Take a break from politics with these 5 important stories – PBS NewsHour
President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement last week prompted a swift rebuke from business leaders, mayors and governors across the country.
The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, even offered a come-one-come-all appeal for “responsible [U.S.] citizens” disappointed with the president’s decision to find refuge in France as a “second homeland.”
Meanwhile, EPA head Scott Pruitt defended the president’s decision, calling the Paris accord “all hat and no cattle.” The U.S. now joins only two nations — Nicaragua and Syria — that have refused to sign onto the agreement, which brings together nearly 200 countries in the world in the fight against climate change.
When asked about his reaction to the U.S. exit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Paris accord aside, here are five important stories that may have gotten buried under last week’s big news.
1. Ohio sues drug makers for their role in the opioid epidemic
Ohio is suing five drugmakers over its opioid epidemic, saying the companies misled both doctors and patients about the risks of their medications, “unleash[ing] a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio.”
The lawsuit, filed last week by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, says five major drugmakers, including Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Johnson & Johnson, “continues to spend millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
“They knew all of it was wrong, and they did it anyway,” DeWine said in a news conference Wednesday.
READ MORE: In the war on heroin, Baltimore drug programs face an uncertain future
More than 25,000 people died of an opioid overdose in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control — more than 3,000 of them in Ohio. In the first two months of 2017, state officials tallied at least one overdose a day, NBC reported last week.
“OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally, “Purdue Pharma said in a statement. “But we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone — all important components for combating the opioid crisis.”
Why it’s important
“Deaths from prescription opioids—like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999,” the CDC says. Today, more than six out of 10 overdose deaths in the U.S. are related to the drugs.
Opioid manufacturing was an $11 billion industry in 2016, the lawsuit claims. In 2012, doctors prescribed 793 million doses of opioids to Ohioans — “enough to supply every man, woman and child in the state with 68 pills each,” it says.
DeWine told NPR his state is home to 200,000 people addicted to opioids. It sees 10 to 12 opioid-related deaths every day, he said. While some people have also pointed to doctors’ role in prescribing these medications — and hospitals and medical associations are rethinking how to use opioids when managing pain — DeWine told NPR that drug makers “have not been responsible enough. They have not done what they should have done to turn it around and that to some extent, they continue to do it.”
The lawsuit in Ohio — and a similar pending case filed in 2015 by the state of Mississippi — marks a new strategy in fighting the crisis: going directly after the source. At least 11 counties in West Virginia — where manufacturers flooded the market with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over the course of six years, according to a Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation — have taken similar action.
It’s a strategy several states also used in the 1990s against the tobacco industry, the New York Times points out, which ultimately paid out $200 billion in settlements.
READ MORE: Opioids as a first response to pain? Hospitals are rethinking that policy
A decade ago, Purdue Pharma paid out more than $630 million after pleading guilty in a federal court for “making misleading claims”about its drug Oxycontin and the associated risks of addiction. But some states, like Kentucky, were unhappy with the settlement and decided to go after drugmakers on their own.
In 2015, Kentucky settled with Purdue and another pharmaceutical company for nearly $40 million, though the manufacturers did not admit wrongdoing or liability as part of the settlement, Cleveland.com points out.
How the pending cases play out could set a new precedent for how lawmakers can market their drugs — and what responsibility, if any, they have in how doctors and patients use them.
2. Harvard rescinds acceptance offers for 10 incoming students over offensive memes
Harvard withdrew acceptance offers for at least 10 students in its incoming freshman class after it learned the individuals shared offensive content on a private Facebook group, the university’s student newspaper reported.
The group — once titled “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” — targeted racial minorities and was filled with explicit images and comments from students about the Holocaust, child abuse and sexual assault, The Harvard Crimson reported. In one post, a student called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “pinata time,” the newspaper reported.
The Crimson said the private group was a splinter of the official “Harvard College Class of 2021” group on Facebook. For entry into the smaller, offensive group, its founders required that students post something offensive in the main freshman class group.
A Harvard spokeswoman told several media outlets that the university does “not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants.”
Why it’s important
Hand-wringing over free speech in the face of so-called “PC culture” is not new. But there is a certain juxtaposition here worth noting.
Following her commencement address at Hampshire College in late May — in which she called Trump a “a racist and sexist megalomaniac” — Princeton University professor and author Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor said she was harassed into cancelling several public talks, saying she feared for her family’s safety. Taylor said she was threatened with violence and death after Fox News used her speech for a segment. Among the cancelled talks was an address at the University of California at San Diego.
The same week, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni bemoaned the use of the word “racist” “in a frenzy of righteousness aimed at gagging speakers and strangling debate.” Bruni argued that using “racist”so wantonly impeded progress in addressing racism in this country, specifically citing the heated discussions that happen around campus racism.
Meanwhile, Steven Thrasher wrote in The Guardian that Taylor and other women and people of color are the ones “who struggle the most finding a platform – but there is a conspicuous lack of concern about that by free speech crusaders.”
Taylor and those who get emailed threats have a “much higher price to pay for ‘free’ speech,” he wrote.
3. Americans are putting off paying their taxes. It’s not going well.
One unexpected outcome of the GOP’s promise of big tax cuts: Americans are putting off paying their taxes, with the hope that tax rates will change in their favor. But that’s pushing the government even further into debt, which is why administration officials are are calling on Congress to raise the debt limit soon.
White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on May 24 that the issue could cause the government to run out of money soon. Not long after, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urged the House Ways and Means Committee to raise the debt limit by August, an action that requires Congressional approval.
This Washington Post story lays out some helpful background on what’s happening: The government has been spending more than it brings in, and to cover the difference, it borrows money by issuing debt. But at a certain point, the government will hit the debt ceiling. “The government has been bumping up against the debt ceiling since mid-March,” according to the Washington Post, “and the Treasury Department is expected to run out of emergency steps to avoid defaulting on payments in a few months.”
This report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that revenue is $60 to $70 billion below what the CBO forecast in January.
Why it’s important
The conservative House Freedom Caucus has said it opposes any increase to the debt ceiling without more cuts to the budget. In a statement released May 24, the caucus said: “We have an obligation to the American people to tackle Washington’s out of control spending and put in place measures to get our country on the right fiscal course.”
Meanwhile, many Democrats have said they will not support a debt ceiling increase if spending cuts are attached.
But a failure by Treasury to make payments could cause a whole slew of problems — among them, “frozen international credit markets, a spike in interest rates and a worldwide collapse in stocks,”the Washington Post reports.
4. Why are so many journalists dying in Mexico?
Though the year is only halfway through, Mexico is now the deadliest country in the world for journalists, despite efforts by the government to crack down on violence against members of the press
Five journalists have been killed in Mexico this year, according to an analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In four cases, the motive for their slayings was confirmed to be directly tied to their work.
The latest victim was veteran reporter Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who was shot and killed by masked gunmen on May 15 near the offices of Riodoce, the publication he had co-founded in 2003. Valdez, an award-winning crime reporter and author, told CPJ weeks before his death that he was concerned for his safety, NewsHour’s Michael Rios reports.
The current conditions in Mexico also caused the recent death, metaphorically speaking, of an entire news organization. The Juarez news outlet Norte halted production after it announced last month that the crimes against journalists have made it too dangerous to continue to publish the news.
Why it’s important
Crimes against journalists are not a new phenomenon in Mexico. By CPJ’s count, nearly 100 journalists have been slain in the country since the group started keeping track in 1992 – many for reasons related to their work. But the killings have been more frequent in recent years. Since 2010, roughly 50 journalists have been killed, with only a handful of cases leading to convictions.
To address the issue, the Mexican government has implemented several programs and laws over the past few years designed to keep journalists safe and punish those who commit the crimes.
The problem is that very few of these programs actually get results, said Artur Romeu, communication coordinator for the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.
“Any reforms that Mexico decides to carry out is going to be impossible if journalists continue to be killed with total impunity,” Carlos Lauria, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, told the PBS NewsHour, suggesting that the Mexican government needs to put its full political weight toward the protection of journalists.
Read Rios’ full story here.
5. Bob Dylan finally turns in his Nobel lecture
American musician Bob Dylan finally delivered his required Nobel lecture, the Swedish Academy confirmed this week.
Dylan recorded his lecture in Los Angeles on Sunday; it is now available as an audio clip. (Listen to it above.)
Why it’s important
Sara Danius, spokeswoman for the Swedish Academy, said in a statement that “the Dylan adventure is coming to a close,” which could be read as an understatement. When the academy awarded Dylan last year with the Nobel Prize in Literature, there was a will-he-won’t-he tension over whether the artist would acknowledge the prize or even retrieve it.
With the lecture delivered, Dylan can now collect the money (totaling $922,000) awarded with the prize.
Dylan’s nearly 30-minute lecture begins with Buddy Holly and ends with Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and sort of addresses the question that had several critics shifting in their seats: How could song lyrics be considered literature?
For Dylan, the question is complicated; he spends a good part of his lecture examining how songs can, and can’t, be literature.
I guess the true answer, my friend, is still blowin’ in the wind.
READ MORE: 5 important stories that were overlooked in last week’s news frenzy
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