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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The peacekeeping force deployed by the United Nations has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. That is due in no small part to past allegations of sexual abuse by troops deployed in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.

    A new investigation by the Associated Press finds the problem of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers is wider and even more disturbing than previously known.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story from our New York studios.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The AP found nearly 2,000 allegations of abuse and exploitation in the past 12 years. More than 300 of those cases involved children. And since the U.N. cannot punish peacekeepers from other countries, only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time.

    The AP also spoke with officials in 23 countries who had troops serving as peacekeepers and were accused of these violations.

    Trish Wilson is the international investigators editor who oversaw the AP story.

    Ms. Wilson, thanks for joining us.

    How did you come upon the investigations that were under way by the U.N.?

    TRISH WILSON, Associated Press: Well, earlier last year, there was a lot of reporting out of the Congo and the Central African Republic about another wave of allegations against U.N. peacekeepers, so we decided to take a look at the numbers going back to 2004, when the first wave of allegations came out against peacekeepers.

    And that’s what got us started. From there, we just kind of — we just counted the number of allegations per year that the U.N. had reported.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, you have zoomed in on Haiti and started to look at almost a pattern of behavior here. What happened there?

    TRISH WILSON: Haiti has been singled out as being a country where a lot of these abuses have occurred in an unusually high number, given the total of 2,000.

    So we just went to look and see what we could find out in Haiti. We compiled the numbers. We found 150 cases. We found a lot of cases involving children. And, as we were doing the reporting — we have a team in Haiti and we sent our investigative reporter Paisley Dodds to Haiti.

    And, eventually, we stumbled across this internal report, investigative report from the U.N. which chronicled this amazing tale of children that were in a sex ring that was abused — and were abused by U.N. peacekeepers over a three-year period. It was nine children abused by 134 U.N. peacekeepers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, these children were paid sometimes, what, a few pennies or a dollar at a time for sex acts?


    It was low as — there was food, yogurt, juice given to the children, who were hungry, and that’s why they did this. We saw — the lowest amount we found was 75 cents, and the highest amount was $20.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On the one hand, the U.N. conducts what you call a thorough investigation, but then what happens after that?

    TRISH WILSON: You know, that’s what’s curious. It was really a very good investigation by the U.N.

    They looked — they went to the children. They made sure that the children were not making it up. The children actually spoke Sinhalese, which is — which was very telling. They showed pictures of 1,000 peacekeepers to the children. And the children identified various locations where they had sex with these — or were forced to have sex, or lured into having sex by these peacekeepers.

    So it was really quite a good investigation. What happened after that investigation is what typically happens at the U.N. and is one of the reasons why this is such an important study, or case study. It’s — the problem is that the U.N. is in a legal bind.

    As you said when you opened the segment, it doesn’t have jurisdiction over any of these countries. So the deal is, here’s our investigative report. Now it’s time for Sri Lanka to come in and take a look at this report.

    And, in this case, Sri Lanka did; 114 of those soldiers were sent home. But what happened after that is anybody’s guess. There is no accountability. There are no names of any of these people, and nobody ever went to jail.

    So, if you can imagine, these kinds of corroborated crimes against children over a three-year period, corroborated by a U.N. investigative team, and then nothing happens.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And you point out that there was — you said that some of these students — or some of these children were speaking Sinhalese, which is one of the languages spoken in Sri Lanka. And how would they have known it if they had not been in touch with these peacekeepers?

    There were other countries as well involved. And it’s happening in other parts of the world. Yes.

    TRISH WILSON: Yes, there have been allegations all over the world.

    I mean, this particular story focused on Haiti. But we are looking at — we are doing a series. This is the first in a series that looks at what’s been going on with U.N. peacekeepers. So there have been, sure, problems in Central Africa Republic, problems in Congo with U.N. peacekeepers, as well as other places.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s been the reaction from the United Nations to this?

    TRISH WILSON: Well, they say that they are very concerned. They do not think that this is acceptable.

    They seem to want — they have announced yet another wave of reforms. But these reforms are very similar to what they announced in 2004, when the first wave of allegations became public.

    So, the question is, well, how do you fix this? Is this OK? Can we really pay for peacekeepers to go abroad to protect people, and, instead, have this appalling abuse against the very civilians they’re sent to protect? No.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Trish Wilson from the Associated Press, thanks so much for joining us.

    TRISH WILSON: Thank you for having me.

    The post UN peacekeepers accused of thousands of cases of abuse, AP finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by Francois Lenoir/Reuters

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. File photo by Francois Lenoir/Reuters

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that he welcomed President Donald Trump’s view that the organization is not “obsolete,” a criticism Mr. Trump once leveled as a candidate in last year’s presidential election.

    “I welcome the fact that [Trump] clearly stated today that NATO is not obsolete,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff, shortly after appearing at a joint press conference with the president at the White House.

    At the press conference, Trump noted he had called the alliance “obsolete” during the 2016 race. Pointing to NATO’s work in fighting terrorism, Trump said, “It is no longer obsolete.”

    As a candidate, Trump criticized member nations for not fulfilling their financial obligations to NATO under a treaty that requires countries to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

    In the NewsHour interview, Stoltenberg said NATO members were “increasing contributions” to the group and added that he expected the trend to continue.

    “We have turned the corner after many many years of declining in defense spending” in Europe and Canada, he said.

    Stoltenberg also touched on NATO’s relationship with Russia and efforts to fight terrorism in Afghanistan. While “many difficult challenges in Afghanistan” remain, he said, the country is no “longer a safe haven for international terrorists.”

    Watch Stoltenberg’s full interview with Woodruff on the April 12 episode of PBS NewsHour.

    The post NATO chief welcomes Trump’s view that group is not ‘obsolete’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: How will NASA’s mission change under President Trump and a Republican Congress that helps decide where money should go?

    Some big changes could be in store for space exploration and the missions set into place now that could stretch well beyond the Trump era.

    Miles O’Brien has the story for our weekly segment about the Leading Edge of science and technology.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The balcony at Congressman John Culberson’s office on Capitol Hill offers a sweeping panorama of Washington, but the Republican from Houston is usually looking higher.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON, R-Texas: There’s Mercury. Mars is going to appear right here. We go this way, there’s Orion. Sirius is going to appear right here.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Culberson has more than a hobby-level interest in space. He chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees NASA. In his ninth term, he is riding high, as the Trump administration embraces his strategy for exploring space.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON: NASA has been underfunded for far too long. They have been short-sticked by previous administrations, this past administration. And I’m very excited and pleased to see President Trump recommend enough funding for NASA as a whole.

    MILES O’BRIEN: President Trump apparently sees NASA as a priority. He’s made passing references to space in his inaugural address.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And in his speech to Congress.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The Trump administration is proposing only a 1 percent reduction in NASA’s $19 billion annual budget. Hardest-hit programs are science and education. But at a time when the federal scientific enterprise is facing deep, unprecedented cuts, the space agency may have dodged a missile.

    Mr. Trump’s space advisers include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Congressman Bob Walker, who served as chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA.

    ROBERT WALKER, Trump Space Adviser: Newt has had several conversations with Trump and with Vice President Pence. And both of them are space cadets. And there are other fairly high-ranking people in the White House who are also space cadets.

    MILES O’BRIEN: In this case, space cadet is a compliment. Walker says the White House would like NASA to get out of low Earth orbit, leaving that realm to private enterprise.

    Beyond that, the space agency takes a role that increases with the distance from Earth. The administration is also focused on humans returning to the moon.

    ROBERT WALKER: I think the moon is an important step on the way to Mars. I think you have to have some experience in a very hostile environment where you develop some of the technologies that you need to exist on Mars before you actually head to Mars.

    MILES O’BRIEN: For Congressman Culberson, that is well and good, but he believes the most important green-lit mission is aimed at this object, the icy moon of Jupiter, Europa.

    The Europa Clipper was approved by the Obama administration and Congress in 2015, more than 10 years after Culberson began obsessively pushing NASA to go there. Europa has always fascinated him. Beneath the ice is a salty ocean. How much? He answers the question with a poster on foam core he keeps in his office.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON: This is all the water on Earth, both fresh and salt, and all the water on Europa. This is a free-floating ice shell, and there’s two to three times more water on Europa than there is on Earth.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Scientists find this tantalizing, because, no matter how far down they explore in our oceans, they find all kinds of living creatures.

    KEVIN PETER HAND, Astrobiologist, NASA: And with that much water out there today in our solar system, that begs the question, could there be life within that ocean?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Jet propulsion laboratory astrobiologist Kevin Hand is in line to be the project scientist for a NASA mission to land on Europa by about 2030.

    That lander would be preceded by an orbiter slated for launch in 2022. The orbiter is designed to capture stunning imagery and detailed science about the salts and any organic compounds on the surface, and use radar to look beneath at the boundary between the ice and the ocean. All of this will help them determine where to land.

    KEVIN PETER HAND: We’d love to melt through the ice and reach the ocean directly, but, based on the evidence we have, Europa’s ice shell does serve as a relatively good window into the ocean below.

    We could, perhaps by sampling the surface, also be sampling ocean material, and thereby also be potentially grabbing a sample that could have some little Europa organisms.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But, for many years, NASA didn’t seem interested in Europan krill.

    The NASA administrator under George W. Bush, Mike Griffin, thwarted Culberson’s first attempt to land on Europa. It was a mission called the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. And it was canceled in 2006 to pay for completion of the International Space Station.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON: When Mike Griffin canceled the Europa mission last decade, it scarred me so badly, I swore I wouldn’t let the bureaucrats cancel this mission again. So, today, the Europa orbiter and lander is the only mission it is still illegal for NASA not to fly.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You heard right. Culberson made the Europa orbiter and lander missions the law of the land in 2015.

    But exploring Europa is challenging and expensive. NASA managers complained their plate was already too full with the space station and an extensive campaign to explore Mars. And the focus on Mars is sustained by the goal of eventually sending humans to the surface. Europa is only a destination for robots, and hearty ones at that. Lethal radiation levels ensure no human can ever visit.

    It makes the mission less attractive to the powerful astronaut side of the House at NASA. But in this war of the worlds, Mars has met its match.

    ROBERT WALKER: The fact that people are talking about Europa right now is a result of Chairman Culberson’s interest in it.

    And the fact is that he has caused NASA to say, if that’s what Chairman Culberson wants, that’s what Chairman Culberson gets.


    MILES O’BRIEN: Culberson isn’t stopping there. He has written a 50-year plan for NASA that includes a spacecraft that can go 10 percent the speed of light for humanity’s first interstellar mission to the nearest Earth-like star. The launch date is 2069, 100 years after the first moon landing.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON: I have always wanted to restore NASA to the glory days of Apollo, as you and I remember as kids. I want to see NASA go above and beyond the glory days of Apollo.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Culberson is all about making NASA great again. But watch what happened in the Oval Office after the president signed the authorization bill for space agency’s current budget.

    REP. JOHN CULBERSON: Mr. President, if I may, just as Americans remember that President Eisenhower was the father of the interstate highway system, with your bill signing today and your vision and leadership, future generations will remember that President Donald Trump was the father of the interplanetary highway system.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, that sounds exciting.


    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: First, we want to fix our highways. We’re going to fix our highways.


    MILES O’BRIEN: Europa and Mars may beckon, but, for politicians, it’s never wise to ignore the potholes, even when surrounded by people who care more about black holes.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Miles O’Brien in Washington.

    The post What do the stars hold for the Trump administration? Here’s how NASA’s mission could change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: More than 100 wildfires are burning in and around Florida, and the state is expecting a difficult fire season ahead.

    Yesterday, the governor declared a state of emergency there.

    William Brangham has the latest.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Over 70,000 acres have burned across the state since February. And the fires are not just in one spot. They’re located in all corners of the state. This is also occurring while Florida is dealing with a major drought.

    Jim Karels is the director of the Florida Forest Service and a 32-year veteran of fighting fires. He joins us from Tallahassee.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    Jim, I wonder if you could just give us a sense of how things are in Florida right now.

    JIM KARELS, Director, Florida Forest Service: Dry.

    The peninsula of Florida is — especially South and Central Florida, extremely dry right now. And it’s drying out as you go north all the way to the Georgia-Florida line.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We mentioned you’re also dealing with a drought at the same time. How much is that a contributing factor to all of this?

    JIM KARELS: A big contributing factor, in that, you know, we had some late freezes, didn’t have much of a winter here in Florida, but we did have a freeze late into February, early March. And it went down to South-Central Florida, and then it really didn’t rain after that.

    So you have got that dry vegetation. You have got — low rainfalls were really since about January, kind of a La Nina effect that we tend to get every few years in Florida. And now we’re into our normally dry season, April, May, parts of Florida, early June, where we’re normally dry anyway.

    And that increases the whole situation, where it makes it very easy for fires to start, makes it very easy for fires to spread.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is still the beginning of your fire season. Do you have any sense of what the longer-term forecast is? What does it look like coming down the road?

    JIM KARELS: Well, we have got a couple forecasts out of — one, our National Fire Center in Boise. And that pretty much paints a red target on Florida probably through April, May, and June.

    The NOAA forecasts show the drought expanding into some parts of the state into the same period, into April, May, June. That’s normally our dry period. Along with how dry we already are, it really paints a picture that we have got a pretty intense fire season in front of us. We are very busy already. We’re busy early. And we’re drier than normal early, as it is in early April right now.

    And we really expect to probably have to fight fire all the way to June, maybe even July. And it tends to move up the state. Our worst right now is South Florida. It moves to Central Florida, and then it moves to North Florida as it kind of closes out our fire seasons.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And over 100 fires. Can you give us a sense of what is causing so many different simultaneous fires?

    JIM KARELS: Well, right now, the majority of our fires are human-caused, probably 90 percent of them. Various different things. Some of it is yard trash burning, where people are cleaning, spring cleaning, and they’re burning their leaves.

    Some of it is vehicles, catalytic convertors, that type, or equipment working in the woods or the wildlands. Some of it is arson, incendiary. Have some issues with that. And then this past weekend, we got some lightning, so we’re starting to see the lightning fires evolve as well.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Most Americans think of fires out West in the very dry brush and forestland we see out there, but I understand that the type of vegetation that is burning and the way it burns in Florida is quite different.

    JIM KARELS: It is.

    Fire evolved under fire, so it was constant fire prior to humans. And the vegetation tends to be more waxy, more resinous. What we say is, in Florida, green burns. That’s different from the West. The West, the fuels tend to be very cured, very dry, very — essentially dead, where, down here, you come in here and you look at our vegetation, you think that’s not going to burn, and it’s just the opposite.

    And then it burns under a lot higher humidity. Our fires can burn very intensely all the way up to 40, 50 percent humidity. In the West, it tends to be 20 percent or below.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: With all these different fires across the state, what is the danger to the human population?

    JIM KARELS: As you know, Florida’s got a big population, about 20 million people.

    So, just about every fire we have impacts what we call the urban interface, or homes, structures. And so far this year, we have evacuated over 1,800 homes. And we lost 27. So, we saved a lot, impacted a good number of people in their daily lives from the wildfires.

    And the other thing in Florida that it really experiences is the impact on the roadways. We get smoke on the highways. With all those people and with a lot of tourists moving through the state, the roads become dangerous when the visibility gets down low.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Jim Karels of the Florida Forest Service, thank you very much. And good luck down there.

    JIM KARELS: Thank you.

    The post Florida is burning and it’s just the start of the dry season appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, President Trump hosted the NATO secretary-general this afternoon at the White House.

    And a short time later, I spoke with Jens Stoltenberg.

    Mr. Secretary-General, welcome to the NewsHour.

    We heard President Trump say today that relations between the United States and Russia may be at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Would you say the same thing about relations between NATO and Russia right now?

    JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO Secretary-General: At least the relationship is difficult.

    And that reflects that we see a more assertive Russia, which has implemented a very significant military buildup over several years, and a Russia which has used military force against neighbors, especially Ukraine.

    And NATO is responding to that with the high readiness of our forces, with the biggest reinforcement to our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, we say that we are seeking to avoid a new Cold War, avoid a new arms race, and, therefore, we continue to work for a more constructive relationship with Russia, including political dialogue with Russia.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how do you prevent it from becoming just a oneupmanship? Because you’re right. The Russians have sent more troops, move material to their border. NATO is now doing the same thing on its eastern border.

    How does this thing just — how do you keep it from spiraling out of control?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: Partly by making sure that what NATO does is proportionate, defensive.

    And, therefore, we are deploying battle groups, battalions, which we consider necessary to convey a message of deterrence, credible deterrence, that if one NATO ally is attacked, it will trigger a whole response from the whole alliance.

    But, at the same time, we have been able to convene last three meetings of — in what we call the NATO-Russia council after two years without any meetings. And this council is a platform where NATO and Russia meets.

    We discuss issues like Ukraine, like Afghanistan, and so on.


    JENS STOLTENBERG: And that’s a way to keep the channels for political dialogue open and to keep the tensions down.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You did just from the meeting with President Trump.

    He spent months and months in his campaign for president and even since then criticizing NATO, criticizing its role, at times even asking whether NATO was obsolete. Why do you think his — or do you think his view of NATO has changed, and, if so, why?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: I welcome the fact that he has clearly stated today that NATO is not obsolete.

    And I think, also, that reflects that NATO is adapting. NATO is the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to change, to adapt when the world is changing. And now NATO is stepping up its effort in the global fight against terrorism, and we are responding to a more assertive Russia with an increase of our collective defense, with more presence in the eastern part of the alliance.

    So, as long as NATO changes when the world is changing, we will be very important for the security of all our allies, including the United States.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you did note today that NATO members are increasing their contributions to the alliance, as President Trump has been calling for them to do.

    Are you confident, though, that that is going to continue in the way that you and President Trump say that it needs to?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: I expect it to continue, because all 28 allies have agreed that they will stop the cuts in defense spending, gradual increase, and then move towards spending 2 percent of GDP, gross domestic product, on defense.

    And the encouraging thing is that we have seen that we have turned a corner. After many, many years of decline in defense spending across Europe and Canada, in 2016, we saw the first significant increase. We still have a long way to go, but at least European allies have kind of started move in the right direction.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also spoke today, Mr. Secretary-General, about the fight against terrorism, the global fight, and you said NATO has a larger role to play in that regard.

    What exactly did you have in mind?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: Many things, but perhaps the most important thing is to build local capacity, meaning train local forces, build the local defense institutions, defense ministries, command and control, because, in the long run, it is expected that local forces are stabilizing their own country, fighting terrorism themselves, instead of NATO deploying a large number of combat troops in combat operations.

    And that’s NATO’s experience from Afghanistan. We have ended our combat operations there.


    JENS STOLTENBERG: We train the local Afghans to fight terrorism themselves and think, in the long run, that’s a much more sustainable approach.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But that is — I think most observers now see Afghanistan as slipping back into chaos. The Taliban is stronger than many people say that it’s been in years. ISIS now has a foothold.

    But you’re saying that that’s not a reason for NATO to get involved?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: I’m saying that there are many difficult challenges in Afghanistan. And we still have Taliban. We still have terrorist organizations there, and we will see violence and we will see conflict there also in the coming years,.

    But we have achieved at least two important things. Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for international terrorists. We have a strong Afghan army, which is fighting the terrorists and Taliban. And the second thing is that they are able to do that without us being there to conduct the combat operations.

    What NATO troops are doing in Afghanistan is to train, assist and advise Afghans, but they are actually doing the fighting. They are actually taking the responsibility for the security in their own country. And that is a great achievement, compared to what we saw just a few years ago, when NATO troops had to conduct the combat operations fighting the Taliban.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you think that war going in the right direction, though?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it is a very important step in the right direction that the Afghans have taken over responsibility for the security in their own country, and NATO being able to end its combat presence in Afghanistan.

    But,of course, there are still many, many uncertainties, challenges and difficulties in Afghanistan. But we have to enable the Afghans to manage those challenges themselves. We cannot solve all the problems for the Afghans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Mr. Secretary-General, a question about Turkey, which, as you know, is just days away from a referendum that would grant sweeping additional powers to President Erdogan, essentially making him — or allowing him to be immune from any oversight by the parliament or by the courts.

    You know, there are those who are critics of his who are saying that this is going to lead to if it passes is NATO’s second largest standing army controlled, in essence, by someone who has dictatorial powers. How comfortable would you be with that?

    JENS STOLTENBERG: Turkey’s a valued ally, important ally for NATO, not the least because of its strategic geographic location, bordering Syria and Iraq and close to Russia and the Black Sea.

    And we have to remember Turkey has suffered many terrorist attacks, a failed coup attempt in July of last year, and is the ally most affected by the instability, the violence we see in Syria and Iraq.

    Turkey has, of course, the right to protect itself against terrorism, against attacks, but I expect it to be done in a way which is in accordance with the rule of law, democratic values. And that is something I have expressed several times in meetings with the Turkish leaders.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jens Stoltenberg, who is the secretary-general for NATO, we thank you very much.

    JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.

    The post NATO’s chief on how to prevent Russian tensions from spiraling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 29: The "Fearless Girl" statue, a four-foot statue of a young girl, defiantly looks up the iconic Wall Street "Charging Bull" sculpture in New York City, United States on March 29, 2017. "Fearless Girl" statue was installed in front of the bronze "Charging Bull" for International Women's Day earlier this month to draw attention to the gender pay gap and lack of gender diversity on corporate boards in the financial sector. The statue will remain at her post until February 2018. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

    The “Fearless Girl” statue, a four-foot statue of a young girl, defiantly looks up the iconic Wall Street “Charging Bull” sculpture in New York City, United States on March 29, 2017.  The statue is expected to remain at her post until February 2018. (Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

    It’s a battle of two sculptures, and two ideals: “Charging Bull,” a 7,100-pound symbol of brash financial optimism, and “Fearless Girl,” a four-foot emblem of female empowerment. The two bronze sculptures stand, face-to-face, in the heart of Wall Street in New York’s Bowling Green Park.

    While “Charging Bull” was originally installed as a piece of guerilla art after the stock market crash of the 1980s, “Fearless Girl” was added on International Women’s Day just last month. Now, Charging Bull sculptor Arturo Di Modica wants the statue of the young girl removed, saying it violates copyright and was placed there for commercial gain.

    In a letter sent to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and provided to PBS NewsHour, Di Modica’s lawyers argue that the placement of Fearless Girl violates the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects artists against distortion or modification of their work. The statue of the girl, they write, was clearly derivative, and also intentionally alters the bull’s positive message.


    The letter also maintains that the sculpture was put there for commercial purposes. State Street Global Advisors, an index fund, commissioned Fearless Girl with the help of the advertising firm McCann New York; the fund also placed a plaque before the statue with “SHE” written in capital letters — its ticker tape symbol.

    “We write to you now in hopes of finding a way to amicably resolve these violations,” the lawyers, led by New York-based attorney Norman Siegel, wrote to the New York City mayor.

    But hours after Di Modica and Siegel held a news conference Wednesday, de Blasio indicated that he may be of little help to the Charging Bull sculptor, tweeting, as others did Wednesday, support of Fearless Girl.

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

    Siegel, Di Modica’s attorney, was not amused.

    “So Bill de Blasio is now transforming into Donald Trump Jr.,” Siegel told the NewsHour, in a reference to the president’s habit of tweeting his displeasure on various topics.

    “[De Blasio] is not addressing the issues here, of whether or not there is copyright or trademark infringement, and what due diligence did the city of New York do to granting the permit,” Siegel said. “Shouldn’t they address those issues instead of making some kind of political statement?”

    De Blasio’s office responded to request for further comment by pointing NewsHour back to the mayor’s tweet.

    As for the index fund, State Street wrote in a statement that it was “grateful” to the city of New York for its support of what the Fearless Girl represents: “the power and potential of having more women in leadership,” it said.

    Siegel told NewsHour they would try to reach an agreement outside of court, and if not, decide whether to litigate the issue.

    The post Read the letter the Charging Bull sculptor sent demanding the removal of Fearless Girl appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: China’s leader, Xi Jinping, told President Trump that he’s willing to work with the U.S. to stop North Korea’s nuclear program peacefully. The two men spoke in a late-night phone call, after Mr. Trump’s Twitter warning yesterday that the U.S. might act alone.

    In Beijing today, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the call was a positive sign.

    LU KANG, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman (through interpreter): On the nuclear issue, President Xi stated China’s stance that we abide by the objective of de-nuclearization on the peninsula, continue to maintain the peace and stability on the peninsula and continue to resolve the issue peacefully via dialogue and negotiation. The U.S. clearly understands this stance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The phone call came just days after the two leaders met in Florida, and after the president seemed to tie trade issues to cooperation on North Korea. In fact, the president said he will not officially label China a currency manipulator. He said that today, as he had promised during the campaign.

    Mr. Trump tweeted today that the call with President Xi was a very good conversation.

    And in an interview that aired today on FOX Business News, he also said the North Korea situation is — quote — “not as simple as people would think.”

    There’s word that the FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor communications of Carter Page. He was advising the Trump campaign at the time. The Washington Post reports that a special court on intelligence matters found there was reason to believe Page was acting as a Russian agent.

    Today on CNN, Page said — quote — “It’s just such a joke that it’s beyond words.”

    Meanwhile, President Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, now says he is registering with the U.S. as a foreign agent. The Associated Press confirmed today that his lobbying firm did receive more than $1 million from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. That was in 2007 and 2009.

    Manafort previously said that any records of such payments were fabricated.

    In South Africa, tens of thousands turned out against President Jacob Zuma today on his 75th birthday. It was the latest in a string of protests calling for his resignation over allegations of widespread corruption. Demonstrators flooded the main square today in the capital, Pretoria, chanting and carrying a mock coffin. Meanwhile, Zuma attended a birthday celebration outside Johannesburg.

    Back in this country, Republicans managed onto hold a U.S. House seat in Kansas in Tuesday’s special congressional election. Ron Estes won by just seven points in a district that went Republican in November by 31 points. Democrat James Thompson conceded defeat last night, but he said it’s a warning to Republicans everywhere.

    JAMES THOMPSON (D), Kansas Congressional Candidate: We have shown that this district is not just competitive, but that we can win it. We have already shocked this country. We have sent a message that no Republican district in this country is safe.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Kansas seat had been held by Mike Pompeo. He’s now President Trump director of the CIA. Republicans face three more special elections to hold onto seats in Georgia, Montana and South Carolina. Their occupants also joined the Trump administration.

    The White House lifted a hiring freeze on the federal work force today. President Trump had imposed it on his first day in office. Now the administration is asking agencies to identify cuts that they can make in their staffs.

    In economic news, the president told The Wall Street Journal that he is concerned that the U.S. dollar is getting too strong and he said he had not decided whether to reappoint Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal Reserve when her term ends in 2018.

    On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 59 points to close at 20591. The Nasdaq fell 30, and the S&P 500 slipped eight.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: New tensions between the United States and Russia dominated this day. America’s top diplomat carried U.S. grievances over Syria and other issues to Moscow, while President Trump spoke out in Washington.

    Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, has our report.

    MARGARET WARNER: The discord was on display at the very outset of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

    SERGEI LAVROV, Russian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): We have a lot of questions regarding very ambiguous and as well as sometimes contradictory ideas on coming from Washington.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson acknowledged sharp differences, and after meeting privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he emerged with an even grimmer appraisal.

    REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: The current state of U.S.-Russia relations is at a low point. There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.

    MARGARET WARNER: The most immediate trigger for tensions, a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria last week, and the U.S. response, a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base. Lavrov again denied Russia’s ally the Syrian government was responsible.

    SERGEI LAVROV (through interpreter): We believe it’s necessary to have an international, unbiased, frank investigation into this incident. There were no signs that would support the statement, the allegation that chemical agents were used there at all.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tillerson insisted again that Syria’s government did carry out the attack, and he called again for Russia to abandon President Bashar al-Assad.

    REX TILLERSON: We do think it’s important that Assad’s departure is done in an orderly way, an orderly way, so that certain interests and constituencies that he represents feel that they have been represented at the negotiating table for a political solution. How that occurs, we leave that to the process going forward.

    MARGARET WARNER: But in New York this afternoon:

    NIKKI HALEY, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: It is long past time for Russia to stop covering for Assad.

    MARGARET WARNER: Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the gas attack in Syria.

    The chill in Moscow today was a far cry from the atmosphere a year ago. Then-candidate Donald Trump repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin during the campaign, and he suggested a rapprochement with Russia was both desirable and possible. That all changed with last week’s gas attack and President Trump’s quick response.

    Even before the meetings, President Putin gave his own pointed assessment of U.S.-Russia relations today on Russian state television.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through interpreter): It is possible to say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, it has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.

    MARGARET WARNER: In turn, President Trump had harsh new words for the Russians and their Syrian ally Assad in an interview that aired on FOX Business Network.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, you wouldn’t have a problem right now. Frankly, Putin is backing a person that’s truly an evil person. And I think it’s very bad for Russia. I think it’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world.

    MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Trump followed up at a joint White House news conference with NATO’s secretary-general.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time, but we are going to see what happens.

    MARGARET WARNER: Tensions are over more than Syria. In Moscow, Secretary Tillerson again criticized Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, which triggered Western sanctions.

    REX TILLERSON: Until full progress is made under the Minsk accords, the situation in Ukraine will remain an obstacle to improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia.

    MARGARET WARNER: Lavrov gave no ground on Ukraine or charges of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The two men did agree to establish a working group to try to stabilize relations.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.

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    White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed questions about reports of a U.S. bomb drop in Afghanistan in Thursday’s news briefing.

    The Pentagon says U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped the military’s largest non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan.

    Adam Stump is a Pentagon spokesman. Stump says it was the first-ever combat use of the bomb, known as the GBU-43, which he said contains 11 tons of explosives. The Air Force calls it the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. Based on the acronym, it has been nicknamed the “Mother Of All Bombs.”

    Stump says the bomb was dropped on a cave complex believed to be used by IS fighters in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, very close to the border with Pakistan.

    READ MORE: U.S. drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ISIS target in Afghanistan

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    The GBU-43/B, also known as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, detonates at Eglain Air Force Base in Florida on November 21, 2003. The 21,700-pound bomb was dropped from 20,000 feet to reach its target on one of Eglin’s test ranges. Upon detonation, it created a plume that rose more than 10,000 feet over the Florida Panhandle. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force photo/Handout

    WASHINGTON — U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Thursday struck an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan with “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military, Pentagon officials said.

    The bomb, known officially as a GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast weapon, unleashes 11 tons of explosives. When it was developed in the early 2000s, the Pentagon did a formal review of legal justification for its combat use.

    The U.S. military headquarters in Kabul said in a statement that the bomb was dropped at 7:32 p.m. local time Thursday on a tunnel complex in Achin district of Nangarhar province, where the Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State group has been operating. The target was close to the Pakistani border.

    The U.S. estimates 600 to 800 IS fighters are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar. The U.S. has concentrated heavily on combatting them while also supporting Afghan forces battling the Taliban. Just last week a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland, was killed in action in Nangarhar.

    In its 2003 review of the legality of using the bomb, the Pentagon concluded that it could not be called an indiscriminate killer under the Law of Armed Conflict.

    “Although the MOAB weapon leaves a large footprint, it is discriminate and requires a deliberate launching toward the target,” the review said, using the acronym for the bomb.

    Adam Stump, a Pentagon spokesman, said the bomb was dropped from a U.S. MC-130 special operations transport. He said the bomb had been brought to Afghanistan “some time ago” for potential use.

    Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a written statement that the strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the Achin area “while maximizing the destruction” of IS fighters and facilities. He said IS has been using improvised explosive devices, bunkers and tunnels to strengthen its defenses.

    “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K,” he added, using the U.S. military’s acronym for the IS affiliate.

    White House spokesman Sean Spicer said IS fighters had used the tunnels and caves in Achin to maneuver freely.

    “The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did,” Spicer said.

    The post U.S. drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ISIS target in Afghanistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WATCH: NASA scientists announce compelling evidence for hydrothermal vents on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

    A tremendous ocean swirls under the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and now, NASA scientists say its waters may possess life-sustaining features previously seen only on Earth.

    A new report published today in Science has revealed compelling evidence for hydrothermal vents in Enceladus’ global ocean. NASA’s Cassini probe, which has been orbiting the planet Saturn since 2004, made this discovery in 2015. One of Enceladus’ most visible features is its ice plumes, enormous geysers that release water vapor into space. Cassini passed close enough to Enceladus — less than 30 miles from the moon’s surface — to cross through one of these geysers.

    A picture of the ice plumes on Enceladus taken by Cassini. Photo by NASA

    A picture of the ice plumes on Enceladus taken by Cassini. Photo by NASA

    Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and the Southwest Research Institute used this spritzing of Cassini to gather information on the chemical composition of the oceans.

    Cassini detected molecular hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide within the vapor — chemicals typically found naturally in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth’s oceans. The team found 98 percent of the plume was water, one percent was hydrogen and the rest was composed of other molecules, such as carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

    “This finding is the result of 12 years of Cassini investigations, and it really represents a capstone finding for the mission,” Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a press conference Thursday. “Because we now know that Enceladus has almost all of the ingredients you would need to support life as we know it on Earth.”

    An artist's rendering of NASA's Cassini orbiter. Photo by NASA.

    An artist’s rendering of NASA’s Cassini orbiter. Photo by NASA

    “[The chemical composition] speaks to the habitability,” said Mary Voytek, director of the NASA Astrobiology Program. “On the other hand, the fact that we can measure high concentrations of hydrogen and carbon dioxide means that there might not be any life there at all. And if there is life, it’s not very active.”

    By that, Voytek means that Enceladus should have lower amounts of molecular hydrogen and carbon dioxide if the moon harbors an abundance of life, because organisms (as we know them) consume the chemicals in large amounts. On Earth, this chemical consumption produces methane — a byproduct that Cassini also observed in the Enceladus geyser plumes.

    Cassini’s pass through the plume confirmed that the moon has almost all the right chemicals for life to form. Phosphorus and sulphur are the two holdouts, though scientists suspect these ingredients exist in the moon’s rocky center.

    Hydrothermal vents on Earth are home to numerous unique life forms, such as giant tube worms, shrimp with eyes on their backs and thousands of microbes.

    Cassini’s mission ends in September, when the probe will descend into Saturn’s atmosphere, sending back as much data as it can before it is destroyed by the heat and pressure.

    The scientists also announced today that, in both 2014 and 2016, the Hubble Space Telescope detected plumes of water coming out of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Other researchers theorize that similar vents are also present on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    “These observations are really informing us of major things happening in these ocean worlds right now,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters at a NASA press conference on Thursday. “What I really want you to walk away with is, we’re pushing the frontiers, we’re finding new environments, we’re looking in a way we’ve never thought possible before for environments in our solar system which may harbor life today.”

    MORE: What do the stars hold for the Trump administration? Here’s how NASA’s mission could change

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    Rush hour traffic is shown on I-95 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

    Rush hour traffic is shown on I-95 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

    Midwesterners are the safest drivers, while Northeasterners speed the most and Southern drivers are most likely to use cellphones while driving.

    Or so new results from a mobile application carried by drivers on their smartphones over millions of miles between April 2016 and March 2017 suggest.

    The differences in regional and even state-by-state driving habits cast new light on recent statistics that show the most dramatic two-year increase in road-related fatalities in decades, and add fuel to the debate over the effect state laws and enforcement play in making travel on streets and highways less dangerous.

    Everquote, an online insurance marketplace, drew its conclusions on regional driving habits from information gathered during 2.7 million car trips over 230 million miles by users of its Everdrive app, for customers who want to gauge and improve their safety habits. The app uses smartphone components to detect speeding, as well as signs of distraction such as phone use and sudden stops, turns and acceleration, said CEO Seth Birnbaum.

    Birnbaum said he suspects Everdrive users are safer than average, because downloading the app shows an interest in safe driving habits. That even those people speed on 36 percent of their trips and use phones on 38 percent of them is a sign that “we have even further to go as a nation in addressing these issues than we thought,” he said.

    Almost everyone breaks the rules sometimes, even when they know an app is recording what they do. But some do it more than others.

    Mississippi drivers use their phones, either for talking or texting, on almost half their trips. Drivers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Hawaii and New Hampshire break the speed limit by 10 mph or more on more than half their trips. California and New Jersey drivers stop short the most, and also do the most risky accelerating. West Virginia and North Carolina drivers make the most abrupt turns.

    Some of the differences may be explained by state laws. Few Southern states, for example, have blanket laws that ban the use of cellphones while driving, according to an assessment of state laws this month by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lower speed limits in the Northeast may make it easier to get caught speeding.

    In its March report on a projected record 11 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for 2016, the Governors Highway Safety Association pointed to an increase in driving after the recession, as well as more distractions from growing cellphone use by drivers and pedestrians, as the likely causes.

    Driving Habits by State

    Unsafe driving habits, such as talking on the phone, speeding and abrupt changes in direction, vary by state. States with drivers who tend to rank higher in recording tend to be lighter in color. Click on a state for details.

    Other Regional Factors

    Local driving habits and even engineering can make a difference in safety, some traffic analysts say. States that developed after World War II are more dangerous to pedestrians because roads were often built for the convenience of drivers, said Peter Norton, a technology historian at the University of Virginia.

    “Florida is a state built around driving … pedestrians are unexpected intruders from an alien planet,” Peter Norton says.

    That could help explain why Florida has a high rate of pedestrian fatalities. Florida drivers also seem to be a talkative bunch when behind the wheel, which can be distracting. They rank second on Everquote’s list of states with the largest proportion of drivers using phones while driving. Florida also has a high share of elderly drivers — 22 percent are 65 and over, second only to West Virginia, according to national figures.

    “Florida is a state built around driving, which means pedestrians are unexpected intruders from an alien planet,” Norton said. “In places where roads are older than cars — especially the Northeast and the Midwest — driving hasn’t taken over to the same degree. You expect people on sidewalks and crossings more, and walkers have better and safer conditions.”

    Beyond Florida and Mississippi, drivers in the Southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee also use their phones more on the road than do drivers in other parts of the nation — on 41 to 44 percent of their trips, according to the Everquote data.

    Like cities in Florida, many in the South are surrounded by suburban sprawl. And Norton said long commutes from the exurbs can tend to force people to do more in their cars.

    “When you design worlds around driving, where you can’t do anything without driving, you’re implicitly telling people that they have to do everything in the car — eat, groom themselves, cancel appointments,” he said.

    The Midwest may appear to be a safer place to be on the road because populations there are older, which means they may be more experienced drivers and less likely to be cellphone-dependent, Norton said.

    And in big, wide-open spaces where speed limits are high and drivers few and far between, there appears to be less speeding. Montana drivers, for instance, had the lowest rates for speeding at 17 percent, followed by Alaska and North Dakota at 20 percent. Montana and North Dakota drivers also had the lowest rates for abruptly braking and speeding up.

    Do Laws Make a Difference?

    Hard braking — one sign of distracted driving — is highest in California and New Jersey, two states known for traffic-clogged roads. There, drivers displayed hard braking in about two out of five trips. Yet abrupt turns — another possible sign of inattention — were most common in rural West Virginia (26 percent) and North Carolina (20 percent).

    West Virginia banned all use of hand-held cellphones while driving in 2012, and the state credited a drop in fatalities in subsequent years to it. North Carolina, however, has no blanket ban.

    There are indications that increased regulation may play a role in diminishing some bad driving habits.

    Vermont had the lowest rate of cellphone use on the road at 27 percent. Dick Mazza, Democratic chairman of the state Senate’s transportation committee, said that’s no accident. The state banned all hand-held cellphone use while driving in 2014, and has since extended it to cars stopped at lights. It’s also increased fines for using phones in roadwork zones.

    “We even put police officers up on snow plows so they can look down and see who’s got phones on their laps out of view,” Mazza said. “It got to be a very serious problem in our small state, and we’re putting a big emphasis on it.” Still, fatalities are up in the state as nearly everywhere else, albeit slightly.

    In contrast, state police in Mississippi have complained that anti-texting laws in their state lack teeth. The state has no ban on talking on the phone while driving, except for school bus drivers.

    Kansas, one of several states that launched a crackdown on speeding in late 2016, had the largest drop in speeding rates, down from 27 to 23 percent of trips from 2017 to 2016, according to Everquote’s findings. But Everquote also warns that its 2016 data may not be comparable to the newest data because fewer people were using the app then.

    Not everyone agrees that distraction from new technology is to blame for the recent spike in road-related deaths. Russ Rader, spokesman for the industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said other factors are more likely to blame.

    “Other things are happening that make driving riskier,” Rader said. “Teens, the riskiest drivers, are coming back into the driving force, and many states are raising speed limits. Study after study shows that increased speeds make crashes more likely, and the crashes that happen are more severe.”

    The biggest regional factor, Rader said, is that rural roads are deadlier because they’re often two lanes and have high speed limits.

    ‘Do As I Say’

    The auto group AAA says there is a “do as I say, not as I do” culture among many drivers when it comes to risky behavior.

    A survey from AAA released in February said most drivers see texting on the road as completely unacceptable, and support laws against the practice. Yet, a third admitted to typing a text or email while driving in the last month. Similarly, many drivers admit to speeding although they consider it unacceptable.

    One in three respondents told AAA they use cellphones regularly when behind the wheel, and almost half said they had exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 mph in the last month.

    The Governors Highway Safety Association said through its communications director Kara Macek that states need more regulation and policing for all unsafe behavior.

    “We’ve got to get these laws on the books and we’ve got to get the police on the street enforcing them,” Macek said. “These things only stop when people know they’re going to get caught.”

    This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. You can view the original report on its website.?

    READ MORE: Growing number of states fine slowpoke drivers in highway fast lanes

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    The Bears Ears buttes, located in Utah. The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of two designations President Barack Obama made at the end of his term, granting protection to land considered to be sacred. Photo by Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

    The Bears Ears buttes, located in Utah. The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of two designations President Barack Obama made at the end of his term, granting protection to land considered to be sacred. Photo by Witold Skrypczak/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Western Democrats are pressuring President Donald Trump not to rescind land protections put in place by President Barack Obama, including Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument.

    Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the monument in late December on 1.3 million acres of land that is sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings. Republicans have asked Trump to take the unusual step of reversing the designation, saying it will add another layer of unnecessary federal control and close the area to new energy development.

    In a letter this week, nine Western Democratic senators wrote Trump to say that weakening protections for Bears Ears or any other national monument would be a direct affront to local communities and stakeholders.

    “This is especially true in the case of Bears Ears National Monument, for the Native American tribes who call this living cultural landscape their ancestral home,” the senators wrote.

    The White House has said it is reviewing the decisions by the Obama administration to determine economic impacts, whether the law was followed and whether there was appropriate consultation with local officials.

    In an ongoing back-and-forth with Republicans over the monument, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee released documents Thursday to try to bolster their argument that there was adequate consultation. The documents from Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the senior Democrat on the panel, detail repeated phone calls and visits between the Obama administration and Utah’s congressional delegation and governor.

    The emails show that Utah officials hoped to work with the federal government on the issue before Obama designated the monument in the final days of his administration on Dec. 28. In an email on Dec. 21, as state officials grew increasingly concerned that the designation was coming, a member of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s staff wrote an Interior Department official and thanked her for her time.

    “I’m not kidding when I say you’re an amazing example of a public servant,” wrote Herbert’s director of federal affairs, whose name was blacked out in the emails.

    Democrats said the back-and-forth showed collaboration. “If anyone wants to paint Bears Ears National Monument as a surprise or the product of rushed or incomplete planning, they’ll have to explain hundreds of emails and dozens of pages of shared work product,” Grijalva said.

    A spokeswoman for House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, fired back. The spokeswoman, Molly Block, said that releasing the documents was a “desperate attempt to create a façade of local support.”

    When the designation was announced, Republicans in the state said it was an egregious abuse of executive power. It was opposed by the governor and the entire congressional delegation, in addition to many local residents.

    Herbert said then that the designation “violated assurances made by (Obama’s) interior secretary to take into account local concerns before making a monument designation.”

    In his January confirmation hearing, incoming Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told senators that the president would probably be challenged in court if he tried to nullify a monument, and he would prefer to work with the state.

    Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report from Salt Lake City.

    WATCH: Gold Butte National Monument is controversial for some locals

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    VA Secretary David Shulkin is held a news conference Thursday to address an inspector report released this week that said the VA hospital in Washington, D.C., put its patients at “unnecessary risk.” PBS NewsHour will live stream the secretary’s remarks.

    A Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington, D.C., was flagged by inspectors in a report released on Wednesday for its mismanagement of medical equipment, supplies and staffing.

    “The ongoing inventory practices at the medical center are placing patients at unnecessary risk,” VA Inspector General Mike Missal wrote in the general interim report, adding that the facility’s leadership “have been slow to remediate these serious deficiencies.”

    Hours after the investigation was released, the department fired the director of the D.C. medical center.

    In a statement today, VA officials said the matter was an “urgent patient-safety issue,” adding that Dr. Charles Faselis was named as acting director of the center.

    “I do believe that we have the ability to fix these issues,” VA Secretary David Shulkin told reporters in a brief news conference today.

    What did the inspectors find?

    The Office of Inspector General, OIG, is an independent agency that provides oversight of the VA’s operations. The OIG cited several “serious and troubling deficiencies” at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, which provides care to nearly 100,000 veterans in the area, including:

    • An insufficient inventory system of medical equipment and supplies for patient care.
    • No proper system that made sure recalled supplies and equipment were not used on patients.
    • 18 of 25 storage areas for supplies were dirty.
    • The facility failed to properly inventory an estimated $150 million in equipment or supplies in the past year.

    More critically, the report notes that the lack of staffed senior positions made “prompt remediation of these issues very challenging.”

    Missal told The Washington Post that the center’s problems were not like anything he’s seen at other facilities in the VA system.

    “Hospitals are typically chaotic places,” he told the Post, “but this was the highest levels of chaos. Staff was literally scrambling every day. Sometimes they would have to go to other hospitals to get equipment as a procedure was going on,” he added.

    The problems, Missal said, amounted to a “lack of confidence” in the department to address these compounded deficiencies in a timely fashion.

    How did the VA respond?

    The VA secretary told reporters that the department “took decisive action” upon seeing the inspectors’ report.

    This meant replacing the director of the center with an acting senior official and a team to start fixing the problems cited in the report, along with other possible concerns the report did not include, Shulkin said.

    “We are focused clearly on accountability. No leader or other employee stands above the paramount concern of ensuring the safety of our veterans,” Shulkin told reporters.

    Shulkin also added that, to his knowledge, no veterans were harmed. The secretary said the department was putting the right people and systems in place to make sure that there aren’t veterans harmed.

    If, during the investigation, the VA found that veterans were harmed, Shulkin said the department will hold those responsible accountable.

    READ MORE: VA health care still has ‘profound deficiencies,’ report says

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    Watch Lula and Simba’s journey to their new home. Video by PBS NewsHour

    After one failed attempt to rescue a lion and bear from the Mosul zoo in Iraq, a team from Four Paws this week successfully brought Simba and Lula to their new home — an animal sanctuary in Jordan.

    “We did it!!! WE SAVED LULA AND SIMBA!” Four Paws wrote Tuesday on its Facebook page.

    The months’ long effort began in January when residents of the newly liberated eastern part of Mosul, which Islamic State fighters controlled for two years until Iraqi-led forces drove them out, sent Facebook messages to Four Paws asking them to help the two remaining animals at the zoo.

    Islamic State militants had used the zoo grounds as a staging area for the battle, leaving mangled metal cages and the carcasses of animals who had starved to death.

    When veterinary surgeon Amir Khalil and his team arrived in February, Simba and Lula were in poor shape and living in filthy, cramped cages. The Four Paws team treated the animals and left enough food and medicine with the local residents to tide them over until they could return and remove the animals a month later.

    In their first attempt in March, the team tranquilized the lion and bear, and trucked them to the border of the city. They were detained at a checkpoint and ultimately sent back to the zoo.

    During their second attempt in early April, they were waylaid again at the checkpoint. Amir Khalil, Four Paws’ team leader, said he was concerned about the security of his colleagues and of the animals, who were stuck in their small transport cages. “We were worried that the animals would die because of no water and no proper food. They were getting more tired every day.”

    After nine days, the team finally cleared the border checkpoint and prepared the two animals for their final journey to Jordan. Khalil admitted he was nervous until they were safely on board the cargo plane.

    Simba takes a tentative step out of his transport cage and into the animal rehabilitation site at the New Hope Center in Amman, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Four Paws

    Simba takes a tentative step out of his transport cage and into the animal rehabilitation site at the New Hope Center in Amman, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Four Paws

    Lula and Simba are now relaxing and being checked for infectious diseases at the New Hope Center for animal rehabilitation in Amman, Jordan. If all is well, in the next few weeks they will move to the expansive grounds of the Al Ma’wa for Nature and Wildlife sanctuary, among the forested hills of northern Jordan, where they will spend the rest of their days.

    The successful mission elicited cheers of “Well done!” on the group’s Facebook page.

    Other commenters urged Four Paws to lend a hand with another desperate situation: The owners of the zoo in Aleppo, Syria, say they can no longer afford to feed the animals. Four Paws is interested in helping, Khalil said, but it will take time to research the complicated political situation in the conflict zone and develop a rescue plan, which would require the cooperation of the local authorities.

    “We cannot give too many promises” at this point, he said, but the organization will do its best.

    The post Remember Simba and Lula suffering at Mosul’s zoo? This rescue team has good news appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Anita Dwyer (L) and Bea Severson hold signs as they participate in a rally and march in protest of higher taxes in Santa Barbara, California in this file photo taken April 4, 2009. Taking inspiration from a landmark 1970s tax revolt, a determined group of activists say the moment is right for another voter uprising in California, where recession-battered residents have been hit with the highest income and sales tax rates in the nation. To match feature ECONOMY-CALIFORNIA/TAXES  REUTERS/Phil McCarten/Files    (UNITED STATES POLITICS BUSINESS CONFLICT) - RTXDRI1

    Anita Dwyer (L) and Bea Severson hold signs as they participate in a rally and march in protest of higher taxes in Santa Barbara, California in this file photo taken April 4, 2009. Photo by Phil McCarten/Reuters

    Journalist T.R. Reid has made a career out of traveling the world, looking for best practices in other lands. His latest journey — some might call it a junket — was to find the world’s best income tax systems and report them back to the home of tax revolution — the No-Taxation-Without-Representation United States of America.

    With Tax Day around the corner, there’s no better time to visit Reid’s new book, “A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System.”

    PBS NewsHour’s Paul Solman talked to Reid about American income taxes and what we might learn from the rest of the world. For more, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Why an income tax to begin with in the United States?

    T.R. REID: It used to be that we taxed property — zapped farmers basically. And there were very rich people who didn’t pay that much tax. So in 1913, they put in the income tax. It was incredibly popular. The tax we love to hate today.

    SOLMAN: Why was it popular?

    REID: Because it only taxed the Rockefellers, the Morgans and the Vanderbilts. It was aimed at the top 4 percent, and the top rate then was 7 percent. Woodrow Wilson had a big ceremony and said, “I’m delighted to be president at the creation of this popular new tax.”

    SOLMAN: We also got a lot of our federal income from tariffs, right, from customs duties?

    READ MORE: Column: The tax rules that let real estate moguls like Trump pay no federal income tax

    REID: That’s how all countries start. You tax at the border. Because if you sail a ship in from India full of tea, it’s kind of hard to hide it. So it was an easy thing to tax for a young country. And then gradually we moved to property taxes, manufacturing taxes, and the income tax was the answer to a populist demand: Let’s go after the rich guys.

    SOLMAN: The obvious question: What happened? It’s not that anymore.

    REID: Well, we got into World War I, and they raised the rates and started taxing [the rich]. Then we got into World War II, and that’s when they taxed everybody, because they just needed more revenue.

    SOLMAN: At a high marginal rate, right? For all income above a certain fairly high level.

    REID: The taxes used to be very high in the 1950s. The top tax rate in America was 90 percent. And gradually, that came down. Today, the top rate is 39.6 percent.

    SOLMAN: On the richest people.

    REID: You’ve got to be in the top 1 percent to pay that. Very few people ever pay the 39.6.

    SOLMAN: But it used to be 90.

    REID: It was 90 in the ’50s. One of the people who paid it was a movie star called Ronald Reagan, and it made him hate taxes for the rest of his life.

    SOLMAN: But if we go back to the high marginal rates of the past — that is, if you make enough income, the next amount of income is taxed at its highest rate, 39.6 now, used to be 90 percent — if we do that, wouldn’t people just leave like the French actor Gérard Depardieu, who left France for Russia?

    REID: He absolutely did. France, they’re the world champion at soaking the rich on taxes. And at one point, they had what they called a hyper tax, 75 percent, and Gérard Depardieu and many others left the country. So I think there are diminishing returns here. The higher the rate, the more interest there is in avoiding the tax. Either you move or you shift your profits overseas, as American corporations have proven very good at doing.

    SOLMAN: How much does the income tax cost us as Americans?

    “The IRS brags that they spend 35 cents for every $100 they collect. They’re very efficient collectors. And the reason is they stick the real cost on you and me.”

    REID: We have the most expensive compliance system in the world. The IRS brags that they spend 35 cents for every $100 they collect. They’re very efficient collectors. And the reason is they stick the real cost on you and me. Americans spend about 6 billion hours a year collecting the data and filling out the forms. We spend $10 billion to H&R Block and other preparers. And on top of that, $2 billion in tax preparation software, which still takes hours of work. It’s outrageous the burden we put on people, and guess what, you go to Europe, you go to Japan, it’s 15 minutes and costs nothing.

    SOLMAN: So what are the most egregious absurdities of the tax system in your view?

    REID: How do you rate “most”? There’s a $7,500 credit if you buy a very expensive hybrid car.

    And the argument for that is, well, it saves gas. Except we also offer a tax credit for buying a recreational vehicle, a notorious gas guzzler. So there’s no rhyme or reason to these; it’s whatever any lobbyist was able to nestle past Congress.

    SOLMAN: What about provisions that most Americans are in favor of? The mortgage deduction, for example?

    REID: That’s one of the most popular deductions. It costs the Treasury about $103 billion a year. Now that’s money we could use to treat wounded veterans or reduce the deficit or fill the border. Instead, we give it a subsidy to homeowners, and it goes mainly to the richest homeowners in America, because only one third of Americans itemize their deductions.

    READ MORE: Why abolishing the corporate income tax is good for American workers

    And, you know, it’s designed to enhance homeownership. Guess what? It doesn’t work. Many countries have gotten rid of the mortgage interest deduction. Almost all of them have higher homeownership rates than we do. If you ask any economist, they’ll tell you all the mortgage interest deduction does is raise the price of the house.

    So a couple is out looking at the house, they say, “Oh, we love this house, but we couldn’t make the monthly payment.” And the realtor says, “Yeah, but you’re going to get a tax break.” So people pay more than they would otherwise.

    SOLMAN: It’s always struck me as amazing, as long as I’ve been doing my own taxes, which is decades, that you get to depreciate the value of your home — you actually get to take that off your taxes, how much it lost in value — while it’s gaining value.

    REID: Absolutely right. So you take a loss even though you’re making a gain.

    SOLMAN: But I think Americans would rebel if you tried to get rid of the home mortgage deduction.

    “If you get rid of all these giveaways and loopholes and deductions and credits, then you can sharply lower the rates.”

    REID: I disagree, and here’s why. If you get rid of all these giveaways and loopholes and deductions and credits, then you can sharply lower the rates. So there’s a tradeoff. Yeah, I lose the deduction that I really like, but my tax rate is going to go down, and I don’t have to fill out that form anymore. It’s much simpler, rates are lower, and that tradeoff has worked in many countries. Many countries have just cleaned house of all those exemptions in order to provide lower rates, and people buy it.

    SOLMAN: Another deduction is for health insurance. That’s a big one too, right?

    REID: Yes, if your employer pays your health insurance, that’s not counted as income to you. And any economist would say that’s your income, because they’d pay a higher wage if they didn’t take it. That’s a huge loss to the Treasury.

    You also get a deduction in America for taking a night school course, growing sugarcane, moving to a new city for a job, replanting a forest, insulating the attic, destroying old farm equipment, employing Native Americans, commuting to work by bicycle — but only if the bike is regularly used for a substantial portion of travel — or buying a plug-in hybrid sports car, or buying a recreational vehicle. I mean there are hundreds of them, and most of them are nuts.

    SOLMAN: So how did other countries get rid of these provisions, or did they never have them?

    READ MORE: Compare your pay after averaged taxes to other developed nations

    REID: Most countries had the whole range of exemptions that we do. Starting in the ’80s or so, after the United States sharply cut its rates, other countries decided they better do it too, and here’s how you do it: you just wipe out the exemptions, the deductions, the credits, the depreciation allowances. And people complain, “Oh my God, it’s terrible,” but you give them much lower rates and you give them an easier form to file, and people accept that tradeoff.

    SOLMAN: Do you like the idea of a graduated consumption tax? So savings are not taxed, but consumption is. They know how much you earn, they know how much you saved, the rest has got to have been consumption.

    REID: I really like the idea of consumption tax, and most countries have a pretty serious consumption tax. It’s called a value-added tax or a goods and services tax … It’s a sales tax. It doesn’t tax labor, it doesn’t tax savings or investment — it taxes consumption. And it turns out a VAT — a value-added tax — is a very easy tax to collect and a very hard tax to evade. It’s a really good idea. It was invented about 60 years ago in France, of course.

    SOLMAN: “Of course” because?

    “The VAT is such a good idea, mark my words, within five years, the U.S. will have a VAT … Of course, I’ve been saying that for 20 years.”

    REID: Because they’re so good at taxing. They had a business tax that was easy to evade, and the head of the French IRS invented this value-added tax, which is very hard to evade. One hundred seventy-six countries have it now. It’s really a good tax. Professor Eric Zolt of UCLA, said to me, “The VAT is such a good idea, mark my words, within five years, the U.S. will have a VAT.” Then he said, “Of course, I’ve been saying that for 20 years.”

    SOLMAN: So you’re saying this is all obvious. Every country in the world besides us has reformed its tax system, or most all of them. So why can’t we get rid of these provisions in the United States?

    REID: Because in the United States, unlike any other advanced democracy, money really talks. Our Supreme Court has said that spending money on politicians is a form of free speech. No other court has said that.

    SOLMAN: No other court anywhere in the world?

    REID: They all have limits.

    Watch Reid’s full interview on the April 13 broadcast of PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, another in our Brief But Spectacular series.

    Tonight, attorney a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, shares his thought on race and the legal system.

    BRYAN STEVENSON, Founder, Equal Justice Initiative: I was doing a hearing in the Midwest. I had my suit and tie on. I was there early. It was the first time I had been in that courtroom.

    And I sat down at defense counsel’s table, as I always do. And the judge walked in. And the judge said: “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, you get back out there and you wait out there in the hallway until your lawyer gets here. I don’t want any defendant sitting in my courtroom without their lawyer.”

    And I stood up and I said: “I’m sorry, Your Honor. I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Bryan Stevenson. I am the lawyer. And the judge started laughing, and the prosecutor started laughing, and I made myself laugh, because I didn’t want to disadvantage my client.

    But, afterwards, I was thinking, what is it that, when this judge saw a middle-aged black man, it didn’t even occur to him that that man sitting at defense counsel’s table was the lawyer?

    I worry about that judge. I worry that he’s sentencing defendants of color more harshly. I worry that he doesn’t value and accept the testimony of black and brown witnesses the way he does other people. I worry that a narrative of racial difference compromises his ability to provide fair and just treatment of all people.

    I don’t think we’re free in America. I think we are burdened by our history of racial inequality. We have a history of horrific mistreatment of people based on color. And I think that narrative of racial difference that was cultivated to justify that mistreatment has created a kind of smog, and we have all been breathing it in.

    If you read the 13th Amendment, it doesn’t talk about narratives of racial difference. It doesn’t talk about ideologies of white supremacy. It only talks about involuntary servitude and forced labor.

    And, because of that, I don’t think slavery ended in 1865. I think it just evolved. We had decades of terrorism and violence where black people were pulled out of their homes, burned alive, hung, beaten to death, sometimes literally on the courthouse lawn, and we never talked about that.

    And then we had this era of civil rights resistance to racial segregation. And we have made progress, but we haven’t confronted the narrative of racial difference, unlike South Africa, where you are required to hear about the damage done by apartheid, unlike Germany.

    In Berlin, Germany, you can’t go 100 meters without seeing markers or stones or monuments placed near the homes of Jewish families abducted during the Holocaust.

    But, in this country, we don’t talk about slavery. We don’t talk about lynching. We don’t talk about segregation. And our silence has condemned us.

    When I went to Harvard Law School, my first year, I didn’t want people to know I started my education in a colored school. I didn’t want them to know I was the great-grandson of enslaved people. I thought it might diminish me.

    And then I realized that my power, if I have any, my strength, if I have any, my insight, if I have any, was shaped by those people who survived slavery. And it’s in that story of survival that I think we have some greatness that we can offer, and not just people of color, but all of us who’ve learned to overcome.

    My name is Bryan Stevenson. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take on justice in America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch additional episodes of Brief But Spectacular on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: Some California high school students have chosen singing as a way to examine a painful chapter in U.S. history. Along the way, they’re discovering some connections to their own lives.

    Jeffrey Brown reports from Los Angeles.

    STUDENTS (singing): Where can I be an American, if not in America?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Where can I be an American, if not here? It’s a question posed by students at Van Nuys High school in Los Angeles, part of a 45-minute oratorio they wrote and composed, working and singing with professionals from the prestigious Los Angeles Master Chorale.

    Titled “In America,” it’s about the experience of Japanese Americans forced to leave their homes for internment camps during World War II. The Chorale has been doing this work in L.A. schools for 15 years, choosing historical themes the students would find relevant.

    This time, says the Chorale’s Alice Kirwan Murray, who served as lead teaching artist, they got more than they bargained for.

    ALICE KIRWAN MURRAY, Los Angeles Master Chorale: This story is an enormous tragedy, and I find it fairly alarming that, 75 years ago, this occurred.

    But what I also found alarming was that the students were not that surprised by it. Many of them, as immigrants themselves, have faced similar suspicion and bias and mistreatment. It was very relatable to them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Van Nuys High has seen its share of stars. Among its famous students were Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, and Natalie Wood. This area and the school were once mostly white, but now are majority Latino. Some are very new immigrants, like sophomore Rafael Gomez, who came here from Mexico last summer.

    RAFAEL GOMEZ, Senior, Van Nuys High School (through interpreter): I enjoy singing this because it has a lot of meaning, especially the part where it says, don’t judge me because I am different. Just because someone is of a different race or has a different color of skin, they shouldn’t be judged before you get to know them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: To learn about this earlier moment in American history, the students read, researched, and visited L.A.’s Japanese American National Museum, where they heard stories of survivors of the camps.

    Mas Yamashita was 6 when his family was sent to Topaz camp in Utah.

    MAS YAMASHITA, Internment Camp Survivor: I was able to tell them about my personal experiences, and it seems to always help students to relate to the experiences if they can meet somebody who actually experienced it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Seniors Olivia Rodriguez and Lucy White said they didn’t know much about that dark period of American history, until now.

    OLIVIA RODRIGUEZ, Senior, Van Nuys High School: How hard it was for everyone to leave their homes and what they knew, just a huge divide between the American people, the Japanese American people, and the Japanese-born people.

    LUCY WHITE, Senior, Van Nuys High School: I really just wanted to illustrate truthfully the awful, awful struggle that these people went through and that their country forced them into.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The students also conducted interviews with their own family members about their own immigration stories.

    Brianne Arevalo is the school’s choir director.

    BRIANNE AREVALO, Choir Director, Van Nuys High School: Even students that weren’t immigrants themselves, they may have family members, so maybe grandma and grandpa were immigrants, neighbors. Like, in this community, everybody knows some immigrant.

    And so whether they have gone through it personally themselves or they were able to share in somebody else’s experience, every single student got something so powerful and a really deep meaning out of this project.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For everyone involved, the resulting work, nine movements in all, resonated with today’s political debates.

    Olivia Rodriguez is a second-generation American of Mexican heritage.

    OLIVIA RODRIGUEZ: I repeatedly say, move to America. Move to America. Live the American dream.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, what did those lines mean to you?

    OLIVIA RODRIGUEZ: I think I was trying to be that hope for the people, and show how important it was for these people to come to America. And then towards the end of the piece, towards the end of the entire oratorio, so, by the time I’m done, they’re saying, how can I be — live in America if I’m not — if I don’t feel American, if I’m not being treated like another American?

    JEFFREY BROWN: For Mas Yamashita, who attended a final rehearsal, the emotions of long ago were still raw.

    MAS YAMASHITA: They were flashing pictures from the camps, and the lyrics that the students wrote, it was just — just brings back a lot of those emotions for me.

    I was ashamed of being in the camp. I never told anybody. It was probably 30 years before I discussed the camp.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Just because of the shame that you felt.

    MAS YAMASHITA: Yes. It’s my hope that people can really look at this as saying, we can’t isolate a group of people just for who they are.

    STUDENTS (singing): Don’t suspect me because I’m different.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for the Los Angeles Chorale, this outreach is also about the power of art.

    ALICE KIRWAN MURRAY: It is important to us certainly to engage young people in the creative arts, in performing arts, in choral arts. It is the first art form, really, just the human voice. We all possess this.

    So, for us to grab those students and let them know that they have that ability, they have that power, it’s the ultimate communication.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From Van Nuys High School in Los Angeles, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s tax season, a dreaded time for many Americans feeling burdened as they complete forms that many argue have become too complicated.

    So, as Congress and President Trump weigh changes to the tax system, our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, looks at what we can learn from other countries.

    It’s part of his series Making Sense, which airs every Thursday.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Taxes. Americans have been griping about them ever since the revolution.

    RONALD REAGAN, Former President of the United States: I would like to speak to you tonight about our future.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Two hundred years later, in 1985, President Ronald Reagan gave this assessment of the tax code:

    RONALD REAGAN: Complicated, unfair, cluttered with gobbledygook and loopholes designed for those with the power and influence to hire high-priced legal and tax advisers.

    PAUL SOLMAN: The next year, Reagan signed into law our last major income tax reform: lower rates, fewer loopholes. A lot of good it did. Thirty years later, House Speaker Paul Ryan told Judy Woodruff:

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: We have the worst tax code in the industrialized world, bar none.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So, what we can learn from the rest of the world about taxes?

    Writer T.R. Reid took us to the New Zealand Embassy in Washington to explain.

    T.R. REID, Author, “A Fine Mess”: New Zealand is a model of good tax policy. They have done what all the economists think is right, to get a tax code that is simple, fair and efficient.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Reid, a former Washington Post foreign bureau chief, has reported from around the world for decades.

    For his latest book, “A Fine Mess,” Reid went on a global quest for a better tax system. He really liked New Zealand’s formula, BBLR.

    T.R. REID: BBLR, broaden the base, lower the rates. So, you broaden the base by making everything taxable. If your employer gives you free parking, well, in New Zealand, they say, gee, that would cost $20 a month. That’s income to you.

    If your employer pays your health insurance, that’s income to you. And then, you know, you want to buy a house with a mortgage, that’s fine. You don’t get a tax break for it. They have rates less than half of ours, and they bring in more money per capita.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And for Kiwis like Ben Contreras, filing couldn’t be simpler.

    BEN CONTRERAS, New Zealander: I never thought about taxes when I lived in New Zealand. For most people, you don’t really have to take any time out to take care of your taxes every year.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But Contreras has worked in the U.S. for three years. Filing his taxes now requires the help of often bedeviling computer software, a heavy price to pay, says Reid.

    T.R. REID: Americans spend about six billion hours a year collecting the data and filling out the forms. We spend $10 billion to H&R Block and other preparers and, on top of that, $2 billion in tax preparation software, which still takes hours of work. And it’s outrageous, the burden we put on people.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And how long does it take to do your income taxes or file your income taxes in some of these countries, if it’s so simple?

    T.R. REID: I was in the Netherlands on March 31, the day before their taxes are due.

    I was with an executive who makes $200,000 a year, two mortgages, a lot of investments. He’d have to fill out 12 forms in America. I said, Michael, how do you pay your taxes? He pops a beer. He goes online. The government’s filled in every line. If the numbers look right, he clicks OK. It takes five minutes.

    And, in Japan, you get a postcard from the IRS that says, we think you made this much. We withheld this much. We owe you a refund of that much. We will put it in your bank on April 1. It takes one minute, if you think the numbers are right.

    And I said to my friend Togo, you know, in America, people spend hours, days filling out these forms. And he said to me, why would anybody want to do that?

    PAUL SOLMAN: And you explained to him nobody does.

    T.R. REID: I said, nobody does, yes.

    And guess what, Paul? We could do that here. The IRS could fill in every line of the return for most American families. They know all the numbers. Have you ever gotten a CP-2000 letter? This is the one that says, on line 48-Q, you entered $4,211.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Oh, yes, yes.

    T.R. REID: But, actually, it should have been $4,681.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Yes. Actually, yes, yes.

    T.R. REID: And I get that every year, and I think, why did I spend hours trying to fill this out, when they knew? And so some members of Congress have suggested that the IRS fill out the forms for us.

    And H&R Block and the tax software companies lobby against it. So here’s the deal: You do more work; they make more money.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So what are the most egregious absurdities of the tax system, in your view?

    T.R. REID: There are hundreds and hundreds of giveaways for specific groups or specific companies.

    I have this scene in my book where the president goes to Congress and says, here’s a great idea. Let’s send a check for $7,500 to anybody who buys a $138,000 BMW hybrid car. We’d never do that, would we?


    T.R. REID: It’s in the tax code.

    I have a list here of stuff you get a write-off for. You ready?

    PAUL SOLMAN: Yes, sure.

    T.R. REID: You get a write-off for contributing to charity, taking a night school course.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Hey, wait, stop. Contributing to charity, surely, that’s a good thing. You want to encourage people to give to charity, right?

    T.R. REID: Yes, but it doesn’t work. Many countries have gotten rid of it, and here’s — there’s a pattern.

    For one year, there’s a small blip in contributions, and then it goes up again at the rate of income increase. People give because they want to help.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And, of course, the charitable deduction is just one of thousands.

    T.R. REID: So, you get a deduction in America for taking a night school course, growing sugarcane, moving to a new city for a job, replanting a forest, insulating the attic, destroying old farm equipment, employing Native Americans, commuting to work by bicycle, or buying a plug-in hybrid sports car, or buying a recreational vehicle.

    I mean, there are hundreds of them, and most of them are nuts.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So, why can’t we get rid of these provisions in the United States?

    T.R. REID: Because, in the United States, unlike any other advanced democracy, money really talks.

    And there are more than 400 additions to the tax code every year, and most of them are giveaways to one or two taxpayers. Now, if there were good reasons for these clauses, they would put in there who’s going to benefit and what’s it for. But, in fact, if you read the tax code, it says, here’s a tax break for any company incorporated in Delaware on October 13, 1916.

    Now, that’s General Motors, but they never say that. And the tax code is full of these things, where they don’t mention the name, but it helps one taxpayer.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Are Americans right to hate the aptly named tax burden that we bear, both in the income tax and taxes overall?

    T.R. REID: Well, we’re right to hate how hard it is to file. But, if you take the amount, the check you have to write, no, we’re getting off easy.

    Of the 35 richest countries, in total tax burden, U.S. ranks 33rd. And in return, our government spends less as a percentage of GDP than other governments. You hear all this stuff about spendthrift big government? Relative to other rich countries, our government is a penny-pincher.

    PAUL SOLMAN: So, we pay less, but we complain more?

    T.R. REID: Yes. Yes, Americans complain about tax more than any other country.

    In many countries, the IRS agency is the most respected government agency. Get this. In Japan, this movie “Marusa No Onna,” “Audit Bureau Woman,” won best picture, best actor, best actress. It’s about this perky, pretty young auditor in the Tokyo tax bureau who goes after a big evader.

    He rides around Tokyo in this chauffeur-driven white Rolls-Royce, and our heroine is chasing him. It’s total David and Goliath. And, in the end, she nails him, and everybody in the audience cheers.

    Can you imagine casting Meg Ryan as a peppy, pretty IRS auditor who goes after people? I don’t think Hollywood would do that.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Well, I was thinking Julia Roberts, but, no, the IRS superhero remains an Oscar long shot.

    But there is hope for the system, says Reid.

    T.R. REID: Everybody in every party agrees that our code is a mess. It’s unfair, it’s complicated, it’s inefficient, needs to be fixed. And the way to fix it is to do it big, as other countries have done.

    So I think even the U.S. Congress will figure this out.

    PAUL SOLMAN: T.R. Reid is one thoughtful and well-traveled journalist.

    But I remain the PBS NewsHour’s skeptical economics correspondent, Paul Solman, reporting from Washington, D.C.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, next, we head back to Mexico.

    On Tuesday, we reported from Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. Tonight, we travel to Mexico’s southern border.

    Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are the world’s deadliest countries outside war zones. Many Central Americans flee violence and poverty, and hope to reach the U.S. Mexican authorities are now trying to block their movement, but critics are asking, at what cost?

    Special correspondent Nick Schifrin begins his report tonight in Ciudad Hidalgo on Mexico’s southern tip, on the river that separates Mexico from Guatemala.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: On this border, the sound of the water is the sound of hope.

    The Suchiate River separates Guatemala from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Every day, thousands of Central Americans cross north, dreaming of more peaceful and prosperous lives. There’s no security and no authorities. The rafts are inner tubes with plywood planks. Entire families travel together. Women bring their children.

    Each crossing costs 50 cents, but many can’t afford that, so, on this day, the water is low enough to walk across for free barefoot.

    Leading the way in the backpacks are 21-year-old Dilber Avila and his 15-year-old brother, Eduardo Hernandez. They’re from Honduras.

    DILBER AVILA, Honduran Migrant (through interpreter): We’re very poor there. The house we live in is made of mud. It could collapse on us at any point. So, we went on our way to look for a better life.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: They’re unsure how far north they will go. They have heard the route is dangerous, but they’re hopeful and willing to sacrifice.

    DILBER AVILA (through interpreter): This path is tricky. You never know how it will go. With the help of our lord watching over us as we travel, we pray, and he sends angels to help us on our journey.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: In total, 450,000 people are crossing the border every year. Some will just go for the day to shop or sell. But for many others, this is the first moment of a long, dangerous journey north.

    Their first destination is the Mexican city of Tapachula. The shelter run by Todo Por Ellos, or All For Them, offers them a safe place to stay. In the last two years, more than 900,000 unaccompanied Central American children have crossed into Mexico.

    Eleven-year-old Luis Uno de Lyon fled El Salvador to escape horrific violence.

    LUIS HUGO DE LEON, El Salvadorian Asylum Seeker (through interpreter): I have a brother who was in a gang, and they told me they wanted to kill me. They entered my house. They hit me, and they said they will kill me. I had to leave.

    My dream as an immigrant is to reach America and meet my mother. I don’t want to stay here. I want to go and stay in America.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: This has been his bed for the last three months.

    What do you want to be when you grow up? A migration judge. Why?

    LUIS HUGO DE LEON (through interpreter): To help migrants achieve their dreams.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Increasingly, those dreams stay alive here, outside the local immigration office. This group of Hondurans are applying for Mexican humanitarian visas so they can travel north more safely.

    JONATHAN JIMENEZ, Honduran Asylum Seeker (through interpreter): I am trying to get to America. I know that there are many risks traveling through Mexico safely, and I have heard about people getting hurt. This permit will protect me.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Twenty-two-year-old Jonathan Jimenez is from Honduras. He says, under President Trump, the U.S. is harder to reach and deportations are more likely. But he won’t be dissuaded.

    JONATHAN JIMENEZ (through interpreter): Even if I can just $100 a month, it means a lot. America is the land of opportunity.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: But Mexico has always struggled to assist Central Americans who are here temporarily before they move north. At night, the group of Hondurans wanders the street. They didn’t bring any paperwork from home, so they can’t work. They can’t afford to rent rooms.

    Where will you sleep tonight? Where will you sleep?

    JONATHAN JIMENEZ (through interpreter): The truth is that we don’t know. I haven’t been told, and no one knows where they will go.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Why is it worth being here in order to try and get to the U.S.?

    JONATHAN JIMENEZ (through interpreter): There are gangs and so much crime and violence back home. I believe that this is an important goal that I must achieve, and all the suffering will be worth it. I have to think about helping my family.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Forty-year-old Rosa has decided, to help her family, she has to stay in Mexico. She’s from El Salvador, and has lived here for four months. She received asylum because she fled violence. She sits with her nephew.

    ROSA, Refugee from El Salvador (through interpreter): Then they sent someone to attack me. They asked me for $75. I couldn’t afford that kind of extortion.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: She longs to live in the U.S., but the journey would cost $5,000. So she’s staying. Tapachula is safe.

    ROSA (through interpreter): I wake up early, and nothing happens. I am out until late, and it’s safe. Back home, at 6:00 p.m., everyone goes inside, and you can find danger at every corner.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: More and more Central Americans are deciding to stay in Mexico. In 2011, 752 Central Americans applied for asylum. In 2017, the U.N. estimates that number will be more than 22,000.

    PAOLA BOLOGNESI, U.N. Refugee Agency: These are really the persons who have no choice but to leave their country in order to save their life

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Paola Bolognesi is a U.N. Refugee Agency protection officer. She says asylum requests are increasing because of a U.N. education campaign.

    PAOLA BOLOGNESI (through interpreter): We are making a big effort in providing this information through posters and leaflets and talks.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: At the same time, migrant arrivals are decreasing, in part of because of Mexican efforts to stop them.

    For the last three years, the government has created rings of security within 100 miles of the border. Police use checkpoints to find drugs and migrants. Mexico is now finding and deporting more Central Americans than the United States is.

    In the past, the train known as La Bestia, or The Beast, was covered in Central Americans riding north toward the U.S. But, today, Mexican authorities have tried to make it much more difficult for migrants to ride these trains.

    There’s a private security company that prevents migrants from getting on the train, and they have built these concrete barriers just a few inches from the edge of the train. The idea is to make it much more dangerous to jump from the train.

    That danger has reduced the number of train riders, but it’s also killed three migrants in this stretch, says immigrant rights activist Sergio Luna.

    SERGIO LUNA, Immigrants Rights Activist (through interpreter): This type of structure is a clear violation against the human rights of migrants.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Luna runs La Sagrada Familia shelter right next to the train tracks. We are 500 miles north of the Mexico-Guatemala border. He says Mexico’s methods to deter migrants are brutal.

    SERGIO LUNA (through interpreter: Mexico does the U.S.’ dirty work, in a way. We’re at a turning point when it comes to a marked increase in institutionalized violence against migrants.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: A pro-immigration activist Web site hosted this video of immigration agents abusing a Honduran migrant. An immigration official told “PBS NewsHour” this was a — quote — “rational use of force.”

    Why can’t you better protect these migrants who are moving north?

    CARLOS SADA SOLANA, Mexican Deputy Foreign Minister: The issue is that it is not the authorities that are violating human rights. You know that you have to include drug trafficking.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Carlos Sada Solana is Mexico’s deputy foreign minister.

    But do you acknowledge that there are some authorities in Southern Mexico that are abusing these migrants?

    CARLOS SADA SOLANA: Well, I think that everywhere. You cannot say that, in the United States, there is not.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: But many of the migrants accuse authorities of threats and extortion.

    Twenty-one-year-old David Gonzales is from Honduras. He crossed the border 18 days ago, hoping to get to the U.S.

    DAVID GONZALES, Honduran Migrant (through interpreter): I was approached by state police. They took me to the station, accused me of burglary, took everything I had, stripped me down and left me naked.

    They gave me a choice. I can either take my money, and they will lock me up for a crime I didn’t commit, or I can leave without my money. I left. We’re no longer migrants, but a business for those who take advantage of us.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: He used to live in Texas and North Carolina, and made in one day as a gardener what it took him one week to make at home. But he says he’s now giving up on getting back to the U.S.

    DAVID GONZALES (through interpreter): It’s no longer worth it. Laws have changed. A new president has been inaugurated who doesn’t want us, because he says we’re the bad guys. What he doesn’t understand, with all due respect, the migrant who goes there goes just to work.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Twenty-five-year-old Alner Mendez has also given up his American dream. We met him on the train tracks.

    ALNER MENDEZ, Guatemalan Migrant (through interpreter): I was scared of being detained. It wasn’t worth me going. There’s so many people who have lived in the United States for years who are being deported.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: But he says he’s been treated so badly here, he doesn’t trust Mexico either. So he’s headed south, back home to Guatemala.

    ALNER MENDEZ (through interpreter): I don’t feel safe here in Mexico. Aside from organized crime, authorities also extort us. They ask us for money. And if we don’t hand it over, they beat us.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Mendez climbs the train, and asks his friend for a photo. It’s the closest he will get to the journey north.

    The train leaves empty, without him, without the Central Americans whose difficult journey through Mexico meant they lost hope.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Nick Schifrin in Apizaco, Mexico.

    The post On the road in Mexico, Central American migrants face an uncertain future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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