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World

NASA Scientist Jailed in Turkey for 3 Years Recounts His Ordeal


ISTANBUL — When Turkish police officers stopped him as he set out for the airport to return to the United States after a family vacation in Turkey, the country of his birth, Serkan Golge, an NASA scientist and American citizen, was in disbelief.

It was July 2016, eight anxious days after a failed coup tried to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the police told Mr. Golge that they had received an anonymous tip that he worked for the C.I.A. and was part of a terrorist group accused of masterminding the plot.

The idea was so far-fetched that Mr. Golge expected to sort it out quickly and changed his flight to the next day. “I was quite shocked, but I was like, ‘This will go away,’” he said. “This is probably a mistake and the police and prosecutors would figure this out.”

It would take four years. Mr. Golge and his family returned to Houston just last week, ending a nightmare in which he was held for three years in solitary confinement as he became a bargaining chip in a series of high-level disputes between the Turkish and American governments.

In his first interview since arriving home, Mr. Golge described with exasperation but little rancor the ordeal of being charged and found guilty of terrorist activities on evidence so flimsy he called it “garbage.”

His account provides a rare insight into the Turkish judicial machine from the side of a defendant. Some 70,000 people have been accused in the Turkish courts in connection with the failed coup. Many, still fearful of the whims of Turkish justice, prefer to keep silent even once they are freed.

Mr. Erdogan’s government has blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in Pennsylvania. Soon after the coup, pro-government Turkish media outlets began accusing the American government of being behind the plot, suggesting that it was in league with Mr. Gulen.

For Mr. Golge, who has a doctorate in physics and worked as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, being an American citizen was enough to be presumed guilty.

“You fit the profile,” he recalled his lawyer telling him at one point. “It does not really matter if you are innocent or not. They won’t release you.”

After 14 days, Mr. Golge appeared before a judge who told him the police had found an American dollar bill in his parent’s house, which the Turkish authorities alleged was a badge of membership to the Gulen movement, by then designated a terrorist group.

He was held in a general prison in southern Turkey, alongside high-ranking military officers, judges and prosecutors, some of whom told him that they were being held without any evidence at all.

Senior military officers and civilian supporters of Mr. Gulen have been charged over their part in leading the coup and ordering the bombing of the Parliament and clashes that killed 250 people.

But thousands of others who were accused had only tenuous links to Mr. Gulen’s movement, or, like the military cadets who were ordered out on the night of the coup, had little idea what was going on. Journalists and political opponents of Mr. Erdogan with no connection to the events were prosecuted as well.

Mr. Golge was sent to a prison in the town of Iskenderun, where in the August heat 32 men were crammed in a cell made for eight. He slept on a blanket on the floor and soon fell ill with bronchitis.

Within a month, he was moved to solitary confinement and faced charges of overthrowing the government and the constitution, which carried a life sentence, and a charge of belonging to a terrorist organization, which carried a 15-year sentence.

“‘That’s it, I’m never getting out of here,’” he recalled thinking. “That was a collapse psychologically, and I cried a lot.”

“It is a very small room — it barely sees the sunlight, and the guards took me out only one hour a day,” he said. “And I stayed in that room, in that small single cell, for three years.”

For a long time, Mr. Golge clung to the fact that the evidence the Turkish prosecutors presented was hardly incriminating. The anonymous tip turned out to be from a relative who bore a grudge against Mr. Golge’s sister and later admitted he did not know if his allegations were true.

The prosecutors drew on other evidence, and even Mr. Golge acknowledges that he fits the profile of a possible member of the Gulen movement.

He went to Fatih University, which was one of the most prominent Gulen schools, on a scholarship to study physics; he banked with Bank Asya, which was part of the Gulen network of companies. But none of that, he points out, amounts to a crime.

“A one dollar bill, an anonymous tip, a bank account? How is this terrorism?” Mr. Golge asked. “Nobody could explain, but I think this is how laws and courts still work in Turkey.”

Mr. Golge has condemned the coup attempt and says he had nothing to do with the Gulen movement.

“I am not part of this organization,” he said. “I am very sorry for the people who lost their lives. This is something unacceptable. Violence is never a solution. I have always believed in democracy, and I think currently it is the best solution we have.”

But he says Turkey missed an opportunity by not dealing justly with the coup attempt. Instead, zealous prosecutors have pursued people far beyond the actual perpetrators, sweeping up many who have been judged guilty by association.

Mr. Golge recalls a fellow inmate, a former judge, telling him the government had no evidence against him. “At least there was some bogus evidence about you,” he told Mr. Golge, “but I don’t know why I was arrested.”

He shared time in the exercise yard with a one-star general who told him he had opposed the coup but had been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment anyway because his name appeared on a list of appointments made by the coup plotters.

“If Turkey only prosecuted the responsible people, instead of prosecuting hundreds of thousands of innocent people, I think that Turkish democracy would come out of this horrible act much stronger,” Mr. Golge said.

Gradually, with American officials including President Trump pressing Turkey for his release over the lack of evidence, the charges against Mr. Golge were reduced. He was eventually convicted of aiding a terrorist organization, and the sentence was reduced on appeal.

He said he sensed the Turkish judges knew the case against him was “garbage” but were compelled to drag out the process. “I felt they were scared of something,” he added.

He was released from prison in May 2019 and in April this year was cleared to leave the country. But then he was hospitalized with stomach ulcers, and the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights.

The strain of the past four years on his wife, Kubra, and two boys, ages 4 and 10, erupted at the airport, when Mr. Golge was pulled aside at passport control and held for 40 minutes.

“My wife started crying, the kids started crying,” he said. “I tried to stay calm because I knew they had no basis to hold me, but they were shaking so hard. My son was crying a lot, grabbing me, holding on to me, saying ‘No Dad, not again, not again.’”

Officials at the U.S. Embassy, who were tracking his progress, ensured he made the flight.

Back in Houston, he is rebuilding his life, applying for his old job and looking for a house. “Your life — four years, three years in prison — will not come back,” he said. “But that’s life. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win.’’

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World

U.S. Visa Changes Leave International Students in Limbo


LONDON — Oliver Philcox was nearing the end of his first year of graduate studies in astrophysics at Princeton University when the coronavirus outbreak began. Classes were halted in March, and then moved online. By May, he had decided to travel home to Britain.

“In the long run, that was a terrible idea,” said Mr. Philcox, 24. “But I had assumed I would be able to go back in September.”

Now, the return to an American institution has been thrown into question for Mr. Philcox and countless other international students after a directive by the Trump administration that students whose classes were moving entirely online for the fall would be stripped of their visas and required to leave the United States.

Many universities see the move as a political one — an attempt to pressure them to reopen rather than hosting all classes online during the pandemic. For some international students, the directive poses frustrating questions of logistics and uncertainty. But for others — notably those whose home countries are embroiled in conflict or have communications technologies that are insufficient for online learning — the decision has the potential to disrupt their lives and drastically alter their futures.

The Trump administration’s plan to require in-person classes for international students would affect around one million students, according to data from the 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. China sends the highest number of students — with about 370,000 enrolled in American universities in 2018-2019 — followed by India with just over 200,000 students enrolled that year.

As the reality has sunk in, outrage has grown from those around the world who are now met with the possibility that they may not be able to return to, or stay in, the United States for their education. Many are rethinking whether the choice to enroll in an American institution, despite the expertise and prestige, was worth it.

Macarena Ramos Gonzalez, a native of Spain who is nearing the end of a Ph.D. program in applied physiology at the University of Delaware, was blunt: “If they really don’t want me here — and the administration has made that very clear in a number of ways — maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

The decision highlights a wide disconnect between the diversity that most universities strive for among students and staff members and a government that shuns those principles, she said.

Hundreds of thousand of students and their supporters have signed petitions demanding that the government rethink the decision and urging their universities to protect students from abroad. Some universities are reassessing their fall reopening policies in an attempt to enable some in-person classes.

For some international students, the United States has been a haven, offering safety from conflict in their home countries and relief from infrastructure that cannot support remote learning. But that sense of security has now been upended.

In Ifat Gazia’s hometown in Kashmir, India’s government cut off internet access in August as part of moves to strengthen its grip over the disputed territory. Although the service was restored in January, only 2G is available, making it nearly impossible to make calls over Skype, let alone support the video that would be needed if she were to try to attend lectures via Zoom.

Ms. Gazia arrived in the United States last August, just as India was cracking down on her region. She was unable to call her parents to let them know she had arrived safely, as the Indian government had cut landline and mobile phone service in Kashmir.

“I considered myself lucky when I landed,” Ms. Gazia said. “But when this order came this week, I felt only despair.”

She pointed out that higher education is often a pathway for the United States to draw in highly skilled workers.

“That is what makes America great,” she said. “But so many Americans think we are just here to just take from their country. They don’t realize how much we contribute.”

For students like Kunal Singh, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science at M.I.T., there is no way even to get home. He has been unable to fly to India, as it shut its borders in March to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The anti-foreigner sentiment has also stripped away some of the prestige of graduating from a top American university.

“If I had known that something like this would happen when I was applying to American schools, I wouldn’t have applied,” Mr. Singh said. “I would have applied to Australia or Britain.”

For some, it isn’t worth the money or stress to continue. Andres Jaime, 48, whose 19-year-old son is a student at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, said they had decided that he would postpone his studies and return to Colombia.

Mr. Jaime said they had previously asked the university to lower fees for the coming semester “because the online experience wasn’t the same,” but the university refused. The visa decision further strengthened their resolve that he should return home.

Other students have begun assessing other options, like Andy Mao, 21, from Shanghai, who is studying biology at New York University. He was preparing for the Graduate Record Exam when he heard the news.

This was his final year in an undergraduate program, and he had planned years of study in the United States because of its legacy as a research leader. But now, he said he would add universities in Canada and Singapore to his list.

“I still like this country,” he said. “But if Trump gets re-elected, we will face huge uncertainty.”

In many cases, graduate and Ph.D. students have spouses and children with them in the United States, which means that the directive will also result in the uprooting of whole families. In some cases, children will be displaced from the country that they were born in and the only country they have ever known.

Among those students is Naette Lee, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in communications at the University of Maryland. Ms. Lee, 38, from Trinidad and Tobago, lives with her husband, who is Belgian, and infant son, who was born in the United States and is an American citizen. They would be unable to travel to Europe together because of a ban on nonresident travelers from the United States.

And if Ms. Lee has to return home, she will be separated from her family — Trinidad and Tobago have barred foreigners from entering the country during the pandemic, which would extend to her husband and son.

“This is not about the campus experience,” she said. “This is about leaving our lives behind.”

Many students are even struggling to understand whether they will be affected by the directive, particularly those studying for advanced degrees that are focused on research. They would typically have no in-person classes and instead study independently.

Kelsey Bryk, 29, a Canadian, left the University of Delaware in a scramble in March, driving 26 hours to her home in Winnipeg as border closings loomed. Having spent the last four years working toward a Ph.D., she may now not be able to return.

“I’ve invested so much time money and effort, and now it’s just being potentially ripped away,” she said.

While her university is still trying to figure out a way to ensure that international students can stay, the uncertainty looms.

“Right now, I don’t think anyone has any answers,” she said. “And we are just sitting here expecting the worst and hoping for the best.”

Megan Specia reported from London, and Maria Abi Habib from Los Angeles. Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting from New Delhi, Cao Li from Hong Kong and Elian Peltier and Iliana Magra from London.

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Business

Vacation homes for $400,000 in Riverside County



Here’s a look at what roughly $400,000 buys in Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio in Riverside County.

PALM DESERT: Designed by Hollywood Regency architect-to-the-stars John Elgin Woolf, this bright pink villa boasts a courtyard in front and golf course views out back.

Address: 47465 Tangier Drive, Palm Desert, CA 92260

Listed for: $399,000 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 2,068 square feet (4,356-square-foot lot)

Features: Gated community; open floor plan; walls of glass; large back patio

About the area: In the 92260 ZIP Code, based on 28 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $495,000, up 3.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta

(Realtor.com)

LA QUINTA: Misters, flagstone accents and water features touch up the backyard behind this single-story home in the Trilogy community.

Address: 61240 Portulaca Drive, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,845 square feet (7,841-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; built-ins; kitchen with breakfast bar; covered patio

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio

(Realtor.com)

INDIO: A guest casita with a private entrance provides flexibility in this spacious five-bedroom home full of earthy tones.

Address: 82540 Lordsburg Drive, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $379,000 for five bedrooms, 3.75 bathrooms in 3,517 square feet (7,840-square-foot lot)

Features: Landscaped front yard; living room with fireplace; second-story bonus room; outdoor kitchen

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert

(Realtor.com)

PALM DESERT: There’s a small swimming pool tucked behind this newly remodeled home with a modern open floor plan.

Address: 77020 New York Ave., Palm Desert, CA 92211

Listed for: $399,900 for three bedrooms, 1.75 bathrooms in 1,258 square feet (7,405-square-foot lot)

Features: Drought-tolerant landscaping; tile kitchen with walnut cabinetry; carport; mountain views

About the area: In the 92211 ZIP Code, based on 33 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $485,000, up 29.3% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta

(Realtor.com)

LA QUINTA: This cozy three-bedroom expands to a variety of outdoor spaces such as a walled courtyard, a patio with a mounted TV and a saltwater swimming pool.

Address: 51925 Avenida Vallejo, La Quinta, CA 92253

Listed for: $399,000 for three bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,220 square feet (4,792-square-foot lot)

Features: Covered entry; French doors; master suite with backyard access; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92253 ZIP Code, based on 61 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $475,000, down 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio

(Realtor.com)

INDIO: Tan interiors lead to a colorful backyard with a fire pit outside this waterfront home in a golf course community.

Address: 81905 Avenida Estuco, Indio, CA 92203

Listed for: $414,900 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms in 1,450 square feet (5,227-square-foot lot)

Features: Tile floors; window-lined sunroom; extended patio; two-car garage

About the area: In the 92203 ZIP Code, based on 34 sales, the median price for single-family homes in May was $335,000, down 5.7% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

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Business

New payday-loan rule may hit Black, Latino borrowers hardest



The Trump administration this week threw out a rule aimed at protecting working people from payday lenders.

This isn’t just the latest example of a business-friendly White House placing the interests of companies ahead of those of consumers.

It’s also the latest example of Trump ignoring the economic disadvantages of Black and Latino Americans and other people of color.

At issue is a common-sense regulation formulated by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under former President Obama.

It required payday lenders to “reasonably” make sure that low-income borrowers can repay loans that typically carry annual interest rates as high as 400%.

The idea was to prevent people from getting trapped in endless cycles of high-interest debt by repeatedly taking out new loans to pay off the previous obligations.

More than 80% of payday loans end up being rolled over into new loans or followed within days by a new loan, the CFPB determined in 2014. Half of all payday loans result in 10 additional loans to cover the original debt.

“Payday lenders prey on poor, low-wage earners and people of color,” said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Consumer Action.

“The federal agency specifically tasked with protecting consumers from financial abuse has thrown consumers under the bus,” she told me.

Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Assn. of Consumer Advocates, echoed that sentiment.

“Payday lenders disproportionately target Black and Latino communities, hawking their high-cost loans on working families and trapping them in a cycle of debt,” she said.

The CFPB, under Trump’s appointee as director, Kathy Kraninger, says deregulating payday lenders will “maintain consumer access to credit and competition in the marketplace” by making it easier for people to get their hands on some fast cash.

“A vibrant and well-functioning financial marketplace is important for consumers to access the financial products they need and ensure they are protected,” Kraninger said in a statement, ignoring her own agency’s data on the dangers of payday and car-title loans.

The CFPB has determined that many short-term loan recipients are “likely to stay in debt for 11 months or longer,” making them ongoing sources of revenue for a $50-billion industry that preys almost exclusively on the poor and financially distressed.

The Pew Charitable Trusts determined that 12 million U.S. adults take out payday loans every year, with the average borrower receiving eight loans of $375 apiece and paying $520 in interest.

It found that Black people are at least twice as likely as other races to seek payday loans.

Twelve percent of Black Americans turn to the high-interest loans to make ends meet annually, Pew found, compared with 6% of Latino people and 4% of white people.

Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for Public Citizen, said reducing accountability for payday lenders “throws blood in already turbulent waters.”

“And yes,” he told me, “in the end it’s a racist decision.”

Maybe it’s a reflection of the times, maybe just a clear-eyed appraisal of the economic landscape. Whichever, consumer advocates see an administration implementing policies that go out of their way to harm people of color.

“Pure and simple, the CFPB has put working families of color at greater risk of falling into debt traps,” said Mike Litt of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Along with racial disparities, Pew found use of payday loans is higher among renters, people without college degrees, and people who are separated or divorced.

Knowing all this, the CFPB originally intended the new safeguard to take effect last summer.

The Trump administration delayed implementation of the rule in response to complaints from payday lenders that the ability-to-pay requirement was too burdensome and would cut into profits.

D. Lynn DeVault, chairman of the Community Financial Services Assn. of America, the leading trade group for payday lenders, welcomed the administration killing off the rule entirely.

He said requiring payday lenders to look into the creditworthiness of loan recipients is “simply unworkable.”

Fun fact: Payday lenders held their annual convention for the first time at the Trump National Doral Miami resort in 2018 and returned to the Trump-owned property last year.

The industry has contributed more than $1.2 million so far in the current election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Three-quarters of that money has gone to Republicans.

Defenders of short-term loans make a fair point in saying borrowers often may not qualify for traditional bank loans, and that the high interest rates merely reflect the higher risk involved in lending to people living paycheck to paycheck.

That’s why the CFPB was correct in not cracking down too heavily on payday lenders. The companies perform a service needed by millions of Americans.

That said, it’s clear that this business is predicated for the most part on forcing people to keep taking out new loans and thus remain financially enslaved — and, yes, I use that word deliberately.

Payday loans are a form of economic servitude, keeping borrowers beholden to companies that know full well they profit most handsomely when customers have no escape.

There is no rational defense of such malicious business practices.

The CFPB under Obama was clear-eyed about the utility of payday loans. It repeatedly emphasized that it wasn’t trying to put payday lenders out of business.

Rather, it wanted the lenders to behave in a responsible manner, making funds available without trapping people in perpetual debt.

The CFPB under Trump has different priorities, not least giving providers of financial services as long a leash as they desire.

“The bureau protects consumers from unfair, deceptive or abusive practices, and takes action against companies that break the law,” the CFPB’s Kraninger declared.

“We will continue to monitor the small-dollar lending industry and enforce the law against bad actors,” she pledged.

If that rings hollow in light of the administration’s latest consumer-unfriendly measure, you’re not mistaken.

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Business

As COVID-19 patients fill beds, many hospitals choose not to cancel nonemergency surgeries



Three months ago, the nation watched as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed New York City’s intensive care units, forcing some of its hospitals to convert cafeterias into wards and pitch tents in parking lots.

Hospitals elsewhere prepped for a similar surge: They cleared beds, stockpiled scarce protective equipment, and — voluntarily or under government orders — temporarily canceled nonemergency surgeries to save space and supplies for coronavirus patients.

In most places, that surge in patients never materialized.

Now, coronavirus cases are skyrocketing nationally and hospitalizations are climbing at an alarming rate. But the response from hospitals is markedly different.

Most hospitals around the country are not canceling elective surgeries — nor are government officials asking them to.

Instead, hospitals say they are more prepared to handle the crush of patients because they have enough protective gear for their workers and know how to better treat coronavirus patients. They say they will shut down nonessential procedures at hospitals based on local assessments of risk, but not across whole systems or states.

Some hospitals have already done so, including facilities in South Florida, Phoenix and California’s Central Valley. And in a few cases, such as in Texas and Mississippi, government officials have ordered hospitals to suspend elective surgeries.

Hospitals’ decisions to keep operating rooms open are being guided partly by money. Elective surgeries account for a significant portion of hospital revenue, and the American Hospital Assn. estimates that the country’s hospitals and healthcare systems lost $202.6 billion between March 1 and June 30.

“What we now realize is that shutting down the entire healthcare system in anticipation of a surge is not the best option,” said Carmela Coyle, president of the California Hospital Assn. “It will bankrupt the healthcare delivery system.”

The association estimates that California hospitals will lose $14.6 billion this year, of which $4.6 billion has so far been reimbursed by the federal government.

But some healthcare workers fear that continuing elective surgeries amid a surge puts them and their patients at risk. For instance, some nurses are still being asked to reuse protective equipment such as N95 masks and gowns, even though hospitals say they have enough gear to perform elective surgeries, said Zenei Cortez, president of the National Nurses United union.

“They continue to put us at risk,” Cortez said. “They continue to look at us as if we are disposable material.”

Elective surgeries, generally speaking, are procedures that can be delayed without harming patients, such as knee replacements and cataract surgery.

At least 33 states and the District of Columbia temporarily banned elective surgeries this spring, and most hospitals in states that didn’t ban them, such as Georgia and California, voluntarily suspended them to make sure they had the beds to accommodate a surge of coronavirus patients. The U.S. surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Surgeons also recommended healthcare facilities suspend nonemergency surgeries.

The suspension was always intended to be temporary, said Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. “When this all started, it was simply a matter of overwhelming the system,” he said.

Today, case counts are soaring after many states loosened stay-at-home orders and Americans flocked to restaurants, bars and backyards and met up with friends and family for graduation parties and Memorial Day celebrations.

Nationally, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have topped 3 million. In California, cases are spiking, with a 52% jump in the average number of daily cases over the last 14 days, compared with the two previous weeks. Hospitalizations have gone up 44%.

Governors, county supervisors and city councils have responded by requiring people to wear masks, shutting down bars and restaurants — again — and closing beaches on the July Fourth holiday weekend.

But by and large, government leaders are not calling on hospitals to proactively scale back elective surgeries in preparation for a surge.

“Our hospitals are telling us they feel very strongly and competent they can manage their resources,” said Holly Ward, director of marketing and communications at the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Assn. If they feel the situation warrants it, “they on their own will delay surgeries.”

In some states, such as Colorado, public health orders that allowed hospitals to resume nonemergency surgeries in the spring required hospitals to have a stockpile of protective equipment and extra beds that could be used to treat an influx of COVID-19 patients.

States also set up overflow sites should hospitals run out of room. In Maryland, for example, the state is using the Baltimore Convention Center as a field hospital. California last week reactivated four “alternative care sites” — including a hospital that was on the verge of closure in the San Francisco Bay Area — to take COVID-19 patients should hospitals fill up.

But the decision to reduce elective surgeries in California will not come from the state. It will be made by counties in consultation with hospitals, said Rodger Butler, a spokesman for the California Health and Human Services Agency.

The question is whether hospitals have systems in place to meet a surge in COVID-19 patients when it occurs, said Glenn Melnick, a professor of health economics at USC.

“To some extent, elective care is good care,” Melnick said “They’re providing needed services. They are keeping the system going. They are providing employment and income.”

In Los Angeles County, more than 2,000 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, according to county data. While that number is projected to go up by a couple of hundred people over the next few weeks, hospitals believe they can accommodate them, said county Health Services Director Christina Ghaly. In the meantime, hospitals are preparing to bring on additional staff members if needed and informing patients who have scheduled surgeries that they could be delayed.

“There’s more patients with COVID in the hospitals than there has been at any point previously in Los Angeles County during the pandemic,” Ghaly said. “Hospitals are more prepared now for handling that volume of patients than they were previously.”

Although hospitals have not stopped elective surgeries, many have not ramped up to the full schedule they had before COVID-19. And they say they are picking and choosing surgeries based on what’s happening in their area.

“We were all things COVID when it was just starting,” said Joshua Adler, executive vice president for physician services at UCSF Health. based at UC San Francisco. “We didn’t know what we were facing.”

But after a couple of months of treating patients, hospitals have learned how to resupply units, how to transfer patients, how to simultaneously care for other patients and how to improve testing, Adler said.

At Scripps Health in San Diego, which has taken more than 230 patients from hard-hit Imperial County to the east, its hospitals have scaled back how many transfers they will accept as confirmed COVID-19 cases rise in their own community, said Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health.

A command center set up by the hospital system reviews patient counts and medical supplies and coordinates with county health officials to study how the virus is spreading. Only patients who need urgent surgeries are being scheduled, Van Gorder said.

“We’re only allowing our doctors to schedule cases two weeks out,” Van Gorder said. “If we see a sudden spike, we have to delay.”

In California’s Central Valley and in Phoenix, where cases and hospitalizations are surging, Mercy hospitals have suspended elective surgeries to focus resources on COVID-19 patients.

But the other hospitals in the CommonSpirit Health system, which has 137 hospitals in 21 states, are not ending elective surgeries — as they did in the spring — and are treating patients with needs other than COVID, said Marvin O’Quinn, the system’s president and chief operating officer.

“In many cases their health deteriorated because they didn’t get care that they needed,” said O’Quinn, whose hospitals lost close to a $1 billion in two months. “It’s not only a disservice to the hospital to not do those cases; it’s a disservice to the community.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Innovations

Mike Rowan solicitor guarantee the rule of law

Mike Rowan solicitor is the founder of the independent professional body for solicitors around London and Gloucester. Mike Rowan solicitor is the voice of excellence in the profession. His mission is to guarantee the rule of law, work to make sure no-one is skipping the law, and making sure that everybody has right and access to justice.

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World

Thailand Backs Same-Sex Unions, a Rare Move in Asia


BANGKOK — In a country that has long been a rare bastion in Asia for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Thailand said on Wednesday that it had approved a draft bill that would give same-sex unions many of the same benefits as those of heterosexual marriages.

The bill, approved by the cabinet, avoids the term “marriage” but allows for the legal registration of same-sex partnerships. Accompanying amendments to the civil code would give couples the right to jointly own property, adopt children and pass on inheritances. Civil partnerships must occur between individuals who are at least 17 years old. At least one of the pair must be a Thai citizen.

“The Civil Partnership Bill is a milestone for Thai society in promoting equality among people of all genders,” said Ratchada Dhnadirek, a deputy government spokeswoman. “This strengthens the families of people with sexual diversity and is appropriate for the present social circumstances.”

While the bill still needs to be passed by Parliament to become law, social activists say that the biggest hurdle was approval by Thailand’s cabinet, which is a stronghold of retired military generals and tradition-bound political elders.

Although some elements of the Buddhist-dominated culture in Thailand are socially conservative, the country is also one of the most open places in the world for L.G.B.T.Q. people.

Thai surgeons have been pioneers in gender-reassignment surgery, and schools in rural Thailand have provided separate bathrooms for transgender students. Hit soap operas chronicle gay relationships. And four transgender people were elected to Parliament last year.

Yet discrimination persists, with gay and transgender individuals often encouraged to enter certain fields like entertainment or fashion. Rights activists say that the welcoming attitude toward gay tourists may not be as pervasive toward Thais themselves.

If the civil partnership bill is approved by Parliament, Thailand will join Taiwan as the only places in Asia that provide elements of legal equality for same-sex couples. Taiwan’s legislature passed a same-sex marriage law last year.

The Thai bill is not as expansive at that of Taiwan. Same-sex couples in Thailand will not be able to enjoy certain tax breaks. And critics of the bill say that calling such unions civil partnerships, rather than marriage, is a cop out.

“The foundation of the same-sex union law draft isn’t based on equality,” said Pauline Ngarmpring, who is transgender and who ran for prime minister last year. “But it’s better than nothing,” she added. “This is not a fight that can be finished in our generation.”

Ms. Pauline, a former sports promoter, noted that she was still identified as male on her Thai identity card and must use male facilities at public hospitals.

In Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian nations, gay sex is a criminal offense. Brunei last year enacted laws calling for death by stoning for gay sex and adultery, but after an international outcry, the nation’s sultan said that capital punishment had not been carried out for decades and that the moratorium on the death penalty would continue.

This year, a judge in Singapore rejected efforts to overturn rarely enforced colonial-era legislation that could lead to up to two years’ imprisonment for consensual sexual relations between two men. India repealed a similar section of its penal code in 2018.

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

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World

Seoul Mayor Is Reported Missing


SEOUL, South Korea — The police said on Thursday that they were searching for Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, the capital of South Korea, after his daughter reported him missing.

Mr. Park, 64, canceled his official schedule for Thursday and called in sick to City Hall. His daughter told the police that he had left home after leaving a cryptic, “will-like message,” according to Yonhap, the national news agency, which cited an anonymous police source.

When Mr. Park had not returned home after five hours, his daughter called the police.

The mayor of Seoul, a city of 10 million, is largely considered the second most powerful elected official in South Korea after the president. Mr. Park, who is serving his third term, has often been named as a possible candidate to replace President Moon Jae-in, whose single five-year term is set to end in 2022.

Mr. Park has been the mayor of Seoul since 2011. His latest term is scheduled to end in 2022.

Before becoming mayor, Mr. Park was a prominent human rights attorney who founded the country’s most influential civil rights group.

As a lawyer, he won several major cases, including South Korea’s first sexual harassment conviction. He also campaigned for the rights of so-called comfort women, Korean sex slaves who were lured or forced to work in brothels for the Japanese army during World War II.

A tireless critic of inequality, he was a vocal antagonist of former President Park Geun-hye, and supported huge rallies against her in central Seoul that led to her impeachment and ouster on corruption charges in 2017.

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World

Should Schools Reopen? – The New York Times


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An Iowa school district suspended its in-person summer school program this week after an outbreak of fevers. Fort Benning, an Army base in Georgia, had a coronavirus outbreak shortly after new recruits arrived. And multiple sports teams have had to halt practices after athletes or other employees got sick.

All of these recent cases make clear that reopening is not simply a matter of declaring it to be so.

Opening safely during a pandemic, and being able to stay open, requires planning carefully — and usually spending significant amounts of money, to pay for testing, cleaning and new social-distancing procedures.

Across the political spectrum, there have been calls for the reopening of U.S. schools this fall. And understandably so: Remote learning went very badly in the spring. An autumn without in-person school would leave students further behind and leave many parents without child care again.

The good news is that the experience in other countries suggests that it may be possible to reopen schools. Germany, Denmark and others have done so without causing big new virus outbreaks, as President Trump noted yesterday.

But those other countries have taken two steps that the U.S. has not.

One, they have first reduced the overall rate of new infections to low levels: Germany reported 35 new cases per million residents over the past week; the U.S. had almost 1,100. (The Times updates this map every day, tracking the virus around the world.)

Two, some of those other countries have allocated new money for schools, as I heard after surveying some of my Times colleagues around the world.

Hong Kong is covering the cleaning costs for its schools, Bella Huang told me. South Korea is helping schools open day care centers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or longer, Su-Hyun Lee, who’s based in Seoul, said. Germany is subsidizing laptop purchases for low-income students, to help them combine remote and in-person learning, according to Christopher Schuetze in Berlin. And Italy has sent money to schools to pay for more teachers, student desks, masks and other equipment, Elisabetta Povoledo, a reporter in Rome, told me.

The U.S., by contrast, is suffering through by far the worst coronavirus outbreak of any affluent country, and the federal government has done little to help schools reopen.

Paul Romer, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, told me that reopening U.S. schools was feasible — but would require huge amounts of additional testing, as well as mask wearing, social distancing and keeping windows open.

Related:

Trump, defying the advice of scientists, criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for recommending that schools take rigorous measures before reopening. Vice President Mike Pence later said the agency would change its recommendations.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican former education secretary, has said he favors $50 billion to $75 billion in new federal funding to help schools. In May, House Democrats passed a bill with $58 billion in aid for public schools; the Senate has not taken up the bill.

The closure of schools is a “national emergency requiring mobilization at every level,” Michelle Goldberg, a Times Opinion columnist, said on the new episode of “The Argument” podcast. Ross Douthat called the lack of action an example of American society’s “indifference and lack of concern for families with kids.”

The pandemic has severely damaged Puerto Rico’s economy. At least 300,000 Puerto Ricans — which equals about 30 percent of the civilian labor force — have filed unemployment claims linked to the pandemic, and many other people are ineligible for aid because they are part of the island’s large informal economy.

The economy had been already struggling before the virus hit, because of Hurricane Maria, the government’s bankruptcy and a series of earthquakes in January.

In other virus developments:

The U.S. set another daily record for confirmed new virus cases: more than 59,400. The top health official in Tulsa, Okla., suggested that a surge there was connected to the indoor rally that Trump held last month.

Front-line medical workers are facing a problem many had hoped would be resolved by now: a shortage of respirator masks, isolation gowns and disposable gloves.

Theme parks in Japan have banned screaming on roller coasters, because it spreads coronavirus, The Wall Street Journal reports, and advised riders: “Please scream inside your heart.”

The Wirecutter explores why some new bottles of hand sanitizer smell so bad.

The Supreme Court delivered twin 7-to-2 rulings favorable to private religious institutions yesterday. One ruling broadened religious schools’ exemption from federal employment discrimination laws. The other upheld a Trump administration regulation letting employers with religious and moral objections limit access to birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Coming today: The court plans to issue its final decisions of the current term today, including whether Congress and New York prosecutors can have access to Trump’s financial documents.

In Egypt, a 21-year-old university student was arrested just days after dozens of women shared accusations of sexual assault and harassment on social media. The news media, which the government heavily influences, and a top Islamic clerical body have largely supported the women.

It’s a “a remarkable turn for Egypt, where sexual harassment and assault are woefully common and victims are afraid to speak out for fear they themselves could be blamed,” Declan Walsh, The Times’s Cairo bureau chief, writes.

The Robinhood stock trading app is drawing a surge of young, inexperienced investors like Richard Dobatse, above, a Navy medic in San Diego, who are incurring giant losses. Robinhood uses behavioral nudges and push notifications to encourage rapid, risky trading, a Times analysis found.

Few items of food have as devout a following as bagels. Enthusiasts will endlessly debate the merits of their preferred bagel shop and variety: the soft chew of New York-style bagels, the dense sweetness unique to Montreal-style bagels. (I’m partial to the smaller — and more traditional — variety, like those at Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.)

If you’re looking to recreate some of the magic at home, here’s a recipe for tangy everything bagel dip that is delicious on chips, pretzels, veggies and, of course, bagel chips.

All tech products will eventually break down. They’re designed to become obsolete. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to identify which gadgets can last for many years.

The technology writer Brian X. Chen created a list of questions to ask before making a tech purchase. Among them: Is the tech easy to repair, and are the batteries replaceable? If so, that extends the longevity of your product considerably.

Two years ago, Wyatt Cenac, the former “Daily Show” correspondent, addressed police reform in his debut HBO series, “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas.” It was thoughtful and ahead of its time, aiming to teach the audience about subjects like community policing and defunding. But it didn’t resonate with viewers and was canceled after two seasons.

In a new interview, Cenac looked back at what happened to “Problem Areas” and the challenges faced by Black performers in late-night TV. “When we did it, people just weren’t ready to hear about it or think about it,” he said. He is working on an upcoming stand-up comedy special for HBO.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Nevada city whose name aptly rhymes with “casino” (four letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.

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World

Live Coronavirus Updates: U.S. Daily Cases Surpass 59,000


In addition to a national record, at least five states set single-day records for infections.

As President Trump continued to press for a broader reopening, the United States set another record for new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, with more than 59,400 infections announced, according to a New York Times database. It was the fifth national record in nine days.

The previous record, 56,567, was reported on Friday.

The country reached a total of three million cases on Tuesday as the virus continued its resurgence in the South and West. At least five states — Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia — set single-day records for new infections on Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, the country’s daily number of new cases had increased by 72 percent over the past two weeks. And by Wednesday, 24 states had reported more cases over the past week than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.

Texas reported more than 9,900 cases on Wednesday, the state’s third consecutive day with a record total of new infections. According to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, the state’s rate of positive tests was hovering around 20 percent at the beginning of July, double what it was a month before.

In Arizona, a fast-spreading outbreak is putting pressure on hospital capacity, with the state having reported more deaths in recent days. New cases in Arizona have been trending upward since the beginning of June, and this week the state has been averaging more than 3,600 new cases a day, a record.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal: “Any state that is having a serious problem, that state should seriously look at shutting down. It’s not for me to say, because each state is different.”

Dr. Fauci spoke as medical facilities across the nation, under pressure from the surge in cases, continued to face a dire shortage of respirator masks, isolation gowns and disposable gloves that protect front-line medical workers from infection.

Schools, too, are at the center of conflicting messaging about how they can safely welcome back students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said that it would issue new guidelines, after Mr. Trump criticized its previous ones.

Federal health officials in the United States are trying to decide who will get the first doses of any effective coronavirus vaccines, which could be on the market this winter but may require many additional months to become widely available to Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an advisory committee of outside health experts have been working on a ranking system for what may be an extended rollout. According to a preliminary plan, any approved vaccines would be offered to vital medical and national security officials first, then to other essential workers and those considered at high risk — the elderly instead of children, people with underlying conditions instead of the relatively healthy.

Agency officials and the advisers are also considering what has become a contentious option: putting Black and Latino people, part of the population that has disproportionately fallen victim to Covid-19, ahead of others in the population.

Some medical experts are not convinced there is a scientific basis for such an option. They foresee court challenges or worry that prioritizing minority groups would erode public trust in vaccines at a time when immunization is seen as crucial to ending the pandemic.

“Giving it to one race initially and not another race, I’m not sure how that would be perceived by the public, how that would affect how vaccines are viewed as a trusted public health measure,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, a group represented on the committee.

Fresh U.S. government data on Thursday is expected to show that new unemployment claims have leveled off after a steady decline, as rising coronavirus cases have pushed some states to reverse course and reimpose shutdown orders on businesses.

According to Bloomberg, the average estimate is that 1.37 million new state jobless claims were filed last week, a dip from the previous week’s 1.43 million. Although new claims in the Labor Department’s tally have been declining since early April, the weekly total has not dropped below a million since the coronavirus pandemic started — levels that are far above previous records.

Hiring nationwide has picked up in recent weeks, and the overall jobless rate dipped in June to 11.1 percent from a peak of 14.7 percent in April. But most of the payroll gains were because of the rehiring of workers temporarily laid off because of the pandemic. The pool of workers whose previous jobs have disappeared and who must search for new ones has grown.

“The recovery in new hiring has yet to begin.” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.

India recorded nearly 25,000 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, its highest single-day total, as new research showed that a key metric of virus transmission rate had increased for the first time in months.

India’s virus reproduction rate has increased for the first time since March, to 1.19 in early July from 1.1 in late June, according to research by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai that was reported by the India’s news media. The rate — the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case, commonly referred to as R0 — had been steadily falling from a peak of 1.83 in March.

The Indian government began easing a nationwide lockdown in late May. Dr. Sitabhra Sinha, a scientist at the Chennai institute, told The Indian Express that the increase “probably has its origin in events that happened around mid-June or slightly later.”

“The bottom line is that right now we are in the situation we were in in May and early June, and the further decrease we saw in late June was not sustained or improved upon,” Dr. Sinha told the newspaper.

As of Thursday, India had more than 767,000 confirmed infections and 21,129 deaths, according to a New York Times database. The country’s caseload is the world’s third-largest after the United States and Brazil, and it is averaging about 450 Covid-19 deaths per day.

As health officials across India struggle to cope with a surge of new cases, state-run hospitals are overflowing with sick patients. Some public health experts have linked the rising infection toll to its spread in major cities, which have crowded marketplaces and very little social distancing.

At least two Indian states, Bihar and West Bengal, are now reintroducing social distancing measures that they had lifted in June.

In other news from around the world:

The authorities in the northeastern Catalonia region of Spain on Thursday reintroduced the mandatory use of face masks outdoors, along with a fine of 100 euros ($113) for anyone not wearing one. There have been a series of outbreaks in the region, the most serious of which has led to the lockdown of about 200,000 people living around the city of Lleida. In the Balearic archipelago, off Spain’s east coast, the authorities are also preparing to make masks compulsory again starting this weekend.

In Serbia, thousands of demonstrators protested for a second consecutive night on Wednesday in response to President Aleksandar Vucic’s management of the coronavirus crisis and wider concerns over the state of democracy in the country.

Australia stepped up its efforts to isolate the outbreak spreading through Melbourne on Thursday, as the state of Queensland shut its doors to people trying to flee the city’s six-week lockdown. Most of Australia is now off limits to people from the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital, as the state authorities reported 165 new cases on Thursday, including six infections tied to a school where a cluster has now spread to 113 people.

Tokyo recorded 224 new infections on Thursday, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK said, surpassing a record set in April. The city has more than 7,000 cases.

A man in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan was executed on Thursday, after he killed two village officials tasked with combating the virus, a local court and the state-run news media said. The killing was in February, and the man was sentenced to death in March.

The Indonesian island of Bali, a popular tourist destination, began reopening beaches and businesses on Thursday, despite a steady increase in the number of coronavirus cases. Bali was never locked down, but residents were encouraged to stay home, practice social distancing and wear masks. Over the past three weeks, the number of reported infections has more than doubled, to 1,971, and the number of deaths has more than quadrupled, to 25.

The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed barring migrants from obtaining asylum in the United States if they traveled through or came from a country struggling with the coronavirus or other disease outbreaks.

If enacted, the proposed rule would lay a framework for the administration to continue to use a public health crisis to justify the sealing of the United States to nearly every person seeking protection at the southwestern border. Asylum officers would be able to cite any disease that the United States designates as having created a public health emergency.

The rule would allow an asylum officer to classify migrants coming from a country with an outbreak as a “danger to the security of the United States,” denying them protections and putting them on a fast track to deportation. It would also allow the homeland security secretary and the attorney general to classify outbreaks as threats to the United States, which would then be used as factors in denying protections to migrants seeking asylum.

The Trump administration has already effectively brought asylum to a halt by using health authorities granted to the surgeon general to immediately turn away most asylum seekers at the border, including children traveling alone. The administration also created a fallback in the event that such emergency restrictions were lifted or blocked by a potential lawsuit. It proposed regulations that would raise the standard of proof for migrants hoping to obtain asylum, and would allow immigration judges to deny applications for protection without giving migrants an opportunity to testify in court.

The proposal on Wednesday would add to the web of border restrictions that have closed the United States to families fleeing persecution and poverty. President Trump has signed accords with Guatemala and Honduras, for example, that allow the United States to divert migrants to the Central American countries to seek protections there.

Unemployment claims in the U.S. may be leveling off after a steady fall.

Fresh U.S. government data on Thursday is expected to show that new unemployment claims have leveled off after a steady decline, as rising coronavirus cases have pushed some states to reverse course and reimpose shutdown orders on businesses.

According to Bloomberg, the average estimate is that 1.37 million new state jobless claims were filed last week, a dip from the previous week’s 1.43 million. Although new claims in the Labor Department’s tally have been declining since early April, the weekly total has not dropped below a million since the coronavirus pandemic started — levels that are far above previous records.

Hiring nationwide has picked up in recent weeks, and the overall jobless rate dipped in June to 11.1 percent from a peak of 14.7 percent in April. But most of the payroll gains were because of the rehiring of workers temporarily laid off because of the pandemic. The pool of workers whose previous jobs have disappeared and who must search for new ones has grown.

“The recovery in new hiring has yet to begin.” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.

According to antibody test results, some of New York City’s neighborhoods were so disproportionately exposed to the coronavirus during the peak of the epidemic in March and April that the most vulnerable communities might have a higher degree of protection during a potential second wave.

The testing results from the urgent-care company CityMD were shared with The New York Times.

At a clinic in Corona, a working-class neighborhood in Queens, more than 68 percent of people have tested positive for antibodies to the virus, suggesting that their immune systems had encountered an infection and responded to it. At a clinic in Jackson Heights, also in Queens, that number was 56 percent. But at a clinic in Cobble Hill, an affluent Brooklyn neighborhood, only 13 percent of people tested positive for antibodies.

While stopping short of predicting that hard-hit neighborhoods like Corona and Jackson Heights would be relatively protected in any major new outbreak — a phenomenon known as herd immunity — several epidemiologists said that the different levels of antibody prevalence were likely to play a role in what happens next, assuming that antibodies do, in fact, offer significant protection against future infections.

“Some communities might have herd immunity,” said Dr. Daniel Frogel, a senior vice president for operations at CityMD, which runs urgent-care centers throughout the metropolitan area and plays a vital role in the city’s testing program.

As the virus has swept through New York, it has exposed stark inequalities in nearly every aspect of city life, from who has been most affected to how the health care system tended to those patients. Many lower-income neighborhoods, where Black and Latino residents make up a large part of the population, were hard-hit, while many wealthy neighborhoods had far fewer cases.

But if there is a second wave of the virus, some of those vulnerabilities may flip, with the affluent neighborhoods becoming most at risk for a surge of infections.

The CityMD statistics reflect tests done from late April to late June. As of June 26, CityMD had administered about 314,000 antibody tests in the city; citywide, 26 percent of the tests came back positive.

The testing results in Jackson Heights and Corona seemed to “jump off the map,” Dr. Frogel said.

How to start a new job from home.

Without face-to-face contact and the ability to get acquainted with your colleagues in person, how can you settle into your new, remote workplace? Here are some tips to help.

Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Damien Cave, Patricia Cohen, Mike Ives, Joseph Goldstein, Erica L. Green, Andrew Jacobs, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Patrick Kingsley, Raphael Minder, Richard C. Paddock, Mitch Smith, Megan Twohey, Noah Weiland, Sameer Yasir and Elaine Yu.