fees, union membership and union dues have dropped dramatically. So has the influence of labor unions, and the salaries and benefits they have been able to negotiate for their members.

There may be more of this in store for private employees, even those who are unionized. The same groups that for years have fought fair-share fees in the public sector may next target fair-share fees in unionized workplaces in the private sector.

What Happened With Merrick Garland In 2016 And Why It Matters Now

On all of these questions and more, expect the Supreme Court to be far more conservative in the future. Justice Kennedy, even when he cast conservative votes this term, clearly had a restraining hand in the crafting of some of the court’s decisions.

And on some other controversial subjects in the past, he has as well. For instance, when the court ruled for the first time that there is an individual right to own a gun, the opinion, written by gun enthusiast Antonin Scalia, included a section that was clearly the price of Kennedy’s vote, a section noting that reasonable regulations in the name of public safety are permissible.

Trump Says He Will Nominate New Supreme Court Justice From This List

5 Senators Who Will Likely Decide The Next Supreme Court Justice

Since then, the court has for the most part stayed away from gun regulation cases, to the consternation of gun-rights advocates. But that will not continue forever, and the restraining hand of Anthony Kennedy will no longer be on the court.

That will leave Chief Justice John Roberts with the next move. Though a consistent conservative, he occasionally has voted with the court’s liberals, as he did this year in declaring that police must obtain a warrant to obtain cellphone location information from service providers.

Few doubt that any new Supreme Court justice appointed by President Trump will move the court decidedly to the right, but as Professor Rick Hasen, of the University of California Irvine, put it this week, “The question is how John Roberts wants to move.”

Court observers have “spent the last 11 years asking what Kennedy had for breakfast,” he said. Now it’s “‘What did John Roberts have for breakfast?’ and it’s a slightly different menu.”

In Mexico’s Elections, Women Are Running In Unprecedented Numbers

Jun 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on In Mexico’s Elections, Women Are Running In Unprecedented Numbers

Claudia Sheinbaum, the leading candidate for mayor of Mexico City and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the frontrunner for president, attend the final event of the 2018 campaign in Mexico City on Wednesday. “Just because I might look like a skinny scientist doesn’t mean I’m not going to crack down on crime here. I will,” she told a crowd recently.

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Claudia Sheinbaum, the leading candidate for mayor of Mexico City and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the frontrunner for president, attend the final event of the 2018 campaign in Mexico City on Wednesday. “Just because I might look like a skinny scientist doesn’t mean I’m not going to crack down on crime here. I will,” she told a crowd recently.

Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Along with picking a new president in this Sunday’s election, Mexicans will also replace every member of Congress and will elect thousands of state representatives and hundreds of new mayors. In that array of candidates are more than 3,000 women, who are vying for elective office in unprecedented numbers. Some Mexicans are calling 2018 “el ano de la mujer,” the year of the woman.

In the race for the next mayor of Mexico City, five of the seven candidates are women. One of them, Claudia Sheinbaum, leads in the polls by as much as 20 points. She’s running on the Morena or National Regeneration Movement ticket. The party’s presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador is favored to win, too.

Sheinbaum holds degrees in physics and energy science and recently served as a council member in one of Mexico City’s largest neighborhoods.

Mexico Registers Its Highest Number Of Homicides On Record

“Just because I might look like a skinny scientist doesn’t mean I’m not going to crack down on crime here. I will,” she tells an enthusiastic crowd at a park near downtown Mexico City.

Last Year, A Retired Mexican Schoolteacher Vanished. His Family Still Seeks Answers

Crime in Mexico has skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 30,000 murders committed last year. This year is on track to be even bloodier.

Sheinbaum supporter Zoyla Zamudio, 86, says she’s thrilled so many women are getting into politics and breaking old stereotypes.

Working The Night Shift For Mexico City's Bloody Crime Tabloids

“We are no longer just housewives who stay at home and wash and iron,” says Zamudio. “Sheinbaum is a very qualified woman. She knows a lot of things.” And, she says with a chuckle, “I’m sure she knows how to wash and iron, too.”

Breaking into Mexico’s male-dominated political system has not been easy. Mexican women were late in getting the vote — it came in 1953, more than 30 years after U.S. suffrage. The only woman to qualify for this year’s presidential ballot dropped out last month, due to low poll numbers. And fewer than a fifth of the country’s mayors are women.

But Dania Ravel Cuevas of the National Electoral Institute says this election may break some of those glass ceilings. “We have an unprecedented number of women competing,” she says.

That’s thanks to a four-year-old law requiring each political party to make sure half of all their candidates are female. Political scientist Ivonne Acuña Murillo of the Iberoamericana University says the law is already working: More than 40 percent of the lower house of Congress is now female. But she says resistance to the gender parity law remains fierce. A common complaint she hears from candidates and party officials is that it’s hard to find qualified women to run for office.

“The same can be said for the male candidates and even those already occupying offices,” she points out.

“Many parties scoff at the law, too,” she says. “On paper, they comply, but then put women in races they can’t win. They don’t provide equal resources and in some cases, have forced a female winner to resign so a man can take the seat.”

This year in Oaxaca state, 15 male candidates falsely declared themselves transgender — which would let them be counted as female — to get on the ballot so parties could comply with the 50 percent requirement. Election officials disqualified them.

Mayka Ortega Eguiluz is running for re-election for a state legislative seat with the ruling PRI party in Ciudad Sahagun, Hidalgo. She says the parity law worked for her. She held positions in local politics for 20 years but was never given the chance to run for elective office until 2014, the year the law went into effect.

“Once the law passed,” she says, “everyone was frantically looking around asking, ‘Where are all the women?’ “

She says some men don’t take her ideas seriously. And she can’t be seen as too aggressive and risk being labeled as trouble.

“So for now, in my Mexican system,” she says, “we women will continue to work three times as hard as men.”

Fresh Air Weekend: Comic W. Kamau Bell; Musician Frank Newsome

Jun 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Fresh Air Weekend: Comic W. Kamau Bell; Musician Frank Newsome

W. Kamau Bell’s new Netflix comedy special is Private School Negro. He says that for him, the word “negro” feels “classically, importantly black.”

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W. Kamau Bell’s new Netflix comedy special is Private School Negro. He says that for him, the word “negro” feels “classically, importantly black.”

KC Bailey/Netflix

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Comic W. Kamau Bell On The ‘Shades Of America’ And Not Feeling ‘Black Enough: Bell’s new Netflix special is called Private School Negro. He says the word “negro” offends some people, but he has embraced it: “It takes me right back to the height of the civil rights movement.”

‘Lost Album’ Offers A Fresh Look At Peak Coltrane: A new album revives the lost tracks of a studio session Coltrane recorded with his quartet in 1963. Critic Kevin Whitehead says Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album is solid — but not revelatory.

Black Lung Disease Can’t Keep Frank Newsome From Singing Hymns: Newsome, a former coal miner who has black lung disease, started singing when he joined a church in 1963. His sings a cappella in a lined-out hymn style — one of America’s oldest music traditions.

You can listen to the original interviews here:

Comic W. Kamau Bell On The ‘Shades Of America’ And Not Feeling ‘Black Enough

Black Lung Disease Can’t Keep Frank Newsome From Singing Hymns

Musical ‘East Of The River’ Examines A Gentrifying Anacostia

Jun 30, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Musical ‘East Of The River’ Examines A Gentrifying Anacostia

The cast of East of the River performs at the Anacostia Arts Center Friday night.

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The cast of East of the River performs at the Anacostia Arts Center Friday night.

Eslah Attar/NPR

Nothing says “gentrification” quite like the opening of a Whole Foods.

That’s the message, at least, of a new musical about the idea that a location of the largely organic, high-priced grocery chain could one day open in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood.

Anacostia lies east of the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C., in a part of the city that’s historically been more impoverished and more heavily African-American than other areas.

Gentrification — or, as advocates would say, “revitalization” — has brought changes throughout D.C. over the past 15 years or so. Areas once blighted now feature shops with gourmet coffee and independent bicycle stores. Access to fresh and healthy food can increase for residents living in “food deserts,” where it could previously have been hard to come by.

Old Confronts New In A Gentrifying D.C. Neighborhood

New spaces for artists can open — like the Anacostia Arts Center, which opened in 2013, and where the musical East of the River held its first and so far only publicly announced performance in a workshop performance Friday.

Star Johnson, the play’s creator, wanted to show multiple sides to the debate about gentrification.

“You don’t have some of these tropes that you’ve seen before,” Johnson says. “You know, the mean white guy saying, ‘Get out of this neighborhood! This is my neighborhood now!’ And you don’t have all the black people saying, ‘Don’t take our neighborhood away from us!’ It’s varied reactions.”

Opponents note that gentrification can raise rents and the cost of living, and longtime residents — and artists — can be forced out in search of more affordable areas.

Massive condominiums that all look the same start to crop up.

White people start showing up in black neighborhoods.

What the Washington City Paper once called the “most belabored story in the District” now has roots in Anacostia.

Alvin, played by LJ Moses, performs “We Can’t Stop,” during the musical East of the River at the Anacostia Arts Center Friday night.

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Alvin, played by LJ Moses, performs “We Can’t Stop,” during the musical East of the River at the Anacostia Arts Center Friday night.

Eslah Attar/NPR

“Something that I noticed while walking down Potomac Avenue [in Southeast] was a white woman with a stroller,” says Johnson, who grew up in the D.C. area.

“And I was thinking, what? Where am I? Something’s changed, something has fundamentally changed,” she says.

Johnson interviewed residents around Anacostia about their neighborhood for the musical she wrote and directed. In East of the River, LJ Moses plays a young city planner who’s come home with an urban planning degree and plans to “improve” Anacostia.

In one scene he gets into a debate with a neighborhood friend, played by Alesia Ashley.

“I’m proud of this place, to be a product of this place. I’m sorry, I’m not going to apologize for that,” she tells him.

“You don’t see the crime and neglect in this neighborhood?” he responds. “Something has to give.”

“I see it, but I don’t see how this project is going to fix anything,” she says. “The people in this neighborhood aren’t going to benefit because we won’t be here in five years.”

'There Isn't A Just Housing Choice': How We've Enabled The Pains Of Gentrification

The importance of nuance

“I think musical theater is the quickest, most effective way to get to the heart of a story,” Johnson says.

In what might be the first song to glamorize the Whole Foods olive bar, actor Brittney Sankofa raps in “Manchego Cheese”:

“Manchego cheese, fresh nuts and hand-carved meats, farm-raised eggs and bags of gluten-free everything. Sippin’ tea with the Queen of England, I’m-a get fat from eatin’ even if my little wallet takes a beatin’. Picture me standing standing round this posh olive bar. You wanna know ’bout delicacies? Come sit with me, I’m bourgeoisie.”

To be clear, there are no reported plans for a Whole Foods in Anacostia.

“I always say, ‘Gentrification is not good or bad, it’s good and bad. And I don’t know that it always answers the question that needs to be asked,” Johnson says.

She says the question is, “How do you retain the soul of these communities that have been here forever while making it a safer and happier place for the people to live?”

Victor Rios: How Can Mentors Guide Kids To Live Up To Their Full Potential?

Jun 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Victor Rios: How Can Mentors Guide Kids To Live Up To Their Full Potential?

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Hidden Potential

About Victor Rios TED Talk

Victor Rios had dropped out of high school. But one teacher helped him turn his life around. Today, he’s a sociologist who studies youth and the factors that nurture their potential.

About Victor Rios

Victor Rios is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Rios is the author of five books, including Punished: Policing The Lives Of Black And Latino Boys, and Human Targets: Schools, Police, And The Criminalization Of Latino Youth. He is also the creator of Project GRIT, Generating Resilience to Inspire Transformation, which works with educators to develop programs that can positively impact the lives of the young people they serve. Rios received his Ph.D. in comparative ethnic studies from University of California, Berkeley. He is still in touch with his high school mentor, Ms. Russ.

Pearl Arrendondo: How Can Mentors Push Students To Move Beyond Their Circumstances?

Jun 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Pearl Arrendondo: How Can Mentors Push Students To Move Beyond Their Circumstances?

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode Hidden Potential

About Pearl Arredondo’s TED Talk

Pearl Arredondo grew up in East Los Angeles, the daughter of gang members. Education was her ticket out. She says young people need mentors to push them not to be victims of their own circumstances.

About Pearl Arredondo

Pearl Arredondo is a middle school principal and education advocate. She is a co-founder of the San Fernando Institute for Applied Media, the first pilot middle school established in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her inspiration to give back to students stems from her own experience growing up poor in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Arredondo received her B.A. and M.A. from Pepperdine University, and her M.S. in Educational Leadership and Administration from National University.

Capital Gazette Keeps Working, And Publishing, After 5 Die In Newsroom Shooting

Jun 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Capital Gazette Keeps Working, And Publishing, After 5 Die In Newsroom Shooting

Staff of The Capital put out a newspaper on Friday, one day after a gunman killed five people in its offices at the Capital Gazette. Here, Steve Schuh, county executive of Anne Arundel County, Md., holds a copy of Friday’s paper.

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Staff of The Capital put out a newspaper on Friday, one day after a gunman killed five people in its offices at the Capital Gazette. Here, Steve Schuh, county executive of Anne Arundel County, Md., holds a copy of Friday’s paper.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters

“Today we are speechless,” the opinion page of The Capital’s Friday edition reads, a sign that the paper’s staff is still reeling from five of their colleagues being shot and killed. Despite being attacked by a gunman on Thursday, the staff put out a newspaper, with powerful reporting on its own tragedy.

That opinion page — A9 — sits almost entirely empty, with a huge blank space where columns and editorials would normally be.

Beneath it, the editorial staff wrote, “Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens.”

“Yes, we’re putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” the Capital Gazette news outlet said late Thursday night, affirming an earlier statement by reporter Chase Cook.

That declaration came as Cook and others reported on the latest news of the shooting and the devastating loss of life in the small newsroom. Cook’s message resonated with many who were following the story, including several journalists who work for other news outlets — who responded by offering to pitch in if they could help The Capital.

Capital Gazette journalists worked to report the story of what police say was a “targeted attack” on their place of work, informing the public of what they knew about a shooting that touched them all on deep personal and professional levels.

In addition to the tribute in the opinion section, the paper’s front page led with the photos of the five colleagues who were killed:

Gerald Fischman, 61, editorial page editor
Rob Hiaasen, 59, assistant editor/news
John McNamara, 56, staff writer and editor for The Bowie Blade-News and The Crofton-West County Gazette
Rebecca Smith, 34, sales assistant
Wendi Winters, 65, special publications editor

Before midnight, the newspaper also published focus pieces on each of those who were lost, drawing on reporters from its sister publication, The Baltimore Sun. It did so just eight hours after the shooting had turned The Capital’s newsroom into a chaotic crime scene.

“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees,” reporter Phil Davis tweeted.

He later added, “There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”

The attack came on what was supposed to have been a normal news day — and, for many staff members, a recovery period after covering Maryland’s primary elections on Tuesday. Before the shooting, the big news Thursday was a planned event: Induction Day at the U.S. Naval Academy.

As news of the shooting erupted, staff members who weren’t at the office rushed to learn what had happened, and to report on it. Photojournalist Joshua McKerrow documented the scene as he arrived.

McKerrow and Cook continued to work from the scene as details emerged. So did another colleague, veteran reporter Pat Furgurson — who can be seen in photos from the police news conference, holding his phone out to record official updates on the damage sustained by the Capital Gazette newsroom.

Setting about their work, the three journalists used the back of Furgurson’s pickup truck as a makeshift desk, as The Capital reports.

The Maryland man who is suspected of carrying out the attack is in custody and has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder. The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, had harassed the paper’s staff over a long-running dispute, police say.

Early Friday, as Davis tweeted details about Ramos’ planned bail hearing, he wrote, “I can’t sleep, so I’ll do the only thing I can and report.”

Many of the messages from other staff members showed the same mix of journalistic commitment and personal loss.

After Hiaasen’s death was confirmed, Chase Cook said of the editor via Twitter, “He called me this morning asking about a headline clarification. He was an amazing editor who made me a better reporter.”

Of the paper running a Friday edition despite the attack, Cook wrote, “This was not possible without our colleagues and friends at The Baltimore Sun. Thank you all for your work.”

McKerrow extended the same gratitude — and last night, he wrote, “I want to thank the first responders for all their work today, and the many journalists who came to cover our tragedy with empathy and respect. I can’t talk about those we’ve lost yet. The loss is unimaginable.”

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

Jun 29, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.

Sam Scharffenberger


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Sam Scharffenberger

Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.

Sam Scharffenberger

If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal.

In a single year, production of fertilizer in the United States emitted as much carbon dioxide as two million cars. But plants need nitrogen to survive, so farmers can’t just stop using fertilizer. Without it, U.S. crop yields would fall by as much as 50 percent, according to some estimates.

What if we could help plants make their own nitrogen so they wouldn’t need manmade chemical fertilizers? Professor Sharon Doty, a plant microbiologist at the University of Washington, says nature has already figured out this problem — we just have to know where to look.

Can Anyone, Even Walmart, Stem The Heat-Trapping Flood Of Nitrogen On Farms?

“Look outside,” she says. “Go to a natural environment and there are many cases where you can see plants that are thriving in rocks and sand – very nitrogen-poor environments.”

Doty started by looking at willow and poplar trees living in river systems in Washington state. These rivers are fed mostly by snow melt and are extremely low in nitrogen. “It’s long been known that poplar and willow are pioneer species,” Doty says. “But [other scientists] say, ‘Oh, they’re just really efficient.’ But there’s nothing to be efficient with! There’s nothing there!”

Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes.

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Sharon Doty

Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes.

Sharon Doty

Trees can’t conjure nitrogen from thin air, but microbes can. Many microbes have a special enzyme they use to gather nitrogen from the air and turn it into a form that plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Doty wondered if the microbes, called endophytes, living inside the trees might be helping them get nutrients.

Sure enough, when Doty’s lab examined the DNA of those endophytes, they found genes indicating that the microbes could fix nitrogen. The implications were not lost on Doty. “Since these [endophytes] can fix nitrogen so effectively in wild poplar,” Doty wondered, “can we use them for sustainable agriculture?”

Doty and her team knew the endophytes could work their nitrogen magic in a few tree species. But they weren’t sure if the same trick would work in other plants, including crops such as corn and rice, which are physically and genetically quite different from wild poplar trees. The researchers took crop seedlings and soaked them in a bath containing endophytes from the poplar trees, then waited to see how the seedlings would grow.

For many species, the endophytes seemed to give seedlings a competitive advantage. Rice plants with added endophytes had larger roots and leaves than those without endophytes. Even more surprisingly, some species of tomato and bell pepper nearly doubled the amount of fruit they produced.

In Doty’s lab, grasses grown with endophytes from a poplar tree (left) grew larger than those without the added microbes.

Sharon Doty


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Sharon Doty

In Doty’s lab, grasses grown with endophytes from a poplar tree (left) grew larger than those without the added microbes.

Sharon Doty

While the results are promising, success in the lab doesn’t always translate to the messier world of large-scale commercial agriculture. Scientists must be able to grow microbes cheaply and plentifully. Previous attempts to develop beneficial microbes for large-scale agriculture have failed due to production costs.

Growers also need to trust the new technology enough to risk their yields for the year. For example, BioGro — a biofertilizer composed of several strains of beneficial microbes — has been effective in the growth of rice plants. But farmers have been slow to adopt it, and as a result, fewer than half of the firms producing BioGro have stayed in business for more than two years.

Shelf-stability is also a problem: Farmers seem to prefer buying seeds that have already been coated with microbial products that need to remain viable even when seeds are stored for months or years.

Here's How To End Iowa's Great Nitrate Fight

What’s more, unlike traditional fertilizers, which can be used on any type of crop anywhere in the world, endophytes aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“You have to tailor-make the microbes to different environmental situations,” says Ray Dixon. He’s a molecular microbiologist at the John Innes Center, a biological research center in the U.K., and he’s studied nitrogen-fixing bacteria for over four decades. “It’s very dependent on crop variety, so if you get the wrong variety, it won’t work. If the soil type is not appropriate, it won’t work; if the climate is not appropriate, it won’t work.”

Environmental factors, like the presence of pesticides or the native soil microbiome, can also negatively affect the success of nitrogen-fixing microbes

Dixon says there’s still a lot of work to be done before these microbes could fully replace traditional fertilizers. “I don’t know whether it will be developed right across the corn belt in the U.S.,” he says. “That’s probably not going to happen in the immediate future.”

However, labs across the globe are working on these issues. Researchers are trying to determine the optimal conditions for cheaply mass-producing these microbes. Experiments with other types of microbes suggest that industrial by-products like molasses (which comes from processing sugarcane or sugar beets) or starch wastewater (which comes from processing foods like wheat and potatoes) could be used to grow beneficial microbes.

Scientists have also identified endophyte species that are beneficial for canola, corn, sugarcane, and switchgrass (a bioenergy crop); field experiments are now taking place all across the world, from Ireland to Egypt to Brazil.

And it’s not just academics: Last fall, Bayer and Gingko Bioworks created Joyn Bio, a new biotech company developing nitrogen-fixing endophytes for crops. So far, Joyn Bio has received $100 million in venture capital funding.

The startup Pivot Bio is also developing corn seeds coated in nitrogen-fixing microbes. However, Pivot Bio’s microbes function slightly differently. Unlike endophytes, which live inside a plant, the Pivot Bio microbes live on the surface of the roots. While these microbes can’t totally replace nitrogen fertilizer, they can at least reduce the amount that farmers have to use.

“Based on over five years of experiments at 5,000 field trial plots across 100 locations,” says a spokesperson for Pivot Bio, “we have data that shows Pivot Bio’s microbes replace up to 25 pounds of applied synthetic nitrogen fertilizer per acre in U.S. corn fields.”

Pivot Bio recently announced the pre-commercial launch of its nitrogen-fixing microbes. Corn farmers across the Midwest will put the microbes to the test in large-scale field trials this spring and summer. Results should be available by the end of the year.

Democrats Weigh Gravity Of Justice Kennedy’s Retirement

Jun 28, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Democrats Weigh Gravity Of Justice Kennedy’s Retirement

David Greene talks to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota about the impact of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court in the run-up to midterm elections.

Anthony Bourdain’s Legacy Shines On In Cajun Country

Jun 28, 2018   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Anthony Bourdain’s Legacy Shines On In Cajun Country

Toby Rodriguez (left) launched a career as a traveling butcher after he was featured on a 2011 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Now he plans to open a restaurant in New Orleans with Barrett Dupuis (right) as general manager. Rodriguez says the late Bourdain was accurate and unflinching in his portrayal of Cajun country.

Daniella Cheslow


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Daniella Cheslow

Toby Rodriguez (left) launched a career as a traveling butcher after he was featured on a 2011 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Now he plans to open a restaurant in New Orleans with Barrett Dupuis (right) as general manager. Rodriguez says the late Bourdain was accurate and unflinching in his portrayal of Cajun country.

Daniella Cheslow

The turkey wings at Laura’s II in Lafayette, La., have been made using the same recipe for three generations. Madonna Broussard stuffs about 80 turkey wings with garlic and seasonings each afternoon, packs them into nine aluminum pans, then bakes the wings to give them a crispy bite that contrasts with the soft, gravy-soaked rice underneath.

On a recent afternoon she checked on the marinating turkey wings, passing by photos of Anthony Bourdain taped to her soda machine near the cash register.

In the days and weeks following the June 8 death by suicide of the TV host and chef, tributes have poured in from around the world. In South Louisiana, where Bourdain returned time and again, he is particularly mourned and beloved.

It was Broussard’s wings that Bourdain said drew him “like a heat-seeking missile” in one of the last episodes to air of his CNN show, Parts Unknown. In the episode, called Cajun Mardi Gras, Bourdain sits at a table in Broussard’s restaurant with “Creole Cowboy” Dave Lemelle, local musician and business owner Sid Williams and zydeco music historian Herman Fuselier. They discuss how black cowboys descended from African slaves and free men are believed to be the first American cattle herders in the plains and bayous of Louisiana.

Madonna Broussard taped up a recent article about Anthony Bourdain’s travels to the soda machine in her restaurant, Laura’s II in Lafayette, La. Bourdain featured Broussard and her turkey wings in a recent episode of Parts Unknown.

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Madonna Broussard taped up a recent article about Anthony Bourdain’s travels to the soda machine in her restaurant, Laura’s II in Lafayette, La. Bourdain featured Broussard and her turkey wings in a recent episode of Parts Unknown.

Danielle Cheslow

Broussard screened the episode at her restaurant when it aired June 17; Lemelle and Williams joined and answered questions during commercial breaks. The 60 guests ate a dinner of fried chicken from Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. (Bourdain had described the outlet’s macaroni and cheese as “exotic,” Broussard says.) The evening had a somber cast, she says.

Restaurant workers dole out chicken fricasee at the “Taste of EatLafayette” festival in the sprawling Cajundome arena in Lafayette, Louisiana. Locals say Bourdain captured the subtleties of their culture and cuisine, even if at times he overemphasized alcohol.

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Restaurant workers dole out chicken fricasee at the “Taste of EatLafayette” festival in the sprawling Cajundome arena in Lafayette, Louisiana. Locals say Bourdain captured the subtleties of their culture and cuisine, even if at times he overemphasized alcohol.

Daniella Cheslow

“It was the reality of, ‘Damn, he is not able to watch,’ ” Broussard tells NPR. “But for him to cut through here …. just to have that person come here and say, ‘You guys, your food is good’ – that was an honor.”

Bourdain cherished southern Louisiana. His first foray was a 2003 episode of his early Food Network show, A Cook’s Tour. He was overfed at a “VIP” table in the bed of an old pickup truck outside Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. The owner rode with Bourdain, still seated, like battered royalty back to his hotel.

Bourdain returned to the area to film for each of his three ensuing TV series – in New Orleans in 2008 and 2013, Cajun country in 2011, and most recently, back in Lafayette. He captured a region influenced culturally and environmentally by generations of intermingling French, Africans, Native Americans, and Europeans.

Forget Beads: Cajun Mardi Gras Means A Grand, Drunken Chicken Chase

“There are parts of America that are special, unique, unlike anywhere else,” Bourdain says on Parts Unknown. “Cultures all their own, kept close, much loved but largely misunderstood. The vast patchwork of saltwater marshes, bayous, and prairie land that make up Cajun country is one of those places.”

For his final episode from the region, Bourdain attended a Cajun Mardi Gras, which this year fell in February. In New Orleans, the Catholic holiday is marked with parades, parties, plastic beads and jazz music on the last day before Lent. “Ordinarily, I loathe the idea of Mardi Gras,” Bourdain narrates. “But Cajun Mardi Gras is another thing entirely — closer to the ancient French tradition, vaguely more dangerous, downright medieval.”

Bourdain goes to Mamou, La. — three hours west of New Orleans by car — for the notorious Mardi Gras run. Men (all the participants are men) cover their faces with elaborate masks, wear costumes from head to toe, drink themselves into a daze, then ride on horseback from house to house, chasing live chickens to cook in a holiday stew. The next day, Bourdain gets his forehead smeared with a cross for Ash Wednesday. “Got right with God,” he deadpans. “Let’s eat.”

But aside from highlighting the unique Cajun and Creole cultures of the area, Bourdain had a profound, direct impact on its people.

Take, for example, Toby Rodriguez. He is seen in the 2018 episode running the kitchen of an evening dance party known as a fais dodo. It’s part of a weeklong celebration before Mardi Gras. Seven years earlier, Rodriguez had appeared on Bourdain’s No Reservations, directing a boucherie — a day-long hog butchering. (“So much joy from one animal,” Bourdain exclaims.) After that episode aired, Rodriguez says, there was “an immediate tidal wave of attention and interest in this thing I didn’t think was that special.”

He launched a traveling boucherie business, loading handmade tools and cast iron cauldrons into a U-Haul truck and driving to clients in Washington state, Michigan, Texas, Missouri, North Carolina and Brooklyn. Two years ago, Rodriguez was invited to cook at Slow Food’s prestigious Terra Madre festival in Italy. “It was like time stood still,” Rodriguez says. Now he has plans to open an informal whole-animal restaurant in the Crescent City.

Rodriguez had been looking forward to updating Bourdain on his meteoric rise during the recent filming. But there was no time. “He was a bit removed, tired,” Rodriguez says. “I wondered how difficult it must be to be him.”

Lolis Elie, a journalist, food historian and screenwriter, worked alongside Bourdain on an episode of the HBO show Treme that focused on a working-class New Orleans neighborhood’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Bourdain wrote the character of cook Janette Desautel, who shuts her restaurant and heads to New York for a series of bruising jobs in top kitchens.

“I don’t want to minimize Tony’s significance or the quality of his work about New Orleans,” Elie tells NPR. “But literally people have been talking about New Orleans for centuries.”

However, Elie says, “my respect for [Bourdain] is immense and unyielding” for an incident that happened off-camera. Elie says in 2011 he asked Bourdain to donate a signed book to raise funds for New Orleans chef Nathanial Zimet, who was shot and badly injured outside his home.

The attack came as Zimet and his business partner, James Denio, had just opened their restaurant, called Boucherie, after years of running a successful food truck business. Bourdain donated a stack of autographed books and a personal check for Zimet’s care, then appeared for dinner at Boucherie and stayed late to exchange stories with the cooks.

Zimet eventually recovered and returned to the kitchen. On a recent June morning, he sat at a picnic table in the sunny, humid open air and reviewed a new menu with his staff: ribs with spicy-fried okra; long-cooked yellow beet ravioli; duck with pickled blueberries. Zimet never met Bourdain but says his gesture touched him: “He said, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’ “

Lafayette restaurateur Jacques Rodrigue says Bourdain “did a great job in showcasing our culture.” That included highlighting local produce instead of the usual food-media focus on the area’s deep-fried seafood, which is “not necessarily what everybody ate at home,” Rodrigue says.

Artist Chuck Broussard (no relation to Madonna Broussard) worries “that in general they overemphasized the amount of drinking in Louisiana. I would hate for people to think it’s all drinking.” Still, he concedes, “They got it right for that Mardi Gras event.”

But Rodriguez, the traveling butcher, says Bourdain was accurate and unflinching. Of the 2011 production, Rodriguez says, “it was the best representation ever done to date.”

“Every time that someone does something about Cajun country, about Acadiana, it’s comedic,” Rodriguez says. Bourdain’s take was different. “This was beautiful, it was serious, and it was intense. It was a romantic approach to representing who we are.”

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