The U.S. at a glance ...
Measles outbreak: Minnesota health officials this week blamed anti-vaccine activists for the state’s worst measles outbreak in nearly 30 years, with at least 48 confirmed cases of the virus reported in recent weeks. The vast majority of the measles cases are in unvaccinated Somali- American children 10 years old or younger in the Minneapolis area. Vaccine skepticism began spreading in the Somali- American community there in 2008, after parents noticed a disproportionate number of Somali children receiving specialeducation services for autism. “At that point, the anti-vaccine groups just really started targeting the community,” said Minnesota Department of Health official Kristen Ehresmann. Those groups later promoted a fraudulent study that proposed a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. By 2014, vaccination rates among Somali-American children in Minnesota had plummeted to about 40 percent.
Sanctuary cities targeted: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned so-called sanctuary cities in his state this week, signing a controversial bill in an unannounced ceremony streamed live on Facebook. Civil rights activists said Abbott’s decision to hold a signing without public notice was a “cowardly” ploy to avoid planned protests against the legislation, which threatens law-enforcement officers with a Class A misdemeanor charge if they refuse to comply with a detention request from federal immigration agents. The law would also fine local governments up to $25,000 a day if they enact policies that block immigration enforcement. The bill was passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature last week, but was opposed by every major police chief in Texas. Abbott’s office said the Republican governor’s decision to skip a traditional signing ceremony was a way to reach out “directly” to Texans.
McMaster on borrowed time? President Trump is increasingly frustrated with his latest national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and is convinced that the general is “undermining his policy,” according to a Bloomberg report published this week. Trump brought in McMaster to replace his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. But Trump reportedly believes McMaster has steadily undercut the administration’s positions on a variety of foreign policy issues. McMaster annoyed Trump when he sent memos pleading for the president not to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” during his speech to a joint session of Congress in February, said Bloomberg. Trump also “screamed” at McMaster for assuring South Korean officials that the president’s threat to make Seoul pay for a missile defense system was not “official” policy. Trump denied the reports, saying he “couldn’t be happier” with McMaster.
State College, Pa.
Hazing charges: Eighteen Penn State University fraternity members are facing more than 1,000 criminal charges between them, including aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter, over the death of a sophomore who fell down the stairs of a frat house during a pledge ceremony in February. According to a grand jury report released last week, it took Beta Theta Pi members nearly 12 hours to call 911 after discovering Timothy Piazza, 19, at the bottom of the stairs. During that period, they allegedly poured water on Piazza’s face, slammed him onto a couch, and hit him in the abdomen. Piazza, whose blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal driving limit, was seen on surveillance camera footage repeatedly falling and hitting his head on the floor. By the time frat members called 911, Piazza’s skin had turned gray, and he had been re-dressed in clean clothes. The fraternity house has been permanently banned from the college.
Yates testifies: In highly anticipated testimony before a Senate judiciary subcommittee, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates confirmed this week that she warned the White House less than a week into the new Trump administration that then–national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., and that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. “We wanted to tell the White House as quickly as possible,” said Yates during the hearing. “To state the obvious: You don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.” President Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, when news of Flynn’s false statements to the vice president and others broke publicly. Yates was dismissed at the end of January after refusing to defend Trump’s first controversial travel ban. Asked why Trump waited 18 days to act on Yates’ urgent warning, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration believed Yates to be a “political opponent” of the president.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Economic crisis: Puerto Rico became the first American state or territory to file for bankruptcy protection this week, in a last-ditch bid to stave off creditors and save the island’s essential public services from ruin. Thanks to a recession and a “brain drain” to the mainland, the U.S. territory owes more than $120 billion in public debt and unfunded pension liabilities—dwarfing the $18 billion bankruptcy filed by Detroit in 2013. Last week, Puerto Rico announced it was closing 184 public schools, forcing the relocation of 27,000 students at the end of the academic year. Puerto Rico is “unable to provide its citizens effective services,” according to this week’s federal court filing, which came two days after a deadline for the island to negotiate a debt-payment plan with its creditors. The territory will now be able to take its debt-restructuring plan to a special court process enacted by Congress last year. ■