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

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    A new study dissects the nutritional and caloric value of human body parts to clarify the historical motivations of cannibalism. Photo by Paul Garnier/via Getty Images

    A new study dissects the nutritional and caloric value of human body parts to clarify the historical motivations of cannibalism. Photo by Paul Garnier/via Getty Images

    If you had to eat human flesh, where would you start? That seems a disturbing question for westernized thought, sure, but cannibalism occupies a consistent position in the evolution of human behavior.

    With 650 muscles and 206 bones in an adult, there are more than enough options on the menu. Some may carry tons of dietary value, while others are poor pickings. A new study published Thursday in Scientific Reports dissects the nutritional and caloric value of human body parts.

    What a droll field of study, you say? Sure, unless you’re an archaeologist or anthropologist studying Neanderthals, native groups in Papua New Guinea or any number of hominid communities that have participated in cannibalism over the last 800,000 years or so.

    “There are fewer complex behaviors in modern human society than cannibalism,” said James Cole, an archaeologist at the University of Brighton in England who led the study. “Cannibalism has all sorts of connotations and motivations within our own species.”

    Hollywood enjoys playing on examples like warfare cannibalism or psychotic cannibalism like Hannibal Lecter. But when researchers like Cole dig through fossil and cultural records, cannibalism tends to fall into two categories: nutritional or ritualistic.

    …if you want to go true Paleo by adding a little human to your diet, you should start with a person’s fat pads…

    With nutritional cases, they find clear evidence where hominin bodies were clearly filleted with cut marks at tendon joints and then scraped for every last piece of meat. Hey, a fella has gotta eat. But then in other situations, the cut marks are random as if the human carcasses were not processed for food.

    “This label of nutritional cannibalism really got me into thinking, ‘well, how nutritional are we?’” Cole said. “If we’re labeling these behaviors as nutritional cannibalism, then you need to have an idea of where we fit within the faunal spectrum.”

    Clarifying this distinction is especially important for understanding the cultural diversity of early human relatives like Neanderthals, Cole said, who have been branded as “thugs” in part due to their unrefined behaviors like nutritional cannibalism.

    These days, due to ethical and legal reasons, you cannot exactly take apart a human body and measures its nutritional content…but you could half a century ago. Cole tracked down data collected by a single research group during the 1940s and 1950s, where the scientists had analyzed the chemical composition of four deceased human males. (The subjects, who ranged in age from 35 to 60 years old, had donated their bodies to science.) He relied on data from a single team, rather than taking bits of information from studies on individual body parts, to avoid introducing extra variables into this calculations.

    Within this data, Cole found values for water content, protein content and fat content for a variety of organs and body parts. From there, the math is easy. “One gram of protein is worth four calories, and one gram of fat is worth nine calories,” Cole said.

    Pièce De Résistance

    So if you want to go true Paleo by adding a little human to your diet, you should start with a person’s fat pads, which carry the most nutritional value on average (approximately 50,000 calories). Those fat deposits are located all over the body, so if you want to reduce the prep time, try the skeleton (25,000 calories), the thigh muscles (13,000 calories) or the skin (10,000 calories). 

    The calorific values of the skeleton, skin, teeth, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. Illustration via James Cole/Scientific Reports

    The calorific values of the skeleton, skin, teeth, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. Illustration via James Cole/Scientific Reports

    Due to the nature of the original data, Cole grouped the butt muscles with the head and torso, which had a caloric value of 5,400. Don’t bother with the kidneys, pancreas or teeth, which ranked among the lowest body parts calorie-wise.

    Next, Cole compared the caloric values of humans with those of prehistoric animals found in the same archaeological layers as the remains of early hominins. Think bison, mammoths, woolly rhinos and deer. Based on his calculations, it seemed unlikely that all of our early relatives conducted cannibalism purely for nutritional reasons.

    The calorific values of the digestive system and alimentary canal. Illustration via James Cole/Scientific Reports

    The calorific values of the digestive system and alimentary canal. Illustration via James Cole/Scientific Reports

    “[Those animals] produce an awful lot. A horse is almost 200,000 calories. A bison is almost a million calories,” Cole said. “That would suggest me that they probably aren’t starving and that the cannibalism was a kind of last resort.”

    Human motivations for cannibalism likely evolved over time, he continued. The earliest hominins may have cannibalized human meat for the meat’s sake — the if-grandpa-dies-that’s-a-free-meal scenario.

    But over time, sophistication started likely to emerge both in Homo sapiens and our close relatives. Growing evidence, such as jewelry making and funeral rituals, argues for the presence of social complexity in Neanderthals, so ritualistic cannibalism may not be such an outlandish idea for Palaeolithic groups.

    And for those thumbing their nose at the general idea of cannibalism, remember that some human cultures today still do it and most mammals eat their own, in one way or another. Plus cannibalism may have evolutionarily benefited humans. A 2003 study argued that prehistoric cannibalism drove genetic resistance to prion diseases in Papua New Guinea.

    “It just so happens that Western culture has frowned on this practice for quite some time and driven the idea of it being taboo,” Cole said, though he has found it “quite difficult” to eat bacon since he began this study eight months ago.

    The post If you had to eat a human, which body part should you pick first? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) arrives for Senate Democratic party leadership elections at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX2TZPJ

    Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) arrives at the U.S. Capitol on November 16, 2016. File photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    As Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” Thursday to set Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in motion, a top Democrat defended the minority party’s decision to filibuster President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

    Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that it was important for the party to take a stand in the fight over Gorsuch’s nomination.

    “Someone’s judgment and their beliefs, in terms of protecting people’s rights in this country, is extremely important,” Murray said in an interview hours before Senate Republicans voted to use a rule change, known as the “nuclear option,” to push through a vote on Gorsuch’s nomination. “And for me, he did not pass the test,” Murray added.

    Murray joined 43 other senators in the 48-member Democratic caucus Thursday in voting to filibuster Gorsuch, a federal judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) were the only Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to end debate and move to a final vote.

    Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) invoked the “nuclear option,” which will allow Republicans to confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority vote. The Senate passed the rule change on a 52-48 party-line vote, setting up a final confirmation vote on Friday.

    Murray told NewsHour that women’s reproductive rights — and her concern that Gorsuch could vote to roll back them back if he joins the court — were a key sticking point in her decision to oppose his nomination.

    As a candidate, Mr. Trump said he would nominate a Supreme Court justice who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that affirmed women’s right to an abortion. Gorsuch’s views from the bench on abortion are unclear, but Senate Democrats and liberal groups seized on the issue during his confirmation hearings last month.

    Murray said the issue was personal, citing a college friend who experienced complications from an abortion procedure before Roe v. Wade that left her unable to have children.

    “To me, that is an issue I have seen in my own lifetime that has made a real impact for women, personally,” Murray said. “I do not want to see this country go backwards.”

    Watch the full interview with Murray on the April 6 broadcast of PBS NewsHour.

    The post Sen. Patty Murray on why she joined the filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The verified Twitter account of President Donald Trump, @POTUS, is seen on a cell phone. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The verified Twitter account of President Donald Trump, @POTUS, is seen on a cell phone. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    NEW YORK — Twitter defied a U.S. government request for records that could identify users behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump, and is challenging the order in court.

    The company filed a lawsuit against the federal Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection office, charging that their efforts to “unmask” the people behind the account violated the First Amendment.

    Twitter says its users have a constitutional right to disseminate such “anonymous and pseudonymous political speech.”

    The account in question is @ALT_uscis, a reference to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The account described its users to the Associated Press in February as employees and former employees of the agency.

    Twitter declined to comment beyond the lawsuit. DHS likewise declined to comment.

    READ MORE: 5 overlooked political stories that are worth your time

    The post Twitter challenges U.S. order to identify user behind anti-Trump account appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Trump administration hinted at military action against Syria Thursday as the president and top officials considered how to retaliate against President Bashar Assad for this week’s chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 people. Military leaders discussed options with the White House, likely including a missile strike.

    President Donald Trump suggested that Assad may have to leave power, and his comments were strongly underscored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told reporters “there’s no role for him to govern the Syrian people.”

    The administration has been put to the test this week amid an international outcry over the newly horrifying violence in Syria. Over the past seven years, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the nation’s civil war, triggering the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

    Trump’s tone has grown more grave with the passing days. On Wednesday, he said this week’s attack crossed “a lot of lines” — not just the “red line” of chemical weapons use that President Barack Obama once set as an ultimatum for the Assad government.

    Trump has shown a particularly emotional response to photos and video of dead children, and he said Thursday, “I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity.” Asked if Assad should remain in power, he said that “he’s there and I guess he’s running things so something should happen.”

    Trump commented aboard Air Force One en route to meet China’s President Xi Jinping at a Florida summit.

    Top defense leaders were discussing military options developed by the Pentagon with the president, U.S. officials said. They commented only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the sensitive information publicly by name.

    The range of options would be likely to mirror those shelved at the last minute by the Obama administration in 2013. Then, the U.S. was poised to launch missiles from ships in the Mediterranean, targeting military air fields, command and control facilities and other key locations.

    A precise missile strike, potentially against targets associated with the chemical weapons attack, could be considered an appropriate and measured response, especially in an area where there would be little possibility Russian troops would be present.

    The U.S. doesn’t want to start a war with Moscow, and there are Russian troops, aircraft and other equipment on most of the Syrian bases.

    Tillerson, who spoke almost simultaneously after greeting Xi in Florida, said there was “no doubt in our minds” that Assad’s government was behind the attacks and the U.S. was evaluating an appropriate response.

    “The process by which Assad would leave is something that will require an international community effort,” Tillerson said, adding that there needs to be a balance between defeating the Islamic State group and stabilizing Syria to prevent the civil war from escalating further.

    WATCH: President Trump says ‘something should happen’ on Assad and Syria

    Tillerson also issued a warning to Russia that its support of the Assad government is something that it should “consider carefully.”

    Late Wednesday, Trump advisers had huddled at the White House to discuss options for responding to the chemical attack, including both military action and economic sanctions, according to a senior administration official. It was unclear how fast the president planned to decide and implement a response, according to the official, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive planning.

    Tillerson has been in contact with his Russian counterparts, the official said, but Trump has not spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump told reporters traveling with him to Florida Thursday that he may speak with Putin.

    In Moscow, Putin’s spokesman said Russia’s support for Assad has limits but there must be a full investigation of the attack before the United Nations takes any action.

    As for Russia’s influence, Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with The Associated Press that “it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”

    In Washington, two senior Republican senators called for Trump to strike at Syria’s air force as part of a swift and forceful response to the attack, which killed more than two-dozen children.

    Sens. John McCain of Arizona, who spoke to Trump on Wednesday, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement that Assad “must pay a punitive cost for this horrific attack.”

    “This is a test of the new administration, but also for our entire country,” said Graham and McCain, who have been among Trump’s harshest congressional critics. “Assad is trying to see what he can get away with.”

    Graham later told reporters he doesn’t believe Trump needs Congress to authorize the use of military force in Syria. He added that the Senate has become so dysfunctional it may be difficult to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on a resolution approving the use of force.

    “Hit this guy,” Graham said of Assad. “You’ve got my full permission.” He said he has not talked to Trump about military options.

    But Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, took a more measured approach, saying he first wanted to hear from the White House what military options it may be considering.

    Asked if he supported grounding Syria’s air force, Corker told reporters he’d “like to see what the administration proposes.”

    House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said he was glad that Trump was meeting with national security advisers to consider options to hold Assad accountable. He encouraged Trump to consult with Congress, too.

    “The use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, and Assad’s brazen gassing of men, women and children cannot be tolerated,” Royce said.


    AP Writer Richard Lardner contributed from Washington.

    The post WATCH: U.S. hints at military action to retaliate against Assad appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, for an opposing view on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, I spoke with Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who defended his party’s move to change the Senate rules.

    SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: Well, we just weren’t left with any choices, Judy.

    The Senate Democrats decided to filibuster this nominee, something that hasn’t been successfully done in the 230-year history of Senate, at least successfully done by one party.

    They had the votes to block him. The only way we were going to be able to get an up-and-down vote on him, which is the history, the tradition of the Senate, was to make the rules change that enabled us to get to that up-and-down vote, which will occur sometime tomorrow.

    But had that not happened, we wouldn’t get this vote, and I’m not sure we could get any vote. If we can’t get Neil Gorsuch across the finish line, I don’t know what Supreme Court nominee the Democrats would be willing to vote on in the next four years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as I’m sure you know, the Democrats are saying that he’s not a mainstream candidate. And they say that what’s really unprecedented was the treatment Republicans gave last year to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

    So, they’re saying that what they are doing is no worse than what Republicans did last year.

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: Well, Garland of course, you know, that issue got litigated during the campaign.

    Our argument was people were already voting last year. It was a presidential year. And we ought to let people weigh in, have their voices heard, and let the new president pick the next Supreme Court nominee, which happened.

    And I think, in terms of him being mainstream, it’s pretty hard to argue that he’s not mainstream, if you look at his time on the 10th Circuit. He’s been a part of 2,700 cases that were heard there; 99 percent of those times, he was in the majority; 97 percent of the time, the vote was unanimous.

    And so the Democrats were hard-pressed to come up with an argument to make against him. And I realize part of it goes back to Garland, but I think, at the end of the day, we have got to move forward, not backward. And we have got a vacancy to fill. We just felt like this judge deserved an up-and-down vote.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Senate has not been seen, as you know, as partisan a body as the House of Representatives up until now. Do you think that has changed? Is that changing going forward?

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: I’ll tell you, my view on that is that you’re right.

    And a lot of people are sort of assessing, what’s the impact on the Senate? I think, by and large, this was sort of baked in. The Democrats changed the rules back in 2013 on lower court and appellate court nominees. And they basically had signaled last fall during the presidential campaign that, if they won, if Hillary Clinton had been elected president, and they had gotten the majority in the Senate, that they were going to change the rules on the Supreme Court.

    So I think, for the most part, people on both sides realized this was likely to happen. And I think now it’s a question of getting this behind us and moving forward on a legislative agenda, where I do think we can find hopefully some bipartisan cooperation, because I think, more than anything else, the American people want to — they want to see us get results.

    And that’s what we intend to do. And it’s going to take cooperation on both sides in order for that to happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you don’t think that after this it’s going to be harder to work with Democrats to move forward in the Senate?

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: It’s not my sense.

    I think the Democrats did what they had to do because, obviously, there’s a lot of — their activists, their political base was very energized on this issue. But I talk with Democrats all the time, I work with Democrats all the time on legislation.

    And, like I said, I think, for the most part, the assumption has been all along that, irrespective of who won that presidential election last fall, this is where we were going to end up, and particularly given the fact that, in 2013, they had initiated the first stage of this by doing away with the 50 — or the 60-vote threshold with respect to lower court and appellate court nods.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Senator, there’s another story we have been following today. And that is the chemical weapons attack in Syria the Trump administration is laying at the feet of the Assad regime.

    We now have President Trump suggesting that perhaps there needs to be some sort of action taken. We are told the Pentagon is going to be briefing the president on possible military moves that could be made.

    Are Republicans in the Congress prepared to get more deeply involved militarily in Syria, if it comes to that?

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: I think there’s pretty strong sentiment on both sides of the aisle up here that this warrants a response.

    You know, Assad has denied it. And, of course, the Russians have denied it, but it’s clear the intelligence that he is responsible for this attack. And the use of weapons of mass destruction, of chemical weapons on your own children is just something that’s a horrific act.

    And I think that the international community, I hope, responds aggressively. And I believe that the United States will be looked to for leadership in terms of that response. And I’m not — I don’t think we ought to take any options off the table.

    But I think this warrants a clear message from the international community and the United States that this kind of behavior is just not acceptable. And, ultimately, I believe he still — he has to go, but I think they’re looking at their options, and we will see what they ultimately decide to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly does sound like they’re considering military steps.

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: Well, if they did, I suspect it would be something that would be a limited strike designed probably to ground the air force, the Syrian air force, to take out some airstrips and that sort of thing.

    And a lot of that could be done, I suppose, with cruise missiles. I’m not exactly sure what all is in the discussion. I don’t want to speculate about that.

    But I do think there are ways that we can respond and that we can limit Assad’s ability to do these sorts of things to his own people in the future. And I think there is a humanitarian reason to respond that’s just pretty compelling, in light of some of these images that we have seen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator John Thune, we thank you very much for talking with us.

    SEN. JOHN THUNE: Thanks, Judy. Nice to be with you.

    The post Thune: Republicans had no choice but to change Senate rules for Gorsuch appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the fight over Neil Gorsuch continued to play out in the U.S. Senate today, I sat down with Democrat Patty Murray, the four-term senator from Washington State, who is one of the majority of Democrats opposed to Gorsuch taking that vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-Wash.: What concerns me at the end of the day is a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, someone’s judgment and their beliefs in terms of protecting people’s rights in this country is extremely important. And, for me, he didn’t pass the test.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You made a particular point of speaking about his position on reproductive rights. Why is that so important to you?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: This Supreme Court will consider cases coming to it that ultimately could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would mean that women would — could possibly lose their constitutionally protected right to make their own health care choices.

    To me, that is an issue I have seen in my own lifetime that has made a real impact for women, personally, their health and their economy. And I do not want this country to go backwards.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you have spoken before about your own awareness in your personal life.

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: When I was in college, Roe v. Wade wasn’t the law of the land many years ago.

    And I remember as good today as I did then a friend of mine, very close to, lived with her in the dorm, who went out on a date, like many young women did, and was what we today call date-raped, but we didn’t have a term for it then, ended up getting pregnant.

    There was no place she could go, nobody — no protections of law, ended up finding what we would now call a back-alley doctor who performed an abortion. And as a result of a botched procedure, she, at a very young age, lost her ability to ever have a family.

    I don’t want to go back to that. We now have a time when women can get the health care they need when they need it for whatever reason, and they have the protection of law to do that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: These are terrible individual situations, and you have just described one of them.

    At the same time, you know that there are many Americans who feel strongly in the other way. I think the latest Pew poll showed 37 percent of Americans don’t believe in abortion under almost any circumstances.

    How do you respect their point of view?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Well, I do respect that.

    For a deeply religious purpose, there are people who do not personally believe that abortion is acceptable. I understand that. But this is a country where we don’t impose religious beliefs on the entire country. This is a country where we accept differences of opinion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re not only opposing Judge Gorsuch. You and other Democrats are mounting a filibuster to do all you can do to prevent a vote.

    That, as you know, could lead to a significant change in the rules in the Senate, which will have an even more long-lasting effect. Why go that extra step?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Well, this is not our choice. This is the Republicans’ choice.

    Normally, our Supreme Court justices do get over 60 votes. And that’s important in this country. If you don’t get 60 votes, it means that you’re not a justice that can really be a justice for the entire land.

    So, it’s an important hurdle. There are not 60 people in the Senate today who believe that we should have this nomination. And I can’t vote just because Mitch wants me to. I — that’s — my vote is really important to me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There is the argument, Senator, at the same time, even made by other Democrats, who are saying, Democrats shouldn’t push this to the wall on this vote, the argument being the Democrats should wait to cut a deal of some sort of with the Republican leadership to say, we are going to go along with this one, but the next time, we are going to preserve the rule as it is now.

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: That’s a nice conversation, but I think Mitch McConnell showed his cards over a year ago.

    I think he sent a very strong signal then that his goal was to put someone on the Supreme Court that he felt was much more conservative. So, I don’t expect that, if somehow a deal could be made where Democrats could get over their feeling that this wasn’t the right person and give a yes vote, that, in the next instance, that he wouldn’t change the rules anyway.

    So, you stand up for your principles here. And that’s what we’re standing up for.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re learning this morning that the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence stepping aside from his role running the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election last year.

    What does that say to you? Does that now give you confidence that this investigation will be conducted fairly on the part of the Congress?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Well, I think it’s a very important step in the right direction, from what I know at this point, because this is a very important topic in this country today.

    If we have a foreign country, which it appears that we do, interfering in an election in any way, we need to know that, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that never happens again.

    If the bigger questions of collusion or whatever from this administration are true, this country needs to know it and action needs to be taken.

    It has to be done in a bipartisan way for it to be credible in this country. And Nunes was standing in the way of that because of his actions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, you have worked really closely with Speaker Ryan in the past on a number of difficult legislative issues. How do you think he’s doing right now?

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: I think he has an incredibly difficult job. I don’t envy him his job.

    But my advice to him would be, do what you have done in the past that helps you be successful. Reach out and find Democrats and find bipartisan solutions to the challenges that you have, and that’s how you can get things done.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Patty Murray, thank you very much.

    SEN. PATTY MURRAY: Thank you.

    The post Murray: ‘Nuclear’ option on Gorsuch is Republicans’ choice appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, conducts a 2015 news conference at the House triangle. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

    Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, conducts a 2015 news conference at the House triangle. On Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan tapped Conaway to continue the investigation after House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stepped aside. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

    WASHINGTON — The longtime Texas Republican tapped to lead the House probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is more familiar quietly working on agriculture issues.

    But Rep. Mike Conaway has created headlines. He expressed skepticism about the high-profile probe and compared the foreign interference from Russia to Mexican entertainers trying to get out the vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in Nevada.

    “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada,” Conaway told the Dallas Morning News. “You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that.”

    On Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan tapped Conaway to continue the investigation after House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., stepped aside, citing ethics complaints that he mishandled classified information.

    Despite his party credentials — he’s a longtime friend of former President George W. Bush — Conaway has worked with Democrats during his seven terms in the House. He’s the current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in which alliances often fall along regional, not party lines. He’s also a former chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which reviews ethics charges on a bipartisan basis.

    In a statement Thursday, Conaway promised to work across the aisle.

    “My profession as a CPA and auditor has taught me to be objective and methodical, and that is how I intend to help lead this investigation,” he said, adding that he is confident he and the top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, “will be able to work together to conduct an effective, bipartisan investigation.”

    During the intelligence committee’s first hearing on the Russia probe last month, Conaway questioned FBI Director James Comey on how intelligence agencies prove who is behind a hack and what a foreign leader’s “intent” is. He appeared skeptical of intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win because he didn’t like his Democratic opponent, Clinton.

    “I mean the logic is that because he really didn’t like president — the candidate Clinton — that he automatically liked Trump. That assessment’s based on what?” Conaway asked.

    Conaway grew up in and represents deeply conservative West Texas, where he met and worked for Bush years ago as an accountant. He served in the Army and is an ordained deacon in the Baptist church. When he became chairman of the agriculture panel, he started a new tradition of saying prayers before every committee meeting.

    Schiff said in an interview with The Associated Press that Conaway is “a straight shooter.”

    The Democrat also noted that Conaway isn’t close to President Donald Trump. Nunes was on the White House transition team, and Democrats have complained he was too friendly with the president as the panel investigated ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Nunes last month disclosed that Trump associates’ communication had been swept up by U.S. spy agencies and, he suggested, mishandled by Obama administration officials.

    “I have worked with Mike for many years now,” Schiff said. “I have a lot of respect for him.”

    READ MORE: Amid FBI investigation, White House tries to distance Trump from campaign aides

    Trump himself confirmed that he’s not close with Conaway, saying Thursday, “the gentleman replacing (Nunes), who I don’t know, I hear is a very, very highly respected man. High quality.”

    The Texas Republican supported Trump in the election last year, and publicly offered to help him with advice on agriculture issues. But it wasn’t clear if the campaign took him up on that.

    In February, Conaway was critical of Trump for comments he made in a 2005 recording released during the presidential campaign. In the recording, Trump made a series of comments about groping women.

    At an Agriculture Department event, Conaway said Trump’s comments “should never have happened, it was never excused in a private conversation.”

    But he had stronger words for women who carried explicit signs targeting Trump at the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration.

    “There was a taint to that march that just cut me to the core,” Conaway said Feb. 23. “Women carrying signs and wearing costumes in the foulest, nastiest, crudest, crassest manner possible, talking about female body parts.”

    Referring to the song “God Bless America,” Conaway asked, “Can God bless the killing of 57 million babies in 43 years? Can he bless the coarsening of our society, the language we use, the stuff that comes out of Hollywood that we think’s entertainment, the way we deify in many instances the folks that put that on?”

    He added: “You’ve got to live a moral code.”

    Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.

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    Pedestrians react after at least two people were killed and many more injured when a truck crashed into a department store in central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund/via REUTERS.

    Pedestrians react after at least two people were killed and many more injured when a truck crashed into a department store in central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund/via REUTERS.

    A small truck careened into a crowd of people before crashing into an upscale department store Friday in Stockholm, the latest in a series of recent attacks in Europe that have used vehicles as a weapon.

    Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said the incident appeared to be a terror attack, the Associated Press reported. Swedish authorities said the attacker has not been arrested.

    But the Swedish Security Service stopped short of calling the incident terrorism. In a statement on the service’s website, officials said they were trying to identify the attacker and whether one or more people were responsible.

    “We are treating it as an attack, without specifications,” Nina Odermalm Schei, a spokeswoman for the security service, told CNN.

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

    People are seen running from the scene of the attack in Stockholm.

    Around 3 p.m. local time, the driver reportedly veered into the sidewalks along the Drottinggatan Street, one of Stockholm’s busiest pedestrian areas, before driving through the front window of Ahlens department store.

    Swedish police told the BBC that at least two people had been killed in the incident, with many injured.

    “No hospital would disclose information about the number of people they received, but they have gone up in disaster mode, which is the highest position,” Swedish radio station SR Ekot reported on Twitter.

    Sweden's police officers stand guard April 7 in central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by REUTERS/Daniel Dikson.

    Sweden’s police officers stand guard April 7 in central Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by REUTERS/Daniel Dikson.

    The city was put on lockdown after the incident, The Guardian reported. Parliament as evacuated, and all trains in and out of the city center were halted.

    The incident is the second major fatal attack by vehicle this year in Europe. (In late March, a French man tried to drive a car into crowds in the Belgian city of Antwerp, but there were no injuries, The New York Times reported.)

    On Twitter, former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt called the tactic “the latest terrorist method.”

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

    Last month, 52-year-old Khalid Masood, a native of England, rammed a car into the pedestrian walkways on Westminster Bridge before crashing in front of Parliament, killing five and injuring around 40. He stabbed a security guard before being fatally shot by police.

    In July 2016, a man plowed a truck through pedestrians celebrating Bastille Day along the waterfront in Nice, France, driving for a mile before opening fire and being fatally shot by police. In December, a Tunisian man pledging allegiance to ISIS crashed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring nearly 50.

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    This is not an actual image of a black hole. This is an artist's concept of a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech

    This is not an actual image of a black hole. This is an artist’s concept of a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech

    For years, scientists have created illustrations of black holes, but actual images of the light-absorbing phenomena have remained elusive. The Event Horizon Telescope might be changing that as you read these words.

    The EHT is a collaboration of eight radio telescopes located around the world. For a handful of nights between April 4 and 15, scientists in Mexico, Spain and even Antarctica will train their radio observatories toward Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, to measure what some astronomers describe as the holy grail: the event horizon.

    Black holes sop up gas, dust and other debris in space. All that matter falling into the black hole heats up to billions of degrees, and the black hole cases a shadow against that intense light.

    The event horizon is the “point of no return,” the area where the black hole’s gravitational pull is strong enough to prevent anything — even light — from escaping. As a black hole drags stars and interstellar material into a swirling oblivion, scientists believe that the immense gravity bends light into a crescent, banana-like shape.

    In many artists’ renderings, this looks like a black circle bending bright matter around it. The EHT telescopes back on Earth hope to detect this signature shape, which should appear brighter along the inner edge and dimmer further away.

    EHT’s collective of international observatories creates a “virtual telescope” approximately the size of Earth. The NewsHour visited one of the sites — Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array high in Chile’s Atacama desert — more than two years ago, when the EHT wasn’t fully operational yet.

    “We’re trying to image a black hole, and those are some of the smallest objects in the universe,” MIT astronomer Shep Doeleman once told the NewsHour. “So you need the biggest telescope to observe the smallest object.”

    Black holes have been difficult to capture in part because even the biggest black holes are relatively small in the expanse of space. Supermassive black holes, the largest of their kind, are found in the center of galaxies but are still hard to detect.

    Even though black holes are vital to our understanding of the universe, no one has ever seen one — yet. To change this, a team of scientists in northern Chile is using a network of telescopes around the globe to capture an image of a black hole for the first time to prove Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Rebecca Jacobson reports.

    If successful, the project would provide direct proof that black holes actually exist.

    Last year, astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced they for the first time had observed spacetime-warping gravitational waves that emanated from a collision of two black holes about 1.3 billion years ago. The discovery was the best available evidence of a black hole’s intense gravity and radiation.

    This artist's rendition depicts the event horizon of a black hole. The surrounding disk of gas, represented by white and blue rings, whirls around the black hole at different speeds, with the material closest to the black hole approaching the speed of light. Image by NASA/Dana Berry/Honeywell Max-Q Digital Group

    This artist’s rendition depicts the event horizon of a black hole. The surrounding disk of gas, represented by white and blue rings, whirls around the black hole at different speeds, with the material closest to the black hole approaching the speed of light. Image by NASA/Dana Berry/Honeywell Max-Q Digital Group

    An image of a black hole’s event horizon would take it a step further. For astronomers, a synthesized image from the telescope array would also test Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted the existence of black holes more than a century ago. The image would also help scientists better understand the nature of black holes, how they work and how they shape galaxies.

    “Einstein’s equations tell you exactly what the size and shape of that shadow should be, so if we could image a shadow we’d be able to test Einstein’s theories in the one place where they might really break down — at the edge of a black hole,” Doeleman said.

    Three antennas await repair at ALMA's low site. Each antenna seen here is designed by a different collaborator -- be it Europe, North America or South Asia -- while Chile's involvement in this worldwide astronomical project cannot be understated; ALMA's array of 66 antennas rest in the country's Atacama Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    Three antennas await repair at ALMA’s low site. Each antenna seen here is designed by a different collaborator — be it Europe, North America or South Asia — while Chile’s involvement in this worldwide astronomical project cannot be understated; ALMA’s array of 66 antennas rest in the country’s Atacama Desert. Photo by Joshua Barajas/PBS NewsHour

    The EHT project will also collect data from another far-flung supermassive black hole in galaxy Messier 87.

    As the NewsHour witnessed in 2014, the radio telescopes are extremely sensitive. Thin clouds are enough to complicate the chances of ALMA’s 66 antennas detecting tiny radiation waves from space. Because of the time required to decipher the data the telescope collects, publication of this image may not happen until next year.

    READ MORE: This telescope is so extreme, the weak of heart need not apply

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    The post An ‘Earth-sized’ telescope takes aim at the first-ever image of a black hole appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch arrives for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    The Senate voted Friday to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. File photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

    It’s over. The Senate has confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on a largely party-line 54-45 vote, ending a months-long process marked by partisanship and a historic rule change that could have major implications for the future of the court. Now that the fight is finished — and Congress heads home for its Easter recess — here are some takeaways from the drama surrounding Gorsuch’s confirmation.

    The standard for Supreme Court nominees is now undeniably political

    Throughout its history, the Supreme Court always has been a red-hot political issue for the other two branches of government (google “FDR and Supreme Court” and “Nixon and Supreme Court”). But the Gorsuch nomination shows how profoundly the standard for judging SCOTUS nominees has shifted.

    For nearly 40 years, the primary test for senators has been a Supreme Court nominee’s qualifications, character and past actions. That led to bipartisan support of justices from Antonin Scalia (98-0), whose seat Gorsuch will fill on the court, to Sonia Sotomayor (68-31). Those justices represented clear sides of the judicial spectrum, but were still supported by both parties because of their qualifications. This slide into politics arguably started with Justice Samuel Alito and continued with Justice Elena Kagan, both of whom received more partisan opposition than we’d seen in the past. It accelerated last year, when Senate Republicans refused to consider Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill Scalia’s seat. Republicans defended the move; Democrats have decried it as a political power play, and a low point for the Senate.

    But now, with Gorsuch, it is clear. Supreme Court nominations have become a sport measured as much by partisan philosophy as judicial merit.

    Paralysis Explained: The failed compromise attempt on Gorsuch highlights the bigger problem in Congress

    Last weekend, a group of some 10 senators tried to avoid parliamentary bloodbath and find a compromise over Judge Gorsuch, senators involved in the talk told NewsHour and other media outlets.

    Led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Chris Coons (D-Del), the senators from both parties generally agreed to some big terms: Democrats would move Gorsuch forward, in exchange for a promise from Republicans to hold off on changing the confirmation rules for a certain number of years.

    But the deal fell apart, Coons said, in large part because Republicans wanted an exception for “extraordinary circumstances,” among other conditions. And Democrats simply did not trust Republicans to set a high enough bar for that. “We are in a moment of bad faith,” Coons said, noting that every Democrat feels Republicans acted in bad faith by blocking Garland and nearly every Republican feels the same about how Democrats almost universally have opposed Gorsuch.

    Conclusion: For nearly 20 years, razor-sharp politics and ever increasing campaign money battles were the prime forces causing Washington gridlock. Now, add to that, a deep and growing mistrust.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gives a thumbs up after the Senate invoked the "nuclear option" which will allow for a majority vote to confirm a Supreme Court justice nominee. The vote for nominee Neil Gorsuch is scheduled for Friday. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gives a thumbs up after the Senate invoked the “nuclear option” to confirm a Supreme Court justice nominee on Thursday, April 6. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

    Precedents still matter in the Senate. And the new key precedent is 2013

    Leading up to the decision to “go nuclear” and alter how the rules work for Supreme Court nominations, we heard many lawmakers speak about what a sad day it was going to be in the Senate. But the truth is, the 2017 drama was barely a shadow of the intense emotion and electric divide of 2013, when Democrats first launched the “nuclear option” to get through a backlog of lower court and other presidential nominations.

    The Senate remains a place of precedent. Which is why, technically, Republicans did not alter the words in the rules this week — they just changed the precedent for how the rules work. Now we’ll watch if any more precedents change.

    The GOP has its first major accomplishment since Trump took office

    It’s been a rocky first few months in power for President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress. The president’s travel bans have been blocked in court. Several high-profile investigations are underway into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its possible ties to Trump campaign associates. And House Republicans failed to pass a bill that aimed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, dealing the party an embarrassing setback. This is not the start Republicans had hoped for in January, as they gained control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

    So Gorsuch’s confirmation was a much-needed win for the GOP, even if the confirmation process was ugly and controversial. Much of the attention now is on the “nuclear option.” That will always be a footnote to Gorsuch’s confirmation. But the focus on Senate rules will fade. What matters to Republicans and their base is getting a conservative judge on the court. Trump promised to do that if he won the election. With Gorsuch’s confirmation, Trump delivered. Whatever else happens on issues like immigration and health care — not to mention foreign policy — placing a justice (or possibly multiple justices) on the Supreme Court will be a major part of Trump’s legacy.

    Gorsuch’s confirmation also brings short-term advantages. Gorsuch won’t change the balance of power on the court, but he does shore up its conservative wing. That will matter if cases on Trump’s orders on immigration and other policies come before the court in the next few years.

    Republican SCOTUS strategy is working

    Neil Gorsuch is 49. When Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court in 2005 he was 50. Justice Samuel Alito was 55 when he was confirmed the next year. Roberts and Alito are now in their sixties, but they could remain on the court for another two decades, if not longer. Gorsuch joins them as the court’s third relatively young conservative justice, forming a formidable group that could have a huge influence on American law for years to come.

    Former President Barack Obama’s two Supreme Court appointments were also on the younger side. Justice Sotomayor was 55 when she joined the court in 2009, and Justice Kagan was 50 when she was confirmed in 2010. But with the addition of Gorsuch, the court’s conservative wing is now younger than the liberal wing. If Trump adds a fourth justice who is 60 or younger, that could tilt the balance of power for a very long time.

    The post 5 things we learned from the fight over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Colorized electron microscope image of three corkscrew-shaped Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Photo by CDC

    Colorized electron microscope image of three corkscrew-shaped Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, the agent of Lyme disease. Photo by CDC

    Gazing through the window on a rainy New England afternoon, I can only see a few scattered white patches, sad remnants of our last winter storm. The yellowish grass is a reminder that spring follows winter, sure as can be. Good science aims to discern patterns that are less obvious, and one fascinating idea about Lyme disease is poised to be put to the test.

    Spring is always welcome, but to anyone who lives in this part of the country, the promise of outdoor adventure is tempered by a sobering reality: ticks. The prevalence of tick-borne illness in the United States is on the rise, and a recent story on NPR’s Morning Edition suggests that this year we should brace for the worst. It featured ecologist Rick Ostfeld predicting that 2017 would be a banner season for ticks, specifically the blacklegged tick, which carries Lyme disease as well as other serious, increasingly common infections like Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis.

    But despite his past success, some scientists remain unconvinced of Ostfeld’s tactic.

    A blacklegged tick, the carrier of lyme disease, teeters on a blade of grass. Photo by CDC

    A blacklegged tick, the carrier of lyme disease, teeters on a blade of grass. Photo by CDC

    Ostfeld’s forecast is based on the fact that 2016 saw an explosion in the population of white-footed mice in the Hudson Valley region where he’s been measuring various pieces of the local environment for a quarter century. In fact, he predicted the mouse surge, too. In the fall of 2015, I paid a visit to Ostfeld’s research site, at the Cary Institute for Ecological Studies, about two hours north of New York City. As we walked through the woods, he pointed to generous piles of acorns beneath trees, rolling down hillsides and strewn across paths. In some places, they were so thick, I had to tread carefully to avoid slipping.

    Acorns are a bounty for squirrels, chipmunks and smaller critters, especially white-footed mice.

    “These things are a remarkable little package of protein, lipids and all sorts of nutrients,” Ostfeld explained, holding up a handful of the nuts. “It’s a bumper crop, so we expect the mouse population in 2016 will be extremely high. And that means the infected nymphal tick population in 2017 should be extremely high.”

    Dr. Rick Ostfeld counting acorns in order to predict future mouse and tick populations. Photo by Caleb Hellerman and Gary Streiker

    Dr. Rick Ostfeld counting acorns in order to predict future mouse and tick populations. Photo by Caleb Hellerman and Gary Streiker

    Last year, the first part of the prophecy came true. On the carefully measured forest plots where Ostfeld conducts most of his research, the surge of mice was dramatic. Over the past 25 years, a typical count was 39 mice per hectare. The population fluctuates dramatically, however, and in a lean year it’s about 5 mice per hectare. Last summer, Ostfeld’s research team was counting close to 300. Closer to home, he and his wife Felicia Keesing, a fellow biologist, came home from a short vacation to find their kitchen strewn with mouse droppings and even a few dead mice.

    To understand why this matters to ticks, you need to appreciate the complex lifecycle of these gruesome, tiny bloodsuckers. When their eggs hatch, in the summer, larval ticks latch on to birds or small mammals, including mice. Mice often incubate the bacteria which causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, and carry other pathogens as well. As they feed, the larval ticks become infected.

    Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports on how communities are trying to combat the spread of the disease by controlling through hunting and alternatives.

    After eating their fill for a few days, the ticks drop off and molt into the next stage, when they’re referred to as nymphs. After resting through the winter, they emerge mid-spring to feed again. Mice and other small animals are still the preferred meal, but humans are an alternate snack. Bitten by an infected tick, a person may contract Lyme disease. This makes spring and early summer the riskiest time for people, although in milder winters the ticks come out sooner.

    Nymphs and adult ticks also feed on deer, which leads some to argue that lowering deer populations is a viable way to limit the spread of Lyme.

    Life cycle of ticks. Illustration by CDC

    Life cycle of ticks. Illustration by CDC

    Not everyone feels that the acorn connection will hold. Kirby Stafford, an entomologist who studies tick control methods for the state of Connecticut, notes that prior predictions of tick infestations, including a warning in 2012, did not come to pass. “As for this being a big year for ticks, it’s hard to tell. The adult tick activity this mild winter is not directly linked with upcoming summer tick activity,” Stafford said.

    Another big caveat: Ostfeld is counting mice on his research plots, but we don’t know if there was a surge throughout the region. He does note that oak tree “masting” — the periodic shedding of large numbers of acorns — tends to be synchronized across thousands of square kilometers.

    Even if this year doesn’t see a surge in ticks, a pattern may still exist. We just can’t see it yet. There are hints the patterns go even deeper. Why did 2015 see a bumper crop of acorns? No one really knows, but acorns start developing nearly two years before they fall, so it probably had something to do with conditions in the spring of 2014.

    A white-tailed deer pauses to eye the photographer on the Bay Circuit Trail on Holt Hill in the Ward Reservation. Some advocate that managing the deer population is the best way to stop the spread of Lyme disease. Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    A white-tailed deer pauses to eye the photographer on the Bay Circuit Trail on Holt Hill in the Ward Reservation. Some advocate that managing the deer population is the best way to stop the spread of Lyme disease. Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    If we understood all the pieces, then in theory we might have predicted a tick surge a full three years in advance. And if we knew what caused the spring of 2014, what then? How far back could we go?

    Ecology is a tough puzzle, perhaps even harder in a world of fast-changing climate. Will shorter winters help ticks breed faster, or spread more widely? It’s certainly possible, but then… maybe warmer weather leads to more drought, which is bad news for ticks, which rely on moisture.

    We’ll check back on this prediction, by summer. In the meantime, be careful when you go outside.

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    The White House says the U.S. response to suspected chemical attacks by the Syrian government was “justified and proportional.”

    Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday in Palm Beach, Florida, that the attacks on a Syrian air base late Thursday were the result of a “72-hour evolution.”

    Dozens of innocent people were killed in the suspected chemical attack Tuesday. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that the U.S. feels confident Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind the attack and that sarin gas was apparently used.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addresses the chemical attack in Syria.

    Spicer says Trump was offered a variety of options of a U.S. response from his Cabinet and members of his national security team. He gave the green light on the missile strike ahead of dinner with China’s President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng).

    Spicer says Trump told Xi about the attack during their dinner Thursday night.

    READ MORE: U.S. fires missiles into Syria in first attack on Assad regime
    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

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    The Syria Briefing — The NewsHour identified every key member in the room when President Donald Trump was briefed on the April 6 U.S. strike on Syria. Photo provided by the White House.

    The White House has released a photograph of the officials who were gathered in a room Thursday night at Mar-a-Lago when President Donald Trump’s national security team briefed him on the U.S. air strike in Syria.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted the photo Friday, hours after the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian government-controlled Shayrat air base.

    Mr. Trump said Thursday the surprise attack was retaliation for Syria President Bashar Assad’s apparent hand in a chemical attack earlier this week that killed more than 80 people in northwestern Syria. At least seven people were killed and another nine wounded in the U.S. air strike, according to the Syrian military. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, said the casualties included four military service members.

    The photograph released by the White House captured one of the first key decision-making moments in Trump’s presidency. The briefing at the president’s Florida resort was attended by key members of the Trump administration, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was recently removed from his post on the National Security Council’s principals committee.

    In his tweet, Spicer said three officials — Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford — were not physically in the room, but joined the briefing via video.

    The picture bears resemblance to the now-famous photograph of former President Barack Obama meeting with top national security officials on the night of the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. That photograph was taken in a room off the Situation Room in the White House.

    Trump is currently hosting China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, which he often calls his “Winter White House.” Xi is the second foreign leader to visit Mar-a-Lago. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Trump at the resort in February.

    READ MORE: Can the president attack another country without Congress?

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    Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov delivers remarks during the April 7 Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Photo by Reuters.

    Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov delivers remarks during the April 7 Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Photo by Reuters.

    PALM BEACH, Fla. — The United States is looking into whether Russia participated in the Syrian chemical weapons attack that provoked President Donald Trump’s airstrikes against the Assad government, a revelation that could have dramatic implications for relations between Washington and Moscow.

    On Friday, senior U.S. military officials said a drone belonging to either Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack after the assault earlier this week. Russia is one of Syria’s most important patrons and has long resisted U.S. efforts to push President Bashar Assad from power.

    Even as Trump advisers insisted that Thursday night’s U.S. missile strike did not mark a significant shift in American policy, he called on other nations to help “end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”

    The president approved the strike while in Florida for a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He did not respond to shouted questions about the assault from reporters as he opened meetings with Xi on Friday.

    The strikes — 59 missiles launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter — hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The U.S. missiles hit at 8:45 p.m. in Washington, 3:45 Friday morning in Syria. The missiles targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.

    WATCH: President Trump’s full statement on U.S. missile attack on Syria

    Russia condemned the move as an act of “aggression.” But there was widespread praise from other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition.

    British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office says the action was “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.” France, Italy and Israel also welcomed the strikes.

    In Washington, Republican leaders applauded Trump’s actions, despite the president launching the strike without congressional authorization. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell called Trump’s decision “entirely correct.”

    “I think the president had the authority to do what he did, and I’m glad he did it,” McConnell said.

    Democrats were muted in their response. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, R-Calif., said the strikes were “a limited but necessary response” and called on Trump to “develop a comprehensive strategy to end Syria’s civil war.”

    The Syrian military said at least 7 people were killed and several were wounded in the strikes on the air base.

    The U.S. assault marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. being pulled into the Syrian civil war that began six years ago.

    Timeline: How the U.S. has responded to Syria’s civil war

    U.S. officials placed some of the blame on Russia, which has brokered a 2013 agreement with Washington to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Florida with Trump, said Moscow had failed to live up to its obligations.

    “Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of the agreement,” Tillerson said.

    The U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for the attack that America believes Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.

    The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: North Korea’s nuclear program. Trump’s actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn’t afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.

    Trump had advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad’s most powerful military backer. Just last week, the Trump administration signaled the U.S. was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

    U.S. officials portrayed the strikes as an appropriate, measured response and said they did not signal a broader shift in the Trump administration’s approach to the Syrian conflict. But there could be other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria’s, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.

    Before the strikes, U.S. military officials said they informed their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces.

    Nevertheless, Russia’s Deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the “shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise.”

    Tillerson to visit Moscow as U.S., Russia face fresh tensions

    The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin believes that the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base is an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.” Iran’s foreign ministry also condemned the strike and called it a violation of international law.

    The U.S. also notified its partner countries in the region prior to launching the strikes.

    Trump’s decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a “red line.” At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key U.S. ally Britain and the U.S. Congress balked at his plan.

    He opted instead for the Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

    The world learned of the chemical attack earlier in the week in footage that showed people dying in the streets and bodies of children stacked in piles. The international outcry fueled an emotional response from Trump, who appeared to abandon his much-touted “America First” vision for a stance of humanitarian intervention, akin to that of previous American leaders.

    The show of force in Syria raises legal questions. It’s unclear what authority Trump is relying on to attack another government. When Obama intervened in Libya in 2011, he used a U.N. Security Council mandate and NATO’s overall leadership of the mission to argue that he had legal authority — arguments many Republicans opposed. Trump can’t rely on either justification here.

    The post U.S. investigating whether Russia was part of Syrian chemical weapons attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch is sworn in to testify at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan - RTX31WLO

    U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch is sworn in Mar. 20 to testify at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan.

    WASHINGTON — With Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation as the 113th Supreme Court justice on Friday, it won’t be long before he starts revealing what he really thinks about a range of hot topics he repeatedly sidestepped during his confirmation hearing.

    In less than two weeks, the justices will take up a Missouri church’s claim that the state is stepping on its religious freedom. It’s a case about Missouri’s ban on public money going to religious institutions and it carries with it potential implications for vouchers to attend private, religious schools.

    Other cases the court could soon decide to hear involve gun rights, voting rights and a Colorado baker’s refusal to design a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. Some of those cases may come up April 13, which could be Gorsuch’s first private conference — where justices decide whether to hear a case. It takes four votes to do so, though the court does not generally announce each justice’s decision.

    Arkansas’ intention to execute up to eight men over 10 days beginning April 17 also could land at the court in the form of last-minute pleas for a reprieve. By late spring or early summer, the court might be asked to consider President Donald Trump’s proposed ban on visitors from six majority Muslim countries.

    Also potentially awaiting Gorsuch’s decisive vote are six cases that were argued before the end of 2016 and remain unresolved. If the justices are divided 4 to 4 in any of them, the most likely route to breaking a ties would be to schedule a new round of arguments, with Gorsuch participating.

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

    Included in that batch are lawsuits involving racial discrimination in housing and political redistricting, and the rights of detained immigrants.

    Both sides in the bruising battle over Gorsuch’s nomination think they have a good sense of how he will come down on the big issues of the day, from his record as an appellate judge in Denver since 2006 and his recommendation by conservative groups. They expect Gorsuch to, in effect, restore the working conservative majority that was in place when Justice Antonin Scalia was alive. Gorsuch will take the seat of the conservative icon who died in February 2016.

    While that remains uncertain, it’s safer to say Gorsuch should know his way around the venerable building.

    Like Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, Gorsuch once served as a law clerk at the court, so the building’s layout and its idiosyncratic ways will be somewhat familiar to him. Samuel Alito reported he sometimes had trouble finding his way around as a new justice, and the challenge was all the greater because the court was going through a major renovation at the time.

    Alito had argued cases in front of the justices, but he said it didn’t prepare him for the building’s confusing layout or the view from the bench.

    What we know — and don’t — about Neil Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy

    “It was unreal. It was sort of surreal. I’ve had many times during those periods where I’ve had to pinch myself to say, ‘Yeah, you’re really here. You’re on the Supreme Court. This is really happening,'” Alito told the Newark Star-Ledger in an interview in July 2006, a half of a year after joining the court.

    Further easing Gorsuch’s transition is that his former boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy, remains on the court. It’s the first time a justice will serve alongside his former clerk.

    The 49-year-old Coloradan also will be the first member of Generation X, the cohort of Americans following the post-World War II baby boom, to reach the court. He’ll be the youngest justice. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 84, is the oldest.

    As the newest justice, Gorsuch will also take over two duties performed by Kagan since 2010. When the justices are alone in their conference room and someone knocks on the door, it is the junior justice who answers. He also will become the newest member of the court’s cafeteria committee, where replacing Kagan will be no mean feat. Her tenure brought with it a frozen yogurt machine.

    The post Neil Gorsuch could be the decisive vote in these Supreme Court cases appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police observe a 2016 protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    Police observe a 2016 protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    A federal judge approved an agreement Friday to make changes to the Baltimore Police Department, aimed at cracking down on the use of excessive force and racial profiling.

    The order from a U.S. district court in Maryland denied a recent Justice Department request to delay the proposed consent decree, which was negotiated during the Obama administration. The Justice Department had asked for a 90-day delay to review the consent decree on the same day this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a sweeping review of his department’s relationship with local law enforcement.

    “While the Department of Justice continues to fully support police reform in Baltimore, I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said in a statement responding to the court ruling.

    The attorney general said the consent decree was rushed and could hinder Baltimore police from doing their job as they try to stem a rise in violent crime.

    The Obama administration entered into several agreements with police departments across the country, including those in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, to improve the relationship between law enforcement and their communities. The federal push for these plans followed public pressure from advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter that called attention to numerous deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

    Read the federal judge’s order today, approving the consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department:

    Federal judge's order entering consent decree for Baltimore by PBS NewsHour on Scribd

    Despite opposition from the Justice Department, Baltimore’s mayor promised to move forward with plans to reform the city’s police department.

    “Our goal is a stronger police department that fights crime while it serves and protects the civil and constitutional rights of our residents,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement Friday. “It will take a collaborative effort among our state and federal partners to achieve our ambitious goals, and I am confident in our mutual commitment to reforms and to the citizens of Baltimore,” she wrote.

    The consent decree was proposed after the Justice Department launched an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody in 2015. The report found evidence of unlawful stops, searches and arrests.

    The consent decree orders Baltimore police to use proper de-escalation tactics and undergo training on how to interact with youth, the mentally ill, protestors and victims in sexual assault cases. It also requires the city establish a community task force to oversee the police department and publicly report their findings.

    READ MORE: Sessions calls Ferguson an emblem of tense relationship with police

    The post In blow to DOJ, federal judge approves Baltimore police reform agreement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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