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More Americans Are Choosing to Die at Home

For the first time since the early 20th century, more Americans are choosing to die at home rather than in a hospital.A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday found deaths in nursing homes also have declined.Researchers studied data on natural deaths complied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics from 2003 to 2017.In that period, the number of people dying at home increased from 543,874 (23.8%) to 788,757 (30.7%).  At the same time, the number of deaths in a hospital fell from 905,874 (39.7%) in 2003 to 764,424 (29.8% ) in 2017.”It’s a good thing. Death has become overly medicalized over the last century,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Haider Warraich of the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.  The rise of home hospice services has helped more people spend their last days at home, Warraich said.”I have met many patients who just want to spend one day at home, around their dog, in their bed, able to eat home food,” he said.Hospice provides terminally ill patients with end-of life care, including pain management and emotional support for the patients as well as their families.In 2003, 5,395 people died in hospice, in 2017, the number rose to 212,652.The study found the cause of death also reflected where the person died.Cancer patients were most likely to die at home, and dementia patients in a nursing home.The rise in at-home deaths “reflects that perhaps we’re able to honor more people’s wishes and help them pass away in a place that’s most familiar to them,” Warraich said.

US Hopes Iran Prisoner Exchange Leads to Broader Dialogue

Top American officials say Washington is hopeful that a recent prisoner exchange with Iran will lead to a broader discussion.  In an interview with VOA on Wednesday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook recalled some of the emotional moments of witnessing the release of Chinese American academic Xiyue Wang, saying Wang will be working with the U.S. to help secure the release of all American detainees from Iran.  State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story

Trump Signs Executive Order Aimed at Combating Campus Anti-Semitism

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Wednesday that interprets members of the Jewish religion as part of a distinct nationality. The measure is aimed at helping combat growing anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. Some major Jewish organizations hailed the action because it means universities could lose federal funding if they do not stop discrimination against Jews on their campuses. Others said they were uncomfortable with government action to create an ethnic categorization, and they also worried about the measure’s potential to suppress free speech at schools. “This is a very powerful document that we’re signing today,” Trump said as he announced the order at a Hanukkah ceremony in the White House East Room packed with Jewish supporters, including a 102-year-old Holocaust survivor.”This is a very critically important move made by the president of the United States that will set an environment wherein Jewish students who were targeted with anti-Semitism on university campuses in America will actually have some semblance of protection and recourse,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a major Jewish human rights organization.  A participant wears a Trump “Make America Great Again” yarmulke at a White House Hanukkah reception in Washington, Dec. 11, 2019.”This is not a Republican or a Democratic issue,” Cooper, who attended the White House event, told VOA, noting that Trump’s order “is essentially an executive version of the legislation that went through the U.S. Senate twice” and has had strong bipartisan support for years but always ran into a roadblock halting its passage. “This year there’s no roadblock because I’m doing it myself,” Trump said just before signing the order.Criticism that the order creates a nationalism definition of Jews is “complete and utter nonsense,” Cooper said. America is ‘where I live’
Molly Jong-Fast, a Jewish American author who is a vehement critic of Trump, was rankled about having her nationality defined by religion or ethnicity. 
“I’m an American because that’s where I live,” said Jong-Fast, stating Jewishness isn’t a nationality. 
On social media, some commentators noted how Nazi Germany also designated its Jewish citizens as a distinct nationality prior to the Holocaust. It began with the notion that Jews were a separate nationality….Nazi Germany expelled Jews, contrary to Jeff Sessions claim https://t.co/KjZMT74AKl— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) December 11, 2019Jong-Fast, who calls Trump (whose daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are Jewish) “very anti-Semitic” based on his past rhetoric, told VOA the president’s order was meant to satisfy his Orthodox Jewish supporters. 
“Everything Trump does that he thinks is good for the Jews is ultimately bad for the Jews,” she said. 
“It is very interesting to see how the leading heads of various Jewish organizations and activists who are infected with Trump derangement syndrome twist themselves all in a knot to try and explain how a president, who earlier this week they were accusing of trafficking in anti-Semitism, just did the most historic action to defend the Jewish community from anti-Semitism ever in history,” Matt Brooks, president of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told VOA.  1964 lawThe executive order triggers an element of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The federal law requires educational institutions receiving federal funding to not discriminate based on national origin. 
Religion is not covered in that portion of the law. Thus, according to administration officials, it was decided there was a need to interpret Judaism as a nationality so violations on campuses could be punished. 
Hindu, Muslim and Sikh students already are protected from discrimination under Title VI of the act, based on their shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, according to officials. “It is game changer,” said Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, called on by Trump to speak at the Hanukkah event. “It will go down in history as one of the most important events in the 2,000-year battle against anti-Semitism.”Some of Trump’s critics predicted the order would be used to muzzle free speech, especially regarding legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.  FILE – Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street is pictured at the pro-Israel lobbying group’s offices in Washington.”This executive order, like the stalled congressional legislation it is based on, appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,” said Jeremy Ben Ami, president of J Street, a liberal Jewish organization, which describes its stance as “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” 
According to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Trump’s action will lead to an abuse of federal funding “to bully universities into suppressing academic freedom and freedom of speech in support of Palestinian rights under international law,” something the group called “anti-democratic and anti-Palestinian.” Stifling of free speech feared
Democratic Representative Bobby Rush said the Trump administration “that claims to care so much about free speech on college campuses is now looking to stifle the speech of those they disagree with.” 
Rush contended that Trump “does not care about Jewish safety. Period.” 
Anti-Israel sentiment is strong on some U.S. campuses, with events frequently organized by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, targeting the Jewish state. Some of those events have led to harassment of Jewish students.

Official: Cruise Ship Could House 1,000 Oakland Homeless

A San Francisco Bay Area city  official wants to explore the possibility of using a cruise ship to house up to 1,000 homeless people amid a high cost of living and a shortage of housing.Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan told a council meeting Tuesday that the ship would be brought to the Port of Oakland, but port officials said Wednesday the move would be “untenable.””We respect President Kaplan’s desire to address homelessness but Port of Oakland docks are designed to work cargo ships, there isn’t the infrastructure to berth a cruise ship,” port spokesman Mike Zampa said.FILE – Then-Oakland mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan poses for photos in Oakland, Calif., Oct. 29, 2014.The port is among the 10 busiest in the nation and safety and security issues in the federally regulated facilities “would make residential uses untenable,” Zampa said.Kaplan didn’t immediately return a request for further comment from The Associated Press.Kaplan said she has been contacted by cruise ship companies about providing a ship for emergency housing, and that the companies were reaching out to the Port of Oakland about what options exist to park a ship at the port, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. She didn’t provide further details on those companies.Kaplan said she plans to present a proposal to the council in January that will be “no or low” cost to the city because residents of the cruise ship would pay for rooms based on their income. The city would not buy the cruise ship.Homelessness has spiked in Oakland in the past two years, with the number of unsheltered people increasing from 1,900 to more than 3,000 people.”It could be a great way to house a lot of people quickly,” Kaplan told the Chronicle. “Cruise ships have been used for emergency housing after natural disasters and for extra housing for things like Olympics.”Kaplan compared her vision for an Oakland cruise ship to something like the Queen Mary in Long Beach in Southern California. The 1936 ocean liner is now a floating hotel with 347 rooms. A room with two twin beds rents for $141 a night and $146 a night for a full-size bed.”It could be like that,” Kaplan said. “But as affordable housing instead of hotel.”

Justice Department Inspector General Says His Report Doesn’t ‘Vindicate’ Anyone

U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general said Wednesday that his recent finding that the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016 was not politically motivated and does not “vindicate” any official.Michael Horowitz released a 417-page report Monday on the FBI investigation, stating that while he had uncovered significant irregularities in the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide, he found no evidence of political bias.The findings were seen as a rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s and his Republican allies’ repeated claim that the FBI conducted an illegal “witch hunt” to bring him down. Former FBI Director James Comey, who led the investigation until Trump fired him in May 2017, wrote this week that “the truth is finally out” and “those who attacked the FBI for two years should admit they were wrong.” Chairman Lindsey Graham accompanied by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, holds up a report while giving an opening statement as Department of Justice Inspector General Horowitz testifies, Dec. 11, 2019.Asked by Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham whether the report “vindicates” Comey, Horowitz said. “I think the activities we found don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.” Trump asserted that the report confirmed an “attempted overthrow” of the government far worse than he had ever thought possible. He later criticized FBI Director Christopher Wray for saying in an interview with ABC News that the investigation “was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.” Wray also noted Horowitz found the FBI made numerous mistakes during its inquiry.”I don’t know what report the current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but I’m sure it wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted.  “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”U.S. Attorney General William Barr repeated in an interview with NBC News correspondent Pete Williams that aired Tuesday his belief that  the FBI may have acted in “bad faith” when it conducted the probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia.”I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”The attorney general’s remarks will likely intensify the controversy about whether he himself is acting in good faith, or acting as a Trump sycophant.Horowitz said in the report the FBI was justified in opening an investigation in 2016 into suspected ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia, saying there was a reasonable basis to authorize an inquiry.Although Horowitz scrutinized a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, Barr insisted the inspector general made minimal effort to find evidence, and simply accepted the FBI’s findings.”All he said was, ‘People gave me an explanation, and I didn’t find anything to contradict it,'” Barr said of Horowitz.The long-anticipated report contradicted some of Trump’s and his Republican allies’ most damning assertions about the investigation, such as the charge that senior FBI officials were motivated by political bias against Trump. The FBI investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, was subsequently taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.Horowitz sharply criticized the FBI for a series of “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in obtaining authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser suspected of ties to Russian intelligence.In one glaring omission, the FBI failed to disclose from the court and the Justice Department that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the CIA and had told the spy agency about his contacts with Russian intelligence officers, according to the report.The investigation was launched months before the Page surveillance began and was based on well-founded suspicions about links between Trump campaign operatives and Russia, according to the report.The other Trump campaign associates investigated by the FBI were campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Mike Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.”We … concluded that … the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity,” Horowitz wrote. Barr has ordered a separate internal probe into its origins after rejecting the IG’s finding that there was sufficient basis for opening the investigation.Wray ordered a series of more than 40 corrective steps in response to the inspector general report.”The FBI has some work to do, and we are committed to building on the lessons we learn today to make sure that we can do better tomorrow,” an FBI spokesperson said in a statement.The FBI launched its investigation in July 2016 after receiving a tip that the Russian government was considering helping the Trump campaign by releasing damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Graham said the FBI’s surveillance of Page amounted to a “a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud” the FISA court. “I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there is fundamental reform,” Graham said.Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, slammed Barr for attacking the Justice Department. 

In Madrid, Two Different US Climate Messages

 MADRID — Tucked amid a maze of blue cubicles at the Madrid climate talks is the official voice of U.S. federal policy on climate change. The Washington delegation is maintaining a discreet public presence at the conference.But another message is sounding in the cavernous conference center, where representatives of nearly 200 countries are feeling the pressure to deepen their emissions-cutting goals amid a slew of dire climate warnings.Around the corner from the U.S. delegation office, the prominently located pavilion of the U.S. Climate Action Center is embracing the tagline #WEARESTILLIN — a message scrawled on its tents and echoed by U.S. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a visit here last week.A declaration by a coalition of U.S. states, cities, businesses and other entities shows they are still committed to the Paris climate agreement. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Even as the Trump administration plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement next year, a broad coalition of state, local and business leaders is heading in the opposite direction as it endorses the pact’s emissions-cutting goals. Together, members say, they represent nearly 70% of the U.S. economy.Opportunities in going green”They are seeing opportunities in the clean energy economy and they’re acting accordingly,” said Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, senior director for international climate cooperation at the World Wildlife Fund. “They see opportunity in job generation. They also see quality-of-life benefits for citizens.”World Wildlife Fund’s Mariana Panuncio-Feldman is seen in front of a photo of Pittsburg, one of the U.S. cities committed to drastically cutting climate emissions. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)The U.S. government will continue to participate in international climate discussions and “offer a realistic and pragmatic model — backed by a record of real-world results — showing innovation and open markets lead to greater prosperity, fewer emissions and more secure sources of energy,” according to a State Department statement.It noted emissions continued to decline in recent years, even as the U.S. economy grew. A separate study released last week by the Global Carbon Project also found U.S. emissions fell last year, on a par with the European Union.But a number of state and local leaders are embracing more ambitious goals. More than two dozen U.S. governors are part of a bipartisan climate alliance, with California and New York aspiring to become climate neutral by 2050. Dozens of businesses, universities and cities are also setting emissions-cutting goals.Together, these and other existing policies could slash greenhouse gas emissions by one-quarter by 2030, compared to 2005 levels — and with stepped-up action, by 37%, according to a report titled “Accelerating America’s Pledge,” an initiative co-founded by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg.”There is a force in the United States that is committed to addressing climate change and addressing the Paris agreement,” Panuncio-Feldman said, describing the U.S. government’s pullout of the climate pact “a wake-up call.”Going local elsewhereThe climate fight is also going local in other parts of the world, spearheaded by what environmentalists term “subnational actors.”The COP 25 conference center is seen in Madrid. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)France and a group of Brazilian states are set to announce plans this week to preserve the Amazon rainforest, threatened by forest fires and agricultural expansion, according to Reuters. Such a move would sidestep Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which has clashed with Paris over accusations of accelerating deforestation.”The amazing thing is we see, again and again, that there are businesses, local governments, citizens committed to addressing climate change everywhere,” said Panuncio-Feldman. “And they’re growing in number and strength.”But, she added, these and other efforts cannot reach the speed and scale of emissions cuts scientists say are needed on their own.”The United States is needed at the table,” she said. “Climate change cannot be solved by one government alone.”

Trump’s Stance on Climate Bashed During UN Conference

The Trump administration got bashing from its own countrymen during the 25th United Nations climate conference in Spain. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic presidential contender, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and actor Harrison Ford all criticized the administration for abandoning the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate.  As VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports, speakers also commended young people around the world for standing up to protect the planet.

Democratic Presidential Field Falls Flat with Black Students

U.S. Democratic presidential candidates are vying for the support of a critical group of voters: African Americans. While former Vice President Joe Biden polls strongly in the black community overall, some younger blacks say they are not excited by the Democratic field and undecided about who to support.  VOA’s Chris Simkins reports from a predominantly-black university in South Carolina, the fourth state to hold nomination contests that will determine which Democrat faces Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

House Democrats Announce Support for New North American Trade Deal

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that House Democrats have reached agreement with the Trump administration on a new and revised North American trade deal now known as United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA. The agreement on the pact’s final terms came after more than two years of talks, that also included Canada and Mexico, to revise the original free trade accord, known as NAFTA. Pelosi’s announcement came on the same day that democratic lawmakers announced articles of impeachment against President Trump. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

UN Calls on Governments to Allow Human Rights Voices to Be Heard

Governments around the world must allow the voices of human rights advocates, including young people, to be heard, the U.N. secretary general said Tuesday. The remarks came as the world body marked the 71st anniversary of the United Nations’ World Human Rights Day. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports.