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Puerto Rico governor announces independent probe into death toll after Hurricane Maria

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Puerto Rico’s governor said on Thursday he has tapped researchers at the George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., to lead an independent probe into his administration’s controversial tally of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a statement it was “of great interest to the state to identify how many lives were lost” in Maria, announcing an investigation led by Carlos Santos-Burgoa, director of the Global Health Policy Program at GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

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After Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico in September, decimating infrastructure and leaving the island’s 3.4 million residents without power, Rossello’s administration pegged the death toll at 64.

The governor faced criticism from funeral directors, families and media outlets who reported dozens – or in some cases hundreds – of deaths that were not counted as being caused by the storm.

In December, Rossello said he would launch an internal probe into the death toll, to be led by his public safety director, Hector Pesquera.

It was unclear on Thursday why Rossello decided to switch gears and hand the investigation off to independent experts. A spokesman for the governor had no immediate comment on that decision.

The study “will seek to analyze all data available related to mortality, including death certificates, to determine how many more deaths than usual could be related to the hurricane,” according to a statement.

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An initial report is slated to come out in a month, with a more detailed report likely to take about a year.

Maria, Puerto Rico’s worst natural disaster in nine decades, came at a time when the island was already trudging through an unprecedented economic crisis. The island declared a form of bankruptcy last May, shouldering some $120 billion in combined bond and pension debt.

(Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Controversial Contractors for Trump’s highly-criticized $3 billion food aid program hire lobbyist to tout their work

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Companies receiving taxpayer dollars as part of President Donald Trump’s signature food aid program hired a longtime lobbyist to push back on criticism that the government is relying on unqualified contractors, such as an event planner.

“We’re working to take the stories of the impact this is having on farmers, processors, distributors and end users and making sure some positive aspects of the program, from both the economic and social standpoints, are out there too,” said the lobbyist and industry consultant, Dale Apley, who reached out to ProPublica on behalf of the contractors. “It’s not all just certain stories about certain companies that maybe shouldn’t have been awarded contracts.”

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Ivanka Trump ‘urged’ Trump’s Bible photo-op — which could become a ‘defining moment’ of his presidency: NYT

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First daughter and senior White House advisor Ivanka Trump "urged" her father to take part in a controversial photo-op with a Bible according to a new report from The New York Times.

"After a weekend of protests that led all the way to his own front yard and forced him to briefly retreat to a bunker beneath the White House, President Trump arrived in the Oval Office on Monday agitated over the television images, annoyed that anyone would think he was hiding and eager for action," the newspaper reported.

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The psychology of protesters — and the psychology of people who hate them

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It is hard to imagine that anyone who watched the horrific video of George Floyd being asphyxiated by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would come away feeling empathy for the police force that stood by and let it happen. And yet, amid the biggest coordinated civil rights protests in the United States since 1968, there are many voices out there who find excuses to defend cops like Derek Chauvin, who is now facing charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
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