Americans Tightened Their Belts And It Might Hurt Economic Numbers Important To Trump

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Retail sales fell 1.2 percent in December, the most in nine years. The drop cut into forecasts for economic growth. David Zalubowski/AP hide caption

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David Zalubowski/AP

Retail sales fell 1.2 percent in December, the most in nine years. The drop cut into forecasts for economic growth.

David Zalubowski/AP

What started off as a strong holiday shopping season ended with a whimper, as consumers, rattled by a trade war and a government shutdown, tightened their belts. The Commerce Department said retail sales fell 1.2 percent between November and December, the sharpest drop in nine years.

The slowdown in consumer spending put a dent in overall economic growth. Forecasters at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta lowered their estimate of fourth-quarter growth to just 1.5 percent. If that holds, growth for all of 2018 would fall short of the Trump administration’s 3 percent target.

“It appears that worries over the trade war and turmoil in the stock markets impacted consumer behavior more than we expected,” National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said in a statement. “It’s very disappointing that clearly avoidable actions by the government influenced consumer confidence and unnecessarily depressed December retail sales.”

Retailers had reported robust sales in the first half of the holiday season. But consumers grew more cautious when a political standoff over border wall funding temporarily shuttered parts of the federal government just before Christmas. This followed a roller-coaster ride on Wall Street, as investors worried that trade tensions between the U.S. and China would cut into corporate profits.

“The combination of financial market volatility, the government shutdown and trade tensions created a trifecta of anxiety and uncertainty impacting spending,” said National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

The 35-day government shutdown delayed the release of the retail figures. But the Commerce Department said the shutdown did not compromise the quality of the survey. Retailers were not so certain.

“This is an incomplete story,” Kleinhenz said. “We will be in a better position to judge the reliability of the results when the government revises its 2018 data in the coming months.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow shrugged off the downbeat numbers.

“The overall economy is very strong,” he told Fox News. “Investment is strong. Consumption is strong despite this number, which has so many glitches in it.”

While Kudlow maintained an outward show of confidence, he also said he’s pleased that the Federal Reserve has stopped raising interest rates for the time being. The sharp drop in December’s retail sales is likely to reinforce the Fed’s more cautious approach.

Boosting economic growth has been a top priority for the Trump administration. Growth accelerated to 4.2 percent in the spring of last year, thanks in part to the GOP tax cut and increased government spending.

While the White House argues faster growth can be sustained, many observers believe the effects are a temporary “sugar high” that will soon wear off. Growth in the third quarter slowed to 3.4 percent. A preliminary estimate of fourth-quarter growth will be released on Feb. 28.

Provided By NPR

ICE Detention Beds New Stumbling Block In Efforts To Prevent Another Shutdown

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With some Democrats calling to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, congressional negotiators want to cap the number of the agency’s detention beds. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

With some Democrats calling to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, congressional negotiators want to cap the number of the agency’s detention beds.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated at 5:03 p.m. ET

As the clock ticks toward a Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown, a new stumbling block has emerged in talks between congressional Democrats and the White House: Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

The Trump administration said last month that it wanted $4.2 billion to support 52,000 detention beds. “Given that in recent months, the number of people attempting to cross the border illegally has risen to 2,000 per day, providing additional resources for detention and transportation is essential,” the White House said.

But Democrats are seeking to cap the number of detention beds. In a statement Sunday, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., asserted that “A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country.”

Roybal-Allard chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security and is a member of the House-Senate conference committee trying to reach an agreement on spending levels.

Democrats want to limit to 16,500 the number of beds used in the interior of the country, where ICE places people it arrests who have overstayed their visas or committed misdemeanor crimes. Roybal-Allard charges the Trump administration with

“pursuing an out-of-control deportation policy focused on removing immigrants with no criminal records, many of whom have deep roots in their communities. This approach is cruel and wrong. A cap on detention beds associated with interior enforcement will rein in the Trump administration’s deportation agenda.”

Democrats say a cap of 16,500 would restore immigration enforcement to levels in place at the end of the Obama administration. A House Democratic aide speaking on background said Democratic and Republican negotiators had agreed to reduce funding overall for ICE detentions to a range between 34,000 and 38,500 beds by the end of the year.

In a briefing call on Monday, ICE Deputy Director Matt Albence said any cap on detention beds would be “extremely damaging to public safety.” He said ICE is currently detaining 20,000 to 22,000 individuals in the interior of the country, away from the border.

In a Sunday interview on Fox Business, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of the Democratic position, “Not only is it enough they want to abolish ICE. They want to abolish the bed spaces available to the country to house violent offenders so they can be held and deported.” Graham added, “I promise you this: Donald Trump is not going to sign any bill that reduces the number of bed spaces available to hold violent offenders who come across our border. He can’t do that. He won’t do that, and you can take that to the bank.”

President Trump tweeted on Monday that “The Democrats do not want us to detain, or send back, criminal aliens! This is a brand new demand. Crazy!”

But Democrats say they want nothing of the sort. Roybal-Allard said the cap will ensure that the Trump administration “targets violent felons and other people who pose security risks for deportation, instead of pursuing reckless mass deportation policies that actually make us less safe.”

Provided By NPR

Why Period Activists Think The ‘Drop Of Blood’ Emoji Is A Huge Win

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The red drop of blood (left) was designated as an official emoji to symbolize menstruation, among other things, this year. The design at right, submitted in 2017, was not accepted. Unicode; Plan International UK hide caption

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Unicode; Plan International UK

The red drop of blood (left) was designated as an official emoji to symbolize menstruation, among other things, this year. The design at right, submitted in 2017, was not accepted.

Unicode; Plan International UK

When Mashiyat Rahman, 22, texts her friends about her period, she sends them the “crying” emoji to describe her mood, the “knife” emoji to describe painful cramps and the “sweat” emoji — which looks like water droplets — to illustrate a heavy flow.

But there’s never been a specific emoji that she could use to represent menstruation — until now. The Unicode Consortium, the organization that decides which symbols get to be emojis, released its 2019 additions this week.

A “drop of blood” emoji has been added to the mix. According to Unicode, the symbol may be used to signify “menstruation” as well as “blood donations” and “medicine.” It should be available on many smartphones in the second half of the year, Unicode said.

While many menstrual health activists are excited about the new emoji, some have reservations about the design.

“Being able to express ourselves using this emoji could make it easier to talk about menstruation,” says Rahman, who runs a menstrual health organization in Bangladesh. “Even though it’s a small step, it’s one of many we should take to break down stigma.”

The emoji didn’t just pop up overnight. The international group Plan International UK, which advocates for children’s rights and girls’ rights — including reducing menstrual stigma in the developing world — has been fighting for what they’ve dubbed the #periodemoji over the past two years.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to lobby for emojis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which is a funder of this blog) proposed a mosquito emoji to help raise awareness for mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and malaria in 2017. It became an emoji in 2018.

“Emojis play a crucial role in our digital and emotional vocabulary, transcending cultural and country barriers. A period emoji can help normalize periods in everyday conversation,” said Carmen Barlow, digital strategy and development manager at Plan UK, in a statement.

In 2017, the group started a petition to make the period emoji a thing. The group came up with different designs — a pad with a blood stain, a calendar with blood drops and underwear with blood droplets, for example — and asked people to vote for them.

Plan UK’s petition garnered 54,600 signatures. And most of the supporters voted for the underwear with the blood droplets. But Unicode did not accept the design.

When asked why they rejected Plan UK’s original period design, Unicode did not answer the question directly but president and co-founder Mark Davis responded by email: “Emoji proposals are accepted based on the strength of the proposal alone and are not impacted by petitions and lobbying.”

Then in September 2018, Plan UK teamed up with NHS Blood and Transplant, the U.K. government’s blood and organ donations service, and submitted a new proposal for a blood drop emoji. Unicode selected it as an official emoji in February.

Many menstrual advocates love it. “I think it’s fantastic,” says Marni Sommer, a menstrual health researcher and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “It continues the process that many of us have been working on: normalizing the conversation around periods.”

Rahman can already see how she can use the emoji in infographics and digital presentations and in a new menstruation education app she’s working on. She is the head of a group called Resurgence Bangladesh, which aims to break stereotypes around menstruation by hosting workshops that teach girls, boys and their families about reproductive health in urban and rural slums around Dhaka.

She says most of the girls she works with — including those in rural settings — have access to mobile phones. “The emojis aren’t just a Western thing,” she says. “Middle-school and high school children here use their phones a lot — and I can see how they can use it in texting and communicating.”

Yet some researchers are annoyed that the new emoji also represents blood. “It’s not specifically menstrual fluid,” says Chris Bobel, a menstrual health researcher and author of a new book called The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South. “It’s multipurpose — could be used for blood transfusions, nosebleeds.”

On Twitter, women shared what they wished the period icon could look like instead.

Still, it doesn’t dampen Bobel’s excitement for the emoji. “Change is a slow erosion,” she says. “I’m cheering for it.”

Provided By NPR

Protests Move To Alabama’s State Capitol After Officer Cleared In Shooting Death

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Residents of Hoover, Ala., have been protesting for months over the shooting death of Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. On Tuesday, a report by the state attorney general exonerated the police officer who shot Bradford.

On Thanksgiving night, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer responding to gunfire in the mall. Protesters are angry at a new report that exonerates the officer.

(Image credit: Kim Chandler/AP)

Share Your Thoughts On Masculinity

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NPR’s Morning Edition is working on a series of stories surrounding masculinity, and we’d like to hear from you.

(Image credit: Katherine Du/NPR)

Schiff On The Latest Developments In The Russia Probe

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NPR’s Ari Shapiro speaks with Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee, about the continuing investigation on the Hill about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Wrongfully Convicted And Jailed 38 Years, Fred Clay Gets $1 Million Payout

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At age 17, Fred Clay was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His conviction was thrown out nearly four decades later.

“It is a great day for justice and it is a great day for Mr. Clay,” said attorney Jeffrey Harris. The payout is the highest amount allowed under a revised state law on regarding wrongful conviction.

(Image credit: Meredith Nierman/WGBH News)

With Unfilled Jobs, Businesses Push Rural Residents Toward College

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Left: Michaela Boggess, 17, hopes to study industrial engineering at the University of Tennessee. Right: Jordan Munck, 18, will probably attend a nearby community college for two years before deciding what to do next.

Rural Americans are less likely to go to college than their urban counterparts. Businesses desperate to fill jobs with skilled workers are helping to change this.

(Image credit: Trxlation for The Hechinger Report)

Puppy With Upward-Facing Paws Recovering After ‘Complicated’ Surgery

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In this Jan. 9 photo, Dr. Erik Clary of Oklahoma State University holds a puppy named Milo, born with his front paws facing up instead of down and unable to walk.The dog is recovering after surgery.

Milo was born with his front paws facing upward, but veterinarians are optimistic they have corrected the dog’s “very rare” condition. For now, he’s sporting an orange front body cast.

(Image credit: Derinda Blakeney/AP)

Should Young Americans Be Required To Do Public Service? Federal Panel Says Maybe

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A federal panel says it is considering how the nation could implement a universal service program, and whether it should be mandatory or optional.

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