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

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 23: Writer Neil Gaiman attends the IMDb Yacht at San Diego Comic-Con 2016: Day Three at The IMDb Yacht on July 23, 2016 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb)

    Writer Neil Gaiman in July, 2016 in San Diego, California. Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb

    Neil Gaiman — comic book writer, graphic novelist, cult hero, lover of the fantastic, and now, reteller of myths — says he has one composer he listens to while he writes.

    It’s Michael Nyman, creator of the “propulsively pounding scores” for the sex-and-death-obsessed films of Peter Greenaway, including “The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and His Lover,” “A Zed and Two Noughts,” “The Draughtman’s Contract,” and “Drowning by Numbers,” which were made in the 1980s. (Nyman is also known for composing the acclaimed soundtrack of “The Piano.”)

    “I can play those over and over again,” Gaiman said in an interview with NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown about his new book, “Norse Mythology,” which retells the dark, ancient myths for a modern age.

    WATCH: From Neil Gaiman, tales of Thor and Odin for modern ears

    Gaiman said he is also listening to “50 Song Memoir,” the new, autobiographical album from indie pop band the Magnetic Fields, in which each song tracks one year of frontman Stephin Merritt’s life.

    “Merritt is one of our great songwriters. Until now he’s made a point of saying: these songs are not about me. And suddenly, having done that, he writes one song for year of his life,” Gaiman said, “The first 25 years are funny, and the second 25 years keep breaking your heart, over and over again.”

    Gaiman also recommended a “glorious hodgepodge of things” he is reading, including:

    — Steve Erickson’s upcoming novel “Shadowbahn,” which Gaiman said was a “beautiful, moving, strange examination of apocalypse and rebirth”

    — Henry Mayhew’s “London Labour and the London Poor,” a four volume study of Victorian street and working people, “like a Charles Dickens novel that goes out in all directions”

    — “Our Mutual Friend,” by Charles Dickens, a dark satire of London

    — Novelist Armistead Maupin’s new book of memoirs “A Logical Family,” which contains a “completely scandalous three-page sequence” featuring Armistead and actor Rock Hudson

    — Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a book that Gaiman loved as a boy

    Get more of his recommendations below:

    The post Neil Gaiman listens to these dramatic film scores while he writes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A domesticated fox, produced as part of a long-term breeding program in Russia, being cuddled. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    A domesticated fox, produced as part of a long-term breeding program in Russia, being cuddled. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    Cultures across the globe consider foxes to be incorrigibly wild. In both ancient fables and big-budget movies, these fluffy mammals are depicted as being clever, intelligent and untamable. Untamable, that is, until an unparalleled biology experiment started in Siberia almost 60 years ago.

    The tale begins with Dmitry Belyaev, who was studying genetics during a very dangerous time in the Soviet Union. State officials campaigned actively against genetic research with a tactic known as Lysenkoism, under which hundreds of biologists were either thrown in prison or executed. After Joseph Stalin’s death, the government’s grasp on genetic research loosened, and though it was still controversial, Belyaev was finally able to test a hypothesis he had been secretly pursuing.

    Dmitry Belyaev, the brains behind the breeding. Photo by Institute for Cytology and Genetics

    Dmitry Belyaev, the brains behind the breeding. Photo by Institute of Cytology and Genetics

    As director of the newly-minted Institute of Cytology and Genetics, Belyaev was curious as to how dogs first became domesticated. He decided that to fully understand the process, he must attempt to replicate the early days of domestication. He picked foxes for the experiment because of their close family ties with dogs (both are canids). His research team visited fur farms across the Soviet Union and purchased the tamest foxes on hand. They figured using the most docile of the wild foxes for their breeding program would hasten the pace of domestication, relative to the thousands of years it took to breed dogs.

    To prove the foxes’ friendly demeanor was the result of genetic selection, Belyaev’s team began to breed foxes that showed opposite traits of the tame pups. Instead of being outgoing and excited by encountering people, these foxes were defensive and aggressive. This result showed certain aspects of the fox’s behavior could be tied to genetics and spotted during breeding.

    What does the (tame) fox say?

    Unfortunately, Belyaev died before seeing the final results. But today, 58 years after the start of the program, there is now a large, sustainable population of domesticated foxes. These animals have no fear of humans, and actively seek out human companionship. The most friendly are known as “elite” foxes.

    “By the tenth generation, 18 percent of fox pups were elite; by the 20th, the figure had reached 35 percent,” Lyudmilla Trut, one of the lead researchers at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics, wrote in a paper describing the experiment in 1999. “Today elite foxes make up 70 to 80 percent of our experimentally selected population.”

    University of Illinois biologist Anna Kukekova has been studying these domesticated foxes since the late 1990s. Her lab digs into the genes behind the desirable traits in the animals.

    Two domesticated foxes, produced as part of a long-term breeding program in Russia, begging for pets. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    Two domesticated foxes, produced as part of a long-term breeding program in Russia, begging for pets. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    One of the lab’s most interesting findings is that the friendly foxes exhibit physical traits not seen in the wild, such as spots in their fur and curled tails. Their ears show weird traits, too.

    Like puppies, young foxes have floppy ears. But the ears of domesticated foxes stay floppier for a longer time after birth, said Jennifer Johnson, a biologist who has worked with Kukekova since the early 2000s.

    As the researchers peered into the reasons behind the behavioral traits, they found there isn’t just one gene responsible for the friendly and outgoing behavior.

    “The tameness (the nice versus mean) is actually separate from the bold animals versus the shy animals, and the active animals versus quiet animals,” Johnson said. “When these [tame and aggressive] animals are bred, we see a lot of interesting new behaviors.”

    Johnson said it has been difficult to decipher these genetic secrets, because unlike for humans and dogs, no one has sequenced the genome of foxes … yet. Kukekova’s lab expects to publish a fox genome sometime soon.

    Fly foxes, fly!

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the domesticated fox experiment fell on hard times as public funding for the project evaporated. The researchers realized quickly that keeping more than 300 foxes is an expensive enterprise. In the 1990s, the lab switched to selling some of the foxes as fur pelts to sustain the breeding program.

    “The current situation is not catastrophic, but not stable at the same time,” Institute of Cytology and Genetics research assistant Anastasiya Kharlamova told BBC Earth last year. Now, the lab’s primary source of revenue is selling the foxes to people and organizations across the globe.

    One customer is the Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center, located near San Diego. The center keeps six foxes — five of which are domesticated — as ambassadors for their species, so that people can get an up-close-and-personal view of the animals.

    “We have a fox whose name is Boris, and as soon as someone walks in, he’ll run up to them like a dog will,” said David Bassett, president of the Conservation Center. “He wants to be scratched and if you don’t scratch him he’ll make you.”

    Boris the domesticated fox. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    Boris the domesticated fox. Photo by Judith A. Bassett Canid Education and Conservation Center

    Want a domesticated fox of your own? Remember these rules. First, bringing one into the United States costs almost $9,000. Several states outright ban people from keeping foxes as pets, including California, New York, Texas and Oregon. And of course, while domesticated foxes are friendlier than those in the wild, they can still be unpredictable.

    “[You can be] sitting there drinking your cup of coffee and turning your head for a second, and then taking a swig and realizing, ‘Yeah, Boris came up here and peed in my coffee cup,’” said Amy Bassett, the Canid Conservation Center’s founder. “You can easily train and manage behavioral problems in dogs, but there are a lot of behaviors in foxes, regardless of if they’re Russian or U.S., that you will never be able to manage.”

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    The post Why domesticated foxes are genetically fascinating (and terrible pets) appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Republican-led Senate moved Thursday to undo Obama-era regulations that would have forced internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to ask customers' permission before they could use or sell much of their personal information. Photo by jamdesign/via Adobe

    The House voted Tuesday to undo Obama-era regulations that would have forced internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to ask customers’ permission before they could use or sell much of their personal information. Photo by jamdesign/via Adobe

    Top Republicans pushed a measure through the House on Tuesday that overturns Obama-era regulations intended to protect consumers’ data from being shared with advertisers without consent. If you’re reading this story on a computer or internet-connected device, that obviously includes you.

    The bill, which passed 215-205 in the House, pulls back legislation passed by Congress in 2016. Originally proposed by the Federal Communications Commission, the measure would have broadened FCC privacy rules so they also applied to broadband internet service providers. In other words, it required companies like AT&T, Verizon and others to get consent from customers like you before sharing (or selling) your personal data and web browsing history with advertisers.

    A companion bill passed 50-48 last week in the Senate.

    President Donald Trump has yet to sign this week’s measure into law but his advisers have encouraged him to do so.

    Now, before you lament the end of your internet privacy — take a deep breath.

    As Wired reporter Klint Finley told the NewsHour, those FCC rules never actually went into effect, meaning technically, Tuesday’s measure doesn’t change anything. The rules to protect customer data were passed in October of last year but wouldn’t have taken effect until December 2017, Finley said. So the bill passed on Tuesday simply blocks those rules from taking effect, Finley said.

    That said, Tuesday’s measure does create some wrinkles in the debate over consumer privacy in the rapidly growing Internet of Things. Namely, the measure blocks the FCC not only from implementing the 2016 rules, but pursuing others like them.

    “Mostly it means that internet service providers now have the go-ahead to sell data,” Finley explained. “It was already technically legal, but if any companies were holding off on doing it while they waited to see if the laws went into effect or not, they don’t have to wait anymore.”

    Let’s dissect this together.

    How did we get here?

    • FCC’s 2016 privacy rules were a follow up to the 2015 Open Internet Order, regulations that defined the Internet as a public utility and set the stage for today’s net-neutrality rules. The Open Internet Order also put the FCC in charge of privacy regulations.
    • Until 2015, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, held jurisdiction over ISPs, according to a FCC statement. However, two years ago, the FCC “stripped the FTC of its authority over internet service providers.”
    • The debate over net neutrality can be summed up in this question, as posed by Neil Irwin of The New York Times: “Is access to the Internet more like access to electricity, or more like cable television service?”

    Why is Congress taking this up again?

    • The Obama-era bill was passed in October 2016. But lawmakers took advantage of the Congressional Review Act, a rare procedural move that permits lawmakers to reconfigure any regulation they disagree with.
    • The bill has sparked debate from both sides of the aisle. Some House Republicans say requiring the FCC to get consent from consumers before sharing data approaches government overreach. House Democrats say not putting those protections in place sets up a poor precedent for online privacy.
    • ISPs have pushed back against privacy regulations. Their issue: Sites like Facebook and Google are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and are therefore governed by regulations that do not force them to obtain customer consent before collecting and selling personal data. Notice how right after you’ve been searching for a copy of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection on Amazon, advertisers bombard you with video game ads once you’ve switched back to Facebook.

    What does the latest bill actually do?

    “Historically, regulations have treated that data as the property of the consumer,” GeekWire wrote. Under the new bill, “it will be viewed more like the property of internet providers.”

    This means, ISPs could sell your personal information without consent. They can view anything from your browsing history and geolocation to the applications you use on the web.

    The bill also makes it harder for the FCC to pursue policies like those passed last fall, says Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel for the advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. Congress has “in essence created a law that contradicts the existing privacy law the FCC is tasked with enforcing,” Falcon told the NewsHour.

    Why do ISPs want this information, and what do they do with it?

    As the digital economy expands, ISPs have become increasingly interested in improving their presence within advertising, Business Insider reported.

    “The traditional means is to collect information to create a profile and market it to advertisers who attempt to connect that user to goods they believe they will purchase,” Falcon said.

    In theory, anyone from insurance companies, airlines, banks and retailers to political parties or, critics fear, the government, could buy data profiles of consumers.

    What’s next?

    Then-FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (L) testifies at a House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2015. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Then-FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (L) testifies at a House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in 2015. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Currently, there’s no definitive timeline for President Trump to sign the bill, Reuters reported.

    Even if the measure is signed into law, the FCC still reviews privacy cases involving customer privacy on the Internet.

    FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told the NewsHour in a statement that “the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework. In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

    Republican Sen. John Thune told Axios that he’s open to passing additional privacy protections in order to reach a legislative compromise on net neutrality “if that were something that it took to get Democrats to the table.”

    How to protect your data

    Let’s be honest: Whether you know it or not, your internet privacy has more than likely been jeopardized at some point. When it comes to dealing with ISPs, educating yourself on what to expect goes a long way, Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the NewsHour. If the bill becomes law, consumers could still explicitly opt out from having their data shared, even if it isn’t obvious how to do it.

    “Consumers can call their providers and opt out of having their information shared,” Guliani said. “Consumers can pressure companies to be more transparent and I think there’s an opportunity to pressure companies to implement good practices and for consumers to say ‘I think that you should require opt-in consent and if you’re not, why not?’”

    Now, some ISPs do offer some sort of getaway from their targeted advertising. But as noted in The Verge, you may have to dig order within a company’s linear notes in order to find protections for yourself.

    Falcon said utilizing a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, could provide a safeguard, but noted that it’s not a bulletproof method.

    “People can start using VPNs but they aren’t a perfect defense and ISPs are going to start using our browser information and application data without our permission,” Falcon said. “Ultimately people must let their member of Congress know they value their privacy. If they voted against repeal, encourage them to push for legislation to restore our privacy rights.”

    READ MORE: House sends bill to Trump blocking online privacy regulation

    The post Before you lament the end of your internet privacy, read this appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Patricia Burgos, Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge Contreras and Frances Calderon (left-right) stand in the lobby of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, December 29, 2006. Photo by Andrew Councill/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

    As proposed cuts loom, new research digs into the return on investment for public funding of the National Institutes of Health. Photo by Andrew Councill/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

    Two weeks ago, a budget proposal from the Trump administration, to the surprise of many scientists, called for a 19 percent reduction in funding for the National Institutes of Health. Congress must approve the final terms of fiscal year 2018 budget, but the proposed cuts raise questions about the value of the America’s health research organization.

    Founded in 1887, the NIH comprises 27 different institutes and centers, though most of its $33 billion annual budget goes toward supporting 300,000 scientists spread across 2,500 universities and organizations in every state and other places around the world. The institutes disperse these funds through grants, which back research into myriad human diseases but also fuel the educational training of doctors, scientists and undergraduates.

    On Wednesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price defended the “skinny budget”’s call for a $5.8 billion reduction in NIH funding by arguing the trims would not target research, but instead go after direct “overhead” costs like lab equipment or utilities.

    Can the NIH survive without its indirect costs? And what might a 19 percent slash mean for the NIH’s return on public investment?

    A new study published Thursday in the journal Science tries to suss out an answer by calculating how many NIH grants lead to new patents and medications. The numbers portray the NIH’s spillover influence into the private sector, but also shine a light on research’s inherent propensity for failure.

    What they studied

    • Grant data. Three economists — Harvard’s Danielle Li, Pierre Azoulay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University’s Bhaven N. Sampat — amassed data on grants issued by 21 of the NIH’s 24 institutes between 1980 to 2007. (It stopped there because it takes about 10 years for a drug to be developed and approved).
    • The team examined 365,380 grants in total to determine how many directly led to patents or FDA-approved drugs. They also tracked whether or not these grants were cited by patent or drug applications.
    • They excluded three institutes — the National Library of Medicine, the National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities — because of their limited influence on private-sector patents.
    • Their analysis focused primarily on marketed drugs — think pills in bottles or injected medicines — and didn’t assess medical device patents.

    What they found

    • 8.4 percent of these grants (approximately 30,000) were directly responsible for a patent, most of which were “Bayh-Dole” patents held by the university or hospital where the innovation was made.
    • A larger proportion of the grants — 31 percent — had been cited by 81,642 by private-sector patents, suggesting the research played a role in the development of those concepts.
    • However, fewer than 1 percent of these grants — 4,414 — were directly tied to FDA-approved drugs, while 5 percent were mentioned in a patent for a marketed drugs.

    Why it matters

    Let’s unpack these figures. Does an 8.4 percent influence on patents and a less than 1 percent impact on FDA-approved drugs represent a solid rate of return?

    Pierre Azoulay argues yes. He told the NewsHour:

    Okay, first let’s be clear. This is very important. This is not a return on investment. This article doesn’t tell you what’s the return on investment in publicly funded research. This article provides evidence that the research done in the public sector is useful — it’s relevant for the research done by private-sector firms. They actually build on it.

    So say there’s a scientist funded in academia, funded by NIH. They do research. They publish it, and at some later point — sometimes a much much later point — that research will become relevant to private sector efforts in the biopharmaceutical industry. They will use it. They will build on it. What we found is that is a much higher proportion NIH funded grants that are relevant in this slightly more indirect way.

    Moreover, the figures in this paper do not represent the full return on investment for NIH research. That’s a much broader question because the NIH’s goal is not to increase patenting, but “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability.”

    Hence, assessing the NIH’s full return on investment should also include looking into their influence over public well-being and how those actions contribute subsequently to the economy.

    • Take for example the Framingham Heart Study, Azoulay said. Much of what is known about what causes hypertension and heart failure comes from the Framingham Heart Study, which has been running for 69 years.
    • “The rate of return on just this study must be in like the gazillions of dollars, right?” Azoulay said. “Statin drugs wouldn’t have been developed, if we hadn’t had the results from the Framingham Heart Study. Just think about the number of Americans who take statins every year.”
    • In a separate, preliminary analysis, Azoulay and his colleagues estimate that every $10 million of public investment in the NIH can expect $14.7 million million in subsequent drug sales. Note: This research has not been officially published or peer-reviewed, so the final numbers might change.

    What happens next

    The NIH isn’t perfect. In the upcoming book Rigor Mortis, NPR science reporter Richard Harris dives into the many flaws of biomedical research, namely the replication crisis. This catchall term refers to a growing trend whereupon biomedical researchers fail to reproduce each other’s results. Anyone familiar with the scientific method recognizes that’s a serious problem.

    Here’s a clip from Harris’ book:

    There has been no systematic attempt to measure the quality of biomedical science as a whole, but Leonard Freedman, who started a nonprofit called the Global Biological Standards Institute, teamed up with two economists to put a dollar figure on the problem in the United States.

    Extrapolating results from the few small studies that have attempted to quantify it, they estimated that 20 percent of studies have untrustworthy designs; about 25 percent use dubious ingredients, such as contaminated cells or antibodies that aren’t nearly as selective and accurate as scientists assume them to be; 8 percent involve poor lab technique; and 18 percent of the time, scientists mishandle their data analysis. In sum, Freedman figured that about half of all preclinical research isn’t trustworthy.

    Experts debate the veracity of these numbers, but the calculations raise serious questions about the efficiency of biomedical research. Azoulay recognizes the problems.

    “It’s a human enterprise with human flaws,” Azoulay said. “But the [NIH] grant system itself, which is very stringent, does tend to screen out ideas that are high risk.”

    Yet the nature of science is failure. Millions of biomedical experiments are conducted each year just to prep drug candidates for human testing, yet only one in 10 will survive clinical trials. Harris estimates “of the 7,000 known diseases, only about 500 have treatments.” Not all of those remedies came from the NIH, but countless did.

    Azoulay argues that instantly shutting off the NIH’s funds for indirect costs would undoubtedly have repercussions for medical schools and research programs at universities.

    “They’d have to shrink significantly and would have to review all kinds of priorities if overhead costs got cut,” Azoulay said. “You need to build those buildings. You need to staff them. There’s a lot of infrastructure that’s needed for research. It’s not a gift.”

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    The post Do taxpayers get their money’s worth from the National Institutes of Health? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch speaks at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX31WPO

    Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch speaks at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on March 20. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    An outside political group backing Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination is launching an ad campaign pressuring Senate Democrats to support him as the Senate prepares for a final fight over his confirmation next week.

    The Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement Thursday it was devoting $1 million to television and online ads in the run-up to Gorsuch’s confirmation vote. The seven-figure commitment is part of a $10 million campaign the group rolled out in January to support Gorsuch’s confirmation.

    The group’s latest push comes as Senate Democrats are trying to block Gorsuch’s nomination from reaching a final vote. Gorsuch needs the support of 60 members in a cloture vote that would advance his nomination to the floor for a final vote.

    The group’s ad blitz isn’t the first time outside groups have jumped into the fight over a Supreme Court nominee. Progressives have mounted their own campaign to block Gorsuch. Liberal groups bought national TV ads backing Elena Kagan, Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, in 2010.

    Some of the Judicial Crisis Network’s money will go toward cable ads airing nationwide, the group said. But it is also funding statewide ads in Colorado, Indiana, Missouri and Montana — states where Democrats will be defending Senate seats in 2018.

    Three of the senators holding those seats — Michael Bennet of Colorado, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Jon Tester of Montana — have yet to publicly announce whether they will filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination or oppose his confirmation, even as many of their Democratic colleagues have committed to doing both. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is also defending her seat in 2018, announced Friday that she would oppose Gorsuch.

    In 2016, President Donald Trump won the home states of three of the four senators the Judicial Crisis Network is targeting in its latest ad buy. Hillary Clinton won Colorado by 5 points.

    READ MORE: ‘Backward is not backwards’ and other takeaways from Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold its vote on Gorsuch on Monday, which will allow Senate GOP leaders to schedule the cloture vote.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced earlier this week that the Senate would hold the final vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 7, the last day before Congress takes a two-week recess.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last week that he would filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination and asked other Democrats to do the same. “After careful deliberation I have concluded that I cannot support Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.

    Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch (R) meets with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Capitol Hill in D.C. in February. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    Gorsuch meets with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Capitol Hill last month in February. McCaskill announced her opposition to his nomination on Friday. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    A Democratic filibuster would force Senate Republicans to eliminate the rule that requires Supreme Court nominees to receive 60 votes to advance to a final vote.

    McConnell has said he wouldn’t rule out changing the rule, known as the “nuclear option,” to confirm Gorsuch. It’s unclear, though, if enough Republicans support the rule change to pass it without Democratic support.

    Schumer argued against changing the rules in his floor speech. “If this nominee cannot earn 60 votes [then] the answer isn’t to change the rules, it’s to change the nominee,” he said.

    Gorsuch received a boost Thursday when Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — two of the Democrats from red states facing tough reelection battles next year — announced their support for his confirmation.

    MORE: Did senators get enough substance on Gorsuch’s views?

    Manchin touted Gorsuch’s qualifications, calling him an “honest and thoughtful man.”

    “I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court Justice,” Manchin said in a statement.

    Heitkamp said she decided to back Gorsuch despite lingering frustration with Senate Republicans for refusing to vote last year on Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in early 2016.

    “I was taught that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “There isn’t a perfect judge. Regardless of which party is in the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court should be above politics.”

    The Judicial Crisis Network’s chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, praised the senators for backing Gorsuch.

    In a statement, Severino said that the Democrats “did the right thing” by “resisting the partisan calls for gridlock” around Gorsuch’s nomination.

    The post Conservative group launches ad blitz pressuring Senate Dems to back Neil Gorsuch appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: The fallout from last week’s failed Republican effort to repeal the Obama health care is still being felt across the political landscape nationally.

    President Trump’s approval rating now hovers around 40 percent in tracking polls.

    In Michigan, a state he won, Trump supporters whom William Brangham spoke to offered their own assessments of the president’s first two months in office.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Sixty-four-year-old Randall Shelton is a self-described independent and angry white man. For him, Trump’s election wasn’t a surprise, even though Trump wasn’t Shelton’s first choice.

    RANDALL SHELTON: Well, I wish there had been other candidates, but I chose the one that I believe was going to do the right thing. I thought he was going to do and I still believe he’s going to do the right thing.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Shelton lives in Allen Park, a blue-collar suburb of Detroit.

    Twelve years ago, he got hurt working at the local General Motors plant, and he’s been on disability and off work ever since. He thinks Democrats and Republicans are blocking the very things Trump was elected to do, like bringing back jobs and fixing immigration. But Shelton says the president is also partly to blame for some of his early failures.

    RANDALL SHELTON: It seems like, once he got in there, all he wants to do is play golf and take vacations and tweet. If he’d shut up and just do what he said he’s going to do and stay off the Twitter, and take care of business in Washington, he would probably be a whole lot better off.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thirty miles away in Novi, Michigan, we found a small, ardent group of supporters who remain totally committed to the president.

    DON EBBEN: I have been completely blown away, completely surprised.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In a good way?

    DON EBBEN: In a good way.

    GERRY CLIXBY: I still find him a little bit of abrasive. But I’m willing to forgive it. I’m willing to look past it, because he’s the president of the United States. He’s leading the direction from whence we have come. And that’s important to me.

    MESHAWN MADDOCK: We were Trump before Trump was Trump here in Michigan.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meshawn Maddock helped organize this gathering. She ran a Facebook group called Michigan Women For Trump.

    MESHAWN MADDOCK: It was when he talked about getting rid of the people within our own party that are the problem. That was what motivated me.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Maddock likes that Trump is disrupting what she sees as a broken political system and that he’s using social media in a way that no president has ever done before.

    MESHAWN MADDOCK: I don’t believe anybody is monitoring him on Twitter. It’s all him. And what I love about is that there is no middle man anymore. So I think he’s completely changing how the media is going to work and serve the people. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Theresa Johns originally wanted Ted Cruz, but later came around to the Trump camp, even though a recent Quinnipiac poll. Showed that six in 10 Americans say the president is dishonest, Johns is not one of them.

    THERESA JOHNS: Trump has never, ever said anything that has not come to pass. It’s not. He’s always said — what he has said is the truth. And I don’t think that he has reason to lie. What does he have to gain by lying? Nothing.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We also asked about the various allegations surrounding Russia, that Russia seems to have tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign and that members of the Trump campaign may have close ties to Russia.

    Does that bother you at all?

    MESHAWN MADDOCK: I hate to say it but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t want to focus on Russia. I just think it’s smoke and mirrors.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So you don’t think there’s any of these allegations?

    MESHAWN MADDOCK: I don’t think there’s anything to it. I think it’s just they — they are going to try to do anything they can to try to bring this man down.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Few expected President Trump to win here in Michigan, but it was the last state he visited on the campaign trail and one of the first he came back to after he was elected.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you to the incredible people of Michigan.

    LINDA BRANDIS: This is the type of guy that is crude and he’s loud and he is not politically correct. But he says everything we think.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In Commerce, Michigan, Linda Brandis, who’s an active member of the state’s Tea Party, remains thankful the president won. But she also just reached out directly to him about some growing concerns she has.

    LINDA BRANDIS: I sent him an e-mail last night.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What did it say?

    LINDA BRANDIS: It said, I voted for you because I’m concerned about health care. And I wanted to remind him that it was the grassroots that put him in the White House, and it can be the grassroots that takes him out of the White House.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Brandis was disappointed that Trump didn’t push initially for a full repeal of Obamacare, and then, when the Republican-led Congress couldn’t pass their bill, the president just seemed to move onto other priorities.

    LINDA BRANDIS: In his mind, he really thought, oh, I can go in and I’m just going to fix this. And it’s not that easy a problem to fix. And I don’t appreciate the childish attitude of, it’s my way or the highway.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Guy Gordon hosts the afternoon talk show on WJR in Detroit. His show follows Rush Limbaugh’s.

    We were there the afternoon the Republican health care bill collapsed, and the phones lit up with callers, like Beth from Macomb County.

    BETH: I’m disgusted with the conservative Republicans. They need to get their heads out of their you-know-where.

    GUY GORDON, Radio Host, WJR Detroit: There is a heartland here in America that feels overlooked, disrespected, mocked for their beliefs. They have also seen their jobs leave. And there’s no greater window into that than Macomb County.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Macomb County is famous in political circles, because, for decades, this area voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. But then in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan campaigned here and he turned those Democratic voters to the Republican side. This area became known as the home of the Reagan Democrats.

    JACK BRANDENBURG (R), Michigan State Senator: You are right now, at this moment, sitting in the birthplace of the Reagan Democrats.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: State Senator Jack Brandenburg says he was the first elected official in Michigan to formally endorse Donald Trump. And he believes that following Reagan’s path through Macomb County, which had gone to President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, was key to Trump’s success.

    Trump won Macomb County by more than 48,000 votes, but carried the entire state by less than 12,000.

    JACK BRANDENBURG: If you do the math, Macomb County put him over the top in Michigan and quite possibly gave him the presidency.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Closer to downtown Detroit, the lingering scars of the area’s economic crisis are everywhere.

    CORON BENTLEY: Just about everybody in this neighborhood has basically voted Democrat, but I tell people all the time, what has 50-plus years of Democratic policies done for our communities?

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Fewer than 5 percent of voters in Detroit picked President Trump, but Coron Bentley, who works for Ford Motor Company, supported him. He says he gets a lot of grief from friends and family for being a black Republican, but he’s glad to have voted for the president, and he says it’s already paying off.

    CORON BENTLEY: There was talk of them building a brand-new $700 million plant in Mexico, but, instead, they decided to invest that money in the plant that I work at. As Herbert Hoover once said of all people, prosperity is right around the corner.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Bentley says that optimism stems from Ford’s recent decision to reinvest more than a billion dollars into three Michigan plants.

    President Trump applauded the announcement on Twitter earlier this week, saying car company jobs are coming back to the U.S. However, Ford said much of the plan had been in the works long before the election.

    Back in Allen Park, Randall Shelton wants the president to refocus on cracking down on illegal immigration and to start acting a little more presidential.

    RANDALL SHELTON: So, you’re supposed to be the president of the United States. Act like the president of the United States. Don’t act like some braggart, some spoiled little rich kid, which you are, and start doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Shelton says, in the end, he’s still glad he voted for the president and hopes he will start turning things around in the weeks and months ahead.

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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump promised to give the U.S. military more freedom to attack terrorist targets around the world.

    Yesterday, it was announced that President Trump made good on that promise.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Among the countries where the U.S. is fighting terrorism are Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. Now the president has approved the Pentagon’s plan to beef up its targeting of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, giving the military greater latitude to decide when and where to strike.

    For more on all of this, we turn to Sarah Sewall. She served as undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights during the Obama administration. She’s written extensively about military operations and civilian casualties. She’s now at Johns Hopkins University.

    Ms. Sewall, I want to first ask — just walk us through what the changes are that the Pentagon just announced.

    SARAH SEWALL, Former State Department Official: Well, essentially, President Obama had created two categories for thinking about the use of force in the context of the war on terror.

    One was more like targeted killing with more restricted types of targets that you could both choose and were forced to identify, and it controlled the effects of those uses of force more closely. The other is more like what Americans would understand as war, general hostilities.

    And what has happened is, the president — the current president has now moved, according to reports, moved the Somalia engagement of U.S. forces from the category of more targeted uses of force to that of general hostilities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It says that the new rules says it’s OK to kill civilians if necessary and proportionate.

    What does that mean? In the past, it used to be if they were threatening Americans. That doesn’t seem the case now.

    SARAH SEWALL: Sure.

    That’s what I mean by the kinds of targets that are chosen. The former category required that only those who were a direct threat to Americans could be targeted. Now they can be targeted if they’re members of an organization that’s an associated force with the perpetrators of 9/11.

    It has huge impacts for civilian casualties, because the former standard of using the use of targeting according to a near certainty of not killing civilians has now been relaxed.

    But, of course, the laws of war still apply, so uses of force still have to be proportional and they still have to be discriminate.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The military has complained for quite some time, even through the Obama administration, that there was too much red tape between when they actually found the target and the amount of hoops that they had to jump through to try to take action on it.

    SARAH SEWALL: That’s right, Hari.

    I think it is fair to say that the U.S. military, like most militaries, will always seek greater latitude for the use of force. It’s the role of civilian authorities to make sure that America’s broader strategic interests are balanced against tactical possibilities for gain.

    And here is where I think President Obama’s decision to make sure that the uses of force didn’t have blowback, either by virtue of killing civilians unnecessarily, or by feeding into the ISIS narrative that the U.S. was seeking to fight a war against Islam, or by allowing a slippery slope for the use of military force, which is, I think, a legitimate concern that we should be asking about in the context of moving toward general hostilities for engagement in Somalia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. military is also going to say, listen, we go out of our way more than anybody else to try to minimize civilian casualties, so what’s the harm in giving them a little bit more leeway if they are going to follow the same protocols?

    SARAH SEWALL: Well, they are not going to follow the same protocols. The protocols are very different, Hari.

    And, yes, the U.S. military is better than almost anyone else at avoiding civilian harm. But we need to only look at the use of airstrikes in Mosul in Iraq to see that there are huge potentials for backlash that come when you relax those protocols. And we can do extremely well, we have done extremely well at different periods in our history.

    We know how to be discriminating in the use of airpower. And part of what President Obama’s original intent was to keep those standards high as much as possible. So, we should be asking tough questions when the standards are relaxed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Does the use of or the ability to use more force make our troops any safer?

    SARAH SEWALL: Well, I did a study in Afghanistan in 2010, and there was no correlation between the kinds of standards that protected civilians and the protection that our forces enjoyed.

    What changed was the way we went about pursuing our objectives. Sometimes, we took more time. Sometimes, we took an indirect route. But the U.S. military can do a phenomenal job at avoiding civilian harm.

    But it does require civilian leadership to emphasize that as a matter of a priority.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Sarah Sewall with Johns Hopkins, thanks so much.

    SARAH SEWALL: Thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It seems every day, sometimes every hour, there are new developments in the inquiry into connections between President Trump, his associates and Russia. It’s hard to keep it all straight. But, because it’s important, we’re going to give it a try.

    Here to talk through what we know, and what we don’t, are correspondents John Yang and Lisa Desjardins.

    And thank you both for being here to do this.

    Lisa, I’m going to start with you.

    Remind us, where did all this come from? What was the origin of Russia’s interest in our elections?

    LISA DESJARDINS: Let’s start with 2011.

    That’s when Hillary Clinton, the then secretary of state, spoke out criticizing Russian elections. Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, then reacted, saying that she was interfering and she was helping protesters, and she was trying to have an impact on the Russian election.

    Then we can flash forward to last summer. That’s when the FBI became aware of hacking into the Democratic National Committee, then to October. Then we have a conclusion from the director of national intelligence that Russian officials were in fact trying to interfere with our election.

    And then just this month, we heard from FBI Director Comey about their investigation, making this rare public statement:

    JAMES COMEY, FBI Director: The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

    LISA DESJARDINS: A very rare statement in the middle of an investigation.

    Bottom line, Judy, we know that our intelligence on the U.S. side has concluded that Russia tried to interfere with the election. And that includes now they’re investigating things like trying to send fake news to particular states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

    The biggest question now seems to be, was the Trump — were any Trump associates, any Trump campaign officials involved, did they know about this, did they collude with Russia at all?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, John, what is known about any links, any connections between Trump, Trump’s campaign and Russian officials?

    JOHN YANG: It is a spider web, Judy.

    You have got campaign officials who either had or have business relations with Russia like former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, adviser Carter Page. You had others in the campaign who were in contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States either during the campaign or during the transition, adviser J.D. Gordon, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sessions, of course, who’s recused himself from this investigation because of that contact.

    And then there’s Roger Stone, who somehow got advanced word about these hacked Hillary Clinton e-mails, e-mails that the — our United States intelligence says came from the Russian intelligence, was hacked by the Russian intelligence.

    Now, could this all be a coincidence? Sure, but a lot of these people have been less than forthcoming about these contacts.

    I mean, just last month, Judy, you asked Carter Page whether he had met any Russian official during the campaign.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did you have any meetings? I’ll ask again. Did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?

    CARTER PAGE, Former Trump Campaign Foreign Policy Adviser: I had no meetings, no meetings.

    JOHN YANG: And, of course, eventually, he acknowledged that wasn’t true. He met the ambassador at the Republican Convention.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And he said that after he had told me just the opposite.

    But, Lisa, what about financial connections between the president, people around him and Russia?

    LISA DESJARDINS: The president was, for so much of his life, the CEO of the Trump Organization.

    So, let’s look at the business side of the Trump Organization here to Russia. The White House stresses that there are few direct connections. One, the president has sold some real estate to a few Russians.

    But, two, probably the connection most people know about is that Mr. Trump hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. That was in 2013. But there’s more to it than that, some more indirect kind of connections. We know that among the other business ties, Donald J. Trump Jr. said in 2008 that, of their businesses all across the board, that Russians were pouring in money. He thought that the Russians were among their most important clients at that time.

    Now, Russia was emerging as an important economy then. So, make of that what you will. But, second, the Trumps have looked into real estate deals in Russia going back to 1987. Donald Trump visited Russia in 1996.

    And then on that 2013 trip, he also looked for potential sites for a Trump Hotel in Moscow. That never came to bear. Finally, last summer, it’s a story people paid attention to that adds to the confusion here. We know there are reports from CNN and others that investigators looked into a Russian bank repeatedly trying to contact servers in Trump Organization.

    The Trump Organization says they didn’t know anything about that. And it’s not clear if that was for business reasons or what was going on there. It was a one-way connection, but many of them from a Russian bank to the Trump Organization.

    One final connection, Judy, family businesses? The Kushners also have a family business, Kushner Properties.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s the son-in-law.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, that we have heard about from John.

    And he — Jared Kushner, in addition to meeting with the Russian ambassador, also in December met with the head of a Russian bank which is under sanctions right now. The White House says that was a diplomatic meeting, but the Russian bank says it was for business reasons. So, it’s something to look at.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, John, the other — one of the other names you mentioned, of course, Michael Flynn, so much attention around him. He was briefly the president’s national security adviser. Then he stepped down. What’s known about his role in all this?

    JOHN YANG: Well, right now, he of course has asked — or told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he’s willing to testify if he gets immunity. The committee rejected that request for now. They said it’s too early, that they generally like to find out what they can without immunity first.

    He was a surrogate and an adviser in the campaign. He became well-known for both attacking Hillary Clinton in the campaign and advocating closer ties with Russia. And, as you say, he was very briefly the national security adviser. He had to resign after it turned out he had misled White House officials about some of his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

    Now, his attorney says he certainly has quite a story to tell. But it’s not quite clear what that story is or who it’s about. This morning, the president tweeted that he thought that Flynn should get immunity and should testify. This afternoon at the White House briefing, Sean Spicer was asked if the president had anything to fear from that testimony. Sean Spicer had a one-word answer: “Nope.”

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, so much to follow.

    Where does this go from here, though, Lisa?

    LISA DESJARDINS: All right, let’s look forward a little bit.

    We know there are three investigations under way right now that we know. That is FBI investigation, the House Intelligence investigation and the Senate Intelligence investigation. We expect all of those to take months, maybe many months.

    And that brings us, I think, to our final name of this look at the who’s who in this Russia situation. That’s Devin Nunes. The congressman from California chairs the House Intelligence Committee and their Russian investigation.

    In the past two weeks, he said he was made aware of intelligence from a source that he’s not naming that U.S. spy agencies somehow caught surveillance of some Trump associates and some Trump White House officials potentially inadvertently.

    He took that information and talked — spoke to the president about it, but didn’t share that with his own Intelligence Committee. That is raising questions, especially from Democrats, who are calling for him to recuse himself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But he said it didn’t have to do with Russia, right?

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. That’s right.

    But because he’s chairing this Russia investigation, the question is, is he too close to the president, who’s he watching out for the most? Democrats say he has a conflict of interests.

    And, of course, Mr. Nunes said to me and to other reporters that, no, he feels like he can chair this investigation.

    JOHN YANG: And now, of course, this has embroiled the White House in the suspicions that the administration was the source of this information for Congressman Nunes.

    This afternoon, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, went to the White House to look at documents that the White House says they have uncovered that relates to this coincidental or incidental surveillance. It’s not clear yet whether or not this is the same material that Chairman Nunes was shown.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And, again, the material might not be about Russia. It’s a question of the man leading the Russia investigation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There are so many strands in this story to follow. The two of you are on the case.

    We thank you. And I feel like we have brought our audience up to date. Thank you very much.

    Lisa Desjardins, John Yang, thank you.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The request for legal immunity from President Trump’s former national security adviser drew sharply different responses today.

    Michael Flynn said he will cooperate with congressional Russia probes, but only if he’s spared from the possibility of prosecution. Mr. Trump tweeted Flynn should ask for immunity because — quote — “This is a witch-hunt by the media and Democrats.”

    But Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said it’s too early to consider such a deal.

    We will take a closer look at the investigations right after the news summary.

    President Trump moved to reshape American trade policy today, signing a pair of executive orders. One initiates a review of U.S. trade deficits. The other looks to increase the collection of duties on imports. Mr. Trump said the orders — quote — “set the stage for a great revival of American manufacturing.”

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today warned NATO allies to boost their defense spending within the next two months. During Tillerson’s first meeting with his alliance counterparts in Brussels, he said Washington is contributing a — quote — “disproportionate share” to defense.

    But Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, balked at the call, saying that NATO’s spending targets are neither — quote — “reachable nor desirable.”

    There’s word that the European Union may be open to talks later this year on its future relationship with Britain. But draft guidelines issued today say that the British — quote — “disentanglement” from the bloc must be settled first.

    Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May wanted talks on a future trade deal with the E.U. to start quickly. But in Malta today, the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, said that won’t happen.

    DONALD TUSK, European Council President: Once, and only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal can we discuss the framework for our future relationship. Starting parallel talks on all issues at the same time, as suggested by some in the U.K., will not happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister has formally requested a second popular referendum on its independence from the U.K. Britain’s government has said that it will deny the request.

    In Venezuela, violence erupted today amid the country’s deepening political crisis. It followed the Supreme Court’s move to dissolve the country’s opposition-led congress, a move widely condemned as a power grab. In the capital, Caracas, scores of students squared off against police in riot gear, who retaliated with batons and buckshot. A number of people were arrested.

    In Pakistan, a suicide car bomb near a Shiite mosque today killed at least 24 people. It happened in a key northwest town near the country’s border with Afghanistan. The powerful explosion damaged vehicles and nearby shops. More than 100 people were wounded. A breakaway Taliban faction claimed responsibility.

    The Trump administration imposed a new round of sanctions on North Korea today. They targeted 11 North Korean individuals and one company that helped to finance or develop weapons of mass destruction. The Treasury Department said the people were working as agents of the North Korean regime in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Cuba.

    Back in this country, traffic was snarled for miles in Atlanta today, after a fire brought caused the collapse of part of heavily traveled Interstate 85. Officials are still trying to determine how yesterday’s fire started. Authorities closed the section before it collapsed, and there were no injuries. But commuters in this densely populated area will likely have to find new routes for months.

    On Wall Street, stocks ended the month on a down note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 65 points to close at 20663. The Nasdaq fell more than two, and the S&P 500 slipped five. For the week, both the Dow and the S&P 500 gained a fraction of a percent. The Nasdaq rose more than a percent.

    The private company SpaceX made history last night by successfully launching and retrieving its first recycled rocket. Rocket boosters normally drop into the Atlantic Ocean after liftoff and are not retrieved. This was the Falcon 9 booster’s second trip into orbit, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It landed on the bullseye of an ocean platform and it could be used a third time.

    And a rare photo of Harriet Tubman has been acquired at auction by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It shows a younger seated Tubman. Most photos of the Underground Railroad hero were taken later in her life. It was part of an album that sold for more than $160,000.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House before his departure to Louisville, Kentucky, in Washington U.S.

    U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House before his departure to Louisville, Kentucky, in Washington, D.C., on March 20, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    The White House released financial disclosures for many of its senior officials Friday — a group of some of the wealthiest people ever to join a presidential administration.

    The documents provide a snapshot of what the employees’ finances looked like when they joined government service in January, but they do not give a full account of how those people are disentangling from business assets that could pose possible conflicts of interest.

    President Donald Trump, a billionaire New York businessman, and Vice President Mike Pence, the former Indiana governor, are not legally required to file new financial disclosures until next year. Here are some findings from The Associated Press review of thousands of pages of documents:

    JARED KUSHNER AND IVANKA TRUMP

    Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, and Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife and the president’s daughter, resigned from all of their business entities and sold off 58 assets. But the couple held onto much of what they have built into a global and real estate-focused empire. The documents show that have at least $240 million in assets.

    Kushner began selling off the most problematic pieces of his portfolio shortly after Trump won the election, and some of those business deals predate what is required to be captured in the financial disclosure forms. For example, Kushner sold his stake in a Manhattan skyscraper to a trust his mother oversees. Kushner organized much of his holdings into trusts for which he is the sole primary beneficiary.

    GARY COHN

    One of the wealthiest members of the Trump administration — aside from the president himself — is Gary Cohn, who left a top position at Goldman Sachs to become Trump’s chief economic adviser. His financial disclosure shows he received at least $40 million in income from Goldman Sachs-related dividends, interest, salary and bonuses, about half of which was in some form of stock compensation.

    His investments range from prestigious venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz to self-storages units in Ohio. Cohn also reported more than $1 million in income from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China — something the White House has said he is in the process of divesting along with his Goldman holdings.

    STEVE BANNON

    Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, disclosed assets between $13 million and $56 million, including his influential political consultancy, Bannon Strategic Advisors Inc., worth as much as $25 million. Bannon also disclosed that he earned slightly less than $200,000 last year as executive director of Breitbart News Network LLC, before he resigned to join Trump’s campaign last August.

    The documents show he was vice president of the data firm Cambridge Analytica for more than two years, before resigning in August 2016 to help run Trump’s campaign. Cambridge was the main data provider for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who waged a bitter battle with Trump for the Republican nomination. Bannon’s consulting firm pulled in more than $125,000 from Cambridge last year. He has stake in Cambridge somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, but the disclosure says he has an “agreement in principle” to sell his investment.

    Bannon also disclosed his ownership stake worth up to $5 million in Bannon Film Industries Inc., the entertainment company that veered into political-themed documentaries, including last year’s anti-Hillary Clinton documentary “Clinton Cash.” He retains that investment even while selling off other arrangements, according to the filing.

    KELLYANNE CONWAY

    Kellyanne Conway, who became the first female campaign manager to successfully elect a president, is, not surprisingly, a successful woman herself.

    Even before being named counselor to the president, Conway was worth as much as $40 million, derived mostly from her investments and her salary at her personal political consulting firm, “the polling company/WomanTrend.”

    Conway earned, through her company, slightly more than $800,000 in business income for her work in 2016. The business is worth between $1 million and $5 million, according to her disclosure statement.

    Most of Conway’s assets, more than $31 million, are held in cash or money-market accounts — likely because she had to sell most of her investments before taking a job in the White House. She does still own stock in drug giant Pfizer, snack food companies Kraft Heinz and Mondelez, and tobacco companies Altria and Philip Morris. Those stock holdings are relatively minor — less than $200,000 — compared with her net worth.

    Conway gave speeches or provided political consulting services to dozens of political interest groups, mostly advocating conservative causes. She also gave a paid speech to Point 72 Asset Management, the firm owned by billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen.

    DON MCGAHN

    Don McGahn, who served as Trump’s top campaign lawyer and is now White House counsel, made more than $2.4 million last year for his work at Jones Day, a prominent Washington law firm with deep ties to the Republican Party. McGahn listed legal services for more than 22 conservative and GOP-tied entities last year, including the National Rifle Association, the Citizens United Foundation, the Republican National Committee and Americans for Prosperity.

    A guitar player who often performs in public with an ’80s cover band called Scott’s New Band, McGahn also disclosed that he earned $4,900 last year from a music booking firm.

    BORIS EPSHTEYN

    A dogged television surrogate for President Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, Epshteyn disclosed that his primary asset was a stake worth between $1 million and $5 million in TGP Securities Inc., a New Jersey investment banking firm where Epshteyn previously worked as a managing director.

    Epshteyn made only $30,000 last year as a familiar Trump media surrogate. He made far more with TGP, earning $226,000 last year. He made another $240,000 from consulting fees with a health-care cost containment firm, Prime Health Services.

    After the election, Epshteyn joined the White House press office, working with talk shows booking Trump administration figures. But in recent days, reports surfaced that he was leaving the post and it was unclear if he would wind up elsewhere in the administration.

    REINCE PRIEBUS

    Priebus, the White House chief of staff, took in more than $500,000 in salary and bonuses from the Republican Party. He also earned at least $750,000 from equity buyout and partner-distribution income from the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich.

    JULIA HAHN

    One of Bannon’s employees at Breitbart — now his top lieutenant in the White House — has assets that could be worth as much as $2.3 million. That’s notable because of her young age: She’s in her mid-20s.

    Hahn made a salary of $117,217 at Breitbart News as a senior investigative reporter from July 2015 to January 2017. Her previous job as executive producer of the Laura Ingraham show, where she worked from June 2013 until she went to Breitbart, earned her a salary of $74,082. She owns a very small stake in a real estate investment company known as Cherrywood Partnership, which owns apartment buildings in Pennsylvania. That stake is worth between $250,001 and $500,000.

    PETER NAVARRO

    Navarro’s only job before joining the White House as director of the National Trade Council was as an economics and public policy professor for the University of California-Irvine, where he had a salary of $240,000.

    He has a variety of assets, including stocks, bonds and investment property. All told, the value is more than $1 million, but not by much. Most of his assets are tied up in his pension and investment properties, which have mortgages attached to them.

    JASON GREENBLATT

    Greenblatt, a former Trump Organization lawyer advising the president on Middle East policy, listed assets of more than $1.4 million. Many of the holdings were stock mutual funds. He made $1.02 million last year at the Trump Organization.

    Greenblatt has made two visits to the Middle East since joining the White House, meeting with Israelis and Palestinians and attending an Arab summit in Jordan this week.

    KEITH KELLOGG

    Kellogg, the National Security Council chief of staff, reported earning $96,000 in salary and severance for one month working for Cubic Corp., a defense contractor, plus ownership worth at least $366,000 in various investment funds, bonds and a retirement account. He owed at least $600,000 in loans, including a mortgage on his home.

    MAKAN DELRAHIM

    Deputy White House counsel Makan Delrahim reported earning a little more than $1 million last year in salary, stock payouts and a buyout from his law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, where he was a partner. Delrahim, a board member of the World Poker Tour Foundation, is also a passive investor in a movie called “Trash Fire,” according to the filing.

    Reported by Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Chad Day, Stephen Braun, Jack Gillum, Michael Biesecker, Ted Bridis, Bernard Condon and Ken Sweet.

    The post White House wealth: Trump employees disclose their finances appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Protestors set fire to the Congress building during a demonstration against a possible change in the law to allow for presidential re-election in Asuncion

    Protestors set fire to the Congress building during a demonstration against a possible change in the law to allow for presidential re-election in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 31, 2017. Photo by Jorge Adorno/Reuters

    ASUNCION, Paraguay — Violent clashes erupted between police and protesters outside Paraguay’s congress after senators approved a constitutional amendment to allow a president to run for a second term. Some protesters broke through police lines and entered the first floor, setting fire to papers and furniture.

    Police late Friday used water cannon and fired rubber bullets to drive demonstrators away from the building while firefighters extinguished blazes inside.

    A protestor, who is wounded by a rubber bullet in clashes with police during a demonstration against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election, stands in front of the Congress building in Asuncion

    A protestor, who is wounded by a rubber bullet in clashes with police during a demonstration against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election, stands in front of the Congress building in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 31, 2017. Photo by Jorge Adorno/Reuters

    The protests broke out after a majority of Paraguayan senators approved the amendment, a move called illegal by opposition members and opposed by the Senate president himself.

    The measure was backed by 25 of the country’s 45 senators. The yes votes came from members of the governing Colorado Party and from several opposition groups.

    Police on horseback ride past a statue of a cannon during a protest against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election in front of the Congress building in Asuncion

    Police on horseback ride past a statue of a cannon during a protest against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election in front of the Congress building in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 31, 2017. Photo by Jorge Adorno/Reuters

    Opponents of the move included Senate President Roberto Acevedo of the opposition Authentic Radical Liberal Party. He argued the process used to bring the amendment to a vote violated Senate rules and he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court seeking to have the vote overturned.

    President of Paraguay’s congress Roberto Acevedo is seen during a demonstration against a possible change in the law to allow for presidential re-election in front of the Congress building in Asuncion

    President of Paraguay’s congress Roberto Acevedo (C) is seen during a demonstration against a possible change in the law to allow for presidential re-election in front of the Congress building in Asuncion, Paraguay, March 31, 2017. Photo by Jorge Adorno/Reuters

    The proposal would allow current President Horacio Cartes and Paraguay’s previous presidents to run for the top job again in the 2018 election. Presidents are now limited to a single 5-year term.

    After approval in the Senate, the proposal went to the Chamber of Deputies, where 44 of the 80 members belong to the Colorado Party. Approval there would require the scheduling of a national referendum on the amendment.

    Protestors set fire to the Congress building during a demonstration against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election in Asuncion

    Protestors set fire to the Congress building during a demonstration against a possible change in law to allow for presidential re-election in Asuncion March 31, 2017. Photo by Jorge Adorno/Reuters

    The post Clashes, fire at Paraguay congress after re-election vote appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MITLab_01-2048x1152

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of many universities warning that big cuts in federal funding could imperil their biomedical research. Photo by Kayana Szymczak for STAT

    Medical research can’t be done in the dark. But should taxpayers be covering the light bills at university labs across the country?

    The Trump administration’s answer is no. The president has proposed a massive $7 billion budget cut for the National Institutes of Health over the next 18 months. And Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said this week that he may find those savings in the “indirect expenses” that NIH funds, which includes everything from buying lab equipment to paying the electric bills for thousands of academic research labs from Harvard to Ohio State to Stanford.

    Such pronouncements are sending ripples of alarm through universities, which last year received $16.9 billion in federal funding for research — and another $6.4 billion to cover their overhead costs.

    STAT talked to more than a dozen university administrators and researchers across the nation. Some said they could, perhaps, find common ground with Trump in his quest to cut regulations; less red tape for federally funded labs, they said, would mean lower costs — and smaller overhead bills.

    But nearly all expressed alarm at the thought of losing taxpayer support for “indirect costs” that they consider vital to their biomedical research — costs like keeping freezers running and labs heated.

    “Unless you’re studying butterflies, you can’t conduct biomedical research in the middle of a field,” said Dr. Pamela Davis, dean of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

    READ NEXT: Trump budget calls for slashing biomedical and science research funding

    “It would be absolutely devastating. In fact, it would close down some research institutions,” said Dawn Bonnell, vice provost for research at University of Pennsylvania. “It’s just unthinkable to imagine how one would move forward.”

    MIT President L. Rafael Reif was alarmed enough to write all employees this week to warn of potential cuts to “an arcane aspect of government funding that could have large budget implications for MIT.” He pointed out that 66 percent of MIT’s total research dollars come from federal funding — and said if the president’s budget blueprint were enacted, the university would lose a vast bulk of that money.

    But critics suggest the universities could do without such lavish reimbursements. They point out that foundations and philanthropists don’t pay nearly as much for overhead when they fund academic research. The Gates Foundation, for instance, caps its reimbursement for indirect costs at 10 percent. Yet researchers still apply for those grants.

    What’s more, many universities have huge endowments; Harvard’s is valued at more than $35 billion. Given that wealth, critics say, it makes little sense for taxpayers to foot the bill for lab utilities.

    “I think, in a sense, universities make a profit off these indirect costs, and indeed, the research grants incentivize universities to increase their overhead costs and utilize bureaucracies,” said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University. “It’s contributed to the administrative bloat on college campuses.”

    Or, as Price told members of a House committee this week: “I was struck by one thing at NIH, and that is that about 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses — which, as you know, means that that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done.”

    Taxpayers cover the costs of some university lab equipment through federal grants.

    Taxpayers cover the costs of some university lab equipment through federal grants. Photo by Kayana Szymczak for STAT

    Funding rates spark controversy on campuses

    Funding for overhead costs at labs has been a source of controversy — and, on some campuses, resentment — for years.

    Since each university has unique costs — property values, for instance, vary by location and equipment needs depend on the type of research being conducted — each gets a different rate of reimbursement.

    And these rates can vary substantially. A Nature investigation in 2014 found that universities negotiated reimbursement rates in the range of 20 percent of the total grant amount on the low end and and 85 percent on the high end. Most rates fell between 50 and 60 percent.

    Those deals, however, aren’t set in stone: Nature found that while the average negotiated rate was worth 53 percent of each grant application, the average payout was just 34 percent. That’s because the NIH caps some grants and expenditures.

    The top-earning school in fiscal 2013 was Johns Hopkins University, which negotiated a 62 percent reimbursement rate and brought in nearly $160 million in reimbursement for overhead. On the low end of the scale: Morehead State University in Kentucky, with a 24 percent reimbursement rate and less than $115,000 in indirect cost reimbursements.

    Critics suggest that the system gives universities an incentive to bump up their overhead costs, since the reimbursement rates are negotiated based on their previous year’s spending. So if a school builds a fancy new lab one year, it can claim the need for a higher reimbursement rate the next.

    Even so, administrators say the NIH funding never covers the full amount they spend on their research labs.

    “MIT loses money on every research grant we get, even with full overhead,” said Maria Zuber, vice president of research at MIT.

    MITLab_09-1024x683

    Dr. Xun Gong works in the Strano Research Group lab at MIT. Photo by Kayana Szymczak for STAT

    A powerful lobby keeps the money flowing

    Colleges fight ferociously to keep their NIH reimbursements. They make a powerful lobby: Because the grant money is distributed to campuses across the country, members of Congress from every state get an earful every time they even contemplate cuts.

    “Our faculty, including myself, have been going to Washington and meeting with members of Congress and the agencies for many years,” said Dr. Landon King, executive vice dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “There’s been a longstanding, strong bipartisan support for biomedical science.”

    READ NEXT: Five ways Trump’s proposed budget could hurt — and help — biopharma

    Already, several key Republicans on the Hill have said they won’t accept the deep cuts Trump has laid out for NIH. Asked about Trump’s proposed $1.2 billion cut for the second half of this fiscal year — which the president wants to follow up with another $5.8 billion cut next year — Representative Tom Cole was succinct: “Not going to happen.”

    The Trump administration, of course, isn’t the first to call indirect costs into question. Four years ago, the Obama administration floated legislation to try to standardized the rate of indirect costs. Lobbyists for major universities, like Harvard and MIT, shot that proposal down, the Boston Globe reported.

    These rates also came under heavy scrutiny by Congress in the 1990s, after auditors learned that many universities seemed to have a very generous definition of overhead costs. Stanford, for its part, had used reimbursements from the NIH to buy decorations and help pay for a university yacht.

    The NIH tightened its rules and such incidents are far less common today. Still, Columbia University was fined $10 million by the federal government last year for over-billing NIH for psychiatric and neurological research that was actually conducted off-site, largely in government-owned offices.

    Despite the occasional scandal, universities argue that reimbursements are crucial to helping them pay for basic research — particularly as NIH funding has been flat for a decade.

    “People think these are bonus dollars or fees to universities, which they are not,” said Marcia Smith, associate vice chancellor for research at University of California, Los Angeles.

    The money also helps support medical research that wouldn’t likely interest pharmaceutical companies — at least, not in the early going, said John Zurawski, an intellectual property lawyer with Newark-based firm McCarter & English.

    “If you don’t have as much NIH money coming through the door, private companies will have to fill the coffers of the lab to get research done,” Zurawski said. “But there’s a big bias in terms of what a company wants out of a researcher.”

    Or as Case Western’s Davis put it: “Our pharma industry leaders of the world — where do you think they get their basic discovery? Let me give you a hint: It’s not the tooth fairy.”

    Survival of the richest?

    If substantial cuts to indirect funding do indeed come to pass, universities will have to scramble to find these dollars elsewhere.

    They can’t count on making up that money by drawing it from the hospitals often affiliated with medical schools: Many have been fractured by the ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the hospital industry, said Dr. Ross McKinney, chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    READ NEXT: Science march on Washington, billed as historic, plagued by organizational turmoil

    Tuition is already sky-high, particularly for medical students — so universities are reluctant to charge more. State funding continues to decrease for public universities. And philanthropy and foundation support is erratic and often narrowly targeted at specific diseases.

    “The bottom line is, there’s nowhere to make up the revenue,” McKinney said. “If [indirect costs are] significantly diminished, the only thing is to do less research.”

    It could become a survival of the richest: Schools with big endowments and rich alumni will likely find a way to carry on — but lesser-known institutions in more rural areas would feel the cuts keenly. All would have to find a way to make up the funding by taking from other areas in their budgets.

    “It’s less funding that’s available for things like subsidizing student tuition and financial aid, and health benefits for workers,” said MIT’s Zuber. “It would just limit our ability to do other things.”

    MITLab_22-1024x683

    MIT’s president sent a letter to all employees warning that cuts to federal research funding could be a major financial blow to the university. Photo by Kayana Szymczak for STAT

    A common foe in regulation

    For all their angst about the potential cuts, universities may well be able to find common ground with the Trump administration on a related issue: cutting regulation.

    Particularly after the Stanford scandal in the 1990s, regulatory requirements imposed on academicians have continually increased — while the reimbursement structure has stayed fairly static. Conflict of interest disclosures, in particular, are time-consuming.

    “I think there’s a lot of needless paperwork — a lot of malarkey that has nothing to do with science — but that doesn’t come from the university,” said Dr. Frank Anania, a professor of digestive disease at Emory University. “We don’t make the law, we comply.”

    READ NEXT: For scientists, research cuts proposed by Trump are alarming — and deeply personal

    Chase Spurlock, an immunology researcher at Vanderbilt University and CEO of a molecular diagnostics startup, said he believes Trump does want to keep funding biomedical research and sees the proposals for drastic budget cuts as a sort of opening gambit — “a preamble to a much larger discussion” on how to distribute NIH funds most efficiently.

    His company, IQuity, has received NIH grants that cap indirect costs at 40 percent — and his experience in the startup realm convinced him that academia, too, could operate more efficiently.

    “Given that we’ve seen the waxing and waning of NIH dollars over the past several years, it’s up to all of us to help control the costs,” Spurlock said.

    Vedder offers a similar proposal: cap reimbursements for indirect costs at 25 or 30 percent of the grant amount, and offer that as a flat rate to all universities across the country. He also suggests that the NIH start evaluating research not only on its scientific merit, but also on its potential cost, “and downgrade proposals that have high research overhead requests,” he said.

    “I think the goal should be to put the money where it’s supposed to be: in funding new ideas, new approaches to medicine,” Vedder said. “And that means cut away the overhead, the administrative costs, things like that.”

    University administrators say they’re willing to listen. But they’re worried that nuance will be lost in the zeal to root out waste and slash budgets.

    “If there were a well-thought-out and well-designed process for looking at ways to improve [indirect cost reimbursement], that would be welcome,” said Smith of UCLA. “But one worries that someone thinks they can fix it quickly. And it’s not a quick fix.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on March 31, 2017. Find the original story here.

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    Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos attends an event where Colombia's Vice President German Vargas Lleras presented his office's annual report in Bogota

    Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos attends an event where Colombia’s Vice President German Vargas Lleras presented his office’s annual report in Bogota, Colombia, March 14, 2017. Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters

    MOCOA, Colombia — Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos says at least 112 people have been killed after intense rains triggered an avalanche of mud and water from overflowing rivers that swept through a small city.

    Santos arrived at the disaster zone Saturday, warning the death toll could rise as the search for survivors continues.

    The incident happened around midnight in Mocoa, a city of 350,000 located near Colombia’s border with Ecuador.

    A surgeon at the local hospital says he believes there are at least 300 people injured and that doctors are running out of blood.

    Witnesses described feeling buildings vibrate and say there was little time to seek refuge, catching some victims off guard in their sleep.

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    An opposition supporter holds a placard depicting Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro that reads "No more dictatorship. Out!" as she takes part in a rally against Maduro's government in Caracas

    An opposition supporter holds a placard depicting Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro that reads “No more dictatorship. Out!” as she takes part in a rally against Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela April 1, 2017. Photo by Marco Bello/Reuters

    CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s president and Supreme Court backed down Saturday from a surprise move to strip congress of its legislative powers that had sparked widespread charges that the South American country was no longer a democracy.

    President Nicolas Maduro asked the Supreme Court in a late-night speech to review a ruling nullifying the lawmaking body after that decision set off a storm of criticism from the opposition and foreign governments. The court on Saturday released new rulings that apparently reinstated congress’ authority.

    It was a rare instance of the embattled socialist president backing away from a move to increase his power. Opposition leaders dismissed the backtracking as too little too late and called on Venezuelans to take to the street Saturday morning against what they called an attempted coup. They said the clarification issued by the judges only proved yet again that Maduro controls the courts and there is no longer a real separation of powers in Venezuela.

    “The dire situation we’re living through in Venezuela remains the same. There is nothing to “clarify” when it comes to respecting the Constitution,” said moderate leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

    [Watch Video]

    At the same time, administration critics celebrated the reversal as proof that cracks are beginning to show in Maduro’s control of the country, with his approval ratings dipping below 20 percent amid a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis.

    Maduro made the announcement after an emergency Friday night meeting of the National Security Council that was boycotted by congress leaders. He said be council was supporting a review by the court “with the goal of maintaining institutional stability.”

    “April is starting on a good step. Constitutional victory!” Maduro with a grin, flanked by a dozen officials.

    The three-hour meeting capped an extraordinary day in which Venezuela’s chief prosecutor and long-time loyalist of the socialist government broke with the Maduro administration and denounced the court ruling. Luisa Ortega Diaz said it was her “unavoidable historical duty” as the nation’s top judicial authority to decry what she called a “rupture” of the constitutional order.

    Small protests popped up all around the capital beginning at dawn Saturday. Troops from the National Guard fired buckshot and swung batons at students protesting in front of the Supreme Court, and several journalists had their cameras seized.

    As some analysts began to protect the beginning of the end of 18 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, Maduro invited congress president Julio Borges to speak with him about the situation. But Borges has refused, breaking a years-long streak in which the opposition ramps up pressure on the administration only to help diffuse it at the last minute by coming to the bargaining table, usually fruitlessly.

    “In Venezuela the only dialogue possible is the vote,” Borges said Friday night.

    Maduro, dressed in black and waving a small blue book containing the Venezuelan constitution, likened the international condemnation of the week’s Supreme Court decision to a “political lynching.”

    The Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that until lawmakers abided by previous rulings that nullified all legislation passed by congress, the high court could assume the constitutionally assigned powers of the National Assembly, which has been controlled by the opposition since it won a landslide victory in elections in late 2015.

    The ruling had brought down two days of condemnation by governments across Latin America, and also the United States and the United Nations. Colombia, Chile and Peru withdrew their ambassadors over the ruling.

    The South American trade bloc Mercosur, which suspended Venezuela in December, called an emergency meeting for Saturday in Argentina. And the Organization of American States announced that it would hold an emergency meeting at its Washington headquarters Monday to discuss what Secretary General Luis Almagro called a “self-inflicted coup.”

    Maduro was conspicuously silent during much of the two days of turmoil. He concluded his remarks Saturday morning with a call for more dialogue.

    “I’m ready with whoever is willing,” he said.

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     Neil Gorsuch responds to a question during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington

    U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch responds to a question as he testifies during the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. on March 22, 2017. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate is headed for a tense showdown over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee that could have far-reaching consequences for Congress, the high court and the nation.

    Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans are determined to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch within the week. But to do so, they will likely have to override Democratic objections and unilaterally change Senate rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with a simple majority in the 100-seat chamber, instead of the 60-voter threshold.

    Though it may seem arcane, the approach is known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option,” because it strikes at the heart of the Senate’s traditions of bipartisanship and collegiality.

    It would allow all future Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed without regard to the objections of the minority party. And senators of both parties say that proceeding with the rules change could ultimately lead to complete elimination of the minority party’s ability to block legislation via filibuster, one of the few remaining mechanisms that force bipartisan cooperation in Congress.

    “Once you go down this path it’s awful easy just to keep going, and that is not a good thing,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a senior lawmaker.

    Nevertheless, Republican senators are fully prepared to take the step, blaming Democrats for forcing them into it by preparing to filibuster a well-qualified nominee.

    And Democrats are just as ready to push the GOP to pull the trigger, even as they argue that McConnell and Republicans will have only themselves to blame.

    “He can prove that he cares about the Senate by not changing the rules,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told The Associated Press, referring to McConnell.

    As of now, Gorsuch claims support from 54 senators – the 52 Republicans, along with two moderate Democrats who are up for re-election in states Trump won, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. One by one, most of the other Democrats have lined up against Gorsuch, citing his rulings in favor of corporations or his vague answers during his confirmation hearings. Though Democrats remain a handful shy of the 41 votes that would be required to mount a filibuster and trigger a rules change, it is the widely expected outcome.

    “I remain very worried about our polarized politics and what the future will bring, since I’m certain we will have a Senate rule change that will usher in more extreme judges in the future,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Friday as she became the latest Democrat to announce plans to join the filibuster against Gorsuch.

    Gorsuch, 49, has served more than a decade as a federal appeals court judge based in Denver. He is mild-mannered but deeply conservative, in the mold of the justice he would replace, Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.

    [Watch Video]

    McCaskill and other Democrats have pointed out that while Gorsuch’s confirmation won’t change the ideological balance of a court that will be likely to split 5-4 on important cases, that could be what happens next as liberal justices age along with Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80, who often acts as a swing vote.

    Republicans argue that the filibuster has almost never been used against a Supreme Court nominee and they are right; even Clarence Thomas got onto the court without a filibuster, despite highly contentious confirmation hearings over sexual harassment claims from Anita Hill.

    The only Supreme Court nominee to have been blocked by a filibuster was Abe Fortas, President Lyndon Johnson’s nominee for chief justice in 1968. After a procedural vote failed, Johnson withdrew Fortas’ nomination. Fortas was already a sitting justice on the Court.

    But the Supreme Court blowup has been a long-time coming, and both parties share the blame. Republicans were prepared to invoke the “nuclear option” on lower court nominees in 2005, but a bipartisan group of 14 senators made a deal that stopped it. Then Democrats took the step in 2013 when they grew frustrated over lower court nominees getting blocked, but left the Supreme Court subject to a 60-vote threshold.

    READ NEXT: Pence hopeful Senate won’t have to go ‘nuclear’ in Supreme Court fight

    Now, with Trump in the White House and politics ever more polarized, there appears to be no room for compromise.

    Democrats are still fuming over the treatment of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, who never even got a hearing from Republicans last year after Scalia died. And for Republicans, Gorsuch’s nomination is the one positive note so far in the trouble-plagued Trump administration, and they are determined to get a win.

    Though some GOP senators have privately counseled caution, McConnell has no plans to wait and has declared definitively that Gorsuch will be confirmed on Friday. If Gorsuch joins the court shortly thereafter, he would be in time to hear the last set of cases in the court’s current term, including one about church-state separation.

    The stage will be set for the next Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed with a simple majority, potentially tilting the court ideologically for decades to come. And an uncertain future will await the filibuster itself, and the Senate as a deliberative, bipartisan institution.

    “It just continues on a downward spiral; it’s us that’s to blame, it’s the base, it’s responding to the base on each side,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “It’s both sides that have taken us to this place.”

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    File photo of a wall marking the boundary of the United Nations buffer zone as seen from the Greek Cypriot-controlled area of central Nicosia

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    CHRIS LIVESAY: The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is a country divided. The majority, ethnic Greeks, live in the south, in the Republic of Cyprus, an internationally-recognized government and member of the European Union. In the North are mostly ethnic Turks, calling themselves the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, officially recognized by only one country, Turkey.

    It’s a standoff born of a war four decades ago. The flags of each nationality still fly opposite each other across a United Nations-controlled “buffer zone,” which stretches the entire 180-mile length of the island and cuts right through the divided capital city, Nicosia.

    People passing from one side of the island to the other must go through checkpoints. It’s a really short distance. Rita Severis, a Greek Cypriot, is the founder of an art museum located steps away from the buffer zone. The whole city is divided in two?

    RITA SEVERIS: Yes. With one street.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: This is like the Berlin Wall.

    RITA SEVERIS: Exactly.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: …of Nicosia.

    RITA SEVERIS: Exactly. Exactly. Only there isn’t a wall. You see, the UN patrols. They’re doing their patrol at the moment to make sure that nobody is in.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Where is the Turkish side?

    The Greek Cypriot government granted us permission to enter the buffer zone with a military escort. Watch for the low hanging wires here. We saw a bizarre maze of ruins, crumbled walls. Home to nothing, but the occasional stray cat or dog.

    These armed soldiers are the only other sign of life in the buffer zone. Although Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived together in peace for centuries, tension and violence grew in the middle of the last century, just as Cyprus was gaining its independence from Britain.

    Abdullah Cangil, a Turkish Cypriot, says Turks felt safer under British rule and feared Cyprus would become part of Greece. Violence erupted between the two ethnic groups.

    ABDULLAH CANGIL: It was terrible years, you see. Nobody had the courage to travel from one side of cyprus to another. Sometimes they were taken, killed, and never seen.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: In 1974, the situation exploded. Encouraged by Athens, Greek militias sought to unify Cyprus with Greece. To stop that, Turkey sent troops on the pretext of protecting the Turkish minority and occupied the northern third of the island.

    RITA SEVERIS: We could see far away in the distance the Turkish parachutists, coming down. We could see the planes that were bombarding the hospitals full of bodies and wounded people.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: The war lasted only a few days. But more than two thousand Turkish and Greek Cypriots were dead or missing.

    One of the fiercest battles took place at the island’s main airport in Nicosia, now abandoned. Major Robert Szaksazon says these runways are used now only by UN peacekeeper helicopters.

    ROBERT SZAKSON: You can see some bullet holes in the fuselage.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: This Cyprus Airways jet has sat here for 43 years.

    ROBERT SZAKSON: It’s a symbol of the fighting from that time. It’s still here in the buffer zone.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: The buffer zone was supposed to be temporary. But partition went on year after year with failed negotiations among the Cypriots and the island’s so-called guarantors, or “motherlands,” Greece and Turkey, each backing up their ethnic kin.

    RITA SEVERIS: We’ve had many times when our hopes had risen, and we thought, ‘Oh, tomorrow it will be over.’ We’ll join our land again. Always fell flat on our face!

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Now, there is new hope for reunification. In January, Greek Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, and the head of the Turkish Cypriot minority, Mustafa Akinci, who hail from the same small village in Cyprus and are especially eager for peace, met in Geneva for high level talks brokered by the UN.

    Ozdil Nami is the chief negotiator for the Turkish Cypriots.

    OZDIL NAMI: This is final stage. Make or break time. Everyone realizes this.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: On the other side is Greek Cypriot foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides.

    Is this just the umteenth example of negotiations that will ultimately fail, or are we really on the brink of a breakthrough?

    IOANNIS KASOULIDES: We are nearly at the brink of a breakthrough.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: The biggest issue, both sides agree, is security. Turkey still has some 35-thousand troops stationed in northern Cyprus.

    OZDIL NAMI: In order to feel secure, we demand a certain number of Turkish troops remain.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: You don’t see the presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus as a non-starter for the Greek Cypriot side?

    OZDIL NAMI: No, these issues are all under discussion. There are alternative ways of providing security for everybody involved. Military element presence of troops is one dimension. We will wait and see how strong, how many troops.

    IOANNIS KASOULIDES: For us, it makes no sense to keep troops from Turkey on the island.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: But aren’t the Turkish troops guaranteeing the security of the Turkish minority?

    IOANNIS KASOULIDES: Well, why don’t you put the Russian troops to guarantee the Russian minority in the Baltic states? Come on! You have to be reasonable about what we can do and what we cannot do. This we are prepared to negotiate.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Another major issue is property rights. After the 1974 war there was a mass migration of both peoples. More than 160-thousand Greek Cypriots living in the north fled or were forced to move to the south and 40-thousand Turkish Cypriots living in the south moved to the north. In the northern coastal town of Kyrenia, Rita Severis’ family had been one of the biggest property owners with an olive oil factory, land, and several houses.

    So before partition, before Turkish invasion, your property was featured on tourism posters?

    RITA SEVERIS: Oh, Yes.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Overnight, her family, like other Greek Cypriots in the north, lost it all.

    So, what will happen to that property and the other property you lost if Cyprus is reunified?

    RITA SEVERIS: We would have three choices. Restitution. provided that it is not used by somebody. That means they take our land in the north and give us land of equivalent value in the south or compensation.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: It’s a difficult problem for Turkish Cypriots too. Take Abdullah Cangil, one of those forced to give up his property in the south and move north.

    ABDULLAH CANGIL: I was 24 years old when I came here and now I am 67.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Cangil put a lot of work and money into the house. Put in a pool. Planted a grove of orange trees. It’s where he raised his family.

    ABDULLAH CANGIL: I have been living here 43 years, but I never think this property is mine, you see, because it is not mine.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Cangil believes without unification there’s little future for the Turkish minority on Cyprus.

    ABDULLAH CANGIL: The younger generation immigrate to other countries. No one recognizes us. No relations with the world. No trade with the world.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: If he has to move because of reunification, he says, it will be hard but he’s willing to make the sacrifice.

    Chief Turkish Cypriot negotiator Ozdil Nami says whole towns may change hands in the remapping, but past mistakes won’t be repeated.

    OZDIL NAMI: If there is going to be relocation of those, it’s not going to be through forced eviction of any sort. We are not going to have a refugee crisis.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Economics are another factor driving unification. Under one unified federal government, all of Cyprus could reopen trade with Turkey and have access to the EU common market. And something else offers benefits for both communities, newly discovered deposits of natural gas off the southern, or Greek Cypriot, part of the island.

    IOANNIS KASOULIDES:
    It will give substantial revenues for both. It will be promising not just for the present generation, but for the future generations we have no plan B. Our determination is to resolve the problem.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Abdullah Cangil, the Turkish Cypriot man we met, says the people of the island are ready to live together again. In fact, he’s in contact with the Greek Cypriot he considers the real owner of his home.

    They’re now friends.

    ABDULLAH CANGIL: This beautiful small island is not so much big to be divided, and it is enough for us, you see, to live together in peace.

    CHRIS LIVESAY: Is peace possible?

    RITA SEVERIS: I would say that if the Greek and Turkish Cypriots were left on their own with no “motherlands” or anybody else interfering then, yes, peace would be possible. If it doesn’t happen now within this year, it will never happen. So either it is now or never, I feel.

    The post Waging peace between Greeks, Turks in Cyprus appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Emergency personnel work the scene of a bridge collapse at I-85 in Atlanta, Georgia

    Emergency personnel work the scene of a bridge collapse at I-85 in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 30, 2017. Photo by Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Reuters

    A man suspected of starting a fire on March 30 that caused about 180 feet of Atlanta’s Interstate 85 bridge to collapse during rush hour made his first appearance in court on Saturday.

    Basil Eleby was cuffed and in Fulton County Jail clothes as he was charged in Magistrate Court with two felonies — arson and criminal damage to property, according to local news reports.

    Georgia’s Department of Transportation on Friday had said the fire started at one of their storage units, which usually holds plastic, non-combustible conduit, but investigators have not revealed how it began.

    Giant flames wafted from under the bridge on Thursday afternoon as black smoke plumed hundreds of feet into the sky and both sides of the busy highway came to a standstill. All lanes have been closed and will remain that way indefinitely, sending the city’s commute into chaos.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    That stretch of I-85 sees an estimated 250,000 vehicles a day, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

    As schools closed and employers told people to work from home, Gov. Nathan Deal called a state of emergency in the county and secured $10 million in federal funds to start reconstruction.

    Bridge inspectors have asked for patience from local residents, saying they will have to remove and replace at least 700 feet of roadway, including support columns.

    “The big question on everyone’s mind is, ‘How long with this take to repair?’” Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry said at a news conference Friday. “We’re not able to give you a firm estimate at this moment but you should know that this will take at least several months to get this rebuilt.”

    Eleby has had more than a dozen run-ins with police since 2000, according to county documents, on charges ranging from the possession and sale of cocaine and marijuana to simple battery and assault.

    A local news station reported that Eleby asked to waive Saturday’s hearing, but Judge James Altman denied the request and waged whether the damage done should reflect in the bail.

    “That would amount to a couple hundred million dollars,” said Altman. “My second inclination, on thinking about it, some kind of compensation to the victims is appropriate, but again, even at a dollar a person, that would amount to several million dollars.”

    Then he issued a $200,000 bond and set a preliminary hearing for April 14.

    The post Suspect in Atlanta’s I-85 bridge collapse charged with arson appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Yevgeny yevtushenko, 1950s.

    Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko died Saturday at the age of 84. Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images

    Acclaimed Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko died Saturday of heart failure in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he taught at the University of Tulsa. He was 84 years old.

    Born in the city of Irkutsk in Siberia, Yevtushenko was raised in Moscow. He became known in the 1960s for his poems denouncing Joseph Stalin and anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

    “The Prospects of the Future,” the first of Yevtushenko’s nearly 150 collections of poetry, was published in 1952. That same year, he became the “youngest member of the Union of Soviet Writers,” the BBC reported.

    His epic 1961 work, “Babi Yar,” detailed the massacre by the Nazis of more than 33,000 Jews in the Ukraine during World War II, shedding light on a story the Soviet Union had long suppressed. In the poem, Yevtushenko wrote:

    No monument stands over Babi Yar.
    A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
    I am afraid.

    “Babi Yar” was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich in his “Symphony No. 13” and premiered at a 1962 performance by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Yevtushenko “knew how to find the key to the souls of people,” and a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Yevtushenko’s legacy will, “remain part of Russian culture,” the Associated Press reported.

    Yevtushenko told the AP in 2007 that he would not call his work “political poetry.”

    “I call it human rights poetry; the poetry which defends human conscience as the greatest spiritual value,” he said.

    The post Yevgeny Yevtushenko, acclaimed Russian poet, dies at 84 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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