5 important stories that have nothing to do with Trump’s tweets

BY , , and    | Updated: Jul 6, 2017 at 6:18 PM
A man lights a candle in his family's shack in an area where, according to local residents, several people have been killed in police operations since the beginning of country's war on drugs, in Manila, Philippines. Photo taken in November 2016. Photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters

A man lights a candle in his family’s shack in an area where, according to local residents, several people have been killed in police operations since the beginning of country’s war on drugs, in Manila, Philippines. Photo taken in November 2016. Photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Another week, another series of Trump tweets that stole the media’s attention.

Trump went after the media at least 15 times last week on Twitter, as catalogued by NPR. Among his targets: The Washington Post, The New York Times, MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren and, most explosively, Mika Brzezinski, whom he called crazy and “bleeding badly from a facelift” as he criticized the “poorly-rated” show she co-hosts with Joe Scarborough.

Early Sunday, Trump posted a 28-second video clip from Reddit of his “Wrestlemania” match with Vince McMahon with a logo of CNN superimposed over his face. The network fired three employees earlier in the week over a story it later retracted about Trump officials’ ties to a Russian investment fund. “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN,” the video is captioned, as Trump tackles the giant logo to the ground.

Seventy percent of Americans think civility has gotten worse since Trump took office, according to a new NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Sixty-one percent of American’s don’t trust his administration. But they don’t trust Congress or the media, either.

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The tweets have put Republicans in a difficult position: They need the president to enact major legislation on health care and tax reform, even as he breaks “every modern standard of presidential decorum,” 140 characters at a time.

(To Senate Republicans trying to work through a health care compromise, for instance, Trump suggested on Twitter that they just repeal and replace later, raising doubts about the president’s support for legislation about which some lawmakers are already uncertain).

Trump agrees with his critics on one point: “My use of social media is not Presidential – it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!” he tweeted, later saying he isn’t planning to slow his 140-character musings any time soon.

Get back in touch with the great big world outside of Twitter with these five stories that may have been lost in this week’s deluge of tweets.

1. Illinois could become the first “junk state” in the U.S.

The entrance to Francis Parkman School is boarded up in Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 2015. Forty-nine elementary schools were targeted by the country's largest mass closing in 2013, and most are still empty two years later. Under-enrollment and low resources were cited by school board officials for the closures, which mainly affected poorer African-American and Latino neighborhoods. The shuttered buildings have become a vivid symbol of the fight over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's sweeping drive to reform education and tackle a projected $1.1 billion education budget deficit. Picture taken May 8, 2015. To match Feature USA-CHICAGO/EDUCATION REUTERS/Jim Young - RTR4YMRR

The entrance to Francis Parkman School is boarded up in Chicago, Illinois, May 8, 2015. Forty-nine elementary schools were targeted by the country’s largest mass closing in 2013, and many are still empty, due to a budget stalemate. Photo by REUTERS/Jim Young.

For the past two years, Illinois has gone without a budget.

This summer, three credit-rating houses suggested that Illinois — without a budget plan for a third straight year — was at risk for a downgraded bond rating, making it the first U.S. state to fall under “junk status.”

Such a downgrade would make borrowing money more expensive, exacerbating the state’s dire financial situation at a time when the state already has $15 billion in unpaid bills. (The state has another $251 billion in pension debt, according to CNN.)

On Sunday, a day after the close of the fiscal year, the Illinois House rushed to pass a massive budget plan that would increase the personal tax rate by 32 percent. It would also raise the corporate tax rate from 5.25 percent to 7 percent, in all generating nearly $5 billion a year to replenish the state’s coffers.

On Tuesday, the Illinois Senate passed the tax hike and budget plan. But three hours later, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the legislation, calling it a “permanent income tax increase.” The Senate quickly overrode Rauner’s veto.

Now, the House must pass the override. It’s expected to address the issue Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The House initially voted to pass the budget plan 72-45 on Monday, with one more vote than necessary to override a veto. More than a dozen Republicans broke ranks to support the bill, in the face of intense pressure from their districts. They will need the same support in order to override the governor’s veto.

“[T]his is the sword that I’m willing to die on,” Republican Rep. Michael Unes told the Chicago Tribune. “And if it costs me my seat, so be it.”

On Thursday, the House voted to override the governor’s veto, enacting a $36 billion spending plan and ending the longest budget stalemate in U.S. history.

Why it matters

How did Illinois get here?

When a temporary income tax increase expired in January 2015, the Republican governor and Democrat-controlled legislature were unable to resolve their differences to pass a budget. Yet state spending continued at the same levels, leaving Illinois with a $6.2 billion annual deficit.

Even with a budget plan now in place, lawmakers must address how the deficit has affected all parts of the state. State funding for public universities fell 61 percent for the 2015-2016 school year, according to data from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Illinois public universities are now at risk of losing their accreditation. Meanwhile, the state’s public schools have had to cut staff, and classrooms have ballooned in size. Without state funding, many will not be able to stay open for more than a few weeks into the 2017-2018 school year. Others may not open at all, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The budget crisis has also led to major cuts to social services. Domestic violence centers were told in December 2016 that the state had cut $9 million in state funding — five months after the cuts were approved. Other social services, such as addiction and mental health services and Meals on Wheels, have also seen crippling cuts.

Illinois may have the longest-running budget dispute, but it’s not the only state dealing with one. As of July 1, nearly a dozen other states were also without budgets. New Jersey and Maine both faced partial government shutdowns, thanks to budget standoffs between Democratic lawmakers and Republican governors, but both closed deals to end their standoffs on Tuesday.

Let’s hope the same scene doesn’t play out when Congress faces its own budget showdown this fall.

2. Is a higher minimum wage helping or hurting Seattle?

SEATTLE -- The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to Seattle's $15-an-hour minimum wage from franchise owners who say the law discriminates against them by treating them as large businesses. People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington March 15, 2014. Voters in SeaTac, Washington recently passed a ballot initiative for $15 minimum wage. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

People rally in support of a $15 minimum wage at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Jason Redmond/Reuters

In 2014, Seattle became the first city to pass legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15.

But a study published last week by researchers at the University of Washington suggests the hike might be doing more harm than good.

The city is gradually raising hourly wages to $15 by 2021. It made its second of a series of pay hikes in January 2016, raising hourly wages to between $10.50 and $13 an hour.

That hike increased pay for low-wage workers by about 3 percent. But it also caused employers to give those workers fewer hours, the study says, which means workers on average saw a 6 percent drop — or $125 loss — in earnings per month.

Another blow: “There are about 5,000 fewer low-wage jobs in the city than there would have been without the law,” the Seattle Times reports.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wrote a letter to the study authors questioning their conclusions. He pointed to another study from the University of California that said the legislation “raised wages for low-paid workers without causing disemployment.”

“Businesses across the city are competing for employees and our city is in the midst of a period of nearly unprecedented growth. Raising the minimum wage helps ensure more people who live and work in Seattle can share in our city’s success, and helps fight income inequality,” he told The Seattle Times.

Why it’s important

The Seattle news comes as the minimum wage increased this month in several cities in California, as well as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and the states of Oregon and Maryland. (Meanwhile Missouri has lowered its minimum wage, from $10 to $7.70 an hour).

Experts say Seattle isn’t necessarily a test case for other states and cities; how much workers benefit varies widely depending on industry — fast food and restaurants versus manufacturing, for instance — as well as how the economy is doing nationwide.

“There is no one ‘the effect of the minimum wage,'” one researcher involved in the latest study told the Washington Post.

Democrats introduced federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in April, but the bill is unlikely to go anywhere amid fights over health care, tax reform and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The Post points out the study “could exacerbate divisions among Democrats, who are seeking an economic agenda to counter President Trump’s pitches for protectionism, reduced taxes and restrictions on immigration.”

3. Police in the Philippines may be using hospitals to cover up crime scenes

FILE PHOTO: Funeral workers carry a dead body, whom police said a drug pusher killed during an anti-drug operation in metro Manila, Philippines November 15, 2016. To match Special Report PHILIPPINES-DUTERTE/DOA REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo - RTS193RK

Funeral workers carry a dead body, whom police said a drug pusher killed during an anti-drug operation in metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo.

When Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June he promised to “kill all the drug lords.”

A year later, thousands of people have been killed in his war on drugs.

That’s not necessarily a surprise, given some of Duterte’s previous declarations. (“Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts, there are. I would be happy to slaughter them,” he said at a conference last year.)

What is unusual is what’s happening to the bodies.

A Reuters investigation found that all but two of 301 drug suspects taken to hospitals in the Quezon City and Manila police districts were dead upon arrival, a strategy officers have been using “to destroy evidence at crime scenes and hide the fact that they were executing drug suspects,” Reuters says.

It suggests that “the purpose of hospital runs was to destroy evidence rather than save lives,” Reuters writes.

“Many drug suspects brought to hospital had been shot in the head and heart, sometimes at close range – precise and unsurvivable wounds that undermined police claims that suspects were injured during chaotic exchanges of gunfire,” Reuters found.

A police official told Reuters that “if that investigation showed police were intentionally moving these dead bodies and bringing them to the hospitals just to alter the evidence, then I think we have to make them explain.”

But doctors said they weren’t optimistic.

Why it matters

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte supporters gather during a vigil backing the anti-drugs crackdown at the Luneta park in metro Manila, Philippines February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File photo - RTS18ISP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte supporters gather during a February vigil backing the anti-drugs crackdown at the Luneta park in metro Manila, Philippines. Photo by REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File photo.

Duterte has had a tumultuous and headline-grabbing first year. Two months after taking office, he threatened to leave the U.N. He called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore.” He even swore at the pope (which would be seemingly even more offensive in a country that identifies as 80 percent Catholic).

While that kind of behavior has drawn criticism from abroad — Human Rights Watch called it a “human rights calamity” — it hasn’t sparked the same kind of outrage at home, where many people felt the police and courts were corrupt before Duterte took office. In a recent survey, 75 percent of Filipinos said they were satisfied with Duterte’s leadership, according to CNBC.

The news comes as Duterte deals with a crisis in Marawi, where ISIS-backed militants are battling government forces for control of the southern city. He declared martial law in late May, telling troops not to worry about killing civilians in their pursuit of Islamic state fighters.

Martial law is set to expire July 23, the day before Duterte gives a state of the nation address. It’s still too soon to tell whether the president’s leadership style will bring stability, or more distress.

4. A new survey reveals 1 in 5 Los Angeles community college students are homeless

A new report released last week spotlighted the high rates of homelessness and “food insecurity” among the 230,000 students enrolled in Los Angeles’ community colleges, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The survey found that about one in five students in the Los Angeles Community College District are homeless, in a city often cited for its rising housing costs.

The report, compiled by the University of Wisconsin Hope lab, also provided more numbers on how acute housing insecurity was among Los Angeles community college students, including 23 percent who said they weren’t able to pay their full rent or mortgage at least once in the last 12 months. And 31 percent said they didn’t pay the full amount of utilities over the same period. Both of these reported stats are higher than those seen nationally.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds — 65 percent — of students reported not being able to afford a balanced meal, which is higher than the national average at 60 percent. And 60 percent of students said they didn’t have enough money to buy more food when their stock ran out.

The HOPE Lab also specifically mentioned how assistance programs, like SNAP, may be available, but still have requirements that could prevent college students from getting help. The survey cited, for example, SNAP’s requirement that undergraduates, who are pursuing their academic goals, work at least 20 hours a week.

The Times said almost 6,000 students responded to the online survey.

Why it’s important

The district’s board of trustees, which commissioned the survey, presented its findings last week. One trustee, Mike Eng, said, “When you have people going hungry for three days straight, you have a really serious problem.”

The Times also noted that “the survey results come during a time of intense competition over the distribution of proceeds from a quarter-cent county sales tax for homeless services,” adding that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors had recently approved homeless college students to be one group of beneficiaries of the city’s tax fund. The tax fund is expected to accumulate $3.55 billion over a decade, the newspaper reported.

The problem of homelessness and food insecurity among college students is also a national problem, extending beyond Los Angeles. As LAist pointed out, when a 2016 Cal State study addressed the problem on its own campus, the report had this conclusion: “The experience of student hunger has become normalized as the ordinary and expected starving student, thus minimizing the problem of students struggling to eat nutritious meals each day.”

5. High school students take action and restore St. Louis’ Emmett Till memorial after vandalization

A group of high school students attending a social justice leadership organization were leaving a grocery store outside St. Louis when they stumbled upon a vandalized memorial dedicated to Emmett Till. Camille Denton, 17, said something had to be done.

“All of us were really quiet, staring, wondering what can we do,” Denton said, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Denton and fellow students are participating in the St.Louis-based Cultural Leadership Program. The group focuses on issues of social justice and civil rights, and one of its prominent projects inadvertently became the restoration of the vandalized memorial.

Members of the group took action by repairing the sign with handwritten notes and drawings, The Post reported, composing educational anecdotes related to Till, who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

“I couldn’t fathom that someone would disrespect this man and his death, and we know he died unjustly,” Promise Mitchell told local St. Louis’ television station, KMOV News. This is the second time the sign has been vandalized in the last two years.

Holly Ingraham, the executive director of the Cultural Leadership program, said their actions embodied what the group is about.

“Speaking out and taking action are two of the many leadership and social justice advocacy skills students learn in Cultural Leadership,” Ingraham told The Post.

Why it’s important

A 2016 study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA, found that 40 percent of incoming underclassmen feel it is “essential” or “very important” to become engaged as community leaders. Sixty percent expressed a commitment toward “improving their understanding of other countries and cultures,” while three-quarters indicated that “helping others in difficulty” is important.

“For me it was kind of like a moment of realizing that I didn’t have to just walk away,” Denton told The Post. “We all could have gotten on the bus and kept going to our next destination instead of actually fighting back.”

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