Nation & World News

Rubio: Small Government Can Help Fix Economic Inequality

By Scott Neuman on July 21st, 2014 | Last updated: July 21, 2014 at 9:18 am

Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender, is concerned about issues of access to affordable education, availability of job training and prospects for economic mobility. While shunning the “income inequality” language of the left, he insists that those problems need to be viewed through the lens of limited government.

“At its core, conservatism is not an anti-government movement, and it’s not a no-government movement,” Rubio tells Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep in the first of a two-part interview today.

“The conservative movement is about government playing its important yet limited role, and about not falling into the trap of believing that every problem has an exclusive government answer for it,” the Florida Republican says.

Just last week, Rubio, 43, co-sponsored a bill with Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner to set up a system for federal student loan repayment based on a borrower’s income.

While many conservatives argue that federal aid perpetuates dependency, others, such as Rubio, want to help struggling families without disowning their core ideology.

In May, for example, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another possible 2016 candidate, warned against an economy where some people are permanently on top and others stuck at the bottom. While he offered no rhetoric about “the 1 percent,” Bush was referencing some of the same underlying concerns.

Rubio steers away from criticizing unequal incomes, preferring instead to focus on unequal opportunity. “If you’re the cashier at Burger King, of course you make less than the manager or even the CEO,” Rubio tells NPR. “The issue is whether you’re stuck being a cashier for the rest of your life.

“So, what we need to do is figure out, what is it that’s holding people back? And try to do what we can to address it within the confines of what limited government should be doing,” he says.

Take a single mother with two children who’s struggling to support her family on $10 an hour: “[There] are things that government can do to incentivize the creation of innovations in education that are accessible to people like [her], because if you have to work full time and raise a family, you can’t just drop everything and go into a traditional four-year college program,” he says.

“There are things that government can do through our tax code to allow you to keep more of the money that you make, particularly when you look at the cost of child care,” he says.

Asked why he specifically mentions single mothers, Rubio responds, “Because I know a bunch of them.”

“There are millions of women who are trapped in lower-paying jobs and don’t have the skills for a higher-paying job, and don’t have the money or the time to access the higher education that they need for a better job,” he says.

“So, for the rest of their lives, they’re stuck making $10 an hour, and their kids, as a result, don’t have opportunities either,” Rubio says.

Many conservatives see government support as only reinforcing a dependency and incentivizing the father’s absence. Rubio, however, insists that often it’s not the mother’s fault. “The man has abandoned her, or he was abusive.”

“The success sequence in America says you get an education, you get a good job, you get married, you have children,” Rubio says. “People who do those four things have an incredible level of economic stability.

“But there are millions of people who aren’t going to have one or any of those things,” he says. “They are not going to have an equal opportunity to succeed unless something happens to equalize the situation.

“The question for those of us in public policy is: What can a limited government do to become a part of that solution — not the exclusive solution — but a part of that solution?” Rubio contends.

“People should be allowed to package learning no matter how they acquired it,” he says. “Their life experience, their work experience, free online courses, one course at a community college, another at another community college — you should be able to package all that cumulative learning into the equivalent of a degree that allows you to be employed.”

In the second part of our conversation with Rubio, on Tuesday’s Morning Edition, we’ll hear from him about immigration and his presidential ambitions.

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45 Years Ago, Armstrong Took His ‘One Small Step’

By Scott Neuman on July 20th, 2014 | Last updated: July 20, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Forty-five years ago today, in arguably the greatest technological feat of the 20th Century, two Americans stepped off the ladder of their small landing craft and walked on the surface of the moon.

The first of them, Neil Armstrong, 38, of Wapakoneta, Ohio, pronounced his accomplishment “one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.” The second, 39-year-old New Jersey native Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., described what he saw as “magnificent desolation.”

As the pair bounded across the lunar landscape, planting an American flag, setting up experiments, and collecting soil and rocks, astronaut Michael Collins remained in orbit preparing for the crucial “lunar orbit rendezvous” that would get them back home.

The famous moon walk was captured on a crude television camera and beamed live to people back on Earth.

“The whole world stopped to watch what was taking place,” space historian Roger Launius, assistant director of collections and curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, told “I think it would not be an overstatement to say that.”

But, as Aldrin tells NPR in an interview on Weekend Edition Saturday, the Lunar Module Eagle came very close to running out of fuel on its descent.

“When we got down to about 100 feet, a fuel quantity light came on” indicating 60 seconds of fuel remaining.

“I was getting a little apprehensive,” Aldrin says. “But of course, I didn’t want to disturb my commander [Armstrong] to the left because he was looking out and manually controlling things.

As the hovered just 10 feet above the surface, the crew in the LM had just 30 seconds left.

“And we touched down. And soon as that happens, I see a light on the instrument panel. And I say ‘contact light’ – because Neil is looking out the window – and then engine stop,” Aldrin says. “And Neil says ‘Houston, Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed.’”

(For the hard-core space geeks out there, Newsweek has uploaded the entire 353-page flight plan for the Apollo 11 mission that was released by the National Archives.) says of the historic moon landing:

“This stunning achievement required the investment of about $25 billion, experts say — well over $100 billion in today’s dollars. (During the height of the Apollo program, NASA’s share of the federal budget was about 4 percent. Today, that figure hovers around 0.5 percent.)

“The United States’ headlong rush to the moon can only be understood within a Cold War context, Launius and other historians stress. The Soviet Union’s two key space-race [successes] — launching the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, and putting the first person into orbit, in 1961 — spooked President Kennedy and other U.S. leaders. They saw in these achievements a grave threat to American technological superiority, and to national and global security.”

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R.J. Reynolds Vows Appeal Of $23 Billion Cancer-Death Verdict

By Scott Neuman on July 20th, 2014 | Last updated: July 21, 2014 at 4:18 pm

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, is vowing to fight a verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer.

Calling the massive award “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law,” the tobacco company’s CEO, J. Jefferey Raborn, said the verdict was “beyond the realm of reasonableness and fairness, and is completely inconsistent with the evidence presented.”

“We plan to file post-trial motions with the trial court promptly, and are confident that the court will follow the law and not allow this runaway verdict to stand,” he said.

The verdict, issued by a jury in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday stems from a suit brought by Cynthia Robinson, whose husband, Michael Johnson Sr., died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 36. Johnson started smoking when he was 13.

Robinson was also awarded another $16.8 million in compensatory damages.

Co-counsel for the plaintiff, Willie Gary, said the lawsuit’s goal was to stop tobacco companies from targeting young consumers with their ads.

“If we don’t get a dime, that’s OK, if we can make a difference and save some lives,” Gary said.

“The jury wanted to send a statement that tobacco cannot continue to lie to the American people and the American government about the addictiveness of and the deadly chemicals in their cigarettes,” Christopher Chestnut, another of Robinson’s attorneys, said.

As background, The Associated Press writes:

“Robinson individually sued Reynolds in 2008 on behalf of her late husband. … Her attorneys said the punitive damages are the largest of any individual case stemming from the original class action lawsuit.

“The verdict came the same week that Reynolds American Inc., which owns R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, announced it was purchasing Lorillard Tobacco Co., the country’s No. 3 cigarette maker, in a $25 billion deal. That would create a tobacco company second only in the U.S. to Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc., which owns Philip Morris USA Inc. and is based in Richmond, Virginia.”

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At Least 13 Israeli Soldiers, 87 Palestinians Killed In Gaza Strip Sunday

By L. Carol Ritchie on July 20th, 2014 | Last updated: July 20, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET.

A spokesman for Hamas claimed Sunday that the group has captured an Israeli soldier. Reuters quotes Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, as saying that no Israeli soldier has been kidnapped.

It’s the latest development in a bloody day of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel’s military said today that a series of attacks on its forces inside the Gaza Strip has killed 13 soldiers, by far the heaviest single-day toll for its troops since the beginning of the offensive nearly two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cairo Monday to help support efforts to broker a cease-fire, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday.

According to Reuters, Hamas militants said they’d ambushed Israeli Defense Forces troops, setting off explosives around their vehicles. Other Islamist militants said they’d attacked Israeli soldiers in a Gaza house. The latest deaths bring to 20 the number of Israelis killed in the fighting — 18 soldiers and 2 civilians.

At least 425 Palestinians, including 111 children, have been killed since the fighting started. More than 3,000 have been wounded, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it is stepping up the ground war, sending more troops into Gaza and intensifying tank fire and airstrikes, NPR’s Daniel Estrin tells our Newscast desk.

Earlier, however, Israel agreed to extend a brief “humanitarian truce,” meant to allow both sides to tend to the wounded, to four hours, despite charging Hamas with breaking the halt in fighting by firing at its soldiers. A Hamas spokesman later said it was Israel that broke the truce with renewed use of artillery.

The temporary cease-fire was specifically aimed at treating the wounded in a northeastern Gaza neighborhood known as Shejaia after the IDF intensified shelling there, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Al-Kidra of Gaza’s Health Ministry says 87 Palestinians have been killed in Sunday’s fighting, 60 of them in Shejaia.

The news agency says the casualties in Shejaia are the heaviest since Israel launched its offensive on July 8 after cross-border rocket strikes by militants intensified.

According to Reuters:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank, accused Israel of carrying out a massacre and declared three days of mourning.

“The Israeli military said on Sunday Hamas had deployed rockets and built tunnels and command centres in Shejaia. ‘Two days ago, residents of Shejaia received recorded messages to evacuate the area in order to protect their lives,’ an Israeli military spokeswoman said.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kerry emphasized that Israel “has every right in the world to defend itself” from Hamas attacks.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week, Kerry said: “It’s ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen.” He added that Hamas needs “to recognize their own responsibility.” Hamas he said on CNN must “step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Sunday’s bloodshed, saying that “Israel must exercise maximum restraint.

“I repeat my demands to all sides that they must respect international humanitarian law. The violence must stop now,” he said.

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James Garner, Of The ’70s TV Show ‘The Rockford Files,’ Dies

By Melisa Goh on July 20th, 2014 | Last updated: July 20, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Actor James Garner, whose wise-cracking but affable character made hits out of the TV shows Maverick and The Rockford Files, has died. He was 86.

Los Angeles Police confirm that Garner was found dead of natural causes at his home in Brentwood on Saturday.

Garner had a long career and remained active as a TV and film actor well into his 70s. His style as a leading man who was quicker with his tongue than his fist was established early as gambler Bret Maverick in the 1950s TV Western Maverick, as The Associated Press notes:

“His quick-witted avoidance of conflict provided a refreshingly new take on the American hero, contrasting with the steely heroics of John Wayne and the fast trigger of Clint Eastwood.

“At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre’s values.”

Garner carried that smooth-talking charisma into the private eye business in the ’70s TV show The Rockford Files, for which he won an Emmy. Among his work on the big screen are roles in The Great Escape, Victor Victoria, Space Cowboys and The Notebook. He was nominated for an Oscar for the 1985 film Murphy’s Romance, which co-starred Sally Field.

Garner’s childhood in Oklahoma was marked by the early death of his mother and the scattering of his brothers. His father reunited the family, People reports, bringing an abusive stepmother into an already dysfunctional relationship:

” ‘My dad worked hard as an upholsterer and carpet layer,’ said Garner, ‘but he was a rake and he drank a lot. He’d come home bombed and make us sing to him or get a whipping.’

“From that experience, Garner developed a lifelong sympathy for the underdog. ‘I cannot stand to see little people picked on by big people,’ he said. ‘If a director starts abusing people, I’ll just jump in.’ ”

Garner received a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2005. Back in his hometown of Norman, Okla., stands a 10-foot bronze statue of Garner as Bret Maverick.

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Kerry: Evidence Points Clearly To Rebels Shooting Down MH17

By L. Carol Ritchie on July 20th, 2014 | Last updated: July 20, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Updated at 4:25 p.m. ET.

In the most emphatic U.S. statement to date on culpability for the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people, Secretary of State John Kerry says evidence overwhelmingly points to Russian-backed separatists.

In an interview with CNN, he says that U.S. intelligence, as well as social media put out by the rebels, “obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists.

Kerry said the rebels had used social media to brag about shooting down the plane Thursday until they realized it was a commercial jetliner.

He also noted a steady flow of Russian arms over the border to supply the rebels in the past month and said the separatists had shot down a dozen aircraft over that time period.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia,” Kerry tells CNN.

“We know with confidence — with confidence — that the Ukrainians did not have such a [surface-to-air missile] system in the area at the time this occurred,” he said.

“Drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and removing them from the site,” Kerry said on NBC on Sunday. “What’s happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything President Putin and Russia said they would do.”

That outrage over the handling of remains and the inability of international teams to get unfettered access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines MH17, is increasingly focusing on Moscow, with Britain’s prime minster blasting the Kremlin in an editorial.

“[This] is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them,” he wrote in the Sunday Times, referring to Moscow’s support of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

The harsh words come amid reports that separatist rebels in the area where the plane was brought down Thursday had taken dozens of bodies from the crash site where 298 people were killed.

The BBC says, “International monitors were informed that 169 had been moved to the train in the nearby town of Torez.”

USA Today says: “Reports Saturday of how the bodies were decaying in Ukraine fields drew strong outrage worldwide, especially from the Netherlands, home to over half the victims. 192 bodies have been recovered from the crash site so far.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said the Netherlands was “angry, furious” over news that bodies were being moved at the crash site and not being treated properly, Reuters reports.

“We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly,” he said.

Meanwhile, a separatist rebel leader says the flight data recorder from the Boeing 777 has been recovered and would be handed over to international aviation authorities.

“Some items, presumably the black boxes, were found, and they have been delivered to Donetsk and they are under our control,” Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, told a news conference.

“There are no specialists among us who could pinpoint the look of the black boxes, but we brought to Donetsk some technical items which could be the black boxes of the airliner,” Borodai said, according to Reuters.

In other developments:

– Borodai is telling the media that the rebels will guarantee the safety of crash site observers in exchange for a Kiev-backed truce, says The Guardian.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko told Reuters, “We will not tolerate interference with the work of the commission.”

– The U.N. Security Council is considering an Australian-drafted resolution condemning the “shooting down” of the airliner. The resolution would also demand armed groups allow access to the crash site and call on states in the region to cooperate with the international investigation.

The draft is being circulated to Security Council members and diplomats by Australia, which lost 28 citizens.

– The International AIDS Conference begins in Melbourne, under the grim shadow of the crash and with some of its top thinkers missing. Six AIDS researchers and advocates were aboard the plane, bound for the conference.

“Those on MH17 all worked so hard in the science and community response to HIV — losing all six of them is a major loss,” conference co-chairwoman and professor of infectious diseases Sharon Lewin told The Guardian.

Conferees will pay respects to the dead at the opening ceremony Sunday night with one minute of silence.

“Everyone is devastated, of course, and it’s not just an accident — it’s a direct killing, it’s murder, which makes it even more gruesome,” said the director of Dutch HIV support organization Ton Coenen.

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Kremlin Blacklists 13 Americans In Tit-For-Tat Over U.S. Sanctions

By Scott Neuman on July 19th, 2014 | Last updated: July 19, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET.

Moscow has issued a quid pro quo for sanctions imposed on it by Washington, banning a U.S. congressman and 12 other Americans from entering Russia.

NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reports that the Foreign Ministry in Moscow says the new blacklist is in response to U.S. visa restrictions on Russian citizens in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its continuing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Virginia Democrat Rep. Jim Moran, who announced in January that he would retire at the end of the year, is on the list. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moran had been repeatedly accused of financial misdeeds but did not elaborate, according to The Associated Press.

In a statement, Moran said he has no plans to travel to Russia and speculated that his name was “due to my amendment banning the US purchase of helicopters from Rosoboronexport, the Russian state arms dealer and principal supplier to the Assad regime in Syria.”

Twelve other U.S. citizens connected with either the Guantanamo Bay detention center or the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq are on Russia’s visa blacklist.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced similar bans against a Russian lawmaker earlier this month.

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Dutch Premier Decries ‘Utterly Disrespectful Behavior’ At MH17 Crash Site

By Scott Neuman on July 19th, 2014 | Last updated: July 19, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expressing shock and anger over the chaotic scene at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, where nearly 200 Dutch citizens were killed, saying Russia has “one last chance” to use its influence with Ukrainian rebels to provide access to the scene.

Reuters quotes Rutte as saying he had a “very intense” conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I was shocked at the pictures of utterly disrespectful behavior at this tragic spot,” he said, referring to allegations that bodies of the passengers, including 193 of his countrymen, were being dragged about and allowed to rot at the scene, Reuters says.

“He has one last chance to show he means to help,” Rutte said after the two leaders’ chat.

The Dutch premier said the leaders of Germany, Britain and Australia — all of whom had citizens who were killed when the plane crashed in Eastern Ukraine — shared his view.

Meanwhile, Rutte and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron also discussed the matter over the phone on Saturday afternoon, according to a statement from the British prime minister’s office.

“The PM and PM Rutte agreed that the EU will need to reconsider its approach to Russia in light of evidence that pro-Russian separatists brought down the plane,” it said.

Rutte’s frustration comes at a time when ordinary Dutch what is being described as an unprecedented loss in recent times.

“The terrible reality of this disaster is slowly coming in,” Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch minister of security and justice, told a news conference.

The Wall Street Journal says: “Relatives of the passengers on board of Thursday’s fatal flight were staying at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport Friday. The hotel was guarded by police on explicit orders to keep the press off the premises. One officer said family members had been trickling in Friday.”

Sky News says the headline on the Dutch newspaper De Telegraff on Saturday reads, simply, “Killers.”

“Underneath, there are several photographs of Russian separatists near Donetsk, alleging these are the men responsible for bringing down Flight MH17, with the loss of 192 Dutch nationals.

“The media, and the more vociferous politicians, are now calling for those responsible to be brought to justice, as the shock of the event starts to subside.”

The British newspaper The Telegraph writes that 22 Dutch children from one primary school were among the MH17 casualties.

“The De Klimroos school, in the southern town of Roosendaal, opened specially on the first day of the holidays to provide counselling for those who were close to the children.

” ‘They’re inconsolable,’ a local resident said, declining to give her name. ‘This is a small country and nearly everyone is affected.’ ”

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States That Raised Minimum Wage See Faster Job Growth, Report Says

By Scott Neuman on July 19th, 2014 | Last updated: July 19, 2014 at 7:19 pm

New data released by the Department of Labor suggests that raising the minimum wage in some states might have spurred job growth, contrary to what critics said would happen.

In a report on Friday, the 13 states that raised their minimum wages on Jan. 1 have added jobs at a faster pace than those that did not. The data run counter to a Congressional Budget Office report in February that said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the White House supports, would cost 500,000 jobs.

The Associated Press writes:

“In the 13 states that boosted their minimums at the beginning of the year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January through June. The average for the other 37 states was 0.61 percent.

“Nine of the 13 states increased their minimum wages automatically in line with inflation: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Four more states — Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — approved legislation mandating the increases.”

The AP notes: “[The] state-by-state hiring data, released Friday by the Labor Department, provides ammunition” to the camp in favor of raising the minimum wage.

“Economists who support a higher minimum say the figures are encouraging, though they acknowledge they don’t establish a cause and effect. There are many possible reasons hiring might accelerate in a particular state.

” ‘It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,’ said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data ‘isn’t definitive,’ he added, but is ‘probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.’ ”

There are competing schools of thought among economists on the impact of raising the minimum wage. As The Washington Post notes: “Some studies, notably those lead by UMass Amherst economist Arin Dube, argue that there are no adverse employment effects from small increases in the minimum wage. Other studies, notably those lead by University of California Irvine economist David Neumark, argue there is an adverse effect.”

The Economist says: “America’s minimum wage has long been low by international standards, equalling just 38% of the median wage in 2011, close to the lowest in the OECD. Congress changes it only occasionally, and in the interim inflation eats away its value. The wage was last raised, to $7.25 per hour, in 2009. Since then its real value has slipped back to where it was in 1998.”

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400,000+ Sign Petition To Move ‘Sad Bear’ To Better Life In Canada

By Scott Neuman on July 19th, 2014 | Last updated: July 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET.

Social media has dubbed Arturo, a polar bear living in an Argentinian zoo, the “world’s saddest animal,” and more than 400,000 people have signed an online petition asking that he be moved to a “better life” in Canada.

Photos of Arturo, 29, looking distressed and lying flat out on his stomach that have circulated online prompted the petition. The bear’s enclosure mate, Pelusa, died two years ago, the BBC says.

According to The Telegraph, “Arturo is currently being kept in a cramped, concrete enclosure at Argentina’s Mendoza Zoo, where temperatures can climb to 104F (40C), with just a 20-inch-deep pool for him to keep cool.”

Even former House speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has gotten into the act, posting a video on his Facebook page urging people to sign the petition. However, as The Washington Post notes wryly, the only thing missing from the Gingrich post “was a link to the actual petition.”

The bear’s plight has also spawned the Twitter hashtag #FreeArturo.

The Telegraph reports that animal rights campaigners say Arturo is exhibiting the same depression and mental health issues that Pelusa showed before his death, including pacing back and forth and rocking from side to side.

“Earlier this year, the director of Mendoza Zoo, said it would be ‘unsafe’ to move Arturo because of his advanced age.

“Canadian tabloid The Winnipeg Sun reports that Arturo cannot be transferred as the zoo does not have up-do-date medical records for the stricken bear.”

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