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

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    Colum McCann. Photo by Rich Gilligan

    Here at the NewsHour Arts desk, we regularly go to figures in the arts to ask for their recommendations on what we should be reading, listening to, or watching this weekend.

    Now that it’s Friday, Irish author Colum McCann, who wrote the National Book Award-winning “Let the Great World Spin” and “TransAtlantic,” shares his perfect afternoon:

    I’d sit in some quiet room with a fire blazing.  I’d pour myself a couple of fingers of Jameson in a nice heavy glass. I’d put on Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s most recent album, “And Now the Weather.” It’s a beautiful album from one of the world’s great fiddle players, as simultaneously experimental as Phillip Glass and as traditional as the great Irish band Planxty. I’d crack open “Lincoln in the Bardo,” the new novel from George Saunders. Anything from Saunders is sure to brighten my world. He’s one of the great voices of our times. He is the sort of writer who is always there when the bread comes out of the oven. I would sit and read and read and read, while the album played on auto-repeat. And I would watch absolutely nothing at all. No television, no movies, no screens of any sort.  Not a damn thing. I would pretend that this world of Trump does not exist for a while and I would luxuriate in the sound and rhythm of music and literature. And then I might pour myself yet another glass…

    Lincoln in the Bardo,” the first novel from American writer George Saunders, who is known for his essays and short stories, was released last month. Saunders sat down with with NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown to talk about the book, a ghost story about grief and love. See that interview below:

    And then listen to “The Finnish Line,” from Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s 2015 album “And Now the Weather”:


    The post Author Colum McCann recommends what to read and listen to this weekend appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A school bus crashed into a home in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania on March 24, 2015. The school bus was carrying nine elementary school students, but no injuries were reported, police said. Photo by Mark Makela/Reuters

    A school bus crashed into a home in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania on March 24, 2015. The school bus was carrying nine elementary school students, but no injuries were reported, police said. Photo by Mark Makela/Reuters

    Dawn Prescott doesn’t recall all the details of when the school bus she was riding on more than 15 years ago careened off a bridge in Omaha, Nebraska, plunged nearly 50 feet into a creek bed, and landed on its side.

    She was a chaperone for the high school band, which was returning from a competition in October 2001. Her son Benjamin, 14, was sitting a few rows up, behind the driver.

    “I remember that I grabbed the luggage rack and was hanging from it,” Prescott, 55, recalled. “Kids were screaming and hurt and in tangled heaps that I stepped over. All I could think of was that I had to get to my son. But when I finally did, I found he was unconscious.”

    Benjamin, along with two other students and a parent, died as a result of the crash. Twenty-six passengers were injured. So was the driver, the only one on the bus who was wearing a seat belt. Seat belts weren’t required on school buses, and the bus didn’t have any for passengers.

    Since then, Prescott, a middle school teacher, has been urging Nebraska lawmakers to require what she says are lifesaving seat belts on new school buses. So far, they haven’t.

    But they’re considering a seat belt bill again this year, and similar legislation has been introduced in at least 19 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That’s far more states than usual — a change some safety experts attribute to a federal recommendation in late 2015 that school buses have seat belts.

    So far, none of the bills — many of which would require that new school buses purchased after a certain date be equipped with seat belts — have been passed. And if history is any indication, many of them will fail amid questions about the seat belts’ effectiveness in preventing death and injury, and whether they are worth the cost to financially strapped school districts.

    Nationwide, only six school-age passengers die in bus crashes each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    For seat belt advocates, there’s little question what states should do. “Kids have to be on these buses, and I think we have to do everything we can to protect them,” said Connecticut state Rep. Fred Camillo, a Republican who is sponsoring a bill that would require seat belts on new buses from model year 2022 on.

    Others aren’t so sure. They point to the good safety records, question whether children can quickly unbuckle and evacuate buses in some emergencies, and balk at the estimated $7,000 to $10,000 cost of adding seat belts to a new school bus already priced at $80,000 to $120,000. Retrofitting buses already on the road would cost even more.

    “Nobody cares more about kids’ lives than I do. That’s my job,” said Rich Casey, transportation director for Bellevue Public Schools in Nebraska. “If I really believed school buses were unsafe with their current configuration, I would be 100 percent behind putting seat belts on school buses. But there is no scientific or empirical data that shows they would offer more protection than the current system.”

    Only six states — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas — have laws requiring seat belts on school buses. In Louisiana and Texas, however, the requirements are contingent upon funds being appropriated by the state, and that hasn’t happened.

    School bus safety

    Safety experts agree that school buses are the safest way to transport students. Every day, about 485,000 buses carry more than 25 million children to and from school and related activities in the U.S., according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents school transportation directors.

    Most of the 301 children killed in school bus crashes from 2006 to 2015 were pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles, NHTSA data show. Only 54 were bus passengers.

    School buses can be equipped with one of two types of seat belts: lap belts that go over the waist or three-point lap and shoulder belts that go across the body and that experts say are much safer.

    Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing 10,000 pounds or less, which are smaller, lighter and built more like cars and vans. They often carry preschoolers or special needs children.

    Federal law doesn’t require them on the big yellow school buses that most students ride. The buses are designed to protect riders through “compartmentalization,” structural safety features such as high, energy-absorbing seat backs and closely spaced seats so children are kept snug like eggs in a carton.

    But those features don’t necessarily protect children during side-impact crashes or high-speed rollovers because passengers don’t always remain within their seating compartment, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which recommends putting three-point seat belts on new buses.

    For many years, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National PTA recommended seat belts on every new school bus.

    But NHTSA, the agency responsible for writing vehicle safety rules, maintained that large buses were adequately protected and didn’t need seat belts. Its position changed in late 2015, when then-administrator Mark Rosekind announced that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt” and that his agency was launching a nationwide effort to reach that goal.

    NHTSA’s turnaround didn’t result in a federal rule mandating seat belts. But it has had an effect in state capitols, said Amanda Essex, an NCSL policy specialist.

    The agency’s reversal, along with the attention paid to a major crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November in which six elementary school students died and 31 were injured, has prompted more legislators than ever to file seat belt bills, Essex said.

    “Typically, this issue comes up in about 10 states each year,” she said. “This year, that number has doubled.”

    John Bonaiuto, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Association of School Boards, which strongly opposed previous seat belt bills, said NHTSA’s new position has changed his group’s attitude this year.

    Bonaiuto said his group now is suggesting that if legislators want to require seat belts, they should consider creating a state fund to help pay for it, at least initially. They also should require seat belts not just on new buses but on current ones, to create the same safety standard, he said.

    Worries about cost

    Despite changes in attitudes, the high cost of paying for seat belts remains a major stumbling block to adopting mandatory laws.

    In Maryland, a legislative fiscal analysis this year concluded that local school systems would need to spend $23.7 million to put three-point seat belts on new school buses from 2019 through 2022.

    In Connecticut, several groups opposing Camillo’s seat belt bill, including state associations representing public school superintendents and school business officials, also have financial concerns.

    “We’re in a very difficult budget situation in Connecticut,” said Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, which opposes the measure. “Requiring seat belts on school buses would be one more new thing where dollars would have to go.”

    McCarthy said her group also worries about the costs that would stem from hiring monitors on buses to ensure young passengers stay buckled up.

    Some national groups are cautious about throwing their support behind mandatory seat belt laws. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by auto insurance companies, favors putting three-point belts on school buses and encourages school districts to do so if they have the money. But it stops short of recommending that states require them.

    Jessica Jermakian, a senior research engineer at the institute, said that mandating them could have unintended consequences.

    Cash-strapped school districts could put off buying new, safer buses, she said. Or they could try to save transportation dollars by changing boundaries for bus service, forcing more students to walk to school or get a ride.

    “That puts children at substantially increased risk of injuries or fatalities if they walk or if their parents are driving them,” Jermakian said.

    Some school transportation experts argue money would be better spent on efforts to prevent fatalities outside the school bus, which are far more common, for example putting cameras on buses to catch “fly by” drivers who illegally pass and strike children trying to cross the street.

    A hindrance to escape?

    Some opponents of mandatory seat belts on school buses also are concerned about their effectiveness during certain types of emergencies.

    They worry that making children buckle up could lead to a disaster if they must evacuate quickly in a fire or the bus is submerged in water.

    “Young children may not be able to unbuckle themselves without assistance, and panicked or disoriented students could be trapped by their belts,” said Danielle Batchelder, business services director for Windsor Public Schools in Connecticut, in her January testimony before a state House committee.

    Utah Republican state Rep. Craig Hall, who sponsored a seat belt bill this year that failed, doesn’t buy the evacuation argument. If a bus catches fire or falls into a lake or pond, he said, it often would be the result of a crash. Seat belts can help protect passengers, leaving them in better shape to escape.

    “Seat belts help in evacuations,” Hall said. “An uninjured child can evacuate much more quickly than an injured or unconscious child.”

    Dawn Prescott, the Nebraska mother whose son died in the 2001 bus crash, has no doubt about the effectiveness. “If my son had a seat belt on, he would be here today,” she said.

    This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

    The post Should states require seatbelts on school buses? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of South Korean President Park Geun-hye by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

    South Korea’s Constitutional Court unanimously ruled to remove impeached President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a corruption scandal, opening her to possible criminal proceedings.

    The decision sparked protests, some of them violent, which resulted in two deaths and about 30 injuries, the Associated Press reported.

    The move puts South Korea into a state of political uncertainty in a region where North Korea is testing missiles and China is warning to act on the U.S. placement of an anti-missile system in South Korea.

    Park was accused of working with her friend Choi Soon-sil to extort tens of millions of dollars from businesses. She had refused to undergo questioning, saying as a sitting leader she was legally immune from prosecution.

    In 2004, South Korea’s parliament impeached another president, Roh Moo-hyun, but the Constitutional Court later reinstated him.

    Park’s “acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust,” acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said, as reported by the AP. “The benefits of protecting the constitution that can be earned by dismissing the defendant are overwhelmingly big.”

    Protesters supporting South Korean President Park Geun-hye clash with riot policemen near the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, in this photo taken on March 10 by Kyodo via Reuters.

    Park’s lawyer disparaged the verdict as coming from a “kangaroo court.”

    Park is expected to move back to her private home in southern Seoul. The country will hold elections to select a new leader within two months.

    The post Court removes South Korean president from office over corruption scandal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo by Portra Images via Getty

    WASHINGTON — Women seeking abortions and some basic health services, including prenatal care, contraception and cancer screenings, would face restrictions and struggle to pay for some of that medical care under the House Republicans’ proposed bill.

    The legislation, which would replace much of former President Barack Obama’s health law, was approved by two House committees on Thursday. Republicans are hoping to move quickly to pass it, despite unified opposition from Democrats, criticism from some conservatives who don’t think it goes far enough and several health groups who fear millions of Americans would lose coverage and benefits.

    The bill would prohibit for a year any funding to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of women’s health services, restrict abortion access in covered plans on the health exchange and scale back Medicaid services used by many low-income women, among other changes.

    Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said the legislation is a “slap in the face” to women. She said it would shift more decisions to insurance companies.

    “You buy it thinking you will be covered, but there is no guarantee,” Murray said.

    House Republican leaders said the bill, which is backed by President Donald Trump, will prevent higher premiums some have seen under the current law and give patients more control over their care.

    “Lower costs, more choices not less, patients in control, universal access to care,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday.

    The abortion restrictions and cuts to women’s health care could draw opposition from some Republican women.

    Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have both said that a prohibition on Planned Parenthood funding shouldn’t be part of the bill. Last month, before the legislation was released, Murkowski told the Alaska state legislature that she doesn’t believe that taxpayer money should go toward abortions but added, “I will not vote to deny Alaskans access to the health services that Planned Parenthood provides.”

    Support from Collins and Murkowski will be crucial once the bill moves to the Senate, since there are 52 Republicans and the GOP will need 50 votes to pass it.

    A look at how the bill would affect women’s health care:



    Republicans have tried for years to block federal payments to the group, but weren’t able to do so with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House. Now that Republican Donald Trump is president, they are adding the one-year freeze in funding to their bill.

    Most GOP lawmakers have long opposed Planned Parenthood because many of its clinics provide abortions. Their antagonism intensified after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes provide fetal tissue to researchers, which is legal if no profit is made.

    Federal dollars comprise nearly half of the group’s annual billion-dollar budget. Government dollars don’t pay for abortions, but the organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control, cancer screenings and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The group has said the vast majority of women seek out those non-abortion services.

    Ryan boasted this week that the bill is a “conservative wish list,” as it “ends funding to Planned Parenthood and sends money to community centers.” Democrats argue that many of the other clinics are already overloaded and would not be able to meet the increased demand for screenings and other services.



    Under Obama’s health law, health plans on the exchange can cover elective abortions, but they must collect a separate premium to pay for them so it’s clear that no federal funds are used. The GOP bill would go further, prohibiting the use of new federal tax credits to purchase any plan that covers abortions.

    That could make it more difficult for women covered under the federal exchange to find a plan that covers abortions at all, because many companies may just drop the abortion coverage if it disqualifies the entire plan from the tax credits.

    Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Democrat, said during the Energy and Commerce Committee’s debate on the bill Thursday that he is concerned those prohibitions will extend to hospitals that do abortions, as well.



    The bill would phase out the current law’s expanded Medicaid coverage for more low-income people that 31 states accepted, which is almost completely financed by federal funds. That could affect women’s health care services, including mammograms and prenatal care, for those who would lose that coverage. The legislation also repeals the requirement that state Medicaid plans must provide “essential health benefits” that are currently required, including pregnancy, maternity and newborn care for women.

    The legislation will still require that private health plans fund the essential health benefits, but those insurers will have more leeway as to how much is covered.

    Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., complained during the committee debate about the current law’s requirements that certain services be covered.

    “What about men having to purchase pre-natal care?” Shimkus said in response to a question from a Democrat who asked him what mandates he was concerned about. “Is that not correct? And should they?”


    Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

    The post Women’s health services face cuts in Republican bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Afghans wait to cross into their home country at the border post in Torkham, Pakistan, on March 7. Photo by Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

    For years, Afghans have fled the violence in their country, seeking asylum in Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East. But over the past year, about 600,000 Afghans have crossed the border back into Afghanistan, coming from Pakistan, Iran and Europe when they are denied asylum.

    Human Rights Watch says Pakistan is using a UN incentive program that gives refugee families a cash grant of $400 to voluntarily return home as a way to pressure Afghans to go back to Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is unprepared to absorb them.

    They are returning to “no homes, no land and no jobs, schools or clinics” and are forced to join the 1.5 million people already displaced by conflict, said Gerry Simpson, senior researcher and advocate with HRW’s Refugee Rights Program.

    Some 10,000-15,000 people use the border crossing in Torkham, Pakistan, each day. Photo by Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

    United Nations High Commission for Refugees spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said at a press briefing last month the organization is concerned that the pace of those returning is outstripping the country’s ability to accept them. She urged donor countries to follow through on their pledges to support the Afghan government.

    Matthew Graydon, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration’s Afghanistan office, said this week from Jalalabad that some of the returning Afghans have been living in neighboring Pakistan for 20 or 30 years, having left during the Soviet conflict and later the Afghan civil war.

    “Many were born in Pakistan or have children who were born in Pakistan. They have a lot of roots there,” Graydon said.

    A Pakistani soldier stands guard at the Friendship Gate border crossing in the town of Chaman, Pakistan. The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has long been a source of tension between the two countries. Photo by Saeed Ali Achakzai/Reuters

    But whether they are looking for better economic opportunities in their home country or feeling pressure to leave Pakistan, they all have basic needs once they cross the border. IOM tries to help by providing food, medical help and a temporary place to stay, he said.

    IOM also is equipping Afghans with mobile phones for a new pilot project, called the Community Response Map. It allows returning Afghans to send text messages or phone calls to indicate whether they need food, shelter, jobs or a place to settle. More than 1,200 people have responded so far.

    “It’s one of the tools that lets us get a clear picture of the returnees. We know when they arrive, but we also want to know where they’re going,” Graydon said. He said IOM shares the information with other organizations so they can work together to provide services, shelters, and infrastructure like schools and clinics.

    This week, the organization has helped provide shelter and winter items to 2,000 families, he said.

    “If people don’t have access to what they need, they’ll move to another place,” and possibly strain the resources of the local communities, Graydon continued. IOM hopes to preempt that by providing them what they need at their chosen destination, he said.

    An Afghan woman holds her passport as she waits at the border crossing at Torkham, Pakistan. Pakistanis have increased security at this entry point, now requiring Afghans to show their passports and visas. Photo by Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

    View more of our Social Entrepreneurship profiles and tweet us your suggestions for more groups to cover.

    The post Facing problems in Pakistan, Afghans return home in droves appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of Alexander Acosta by Marc Serota/Reuters

    MIAMI — Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is expected to face questions at his Senate confirmation hearing about an unusual plea deal he oversaw for a billionaire sex offender while U.S. attorney in Miami.

    Acosta has won confirmation for federal posts three times previously, but he has never faced scrutiny on Capitol Hill for his time as U.S. attorney.

    Critics, including attorneys for some underage victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, say the plea agreement was a “sweetheart deal” made possible only by Epstein’s wealth, connections and high-powered lawyers. Acosta has defended his decisions as the best outcome given evidence available at the time.

    “Some may feel that the prosecution should have been tougher. Evidence that has come to light since 2007 may encourage that view,” Acosta wrote in a March 2011 letter to media outlets after leaving the U.S. attorney’s office. “Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different. But they were not known to us at the time.”

    Senate aides from both parties expect Democrats to raise the case during Acosta’s confirmation hearing Wednesday as an example of him not speaking up for less-powerful people. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

    Sen. Patty Murray, the leading Democrat on the committee, said in a statement she met with Acosta on Thursday and is concerned about whether he would “stand up to political pressure” and advocate for workers as labor secretary. Unlike Trump’s original choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, Acosta is expected to win confirmation.

    The Florida International University law school dean was nominated after Puzder, a fast-food executive, withdrew over his hiring of an undocumented immigrant housekeeper and other issues.

    Acosta, 48, has previously won Senate confirmation as Miami U.S. attorney, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the National Labor Relations Board.

    He declined comment when asked about the Epstein case this week.

    Epstein, now 64, pleaded guilty in 2008 to Florida charges of soliciting prostitution and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which he served 13 months. Epstein was also required to register as a sex offender and pay millions of dollars in restitution to as many as 40 victims who were between the ages of 13 and 17 when the crimes occurred.

    According to court documents, Epstein paid underage girls for sex, sexual massages and similar acts at a Palm Beach mansion he then owned as well as properties in New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands and New Mexico. Prosecutors say he had a team of employees to identify girls as potential targets.

    After an investigation by local police, Palm Beach prosecutors decided to charge Epstein with aggravated assault, which would have meant no jail time, no requirement that he register as a sex offender and no guaranteed restitution for victims.

    Unhappy local investigators went to Acosta’s office, which opened a federal probe and eventually drafted a proposed 53-page indictment that could have resulted in a sentence of 10 years to life in prison for Epstein, if convicted. With that as leverage, a deal was worked out for Epstein to plead guilty to state prostitution solicitation charges and the federal indictment was shelved.

    It didn’t stop there. Epstein’s lawyers worked out an unusual and secret “non-prosecution agreement” to guarantee neither Epstein nor his employees would ever face federal charges.

    Well-known Miami defense lawyer Joel DeFabio, who has represented numerous defendants in sex cases, said he had never heard of such an agreement before Epstein’s came to light. DeFabio said he has had clients with far less egregious sex charges — and far less wealth — who were sentenced to 10 or 15 years behind bars. DeFabio tried to use the Epstein case to argue for more lenient sentences.

    “There still has been no clear explanation as to why Epstein received such preferential treatment,” DeFabio said. “This thing just stinks. The elite take care of their own.”

    The non-prosecution agreement became public in a related civil case, leading two Epstein victims — identified only as Jane Does No. 1 and 2, to file a victims’ rights lawsuit claiming they were improperly left in the dark about the deal. The lawsuit, which is still pending, seeks to reopen the case to expose the details and possibly nullify the agreement.

    Other victims have come forward, including one woman who claimed as a teenager that Epstein flew her around the world for sexual escapades, including encounters with Britain’s Prince Andrew. Buckingham Palace has vehemently denied those claims.

    The Justice Department’s position in the victims’ rights lawsuit is that since no federal indictment was ever filed, the victims were not entitled to notification about the non-prosecution agreement. Settlement talks last fall went nowhere.

    “There will not be a settlement. That case will eventually get to trial,” said Bradley Edwards, attorney for the two Jane Doe victims.

    In his 2011 letter, Acosta defended his decisions as the best possible outcome.

    “Our judgment in this case, based on the evidence that was known at the time, was that it was better to have a billionaire serve time in jail, register as a sex offender and pay his victims restitution than risk a trial with a reduced likelihood of success,” Acosta wrote. “I supported that judgment then, and based on the state of the law as it then stood and the evidence known at the time, I would support that judgment again.”


    Kellman reported from Washington.

    The post Acosta headed for questions on sex offender case at hearing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch the full White House press briefing on Friday.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference Friday, where he discussed the Republican health care plan and questions surrounding former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lobbying last fall.

    When asked about Flynn’s dealings with Turkey, Spicer said Flynn was “unbelievably qualified” and it was up to him to seek legal counsel as the transition team advised.

    When another reporter asked if no evidence of wire-tapping were found, would President Donald Trump apologize to former President Barack Obama for blaming him on Twitter, Spicer said, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

    In response to another question about whether there is a “Deep State” working against President Trump, Spicer said that after eight years of a previous administration, there are some people “burrowed in the government” who continue to espouse its views.

    Spicer also commented on the health care bill working its way through Congress, saying as President Trump meets with lawmakers and outside groups, he wants to listen to their ideas.

    You can listen to the full press conference in the video above.

    The post WATCH: Spicer fields questions about Michael Flynn’s lobbying, GOP health care plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Robert B. Neller spoke from the Pentagon on Friday to address the recent nude photo scandal. Video by PBS NewsHour

    WASHINGTON — The top Marine general said Friday that an investigation into reports that nude photos of female service members are being secretly posted online without their permission has an effect on the entire Marine Corps and must be done carefully.

    “We don’t want to be in a hurry. We want to make sure we’re thorough and we’re within the law,” Gen. Robert Neller told a Pentagon news conference.

    “This affects our entire organization,” the general said.

    Separately, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet military and civilian officials in coming days about the reports.

    Mattis also issued a statement condemning the actions.

    “The purported actions of civilian and military personnel on social media websites, including some associated with the Marines United group and possibly others, represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defense,” Mattis said in a written statement.

    Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday that Mattis wants the services to take appropriate action.

    Former and current female Marines have said their photographs were shared on social media without their consent. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into the matter and is urging victims of the photo-sharing to come forward.

    NCIS says it has received numerous tips. The other services are looking into the matter, but say they aren’t aware of other victims.

    Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller (L) testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women in 2016. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Active-duty Marine Marisa Woytek and former Marine Erika Butner appeared at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday to applaud the investigation.

    Butner, 23, who served for four years before leaving the Marines in 2016, said she contacted investigators in January and told them there was an online storage drive that contained “indecent photos of women from all military services, organized by name, rank and even where they were stationed.”

    The women’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, said there may be hundreds of such postings and that they prompted pornographic and violent replies, including some recommending that female Marines be raped or shot.

    In a video message released Tuesday, Neller said Marines should be focused on preparing to fight, “not hiding on social media participating in or being aware of actions that are disrespectful and harmful to other Marines. It’s embarrassing to our Corps, to our families and to the nation.”

    The nearly four-minute video, distributed on various Marine websites and social media pages, were the first expansive comments Neller made about the reports.

    The post Top Marine says nude photo probe must not be completed ‘in a hurry’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Hundreds of people rallied in Washington, D.C. on Friday as part of the Native Nations March. Photo by Kamaria Roberts

    Despite bitter cold, wind, rain and hail, hundreds of members of Native American tribes and supporters from around the country turned out Friday to march on the White House, in an effort to turn the momentum of the Standing Rock protests into a more sustained movement for native rights.

    The march and a rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House came after four days of protest, prayer and lobbying on Capitol Hill, where Native communities called for the protection of natural resources and demanded the new administration honor treaties with indigenous peoples.

    Those issues were drawn into sharp focus last year during the months-long fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock reservation. Oil is set to flow as early as next week through the pipeline, a $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project running from North Dakota to Illinois.

    “Since the very beginning, we understood that Dakota Access was just one part of a greater fight for indigenous rights and indigenous sovereignty,” said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the more active groups behind the Dakota Access protests at Standing Rock.

    Last July, the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes filed a lawsuit to stop the pipeline’s construction, sparking months of protests. In court filings, they said the pipeline “threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious and cultural significance.”

    On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump gave the green light to the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the Keystone XL pipeline, which indigenous groups have also protested. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for all water crossings, granted a final easement required to complete for the Dakota Access Pipeline last month.

    The executive order and Army Corps decision was a blow for opponents of the pipeline. But Goldtooth said the momentum from the fight signaled the start of a larger movement.

    “That resistance is growing,” he said. “The fire of Standing Rock burns brightly in countless communities across the country, native and non-native.”

    On Friday, indigenous groups were joined by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, along with celebrities, environmental groups, peace activists, veterans, college students and nonprofits working on First Amendment and LGBT rights.

    Logan Betts, a student at George Washington University, decided to come to the march after following the protests at Standing Rock — including reports of violent confrontations between law enforcement officials and protesters in November — for months in the news.

    “Today, if they can stand out in the cold, then we can come out and support them,” Betts said.

    A protester outside of the hotel owned by President Donald Trump’s real estate company. Mr. Trump signed an executive order in January paving the way for the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines. Photo by Kamaria Roberts

    Veterans for Peace, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to war, said members of the group from Arizona, New York, Michigan, North Carolina and Mexico traveled to Washington to participate.

    Douglas Ryder, 70, a veteran from Durham, N.C. who attended the march, said he was concerned that President Trump was too focused on strengthening the military instead of providing more federal funding for issues like environmental protection.

    “I’m here to speak for those who have no voice: the water, the children, the seven generations coming down the road,” Ryder said. “Our policies are taking away resources from essential issues.”

    Before taking office, Trump’s transition team met twice with tribal leaders from around the country, according to reports from Politico and the Indian Country Media Network. But the community remains wary. The White House did not respond to NewsHour’s request for comment on its relationship with the Native American community.

    Four Arrows, an indigenous member of Veterans for Peace, said the country’s hawkish foreign policy and approach to energy development began negatively impacting indigenous people and the environment long before Trump got elected. Still, he said, he appreciated that people were becoming aware of the issues.

    “When Trump was elected we had a lot of non-Indians supporting us, almost 15,000 people at Standing Rock, crying and mad, and the Indian people, we were all just sort of smiling,” said Four Arrows, a former dean of education at Oglala Lakota College. “And finally one Lakota woman went over to a lady … and said, ‘Honey welcome to our world.’ Because we’ve been living with this for 200 years.”

    “This is in your face now. Americans are waking up.”

    The good news, he added, “is this is in your face now. Americans are waking up, and starting to realize what we’ve done in killing the indigenous worldview [and] the biodiversity of the planet.”

    Though the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline may be lost, indigenous advocates on Friday said they are seeking to use that battle — and the tactics they learned there — as a segue to launch a broader fight over other pipelines.

    One of the targets is the 148-mile Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which will carry natural gas to Mexico, passing through the Big Bend region’s Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. The Society of Native Nations has erected a camp there to help stop the pipeline, in collaboration with local communities.

    The Trans-Pecos pipeline is being constructed by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners — the same company building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

    Vicki Granado, a spokeswoman for the company, wrote in an email that while “we respect that there are a number of opinions on our country’s need for more infrastructure,” domestic demand for oil, gas and other fossil fuel-based products “is only increasing, not decreasing.”

    Friday’s march closed out four days of events in Washington. Native American leaders are protests at several other pipelines around the country this year. Photo by Kamaria Roberts

    Trans-Pecos isn’t the only pipeline indigenous groups plan to protest this year. Others include the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which would transport oil to refineries in Louisiana and cut across the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest swamp and a natural heritage area; and the Sabal Trail Pipeline, which would carry natural gas from Alabama to central Florida. Environmentalists say the Sabal Trail Pipeline could damage the Floridan aquifer system, which provides drinking water to millions of people in the region. Protests over the Sabal Trail Pipeline have already led to dozens of arrests.

    The march on Friday was about more than just pipelines, however.

    Krissy White, 22, and Steven Thompson-Oakes, 26 –members of the Mohawk tribe who came to Friday’s event from Akwesasne, New York — said they opposed the continued contamination of water from old power plants near their reservation. According to NOAA, Alcoa and General Motors plants dumped toxic pollutants into the Grasse and St. Lawrence rivers around Akwesasne over several decades.

    Thompson-Oakes said the showdown at Standing Rock encouraged him and White to fight back in their community.

    “We’ve got cancer in our reservation in Akwesasne to this day, and our women can’t even breast feed because of the chemicals,” he said. “And so now, we’re just hoping we get the community support, to [say] to the government: This is your mess, you need to clean this up.”

    In a speech near the White House on Friday, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II urged protesters to remain active even if they didn’t see immediate results.

    “During the last year, people around the world have sacrificed and traveled and stood with us as Standing Rock,” Archambault said. “We face a lot of obstacles and we face a lot of setbacks, but we’re not defeated.”

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, an essay from Emily Esfahani Smith. She is trained in psychology, and author of the recent book “The Power of Meaning.”

    An editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, tonight, Emily offers her Humble Opinion on what we should search for.

    EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH, Author, “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters”: In recent years, psychologists have started looking more closely at how the single-minded pursuit of happiness affects us, and they have come to what seems like a counterintuitive conclusion: Chasing happiness and obsessing over it, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy and lonely.

    But it’s different when we set another goal for ourselves, when we search for and pursue meaning in life.

    Human beings are creatures that yearn for meaning. When we look up at the stars, for example, we don’t see random balls of fire. We see swans and bears, we tell stories and myths, and we wonder about where we came from, our place in the universe, and how we can make our lives count.

    The same questions lie at the center of much great art, literature, and philosophy. The first great work of human literature, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” is about a hero’s quest to figure out how to live, given the fact that he will die.

    And in the centuries since Gilgamesh’s tale was told, that quest has remained as urgent as ever. We all want to know that our lives amount to more than the sum of our experiences. We all need a why to help us get through the good and the bad of life.

    So, what is a meaningful life? Social science points to one defining feature. You connect and contribute to something beyond yourself. That could be your family, your work, nature, or God.

    And when people say their lives are meaningful, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied: They believe their lives matter, they have a sense of purpose that drives them forward, and they think their lives are coherent and make sense.

    It sounds like a lot, but that last point is something you can do right now. People tell me the simple act of storytelling gives meaning, or can at least clear the path to it. That, I think, might explain the rise of rap and hip-hop and the popularity of the radio series “StoryCorps” and “The Moth.”

    Making a narrative out of the events in your life provides clarity. It offers a framework that goes beyond the day-to-day. It’s the act itself, and not necessarily sharing their story with others, that helps people make sense of themselves and their lives. And we all have the power to tell or to re-tell our life story in more positive ways.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s a lot going on in the political world of Washington these days, but the hottest ticket in town may be for a museum exhibition by a Japanese artist exploring worlds well beyond today’s headlines.

    Jeffrey Brown has our story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s called an Infinity Mirror Room, and the stretching out of time and space, an effect created through the use of lights, reflection and objects, is one of the obsessions of artist Yayoi Kusama.

    Right now at Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum, people are lining up to experience her world of whimsy, color, shapes, and peeks into the beyond.

    Museum director Melissa Chiu:

    MELISSA CHIU, Director, Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum: There are fewer and fewer moments today that you’re alone in something that feels universal. You are there in amongst the cosmos in one piece. It’s just light. And it’s a kind of — it’s very poignant and very compelling.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Even as the wider world has caught on, Kusama has in fact been a much-loved star in the art world since the early 1960s, after coming to New York from her native Japan.

    Her earliest works already displayed motifs that remain to this day, notably the repetition of forms, especially simple marks and polka dots, that Kusama gives a more cosmic significance, as in her series of paintings called “Infinity Nets.”

    In an interview with Hirshhorn curators in December, the 87-year-old artist, as colorful as her work, spoke of her attempt to reach the infinite through the repetition of images.

    YAYOI KUSAMA, Artist (through interpreter): The same things piled one on top of another creates an expanding world that reaches out to the edges of the universe. That is the simple image I have.

    This effect of continual repetition calls out to the human senses, and, in return, deep inside of our hearts, we yearn for true amazement.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Curator Mika Yoshitake put together the exhibition.

    MIKA YOSHITAKE, Curator, Hirshhorn Museum: Her work is very process-oriented, meaning that there is a very lengthy, you know, physical labor that goes on, that the repetition of certain motifs like the nets or the polka dots, and they — it kind of expands organically.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That compulsiveness is there in sculptures of phallic forms: a rowboat titled “Violet Obsession,” furniture that you might not want to sit in, but Kusama herself was happy to, and happy to be photographed in.

    In fact, she often brought herself into the picture, a polka dotted, kimono-wearing, downtown ’60s art world figure known for creating happenings on the streets, sometimes with nudes, sometimes protesting the Vietnam War.

    She also began to make the Infinity Mirror Rooms, eventually 20 in all, six at the center of this new exhibition, the most ever gathered together.

    Part of the attraction of Kusama’s work clearly is the fun house effect. I mean, here I am, with cameraman Malcolm, in a field of pumpkins that stretches on, yes, to infinity.

    MIKA YOSHITAKE: It’s about life. It’s about confronting our mortality. It’s about filling a void that she has experienced. And that incessant energy, a desire to connect with people, I think it’s about the clarity of vision and also perception.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But Kusama’s story is more complicated. She suffered from hallucinations from childhood, and experienced early trauma from being forced by her mother to spy on her father as he had affairs.

    She had a breakdown in the 1970s that forced her to return to Japan. And, for more than 40 years, she’s voluntarily lived in a psychiatric hospital, even as she’s continued to work in a studio a block away, making what she’s referred to as art medicine.

    MIKA YOSHITAKE: Art for her is a form of therapy. So she needs the art, or else she will probably not survive. She is somebody who needs to have a ritual every day of, you know, painting.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Certainly, her work brought a good deal of pleasure at the Hirshhorn exhibition, especially in the Obliteration Room, a pristine white-walled space in which visitors were invited to join in the art-making by adding dots of their own.

    Captured in time-lapse video, the room was being transformed, just as Kusama intended, according to museum director Chiu.

    MELISSA CHIU: The word obliteration has a very harsh kind of meaning, but, for her this was, in a way, how she thinks about her art, that her art is transforming her own life, helping her to deal with life, but also potentially allowing others to interact with it here in this room.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Museum-goers couldn’t resist, and neither could I.

    So, if I put it like this …

    MELISSA CHIU: Put wherever you like, Jeff.


    MELISSA CHIU: So, balancing. See how he’s balancing?


    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

    MELISSA CHIU: You could create patterns from randomness. As you can see, some people couldn’t resist and they have tried to create a line with their dots.

    But all bets are off. You can do whatever you like.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a lot of humor and a lot of pain in the work of Yayoi Kusama, who continues to put in full days at her studio creating new paintings and sculptures, even as record crowds here flock to see the results.

    From the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The exhibition is in Washington through May 14. Then, for two years, it travels to Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto, Cleveland, and Atlanta.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    And welcome to both of you.

    So, a lot going on this week, Mark and Michael.

    Let’s start, Mark, though, with we got a really good sense or a better sense this week of what it is that Republicans in the House and the White House want to do in terms of replacing the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

    What do we make of this? Is this something that has the elements of a piece of legislation that can survive?

    MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I don’t think so, Judy.

    And I guess the one point I would disagree with you is, agreement between the White House and the Republicans in Congress. To listen to Speaker Paul Ryan, this is the last stage out of Dodge. This is the best and only chance the Republicans are going to have to repeal, fulfill that pledge that they have made now for seven years to repeal Obamacare and come up with their own plan, whereas the White House, in the words of the president, is, I’m for it, but we can deal, we can negotiate.

    So I’m not sure that they’re on the same page or have basically the same commitment to this legislation. That’s why I just — I think it’s in precarious position right now.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though it’s moved through these two committees? And we just spoke to the chairman of the Budget Committee. And she says she expects it to go flying through.

    MARK SHIELDS: She does. But the question was, how many hundred thousand Tennesseans will lose health care?

    The estimates, Judy, quite frankly, range from 10 million to 15 million now. All the promises of transparency the Republicans made about going to have open hearings, open votes, they will not vote, that Budget Committee headed by Congresswoman Black, until — they will not release the Congressional Budget Office scoring to tell you how many people are going to lose it and what it’s going to cost until that happens.

    It’s all being sort of railroaded through the Republican House. But I don’t see it surviving.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it on the substance, Michael?

    MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Well, on the substance, there is a set of conservative reform ideas that have been developing, but this isn’t it.

    This is a jerry-rigged system to try to achieve some of the goals of Obamacare by slightly modifying this, by changing that. And the result is incoherent. It has alienated the left because of the number of people that will be off the system. It’s alienated the right because there are some people that wanted a true repeal. This isn’t that type of approach.

    So, I think it’s — right now, you know, it has the virtue or the drawback of pleasing no one, actually, in this system on left to right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why did it come to this? Why after all the talk throughout the campaign? Before anything else, you knew that this president was going to be — he said, we’re going to deal with Obamacare, we’re going to get rid of it.

    Why has it come to this, then?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that President Trump said it when he acted shocked that health care is complex. You remember him saying that?

    This is difficult. I mean, Obamacare has many faults and many problems, but it has succeed in creating a set of expectations about preexisting conditions and coverage that Republicans now have to respond to.

    And their response, I think, is kind of a makeshift response right now. But I think Obamacare, in that way, has triumphed. It has created a set of expectations Republicans have to meet. And it’s very difficult to do, to structure a system to do that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you still have Republicans, Mark, who are arguing the whole thing needs to be completely thrown out. The Freedom Caucus group came out this week and said throw the whole thing out and start from scratch.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, in fairness, the Freedom Caucus, that’s how they won a majority in 2010, on the pledge to do that, to repeal completely Obamacare.

    And I agree with Michael. I would say this. Two other things I would add, Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia, who is in a difficult, now red-leaning state now, made an observation, I think, that is so fundamentally true.

    He said people, American voters, may not remember who gave you something, but they will remember who took it away.


    MARK SHIELDS: And I think this is the problem the Republicans are facing.

    The second point is, Judy, what’s holding this together right now is that it’s not really a health care plan. And it’s not really a repeal. What it is, is a tax cut. The top nine-tenths of 1 percent of Americans will receive $267 billion in tax cuts over the next 10 years.

    And, quite bluntly put, when this is scored, when the numbers come out from the Congressional Budget Office, all you have to do is go to the testimony at the hearings of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross and Gary Cohn and all of the wealthy and exactly what this tax cut will mean for them individually, as single moms with two kids lose their Medicaid coverage under it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it sounds like, Michael, the White House is prepared to dismiss the CBO numbers, or at least to discount them.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this is actually a difference in strategy.

    There has been a conflict between the House leadership and the administration on whether to attack CBO or not as an authority in this. This is a tendency of this administration, to attack institutions, to undermine the credibility of institutions that are independent sources of truth and analysis.

    I think that would be a terrible mistake in this case. CBO is a fairly respected approach, not perfect. But I think going after it would indicate a kind of disturbing tendency to try to undermine other institutions in our system, for their own benefit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where do we see this headed, Mark, politically?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s going to founder. I really do.

    We’re already getting the signals from the Republicans in the Senate, both for the reasons that Michael cited on the loss of coverage. A state like Alaska is going to take an enormous hit. But even from Tom Cotton, the conservative, young conservative rising star from Arkansas, saying, slow down, it couldn’t pass the Senate

    So, I think there are problems. I think you don’t get Mitch McConnell, the sense that he’s waiting for it and just impatient to get it over there to pass it, because I don’t think he thinks he can.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as the prospects?

    MICHAEL GERSON: I think it had a very rocky start and it’s going to get rockier, particularly because of the CBO estimates that Mark is exactly right, could show upwards of 12 million people losing coverage.

    And that will dominate discussion of this bill in the next stage, and as it gets very unfavorable to the administration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think the administration will be able to, again, discount, dismiss and say, well, you know, they were wrong before? We heard that from the White House press secretary.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, they could try to conduct a campaign, go to the districts of members, pressure them, call out their Internet legions.

    They could try to press on this. But, if it happens that way, it will only happen through pressure, and not through enthusiasm. That’s not what we’re — we’re not seeing much enthusiasm.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s turn to the other big story of the week. And it’s Russia in all its different forms.

    Mark, you had the president tweeting last Saturday morning that President Obama was behind a wiretap as, evidently part of the Russia investigation. You have stories. We know that, just yesterday, the FBI director met with Republican leaders on the Hill to brief them on the latest. We don’t know what was said.

    And there’s a story in The New York Times today that the FBI doesn’t see a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, and yet all these bits and pieces keep coming. Do we have any more clarity on Russia and the Trump campaign and transition today than we did a month ago?

    MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see it, Judy.

    I mean, I think there’s circumstantial evidence of contacts or relationships certainly with those within the Trump world throughout the campaign we have. But there isn’t a gun, let alone a smoking gun.

    But we do have — as a consequence of what the president did last Saturday, we have got pressure for greater, more intense and more public hearings and investigations.

    And I will just say on this the tweet last Saturday was so grave. I mean, this is the 45th president of the United States accusing the 44th president of the United States of criminal activity, and with no basis, no evidence, no context, no witnesses, nothing.

    And, 30 minutes later, he tweets again about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He has just jeopardized the relationship between the president who preceded him.

    Every president needs other presidents. They need the relationship. But he’s just done something so grave and inflicted such a major wound on the body politic. It won’t heal.

    MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are billows of smoke here. I mean, I think…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

    MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are lots of ties that are being discovered between the Trump inner circle and Russia.

    And, in fact, the attorney general had to recuse himself because of unreported contact. And we have learned that Flynn, the former national security adviser, was doing work on behalf of individuals associated with the Turkish government.

    So, you’re creating the impression of a foreign policy bought and sold by dictators. This is quite serious. This is an unfolding, ongoing ethics disaster at the highest levels, I think we’re seeing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again — Mark.

    MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing I want to point out, Judy.

    At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood at the brink, Soviets and America, over the Cuban missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy sent Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state, to see General Charles de Gaulle to tell him exactly, brief him personally, as the president’s emissary, on what was going on.

    At the end of that talk, he said to General de Gaulle, I have been authorized by the president to show you the photographic evidence we have, and for your eyes only. And General de Gaulle said, no, no, no, that’s not necessary. All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

    There comes a time in every administration when you need the president to be credible, the president to have the trust and confidence of leaders around the world in a time of crisis.

    And I can see no reason that anybody would ever say this about Donald Trump: All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how does this administration get beyond this? Are we looking now at something that is just going to go on for months and months, if not years?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think we’re seeing that self-investigation through the attorney general is not going to be useful in this case.

    Someone is going to have to have a real inquiry here. You could do a select committee. You could do a special prosecutor. You do some other voice of authority here. The FBI doesn’t have a huge amount of credibility, particularly given what Comey did in the election, which may have helped Trump more than the Russians did.

    I think the administration, whenever you hear the phrase “Sean Spicer says,” it makes the statement more incredible, not more credible.

    And I think that we have a Congress that’s quite politicized on this set of issues. We’re going to need some type of independent voice to determine what’s happening in this case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on that note, we shake our heads.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We turn now to a growing scandal in the U.S. Marine Corps, where male Marines have been caught sharing sexually explicit photos of female Marines without their consent.

    William Brangham has the story.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It started on a private Facebook page called Marines United, hundreds of explicit photographs of female Marines, followed by endless obscene, degrading comments.

    Some of the photos appear to have been taken consensually, but others were not. None of the women identified so far said they had agreed to their photos being posted this way.

    The Facebook page is gone, but many of the photos — these are some of the tamer ones — have now been uploaded to other Web sites. Military officials have launched an investigation. And, today, Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine himself, called these acts egregious violations of the fundamental values.

    The commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, also expressed his dismay.

    GEN. ROBERT NELLER, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps: These allegations themselves, they undermine everything that we stand for as a Marine Corps and as Marines: discipline, honor, professionalism, and respect and trust amongst each other.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For more on this, I’m joined by retired Colonel Mary Reinwald. She spent 27 years in the Corps and now edits Leatherneck magazine, written for the Marine Corps community.

    Nice to see you again. Sorry it’s under these circumstances.

    Tell me, when you first heard about this, what was your reaction?

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD, Leatherneck Magazine: I was angry. I was absolutely angry, because, you know, both General Neller and General Mattis mentioned in their comments that, you know, this is about honor.

    And the Marines who did these type of things, they don’t have the honor that we value as Marines. I was ashamed. I was ashamed for my Marine Corps. And I was mad for my fellow Marines. I was mad for my fellow male Marines, because the vast majority of male Marines don’t do this type of behavior.

    They are honorable, they are decent, and they’re the type of humans that everybody should aspire to. And now there is a whole segment of our country who will believe this is what Marines do. And it’s not. It’s absolutely not.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what have you been hearing from other Marines? I know you talk to them on a daily basis. What do you hear from them?


    I have many friends that are still on active duty. I also talked to a female Marine whose picture was posted on the Web site. And it was just an innocuous picture from her Instagram with her and some other female Marines. There was nothing wrong with it. They were out in public.

    And the photo was taken and posted on the Web site. And they asked in terms of her attractiveness, but they asked in much cruder terms than I would use. She is an officer Marine. She’s a pilot. She’s got an exemplary record. She’s one of the future leaders of our Corps.

    And we have these individuals who decided that they were going to be disrespectful and vile and not uphold our ethos. How dare they? I absolutely believe that our culture has some role to play in all of this, social media.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You mean American culture more broadly?

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: American culture more broadly.

    And it’s very easy to get on social media and be anonymous. And thing is, these individuals — and I really do hesitate to call them Marines — if these individuals weren’t the cowards that they are, they would be putting their names up there. They would be proudly proclaiming their misogyny and their disrespect toward female Marines.

    But this almost gang mentality on whatever social media account, whether it’s Facebook or some of the others, where they feed off each other, I have no respect for them, because they wouldn’t do it in public. They wouldn’t do it in front of the commandant. But they do it behind the anonymity of both Facebook and the Web.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As you well know, the Marine Corps and all the other branches of the services are integrating women into combat roles.

    That’s the first reason I spoke to you several months ago.


    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you think it’s coincidental that the Corps is moving women into these more forward roles at the same time that this kind of a scandal breaks out?

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: I don’t know that it’s necessarily coincidental.

    There is probably an element of that. It’s brought out more of the individuals who think back — you know, have the mentality from 50 years ago: Women don’t belong in the infantry, so, by God, we’re going to be disrespectful to all of them.

    So, you can’t — you cannot dispute the timing in many ways. But I think these guys were always there. There was always an element, a very, very small element who had no problem saying these things. And now it’s just easier to say.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And it’s just amplified.

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: It’s amplified.

    And once one makes one comment, then the others feel like, hey, he said it, so I can say it, too, because everybody feels this way.

    Well, everybody doesn’t feel this way. This is not the majority of Marines.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I know you’re also a great champion of women going into the Marine Corps.

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: Absolutely.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What do you think that this kind of a thing does to those women who are either just entering the Corps or aspire to enter the Corps?

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that it would make them pause and ask them — and have them ask themselves, say, hey, is this what I want to join? Is the organization — is this who I want to be?

    But I would reassure them and say, again, that this is not the majority of Marines. Ironically, I was at the United States Naval Academy last night, speaking to some future female Marines, along with Major General Lori Reynolds, the senior female on active duty in the Marine Corps.

    I was heartened by what I heard. I was thrilled by what not only Major General Reynolds said, but the other female Marines who are on active duty with me, who all echo in many ways what I said. Our good experiences in the Marine Corps vastly outweigh our bad experiences. And we would encourage any American young lady today to join the Marine Corps.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Mary Reinwald, thanks so much for being here.

    RET. COL. MARY REINWALD: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Before the congressional Republicans’ health care plan can get a final vote in the House of Representatives, it needs to clear one more hurdle: the House Budget Committee.

    We turn now to the chairman of that committee. She’s Representative Diane Black. She was among a handful of Republican leaders who met with the president at the White House today, and she joins us from Nashville, Tennessee.

    Chairman Black, thank you very much for talking with us.

    So, when this bill went through the other two committees in the House, Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, vote was along party lines. All the Republicans voted for it. Is that going to happen on the Budget Committee next week?

    REP. DIANE BLACK, R-Tenn.: I think we will probably see a very similar thing. I don’t anticipate that we will have any Democrat votes with us, but we will continue to move along in the process and give them the opportunity to ask the questions and to make that decision whether they would like to vote with us or not.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about Republicans? Do you expect any defections?

    REP. DIANE BLACK: I anticipate we will have a lot of good conversation, as we have in the Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member.

    After 18 hours of very good dialogue and making a lot of good points, I anticipate that we will have all members of our committee supporting this measure.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your answer to the conservative complaint or concern at this point that what you have in this legislation, among other things, is what they call a new entitlement program with these refundable tax credits?

    REP. DIANE BLACK: Well, this is a way in which we can give people an opportunity. And it’s a very small portion of our population.

    You know, most people have their insurance through their employer. But we have got about 4 percent of — 4 to 5 percent of our population who doesn’t have that opportunity. And so this gives them, as those who have insurance through their employer, that is a tax-free benefit that they have.

    And for those who aren’t as fortunate to have an employer that provides that insurance, this gives them an opportunity to be able to be in the marketplace. And the important part of this is that they are in the marketplace where they can make a decision about who it is that they would like to get their insurance through.

    So we believe this is a fairness issue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as you know, your conservative colleagues are saying they see it’s a government guarantee and they don’t like it.

    REP. DIANE BLACK: Well, they have that opportunity to make those comments and make their points.

    And that’s what the whole process is about. That’s the great thing about being in the legislature, is a lot of good discussion and sometimes really heavy conversations. But I think, at the end of the day, that you’re going to see that this bill is going to be successful, and that’s because our health care system right now is failing.

    You know what? Here in the state of Tennessee, my great state, we actually have parts of our state that have no insurers left in the marketplace. And so we have got to rescue people. We get calls in our office every day about premiums going up, and co-pays and to a point where people say, I can’t afford it anymore, please help us out.

    And so that’s what we’re attempting to do is to be able to rescue people, so they can get patient care or patient-centered health insurance that will be what they want at a price they can afford.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about the complaints on the other side from Democrats and from moderates in your own party who are saying they’re concerned that people who cannot — or can barely afford health coverage right now will not be able to afford it, with the Medicaid changes, changing the way Medicaid is handled by the year 2020.

    There is even some conversation about moving that earlier. In your own state of Tennessee, there was a statement today from the hospital association saying they’re concerned about what they say are 230,000 Tennesseans who depend on the kind of coverage in the existing law. How will you deal with that?

    REP. DIANE BLACK: Well, first of all, we want to make sure everyone knows that we’re not going to pull the rug out from underneath of them.

    But what we do want do is open the marketplace back up again and allow more competition. We have had so many of the insurance companies, and look at the co-ops that were out there. Out of the 23 co-ops, 18 of them are gone, which meant here in my state, when lost that co-op, over 20,000 people that were in that health care policy lost their insurance, because you just can’t afford it.

    When it is government-run, and there are so many requirements put on it, it drives the cost of the policy up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But what about — excuse me.

    REP. DIANE BLACK: That’s OK.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to say, what about those 230,000 Tennesseans who were cited by the hospital association in your state as standing to lose coverage?

    REP. DIANE BLACK: Well, we’re — they’re not going to lose coverage. And that’s what I want people to know.

    I want people to understand we are not pulling the rug out. We are still going to have Medicaid there for them, but it is going to be changed in the way it’s done where it’s more patient-centered. We’re also going to give states an opportunity to make the decision about how they best can use those dollars.

    What’s good for New York and California is not necessarily what’s good for here in the state of Tennessee. And we will allow the governor here in our state to make the decision about how best to spend those dollars that are sent down from Washington for Medicaid and for those that are in that space.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quick final question, Chairman Black, and that is the Congressional Budget Office expected to put out its projections on how many people will be covered, how many will lose coverage.

    Will your committee look at that information, take it seriously, or,, as the White House is suggesting, that it really doesn’t matter what the Congressional Budget Office says?

    REP. DIANE BLACK: Well, we always take what the Congressional Budget Office gives us very seriously, and we will look at that.

    It may be that, when we get those scores back, that we do have to tweak some things one way or the other. It probably will not be done in the House Budget Committee. It will be done through another process once it gets into the rules.

    But we do take that seriously, and we will be looking at that and making some decisions about whether there needs to be some adjustments.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Chairman Diane Black, chairman of the House Budget Committee, we thank you for talking with us.

    REP. DIANE BLACK: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me.

    The post House Budget chair predicts success for GOP health bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump is warning that Congress must act on a Republican health care bill to head off a crisis with Obamacare. He called in key House congressional committee chairs today to praise their work, despite opposition from Democrats, medical groups and some conservatives.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must act now to save Americans from the imploding Obamacare disaster. Premiums have skyrocketed by double digits, and triple digits in some cases. This is the time we’re going to get it done. We’re working together. We have some great results. We have tremendous spirit, and I think it’s something that’s just going to happen very shortly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me to discuss the American Health Care Act are NewsHour’s White House correspondent John Yang and congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins.

    Well, let’s start with the resistance in Congress. The president in his tweet says everything is going smoothly, but on Capitol Hill, not so much.

    LISA DESJARDINS: It’s real and significant.

    Right now, if you look at the House, they can spare 21 Republican votes and still pass this. But, by my count, there are somewhere like 40 Republicans who are either unsure or have expressed clear doubts or even no votes. They have a lot of reasons for concern.

    One are the tax credits we have talked on the show before. To some conservatives, that’s just another government entitlement program. They’re hoping there’s negotiations ahead, but it’s not clear if there are.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, John, what does the White House do to try to make sure that those 40 Republicans stay in line?

    JOHN YANG: Well, the president says that he hasn’t have to do much of anything.

    He points out that — in the meeting with the House whips the other day, he pointed out his margin of victory in the districts of a lot those recalcitrant House Republicans. And he knows those numbers. He knows what they won and he knows what he won.

    He’s going to go out on what they call a full-court press to sell this, but what he’s selling is repealing the current law. That’s what he is trying make this vote, not a vote for the — so much for the proposal that they have got on the table now, but a vote for repealing Obamacare. So the question is, do you want to go home and say you voted against repealing Obamacare?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There are still those sticking points. Besides the tax credits, what else is making these Republicans hesitant?

    LISA DESJARDINS: There’s another problem for moderate Republicans as well, some like, say, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who has many constituents on Medicaid or on the Medicaid expansion.

    They’re worried about coverage and whether many of their constituents are going to lose coverage. And they’re worried about the Congressional Budget Office score, which we expect on Monday. That is going to be a big factor in how this battle go.

    This is kind of that wild moment, Hari, where people are still deciding, which way will the wind go? And CBO is going to have an effect on that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House went out of its way to sort of discredit the CBO already before the numbers came out just yesterday.

    JOHN YANG: It’s gaming the ref.

    They have already said — they’re already preparing themselves for a bad score. They said — Sean Spicer said if you’re looking for accuracy, the CBO is the wrong place to look. So they’re already discrediting before it even comes out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But a couple of kind of mixed messages that we see here is, we see Paul Ryan on the one hand saying, this is it, this is the final thing. And then sometimes we also hear from other people that this is open to negotiation, this is a process.

    Which is it?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Right. It’s very curious.

    Behind closed doors, conservatives have said the president has told them in meetings this week with people like Jim Jordan that he is listening, that he’s willing to change some things they don’t like.

    But, publicly, that’s not what the message is. And Paul Ryan used a very important word yesterday. He said this is a binary decision. Translation, ultimatum. Just like John was saying, either you vote for this, or, if you vote no, that is a vote for Obamacare. That drives these conservatives crazy, because they don’t see the choice that way.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so it’s either you’re with us or you’re with Obamacare.

    JOHN YANG: Although the president says — or Sean Spicer said in his briefings today, it’s not so much the details that the president is looking at. He laid out five principles for this bill in his speech to Congress. As long as those five principles are met, he really doesn’t care what the details are.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Yang, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. economy cranked out more jobs in February. The Labor Department reports that U.S. employers added a net of 235,000 new positions. The unemployment rate dipped slightly to 4.7 percent, as more people began looking for work.

    During the campaign, then candidate Trump dismissed the jobs data as phony. Today, a White House spokesman said, they may have been phony in the past, but they’re very real now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It turns out lawyers for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the Trump transition team before the inauguration that he might have to register as a foreign agent. That’s because Flynn had lobbied for the Turkish government during the campaign, before he joined the Trump administration.

    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that Flynn’s lawyers spoke to transition lawyers, and he defended the vetting process.

    SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: He was also the head of the department — the Defense Intelligence Agency, unbelievably qualified, 40 years in the military with impeccable credentials. So, what is it that he — what is exactly are you getting at? Because, so far, he has impeccable credentials, he had a stellar career in the military, widely respected.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Flynn was fired last month when it came out that he had had contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., but misled the vice president and others about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Native Americans and their supporters rallied outside the White House today against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Their march started at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and culminated with a gathering next to the executive mansion. They have also been staging protests on the National Mall this week. The final phase of the pipeline is under construction in North Dakota.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Volkswagen has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice in its emissions cheating scandal. The German automaker entered the plea in federal court in Detroit. It agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties. The case involved nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye was officially ousted today by the nation’s highest court.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has the story.

    MARGARET WARNER: The constitutional court’s verdict, announced in Seoul, was unanimous. Upholding the impeachment of South Korea’s President Park, it removed her from office a stunning fall from power.

    Streets overflowed with demonstrators, many celebrating the ouster of the country’s first female leader.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): The people gave her the power to serve. But she filled her own pocket, disrupted social order and undermined democracy.

    MARGARET WARNER: Others protested the verdict, saying Park’s removal leaves South Korea at risk.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): We should be thankful to president Park for protecting our nation. Young people these days don’t know that. It’s only been 67 years since the Korean War erupted. We could soon see another similar tragedy happen.

    MARGARET WARNER: Two people died during today’s protests, and at least 30 were hurt. All of this follows Park’s suspension from office in December.

    Now she may face criminal charges of conspiring to let childhood friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and extort money from businesses, including Samsung, whose own chief is now on trial for bribery.

    The political turmoil in South Korea comes at a moment of high tensions in the region. North Korea test-fired a barrage of long-range missiles this week, as the U.S. and South Korea conducted annual joint military exercises. And China is now protesting U.S. plans to deploy a new missile defense system in the South.

    The Pentagon shipped components of the so-called THAAD defense system to South Korea this week. Washington says it’s designed to protect against a North Korean attack, not to threaten China. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is likely to reinforce that message, as he visits South Korea next week.

    Meanwhile, a caretaker president is in place while the country gets ready to hold elections in the next 60 days.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House said today the U.S. expects to continue to work with South Korea as a friend and ally.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The president of Guatemala called today for reforms after a deadly fire at a crowded shelter for abused teens. Meanwhile, the death toll in Wednesday’s deadly blaze rose to 37. Police say some of the girls set fire to mattresses to protest abuses. Families of victims held a candlelight vigil and protest last night to call for an investigation. They also demanded the president’s resignation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.N. Human Rights Office accused Turkey today of widespread killings and other abuses, mostly against minority Kurds. Investigators said roughly 2,000 people died during security operations in Southeastern Turkey over 18 months. The U.N. told of entire neighborhoods destroyed, displacing several hundred thousand people.

    In Geneva, a U.N. spokesman said Turkey is hindering a thorough investigation.

    RUPERT COLVILLE, Spokesman, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: It appears that not a single suspect was apprehended and not a single individual was prosecuted for violations that occurred during this period.

    The government of Turkey has repeatedly failed to grant us access, but has nevertheless contested the veracity of the very serious allegations made in this report.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Turkish government says that 800 of the dead were troops, and that many others were Kurdish rebels.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Pope Francis has now signaled that he’d consider letting some married men become priests, but with strict limits. He told a German newspaper the men would have to be older, with proven character. and they’d serve only where there’s a shortage of clergy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, there’s word that the death of Russia’s U.N. ambassador was due to a heart attack. Vitaly Churkin collapsed in his office last month. The Associated Press cites a senior New York City official who says there’s no sign of foul play. The State Department has asked the city not to release the autopsy results, in accordance with diplomatic protocol.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: House Republicans pushed through legislation today to sanction lawyers and others who file frivolous lawsuits in federal courts. It doesn’t change the standard for determining whether a suit is frivolous, but it does require judges to impose penalties.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s being reported tonight that President Trump will nominate Dr. Scott Gottlieb to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Wire service accounts say that he would be tasked with speeding the drug approval process. Gottlieb served previously as a deputy FDA commissioner and is currently a partner in a venture capital firm.

    And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 44 points to close near 20903. The Nasdaq rose almost 23, and the S&P 500 added seven. For the week, all three indexes were down slightly.

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    Immigration activists, including members of the DC Justice for Muslims Coalition, rally against the Trump administration’s new ban against travelers from six Muslim-majority nations, outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2017. Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge on Friday blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape their war-torn homeland by fleeing to Wisconsin.

    The ruling likely is the first by a judge since Trump issued a revised travel ban on Monday, according to a spokesman for the Washington state attorney general, who has led states challenging the ban.

    A Syrian Muslim man who was granted asylum and settled in Wisconsin has been working since last year to win U.S. government approval for his wife and 3-year-old daughter to leave the devastated city of Aleppo and join him here. The man, who is not identified because of fears for his family’s safety, filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in February alleging Trump’s first travel ban had wrongly stopped the visa process for his family. U.S. District Judge William Conley set that challenge aside after a federal judge in Washington state blocked the entire Trump travel order.

    Trump signed a new executive order on Monday. The Syrian man filed a new complaint on Friday afternoon, alleging the new order is still an anti-Muslim ban that violates his freedom of religion and right to due process. He asked Conley to block its enforcement against his family.

    READ NEXT: Is Trump’s revised travel ban constitutional?

    Judge Conley granted that request, saying there were daily threats to the Syrian man’s wife and child that could cause “irreparable harm.” He issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family. The order doesn’t block the entire travel ban. It simply prevents Trump’s administration from enforcing it against this family pending a March 21 hearing.

    After the Trump ban was blocked the first time, the approval process restarted for the Syrian family and they’re now preparing to travel to Jordan for visa interviews at the U.S. embassy, the last step before U.S. customs officials decide whether to issue them visas. But the family doesn’t have dates for the interviews yet and Trump’s new travel ban goes into effect March 16, stirring fears that the process could halt again before visas are issued, according to the Syrian man’s attorneys.

    Government attorneys argued during a teleconference with Conley on Friday that the new ban may not apply to this family anyway, although they did not go into details. There are various exemptions and waivers in the new ban including some that give consular officers flexibility to decide cases. Conley acknowledged that the family’s situation is murky but still issued the order, saying the man seems to have a good chance of winning the case.

    The U.S. Justice Department is defending the ban. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas said agency attorneys were reviewing the Syrian man’s complaint and declined further comment on it and Conley’s order.

    [Watch Video]

    Trump issued an executive order in January banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the United States. U.S. District Judge James Robart in Washington state blocked the entire order on Feb. 3.

    The revised order issued Monday removed Iraq from the list of countries and would temporarily shuts down the refugee program. Unlike the first order, the new ban would not affect current visa holders and removes language that would give priority to religious minorities. Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the new ban Wednesday; other states with Democratic attorneys general plan to sue next week.

    According to the Syrian man’s lawsuit, he fled his country to avoid near-certain death at the hands of two military factions, one a Sunni-aligned group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and another group fighting in support of Assad. The pro-Assad forces thought he was sympathetic to the other side and the anti-Assad army targeted him because he was a Sunni and traveled to pro-Assad areas to manage his family’s business.

    Both sides tortured him and threatened to kill him, the lawsuit said. The pro-Assad forces also threatened to rape his wife. He came to the United States in 2014 and was granted asylum last year. He then began filing petitions seeking asylum for his wife and daughter.

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    Swab containing a DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) human sample with genetic testing results. Photo via Getty Images

    A little-noticed bill moving through Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information.

    Giving employers such power is now prohibited by legislation including the 2008 genetic privacy and nondiscrimination law known as GINA. The new bill gets around that landmark law by stating explicitly that GINA and other protections do not apply when genetic tests are part of a “workplace wellness” program.

    The bill, HR 1313, was approved by a House committee on Wednesday, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed. It has been overshadowed by the debate over the House GOP proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but the genetic testing bill is expected to be folded into a second ACA-related measure containing a grab-bag of provisions that do not affect federal spending, as the main bill does.

    “What this bill would do is completely take away the protections of existing laws,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a civil rights group. In particular, privacy and other protections for genetic and health information in GINA and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act “would be pretty much eviscerated,” she said.

    Employers say they need the changes because those two landmark laws are “not aligned in a consistent manner” with laws about workplace wellness programs, as an employer group said in congressional testimony last week.

    Employers got virtually everything they wanted for their workplace wellness programs during the Obama administration. The ACA allowed them to charge employees 30 percent, and possibly 50 percent, more for health insurance if they declined to participate in the “voluntary” programs, which typically include cholesterol and other screenings; health questionnaires that ask about personal habits, including plans to get pregnant; and sometimes weight loss and smoking cessation classes. And in rules that Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued last year, a workplace wellness program counts as “voluntary” even if workers have to pay thousands of dollars more in premiums and deductibles if they don’t participate.

    Despite those wins, the business community chafed at what it saw as the last obstacles to unfettered implementation of wellness programs: the genetic information and the disabilities laws. Both measures, according to congressional testimony last week by the American Benefits Council, “put at risk the availability and effectiveness of workplace wellness programs,” depriving employees of benefits like “improved health and productivity.” The council represents Fortune 500 companies and other large employers that provide employee benefits. It did not immediately respond to questions about how lack of access to genetic information hampers wellness programs.

    Rigorous studies by researchers not tied to the $8 billion wellness industry have shown that the programs improve employee health little if at all. An industry group recently concluded that they save so little on medical costs that, on average, the programs lose money. But employers continue to embrace them, partly as a way to shift more health care costs to workers, including by penalizing them financially.

    READ NEXT: Do workplace wellness programs improve employees’ health?

    The 2008 genetic law prohibits a group health plan — the kind employers have — from asking, let alone requiring, someone to undergo a genetic test. It also prohibits that specifically for “underwriting purposes,” which is where wellness programs come in. “Underwriting purposes” includes basing insurance deductibles, rebates, rewards, or other financial incentives on completing a health risk assessment or health screenings. In addition, any genetic information can be provided to the employer only in a de-identified, aggregated form, rather than in a way that reveals which individual has which genetic profile.

    There is a big exception, however: As long as employers make providing genetic information “voluntary,” they can ask employees for it. Under the House bill, none of the protections for health and genetic information provided by GINA or the disabilities law would apply to workplace wellness programs as long as they complied with the ACA’s very limited requirements for the programs. As a result, employers could demand that employees undergo genetic testing and health screenings.

    While the information returned to employers would not include workers’ names, it’s not difficult, especially in a small company, to match a genetic profile with the individual.

    That “would undermine fundamentally the privacy provisions” of those laws,” said Nancy Cox, president of the American Society of Human Genetics, in a letter to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce the day before it approved the bill. “It would allow employers to ask employees invasive questions about … genetic tests they and their families have undergone” and “to impose stiff financial penalties on employees who choose to keep such information private, thus empowering employers to coerce their employees” into providing their genetic information.

    If an employer has a wellness program but does not sponsor health insurance, rather than increasing insurance premiums, the employer could dock the paychecks of workers who don’t participate.

    The privacy concerns also arise from how workplace wellness programs work. Employers, especially large ones, generally hire outside companies to run them. These companies are largely unregulated, and they are allowed to see genetic test results with employee names.

    They sometimes sell the health information they collect from employees. As a result, employees get unexpected pitches for everything from weight-loss programs to running shoes, thanks to countless strangers poring over their health and genetic information.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on March 10, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price, center, meet with representatives of conservative political groups, including American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew Schlapp, right, to discuss their plans for repealing and replacing ObamaCare in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence is taking the Trump administration’s case for a health care overhaul to Kentucky, where one of the state’s GOP senators has been a leading critic of the White House-backed overhaul and the governor is unimpressed with the current proposal to replace the Obama-era law.

    Pence planned to tour an energy services company Saturday with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, part of an effort to reassure conservatives who have raised objections to the House GOP health care proposal that would scrap former President Barack Obama’s law.

    Pence has been the chief salesman for President Donald Trump’s push to repeal and replace the law. The House is expected to vote on the bill in less than two weeks but faces fierce resistance from critics, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has called the initial draft “Obamacare Lite.” Several influential conservative groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth have come out against the plan.

    Pence suggested this week that the Trump administration was open to negotiate changes to the bill, telling Fox News’ Bret Baier that the legislation introduced in the House was simply the start of the process.

    Conservatives have urged the White House to halt the extra money Obama’s law gives states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for 70 million low-income people. The GOP bill would end that additional funding in 2020 except for those already in the program, but conservatives want to accelerate that to 2018 to save money.

    [Watch Video]

    In Kentucky, Democrats have praised former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s use of the health care law to drive down the state’s uninsured rate and his smooth rollout of kynect, the state-run exchange, even while Obama struggled with the national release of healthcare.gov.

    But Bevin, Beshear’s successor, has warned that the state cannot afford to pay for its growing Medicaid program, which has cost the state millions more than initially expected and now covers more than 25 percent of the state’s population. He has dismantled Kentucky’s state-based exchange but indicated he would not favor eliminating the federal health insurance exchange.

    Bevin said Friday he would tell Paul that “we support their effort to fix this problem,” but that was not a fan of the initial proposal. The governor told reporters that Paul “is not impressed with what has currently been offered. Truth be told, I’m not either. So I’m with him.”

    Paul has been among the Senate’s foremost critics of the bill. Even before the legislation was released, he brought a copy machine outside of the room where House Republicans were drafting the bill and asked for a copy, all to draw attention to the secrecy of the plan.

    Trump, who faced Paul in the GOP presidential primaries last year, made a pitch for persuasion on Twitter, writing that he was sure Paul would “come along with the new and great health care program.”

    The event at the Harshaw Trane facility is in the hometown of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will not be in attendance because of a scheduling conflict.

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    A person has been arrested after they climbed a fence and reached the south grounds of the White House. Photo of White House by Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secret Service says a person is under arrest after climbing a fence and getting onto the south grounds of the White House.

    The breach happened at about 11:38 p.m. Friday. President Donald Trump was at the White House.

    The agency says the individual — whom it did not identify — was arrested without further incident. No hazardous materials were found during a search of a backpack the individual carried.

    The Secret Service also says a search of the south and north grounds of the White House complex found “nothing of concern to security operations.”

    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was briefed on the incident.

    The agency didn’t provide an update on the individual’s status. Standard practice is to hand intruders over to the local police department.

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    The color guard for LGBT veterans group OutVets marches down Broadway during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. on March 15, 2015. The group was initially banned from participating this year, but parade organizers reversed that decision on Friday. Photo By Dominick/Reuters

    Gay and transgender U.S. military veterans will be allowed to participate in the city of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade next weekend, in a reversal made by organizers on Friday.

    In 2015 and 2016, members of the gay veterans’ group OutVets were allowed to march in the Boston parade, one of the largest in the country, after some sponsors threatened to pull funding from the event and local politicians threatened to boycott it.

    But despite OutVets’ recent participation, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, which organizes the parade, voted on Tuesday to exclude the group from this year’s parade on March 19, stating that a rainbow logo worn by members violates parade rules and that OutVets submitted a late application to participate in the parade. Following the decision, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh along with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Edward Markey said they would not attend the parade.

    Advocates had for decades been pushing to allow LGBT participation in the Boston parade, despite protests from the council. In 1995, the case was reviewed by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the council was with in its legal rights to ban gay organizations from taking part in the parade.

    The Greater Boston Firefighters Pipe and Drum corps marches down Broadway during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, Massachusetts March 15, 2015. Photo By Dominick/Reuters

    Dee Dee Edmondson, the attorney representing OutVets, lauded the reversal.

    “We are honored and humbled by all the outpouring of support that has been displayed for our LGBTQ veterans – who are one of the most unrepresented demographics in our veterans community,” Edmondson said.

    The post Gay veterans permitted to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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