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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    JOHN YANG: Students from Rochester, New York’s East High School have been busy this year writing a detailed proposal for a science experiment that is out of this world.

    As Sasha-Ann Simons from PBS station WXXI reports, the project was chosen to be conducted on the International Space Station.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: When East High School chemistry teacher Mary Courtney submitted three proposals last fall for the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, she couldn’t wait to find out which one would take off, literally.

    MARY COURTNEY, Teacher, East High School: This was a very difficult project. It’s probably the most difficult project that our students do their entire time in high school.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: As part of the program, students from 21 schools across the North America were competing for the chance to have their science experiments that test how microgravity affects various organisms sent to space.

    Students De’Aunte Johnson, Tailor Davis, and Binti Mohamed were thrilled that their proposal was the winning one from East High.

    BINTI MOHAMED, Student: Ms. Courtney pushed us aside and she brought the other two people that were involved. And she was like, you guys won. I was like, are you serious? Like, I started freaking out.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: They chose to conduct their research on a group of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton, which live in lakes and oceans. Through the process of photosynthesis, the organism produces half the oxygen we have on Earth.

    MARY COURTNEY: The question is, when this goes to space, is there an effect by not having gravity on the production of the chlorophyll? And the other variable that happens is these — this experiment is going to be kept in a dark container, and so it’s not going to be exposed to oxygen.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: Johnson is the captain of this student spaceship.

    DE’AUNTE JOHNSON, Student: We had a couple of different choices, but we picked mine.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: So, this was your idea?

    DE’AUNTE JOHNSON: It was my idea, but I had the bounce my idea off of them a couple times just to make sure when we got it correct.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: The final proposal was a true team effort, though.

    BINTI MOHAMED: There were parts we all had to do. Tailor was doing the introduction and De’Aunte was doing part three and four and stuff like that.

    So, De’Aunte reviewed it later on and changed some certain stuff that we needed to clarify or get into more detail with.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: So, why did they choose phytoplankton?

    MARY COURTNEY: As the United States and other countries move forward with space exploration, the idea eventually is to be able to establish colonies, either on the moon, other planets. Right? And so you have got to be able when you’re — if you’re on Mars, you have got to be able to produce food.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: That means the work is far from over. The 21 winning experiments will blast off in a mini-laboratory to the International Space Station in June.

    The first order of business for the East High team will be to figure out which type of phytoplankton they will use.

    DE’AUNTE JOHNSON: And also which type of mixture we’re going to use to make sure they have enough nutrients when they go up into space.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: The students are getting acquainted with a spectrophotometer, a machine that measures the intensity of light, and is perhaps what will be their saving grace.

    DE’AUNTE JOHNSON: But are they moving?

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: And if you haven’t guessed it already, there’s a lot riding on the student project.

    Once the experiment is aboard the space station, astronauts will interact with it, based on the guidelines set by these three.

    As the person who has watched it all come to life, Courtney says she couldn’t be more proud.

    MARY COURTNEY: I want them to think completely differently about everything around them at the end of the year. And if I do that, and they think really differently about everyday subjects, then I have accomplished my goal.

    SASHA-ANN SIMONS: For PBS NewsHour, I’m Sasha-Ann Simons in Rochester, New York.

    The post Student scientists devise experiment that will really take off appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A few days after being sworn in as the new Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson described slaves as “immigrants” Monday in an address to department employees.

    “That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” Carson said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land,” he added.

    The comparison prompted strong pushback on Twitter, including from actor Samuel L. Jackson (WARNING: strong language in his tweet), who all pointed out that slaves weren’t willing participants in their journey to Ellis Island.

    Rana Hogarth, a slavery expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign told the Associated Press that Carson’s remarks were “inappropriate and wildly inaccurate.”

    A HUD spokesperson told Michael Del Moro of Good Morning America that no one in the room thought the secretary “was confusing voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude. Please.”

    A staffer on Carson’s team told the Washington Post that the department has many African-American employees, adding that people stood up and applauded at the end of the secretary’s remarks.

    “Many went to take pictures of him,” the staffer said, speaking on background.

    Another unnamed staffer told the Post that Carson’s point was that people didn’t just arrive at Ellis Island.

    “If anything, I thought someone may have taken issue with the fact that he was pointing out it was rougher for black people,” the staffer said.

    As a quick reminder, the retired neurosurgeon has a history of controversial comments.

    READ MORE: 5 important stories you shouldn’t miss

    The post Ben Carson refers to slaves as ‘immigrants’ in first speech to HUD appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Actor Jordan Peele arrives at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California January 25, 2015.   REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)    (SAGAWARDS-ARRIVALS)
 - RTR4MUZT

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN YANG: Now: the director behind the breakout horror flick “Get Out.”

    The movie has been praised by critics, and it’s exceeded most box office expectations. It has a lot more on its mind than just scaring its audience.

    Jeff Brown went to Los Angeles to meet filmmaker Jordan Peele, who’s well known for his work on biting racial satire.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A trip to meet the parents in the heart of safe, well-heeled, white suburban America: What could possibly go wrong?

    The new film “Get Out” is a horror film about race, and part of the horror is just how close to normal it feels.

    For first-time director Jordan Peele, it’s a major hit, and an unlikely one.

    JORDAN PEELE, Director, “Get Out”: I was sure that, at some point, someone would come in and go, guess what? We can’t release the movie. It’s done.

    We have gotten word from on high, this is too controversial. We will get in trouble.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 38-year-old Peele is best known as part of the sketch comedy team Key and Peele, which had a five-season run on Comedy Central. There were racist zombies and plenty of social commentary on that show, addressed with gut-splitting humor.

    In “Get Out,” the humor gives way to horror.

    We watch as Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, begins to realize that all is not right at the home of girlfriend Rose, actress Allison Williams. The oh-so-liberal parents are a little too friendly. And there’s something very strange about the black servants.

    Horror, says Peele, has always been his true passion. He modeled his film on classics like “The Stepford Wives” that take a big societal issue and blow up the discomfort level, what he calls a social thriller.

    JORDAN PEELE: For me, the social thriller is the thriller in which the fears, the horrors, and the thrills are coming from society. They’re coming from the way humans interact.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Why do you think horror becomes a good way into that?

    JORDAN PEELE: I think that human beings are the most awful monster we have ever seen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Wait a minute. I mean, that’s true. They’re the most beautiful monster and the most horrible monster.

    JORDAN PEELE: That’s right. I don’t think that humans are, in our nature, we’re evil or anything like that. But I do think there’s a demon in our DNA, in our tribal subconscious that affects the way we work and we operate as a group.

    JEFFREY BROWN: After seeing your film, I was thinking about the key to the psychological horror film, at least for me, is how close it is to reality, right?

    JORDAN PEELE: I love it because it feels grounded. It feels real.

    My whole thing is, like, ground it, ground it. If it’s comedy, you taken an absurd comedic notion and you apply it to reality. If it’s horror, if it’s a thriller, you do the same thing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, you’re using the tropes and the ticks of white liberals. The father meets the black boyfriend and shows him a picture of Jesse Owens, right, sort of, like, oh, are you black, I didn’t even realize kind of thing.

    JORDAN PEELE: That’s a lot of my experience.

    And I had never really seen it portrayed in film. That, to me, was a golden opportunity to put this kind of uncomfortable interaction up and allow us to talk and deal with it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But what is it? Is it a hypocrisy? Is it racism? What are we talking about?

    JORDAN PEELE: I think part of why the way we talk about racism is broken is because we think of racism as this unacceptable evil thing that I couldn’t possibly have within myself.

    I look at racism as one of the social demons. And, in its worst, it’s violent and it’s a systemic commitment to oppression. At its lightest and most harmless, it is these things that are being called micro-aggressions, right, which many times it’s an olive branch that someone’s trying to say, hey, I know Tiger. I know Tiger.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which is something you use in your film, right?

    JORDAN PEELE: I used in my film.

    The reality of it is, when those interactions add up, it’s — I’m having a different experience than that person is having. Oh, wow, so, yes, I am being viewed for my skin as the starting point of the interaction. I’m not — I don’t have the privilege of existing at this party in the same way that this white guy has.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re writing this years ago, several years ago, right, in the middle of that kind of, are we in a post-racial America discussion.

    JORDAN PEELE: Yes.

    And it was — the original idea with the movie was to point out this very real horror we haven’t gotten over. I think what really works about this movie is these interactions you’re talking about.

    I think black people, minorities recognize these interactions and go, finally, someone put it up. I think a lot of white people, maybe some recognize it. Maybe they don’t.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I was wondering whether you saw there being two audiences for this film, whether you even thought about it that way, the things that the black audience would react to that a white audience, they may not get.

    JORDAN PEELE: You know, it’s a really good question. I did think of it in terms of two audiences often.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Even in the making, you would think about it?

    JORDAN PEELE: In the making, yes.

    I would say — sometimes, I would say to Daniel, who plays Chris, I would be like, so this is — this part, your — quote, unquote — “blackness” sort of needs to come to the surface a little more. And just give me that thing where a black audience member will go like, thank you. Thank you. All right, there he is. All right, he is. He’s black, he’s black, he’s black, you know?

    At the same time …

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: And he knew exactly what that meant, of course.

    JORDAN PEELE: Then he would go, yes, yes, yes. Got it. Yes.

    At the same time, I very much didn’t want to make a movie just for black people. I wanted to make this an experience where everybody’s Chris when you’re in the movie. So, everybody is black. If you’re a white person in the audience, you’re experiencing a piece of the black experience through this character.

    JEFFREY BROWN: “Get Out” just had another strong weekend, earning $26 million. That brings the total take to more than $75 million in its first 10 days, for a film that cost just $5 million to make.

    From the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown.

    The post ‘Get Out’ dials up the scary side of race in America appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JOHN YANG: But, first, let’s unpack the politics behind President Trump’s new travel ban, the allegations of wiretapping and the White House’s agenda for the week.

    It’s time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Tam, you were one of the radio poolers this weekend. You went with Trump down to Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

    So, nice quiet weekend?

    (LAUGHTER)

    TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes, I think we were expecting it to be a quiet weekend. There weren’t a lot of aides that came down with him on Air Force One.

    But by the end of the weekend, there were a lot of people at Mar-a-Lago meeting with President Trump all of a sudden. Those tweets came out of the darkness of morning and changed the weekend for sure.

    JOHN YANG: What do you make of it? Where did it come from, do you think?

    TAMARA KEITH: Well, it is unclear. If you ask the White House, they won’t say where it came from.

    If you put some dots together, it looks like it came from a Breitbart story that rounded up that Mark Levin talk show and various other news reports that are out there. And the White House keeps pointing to reports.

    I started asking at 7:00 a.m. Saturday. And the questions continue, where exactly is the president getting this from? He’s the president of the United States. It’s possible he could be getting intelligence from somewhere.

    But instead we’re hearing about reports. And his spokespeople are saying, well, if it’s true, it would be a huge scandal.

    That’s mighty conditional.

    JOHN YANG: And, Amy, from the outside, it looked like another — we’re seeing the reports that the president was angry when he did this.

    From the outside, it seemed like he had a pretty good week. He had the speech on Tuesday that got great reviews.

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Absolutely.

    JOHN YANG: Friday, when Attorney General Sessions recused himself, it seems to me, from the outside looking in, that that put the issue to rest. That was a good thing for them.

    AMY WALTER: But he didn’t see it as a good thing.

    JOHN YANG: Exactly.

    AMY WALTER: This is a White House and certainly a president who believes that, if you back down on anything, you have lost.

    And so the decision by Sessions to recuse himself was seen not as a victory, but as — really as a big defeat. And, you know, this is a funny thing, too, about this administration, and really the president.

    It’s like we live in these bifurcated worlds. Right? He gets angry, and it goes into a tweet. He defended Sessions on Twitter, but then sort of accepts, though grudgingly, what the effect is. He was upset that Michael Flynn had to resign, but he accepted that. He’s upset about Sessions, but he accepted it.

    But he takes it out on Twitter. Meanwhile, it’s the rest of the world that’s trying to keep up with what this all means. And, as we have seen from the panel that was right in front of us, it’s not really changing anything on Capitol Hill. There is no special prosecutor. This is still all within Congress.

    They’re either going to find something or they’re not. Nothing that happened this weekend is going to change that. And we’re still just really wrapping around the axle on an issue that we don’t have any clarity.

    TAMARA KEITH: Though it does give Democrats a little more ammunition to ask for an independent investigator, a special prosecutor or whatever it ends up being that they would want to ask for.

    You know, if it had stopped with Jeff Sessions recusing himself, it would have been harder for Democrats to make the case for an independent investigation. But add this last weekend to it, and they feel like they have a much better case to make, that they’re going to keep making.

    AMY WALTER: And the polls are on their side, too, more Americans saying they would like to see that, a special prosecutor.

    JOHN YANG: Yes.

    And last week, after that speech on Tuesday, the White House felt they had the momentum, that they were going to carry this through, push their legislative agenda.

    We got a big piece of it today, the House Republicans unveiling their proposal for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Sean Spicer says they want to sign this into law by Easter.

    AMY WALTER: Right. That is the goal.

    And, listen, This is the most important thing to remember. And I have been saying this from the very beginning. Watch the actions, not just the words. The tweets are important, but the actions are much more important.

    This is a big deal. This is what every single member of Congress ran on, was repealing Obamacare. The president talked about repealing Obamacare. Here is their chance to do it.

    A couple things to remember. First of all, two-thirds of the folks in the House, over 50 percent of the folks the Senate who are Republicans have never had a Republican president during their tenure in Washington. They don’t know about putting legislation together. They know about opposing. They don’t know about promoting.

    This is going to be a big challenge for them. Speaker Paul Ryan has had challenges within his own party. We have seen those rebel forces push up against him. Is he going to be able to corral them?

    Mitch McConnell, he’s very good at politics, but he has a very narrow margin, only 52 seats in the Senate, so he cannot lose very many of his own. This is going to be the test to see if, despite all that we’re seeing with the tweets, despite all the chaos we see in the White House, if Republicans can get through, even if not Easter, let’s say early summer, they can get through an Obamacare repeal, that is a big success.

    Now, what the repercussions are going to be is a whole other story, but, politically, that would be a very big deal, because it shows that this sort of mishmash of a coalition that has been put together during this Trump era actually works.

    If it doesn’t, then we have some real big questions, especially what we’re going to see about taxes, infrastructure and so forth.

    TAMARA KEITH: And you already have some Republican senators expressing some concern, some skepticism about what House Republicans might be proposing, because they have Medicaid expanded in their states, and they are concerned that what is being proposed on the House side might negatively affect their states.

    JOHN YANG: And, also, I think, is this going to be a test to see how President Trump is as…

    AMY WALTER: Right, as a salesperson.

    JOHN YANG: Exactly. Exactly.

    AMY WALTER: And at using his bully pulpit. He can do two things, one, to sell it to the public, but also to get those recalcitrant Republicans on board.

    He’s still very popular among Republican base. If he tweets out about congressman so and so not getting on board — but let’s see where the conservative, especially the fiscal conservatives, are on this in the House.

    There are still tax — refundable tax credits, which means it’s still going to cost money. And for many members of Congress, they see this as an entitlement, which they want to fight against.

    JOHN YANG: Amy Walter, you have got the last word.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you very much.

    TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

    AMY WALTER: You’re welcome.

    The post How the Obamacare replacement will test Republicans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump walks from Marine One as he returns to the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2017.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTS11KEL

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN YANG: Now to President Trump’s shocking series of tweets on Saturday and what’s behind the unsupported allegations.

    On today’s morning shows, administration officials Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders pressed President Trump’s case.

    SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, Senior Trump Adviser: Look, the president firmly believes that the Obama administration may have tapped into the phones at Trump Tower.

    KELLYANNE CONWAY, Senior Trump Adviser: Let’s get to the bottom of it. That is the president’s entire point.

    JOHN YANG: Like the president, they offered no evidence, but Conway said Mr. Trump may have information and intelligence the rest of us do not.

    In the Senate today, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the claim added to the need for an independent probe of alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

    SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., Minority Leader: The events of this weekend, which included another troubling, baseless tweet from the president, highlight and in fact strengthen the argument for a special prosecutor to conduct the investigation.

    JOHN YANG: The president sparked the firestorm with a weekend tweet: “Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.”

    A spokesman for former President Obama swiftly denied it, as did his former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

    JAMES CLAPPER, Former National Intelligence Director: There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time or, as a candidate or against his campaign.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump asked Congress to investigate, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer said there would be no further comment.

    Today, Spicer briefed reporters off-camera.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: There’s no question that something happened. The question is, is it surveillance, is it a wiretap or whatever? But there’s been enough reporting that strongly suggests that something occurred.

    JOHN YANG: It appears to trace back to Thursday evening and conservative radio host Mark Levin.

    MARK LEVIN, Conservative Radio Host: Barack Obama and his surrogates, who were supporting Hillary Clinton and their party, the Democrat Party, who were using the instrumentalities of the federal government, intelligence activities, to surveil members of the Trump campaign!

    JOHN YANG: That was picked up Friday morning by Breitbart News, formerly run by Trump adviser Steve Bannon. President Trump’s tweet came about 24 hours later.

    FBI Director James Comey reportedly asked the Justice Department to refute the claim.

    We dig in to the president’s claims now with Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Stewart Baker, who was assistant homeland security secretary for policy under President George W. Bush. He also was general counsel at the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1994.

    Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Welcome to you both.

    Mr. Schiff, my first question is for you. What’s your response to the president’s request that the Intelligence Committee take this question, whether or not there was any potentially politically motivated investigation, investigative branch powers were abused, whether that happened, into your investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign? And have you spoken to Chairman Nunes about this yet?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-Calif.: I have not had a chance to discuss it with the chairman.

    But, look, I think this whole allegation the president has made is reckless, and, given that it comes without any substantiation whatsoever, breathtakingly reckless.

    We already know from Director Clapper that, under the agencies that he was overseeing in the intelligence community, there was no FISA warrant directed at Mr. Trump or his campaign.

    And, yes, we can bring him in before our committee and have him repeat in closed session the same thing he said privately. And if the reports are correct that Director Comey has said the same thing and asked the Department of Justice to push back on this, then it’s clear there was no criminal wiretap.

    And that is a simple matter to resolve as well. But I think the call for this to be investigated is much like the president’s call to investigate his claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted. It’s patently absurd and it’s designed, I think, to give some patina of respectability to a claim that really has none at all.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Baker, breathtakingly reckless, patently absurd? What do you say?

    STEWART BAKER, Former Department of Homeland Security Official: No, I don’t understand that.

    We know from multiple reports, including The New York Times, that there were intercepts and there were FISA orders in connection with Russian efforts to influence the campaign. And we know from Mike Flynn’s resignation that those intercepts covered conversations that members of the campaign had.

    And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say, let’s investigate that. What we have heard from former Obama administration officials are very limited non-denial denials. That is to say, the president says, I didn’t order anything. Well, of course, he doesn’t.

    But the Justice Department and the FISA court could have. We have Jim Clapper saying, we didn’t target the campaign or Mr. Trump.

    There’s a lot of other people that could have been targeted that would look pretty political if it was done in bad faith. I think it’s fair to ask the question, what are the facts?

    And that’s what your committee is for.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Schiff, you say that there was no surveillance whatsoever that might have captured some communications between people close to Mr. Trump?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: No, that’s not what I have said.

    And I think what Mr. Baker has addressed is really not what the president tweeted, which was that the president had wiretapped his campaign.

    It’s entirely possible — and I can’t comment on what we have been hearing in the committee — that, as part of our foreign intelligence gathering directed at foreign spies, that we may have intercepted communications between Russian or between Russians and Americans.

    But, frankly, if that’s the case, then the president has a big problem, because why would Trump campaign people be talking to the Russians, if that was the context in which communications were gathered? So I’m not saying that’s the case, but if what Mr. Baker is referring to is our efforts to target Russian targets, that’s something very different than what the president alleged.

    And I think for a president of the United States to make this kind of an allegation about his predecessor, I think, in the eyes of the rest of the world and our own citizens, really brings discredit on himself and on our very democracy.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Baker, is there anything nefarious about that, if they were targeting Russians and they captured communications with people close to Trump in that process?

    STEWART BAKER: In my view, we had to do that. If the Russians are messing with our elections, we cannot tolerate that. We need to know and we need to take action against it.

    At the same time, opening this investigation of one campaign, and in the middle of an election, has enormous political consequences. And it’s fair to ask the question, were those political consequences part of the determination to pursue this?

    And that is something that ought to be looked at, along with the Russian attempt to influence the election.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Schiff, is that a legitimate question for the committee to be looking into?

    REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Well, I think, if you look at the facts here, actually, much of the criticism, frankly, that I have leveled and others is that the Obama administration did too little during the course of the Russian interference in our election, not too much, that the Obama administration, in fact, was so wary about being perceived as trying to put its hand on the scales or interfere in the election, that they were reluctant to even call out Russia on what was so plain to the intelligence agencies.

    Indeed, Senator Feinstein and I had to take the step of doing that ourselves before the intelligence community was ready or willing to do that. So, I think, quite the contrary, if the Obama administration erred here — and I think they did — it was in not calling this out earlier, not seeking sanctions along with our allies earlier.

    STEWART BAKER: I think you can believe that the president, President Obama, wasn’t sufficiently tough with the Russians and still believe that he was determined to be aggressive with the Trump campaign.

    He does take domestic politics very personally. And, you know, the FISA system is set up to provide protection for our civil liberties by ensuring that the decision to use FISA is at the highest levels of government, which it turns out, of course, are all political appointees.

    And in the context of an election investigation, that’s just not comforting. I don’t think that the president is going to be satisfied to hear, oh, no, President Obama didn’t wiretap you, Sally Yates did.

    JOHN YANG: I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there.

    Stewart Baker, Representative Adam Schiff, thank you very much for joining us. I’m sure we will be returning to this topic again.

    STEWART BAKER: It was a pleasure.

    The post What’s behind Trump’s charge that Obama ordered Trump Tower wiretap? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A member of the flight crew of an Emirates flight from Dubai arrives after U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 30, 2017.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTX2YWCS

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    JOHN YANG: As we heard, today’s revised travel ban was drafted by the Trump administration to stand up in court after the first one was rejected by federal courts.

    But critics still question its constitutional, amid a broader debate over whether it will really make the country safer.

    Here again, Jeffrey Brown.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we are joined by Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Obama. He also served as a national security adviser for the Justice Department in the Clinton administration. And Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, he was a top adviser to President Trump during his 2016 campaign and through the transition.

    Welcome to both of you.

    Let me start with you, Kris Kobach.

    The first attempt failed in the courts. What do you see as the key change that might allow this one to pass?

    Mr. Kobach, can you hear me?

    KRIS KOBACH, Kansas Secretary of State: Now I can hear you, yes. Go ahead.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK. All right. Sorry about the technical problem.

    My question was that the first order didn’t pass muster. What’s the key change here that you think allows this one?

    KRIS KOBACH: Well, if you look at the two of them side by side, this one is very different in the way it’s packaged and put together.

    It reads like a legal brief, rather than like a traditional executive order. It’s filled with case — with citations to statutes. It is filled with factual assertions that the Ninth Circuit said it was lacking.

    And so it also goes very specifically point by point through the things that the Ninth Circuit hypothesized could cause a due process issue. So it really — it’s tailor-made to the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

    And I think this order, if it were challenged in the Ninth Circuit, it would be the most activist judicial venue for it, I think it will survive. And, of course, if it survives the Ninth Circuit, it will survive anywhere else too.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Neal Katyal, will it survive? What do you see?

    NEAL KATYAL, Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General: It won’t survive.

    I think Kris is just about as right this time as he was last time, on January 30, when he said — quote — “Trump has rock-solid legal authority. These cases are losers.”

    He was wrong then. He is wrong now.

    He is right that this reads like a legal brief, but it reads like a bad legal brief. It ignores what Congress has said in 1965 in its landmark act, which is, you can’t discriminate on the basis of nationality.

    And to attack the Ninth Circuit as being activist, as he said, is, I think, really the wrong way to go. It echoes what President Trump said about so-called judges and so on. Every time they lose a case, they disagree.

    But these are rock-solid American values that the challengers are standing up for.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One of the challenges had been on constitutional grounds. In this case, is it still a Muslim ban, the way it was before, given the change in language?

    NEAL KATYAL: It is.

    There are some changes. In this new executive order, it does say: We don’t intend to discriminate against Muslim.

    But the Supreme Court has been very clear that just because a government says that — they can always say, we don’t intend to discriminate on the basis of religion.

    You have to go back to look at the history of this. And if it’s a pretext for discrimination, as this sure looks like, then it is going to fall in the courts for that reason.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what about that, Mr. Kobach, the Muslim issue specifically, and then also that this new law, this new order still distinguishes by nationality?

    KRIS KOBACH: Well, if you look at the text of the order, it’s quite clear that it has nothing to do with religion. Indeed, it says that special protection in our refugee program is afforded to those who are members of minority religions, including in cases where the minority religion is the Muslim religion.

    If you look at the selection of the six countries, you have got dozens of other countries around the world that are majority Muslim countries that are not selected for special treatment. And, furthermore, this new order calls for a review of all of the countries on the planet to see if they too should be added to the special list.

    So, to characterize this as a Muslim ban is just simply false. It is based on facts about these six countries that make them hotbeds of terrorism. And those facts are listed in the order.

    As for Neal’s point about somehow this being against what Congress has said, I would direct him to the United States Code Title 8, Section 1182-F, which says the president may, if he finds the entry of certain aliens detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may suspend or bar the entry of those aliens.

    That’s exactly what the president did. The statutory grounds for this are very strong. That’s why the challenge had to be based on a due process constitutional ground. And so that’s what we really should be debating. Can they make a constitutional challenge on this one?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you, Neal Katyal.

    That, in part, goes to this attempt time around to fill in the security justifications, right?

    NEAL KATYAL: So, two things.

    First of all, Kris isn’t reading to the whole statute. First of all, there’s a later statute passed in 1965, 13 years after the one he read, and this says — quote — “No person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of that person’s nationality.”

    That’s later. And the other part of that law that he read, Section 1182, Congress later implemented — later said that, in order to ban someone on the basis of terrorism, you have to have reasonable grounds on an individualized basis. That’s not what the president did.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you briefly, though, how much — doesn’t it come down to how much deference the executive is granted when it comes to national security and immigration?

    NEAL KATYAL: Sure.

    And I used to stand up and defend the United States on national security grounds all the time. This one is a very hard one to defend, because there isn’t the evidence that you need this now. Indeed, the evidence Kris is referring to that was in the executive order is from 1979 and 1984.

    So, the idea that you need this magically now is, I think, a very hard argument for courts to accept, particularly given the history of this particular ban. This has been a Muslim ban from the start.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kris Kobach, what’s your response?

    KRIS KOBACH: Well, the description in the executive order is not from 1979 or 1983. It talks about conditions on the ground in those six countries right now.

    I would also add that, since 9/11, we have had 53 terrorist from those six countries either arrested or convicted of terrorism-related crimes who have entered using those visas from those countries since then. So, this is a very present threat right now.

    And so, again, the statutory grounds are very strong. I think Neal has to admit that. But the debate about is, is there a due process violation? And the Ninth Circuit kind of had to bend over backwards and imagine hypothetical cases where somebody might be denied their day in court.

    But this order says, look, you are going to get your day. If you’re in the United States illegally, you are still going to be able to make your claims in front an immigration judge.

    And so I think it’s just going to be a much harder lift for the attorneys trying to challenge this. Will they challenge it? I’m sure they will.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK. We’re out of time.

    But, Neal, harder to challenge, but the challenges will come, in a word, right?

    NEAL KATYAL: And they’re not hard. As President Trump says, see you in court.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK.

    Neal Katyal, Kris Kobach, thank you both very much.

    NEAL KATYAL: Thank you.

    The post Is Trump’s revised travel ban constitutional? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN YANG: In the day’s other news: The U.S. Supreme Court said it won’t hear a case on transgender bathroom use in public schools after all. A lower court had ruled in favor of a Virginia teenager who wanted access to the boys’ bathroom.

    Since then, the Trump administration rolled back federal guidelines supporting that stance. Today’s action sends the case back to the lower court for further review.

    In a separate case, the high court ruled that ferreting out racial bias can override the sanctity of jury deliberations. The justices ruled 5-3 for a man convicted on sex charges in Colorado. He argued that a juror’s anti-Mexican comments tainted his trial. He can now seek a new trial.

    North Korea successfully test-launched four more missiles this morning, raising new alarm. They were fired from northwest of Pyongyang and flew an average of 620 miles. Three of them landed in Japanese waters. Japan condemned the launches, as did the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

    CHO JUNE-HYUCK, South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman (through translator): This provocation clearly reveals the North Korean regime’s reckless willingness to continue its nuclear and missile developments, despite unified warnings from the international community. North Korea should realize that its frenzied obsession with only result in self-isolation and self-destruction.

    JOHN YANG: The North Korean missile tests coincided with a joint U.S.-South Korean military drill.

    In Yemen, the U.S. kept up a new air campaign against al-Qaida militants over the weekend. Witnesses say suspected U.S. drones attacked in two provinces, going after a training camp and other targets. Separately, the Pentagon confirmed that a U.S. airstrike last week in Yemen killed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee.

    A retired policeman in the Philippines testified today that President Rodrigo Duterte was linked to nearly 200 killings when he was a mayor. The victims allegedly included political opponents, and were carried out by a death squad. The retired officer appeared as part of a Senate investigation into extrajudicial killings in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for 22 years.

    ARTURO LASCANAS, Retired Police Officer (through interpreter): I can’t make myself take to my grave these dark and evil secrets from my life born out of my obedience to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s orders and to his campaign against criminality and illegal drugs. I had blind obedience and loyalty to the point that I was indirectly involved in killing my two brothers.

    JOHN YANG: Duterte brought his anti-drug campaign to the presidency eight months ago. Since then, more than 8,000 people have been killed nationwide.

    Back in this country, two the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, told CNN he’d consider separating women and children who cross the Mexican border illegally in order to deter those crossings.

    And in a speech, Housing Secretary Ben Carson caused a stir. He praised immigrants’ work ethic and said there were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships. A spokesman said Carson didn’t mean to equate immigration and slavery.

    The Pentagon says it’s investigating reports of U.S. Marines sharing nude photographs of female Marines, veterans and others. Some of the images were taken without the women’s knowledge. They appeared on a private Facebook page called Marines United. It had some 30,000 members.

    And on Wall Street, stocks were broadly lower, due in part to China trimming its economic growth outlook. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 51 points to close at 20954. The Nasdaq fell 21 points, and the S&P 500 slipped nearly eight.

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    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly delivers remarks on issues related to visas and travel after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a new travel ban order in Washington, U.S., March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTS11OI1

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN YANG: In the day’s other lead story: The government is girding tonight for a new legal battle on its second try at a travel ban. The new order, issued today, again targets a group of mostly Muslim nations. But it makes critical changes in a bid to try to avoid the issues that led courts to block it.

    Jeffrey Brown begins our coverage.

    JEFFREY BROWN: President Trump signed the original ban at the Pentagon after just a week in office. Today’s signing was done in private, with only a single still photo released. It fell to Cabinet members to make the announcement, starting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe. As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually reevaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Unlike the original order, this new one removes Iraq from the original list of seven nations whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S., keeps out Syrian refugees for 120 days, instead of indefinitely, and drops any explicit exception for Christian and other religious minorities in Muslim nations.

    In addition, it’s made explicit this time that valid visa holders and foreign nationals with green cards securing their residence in the U.S. are not included in the ban. The first order was effectively halted by federal courts within days of being issued.

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today in an audio-only session that it’s now being revoked.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We continue to maintain that the order was fully lawful, but there were some legal hurdles that we’d have to potentially cross in terms of enjoinment and things like that.

    So, it was discussed with the president Saturday, and he made a decision that this is how he wanted to proceed.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Among other things, federal judges said the original order cited no evidence of an actual threat. The new directive says the FBI is pursuing 300 terrorism-related investigations of individuals admitted as refugees.

    Officials also hope to avoid the chaos at airports when the original order took effect, as people in transit were detained, delayed and expelled without notice.

    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly:

    JOHN KELLY, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary: We are going to work closely to implement and enforce it humanely, respectfully, and with professionalism, but we will enforce the law. So, there should be no surprises, whether it’s in the media or on Capitol Hill.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But opponents showed no sign of backing down. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who successfully challenged the first order, spoke this afternoon in Seattle.

    BOB FERGUSON, Washington State Attorney General: The chaos it inflicted around our country, you all saw it. It wasn’t right. I certainly hope they take way numerous lessons from this experience, but, if they don’t, they can expect us to see us challenging future executive orders as well.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For now, pending court action, the new order is set to take effect March 16.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown.

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    The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington, U.S.   REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

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    JOHN YANG: Moments ago, House Republicans released their bill to meet a key Trump campaign promise, to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

    Some of the key changes include ending direct government subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans to buy coverage. Instead, there will be refundable tax credits to do that. Ending penalties of the individual mandate, and a phase-out of the expansion of Medicaid in 2020, but coverage would continue for a while for those already covered.

    Lisa Desjardins just attended a briefing in the House Ways and Means Committee. She joins me now from Capitol Hill.

    Lisa, some of these proposals are not popular among conservative Republicans, are they?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right, in particular the tax credits. Some Republicans say that’s just another way to giving subsidies to Americans for their health care.

    But the tax credits are a very key component here. The way they would work, John, is any individual who makes $75,000 or less would get some amount of money to help them buy health care, but as a tax credit. It would depend on how old you. The largest tax credit would go to those Americans over 60. They would get $4,000 to help to go to the health care.

    Of course, on the other side, Democrats say this doesn’t do enough to help those populations that can’t afford health care get where they need to be.

    JOHN YANG: And the governors, even some Republican governors, who have used the Obamacare to expand Medicaid, are they going to be happy with the phase-out of that money?

    LISA DESJARDINS: For a couple of years, they will be happy. And then they will have some problems in their states potentially, depending on how this works.

    If you were on the Medicaid expansion, those are basically what they call able-bodied workers, people who are under the poverty threshold, about 138 percent of poverty, people who really can’t afford health care essentially, but don’t fall into other categories of Medicaid.

    Right now, you are able to receive health care through the Affordable Care Act. But you will be able to receive that for the rest of your life if you are enrolled now. You will be grandfathered into this system.

    However, after 2020, there will be no people in that category allowed to join. So, we’re talking basically working-age adults who do not earn much money. You can enroll now up until 2020. You will not be able to enroll in Medicaid after that.

    JOHN YANG: All this, of course, is if it passes and if it passes in the current form.

    Sean Spicer at the White House said the target date for signing this bill would be the Easter recess. How likely is that? How realistic is that, Lisa?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Well, we can just look back at the Affordable Care Act itself.

    It similarly had an early summer, I believe, goal date of being passed. When was it actually signed into law? The next year, 2020 (sic). So, that’s an incredibly ambitious goal, John. The next couple of days will tell us a lot about whether that is even doable. We expect committees to start poring over the details.

    And, as you said, John, there are disagreements not just from Democrats, but from Republicans about the details of this plan.

    JOHN YANG: Lisa Desjardins, who is going to be busy following all those details as they make their way through Capitol Hill, Lisa, thanks a lot.

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    Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    House Republicans released a plan on Monday to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Monday released their long-awaited plan for unraveling former President Barack Obama’s health care law, a package that would scale back the government’s role in health care and likely leave more Americans uninsured.

    House committees planned to begin voting on the 123-page legislation Wednesday, launching what could be the year’s defining battle in Congress.

    GOP success is by no means a slam dunk. In perhaps their riskiest political gamble, the plan is expected to cover fewer than the 20 million people insured under Obama’s overhaul, including many residents of states carried by President Donald Trump in November’s election.

    Republicans said they don’t have official estimates on those figures yet. But aides from both parties and nonpartisan analysts have said they expect coverage numbers to be lower.

    The plan would repeal the statute’s unpopular fines on people who don’t carry health insurance. It would replace income-based premium subsidies in the law with age-based ones that may not provide as much assistance to people with low incomes. The payments would phase out for higher-earning people.

    The proposal would continue the expansion of Medicaid to additional low-earning Americans until 2020. After that, states adding Medicaid recipients would no longer receive the additional federal funds Obama’s law has provided.

    More significantly, Republicans would overhaul the federal-state Medicaid program, changing its open-ended federal financing to a limit based on enrollment and costs in each state.

    A series of tax increases on higher-earning people, the insurance industry and others used to finance the Obama overhaul’s coverage expansion would be repealed as of 2018.

    In a last-minute change to satisfy conservative lawmakers, business and unions, Republicans dropped a plan pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to impose a first-ever tax on the most generous employer-provided health plans.

    Popular consumer protections in the Obama law would be retained, such as insurance safeguards for people with pre-existing medical problems, and parents’ ability to keep young adult children on their insurance until age 26.

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    Gavin Grimm, 17, is photographed at his home in Gloucester, Virginia, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. The transgender teen sued the Gloucester County School Board after it barred him from the boys' bathroom. Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Gavin Grimm, 17, is photographed at his home in Gloucester, Virginia, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. The transgender teen sued the Gloucester County School Board after it barred him from the boys’ bathroom. Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    The Supreme Court will not hear a prominent case on transgender rights, a decision that comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s recent change in guidance on the issue.

    The case involves male transgender student Gavin Grimm, who is seeking to use school bathrooms that align with his gender identity. A lawsuit was filed in 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia against the Gloucester County School Board, the high school where Grimm attends, alleging the school board adopts a “discriminatory bathroom policy” that “effectively expels trans students from communal restrooms and requires them to use ‘alternative private’ restroom facilities,” the ACLU said.

    The court’s announcement means the case heads back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to be reconsidered.

    Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT Project and lead counsel for Grimm, said in a news conference Monday that although the Supreme Court’s decision presents a temporary setback, progress is still possible.

    “This is obviously not what we had hoped for today,” Block said. “In our letter to the Supreme Court, we had emphasized that this is really an urgent situation for transgender students around the country and that deferring resolution of the case for another year or two would impose severe harms on them. That said, I think this is justice delayed, not justice denied.”

    Grimm and his mother previously notified Gloucester High School administrators of Grimm’s medical treatment for severe gender dysphoria. And after permission from school administrators, Grimm used the boys’ restroom for roughly two months. There were no incidents during that time.

    However, the school board adopted a new policy in December 2014 after receiving complaints from parents and residents. The school board’s policy, which passed by a vote of 6-1, denied him access to the boys’ restroom but allowed Grimm to use single-stall unisex restrooms.

    Grimm, who also joined Monday’s ACLU press conference, said he is currently using the nurse’s room and avoids the boys’ restroom whenever possible.

    “When you are in a position where you are individually singled out in an environment where your school board has sent this direct message to you and your peers and community that there’s something about you that deserves to be segregated from the rest of the student body, it can add an extra level of stress and duress,” Grimm said.

    A federal appeals court ruled in favor of Grimm in August 2016, deferring to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX. But in late February, the Trump administration revoked federal guidance that said schools “must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity,” which was interpreted as applying not only to transgender students right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity but also to issues like clothing and prom dates.

    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was at the forefront of the lawsuit challenging the Obama guidance, previously hailed the Trump administration’s rollback on guidelines.

    “Our fight over the bathroom directive has always been about former President Obama’s attempt to bypass Congress and rewrite the laws to fit his political agenda for radical social change,” said Paxton, Reuters reported on Feb. 23.

    The letter from the Trump administration addressed to public schools offers no new guidance; however, the administration did say it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law in the future.

    “I think that the previous administration was making sure through guidance and regulations to be enforcing those statutes to provide an equal education to everyone, regardless of sex, including trans students,” Block said. “Unfortunately, under this administration it looks like we’re on our own and we’ll have to be protecting ourselves in court. But the law says what the law says and a guidance document by the Trump administration can’t change that.”

    There are five other district courts that have ruled in favor of trans kids so far, Block said, and Title IX should speak itself in terms of the relief it provides.

    “The overwhelming majority of courts that have addressed this issue have held that excluding boys and girls who are transgender from using the same facilities as other boys and girls violates either Title IX or the equal protection clause,” Block said. “I think that any school board that is interested in figuring out how to comply with the law would be looking at those court decisions.”

    Grimm said he remains optimistic in spite of Supreme’s Court refusal to budge.

    “It’s disappointing that it’s going to drag this conversation out for longer, which is going to keep trans kids that are in school right now and that are coming into school age in limbo for an extended period of time,” Grimm said. “But, I am still as passionate and happy to be doing this as ever. If it took 10 years, I’d stick with it.”

    Block said next steps include an injunction, retrospective nominal damages and a return to the fourth circuit court.

    READ MORE: Supreme Court says it won’t hear case on transgender bathroom rights

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer places his hand atop a stack of Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) papers next to replace and repeal paperwork produced by House Republicans while addressing the daily press briefing at the White House in D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer places his hand atop a stack of Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) papers next to replace and repeal paperwork produced by House Republicans while addressing the daily press briefing at the White House in D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — After more than 60 votes and seven years of promises, Republicans offered their long-awaited plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

    Now, the real work begins. Republicans must navigate a complicated path to turn their 123-page proposal from legislation to law.

    A look at the process and the politics:

    WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

    Republicans have set an aggressive timetable for moving the bill.

    Two House committees — Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce — plan to take up the legislation on Wednesday. Republican leaders hope the committees will approve the measure this week, allowing the full House to pass the bill before lawmakers leave for the spring recess in early April.

    The legislation will then move to the Senate, where a tighter Republican majority makes the outlook even more uncertain.

    Normally, legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate. But because Republicans hold just 52 seats, they plan to use a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill on a simple majority.

    Even that may be difficult. Senate rules require that any bill passed by reconciliation cannot increase the deficit over the long term.

    Republicans said on Tuesday that they’d not received official estimates on the costs of bill from the Congressional Budget Office.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Tuesday he wants to pass the bill before the April recess, sending it to President Donald Trump for his signature. President Barack Obama signed the health care bill 14 months after entering office.

    A TIGHT MARGIN?

    How the congressional process unfolds will depend on how Republicans maneuver through some complicated intra-party politics.

    Conservative Republicans are worried about the cost of the overhaul, fearing the GOP would essentially be replacing one mandatory federal program with another.

    Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, dubbed an early draft “Obamacare Lite.” On Tuesday, influential conservative groups — Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Freedom Partners — came out against the proposal.

    Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, fear their constituents could lose access to health care.

    Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join John Yang to discuss the origin of and fallout from President Trump’s recent wiretap accusations, as well as how Republican lawmakers and President Trump will have to work to pass a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

    On Monday, Republican senators from Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado and Alaska signed a letter saying the House bill didn’t sufficiently protect “the country’s most vulnerable and sickest” in 31 states that accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage under the law.

    Provisions to reverse taxes on the wealthy and deny federal funding for one year to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women’s health services, could also open swing state lawmakers to criticism.

    Democrats, under pressure from their base to resist every part of Trump’s agenda, are expected to lend little help.

    With no Democratic support, Republicans can’t lose more than two votes in the Senate and 21 in the House.

    That’s a margin that makes even some top Republicans admit their party has little wiggle room.

    “I am going to be very anxious to hear how we get to 51 votes and how the House gets to 218,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, vice chairman of the Senate GOP, told reporters on Tuesday.

    WATCH: How the Obamacare replacement will test Republicans

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    House Speaker Paul Ryan held a news conference at the Capitol today to discuss new legislation proposed by House Republicans to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. PBS NewsHour live streamed the speaker’s remarks.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) addressed the new GOP health care legislation in a news conference today, saying that the bill “keeps our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

    “This is the culmination of a years-long, inclusive process that we’ve been doing here for years,” the speaker said of the new GOP bill.

    READ MORE: What it will take to transform the GOP health care plan into law

    The post WATCH: ‘We made a promise’ to repeal and replace Obamacare, Paul Ryan says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Ginger Krieg Dosier’s inspiration for changing the ground beneath our feet was a seashell she picked up on a beach at 8 years old.

    To understand how, go outside and stand on a sidewalk. OK, look down. Odds are you’re staring at one of biggest contributors of greenhouse gases on the planet.

    Cement is the glue that holds together the stones, pebbles or whatever tough material goes into your concrete bricks and sidewalks. But its production creates more carbon emissions than all the airplanes and ships in the world. Manufacture a ton of cement, and you’ll inject a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Young Ginger wasn’t thinking about such matters when she grabbed the shell from the sand.

    Ginger Krieg Dosier in 1985 during her first time on a beach, marveling and collecting sea shells in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    Ginger Krieg Dosier in 1985 during her first time on a beach, marveling and collecting sea shells in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    “The 8-year-old version of myself was really looking at the beauty of the seashell, but also trying to understand how it was grown underwater,” Ginger Krieg Dosier told NewsHour. “It was so hard and durable. Very similar to your own bones. That was where the seed started.”

    That seed, plus 30-odd years, blossomed into a way to grow (yes, grow!) cement and concrete bricks without emitting carbon dioxide.

    From second bedroom to biocement

    Cement-making accounts for about 5 percent of all industrial and fossil fuel emissions each year. Nonetheless, it’s a sizeable amount — more than all the emissions created by airplanes and ships. The scientific zeitgeist argues that human-made carbon emissions must reach net zero to avoid 2 degrees Celsius of global warming and the destabilization of the Earth’s environment through climate change.

    Krieg Dosier is the CEO and cofounder of bioMASON, a biotechnology startup in Raleigh, North Carolina, that has spent the past four years using bacteria to grow cement and make bricks. This microbial business venture is a departure — and not a microscopic one — from the industry norm.

    BioMASON bacteria poured into red sand to start the biocement-making process. Photo by Matthew Ehrichs

    BioMASON bacteria poured into red sand to start the biocement-making process. Photo by Matthew Ehrichs

    Portland cement, by far the most common variety of the material in the world, starts as a rocky blend of limestone and clay. This mineral mixture gets heated inside a rotating kiln to 2,500 to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Of the two billion tons of CO2 emissions created each year by cement production, half come from fossil fuels burned as an energy source for the kilns. The energy used to bake one ton of cement could power the average U.S. home for more than a month.

    The remaining emissions are due to calcination, a chemical process triggered by heating the limestone to split it into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2). The calcium oxide progresses through a series of reactions to become cement’s binding base, while the CO2 — a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming — enters the atmosphere.

    Cement-making accounts for about 5 percent of all industrial and fossil fuel emissions each year…more than all the emissions created by airplanes and ships.

    Jackson sees three possible options for escaping cement’s emission. One, manufacturers could switch from fossil fuels to renewable power like wind and solar — though that only cuts about half the carbon emissions. Two, scientists could develop technology to recapture carbon from the air, which some are trying to do. Or, the CO2 emissions could be eliminated from the get-go.

    “Anything we could do to reduce it [cement’s carbon emissions] would be helpful,” said Robert Jackson, a Stanford University environmental scientist and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, a research collective that monitors greenhouse gas emissions. “In general, carbon dioxide emissions have been going up from cement because, as we have more people on the earth and countries like China industrialize, we’re producing a lot more cement than we did 10, 20 or 30 years ago.”

    Top 10 producers of cement-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 (in megatonnes of CO2). China produced three times as much cement as the next nine top producers. Photo and data by Global Carbon Atlas

    Top 10 producers of cement-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 (in megatonnes of CO2). China produced three times as much cement as the next nine top producers. Photo and data by Global Carbon Atlas

    A decade ago, Krieg Dosier was contemplating this pollution problem as a freshly minted architect and assistant professor of architecture at North Carolina State University. Her thoughts turned back to seashells.

    Seashells — the protective outer layer made by some marine animals — are composed of calcium carbonate, the hard stuff found in limestone. (Hard corals, your teeth and bones are made of the same material). She wondered if biologically made — or biomineralized — calcium carbonate could replace cement and make concrete bricks.

    When she wasn’t teaching, she conducted side research and landed upon bacteria as a source of calcium carbonate. Microorganisms like bacteria and algae can feed on organic waste — dead corpses, poop — to form limestone deposits.

    All the marine organisms in this picture produce calcium carbonate to harden their shells or exoskeletons. Pictured: brittle star, calico box crab, sand dollar, stony coral, conch, whelk, augers (many), olive, scallop and barnacle. Photo by Ed Reschke/Getty Images

    All the marine organisms in this picture produce calcium carbonate to harden their shells or exoskeletons. Pictured: brittle star, calico box crab, sand dollar, stony coral, conch, whelk, augers (many), olive, scallop and barnacle. Photo by Ed Reschke/Getty Images

    In nature, the process is slow with calcium carbonate-making bacteria. The right conditions may occur once every few years. So Krieg Dosier, along with her husband and fellow architect Michael Dosier, became home brewers of calcium carbonate.

    “My husband and I did a lot of work early on with the process where we had microorganisms growing in our second bedroom,” Krieg Dosier said. “It was a pretty awesome lab. It was a safe lab. We did have ways of sterilizing, ways of keeping the culture alive in incubators.”

    By that time, the Dosiers had moved to the United Arab Emirates to teach architecture at a university. The location provided plentiful sand, raw material for making bioconcrete. “There’s not a lot of uses for sand that’s that fine, so it became a good testing material for us,” Krieg Dosier said.

    After years of toil and 111 failed experiments, the Dosiers landed on the right brewing conditions for bioMASON cement.

    BioMASON’s innovation hinges on a rod-shaped bacteria called Bacillus. They use a Bacillus strain that’s naturally occurring (no genetic modification) and it doesn’t cause disease. This particular microbe is found everywhere, including inside limestone caves.

    BioMASON's "microorganism mat" -- a collection of Bacillus bacteria stitched together by exuded calcium carbonate. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    BioMASON’s “microorganism mat” — a collection of Bacillus bacteria stitched together by exuded calcium carbonate. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    “The organism creates a microenvironment that enables the formation of this calcium carbonate [limestone] crystal,” said Michael Dosier, chief technology officer at bioMASON and Ginger’s husband. “That’s effectively how it’s evolved in nature over billions of years.”

    But rather than take months or years to harden, bioMASON’s bacteria cement finishes the deed in two to three days. The whole process happens at room temperature, without the need for burning fossil fuels or calcination.

    “If you started with the same raw materials, and didn’t have to cook the limestone to a couple thousand degrees, it would definitely reduce the carbon dioxide emissions,” Jackson told NewsHour via Skype. “The notion of using bio-products is happening all around the world and for many industrial processes, so I think it’s a good idea to try.”

    Left: Glass beads (1 millimeter in diameter) covered by bioMASON bacteria (imperceptible at this magnification) and stitched together by biocement. Right: Magnified version of left reveals biocement as it coats glass beads. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    Left: Glass beads (1 millimeter in diameter) covered by bioMASON bacteria (imperceptible at this magnification) and stitched together by biocement. Right: Magnified version of left reveals biocement as it coats glass beads. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    BioMASON’s microbe not only skips the high heat, it also absorbs CO2 from the air to make the calcium carbonate, Ginger said. While we’re standing in inside one of bioMASON’s labs, Michael squirts a bit of calcium into bacteria primed in a proprietary chemical cocktail. Calcium carbonate crystals form almost instantaneously.

    “The calcium carbonate literally forms around the cell’s microorganism, basically encapsulating them in between the grains of sand,” Ginger said. “So you’re literally stitching them together and filling in between the grains of sand with bio-cement.”

    Biobricks worldwide

    Inside bioMASON’s labs, a handful of architects experiment with aesthetic elements of the bricks. The biocement itself carries an off-white, almost translucent crystal that readily absorbs colors and adapts to different textures. They can make bricks look old and burnt without using fire, or ones with logos that glow in the dark. Some bricks feature drawings that only appear in the rain.

    To make bricks, bioMASON engineers start by pouring a pitcher of primed bacteria into a mixer full of foundation material, such as sand or pebbles. Paddles churn the concoction, so the bacteria slip evenly in-between the particles of the rocky material.

    After pressing, bioMASON bricks spend three to four days hardening inside shipping containers. Photo by Matthew Ehrichs

    After pressing, bioMASON bricks spend three to four days hardening inside shipping containers. Photo by Matthew Ehrichs

    Next, the tank holding the brew tips upward, and the goop slides into machine called “the hopper.” The wet biocement funnels into the hopper’s brick molds, and a hydraulic plate covers them. Flip a switch, and the plate presses into the material while vibrating furiously.

    “Imagine you put sand into a cup, and it just sits kind of fluffy,” Michael said. “But if you put a plate on top and vibrate it, those particles shift around until they nestle and find their home.”

    The nestled bricks slide out of the hopper like bread rolls and get rolled into a shipping container, where they harden over three to four days. A few from each batch run through a series of quality control tests — erosion, freeze/thaw — to meet international industry standards.

    “We figure out how much force can be applied to the material itself” through compression, Ginger said in one of bioMASON’s labs.

    Installation of bioMASON bricks in San Francisco courtyard. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    Installation of bioMASON bricks in San Francisco courtyard. Photo courtesy of Ginger Krieg Dosier/bioMASON

    As she spoke, engineer Stephen “The Crusher” McAllister applied 26,000 pounds of force to a shoe box-sized block before it broke. This degree of stress would occur in a thin-facing brick wall of a three-story building. Preliminary installations — two courtyards in San Francisco and a series of small walls — are testing the bricks’ resilience in the real world.

    BioMASON is now looking to scale up production. The company moved in May 2016 to a large warehouse on the outskirts of Raleigh, where their 20-person team churns up to 10,000 bricks at a time with the hopper. Ginger said the costs of biocement are difficult to compare with regular cement, given the source components are different, but right now in general, bioMASON production runs at parity or below.

    In the future, the company plans to put the entire assembly line — mixer, hopper and all — into shipping containers, so that biocement can be made anywhere.

    “We don’t need a fuel source. We don’t need high energy, so we are looking at being able to detach,” Ginger said. And by doing so, they may cement a brighter future for our planet.

    Editor’s note: BioMASON receives a small business grant from the National Science Foundation. The NSF is also a supporter of the PBS NewsHour.

    The post Want to cut carbon emissions? Try growing cement bricks with bacteria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    David Shulkin testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary on Capitol Hill in D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    David Shulkin testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during his confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Veterans Affairs secretary on Capitol Hill in D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is urging Congress to act quickly to temporarily extend a troubled program aimed at widening veterans’ access to private-sector health care, pointing to the growing demand for medical treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Shulkin was to testify Tuesday on the level of private-sector care the federal government pays for, a politically charged issue that opponents say could lead to greater privatization.

    Shulkin acknowledges that the choice program put in place in 2014 following a wait-time-for-care scandal was hastily done, leading to problems of its own in providing timely care. But Shulkin says improvements to the program have resulted in more than 1 million out of 9 million veterans in the VA system now using some choice care, with data pointing to even greater use this year.

    The physician, who previously served as VA’s top health official in the Obama administration, says Congress must hurry to extend the choice plan beyond its Aug. 7 expiration date, or the VA will lose nearly $1 billion leftover in that account. That money can provide stop-gap care until a broader revamp is designed, he said.

    “There is no time to waste,” Shulkin said in prepared comments to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Many veterans are using the choice program today, and it is important to continue to care for and support those veterans.”

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was introducing legislation Tuesday with Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., the leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, that would extend the choice program until its money runs out, likely in early 2018. The bill would also call for fixes in the program to help speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records.

    “Have no doubt: If we let this program lapse, more than a million veterans will lose their ability to visit a community provider, the VA system will once again become overwhelmed, and veterans will go back to the pre-scandal days of unending wait-times for much-needed care,” McCain said in prepared remarks.

    He said he would work with others, including Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House panel, to help decide next steps, noting that the VA has said it could take two years to implement a broader overhaul.

    Major veterans organizations and Democrats are generally not opposed to continuing the choice program as a stopgap. But they are closely watching the VA’s subsequent overhaul, after President Donald Trump’s transition team signaled in late December it was weighing a “public-private” option. Under that plan, veterans could get all their medical care in the private sector, with the government paying the bill. Veterans groups generally oppose that as a threat to the viability of VA medical centers.

    After Trump selected him to be VA secretary, Shulkin has said he would not privatize the VA. He expressed support for an “integrated model,” without sketching the full details.

    He says he wants to eliminate restrictions in which veterans may seek outside care only in cases where they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility. But Shulkin also says he wants the VA to handle the scheduling and “customer service” for those outside appointments, something that McCain has indicated could be problematic.

    The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, recently reassigned a “high-risk” rating to VA’s health programs, citing in particular problems with its choice program. In prepared testimony, Randall Williamson, GAO’s health care director, said veterans could potentially wait up to 81 days to receive outside care due to bureaucratic problems, in contrast to a stated goal of 30 days or less.

    Currently, more than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private-sector, up from fewer than 20 percent in 2014, as the VA’s 1,700 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care.

    READ MORE: Four things Trump can do to improve mental health care for veterans

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    French artist Abraham Poincheval poses inside his artwork Pierre ("Stone") in Paris, France, February 22, 2017, before entering the rock as part of his project to live inside for a week. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSZSZ9

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    NewsHour shares web small logoIn our NewsHour Shares series, we show you things that caught our eye recently on the web. What about you? Leave your suggestions in the comments below, or tweet to @NewsHour using #NewsHourShares. We might share it on air.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our NewsHour Shares.

    French artist Abraham Poincheval makes a living by performing unexpected feats of endurance and isolation. His latest work, stone, was no different.

    The NewsHour’s Julia Griffin explains.

    JULIA GRIFFIN: For an entire week, Abraham Poincheval was quite literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. In his latest solo act, the performance artist stepped inside a body-shaped nook carved into two halves of a giant limestone rock, and sealed himself in.

    The goal, he said beforehand, was to become the beating heart of a massive boulder.

    ABRAHAM POINCHEVAL, Performance Artist (through interpreter): The purpose is to feel the aging stone inside the rock. There is that flow, that coming and going between myself and the stone.

    JULIA GRIFFIN: To survive his confinement, Poincheval lived off water, dried meats and cartons of soup. His rock was outfitted with air holes, a heart rate monitor and, in case you are wondering, a small amount of storage for bathroom waste.

    For seven days, spectators viewed Poincheval on a TV monitor, and responded with mixed reactions.

    MAYLIS BOXBERGER, Spectator (through interpreter): It is rather extraordinary. We are asking ourselves, what will he do for a week? How will he live?

    FRANCINE NICOLAS, Spectator (through interpreter): It is a happening. That is how I see it. There is no art present there.

    JULIA GRIFFIN: His captivity complete, the artist emerged dazed, but happy. And a quick medical check later, he reflected on his entombment.

    MAYLIS BOXBERGER (through interpreter): I thank the stone very much for having been so enthusiastic about welcoming, and I think that it took great care of me. There are very big moments of loss of oneself, where suddenly it is, bam, and you no longer know where you are, but you are there. That’s what is great.

    JULIA GRIFFIN: In his next artistic endeavor, Poincheval plans to sit on a dozen eggs for 20 days to see if they hatch.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Julia Griffin.

    The post What it’s like to curl up inside a rock for a week appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at the intersection between fiction and reality.

    As investigations continue into Russia’s role in last year’s election, the highly acclaimed TV series “The Americans” has been giving an intimate fictional look at the old Cold War and the lives of two Russian spies working undercover in the U.S.

    The show’s fifth season gets under way tonight on the FX Channel.

    William Brangham recently went visited the set.

    KERI RUSSELL, Actress: We’re going to watch the Olympics. Want to watch with us?

    ACTRESS: No thanks.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: On the surface, they appear to be a typical American family from the 1980s, mom and dad raising two kids in a house in the suburbs.

    But Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are anything but typical. They’re undercover KGB agents, living in secret in America, gathering intelligence for the Soviet Union. They’re the central characters in the FX series “The Americans.”

    Set at the tail end of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan is president, the Soviet Union is still intact, and nuclear tensions are at a peak.

    KERI RUSSELL: How does it feel to be alive, but know that you’re going to die?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As Soviet spies, the Jennings do whatever it takes, lie.

    MATTHEW RHYS, Actor: I can’t see a thing without them, and I need to see you.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Seduce, or dispatch anyone that stands in their way.

    JOE WEISBERG, Creator, “The Americans”: They’re working to undermine America, to fight against Ronald Reagan, to promote the Soviet cause and defend the motherland.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: “The Americans” is the brainchild of former CIA officer Joe Weisberg, who spent years working as a Russia expert. He teamed up with longtime TV producer Joel Fields to create the series, which is loosely based around the true story of a set of Russian spies caught operating in the U.S. in 2010, and deported.

    JOE WEISBERG: It’s about trying to live and work and prosper while working deep undercover, while lying to your family, and what that’s like, the strains that that puts on a marriage. It’s very much a show about a marriage. The strains it puts on a family, because it’s very much about lying to your kids, and what that does to you as spies.

    KERI RUSSELL: Most of what you have heard about the Soviet Union isn’t true.

    JOE WEISBERG: It tries to say to the audience, look at these people who we think of as the enemy, right? They’re KGB spies. There was nobody we hated worse than the KGB. Those were the worst of the worst, the most evil people you could find. And we’re trying to take those people and say, well, is that all they were? Or can we actually relate to them?

    KERI RUSSELL: Well, what we do isn’t so different from what you do.

    JOEL FIELDS, Executive Producer, “The Americans”: It’s also a show about how we’re all spies in our own lives, how we all can’t really know the other people in our lives, and have to trust what we see and what we experience with other people.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The struggle of living dual lives is a recurrent theme in the series, one beautifully portrayed by actors Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.

    MATTHEW RHYS: Don’t you enjoy any of this sometimes? This house? The clothes? All these beautiful shoes?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Like here, when the comforts of capitalism test their communist beliefs.

    MATTHEW RHYS: It doesn’t make you bad at what you do. It just makes you a human being.

    KERI RUSSELL: We have to live this way for our job, for our cover.

    JOE WEISBERG: Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have both been in America for almost 20 years. And Philip, over that time, had become somewhat Americanized and gone — although he’s still faithful to the Soviet Union and faithful to the motherland, he had become very attracted to America.

    He had gone a little bit soft in that regard. His wife wasn’t like that at all. She was 100 percent completely committed to communism and to the way things were, and to fighting for that cause, no matter what. And she was really more political than he was.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of the things that’s obviously the key for both of you is to create characters that we want to keep coming back to and see every day. But you also have them do awful, awful things, oftentimes to innocent people, kill them, treat them terribly.

    Have you ever felt a tension, thinking, we can’t have them go this far because it will turn the audience off?

    JOEL FIELDS: Well, first season, we asked that question really overtly to ourselves as writers. And we can take all of those moral hypotheticals and just create the dramas for the characters.

    Would you poison a child in order to save your country, if you felt that you could and that tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people could live in peace if you paid this — if somebody made that sacrifice?

    JOE WEISBERG: Well, a lot of the drama of this show has been about watching Philip’s answers to those questions change, while Elizabeth’s have remained the same.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Since the show began filming, Rhys and Russell have become a couple in real life as well. Russell’s worked in both films and TV, first achieving fame as the lead in the TV series “Felicity” in the late ’90s. Rhys is a Welsh actor, having also spent a career in TV and movies.

    We talked at the premiere for the new season of “The Americans,” and I asked how they humanize characters who are forced to do such terrible things.

    You want us to love you. You want us to come back and see you every week and to portray yourselves as decent people, and yet we also have to see you do these awful things. Is it difficult to manage that balance?

    MATTHEW RHYS: Yes, I think landing the — the show in a place that’s credible has always been the challenge of it, for the exact reasons you say. And that’s what I have always slightly struggled with, is that, you know, we kill people and then we make, you know, the school lunch and the school run.

    KERI RUSSELL: I think, at its core, it really is a relationship and family drama, and the spy stuff makes it a television show.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With new tensions between Russia and the U.S. triggering what many are calling a second Cold War, the creators defend their nuanced portrayal of Russian espionage.

    What has it been like to watch tensions between the U.S. and Russia suddenly surge back to the fore, when you have got this show under way?

    JOE WEISBERG: It’s been disheartening, upsetting, shocking.

    I don’t have any good words to describe it. I can’t think of one good thing about it. You know, as we talked about endlessly at the beginning, telling a show where you try to humanize the enemy and say they’re just like us in so many ways is easy to do at a time when the enemy is no longer considered the enemy. That’s a very fruitful environment to do that in.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Soviet Union is this distant thing that we know of, the Reagan era.

    JOE WEISBERG: Yes. That’s — that’s all over.

    JOEL FIELDS: I actually think — I can’t believe I’m going to say this — what better time to humanize Russian espionage than the time that we’re the victims of it? You know, that’s the time when you’re most inclined to dehumanize.

    And also, for me, one of the most dangerous things we can do when under attack is to dehumanize the enemy.

    JOE WEISBERG: Because, as Joel said, they’re soldiers. Soldiers do horrible things. They kill people. They blow people up. How they deal with it and what happens in their own conscience is what was interesting to us. And that’s what we have really continued to explore throughout the whole series.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And that series continues. Season five of “The Americans” begins tonight on the FX Channel.

    For the PBS NewsHour,  I’m William Brangham in New York.

    The post ‘The Americans’ sees a perfect moment to humanize Russian espionage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo Illustration by Getty Images.

    Photo Illustration by Getty Images.

    An hour before her dinner guests were set to arrive, Philippa Hughes was surprisingly prepared. “The entire menu tonight is red and blue themed,” the 48-year-old art curator said giddily as she laid out a platter of blue corn chips, red grapes and blue cheese. Her colorful apartment in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, D.C. was filled with the smell of roast beef; a pot of linguine simmered on the stovetop.

    It was the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration in late January, and Hughes was about to welcome some Trump-supporting strangers into her home, to better understand their perspective and share her own concerns. “After the election, it became clear that I didn’t understand a lot of people in this country,” Hughes, a staunch Democrat, told me as she waited for her guests to arrive. “How could someone vote for a man I find so abhorrent? And what the hell is in store [over the] next four years with this man as our President?”

    Like so many liberals, Hughes had watched Trump’s rise in 2016 with a sense of bewilderment and frustration. As she searched for answers in his victory, Hughes realized her confusion stemmed in part from the fact that she had never held a meaningful face-to-face interaction with a Trump supporter.

    Though Hughes does not live far from the White House, no one in her inner circle supported the man who was about to be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president. In fact, Hughes and her friends were planning to attend the Women’s March the day after the inauguration.

    But on this evening, Hughes was hosting a dinner with six people on opposite sides of the country’s political divide: three Trump voters who supported his agenda, and three Clinton supporters who feared the worst from a Donald Trump presidency.

    Philippa Hughes kicked off the dinner by holding up a baguette and asking everyone to “break bread together.” Photo by Rhana Natour

    Philippa Hughes kicked off the dinner by holding up a baguette and asking everyone to “break bread together.” Photo by Rhana Natour

    Hughes’s guest list was eclectic, and included some people Hughes had known for years. She had worked with one of the Trump backers, Tracy Kirby, some 15 years ago. During the election, they reconnected on Facebook, commenting on each other’s political posts. The other Trump supporters on the list were Clark Plaisance, a co-worker of Kirby’s, and Philip Luelsdorff, 51, a native Washingtonian who owns a home remodeling business that “makes ugly things beautiful,” as he described it. Luelsdorff, like Plaisance, was a complete stranger to Hughes. He had read about her upcoming dinner experiment on a local blog and reached out to her on Twitter to ask if he could attend.

    The guest list also included Teka Thomas, 41, an attorney and friend of Hughes who is African-American and thinks of himself as a political news junkie; Jade Woods, a psychotherapist who moved to D.C five years ago from California; and Craig, a 38-year-old openly gay investment banker who asked that his last name not be used. Craig told me he would consider voting for a centrist Republican candidate, but couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump in 2016.

    The political divides in the group were clear, and reflected the nation as a whole. According to a Pew Research poll released earlier this year, 86 percent of Americans believe the country is more divided than it has been in the past, the highest figure since the question was first asked in 2004. (At the same time, a majority of respondents seemed optimistic about the future: only 40 percent said they expected the country would be as politically divided five years from now).

    But Hughes said she wanted to avoid the partisanship she witnessed daily on social media and television. Instead, she saw the evening — the second in what she hoped would become a series of dinners with guests from both sides of the aisle — as a homespun experiment in civility, a mini-focus group convened to wrestle with some key questions facing Americans in the era of Trump: Is the country dangerously divided? Are there any areas of agreement? And perhaps most importantly, where does the nation go from here?

    In interviews before the dinner, several of the guests seemed confident the rancor and division from the campaign had started to recede, and would melt away once six reasonable, friendly adults got together to talk politics around Hughes’ dinner table. Hughes also seemed optimistic. As she put it, “You can’t be rude to someone who just cooked for you.”

    That assumption was about to be put to the test.

    “You can’t be rude to someone who just cooked for you.”

    Tracy Kirby and Clark Plaisance — two of the three Trump supporters — were the first to arrive. The co-workers had driven up from from Richmond, Virginia, about two hours south of the capital. Kirby said she was motivated by a desire to “help fix the divide,” and make a case to Hughes’ liberal guests that Clinton supporters should give Trump a chance in his first months in office. Kirby also brought an unapologetic and humorously self-aware attitude. “Yes,” she told me, unprompted, in an interview days before the dinner, “I am a white, educated woman who voted for Donald Trump.”

    Clark Plaisance was Tracy’s reluctant date for the night. A staunch conservative from deep-red Louisiana, Plaisance was hesitant to tag along, thinking that both of them would be attacked for their views at a gathering in left-leaning Washington, D.C. The liberals Hughes had invited would probably assume he was “a dumb redneck or a dumb cajun that has nothing to do but believe in white supremacy and white power,” he told me ahead of the dinner. “And that is so far from the truth.”

    Yet as he introduced himself to Hughes, Plaisance had none of the trepidation he displayed to me over the phone. He quickly gifted his host a bottle of Viognier from the Trump Winery, and they both chuckled. Hughes set it down unopened. The rest of the guests arrived soon after.

    Hughes kicked off the dinner by holding up a baguette and asking everyone to “break bread together.” The icebreaker and shameless wordplay did its part: her guests responded with nervous laughter. The social experiment, and meal, was underway. Jobs and the economy were the initial topics of discussion over the first course of red tomato linguine and blue cheese sauce. The men in the room dominated this opening round of the debate.

    "The premise of this dinner is to create some kind of understanding between people who would not normally meet each other I live in a city that voted 96% democrat I don’t know any republicans or Trump supporters," said Philippa Hughes, the dinner’s host.

    “The premise of this dinner is to create some kind of understanding between people who would not normally meet each other,” said Philippa Hughes, the dinner’s host. Photo by Rhana Natour

    “You are expecting to do as well as your father and you can’t and aren’t. It’s emasculating,” said Philip Luelsdorff, the Trump supporter who had heard about the dinner on Twitter. His concerns about economic mobility echoed the fears of the millions of mostly white men like Luelsdorff who voted for Trump. And the economic trend lines, born out by study after study, back up Luelsdorff’s view: the median wage for male workers in the U.S. was higher in 1969 than it is today, according to the Economic Policy Institute; in the last six decades, the share of men working full-time has dropped from 83 to 66 percent.

    In making his case, though, Luelsdorff did not provide much in the way of statistics. An impassioned but unwieldy conversationalist, Luelsdorff used his plainspoken and intense style to present his deeply-held view that the American male’s strong work ethic had been tragically squandered. “You are looking at grown men saying, ‘We want to work, but our job has moved to bum f*** Egypt,’” he said.

    Craig, the self-described “Wall Street Democrat,” saw things differently. A liberal investment banker, he blamed the country’s loss of manufacturing jobs in recent decades on automation, not on the forces of globalization that Trump blasted on the campaign trail. Going forward, the battle for those jobs would be fought with robots, not by Trump trying to wrangle them back from factories in Mexico. His fellow Clinton supporters at the table quickly took up his side.

    “Moving a factory abroad is simply a business calculation and not a public resource issue,” Teka Thomas, the lawyer and Democrat, said. Predictably, the liberal camp argued for things like government-sponsored job training programs and minimum wage increases.

    Luelsdorff agreed in part, but made clear he did not think measures like those could provide immediate relief to anyone seeking a job. As the dispute played out, Jade Woods, a psychotherapist and Hughes’ third Clinton-supporting guest, listened intently, her eyes darting between the men squaring off around the table. Later on, after the dinner, Woods confided to me that she felt this portion of the dinner had devolved into a long “mansplaining” session. But now, as Luelsdorff, Craig and Thomas went back and forth, Hughes had no qualms about piping in.

    “I don’t think anyone here is worried where our next paycheck is coming from,” she said. The comment reflected a popular 2016 election theory on the left: that many Trump voters were not actually working class and had been driven by other factors besides economic anxiety. After all, according to exit polls, Clinton won the majority of the vote among Americans earning under $50,000 a year. But Tracy Kirby, the Trump voter from Richmond and a divorced single mother, objected. “I have a huge mortgage payment I didn’t expect to have,” Kirby said. “I worry all the time about losing my job. I have a child to take care of.”

    The exchange was telling, and underscored why so many Democrats remain baffled at Trump’s continued appeal and resilient polling numbers within his own party. His narrative of economic stagnation and class slippage struck a nerve with millions of Americans, regardless of whether their own grievances had been real or imagined.

    The debate over what was real and what was not — over facts versus “fake news” — spun even further out of control.

    The debate over what was real and what was not — over facts versus “fake news” — spun even further out of control when the conversation turned to a clash over national security and immigration near the end of the dinner.

    The Trump supporters argued that people were coming into the country unvetted, and backed his plans to crack down on illegal immigration. “Obama flew in 80,000 people in two months,” Luelsdorff said. “No way they were vetted!” “What 80,000 people in 2 months?” Craig, the liberal investment banker, responded, clearly exasperated. The men shook their heads, indignant and frustrated — unable to agree on the facts, let alone which policy measures were best for the country. And that was before Woods brought up Trump’s campaign proposal to ban Muslim travelers from entering the country.

    Woods objected to the proposal. At the time of the dinner, Trump was still one week away from signing his first executive order on immigration, which temporarily banned travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations and was blocked by the courts. Earlier this week, Trump signed a new travel ban, which still included six of those seven countries but focused on those seeking new visas. It’s slated to take effect later this month.

    Clark Plaisance, the Louisiana-born Trump supporter, brought a utilitarian view to the idea of a Muslim registry: it was unsavory but palatable if it helped strengthen national security.

    “I am kind of ok with that,” he said.“I would rather everybody in this room be safe and feel comfortable because.”

    Plaisance drew a parallel to the Japanese internment camps during World War Two, a controversial policy that did not go over well with his liberal dinner mates. An argument quickly erupted over whether they were “concentration camps” or “internment camps,” a conversation that threatened to derail the foreign policy debate.

    Hughes attempted to steer the conversation back on track. She said she didn’t fear that ISIS was active in the Washington, D.C. area. To her, ISIS existed in a world far, far away— a foreign policy item in countries like Syria and Iraq. But Kirby said she thought ISIS was a more immediate threat, capable of launching a domestic attack, including possibly in her own community. “There are ISIS sleeper cells in America,” she said, setting off yet another round of arguments.

    “How do you know that?” Craig, one of the Democrats, asked. “How do you know there aren’t?” Kirby shot back.

    With that, the dinner party wound to an end. Several of the participants told me later that they took some comfort in the experiment; debating the issues in person turned out to be more rewarding than fighting with trolls on Facebook. But as the guests left, they seemed just as frustrated as when they had arrived.

    On the way out, I rode the elevator down to the street with Tracy Kirby and Clark Plaisance. Tracy was annoyed the Democrats at the dinner had attacked her facts and feelings on some of the issues she held dear. Teka Thomas, the liberal attorney, told me afterwards he was disturbed by some things the conservative guests had said.

    “It’s getting clear that conservative media is very effective at framing the worldview of many people,” Thomas said. “You are not entitled to choose what are facts.” He added, “we found common language but not common ground.”

    Much has happened since that snowy night in January: executive orders, a legal battle over immigration, a deepening controversy over Russia’s role in the U.S. election. Hughes seems undeterred. She is hosting her next bipartisan dinner party this evening, in an effort to keep the project afloat. But it took longer to plan than the January gathering. This time around, nearly seven weeks into Trump’s presidency, Hughes found it harder to get liberal and conservatives to even consider the idea of coming together for a home-cooked meal. She had hoped for six participants (three from each side of the aisle), but only got five hard RSVPs. Tonight, amidst the political drama swirling just a mile and a half away at the White House, her table will have one empty seat.

    The post This Clinton fan invited Trump supporters for dinner. Healing divides isn’t so easy. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: How child care for the U.S. military families came to be among the best in the country.

    It now serves an estimated 200,000 children. The average service member spends about 9 percent of their income on child care. The average civilian spends 25 percent.

    Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza with our partner Education Week traveled to North Carolina to see what the civilian sector can learn for our weekly series Making the Grade.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Discipline, strength, endurance, traits that define the Marine Corps. They’re also known for babies?

    MARLA TALLEY, Child Care Worker: Marines do two things really, really, really well. They shoot their guns, and they make a lot of babies.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Marla Talley oversees the child care centers.

    MARLA TALLEY: We usually see a great increase in our request for infant care nine months after a unit comes back from a deployment.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Camp Lejeune is one of the country’s largest Marine Corps installations, seven times the size of Manhattan. The child development centers, or CDCs, can accommodate 1,800 children under the age of 5.

    COL. MICHAEL SCALISE, U.S. Marine Corps: Everything that we do as Marines is linked with readiness. CDCS are a part of that.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Colonel Michael Scalise is deputy commander.

    COL. MICHAEL SCALISE: When you think in terms of a Marine that is focused, he’s focused on training, he’s focused on deploying. Anything that he has to worry about, from his family’s standpoint, whether that’s his children or his spouse, or her children or spouse, deviate from that Marine’s ability to focus.

    STAFF SGT. KATHLEEN HARGROVE, U.S. Marine Corps: I start my day at 05:45 at the barracks, which means I have to drop Annabelle off at day care no later than 5:30.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Staff Sergeant Kathleen Hargrove is a single mother.

    STAFF SGT. KATHLEEN HARGROVE: I can’t really use excuses to be late in the Marine Corps. That’s not an acceptable answer. They expect you to be there when you’re told to be.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Across all branches of service, members of the U.S. military have about two million children, more than 40 percent of them under the age of 5. But child care in the military hasn’t always been this good.

    DEBORAH PHILLIPS, Georgetown University: In the ’70s, the military child care system was really a system in crisis. There were very few inspections done of the program, so even basic safety and health wasn’t protected.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Deborah Phillips is a professor of psychology at Georgetown University.

    DEBORAH PHILLIPS: The child care teachers in the military, child care centers were paid on a par with the garbage collectors in the military system.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: The dismal state of child care led to congressional hearings, and eventually the child care budget increased 62 percent.

    Barbara Thompson recently retired from the Pentagon as director of military family readiness.

    BARBARA THOMPSON, Retired Pentagon Director of Military Family Readiness: That was earth-shattering, I would say, for those of us in the military child development system. It gave us the opportunity to hire training and curriculum specialists. It provided federal dollars, so that the cost of care would be subsidized by the federal government.

    DEBORAH PHILLIPS: People have referred to what happened with military child care as a Cinderella story, because you had this system going from a system in crisis to a model for the nation in under five years.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Federal subsidies meant more teachers were hired, they were more qualified, and they were paid better. It’s no surprise, then, 97 percent of military centers are independently certified as high-quality, compared to less than 10 percent of civilian centers.

    WOMAN: This is a loft. And I absolutely love these.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Unlike many civilian centers, where the focus is primarily on health and safety, the military goes one step further.

    MARLA TALLEY: We’re in the business of building brains. It looks like the children are doing nothing but playing, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. But the activities that they have are all designed to promote some portion of that child’s growth and development.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Even infants have lesson plans.

    WOMAN: You want some bubbles?

    We like to watch the bubbles. It helps us work on our focusing and tracking skills and learning that things are here one moment and they’re gone the next.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Educators use every chance to teach, even during mealtimes.

    WOMAN: By pouring, that’s measuring. They’re learning how much milk. Sometimes, they will say it’s full or it’s half. So, they’re learning math.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Because teachers are paid about a third more than their civilian counterparts, there’s very little turnover. The military pays for all their training. This child care system also focuses on the unique needs of military children.

    This is an age where children are forming and solidifying parental attachments. So, when a mother or father leaves for extended periods of time, it can be very upsetting.

    META JACKSON, Teacher: This is when mommies and daddies may leave and go far, far away.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Most children here have had parents who’ve deployed more than once.

    META JACKSON: Now, when your mommies and daddies go away, are you sad?

    A lot of kids will come back and say: Dad don’t want to talk. Dad is not home yet.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Each classroom has a safe space. And teachers help children identify emotions, breathing techniques, and how to ask for help.

    MARLA TALLEY: For a lot of young children, the child care facility that they go to, especially here, becomes the one stable thing in their life during that period of time.

    They can come in here, and they can forget that mom or dad has deployed or that things are a little topsy-turvy at home, because, when I come here, my same friends are going to be here, my teachers are going to be here, I have a routine.

    And that’s really crucial, then, because those children can then take that security back home with them.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: Gunnery Sergeant Craig Skinner and Master Sergeant Bergen Skinner, who have three children in this child care center, say they see evidence every day that their children are learning.

    GUNNERY SGT. CRAIG SKINNER, U.S. Marine Corps: About a week ago, Preston came in, and he actually just wrote his name down. We were doing something and he started spelling his name. And we’re like, OK, so you actually know how to do this.

    MASTER SGT. BERGEN SKINNER, U.S. Marine Corps: They actually helped potty train my children.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: These Marines say child care centers give them the assurance that their children are safe and loved, an assurance most civilian parents have a harder time finding.

    MASTER SGT. BERGEN SKINNER: We both work really long hours. And I can’t explain the feeling that I get when I go pick up my children and they run to me because they’re happy because they had such a great day. They love being there.

    MAN: There’s only four targets out here, four individuals. Make sense?

    MAN: Yes, Sergeant.

    KAVITHA CARDOZA: For Marines and other service members, this peace of mind means more than being just a satisfied parent. It means they can concentrate on their mission wherever it may take them.

    I’m Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week for the PBS NewsHour.

    The post High quality child care gives military families peace of mind appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As we just discussed, WikiLeaks today did publish thousands of pages of what it says are files about the CIA and its hacking activities.

    Jeffrey Brown has our further look.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The material comes from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence. It includes a range of documents from 2013 to 2016 which describe cyber-tools for hacking cell phones, computers, television, and even vehicles.

    The documents also contain computer code. One program, dubbed Weeping Angel, entails infecting Samsung smart TVs, turning them into bugging devices. Another program is aimed at hacking Apple and Android cell phones, undercutting encryption on services like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram.

    WikiLeaks also says these documents show that when the CIA discovered flaws in computer code written by Apple, Google or Samsung, it failed to notify those companies about the vulnerabilities to allow fixes to be made.

    Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times has been covering this, and joins us now.

    Mark, welcome to you.

    So, the CIA hasn’t said much so far. What do we know about the authenticity of the documents and where they came from?

    MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times: Well, we’re still trying to confirm the authenticity.

    We have several people we have spoken to today who say they believe they’re authentic. We have heard nothing thus far from the government indicating that they are not. Some people we have spoken to have said that some of the code names that were cited in the documents are, indeed, legitimate.

    So it does appear at the moment — and I should say at the moment — that they are legitimate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, when you look at the totality, Mark, of all of these cyber-tools that being described, help us understand, what are they aimed at? What is this program about?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, they’re a series of — and we’re talking about thousands of documents that are laying out some of the tools the CIA allegedly has to carry out hacking of any number of different devices, as you said, cars, against foreign adversaries or people overseas.

    I should stress that there is — unlike the Snowden disclosures, there were not specific mentions of where these have been used. But they’re more sort of like the toolkit the CIA has. And it’s pretty expansive, if the documents are to be believed.

    And in terms of where they came from, you asked. I mean, that’s another thing we’re still trying to figure out. WikiLeaks said today that they had a source come to them who was concerned about the use of these tools. We don’t know anything about the source. And there’s a lot of questions still at the moment.

    JEFFREY BROWN: WikiLeaks said that it had redacted some names and some information in its release. But how potentially damaging is this to the CIA?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, again, if they’re confirmed to be true, any revelations about actual capabilities that the CIA or any other intelligence agency has would limit the ability of the agency to continue to do those activities.

    You saw that to a degree with Snowden and others. And so that is where the concern is, that you will have a lot of — these tools may not be used because they’re now revealed. But, again, we have to — we still have to report out exactly, you know, what has been used and, to a large extent, how much of this is actual truth.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, and I realize so much of that is going on.

    I mentioned one particular program, which is the Weeping Angel, using Samsung smart televisions as covert listening devices. But that’s one concrete example that’s come out today.

    MARK MAZZETTI: Yes.

    And the — in a nutshell, the idea was that the Samsung smart TVs have a feature that allowed access to the Internet, and by having this — you’re basically turning this smart feature on. The CIA is turning it into a microphone and allowing eavesdropping in a home.

    And another thing you cited was questions about the ability of the agency’s hackers to sort of sort of bypass traditional encryption and very popular encryption software like Signal or WhatsApp.

    The idea is not that the programs themselves are hacked or compromised. It’s that, if you’re in the phone, if the CIA were to be in the phone, they would be able to get the data before it was then encrypted by these applications.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And just, Mark, in 10 seconds, in a word here, so much of the attention has been on the NSA programs in the past. Is it a surprise to learn that the CIA may have its own program?

    MARK MAZZETTI: Well, it’s pretty well known that the CIA has been building up this capability and are determined to because they see computer hacking and computer cyber-warfare as the future.

    So, they are very much in that game.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, thank you very much.

    MARK MAZZETTI: Thank you.

    The post WikiLeaks publishes purported CIA cyber tools for hacking phones, TVs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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