Saturday, May 13, 2017

Obama Presidential Centre Breaks From National Archives Model

In this May 3, 2017 photo, former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event on the Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Centre in Chicago. The Obama Presidential Centre will not be a part of the Presidential Library Network operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. The former president has said construction of the centre on Chicago's South Side would take about four years. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
From Boston's John F. Kennedy Library to Southern California's tribute to Ronald Reagan, America's 13 major presidential libraries get about US$65 million a year from the federal government. That opens the facilities, which typically gloss over their namesakes' faults, to criticism that they are taxpayer-funded "centres for presidential spin."

The Obama Presidential Centre in Chicago's Jackson Park will take a different route, opting out of the presidential library network operated by the National Archives and Records Administration —and the millions of dollars in federal support that go along with membership.

Agency officials on Thursday confirmed the split, which was not disclosed last week when former President Barack Obama unveiled conceptual designs for the center. In the months leading up to the announcement, it was widely assumed that the center would have a presidential library, full of documents and artifacts that was part of the NARA system.

"It's surprising," said University of Louisville professor Benjamin Hufbauer, author of a book on presidential libraries. "My short take is that it's good news. Most of [the libraries] are centers for presidential spin. They're propaganda centers run by the federal government. Should the government be doing that for presidents?"

According to the conceptual designs, the Obama centre will be a three-building complex consisting of a high-rise museum tower and two low-slung structures: a "forum" containing an auditorium and a library building. In a break with convention, the latter will not house a collection of presidential documents and artifacts. Those will be stored in existing NARA facilities. Nonclassified documents will be available online.

The break from the National Archives will free up the Obama Foundation, the nonprofit group charged with building the center and raising funds for it, in several ways.

The foundation won't have to amass an endowment equivalent to 60 percent of the construction cost of a NARA-operated presidential library. The foundation also won't have to adhere to the agency's stringent architectural and design standards for presidential libraries. And it won't have to pay NARA to help run an agency-controlled portion of the centre.

All that could save the foundation tens of millions of dollars, more than making up for the loss of federal funds.

Indeed, Hufbauer said, the foundation will be able to channel money that would have gone to the endowment to programs and unconventional features of the center that Obama mused about last week. They include a recording studio that the former president said would be built to host artists like Bruce Springsteen, Chance the Rapper and Spike Lee.

Amy Brundage, a spokesman for the foundation, characterized the new arrangement with NARA as "mutually beneficial."

It "better reflects the way people access information in this digital age. Our goal here was to create, with NARA, a new model for the next generation of presidential centres," Brundage said in an email.

Yet the arrangement confounded expectations previously expressed by NARA officials.

This conceptual drawing released May 3, 2017, by the Obama Foundation, shows plans for the proposed Obama Presidential Center that will be located in Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side. This view looks north showing the Museum, Forum and Library. The Museum is the tallest structure on site. The Obama Presidential Center will not be a part of the presidential library network operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. The move will free the Obama Foundation from amassing an endowment equivalent to 60 percent of the construction cost. (Obama Foundation via AP)
In a 2015 web post, for example, U.S. Archivist David Ferriero said the planned Obama library would increase NARA's presence on Chicago's South Side, "where we already have the National Archives at Chicago and a Federal Records Centre."

The shift also appeared to disrupt the plans of the centre's architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien of New York. A large-scale model of the centre that they displayed last week envisioned the library building as a NARA-type facility, largely devoted to storage.

Questioned about that aspect of the plan, the architects said it was no longer current.

A NARA spokesman, James Pritchett, confirmed Thursday that the Obama centre would not receive funds from the National Archives. However, if NARA lends documents or artifacts to the Obama center's museum for display, the centre would be subject to the agency's regulations regarding those materials.

Brundage did not respond to questions about the estimated cost of the Obama Presidential Centre and the foundation's fundraising goal. The centre is expected to cost at least US$500 million.

On Thursday, the Obama Foundation released a study which estimated that the centre will have an economic impact of US$2.1 billion on Chicago's South Side during construction and its first 10 years of operation.

A groundbreaking is expected to be held in 2018. Foundation leaders have said the centre will open in 2021.

In fiscal 2015, NARA provided a total of about US$65 million to the 13 presidential libraries. The library of the most recently built presidential centre, devoted to the presidency of George W. Bush, received US$6.2 million. Boston's Kennedy library got more than US$7 million, the most of all the facilities. Herbert Hoover's, in Iowa, received the lowest amount, about US$2.2 million.

The modern concept of presidential libraries began in 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal papers to the federal government and formed a nonprofit group to raise money to build the library on his estate in Hyde Park, N.Y.

When President Harry Truman decided he wanted a library, too, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955, creating the system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries.

As the number of presidential libraries grew, Congress in 1986 required foundations to create a private endowment to offset increasing operating costs. The George W. Bush Foundation, for example, raised more than US$500 million to build the library and cover the endowment.

Obama would have been required to have an endowment equal to 60 percent of the cost of the library portion of the centre under a 2008 law. His most recent predecessors needed to reach only a 20 percent threshold.

Originally published on CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Monday, January 25, 2016

SPECIAL REPORT ON ZIKA VIRUS: WHO Sees Zika Outbreak Spreading Through The Americas; Brazilians Panic As Mosquito-Borne Virus Is Linked To Brain Damage In Thousands Of Babies

Nadja Bezerra, 42, with her two-month old baby, Alice Vitoria, who was born with suspected Zika-related microcephaly, visits her neighbor in Recife, Brazil, on Jan. 10. (Lianne Milton/Panos Pictures for The Washington Post)

The mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is suspected of causing brain damage to babies in Brazil, is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Reuters reports that Zika has not yet been reported in the continental United States, although a woman who fell ill with Zika in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.

Brazil's Health Ministry in November confirmed the Zika virus was linked to a foetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains.

Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last Friday, over 30 times more than had been reported in any year since 2010.

The disease's rapid spread, to 21 countries and territories of the region since May 2015, is due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus, the WHO said in a statement.

Evidence about other transmission routes is limited.

"Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described. However, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission," it said.

There is currently no evidence of Zika being transmitted to babies through breast milk, the WHO said.

It advised pregnant women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating to consult a healthcare provider before travelling and on return.

Zika has historically occurred in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. But it is normally a mild disease and there is little scientific data on it, so it is unclear why it might be causing microcephaly in Brazil, the WHO has said.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the WHO executive board that she had asked Carissa Etienne, head of the WHO in the Americas, to brief the board later this week on the WHO's response to the outbreak.

"Although a causal link between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly has not, and I must emphasize, has not been established, the circumstantial evidence is suggestive and extremely worrisome," Chan said.

"An increased occurrence of neurological symptoms, noted in some countries coincident with arrival of the virus, adds to the concern."

Brazilians Panic As Mosquito-Borne Virus Is Linked To Brain Damage In Thousands Of Babies
The Washington Post reports:

Jusikelly da Silva was full of expectations for her baby. This was to be her fourth with her spouse, Josenildo, and the couple had three other children from previous relationships. “All perfect, all normal,” her husband said of their family.

Then, at the six-month mark of her pregnancy, Jusikelly, 32, learned from a scan that her baby had microcephaly, a rare defect that causes infants to have unusually small heads and can lead to learning and motor difficulties.

Parents such as the da Silvas are struggling as South America’s largest country faces an unprecedented outbreak of microcephaly cases. Brazilian officials say the disease is being triggered by Zika — a little-known virus borne by mosquitoes. The government has spent more than US$300 million to battle the mosquito, mobilizing hundreds of soldiers in the effort.

Concern about Zika has grown so strong that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Friday issued a travel alert urging pregnant women not to visit Brazil or about a dozen other countries in the region where mosquitoes have spread the virus.

In the northeastern city of Recife, Jusikelly wiped away tears as she cuddled and kissed her baby Luhandra, now two months old. “She will have some mental difficulties,” she said. “She does not react like other children. She does not laugh.”

The da Silvas’ lives are on hold, the mother said.

“We stopped everything,” said Jusikelly. After the diagnosis, the couple dropped plans to open a small bakery. “I couldn’t work,” she said.

The rise in microcephaly cases in Brazil has been startling: there were just 147 in 2014. But since October, 3,530 possible cases of Zika-related microcephaly have been reported to the Ministry of Health. Authorities say the real number of cases is almost certainly lower, with some of those misdiagnosed as microcephaly. Still, officials have also reported 46 deaths of babies who had microcephaly that may have been related to Zika.

The Zika virus was first identified in a rhesus monkey in Uganda in 1947, but its initial outbreak in humans was in 2007, on the South Pacific island of Yap. It is typically transmitted to people by infected mosquitoes and can cause flulike symptoms.

But the virus had never been linked to microcephaly before. Instead, microcephaly was thought to be genetic or caused by diseases such as rubella. Researchers say they are now in unchartered territory on the issue.

“The disease in Brazil is behaving in a different way,” said Camila Ventura, an ophthalmologist at Recife’s Altino Ventura Foundation who has found eye damage in babies with microcephaly — another first. “We are running against time.”

South America’s biggest country has seen a rise in cases of a disease triggered by the little-known Zika virus being linked to a spike in birth defects.
Brazilian authorities first confirmed the presence of the Zika virus in May. Some researchers speculate it may have been introduced into the country by a tourist attending the 2014 World Cup. It has now spread to other countries in Latin America, and Puerto Rico recorded its first case in December. A Texas woman who traveled to El Salvador has also been diagnosed with the virus.

The World Health Organization and the CDC have yet to definitively establish a connection between Zika and microcephaly, which has been reported only in Brazil. But the CDC, which is helping to investigate the Brazilian outbreak, has just provided the strongest sign yet of such a link — confirming the presence of Zika in the bodies of two newborns who died and in the placentas of two women who miscarried. All four cases also involved microcephaly.

The Brazilian Health Ministry says 80 percent of those who catch Zika show no symptoms. The rest may suffer fever, muscle pain and rashes for a few days. Most people who come down with it recovery quickly.

“We never paid too much attention to this virus,” said Paulo Zanotto, a microbiology professor at the University of Sao Paulo who is coordinating a network of 42 laboratories studying Zika. “I’m really worried because we have no idea of the amount of spread.” The government estimates that there are between 400,000 and 1.4 million Zika cases in the country.

Brazilian authorities have launched a national plan in response to the outbreak, sending over 100 tons of a biological agent that kills mosquito larvae to affected areas. It has set up headquarters in affected states, staffing them with military, health and education officials.

‘Love, care and patience’
In Recife, mothers impacted by the outbreak are struggling to come to terms with their babies’ conditions.

On a recent morning, Mariana Carvalho, 16, cuddled her six-week-old daughter, Agatha, after a consultation at the local Oswaldo Cruz hospital. Agatha was diagnosed with microcephaly a day before she was born.

“At the time I didn’t believe it. I wanted my daughter to be normal,” she said. But Carvalho said she loves her daughter nonetheless. “It doesn’t change anything,” she said.

Maria Rodrigues, 29, suffered Zika-like symptoms while she was pregnant with Maria Eduarda, her ninth child. When the baby was born on Nov. 22, she was diagnosed with microcephaly.

Rodrigues and the infant’s father, Romero Perreira, 39, scratch out a living recycling garbage they collect on the streets. Romero’s sister Miriam, 40, plans to adopt Maria Eduarda.

Doctors told Miriam the infant could face problems walking, talking and hearing — she already struggles to swallow and see properly. “The only thing we can give her is love, care and patience,” the aunt said, cradling the child in her house in a Recife suburb, next door to the tiny dwelling where the baby’s parents live.

The microcephaly cases have occurred around the country, but the most significant concentrations are in northeastern states such as Pernambuco. The Zika virus may have spread especially quickly there because residents have stored water in tanks during a long-running drought, creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes, said José Iran, health secretary for Pernambuco.

Some doctors in northeastern Brazil have gone so far as to advise women to hold off getting pregnant.

The Brazilian army has provided 750 soldiers to fight the mosquito in Pernambuco. On a recent Saturday morning in Recife, the state’s capital, troops joined health workers going door to door in the Brasilia Teimosa neighborhood to warn residents against leaving water receptacles uncovered. They also spooned a powdered biological agent into tanks and drains in an attempt to kill any mosquito larvae.

Many residents said that either they or relatives had caught Zika or other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue or chikungunya.

“I would describe this as one of the biggest challenges in public health in Brazil’s recent history,” said Jailson Correa, Recife’s health secretary, referring to the outbreak of those diseases and the microcephaly cases.

In Recife, the rate of new microcephaly cases has diminished in recent weeks, but there are fears of another outbreak if Zika spreads during the summer.

Parents affected by the outbreak are preparing themselves for a difficult future with children who may need constant care.

Nadja Bezerra already had a 15-year-old son when she found herself pregnant last year. Then a scan at seven months revealed that her baby’s head and brain had not grown as they should have.

“The bomb dropped,” she said. “The worst day of my life.”

The 42-year-old cried as she recalled how, after her daughter, Alice, was born two months ago, she lay in the maternity ward and watched other mothers pass by with healthy babies.
Bezerra has decided to give up her job at a call center to care for Alice. The family will depend on the US$173 monthly salary that her husband, João, 54, earns cleaning planes at the nearby airport.

“I am very scared,” she said.

Originally published (STORY 1) in Reuters and (STORY 2) in The Washington Post