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Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 30,340. That's how many child migrants have been placed with sponsors this year through July 7.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: These charts show that flying is still safe despite a rough week for air travel.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) A VA deal could save Congress from total humiliation; (2) Addressing the root causes of migrant crisis; (3) state and insurer responses to Halbig; (4) King Coal's continuing demise; and (5) air travel's rough week.

1. Top story: Amid a pile of unfinished bills, a breakthrough on VA reform

House, Senate negotiators reach deal on VA bill. Here's what we know about it so far. "Congress would give eligible military veterans a 'Veterans Choice Card' and allow them to seek health care outside the VA medical system....The new legislation would not allow scheduling and wait-time metrics to be used as factors in determining a worker’s performance. Instead, most performance reviews would focus on the quality of care....The measure also would authorize $5 billion in emergency spending to pay for hiring new employees....Additionally, VA would be required to conduct regular audits on the accuracy of care and staffing levels at each major medical facility." Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

Why VA legislation has struggled: Money. "Negotiations hit a snag last week over disagreements with how to offset portions of the bill, which will likely cost between $10 billion and $25 billion, and also how to handle a last-minute request from acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson for $17.6 billion to hire more doctors and make improvements to VA centers. While Sanders and Senate Democrats prefer the bill’s costs to be treated as emergency spending, there is a strong push from Republicans to raise revenue or make other cuts to offset the bill’s costs as much as possible." Lauren French in Politico.

How the bill might alleviate the money issue. "Several senators were vocal in disagreeing with the off-the-charts CBO cost estimates for the base bills. The CBO had estimated both bills would eventually generate about $50 billion a year or so in new costs, mostly from a predicted surge in demand for private care outside of the VA system. To alleviate concerns about the deficit, the deal caps the costs. The $15 billion would remain available until expended, with some lawmakers expecting it to last for more than a year." Niels Lesniewski in Roll Call.

Don't get too excited. Congress has a lot left to do in four days... "Congress has a crammed getaway agenda — from dealing with the border crisis, to finalizing a patch for the Highway Trust Fund, to suing President Obama. There also is optimism — but not necessarily confidence — that a House and Senate conference agreement can finally be reached on reforming the embattled Veterans Affairs Department. Both chambers have Thursday scheduled as their final legislative day before the break, which will extend through August and into early September, providing a key period of campaigning in a midterm election year." Michael Catalini and Billy House in National Journal.

...and then some. "Lawmakers...still must approve spending bills or a stopgap measure before the end of September to keep the government running....Also expiring is the authorization of the Export-Import Bank, which helps support U.S. export sales....Similar GOP concerns have clouded the path forward on extending the federal backstop for terrorism insurance, set to expire at year-end. The immediate problems have made it that much harder to tackle thornier issues like overhauling the tax code. A push by Democrats to block companies from reincorporating overseas for tax purposes is unlikely to advance soon. Lawmakers are expected to renew funding for highway programs, but this time only for several months." Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Flashbacks: What history tells us is that Congress' inability to get much done before summer recess isn't new. Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post.

Can't Congress just work in August? Believe it or not, it's illegal unless Congress waives it. "As it turns out, there is indeed a law, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, that says the House and Senate shall call it quits 'not later than July 31 of each year or, in the case of an odd-numbered year,' take off 'from that Friday in August which occurs at least thirty days before the first Monday in September (Labor Day) of such year to the second day after Labor Day.'...But that doesn’t mean the lawmakers can’t come back if both houses agree to do so." Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz in The Washington Post.

Quotable: "People are so fed up with the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Congress is unfortunately unable to even agree on the most obvious kinds of things. I think Darth Vader looks pretty good to a lot of people." — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Amy Harder in The Wall Street Journal.

One thing that Congress is giving higher priority to: Suing Obama. "The House Rules Committee on Thursday began to lay the procedural groundwork for a vote by the full House next week on a resolution offered by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, that authorizes a lawsuit on behalf of the House against the administration’s delay in the enforcement of the employer insurance mandate contained in the 2010 health care overhaul law." Paul Jenks in Roll Call.

Primary source: We're defending the Constitution. John Boehner in USA Today.

Top opinion

KRUGMAN: Tax avoidance du jour — inversions. "Apologists for inversion, who tend to claim that high taxes are driving businesses out of America, are indeed talking nonsense. These businesses aren’t moving production or jobs overseas — and they’re still earning their profits right here in the U.S.A. All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits. And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge — it’s already illegal for a company to claim that its legal domicile is someplace where it has little real business, and tightening the criteria for declaring a company non-American could block many of the inversions now taking place. So is there any reason not to stop this gratuitous loss of revenue? No." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

LEW: Close the tax loophole on inversions. "Countries around the world have lowered their tax rates, leaving the United States with the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. At the same time, the system has become full of inefficiencies and special-interest loopholes. That is why it is so important that we reform our business tax code to make the U.S. economy more competitive and to accelerate economic growth and job creation. Taking this step will make the United States an even more attractive place to do business and ensure that capital and talent are allocated more efficiently in pursuit of high economic returns, rather than low tax bills." Jacob J.Lew in The Washington Post.

COONTZ: The new instability. "Since the 1970s, families have become more egalitarian...but inequality among families has soared. Women have become more secure as their real wages and legal rights have increased. But families have become more insecure as their income and job instability have worsened. Sometimes these trends counteract each other, with women’s work gains partly compensating for men’s losses in low-income families. Sometimes they reinforce each other....For all Americans, these trends have changed the rewards, risks and rules of marriage." Stephanie Coontz in The New York Times.

PONNURU: Ryan's plan is more ambitious than you'd think. "Representative Paul Ryan's new anti-poverty plan, released yesterday, is more ambitious than I had expected. I didn't expect him to tackle criminal-justice reform, for example, but his plan calls for softening mandatory-minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. I didn't expect the plan to include higher-education reform, but it has several worthy ideas, from reforming the accreditation process so more innovative schools can emerge to simplifying financial-aid forms....The bigger question to my mind, though, isn't what Ryan will do next. It's whether liberals will give his good ideas a fair hearing." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View.

VINIK: Who's the real Paul Ryan? "You don’t often see a politician unveil two major, contradictory proposals within a few months of each other. But that’s exactly what Ryan did....Is he a deficit hawk who panders to the far right? Or is he a pragmatic policymaker that wants to increase anti-poverty spending? Ryan’s supporters say that he’s the latter and that his budget wasn’t his exact position, but represented the opinion of the entire House Republican caucus. For instance, Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, hypothesized that '[the Ryan] budget’s implausible discretionary cuts were mostly driven by the political imperative.'...Douthat is looking prophetic." Danny Vinik in The New Republic.

VOORHEES: A budget cut by any other name. "The accountability of Ryan’s block grant switch comes with something he appears to covet even more: an end to food stamps as an entitlement program. Under the current setup, any American who qualifies for SNAP benefits receives them, regardless of how much money Washington has already spent on the program that year. But switching to a block grant would effectively set a cap on SNAP spending by stopping the program from automatically increasing along with need. That, critics warn, could leave the program unprepared and underfunded.... " Josh Voorhees in Slate.

Animals interlude: What happens when a baby elephant meets a cat for the first time.

2. We're still not addressing the root causes of the migrant crisis

Why the White House has chosen Honduras as first country for its refugee proposal. "A number of factors explain why young Hondurans could be first in line for a U.S. government plan to allow them to apply for entry as refugees...to get control over the flow of Central American migrants to the U.S. For starters, the biggest group of unaccompanied minors...since October come from Honduras, although kids from other Central American nations and Mexico aren’t far behind....Also, Honduras also ranks among the world’s most violent societies and as Central America’s poorest, key 'push factors' behind the surge, according to immigration experts" Dudley Althaus and Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

Obama’s proposal would help very few children; it doesn't get at the root causes. "'Much of Central America is marred by gang violence and drug trafficking....Honduras, which would serve as the pilot country as part of the proposal, is arguably the most troubling example....The path through Mexico is hardly any safer....And yet hundreds of thousands of Central Americans choose to take the risk each year....'The U.S. needs to make a more concerted effort to deal with the violence in these countries,' Vargas-Ramos said....Obama could enact the proposal through executive action. If it does, it will give the appearance of progress...but serve as little more than a piecemeal solution." Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post.

Congress still stuck on border legislation, highlighted by the House GOP's cut in emergency funding... "House Republicans dramatically slashed the amount of emergency money they are willing to devote to dealing with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors...lessening chances for an ambitious pact before lawmakers leave Washington for their summer break....Senior administration officials acknowledged that there was little hope inside the West Wing that Congress would strike a quick deal" David Nakamura and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

...though it's not just about the money. "House Republicans take a harder line, focusing on beefing up the border with National Guard troops and returning the children....The debate has intensified because of mixed messages from the White House. The administration initially signaled it would ask Congress to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law....The White House has backed down, and the Senate bill does not include any changes in the law....Republicans, though, argue the law must be changed...as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other administration officials have publicly stated. It remains to be seen if the often fractured House Republicans can coalesce around the plan." Lisa Mascaro in the Los Angeles Times.

Long read: In U.S. custody, migrant kids are flown thousands of miles at taxpayer expense. Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post.

Obama seeks regional leaders' help on long-term action. "Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said Obama urged the region to work with the U.S. to resolve the immediate crisis and also that it develop a medium- and long-term plan to prevent such a flight of migrants in the future....White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Obama supports...more authority to turn back Central American migrants at the border. But he said current proposals in Congress, including a bipartisan plan proposed by...Cuellar and...Cornyn, do not meet White House standards of deterring illegal migration while protecting legitimate claims for asylum." Josh Lederman in the Associated Press.

Sending the kids back to more gang violence? "U.S. policies of the 1990s and 2000s that deported thousands of gang members back to Central America...were attempting to root out Latino gang violence in American cities. But instead of dispersing, the gangs took new root in Central America, abetted by the push of drug-trafficking routes into Central America from Mexico. The gangs grew more ruthless and expanded into international drug trade and other crimes, leading to escalating violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Critics of proposals to deport the new crop of youths warn that the United States risks making the same mistake twice." Pamela Constable in The Washington Post.

Perry's Guard deployment isn't about solving migrant crisis. "In 2006, the Bush administration mobilized the Guard...while 6,000 new Border Patrol agents were brought online....The key in that case, Ahern said, was that it was the federal government...mobilizing the Guard, not individual states....Guard troops can't step in the shoes of federal officers to enforce immigration policy, they can't conduct law-enforcement activities, and only in rare cases can they make arrests....Perry's office seems to get that. Travis Considine, a Perry spokesman, said the Texas troops aren't being sent to deal with the child-migrant crisis at all, but to help combat 'crime and cartel activity.' James Oliphant and Rachel Roubein in The Atlantic CityLab.

No, marijuana legalization in Guatemala won't stop the crisis. "Marijuana makes up roughly 20 to 30 percent of drug cartels' revenue. That's a significant source of money, but losing that isn't going to make drug cartels go away....Guatemala's demand for marijuana and other drugs is also quite small in terms of the global drug trade. The reason Central America's Northern Triangle...is riddled with drug-related violence is...the three countries are largely used as stepping stones in the flow of drugs from South America to the United States. In this sense, legalization in the US could actually do more to stop violence in Guatemala." German Lopez in Vox.

In series of editorials, NYT wants U.S. to back off on marijuana. "The editorial board of the New York Times has issued a dramatic call for the federal government to repeal its ban on marijuana, saying officials should leave the question of legalization up to state governments....The most significant state action came in 2012, when voters in Colorado and Washington easily approved the legalization and regulation of the sale of marijuana....Federal officials have cautiously allowed both states to proceed, leaving the issue at an uneasy detente that the New York Times editorial called unacceptable." Matt Pearce and Maria L. La Ganga in the Los Angeles Times.

Other immigration reads:

Obama quietly laying groundwork to expand immigrants' rights. Christi Parsons, Brian Bennett and Lisa Mascaro in the Los Angeles Times.

With immigration reform off agenda, some in tech turn to plan B. Hayley Tsukayama in The Washington Post.

MACGILLIS: A plan that would ease our border-security fixation. "Doesn’t 5,000 applicants seem awfully low...? How would the U.S. personnel at the embassy in Tegucigalpa decide which young applicants...qualified?...But the proposal...will deter at least some young people from making the dangerous trip, thereby reducing demand for the migrant traffickers who are profiting off the children’s desperation. Second, it might just help clarify the debate about the migrant crisis, which has become unhelpfully tangled with the broader immigration reform debate and its fixation on 'border security.'" Alec MacGillis in The New Republic.

SHIFTER: Central America's apology tour. "All three Central American presidents will have a tough time selling Washington’s proposed bargain at home. Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans in general want their children to rejoin relatives living in the United States—and certainly the immigrants already settled in this country want them to succeed. The governments lack the resources and institutional capacity to assist the returning children in any meaningful way. For these political reasons, as a tradeoff, the three presidents will pursue significantly higher levels of U.S. development aid, as well as some additional support on trade and energy—but they may not get much." Michael Shifter in Politico Magazine.

Sports blooper interlude: Is this throw by Ryan Raburn the worst in baseball history?

3. How states and insurers are preparing for the Halbig case's impacts

Any insurer angst on the conflicting subsidy rulings could emerge this week. "A parade of publicly-traded health insurance companies are expected to report their second-quarter earnings this week and many of them are expected to update Wall Street analysts and investors on their expansion plans....The rulings could cause turmoil in the marketplace as health plans are deciding where to offer coverage and where to expand and market their plans going forward. 'In the near term, we expect these decisions to create substantial confusion about the validity of subsidies for plans already purchased on exchanges in the 36 states with federally run exchanges,' Fitch Ratings said in a report last week." Bruce Japsen in Forbes.

States are trying to protect their exchanges from the effects of Halbig. "Amid the uncertainty, some of the 36 states in which the federal government has a role in the exchanges are moving to shore up their status. Some are saying publicly that their exchanges have always been state-operated. Others are trying to make the case that they should be considered to have state exchanges regardless of federal involvement. Still others, such as Arkansas, are pushing ahead to take over their exchanges, which would likely free them from the effects of any court decision." Louise Radnofsky in The Wall Street Journal.

States also want more time to spend their federal ACA funds. "The states aren’t asking for the feds to dole out more money on top of the $4.6 billion already dedicated to exchange planning and construction. But they do want to be able to spend their federal exchange grants into 2015 as they grapple with core components of the insurance portals that are balky, unfinished or in disrepair. The viability of state exchanges became more urgent this week after conflicting court rulings created uncertainty about whether Affordable Care Act subsidies would be available through the federal exchange — or whether the state market would be the only legal route." Kyle Cheney and Sarah Wheaton in Politico.

An Obamacare gotcha moment? "The January 2012 video...features Gruber telling an audience at a Noblis meeting that if states don’t set up their own exchanges, their citizens can’t get the subsidies, which are delivered as tax credits....Gruber said Friday he misspoke, but his comments at the time are the opposite of what he and other liberals are arguing now: that Congress wrote the law to provide the subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans through all the state exchanges, regardless of who runs them....Whether Congress intended to withhold the subsidies unless states run exchanges themselves is a crucial question in the legal battles." Paige Winfield Cunningham in Politico.

Courts may not care what Gruber thought. "In the end, what Gruber believed isn't the question in Halbig. The question is what Congress believed....As someone who has covered Obamacare and the people who wrote it for five years, the argument that Congress actually didn't know how it intended for subsidies to work rings hollow: legislators knew exactly how the subsidies were meant to work, and they intended for them to work in every state, no matter who built the exchange. That idea was at the very core of Obamacare, and no one drafting or voting for the law intended to betray it." Sarah Kliff in Vox.

An Obamacare subsidy battle is occurring outside the courts. "Government officials say...consumers who have received different subsidy amounts...probably made some mistake entering personal details such as income, age and even ZIP codes. The Associated Press interviewed insurance agents, health counselors and attorneys around the country who said they received varying subsidy amounts for the same consumers. As consumers wait for a resolution, some have decided to go without health insurance because of the uncertainty while others who went ahead with policies purchased through the exchanges worry they are going to owe the government money next tax season." Kelli Kennedy in the Associated Press.

Pitfalls emerge in health insurance renewals. "For the 8 million people who persevered through all the technical travails in the new health insurance exchanges and managed to sign up for coverage in 2014, their policies will probably automatically renew come November when open enrollment begins. Seems like good news after all the headaches consumers endured after the program's launch last year. Except that renewing the same policy may not be the best choice. Many may end up paying far more than they need to and have policies that don't best fit their individual circumstances." Michael Ollove in Pew Stateline.

Feds cap ACA fines for not buying health insurance. "The caps are $2,448 per person and $12,240 for a family of five. The amount is equal to the national average annual premium for a bronze-level health plan. The penalty for the first year starts at $95 per person and can rise to as much as 1 percent of annual income. The latest figure limits what the government can charge people using the personal income computation." Kelli Kennedy in the Associated Press.

Other health care reads:

N.C. Senate moves Medicaid overhaul bill but objections abound. Rose Hoban in North Carolina Health News.

There's a vaccine that can prevent a cancer. But a lot of people aren't getting it. James Hamblin in The Atlantic.

Insurers to pay $330 million in ACA premium rebates. Caroline Humer in Reuters.

TV shows interlude: An early look at the "Simpsons"-"Family Guy" crossover episode.

4. More signs that King Coal is fading

Coal company pain accelerates a bankruptcy cases rise. "The coal business, after fueling the Industrial Revolution and powering U.S. growth for much of the past century, is now beset by a glut of cheap natural gas and tighter regulation. James River Coal Co. in many ways epitomizes these ills. After filing for bankruptcy almost four months ago with plans to sell its business, the Richmond, Virginia-based company has delayed an auction twice without announcing a buyer. Lower prices, rising competition and oversupply have taken their toll on coal, cutting profits and pushing a number of companies to the brink of insolvency." Dawn McCarty, Sonja Elmquist and Phil Milford in Bloomberg.

Explainer: Healthier Americans, spikes in energy bills and everything else you need to know about coal's demise. Danielle Paquette and Steven Rich in The Washington Post.

China plans to reduce coal use, though consumption still could rise for a number of years. "Under pressure to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions, the Chinese government is considering a mandatory cap on coal use, the main source of carbon pollution from fossil fuels. But it would be an adjustable ceiling that would allow coal consumption to grow for years, and policy makers are at odds on how long the nation’s emissions will rise. Senior officials are debating these issues as they formulate a new five-year development plan....China emits more carbon dioxide than any other country, so what President Xi Jinping and his colleagues decide will have far-reaching consequences for efforts to contain climate change." Chris Buckley in The New York Times.

Obama's CO2 plan could be further boon to shale boom. "The study...concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana. The report concluded that the rule would hurt states where coal production is a central part of the economy." Coral Davenport in The New York Times.

Related: Could the electric grid become over-reliant on natural gas? James Osborne in the Dallas Morning News.

Charts: Visualizing the shale boom. Melissa C. Lott in Scientific American.

Did a government watchdog just empower EPA to regulate methane leaks more tightly? "The agency's IG found that EPA is doing too little to limit methane leakage from the natural gas transmission sector, which it estimated to contribute more than 13 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent each year. The report comes as EPA is weighing whether to promulgate new Clean Air Act restrictions to curb leakage of the powerful greenhouse gas from oil and gas systems....Methane's contribution to climate change...is at least 25 times as strong on a pound-for-pound basis as that of CO2." Jean Chemnick in Greenwire.

Oil, gas boom taps rush of ordinances and bans across the U.S. "Development of oil and gas shale formations has sparked drilling from Pennsylvania to California, and that is leading to a new wave of local oil and gas ordinances and bans. Towns and cities — from Robinson Township, Pa., population 13,354, to Dallas, population 1.2 million — are enacting rules to limit or control oil and gas development....But in many places, local governments and the oil and gas industry are reaching accord and finding ways to balance desires of residents against the demands of business." Mark Jaffe in The Denver Post.

Other energy/environmental reads:

Solar industry is rebalanced by pressure on China. Diane Cardwell and Keith Bradsher in The New York Times.

USGS halted research on mountaintop mining's health effects. Ken Ward Jr. in the Charleston Gazette.

Morgan Freeman interlude: Another video showing what he sounds like after taking in some helium.

5. After a rough news week for air travel, what do the numbers say?

Air travel hasn't become more dangerous. "Industry analysts and safety experts shake their heads at the seeming randomness of the tragedies, saying they can find no common themes. Nor do they think the events indicate that flying is suddenly becoming less safe. Less than one in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident in which the plane was damaged beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association. That includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines as well as scheduled passenger flights....Airline accidents are likely to increase because the industry is growing, especially in developing countries." Associated Press.

Chart: Overall, the long-term trend shows flying has only become safer. Ismat Sarah Mangla and Christopher Harress in International Business Times.

Explainer: 9 surprising facts about plane crashes. Susannah Locke in Vox.

Airline insurers face biggest bill since 9/11. "Airline insurers are reviewing cover for aircraft involved in hostile acts such as the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as the industry faces its most expensive year since the 9/11 attacks in 2001....Senior insurance brokers have warned that some underwriters are demanding more than threefold increases in premiums in recent days for so-called 'war' insurance policies. Some insurance companies want details of exact flight paths and are considering withdrawing completely from providing certain types of cover for flights over hotspots in the Middle East and parts of Africa, the brokers added." Alistair Gray in The Financial Times.

Do individual flight disasters affect our fear of flying? "The news cycle probably isn’t likely to instill a real fear of flying in anyone, or even to exacerbate existing phobias in the long-term, according to psychologists. Dr. Martin Seif, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders and runs a popular workshop for people who are afraid of flying, told me flight anxiety isn’t usually triggered by hearing about specific events." Alice Robb in The New Republic.

Other transportation reads:

Profits tell tale of turnaround by airlines. Jad Mouawad in The New York Times.

Federal highway safety grants go unclaimed. Kaitlyn Krasselt in USA Today.

Happy reunion interlude: This dog was passed out from excitement after being reunited with his owner.

Wonkblog roundup

Britain’s economy is finally bigger than it was in 2008. What took so long? Matt O'Brien.

Obama’s proposal to aid migrant children would help very few of them. Roberto A. Ferdman.

How big cities that restrict new housing harm the economy. Emily Badger.

Q&A: The new $84,000 hepatitis C drug. Jason Millman.

The most conservative way to fight poverty is to send everyone a government check. Max Ehrenfreund.

Why Sovaldi took off: Previous treatments were terrible. Jason Millman.

The inequality snowball effect. Lydia DePillis.

Name That Data! Christopher Ingraham.

Citing Wonkblog research, Stephen Colbert endorses Darth Vader for president. Christopher Ingraham.

The cost of America’s forest fires has more than quintupled in the past 20 years. Roberto A. Ferdman.

Et Cetera

Congress passes cellphone-unlocking legislation. Andrea Peterson in The Washington Post.

Fed rate debate looks set to heat up. Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Nutrition labels may take hard line on sugar. Georgina Gustin in Roll Call.

A big union intensifies the fast-food wage fight. Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times.

Tech sees hope in battle against NSA this year. Julian Hattem in The Hill.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.