Nation and world news briefs

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VA secretary grilled on Nazi grave markers at military cemeteries

WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Thursday wouldn’t commit to removing three headstones containing swastikas and messages honoring Adolf Hitler from the graves of German prisoners of war, frustrating House lawmakers.

Wilkie said he wanted to work with members of Congress to put such anti-Semitic and racist imagery in the proper “historical context.”

“I happen to think that making sure that when people visit our cemeteries they are educated and informed of the horror is an incredibly important thing to do,” Wilkie said during testimony before the House Military Construction-VA Appropriations subcommittee. “Erasing these headstones removes them from memory and as we continue to study the Holocaust, the last thing any Holocaust scholar wants to do is erase that memory.”

Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was not satisfied with Wilkie’s answer. She said the presence of such imagery in cemeteries that are home to World War II veterans, who died fighting Nazis and the ideology they represented, is unacceptable.

The VA cemeteries in question — Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Utah — contain the remains of the German soldiers and the Nazi inscriptions.

—CQ Roll Call


Half of newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in Washington are in people under 40

SEATTLE — Half of new coronavirus infections in Washington are now occurring in people under the age of 40, a marked shift from earlier in the epidemic when more than two-thirds of those testing positive were in older age groups.

A new analysis finds that by early May, 39% of confirmed cases statewide were among people age 20 to 39, while those 19 and younger accounted for 11%.

The trend is concerning and should be kept in mind as more counties begin to ease restrictions and reopen businesses, said Seattle epidemiologist Judith Malmgren, who is affiliated with the University of Washington and is lead author of the report.

Though younger people are less likely to die or be hospitalized with the virus, they can still suffer serious illness — as underscored by recent reports of a rare, life-threatening inflammatory syndrome in children. And even if younger people don’t get sick, they can pass the virus on to others who are more vulnerable.

“Younger people are the most likely to be socially active, they are the most likely to work in essential professions and have more contact with the public,” Malmgren said.

Malmgren and her colleagues don’t attempt to tease out all the reasons for the shift in age distribution, but one factor is obvious, she said. “Being a Seattleite, just walking around and seeing so many young people congregating without wearing masks, I thought: ‘This is interesting.’”

—The Seattle Times


Boston Marathon canceled for first time in 124-year history

The 2020 Boston Marathon has been canceled.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced the news Thursday. The marathon had originally been rescheduled from its traditional April date to Sept. 14.

It’s the first time since the event began in 1897 that the marathon has been canceled.

Walsh implied in later tweets that the Boston Athletic Association, which hosts the marathon, would attempt to hold a remote version of the event.

“We’ll be joining and supporting the BAA in an alternative approach to the Marathon that allows runners to participate remotely, and allows all of us to celebrate the meaning this race has for our spirit, for our charities, and for our local economy,” Walsh wrote.

Around 30,000 people run the race each year on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, which commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

All large city events in Boston had previously been canceled through Labor Day.

—New York Daily News


Amid ethics inquiries, Pompeo faces crucial decision on Senate race

WASHINGTON — With multiple ethics investigations continuing to hang over him, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is approaching a deadline that could shape his political career.

Pompeo has until Monday to decide whether to file for the Republican primary for Senate in his home state of Kansas.

Although people close to Pompeo doubt he’d step down from his post to run for Senate, America’s top diplomat — a fierce Trump loyalist — has kept speculation going, recently mentioning talks with his “friends back in Kansas.”

Republican leaders have urged Pompeo to run, fearing the party could lose the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts. The seat would normally be safe for Republicans, but strategists in both parties see former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is in the race, as a potential loser. Kobach, a controversial figure known for his hard-line anti-immigration stand, lost a 2018 run for governor to a Democrat.

Speculation that Pompeo would run crescendoed last year before subsiding. The idea, however, has gained new life.

Congressional Democrats have launched several inquiries into actions or decisions by Pompeo.

He has dismissed criticism as politically motivated, although he has not addressed any of the accusations in detail.

—Los Angeles Times


Climate change and deforestation harm old-growth forests, study finds

Forests globally are becoming younger and shorter because of deforestation and climate change, reducing biological diversity and stunting forests’ ability to store atmospheric carbon, according to research published Thursday.

Rising global temperatures, clear-cutting, wildfire and climate change-driven insect infestations are leading to more trees dying and fewer trees growing old across the globe, according to the research in the journal Science. That creates an ecological imbalance that prevents the forests from storing carbon dioxide, the study found.

“Trees are adapted to live in the conditions they grew up in,” said lead study author Nate McDowell. “The conditions they grew up in were historically relatively stable: Temperatures went up, but it came back down. And now it doesn’t come down anymore.”

McDowell, an earth scientist at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said old-growth forests are essential to a stable climate because they remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in tree trunks, roots and soil.

But such forests — those older than 140 years — have declined by 30% globally since 1900, McDowell said.

About 13% of all forestland in the U.S. is 100 years old or older, according to a 2019 U.S. Forest Service report. Most of that land is in the West.

The study is being published as the Trump administration considers abandoning protections for the world’s largest temperate old-growth rainforest — Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The Tongass, targeted for additional logging, holds 8% of the carbon stored in continental U.S. forests.

—Bloomberg News