It can be hard to keep up with the rush of news that comes out of Washington, D.C. The PBS NewsHour takes a moment every week to bring you important stories happening beyond the Beltway. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. Millions of Yemenis struggle to survive behind rebel lines
In 2014, a religious movement turned rebel group known as the Houthis seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.
The fighters were supported by Shiite Iran, which raised concern in neighboring Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia. So the Saudis launched a coalition of Arab countries with support from the United States to drive the Houthis out.
Today, more than three years later, war still “rains down from the sky,” as the coalition tries to wrestle control away from the Houthi fighters and what’s largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran continues without an end in sight.
Yet while the U.S-backed campaign “has brought the country to its knees,” it “hasn’t pushed back the Houthis,” said PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who smuggled herself across rebel lines to report on what has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. She found a country frustrated with America’s role in the conflict, malnourished children, tightly held checkpoints and neighborhoods marred by airstrikes, its buildings turned to rubble.
After a Saudi offensive last month, both sides are at a stalemate as the U.N. tries to broker peace talks between the groups. The U.N. is seeking a deal that would end fighting in key port city Hodeidah, according to Reuters, which officials hope “could lead to a wider solution.” [The PBS NewsHour]
Why it matters:“America’s help with that campaign has driven bitter resentment here,” Ferguson reported. Ports and shipping routes are blockaded, which at times has also cut off medical treatment. Twenty-two million people need humanitarian aid every day.
“Millions are on the brink of starvation, and the worst cholera outbreak in modern history rages on,” Ferguson reported.
Three years of war have worn Yemenis down, but they also believe America could end it quickly, according to Ferguson.
“Now the people are almost dead. Poverty, hunger, disease, death, injuries, and on top of all that, the warplanes are hitting us,” a man named Abu told Ferguson in a market. “Since America has the biggest position in the U.N., it should have pushed for political and economic resolutions to the conflict.”
2. Denmark cracks down on mainly Muslim immigrant communities
Back in March, Denmark’s government proposed 22 measures that largely focused on regulating life in “parallel societies” — in other words, the 25 designated “ghettos” full of immigrants throughout the country.
Denmark uses “ghetto” as an official designation reserved for communities with residents from non-Western countries. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen has said there are “cracks” or “holes” in Denmark’s map because of ghettos.
The Danish government says they are home to high rates of unemployment and a concentration of criminal activity. These neighborhoods are also heavily Muslim.
The proposals include: more severe punishment for crimes — vandalism and theft, among others — committed in any of the 25 ghettos; requiring children in these areas to attend daycare for at least 30 hours a week once they reach 1 year old; and giving authorities more power to monitor these communities.
Since March, most of the proposals have been agreed upon by a parliamentary majority, The New York Times reported, while more will be addressed by a vote later this year.
Danish leaders said these proposals are all part of an effort to integrate immigrants from non-Western backgrounds into the country’s homogeneous population. Critics, including immigrants in Denmark, have called the government’s move anti-immigrant. Idil Ahmed, an immigrant from Somalia at age 17, told NPR in March that she initially felt the environment to be welcoming in Denmark, but that has since changed.
“You must do this, you must do that,” she said of the proposals. “What they mean is: ‘Go home.'”
About 87 percent of Denmark’s population are ethnic Danes. Two-thirds of immigrants and their descendants in Denmark are from non-Western countries like Syria, Lebanon and Somalia. It should be noted that some of the immigrants in these neighborhoods were placed there by the government. [The New York Times]
Why it matters:NPR noted in its March story that the most “surprising” part of Denmark’s plan was how it was supported by the country’s center-left Social Democrats.
“It’s part of a growing European trend that is particularly evident in Denmark: Social Democrats are taking a harder line on immigration as they try to win back working-class voters who have veered toward nationalism,” Sidsel Overgaard of NPR reported at the time.
Politicians have been hardening their stance on immigration in both the U.S. and other parts of Europe as well. More recently, the U.S. rolled out a “zero tolerance” policy that led to the thousands of family separations at the border. In June, Italy refused to let a rescue ship of hundreds of migrants on board dock at its port; Malta eventually took in the stranded ship, but pressed charges against the humanitarian group that assisted in their rescue.
In both instances, despite the political rhetoric on immigration, the numbers tell a different story: border crossings on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are decreasing, the Associated Press reported.
“The numbers don’t support the hysteria,” Joel Millman, a spokesman for International Organization for Migration, told the AP. “Politicians know what moves voters, and this is extremely effective in moving voters,” he added.
3. Fireworks dispute ends in murder charges
After a dispute over fireworks, Devonte Ortiz, 19, was fatally shot by a neighbor outside an Austin, Texas, apartment complex during the early morning hours on the Fourth of July, police said.
heartbroken. RIP Devonte Ortiz pic.twitter.com/mugn7PBw0a
— FanstandATX (@FanstandATX) July 5, 2018
Police responded to reports of a shooting around 1:26 a.m. last Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported, citing police documents. Ortiz was found outside his apartment with a gunshot wound and died soon after at a nearby hospital.
The neighbor, Jason Roche, 41, initially told officers that he shot in self-defense. Roche told authorities that he had confronted Ortiz and his friends about not setting off fireworks earlier in the night. The shooting occurred when Roche confronted the group of friends a second time, armed with a handgun.
Cellphone footage of the deadly encounter, however, showed that Ortiz was “moving away from the firearm and not lunging toward it as stated by Roche,” an affidavit says. Ortiz was black; Roche is white.
Austin police charged Roche with first-degree murder. Ortiz did not have a weapon on his person at the time of the shooting, police said. [Austin American-Statesman]
Why it matters: The Austin shooting is yet another in a series of incidents where routine, mundane activities — barbecuing, selling water, napping, canvassing — have escalated to encounters with police officers and citizens, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Many on social media have flagged these encounters with the #LivingWhileBlack hashtag, with some of the victims last month calling for a congressional hearing on the issue.
Public officials have also been subjected to such encounters, ranging from awkward to deadly, that seem to be underlined by racial bias. Janelle Bynum, an Oregon state representative, was approached by police last week while she was canvassing her constituents in a neighborhood. Someone had called the police to report she appeared “to be casing the neighborhood while on her phone.”
“It was just bizarre,” Bynum told OregonLive shortly after the incident. “It boils down to people not knowing their neighbors and people having a sense of fear in their neighborhoods, which is kind of my job to help eradicate. But at the end of the day, it’s important for people to feel like they can talk to each other to help minimize misunderstandings,” she added.
4. What happened to Zika?
In the summer of 2016, fear about the Zika virus ran high across the Americas. For instance, “Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa saw more than 36,000 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus,” the PBS NewsHour’s Amanda Grennell reported. By the next year, though, that number dropped to 665.
The full story remains untold, but Zika’s sharp decline was likely due, in part, to herd immunity. Herd immunity happens when enough people become immune to a virus, whether through vaccination or natural immunity from catching the disease. As a result, the virus can’t easily travel from person to person.
To stage a comeback, Zika virus would need to either mutate dramatically, which is unlikely, or find a new population lacking herd immunity.
Why it matters: “The virus has killed only 20 people in the Americas since 2015,” Grennell writes. “But the virus can have devastating effects on the developing brain of a growing fetus, particularly through microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with an unusually small head.”
There’s still a lot we don’t know about Zika. But researchers are continuing to make discoveries. One study published in Nature Medicine last week found that “Zika causes miscarriages and stillbirths in a quarter of pregnancies in non-human primates,” Grennell reported.
Biologists also reported the most detailed structure of the Zika virus to date, a finding that could “give scientists more tools to figure out how the virus infects cells,” which in turn can help develop vaccines.
More importantly: Will the virus come back?
Definitely, one expert told Grennell. “The question is when.”
5. Use of food stamps at many farmers markets in jeopardy
Novo Dia, one of the largest processing companies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal program formerly called food stamps, announced that it would end its program that processes transactions at farmers markets at the end of the month, “leaving about 1,700 of the more than 7,000 markets that offer SNAP … with no way to serve low-income customers,” the Washington Post reported.
Under the Obama administration, the USDA made a push in 2012 to help farmers markets accept SNAP benefits.The department began providing mobile processing equipment, which today allows more than 2,500 farmers markets across the country to run SNAP benefit cards, which work like credit cards connected to SNAP processing agencies, the Post reports. Now $22.4 million in benefits are redeemed at farmers markets each year — an increase of 35 percent since the program began, the Post says.
But markets still need software to process the payments — that’s the service Novo Dia and other companies provide. Novo Dia services about 40 percent of the market, the Post reported, but the company said it could no longer remain competitive while still complying with the additional regulations and security measures a federal program like SNAP demands of vendors.
“It’s devastating,” Wholesome Wave CEO Michel Nischan told the Washington Post. His group is one of the nonprofits that match SNAP benefits used at farmers markets. The markets may serve areas where they are the only places to buy fresh food, and Nischan says “they only exist because patrons can use SNAP or incentives.” [The Washington Post]
Why it matters Novo Dia is only the latest issue with SNAP’s use at farmers markets. There have been problems with the firm now in charge of processing equipment, the Post reported — there are hundreds of markets waiting months for the equipment they need to participate in the SNAP program.
Yet “in the divisive debate over food assistance, the success of SNAP at farmers markets has been one of the few issues that Washington lawmakers agree on,” advocates told the Post. Both the House and Senate have included more funding for The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), the grant program focused on increasing the number of SNAP recipients who buy fresh produce, largely because studies have shown that more people buy fresh produce and other healthy food when they can use SNAP benefits at markets. This is especially true in food deserts, areas where supermarkets with fresh food are few and far between.
At the moment, it’s not clear what long-term impact Novo Dia’s decision will have on SNAP’s availability at farmers markets.