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

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  • 02/25/14--12:18: U.S. bees get $3 million
  • Colonies of bees have been disappearing since 2006. Photo by Flickr user Andreas

    Bee colonies have been in peril since 2006. Photo by Flickr user Andreas

    The United States Department of Agriculture is set to provide $3 million for the nation’s ailing bees. Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD has hit the honey bee population hard since 2006, when scientists recognized that colonies were disappearing. Bees would simply fly off and die far from their hives.

    The funding, announced Tuesday, will provide technical and financial support for interested farmers to help improve bee health in the Midwest where the insects are integral to crop production.

    “Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet. The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Expanded support for research, combined with USDA’s other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America’s beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”

    Farmers in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin can all apply for the federal assistance. From June to September, the region is home to more than 65 percent of commercially managed bees in the country. The pollinators are generally brought to the region at that time by commercial beekeepers, who have also been hit hard by the hive health epidemic. The season is crucial for the insects, as bees heavily forage and build up resources for the winter.

    The aid will help farmers implement conservation practices recommended by scientists who have been studying colony collapse this past decade. The practices aim to provide bees with diverse and safe food sources, improve soil health, prevent erosion and stave off invasive species.

    Scientists largely have been vexed by bee disappearance. A study released by the USDA and EPA last summer said no single causal factor was to blame for the hive losses. Instead, a combination of pesticide exposure, lack of food diversity and a variety of pests and pathogens were the culprit.

    According to the report, nearly a third of the nation’s bees die off every year.

    However, the USDA said on Tuesday that significant progress has been made in understanding the phenomenon. The aid package comes as part of a push to understand and prevent honeybee deaths.

    The post U.S. bees get $3 million appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This video was shot by Dan Sagalyn and edited by Justin Scuiletti. Extra footage via DVIDS

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday that the Air Force will retire the entire fleet of A-10 Warthogs, an aircraft that ground forces view as their guardian in the sky.

    The Air Force owns about 350 A-10 Warthogs, which were designed during the late 1970s and early 1980s specifically to support ground troops in close proximity to enemy forces.

    The PBS NewsHour recently interviewed one of the designers of the A-10, Pierre Sprey, about the unique characteristics of the aircraft.

    On Tuesday the PBS NewsHour explores the debate brewing over the decision to retire the aircraft within the Air Force and among A-10 supporters. Watch our report below.

    The post How the A-10 Warthog became ‘the most survivable plane ever built’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant by the Department of Energy

    Photo of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant by the Department of Energy

    Ten days after a radiation leak was confirmed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad, N.M., the U.S. Department of Energy said in a report released Monday that an elevation in the level of airborne radiation in the surrounding areas has been detected.

    “These concentrations remain well below a level of public or environmental hazard,” the department said in a news release.

    Testing of areas around the site, which is a depository for radioactive waste, showed presence of excess radiation in the level of about a tenth of the amount of radiation someone would get from a chest x-ray, according to the Department’s release.

    Alarms triggered on Feb. 14 at the Carlsbad waste site indicating elevated levels of airborne radiation led to the first ever response of its kind since the plant opened in 1999. Officials say the leak was first noticed in the underground plant shortly after 11 p.m. that night, and that luckily no workers were present at the time of the leak. Department spokespeople have insisted that the leak will ultimately be benign.

    Joe Franco, who manages the Carlsbad office of the Department of Energy told Carlsbad residents: “There is no risk from this event that would be a hazard to you or your children.”

    Despite his assurances, residents remain worried as officials continue to investigate the leak.

    “I’m just a mom,” said local resident Anna Hovrud during a two hour meeting with officials from the Department of Energy and the waste site. “Is there a chance we could be exposed to radiation, that we are being poisoned somehow, while we are waiting for these samples?”

    Despite it’s pristine 15-year track record, the site has had two accidents that have worried nearby residents in the past month. Prior to the leak, a truck carrying salt underground to the site caught fire on Feb. 5, closing down the plant and halting all shipments of nuclear waste to its premises.

    The post ‘Slightly elevated’ levels of radiation reported near New Mexico plant appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    holder_othernews

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A political firestorm in one state, a major court fight in another and strong words from the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, it all served today to highlight the shifting political and legal landscape on gay rights.

    The shift was evident this morning, as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told his state counterparts they are not obliged to defend bans on gay marriage.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: Any decisions at any level not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare. But, in general, I believe that we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.

    And we must endeavor in all of our efforts to uphold and advance the values that once led our forbearers to declare unequivocally that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex unions. And a trial opened in Detroit today on a challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.

    Meanwhile, Arizona lawmakers have triggered a storm by passing Senate Bill 1062, allowing business owners to deny service to gays on religious grounds. For instance, wedding photographers could refuse to work at a same-sex wedding if it goes against their faith. Supporters insist it’s not about being anti-gay, but pro-religious freedom.

    MAIA ARNESON, Christian Business Networking: I think there’s a lot of spotlight on it being an issue of gay and Christian. And that’s not the case. It’s really a case of defending all people. This isn’t an issue of discrimination. This is an issue of having people’s values respected.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But the bill has sparked protests in Phoenix and elsewhere by gay rights advocates, who say it’s discrimination, pure and simple. Business groups warn the furor is taking a toll on tourism. Ben Bethel says he’s getting cancellations at his hotel and spa in Phoenix.

    BEN BETHEL, Owner, Clarendon Hotel and Spa: It’s causing a lot of damage to Arizona already, because anything that Arizona does that is bad for Arizona only strengthens other cities.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the pressure builds, three Republican state senators who voted for the bill last week have changed their minds.

    One of them, Bob Worsley, told the Associated Press: “I wasn’t comfortable with the vote. I feel very bad, and it was a mistake.”

    Had the three Republicans voted no last week, the measure wouldn’t have passed. In tweets, Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have criticized the vote, and called for Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill. She has until Saturday to act. If she signs the bill, Arizona would become the first state to have such a law.

    In Uganda today, a tabloid newspaper printed a list of what it called the country’s top 200 homosexuals. It came a day after the president signed a harsh anti-gay law. At newsstands around the capital of Kampala, people stopped to read the story and look at photos of some of those named. The list included gay rights activists who said they now fear for their safety.

    PEPE JULIAN ONZIEMA, Ugandan activist: Two boys walking together, we don’t even know if they are a couple, but just two men walking together being attacked and one killed this morning is — makes me think more about my own security. How am I going to be able to keep speaking out?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Uganda’s president has rejected international condemnation of the new law and accused the West of promoting homosexuality in Africa.

    In Nigeria, Islamist extremists staged a bloody new assault today, murdering at least 58 students at a government school. The militants set a locked dormitory ablaze, shooting and stabbing all who tried to escape. Others were burned alive. We will take a closer look at the worsening situation in Nigeria later in the program.

    Lawmakers in Ukraine have put off forming a new government until Thursday, amid ongoing political tensions. They also voted today to send ousted President Viktor Yanukovych to the International Criminal Court, if he’s ever caught.

    Meanwhile, his temporary successor voiced concerns about — quote — “signs of separatism” in the mainly Russian-speaking republic of Crimea.

    James Mates of Independent Television News is in Crimea with this report.

    JAMES MATES: If Ukraine’s new leaders are worried about their country splitting in two, nowhere is that danger greater than in its southernmost territory, the Crimea.

    The flags you see at demonstrations here are Russian, the demands, stop what is happening in Kiev. “Russia, Russia,” they shout, and demand a referendum on rejoining what they call the motherland.

    MAN: Crimea and Russia is one. It’s one nation.

    JAMES MATES: Are you Russian or Ukrainian?

    MAN: In passport — my passport is Ukrainian, but I am Russian.

    JAMES MATES: It is in this atmosphere that the new acting president of Ukraine told parliament today he was heading to a Security Council meeting to address the potential splintering of his country.

    The Crimean city of Sevastopol will have been top of his list of concerns. This man is the new mayor here, not elected, but imposed by a crowd of 15,000 two days ago. His supporters now gather here every day, their message: If Kiev can overthrow a president, we can overthrow a man.

    In this town, there is no question of Russia moving in. The Russians are already here. Their Black Sea fleet is based in Sevastopol. It is widely believed that deposed President Yanukovych is hiding somewhere in this base right now.

    There is no clearer indication of just how well -established the Russians are in Crimea than this, the headquarters and command of the Russian Black Sea fleet, right in the middle of Sevastopol, Russian officers and men coming and going as if it was their own territory.

    Neither they nor the occasional armored vehicle are the makings of a Russian takeover, and Moscow insisted today it won’t interfere. But the skyline here is dominated by Lenin and the dome of a Russian orthodox cathedral. Its loyalties are not to Ukraine, and the leaders in Kiev know it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia conquered Crimea in the 18th century, but, in 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the region to Ukraine. Since the Soviet breakup in 1991, Crimea has been part of an independent Ukraine.

    The prime minister of Turkey is accusing his political rivals of launching a — quote — “treacherous attack” on him, as he becomes the center of a corruption scandal. Audio recordings released overnight appeared to show Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash before police raids.

    Today, Erdogan told parliament the recordings are fabricated.

    RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister, Turkey (through interpreter): There aren’t any allegations that I cannot answer. But neither members of A.K. Party nor I will be lured by their traps to change the agenda and we will not surrender to this game. If we surrender to them and deal with their shameless montage and shameless traps, we cannot find time to serve our people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Opposition parties insisted the recordings are genuine. They demanded Erdogan resign.

    A thick veil of smog blanketed China’s capital for a sixth straight day. The World Health Organization called it a crisis, as people wore masks to try to keep from breathing in the polluted air. Chinese president Xi Jinping braved the smog, as seen in this mobile phone video. He took a rare unannounced walk in a Beijing alleyway, greeting residents.

    Japan may restart some of the nuclear reactors that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster almost three years ago. A draft energy policy, presented to the cabinet, made that recommendation today. The reactors would have to meet new standards that were set after a tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima plant in March of 2011. All of Japan’s 48 commercial reactors have been offline since then.

    One of the world’s top exchanges for the digital currency Bitcoin has gone offline, amid reports of catastrophic losses. The Web site for Mt. Gox was blank today, and leaked documents showed losses roughly equal to $350 million.

    Bitcoin trader Kolin Burgess, of Britain, protested outside the exchange’s headquarters in Tokyo.

    KOLIN BURGESS, Mt. Gox User: I am both annoyed and worried. It seems that I have lost all of my money, and I’m annoyed that the company has been stringing people along for so long, claiming that everything has been OK. Luckily, most people didn’t believe them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Leading proponents of Bitcoin argued the collapse of Mt. Gox is an isolated case of mismanagement.

    Combat jobs will soon open to women in the U.S. Army, but only a few say they want those positions. The Associated Press reports that finding comes from an Army survey of some 30,000 women in the ranks. Only 7.5 percent responded that they want a combat job. The military faces a January 2016 deadline to open infantry, armor, artillery, and combat engineer slots to women.

    There was hopeful news today on childhood obesity in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It reported the problem among preschoolers has fallen more than 40 percent in the past decade. Health officials regard obesity as a national epidemic. Young children who are substantially overweight are five times more likely to be heavy as adults.

    In economic news, home prices fell in December for the second straight month. The dip in the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index partly reflects the effects of winter storms.

    And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 27 points to close at 16,179. The Nasdaq fell five points to close at 4,287. And the S&P 500 was down two points to close at 1,845.

    The post News Wrap: Holder says state attorney generals aren’t obliged to enforce gay marriage bans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    VENEZUELA-POLITICS-MADURO-SUPPORTERS-DEMO

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Now to the escalating tensions in the key oil state of Venezuela. Street protests against the socialist government show no sign of ending, and already-frayed relations between Washington and Caracas are growing even more strained.

    The latest diplomatic jab came today from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: In accordance with Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the State Department has declared three officials from Venezuela — from the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., persona non grata.

    GWEN IFILL: That was the U.S. response to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to expel three American diplomats last week. He accused the U.S. of conspiring with the Venezuelan opposition to overthrow him.

    On the streets, though, it’s gone far beyond a war of words. Protesters have barricaded major streets in Caracas and other cities. And, yesterday, one person was killed in a clash with police, raising the toll to 15 dead and 150 wounded in the last two weeks.

    At the same time, thousands of government supporters mounted motorcycles in the capital in a show of solidarity with Maduro. The president himself has sent mixed messages to Washington, lashing out last week, yet offering an olive branch this week.

    PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO, Venezuela (through interpreter): I have decided to name an ambassador to the United States to see what happens. I want to have a dialogue with the United States because I want peace, respect, a relationship as equals with the United States, and I invite the opposition to accompany me in that.

    GWEN IFILL: Conspicuously absent from the leadership meeting in Caracas was Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leader, two-time presidential candidate Governor Henrique Capriles.

    HENRIQUE CAPRILES RADONSKI, Former Venezuelan Presidential Candidate (through interpreter): I am not going to a meeting with the federal council to help him save face. I’m not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic. The boat is sinking, and I am the one who is playing the music?  No, sir, Nicolas, you are not going to use me.

    GWEN IFILL: Another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, remains jailed, after surrendering to face charges of instigating violence.

    From prison, he passed his wife this handwritten letter, which was circulated on Twitter. In it, Lopez told his supporters: “I’m fine. I ask you not to give up. I won’t.”

    Meanwhile, Maduro has called for another national summit tomorrow.

    I spoke to Girish Gupta, Venezuela correspondent for the Reuters News Agency, a short time ago.

    Girish, thank you for joining us.

    Why are we getting such mixed messages from Nicolas Maduro about his relationship with the U.S.?

    GIRISH GUPTA, Reuters:

    We really are getting mixed messages, as you say, from Nicolas Maduro, about his relationship with the state. Last week he kicked out two U.S. diplomats, this week that Washington in turn in a tit-for-tat move which is always what happens, they kicked out three of Venezuela’s own diplomats.

    But at the same time, Nicolas Maduro is saying that he wants some dialogue with the U.S. He’s also saying that he wants to appoint an ambassador to Washington.

    This move, this idea of kicking out diplomats and blaming the U.S. when times get tough is not new.

    Your viewers might remember in 2006 when Hugo Chavez took the stand at the United Nations, he called George Bush the devil. When (INAUDIBLE) in fact just a few hours beforehand, Nicolas Maduro kicked out a couple of ambassadors — a couple of diplomats — sorry.

    And then in September, again, Nicolas Maduro kicked out some diplomats from the U.S. So, it’s a tried and tested move. But when we look at relationship that the U.S. has with Venezuela, it’s better to look at the oil and the money that’s changing hands, as opposed to necessarily the rhetoric and the politics.

    The U.S. remains one of — well, it remains the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil. Venezuela is the fourth biggest supplier, I think, to the United States, and that really says it all.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about what’s happening internally. Who are the protesters on the streets, first of all?

    GIRISH GUPTA: So what we’re seeing right now are huge protests across the country. So we’re seeing them in Caracas, I’ve seen lots of — I think every night for the last couple of weeks we’ve seen guys pelting stones and petrol bombs towards policeman who in return are sending over tear gas and occasionally rubber bullets.

    Now, this has gone on — this is going on every night in Caracas. It’s mainly a wealthier area of town known as Plaza Alta Mira. You’re also getting this across the country and that’s more important, that’s the more organic part of these protests. It all began in Tetra, which is a western state known for being quite feisty for want of a better word.

    Now that’s continuing with even more violence, with even more passion, than what we’re seeing in Caracas.

    What we’re seeing is that this protest is much more organic than what we have necessarily seen before.

    Protesters are out. And they tell me. I ask them, who do you support? Do you support Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez perhaps, the more radical opposition leader who is now in jail, as your viewers might know?

    And they tell me they don’t care. They don’t care about the opposition leadership. They just want a change. They want an end to the problems that this country faces, the inflation, 56.3 percent inflation over the last year. They want an end to crime. There’s 70 deaths every single day in this country this year. That’s two and-a-half times that of a Iraq last year for about the same populations.

    But the protesters themselves, yes, they are primarily (INAUDIBLE) but now everyone’s jumping in on this. There are a lot of people, business leaders, businesspeople, the middle classes, who are not happy with the status quo here.

    GWEN IFILL: Finally, that — these protests are beginning to die out, or are they pretty much continuing every single day?

    GIRISH GUPTA: Well, they do seem to be continuing. And that surprised I think myself and most people here. I expected a week ago things to die down.

    But every morning now, we see barricades all over Caracas with trash on fire, debris on fire in the streets and blocking the roads. And it does seem to be continuing. I ask people why and how long they can go on for. And they told me they’re going to keep going. Why not? They have got nothing to lose, they say.

    Now, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, because there are people who need to work and need to keep earning money, who need to go to school. So, we’re going to have to see. It’s surprising to me how long it’s lasted and just how widespread it is here. We’re going to see how it goes the next few weeks.

    GWEN IFILL: Is Maduro himself — he was allied with Hugo Chavez. Is he now in danger because of these protests, or is he still arm’s length from them?

    GIRISH GUPTA: Well, that’s the big question.

    Now, the protesters, like I said, they don’t necessarily have a leadership, but they do want to get rid of Maduro at the end of the day, because they know that he’s not going to — he’s not going to change his policy necessarily.

    Is Maduro in danger? It’s very difficult to say. Now, he’s not Hugo Chavez. You have got to remember that Hugo Chavez, for all the problems that there were in this country — and there are — he was able to hold things together. He had this amazing charisma which Maduro doesn’t have.

    Maduro also needs to impress his own party. And that’s why sometimes you see him making more radical moves and using more radical rhetoric than even Chavez did. Now, there’s two ways this can go. This can either get more extreme and the protests can continue, or there could be some dialogue between Maduro and Henrique Capriles.

    They did plan to speak this week. However, that got put on the back burner at least because — frankly, because of the language they have been using towards each other. Maduro calls the protesters fascist Nazis. Capriles said yesterday in a press conference that the world sees Maduro as someone who is committing genocide. That’s very strong language, and I can’t see those two combining and sitting at a table to discuss.

    GWEN IFILL: Girish Gupta of Reuters News Agency in Venezuela for us, thank you so much.

    The post Maduro sends mixed messages about U.S.-Venezuela relationship appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The nutrition facts label may be getting a makeover soon. Photo by Flickr user Kiwikat88

    The nutrition facts label may be getting a makeover soon. Photo by Flickr user Kiwikat88

    The “nutrition facts” that appear on the sides of nearly all packaged foods and drinks in America may soon be seeing an overhaul, according to a Politico report.

    On Thursday morning, Michelle Obama will “make an announcement regarding proposals to help parents and other consumers make healthier choices” as part of the fourth anniversary of Let’s Move!, her ongoing campaign against child obesity. These proposals are expected to call for an update to nutrition labeling, which has standards that have not been revised in more than 20 years.

    Two rules proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 0910-AF22 and 0910-AF23, would “modernize the nutrition information found on the Nutrition Facts label, as well as the format and appearance of the label,” and “assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices.”

    In the proposals, the FDA suggests that new evidence discovered in the last 18 years could be used to alter the content and appearance of the Nutrition Facts label, allowing consumers to use the information more effectively to keep healthy diets.

    A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released last month, suggested that American adults have improved their eating habits over the past several years. Researchers from the Department found that 42 percent of working age adults and 57 percent of older adults use the nutrition facts panel “always or most of the time” when shopping for food.

    On Tuesday, findings from a government study show that toddler obesity shrank sharply in the past decade.

    Politico says that experts believe the changes will include a more visible calorie amount display, a more accurate description of serving sizes and a requirement that manufacturers include “added sugars” on the labels.

    The food industry is expected to fight the proposals, especially the added sugars condition.

    “Everyone in the industry is going to be affected. Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels,” Regina Hildwine, senior director of science policy and labeling and standards at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told Politico. “It’s a very big deal. It’s very expensive.”

    In 2008, NewsHour correspondent Lee Hochberg reported on the debate over a requirement to display nutritional information on restaurant menus.

    The post Changes may be coming to nutrition facts labels appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Four bolts

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced yesterday, the Pentagon is grappling with what to keep and what to cut in a time of tight budgets and national security challenges.

    At the Air Force, leaders have set their sights on grounding a plane that’s been a reliable standby for decades. But its defenders won’t give up without a fight.

    Defense producer Dan Sagalyn has been tracking the debate.

    Kwame Holman narrates this report.

    KWAME HOLMAN: A typical day at Martin State Airport on Maryland’s Eastern Shore includes chemical weapons training with the A-10 Warthog.

    The National Guard base is one of the homes of an aircraft beloved by ground forces, who see it as their guardian in the sky. Its pilots view infantry on the ground as their primary customer and responsibility. Most combat aircraft shoot down other planes or drop bombs or both. But the Warthog was designed specifically to come in low and attack enemy forces in a mission called close air support.

    MAN: North and South, west of the smoke, west of the smoke.

    MAN: OK, copy. West of the smoke, I’m looking at danger close now.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Oftentimes, the enemy is within yards of friendly forces. This video captures the exchange between a Warthog pilot and a ground controller calling in a strike on Taliban forces in 2006 in Southern Afghanistan.

    MAN: Roger. Keep your fire west of the smoke.

    MAN: OK. Copy that.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Major Chris Cisneros trains Warthog pilots in the Air Force’s 104th Fighter Squadron.

    MAJ. CHRIS CISNEROS, Air Force: Close air support is kind of a pickup game, if you will. If a friendly convoy is out, and they have come under fire unexpectedly, you want to talk to the good guys, figure out where they are exactly, and then find where the enemy is and execute from there.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The Air Force has about 350 Warthogs. Flying below cloud cover, its pilots can see with their own eyes what they’re attacking. It can loiter over the battlefield, a cockpit protected by a titanium shell and bulletproof glass, making it survivable even when hit by small-arms fire.

    Its most lethal weapon is a .30-millimeter Gatling gun that fires almost 4,000 rounds per minute. But top Pentagon officials now say the Warthog’s days are over. They want to eliminate the entire fleet and save $3.5 billion over five years.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters yesterday that money could be better spent on newer, more capable and survivable aircraft.

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: The A-10 is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield. It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Retired General Norton Schwartz agrees with the defense secretary. He closed down some Warthog units when he was Air Force chief of staff from 2008 to 2012. He acknowledges the A-10 is beloved, but says the Air Force has other planes that can protect troops on the ground just as well.

    And Schwartz says the U.S. military’s newest warplane, the multi-mission and long-delayed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also can handle close air support. The F-35 is designed to replace most of the U.S. strike aircraft fleet.

    GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ, Former Air Force Chief of Staff: What you want to do is to have platforms that can perform the mission, that mission and as many other as might be required in the future.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But service personnel up and down the ranks told the NewsHour the A-10 is unique.

    MAJ. DANIEL O’HARA, Marine Corps: I have sort of found a soul mate, so to speak, in the A-10.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Marine Corps Major Daniel O’Hara, who led a platoon in Afghanistan, says the Warthog scared the Taliban.

    MAJ. DANIEL O’HARA: The psychological effect it has on the enemy, I think, is pretty clear, and I also think it has an equally positive psychological effect on friendly forces.

    You see that aircraft come on station, you know what it’s capable of, you know that the enemy on the other side probably doesn’t want to mess with you while that’s — that’s in the air.

    PIERRE SPREY, Member, A-10 Design Team: We are outraged at the Air Forces latest attempt to kill the A-10.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Pierre Sprey helped design the Warthog in the late 1960s and ’70s. He says it was built to do more than destroy Soviet tanks and that its uniquely tough airframe made it more survivable and capable than alternative aircraft.

    He says those newer planes cost much more to fly. He and other A-10 supporters mobilized to save the plane at a recent conference in Washington, D.C.

    PIERRE SPREY: You are going to buy extremely expensive aircraft that cause you a much worse financial problem, right, and you are canning the cheapest airplane you operate, right, and saving a trivial amount of money.

    KWAME HOLMAN: General Schwartz says improvements in cockpit cameras, radars, electronics and precision munitions mean the planes that would replace the A-10 are much better at protecting ground forces even from far above.

    GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ: Increasingly, the technology has allowed us to enjoy the same protections for friendlies through other means.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But A-10 advocates say technology has limits.

    LT. COL. BILL SMITH (RET.), Former A-10 squadron commander: Technology is good, but the problem with using that technology, especially the optical stuff, is that it’s like looking through a soda straw. So imagine you hold a straw up to your eye, and that’s how you have to view the whole battlefield.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Smith flew Warthogs over an 18-year career, including combat missions in Afghanistan. He also participated in the save the A-10 event.

    LT. COL. BILL SMITH: With looking with your eyeballs, I can turn my head around and I can see much more of the battlefield than I can with slewing that pod around. And I can see the bigger picture. I’m able to maybe catch some movement out of the corner of my eye and look down and go, oh, you know what? There’s a little bit of dust over there.

    KWAME HOLMAN: A-10 advocates are getting support on Capitol Hill. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, wants to hold off on dumping the A-10 until the new Joint Strike Fighter proves it can do close air support. Ayotte, whose husband is a former A-10 pilot, says the Air Force should find other places to save money.

    SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: The Air Force spent a billion dollars on an I.T. system that they’re not going to get anything out of and they just canceled in 2012. So I think we should take a step back for a minute and make sure that there aren’t any more of those billion-dollar systems out there.

    KWAME HOLMAN: But General Schwartz says the days of such wasteful spending by the Pentagon are over and that today’s shrinking military budgets mean programs like the A-10 are a luxury.

    GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ: The dilemma is, what else in the Air Force do we stop doing in order to keep the A-10? So what child care center do we not keep open? What base do we compromise security?

    KWAME HOLMAN: Pierre Sprey says the Air Force has mounted a campaign to retire the A-10 by making political and spending deals across the country.

    PIERRE SPREY: They have reached out to state governors, state adjutant generals of the National Guard, to basically to bribe them to not complaining about losing their A-10s, promising them something, an F-16 squadron, a KC-46 tanker squadron, whatever the payoff is state by state.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Staff to several members of Congress, who would speak only on background, told the NewsHour the Air Force had promised to station new aircraft in their member’s state to replace the A-10. They said, as a result, their lawmakers weren’t complaining about the A-10′s retirement.

    General Schwartz said he doubts the Air Force is bartering like that, but if they are:

    GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ: The effort that Secretary Donley and I made ran into some headwind. And if the decision of the current serving leadership is that they — they want to choose to reduce some of that headwind after that painful experience, I offer no objection.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Whether Congress goes along with the Air Force’s plans to retire the Warthog remains to be determined. Pierre Sprey says ground forces need the protection the A-10 provides.

    PIERRE SPREY: What is at stake is the lives of a lot of troops. Troops, in the field, we owe them the ability to pull them out of trouble.

    KWAME HOLMAN: General Schwartz says, that won’t change, even without the A-10.

    GEN. NORTON SCHWARTZ: Our airmen, when they hear this call, troops in contact need help now, you should have no doubt that Air Force airmen are going to speed to that point and take care of business.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Back at Martin State Airport, pilots and ground crews continue train on and maintain the A-10. The question is, for how long?

    GWEN IFILL: We will have more with Warthog designer Pierre Sprey, who knows the plane inside and out. That’s on our home page.

    The post Budget cuts could ground A-10 Warthog aircraft appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    boko haram militants

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to Nigeria, where almost 60 teenage boys were brutally killed early this morning. It’s believed to be the latest in a string of attacks by a reemerging extremist group.

    Islamist militants from Boko Haram have attacked northeastern Nigeria with a vengeance this month, murdering more than 300 people. They reportedly struck again before dawn today at a boarding school in Yobe State in a town near the capital city. Gunmen torched a boys dormitory, burning many alive, and cutting the throats of any who tried to escape.

    That came one day after Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, rejected one regional governor’s criticism of efforts to fight the militants.

    PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN, Nigeria: If the governor of Borno State felt that the Nigerian armed forces are not useful, then I will pull them out from Borno State.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan declared a state of emergency last May, and the military flushed the insurgents from cities, only to see them regroup in forests and caves.

    Boko Haram’s fight for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria has terrorized the country for 4.5 years, leaving thousands dead and forcing thousands more to leave for their own safety. The violence now threatens the stability of Africa’s largest oil-producing state. The U.S. is trying to help.

    In October, American special forces held a two-week training session with the Nigerian military.

    To tell us more about Boko Haram and what their recent attacks mean for Nigeria and the region, I’m joined by Peter Pham, who is director of the Africa Program at the Atlantic Council.

    Welcome to the program. Tell us more about who and what Boko Haram is.

    J. PETER PHAM, the Atlantic Council: Well, Boko Haram started well over a decade ago as a somewhat syncretistic, eccentric…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Syncretistic meaning?

    J. PETER PHAM: A mixture of Islam and local beliefs, a very small group, a couple hundred followers.

    Then in 2009, the Nigerian government moved against them, killed most of them, including an extrajudicial killing of the leader of the group, and thought that it ended this group. Instead, what happened was the surviving several dozen aligned themselves closely with al-Qaida-linked militants in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as Al-Shabab in Somalia, got training and came back in 2011 as sort of Boko Haram version 20.0, more deadly, introducing for the first time vehicle bombs, suicide bombings into Nigeria, attacking U.N. headquarters.

    And then after the Mali intervention last year by the French, where Boko Haram has some — operating some training camps, they came back to Nigeria, what I call now version 3.0, with foreign fighters and an even more virulent ideology?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is that ideology? What’s the mission?

    J. PETER PHAM: They want to overturn the Nigerian state and replace it with a fantasy Islamic caliphate of some sort that goes beyond even the imposition of Shia law, which a number of northern Nigerian states have already imposed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you say fantasy?

    J. PETER PHAM: It’s fantasy because it’s not rooted in any history or any beliefs. It’s certainly not supported by the vast majority of Nigerian Muslims.

    These are people whose very name — the name Boko Haram means literally book-learning, Western education is sacrilegious. They reject learning. This why there are these attacks on schools, on young people who just want to learn some skills. This was an agricultural college that was attacked today.

    And so they attacked it for two reasons, both to show the government is incapable of protecting citizens, and secondly to attack even the rudiments of Western modern science.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And this brutality we described is typical for how they operate?

    J. PETER PHAM: Increasingly so.

    It didn’t start out that way, but they are increasingly acting in this way. And, regrettably, the Nigerian’s response is often very ham-fisted, very brutal in its own. And there have been human rights concerns that have been raised by human rights groups, as well as our Department of State.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What about security? What kind of efforts are under way to protect against the attacks, and where are they operating inside Nigeria?

    J. PETER PHAM: They’re operating primarily in the northern part of the country, and specifically in the northeastern part, along the borders with Niger and Cameroon.

    And they also have refuge outside Nigeria. They go across the borders to get away from the Nigerian forces. Nigeria has thrown its military against them. But to fight this type of group — it’s a counterinsurgency. They need to secure people. They need to provide security for ordinary Nigerians, win hearts and minds. And, right now, they are only pursuing a military strategy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the population of the country? I mean, do they — what’s their view? Are they completely against what they’re doing? Do they have sympathy among the people of…

    J. PETER PHAM: Well, they have — the people in the northern part of Nigeria, which is the audience that Boko Haram is addressing, are certainly marginalized economically and politically.

    So, they have some legitimate grievances, but they’re not represented by this extremist group. But, unfortunately, a ham-fisted government response relying only on brute force that displaces more people doesn’t win the government any applause or any support either.

    So, in many ways, the poor people of Nigeria are caught between these extremists who don’t represent them and a government that’s not responding to their needs for security in a concrete, holistic fashion. And so they’re really in a difficult place.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I think we reported — I know I saw a report that said that security forces at this particular school where the attack took place yesterday were believed to have left before the attack happened.

    I mean, is it — is this a matter of there’s some sort of inside information being passed around?

    J. PETER PHAM: There are some allegations of that kind.

    In fact, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, has accused even members of parliament of colluding with Boko Haram in order to make him look weak. He’s facing a very tough reelection less than a year from now. So, there are certainly those allegations of his politicizing the fight against this group or people using this group to make him look weak.

    And that certainly enters the mixture here. It’s a very complicated picture. It requires a great deal of nuance and a broad-based strategy that so far I don’t see any evidence of.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as we also reported a moment ago, that U.S. special forces in there training. Does that training have anything to do with the Boko Haram problem?

    J. PETER PHAM: Well, I think it helps with the Nigerians, but the Nigerians have been responding to this largely as a hard military, in a sense, a kind of conventional, going in with tanks, armored personnel vehicles.

    And some of the lessons that U.S. forces learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, that you have to secure the population, work with local leaders, several of those — I imagine what they’re trying to impart. Whether it takes, that’s a whole ‘nother story. But at least they’re trying to pass on the best practices or — to the Nigerians, and hopefully they pick up on that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The other question I think one has is, we know Nigeria is not the poorest country on the continent. They have enormous revenues from oil. So, why aren’t they able to put together a better security force or approach?

    J. PETER PHAM: It’s certainly not for want of resources, as you point out.

    But just a week ago, Nigeria’s well-respected central bank governor was suspended by the president because he had the audacity to point out that there are at least $20 billion in oil revenues that had gone missing in the last few years. And so, for his trouble, he was suspended from his job.

    So there’s certainly corruption. There’s a lack of political will, and those are the key elements that need to be brought up. It’s not a military answer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, Peter Pham, how much — how much is the population to — how much should they be fearing what Boko Haram does in the weeks and months to come?

    J. PETER PHAM: Well, unfortunately, with the politicized climate, the lead-up to election, one expects both more military action on the part of the government and increased activities on the part of Boko Haram to make the government look weak.

    So the people are really caught in between all that. So, unfortunately, it’s going to be a difficult time for the people of Nigeria for the next few months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tough.

    Peter Pham, the Atlantic Council, we thank you.

    J. PETER PHAM: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have more on the extremist group Boko Haram, who they are and what they believe. You can read a Council of Foreign Relations backgrounder on our home page.

    The post Boko Haram militants suspected in murderous attack on Nigerian school appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    photos-2012-06-21-communitycollege

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the domestic front and a bipartisan effort to help undocumented young people attend college.

    Jeffrey Brown has our conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Every year, some 65,000 students who entered the country illegally as children graduate from U.S. high schools. And while 17 states now allow these students known as dreamers to pay in-state tuition at public higher education institutions, they are not eligible for federal financial aid like Pell Grants or low-interest government loans.

    Now with the prospect for immigration reform stalled, if not dead, on Capitol Hill, a private sector effort to help these students is under way.

    It was founded by former Washington Post owner Donald Graham and our two guesses, Carlos Gutierrez, former commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He now chairs the political action group Republicans for Immigration Reform. And Henry Munoz, a businessman in San Antonio, Texas, who serves as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee.

    And welcome to both of you.

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ, Former Secretary of Commerce: Thank you.

    HENRY MUNOZ, TheDream.US: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Carlos Gutierrez, what is the idea behind this? What is the problem you think that you’re addressing?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s, as you said, kids who came to this country, no fault of their own, undocumented, and they find out very often when they graduate high school that they can’t keep going, that they’re not in the country legally.

    So that’s it. Their career has stalled, so what we’re doing is providing them the opportunity to keep studying as they want to do through these scholarships.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And how is it supposed to work, Henry Munoz? I mean, it is still relatively limited in scope in terms of the numbers you’re going to reach and the colleges who are participating.

    HENRY MUNOZ: Well, it started out of a conversation a year ago really with the dreamer community.

    So, in many ways, it’s a scholarship initiative that was designed by dreamers for dreamers. But we began by focusing on communities, the community of Washington, D.C., of Miami, colleges in Texas, for example, to try and get at a community-based response to the fact that these young people don’t have access to programs.

    So, in many ways, it’s a modest yet national type of program to begin to provide private programs for dreamers.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Immigration reform has been very political, partisan. You sit here as a Republican and Democrat. Is there a larger message that that conveys as well?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s the way I think the country should be thinking about it and the way Congress should be thinking about it.

    The divide between the two parties today is just absolutely wider than I have ever seen it. Immigration…

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you feel that — you mean on immigration in particular or everything?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I think on a lot of things.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I think the extremes are dominating. Immigration reform is good for the economy. It’s good for our society.

    We can’t grow without immigration. We just have to face up to that. And even the Senate bill doesn’t recognize that. They allow for 110,000 agricultural workers. Our country needs a million. So we need to embrace the fact that we have to have immigration in order to grow. And we all want to grow our economy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Are you getting much pushback for this effort, criticism from fellow Republicans?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I’m sure there are a lot of them who — some of them who are criticizing the effort. I haven’t heard of it.

    In fact, the Republicans with whom I speak, businesspeople, are terribly frustrated that members of Congress, members of the House don’t get it. They don’t get that this is an economic issue, that we should be embracing this, and that we should be a party of immigration if we’re a party of growth and prosperity.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, yet, Henry Munoz, of course, nothing much seems to be happening on — on — politically. Is this effort a kind of substitute, or where — where do you see the politics of it?

    HENRY MUNOZ: Well, it’s a recognition that, even without a piece of legislation to address immigration reform, we can have an impact on people’s lives.

    People forget the dreamers are our neighbors. They’re the people that we pass when we’re walking down the street. There’s half-a-million young people who have filed for DOCA and are capable of accessing one of these scholarships. So, the more that you invest in an individual, the more you reinforce the value of the American dream, the more power that you give to people. Hopefully, it will have an impact on the conversation happening in Congress.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Where is the money coming from?  I see there’s some foundations. It’s from yourselves and individuals?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Foundation money, individuals.

    Henry was talking a little while ago about a grassroots effort to allow people to contribute $5, $10. We want to show that there are a lot of people in the country who are in favor of this.

    What worries me is how history will judge us, depending on how we treat these kids. And it would be a real shame to just cut off their progress.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This is personal for both of you, right? Well, is that — is that — is that right?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Yes.

    I mean, look, it’s personal, but it’s also there’s policy here. I’m an immigrant myself, and I have worked in Mexico. I have worked throughout Latin America. I know how hard these people work. I know how hard they are working. I know how much they dream. I know how much they want to achieve something.

    But I step back, as a U.S. citizen, and I realize that this is good policy for our country and for our economy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Not everyone agrees still, right?

    HENRY MUNOZ: Well, I come from Texas, and I see it every day.

    But every place I travel in the country, I see dreamers and I understand the value of the American dream. And so, in many ways, this is a process, a movement of people to educate our country about the economic benefits and the undeniable fact that the demographics in this country are shifting.

    And we really need to make sure that the future of our economy is solidified. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure we have people who are educated and can be a part of that economic future.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the goal or hope immediately? How many people do you think you can reach?

    HENRY MUNOZ: Interesting. TheDream.US was established around the concept of a decade of opportunities, of educating at least 2,000 dreamers over 10 years. It’s got the support of everyone from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Gates Foundation, and, as Carlos mentioned, many people who are only capable of giving $5 and $10 by going online to the TheDream.US.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I want to ask you lastly, because there is so much talk about and concern about the role of money in politics these days and the role of wealthy people and foundations putting money into particular causes.

    This is a cause. You’re men of means, and you’re turning to others. What do you say to people that you’re — who would be worried that you’re — in some ways, you’re buying your way into what is a very political cause?

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, this is not a super PAC designed to elect an official.

    This is a private effort designed to help kids who need help. And I think that — I think it’s a very noble cause. You talk about the personal side. When I came to this country, I felt like people welcomed me. These kids don’t feel welcomed. And that’s not good for our society. It’s not good for them. We should be saying come on in and be successful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your response on the money issue?

    HENRY MUNOZ: My father used to tell me, no peso, no say-so.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JEFFREY BROWN: No peso, no say-so.

    HENRY MUNOZ: I think what better place to invest your money than in the future of our country, and specifically with this very highly motivated generation of young people who want access to the American dream.

    And I think it’s time that the Latino community step up and involve itself around efforts like this. So, I feel good about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Henry Munoz, Carlos Gutierrez, thank you both very much.

    HENRY MUNOZ: Thank you.

    CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Thanks.

    The post For undocumented ‘dreamers,’ private initiative aims to help pay college tuition appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Tim Scott

    Sen. Tim Scott, the lone black Republican in Congress, spoke during a Black History Month event on Tuesday. 2012 file photo by Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Weeks after ducking criticism from his local NAACP leadership, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., joined Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and three of their predecessors Tuesday to celebrate Black History Month and speak openly about the role of race in their political career.

    Scott, the sole Republican among 43 African-American members of Congress, used the event, which was at the Library of Congress, to stress the importance of bipartisanship. Excluding Scott, every senator present has joined the Congressional Black Caucus, a largely Democratic organization.

    “My campaign was never about race,” Scott told ABC News in 2010 when he was first elected as a congressman. “The future is more important than the past.”

    Though Scott’s event called “Honoring our Past and Celebrating our Future” suggested a slight rebranding, he repeated his focus on the future.

    “The reason why I wanted to gather us here together is to look at the future and figure out how we can get there together,” Scott said.

    The event, race-themed but not race-heavy, could be seen as advantageous for Scott, a Tea Party favorite who recently came under fire from African-American leaders who question his politics.

    When North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber commented on Scott’s ties to the far right and likened him to a ventriloquist’s dummy, Scott brushed off the remarks on a January Meet The Press appearance.

    “You just can’t really respond to someone who’s never taken the time to get to know you,” Scott said before launching into his anti-poverty initiatives.

    The left-leaning blog Think Progress derided Scott for criticizing Obama’s actions during the 2011 debt ceiling debate and for proposing to limit food stamps. Though African-American leaders like Barber have suggested these policies are decidedly against their community, Scott remains focused on his twofold Opportunity Agenda, which focuses on financing education and providing skills training.

    “The fact is, the opportunity agenda is not about whether you’re Black or White or Hispanic or Asian,” Scott said Tuesday. “It’s really about the fact that the opportunity to succeed in America starts with a good education.”

    Politicians of color often face challenges in balancing the weight of race in the scheme of politics.

    When asked Tuesday what was the biggest obstacle to their Senate career, former Senator Roland Burris, D-Ill., responded that it was his. But Scott and Booker passed on race and named themselves as the greatest obstacle to their own careers.

    As current politicians who hope to remain in Washington, Scott and Booker toe a delicate line when talking about their race that leaves some supporters demanding they address it more and other wishing they’d ignore it.

    The same criticism is often made of President Barack Obama, who represented Illinois in Congress for more than three years but did not attend the event.

    While Scott’s politics were a light punchline throughout this event, the panel mostly focused on their shared history and looking ahead.

    “We represent a range of political interests and viewpoints and I think that’s good for the African-American community,” said Sen. William Cowan, D-Mass. “I hope (Scott) is successful in his campaign because I love that the black experience is reflected on the other side of the aisle.”

    Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., summed it up this way: “Inclusion and civil rights issues are not a partisan issue.”

    The post Tim Scott reaches across the aisle for Black History Month appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    At least 175 rebel fighters were killed, and many more wounded, on Wednesday in an ambush in Damascus, according to Syrian Arab News Agency.

    The state media organization reported that a Syrian army unit spotted members of Al-Nusra Front and Liwa al-Islam and “eliminated scores of terrorists,” most of whom were Saudis, Qataris and Chechens.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed to Agence France-Presse that dozens had been killed in the ambush.

    According to Al Jazeera anaylsis, if the death count was confirmed, the attack would be the deadliest against rebels in months and a “significant advance” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to strengthen his control over the nation’s capital and surrounding areas.

    Al-Nusra Front is the official al-Qaida affliate operating in Syria and is attempting to overthrow Assad’s regime in order to establish an Islamic state.

    The post More than 175 rebels killed in Damascus ambush appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Miles O'brien

    Miles O’Brien on a Google Hangout with the crew of the International Space Station in Feb., 2013.

    Yesterday, we learned that Miles O’Brien, our science correspondent, suffered an injury that resulted in the emergency amputation of his left arm. Miles shared the details of his ordeal in a personal blog post and on his Facebook page.

    PBS NewsHour executive producer Linda Winslow offered a perfect summation of our feelings about Miles and his “new reality.”

    Like everyone else, we are amazed by Miles’ determination to soldier on, in spite of his life-changing accident. We are prepared to assist him every way we can, so our viewers will continue to benefit from his great intelligence and knowledge of science. He is an incredible human being–and a true professional.

    The post Regarding Miles O’Brien’s ‘new reality’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The dreary days of February are coming to a close, and we can’t say we’re sad. In fact, we’re down right elated to say (a hopeful) goodbye to the snow and cold that the past month has brought. How apropos that the first week of March comes with a built-in celebration? Mark your calendars, Mardi Gras is next Tuesday.

    What's your vice?

    What’s your vice?

    Here at PBS NewsHour, we’re taking the celebration one step further and declaring the week leading up to Mardi Gras as Vice Week.

    What’s a Vice Week, you ask?

    Allow us to explain. A vice is some sort of wicked behavior — something that you like to do, but perhaps shouldn’t (full disclosure: this writer’s vice is eating too many Cheetos). Since “Vice” is often connected with the “seven deadly sins,” we’ve given each day a theme of sloth, wrath, gluttony, envy, lust, greed and pride.

    Each day, you’ll be able to find a story on our website connected to one of these vices. And on Twitter, Instagram and Vine, we want you to join in the fun.

    What’s your vice? Do you binge-watch British period dramas, indulge in too much Chipotle, listen to music that features a banjo and a fiddle more often than you’d like to admit? Throughout the week, send us photos and Vines of something that represents your vice, and we’ll showcase your creativity on our website.

    Here’s how you can show us your vice:

    • Tweet your photos (and Vines) to @NewsHour using #viceweek
    • Tag @NewsHour on Instagram with #viceweek
    • Tag @NewsHour on Vine using #viceweek

    Go forth, have fun–but please, keep it classy.

    Questions? Feel free to email cshalby@newshour.org

    The post What’s your vice? Tell NewsHour appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Blowing a Saturday morning to slog through the SAT isn’t a fond high school memory for any of us — and now some researchers suggest that our results may not be a useful indicator of future success after all. It turns out, however, that a nice score may end up paying dividends even after college graduation.

    Last week, the NewsHour spoke with former Bates College dean of admissions William Hiss about a study he led that questioned the effectiveness of a student’s standardized test scores in predicting collegiate success. Bates and other schools across the country have made these tests optional, and Hiss argued that the larger application pool that comes from the de-emphasis of the SAT and ACT makes for “a better class” of students.

    “If students have strong high school records, good grades in high school, their odds of doing [well] in college are very good even with a quite wide range of testing,” Hiss said.

    According to his study, the difference in graduation rates between students who do and do not submit their test scores in the application process is six-tenths of one percent.

    But even if standardized tests are becoming less meaningful to universities, they haven’t stopped being a factor after graduation. Some employers ask applicants for their scores on the SAT and ACT — even if the potential interviewee is years out of college.

    “When you’re hiring people and they don’t have a lot of work experience, you have to start with some set of data points,” Eric Eden of Cvent, a Virginia-based software company, told The Wall Street Journal. Eden’s company hasn’t looked into whether their top employees also had the highest scores — but “knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough for us,” he said.

    The format of the SAT changed in March 2005 when the test added a third section — a writing test — and increasing the highest possible score from 1600 to 2400. But even before the data became more comprehensive, companies were still looking at the scores. More than a decade ago, the WSJ published a similar article with the same bent.

    “In my experience, people with high SAT scores tend to do better,” Alan Sage, the vice president of a Colorado software company, told the Journal then.

    So, high school seniors: Get lots of rest, sharpen your no. 2 pencils and make sure your calculator has batteries. It might be a pain at age 17 — but it might mean everything at age 22.

    For more on the subject of subject tests, watch Ray Suarez’s 2012 interview with two experts about falling average scores on the SAT.

    The post Your SAT and ACT scores could make a difference in your job future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    CEOs who receive higher incentive compensation display overconfident behavior, taking risks that hurt future returns. Photo by Reza Estakhrian/Stone via Getty Images.

    CEOs who receive higher incentive compensation display overconfident behavior, taking risks that hurt future returns. Photo by Reza Estakhrian/Stone via Getty Images.

    Economic inequality. The issue has preoccupied liberals and conservatives alike this winter, and while they frame the problem differently, the evidence is indisputable: the gap between the bottom and top of the income ladder is widening, and has been for decades.

    Our extensive series on the subject, complete with startling data, the libertarian response, and the “Do You Live in a Bubble?” quiz can be accessed here.

    Of course wages for some middle class earners have been stagnant; that’s an obvious part of the problem. But enlarging the gulf is the explosive growth of income at the tippy top.

    Why are those Olympian earners, racking up hundreds of times their average employees’ compensation, bringing home whole sties’ full of bacon? Just what are they being compensated for?

    The CEOs, or at least their PR departments, have now felt the skeptical scrutiny.

    Last week, Virginia Rometty, CEO of IBM, became one of the latest chief executives to turn down compensation on top of her $1.5 million salary.

    “In view of the company’s overall full-year results, my senior team and I have recommended that we forgo our personal annual incentive payments for 2013,” she announced.

    Much of the ire has been provoked by CEOs earning more than their desk jobs would seem to merit. It’s been framed as a matter of fairness — how a top-heavy pay structure demeans the average worker.

    While places like Switzerland have entertained capping compensation so that what the highest-paid workers take-home can’t exceed 12 times what the lowest-paid employees make (though a referendum to that effect was defeated at the polls), America’s business culture — indeed its national mythology — feeds on the possibility of ever greater rewards.

    If you couldn’t offer CEOs higher pay, General Electric CEO Jack Welch told Paul Solman years ago, you’d have trouble luring the best talent.

    Here’s an excerpt of Paul’s interview with Welch, where he makes that point:

    JACK WELCH: I mean, General Electric had — I don’t know the number, whether it was 7,000 or 10,000 millionaires. That happened because stock ownership was spread throughout the company, and a lot of people benefited.

    The CEO, yes, got excessive amounts or large amounts. Well, I can say…

    PAUL SOLMAN: (Laughs) Is it excessive?

    JACK WELCH: It was large. It was very much… you… I can’t justify the absolute number. All I know is that tomorrow morning, if you want to cap it, you’d be the dumbest guy in town because…

    PAUL SOLMAN: The dumbest guy in the whole town?

    JACK WELCH: The whole town. Because what you would do is you would challenge the free enterprise system.

    And what you would say to people that own WorldCom shares tomorrow that are out trying to hire a CEO, “You can only pay that CEO so much.” Or Tyco, who just had to replace their CEO, “You’d only pay them so much.” How do you think they get people to go take those jobs, take those high risks?

    PAUL SOLMAN: You don’t think you could get somebody to take the job at Tyco or WorldCom or perhaps a place that’s a little less besmirched?

    JACK WELCH: No, I’m giving you troubled situations.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Yes. The worst — the worst of the worst; but you don’t think you could get people to do that job for less money than…

    JACK WELCH: You won’t get the best people, because the best people are being paid very well where they are.

    That’s what free markets are all about.

    But what if extraordinary, or “excess” compensation of CEOs, is actually correlated with lower future returns for their firms? Then the pay trend becomes a subversion of economic logic. And that’s just what a new academic study reports.

    The study about pay for non-performance is catching the attention not just of Occupy types, but of industry insiders who look to CEO compensation as an indicator of firm performance.

    Theoretically, the structure of corporate compensation should motivate CEOs to perform well for their firms, aligning CEO and shareholder incentives. And some previous research cited in the study’s literature review supposedly found as much. But using a much bigger data set (of S&P 1500 firms) over a longer time span (1994-2011), this study finds a negative association between high compensation and a firm’s future stock performance.

    Looking at the CEOs whose compensation placed them in the top 10 percent, the authors were surprised to see that over the next one to three years, their firms underperformed the market — by 5 to 10 percent. That’s a huge loss of shareholder wealth, said one of its lead authors, Michael Cooper of the University of Utah.

    It’s important to understand that not all compensation is created equal. Oracle’s CEO refused his performance bonus last year and only accepted $1 for his salary. But even if you’re tempted to cry for Argentina, don’t cry for him. He was still eligible for $77 million in stock-based compensation.

    Executives receive what’s referred to as “cash pay.” That’s the boring stuff, like their salary and a regular bonus. But they also get incentive pay, and that’s where things get exciting. Incentive pay often consists of restricted stock option grants — meaning options that are above and beyond what’s available to lower-rung employees — and they’re “forward-vesting,” meaning that when they’re granted, you don’t know exactly what they’ll be worth.

    Among that top 10 percent of CEOs, fully 86 percent of their pay comes from incentive pay.

    Firms that offer this kind of pay tend to have the largest market value and have grown over the last three to five years — hence their ability to compensate their executives lushly. The authors controlled for industry and size variation of firms so that similar companies were compared to each other.

    To help explain the correlation between high incentive compensation and poorer performance, Cooper and his co-authors were interested in the behavior of these highly-rewarded CEOs. First, they noticed that the CEOs that are paid more invest 10 to 20 percent more than their peers and engage in 30 percent more “empire building,” or M&A.

    So maybe their aggressive investing makes them good CEOs, performing on behalf of their shareholders. But Cooper’s team looks to see how those mergers and acquisitions work out for them and find that the firms’ stock prices react negatively to news of empire construction.

    This kind of value-destroying behavior, Cooper suggests, is the result of an overconfidence effect. CEOs getting higher incentive pay (which will be realized over the course of several years) start feeling a little too big for their britches and take risks that jeopardize the firm — with those effects playing out over the same one to three year span as the realization of their stock options.

    Cooper, who previously ran a firm at Goldman Sachs, doesn’t go as far as to say that higher incentive pay causes overconfidence. Maybe executives who are overconfident just tend to demand higher remuneration. After all, the reason CEOs earn so much in the first place is largely a supply and demand effect, he says. Running a large firm requires a rare and specific skill set, and because so few people can do that, Cooper says, that bids up the price.

    So maybe the pay for performance results found in this study are a correlation and nothing more. Cooper, however, has been presenting the study to hedge funds around the country. Executive incentive pay, he said, “looks like a good signal for investors to use to ferret out firms that will underperform in the future.”

    If stock prices are falling, eventually, investors are going to want to know why so they can do something about it. “The message,” Cooper said, “is that maybe this should make us revisit how pay contracts are set up.”

    The study looked at one regulatory effort and its effects on incentive pay and performance. The authors thought that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which attempted to regulate corporate accounting and improve financial disclosures, might change how pay affected returns. But there was little change after 2002. (Although Cooper notes that enough time might not have passed to really assess SOX’s effects).

    What about other regulatory efforts? They’re out there, sure, but Cooper doesn’t see high compensation giving way anytime soon.

    The real question is, should it?

    “The U.S. leads the world in terms of high pay compensation,” Cooper said. We’re an outlier. “But,” he continued, “that’s the American way I guess.” And that certainly jibes with ex-GE CEO “Neutron Jack” Welch’s rationale, as he expressed it to us on the NewsHour.

    “I grew up in a union family,” Welch said. “I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I went to a state school for $50 a semester — got lucky; got a great team together and made a lot of money. I worked hard as hell. That’s what America is about. We ought to be cheering that. We ought to be hoping there’s lots of people that that’s happening to.”

    Another explanation? That boards of directors are in the pockets of their CEOs. Yet another: the Lake Woebegone Effect — that all boards think their CEOs are above average and want to pay accordingly, thus steadily ratcheting up that average, irrespective of performance. See our story about this with CEO pay expert Graef Crystal.

    In the end, reining in compensation may not happen because of a liberal or conservative initiative to address inequality; it very well could be shareholders — of both political stripes — who finally make the call.

    Watch more of our series on “Executive Excess” below:

    The post A new study: How overpaid CEOs tank their firms appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    GWEN IFILL: Tensions inside and outside Ukraine ratcheted higher today, as lawmakers prepared to approve a new government.  In Crimea, pro-Russian demonstrators clashed with supporters of the protest movement.  Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered surprise military exercises near the border with Ukraine.  We will get more on all of this right after the news summary.

    The U.S. military’s top commander is warning the impasse on a security deal with Afghanistan could embolden the Taliban. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, spoke a day after President Obama ordered plans for a total U.S. withdrawal by year’s end.

    Mr. Obama also spoke with Karzai by phone, for the first time since last June.

    Today, Karzai’s spokesman played down any tension between the two.

    AIMAL FAIZI, Spokesman for President Hamid Karzai: 2014 is the year of withdrawal of most of the U.S. forces anyway. And there was no such discussion of a complete withdrawal in the conversation as suggested in the media. Rather, the point was to provide for an orderly withdrawal, as already planned and already scheduled.

    GWEN IFILL: The U.S. wants to leave about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to help train Afghan forces. So far, Karzai has refused to sign an agreement governing any troops who stay.

    State media in Syria reported today the army ambushed and killed at least 175 rebels in a major attack. The official account said it happened south of Damascus, in the Ghouta area that’s held by the opposition. Syrian television aired this footage from the aftermath. It said the slain fighters belonged to an al-Qaida-linked group, and that some came from abroad. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest attacks by government forces in the area.

    Another ban on same-sex marriage has fallen, this time in Texas. A federal judge today declared the state’s prohibition unconstitutional. But he postponed enforcing the decision pending the outcome of appeals. This follows similar decisions in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

    A top House Republican opened a bid today to overhaul the nation’s tax system, but it’s unlikely to advance this year. Republican Dave Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He called for lowering the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. He’d also impose a 10 percent surtax on earned incomes over $450,000.

    House Speaker John Boehner would not say if the party supports the bill, and he refused to discuss the details.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: Blah, blah, blah, blah. Listen, there’s a conversation that needs to begin. This is the beginning of the conversation. This — this — the idea of tax reform is to get our economy going again, provide better, more economic growth, more jobs, and higher wages.

    The way you do that is, you bring down rates. And to bring down rates, you clean out a lot of the garbage that’s in there and the special interest issues that are in there.

    GWEN IFILL: The last major overhaul of the tax code was in 1986.

    That data breach at Target stores before the holiday shopping season took a hefty toll on the company’s bottom line. Profit dropped 46 percent in the fourth quarter, and revenue slipped more than 5 percent. The data breach allowed hackers to steal personal information on millions of Target customers. The company says it’s working to win back the confidence of those customers.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 18 points to close at 16,198. The Nasdaq rose four points to close at 4,292. And the S&P 500 was up just a fraction at 1,845.

    The post News Wrap: Syrian state media reports major attack on rebels by government forces appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Protest in Crimea region of Ukraine

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: More now on Ukraine.

    Proposed new leaders were introduced to protesters in Kiev today. But that was overshadowed by mounting concerns over Russian military moves. In a late afternoon statement, the White House said: “We urge outside actors in the region to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to end provocative rhetoric and actions.”

    All of this as tempers flared between pro and anti-Russian factions in Crimea.

    Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News is there.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: The police struggled to hold them back. The crowd was surging forward, trying to force their way into the Crimean parliament, on the one side, Russians, many of whom would like Crimea to secede from Ukraine, on the other, Crimean Tatars with their pale turquoise flag, who support the new order in Kiev, and are largely hostile to Russia, which they see as their historical oppressor.

    The protests may be over in Kiev, but the repercussions are being felt across Ukraine. Here, the Tatars are delighted about the new authorities. But the Russians are spoiling for a fight.

    And some Tatars were not convinced that peaceful protest is the way to combat the Crimean Russians’ ally in Moscow.

    MAN: When it comes down to Putin, you have to have fists. He doesn’t understand good words and diplomacy. You have to show some — some physics too. So, if they don’t listen to us, we don’t exclude some physical actions here, like in Kiev, too.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: So you would turn to violence?

    MAN: No, no, no, no. We are for peace, but we want them to hear us.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: Some on the Russian side weren’t keen to talk to a British journalist, a representative of Europe, which many see as fascist.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): We don’t say the British are fascists, but I live in Crimea, and we want to join Russia.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: The Tatars were determined to stop a parliamentary debate on secession. Some seized a Russian flag. Scuffles broke out.

    People started lobbing shoes, water bottles, and other objects. It began to get ugly. The Tatars are Muslim. The Russians paraded emblems of their orthodox Christian faith. Several people were injured, while others were crushed in the pushing and shoving. They were treated on the spot.

    Across the border, the Russians announced emergency military exercises. They made no mention of Ukraine. No need to. The drills were in the nearest region. And the message to the new government in Kiev was clear: Don’t mess with Russia.

    In Kiev, they gathered in the central square, scene of three months of protests, to talk about the new government, a new future. But here in Crimea, the trouble has only just begun.

    The post Crimeans push back against Ukrainian protest movement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ukraine2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us understand all of today’s developments, we turn to Fiona Hill. She’s director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.”  And Nadia Diuk, she’s spent decades studying and visiting Ukraine and is a vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy.

    We welcome you both to the program.

    Nadia Diuk, let me start with you.

    Giving these divisions that we just are seeing in this report and hearing about elsewhere, can this country hold together, Ukraine?

    NADIA DIUK, National Endowment for Democracy: I think what we saw in the film was basically about Crimea.

    I think the government that is being put together in Kiev right now really is trying to address the issue of unity. There are people who have been brought into this lineup that will be voted on tomorrow that are from the east of Ukraine. They are new faces.

    There was an interesting action today in the western city of Lviv, which is normally known as being pro-Western and very Ukrainian. They introduced a day of speaking Russian, so that the — and the mayor was — the mayor of Lviv was leading this to show that whatever language Ukrainians speak that they feel themselves to be one country and belong to one — one unity.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Pushing for unity.

    But, just quickly, you brought up this new government who was introduced today to the protesters in Kiev. What does that say to you about the direction that this group that’s taken over wants to take the country?

    NADIA DIUK: I took a look through the names. There are a lot of people there that will be familiar to people who have been watching the Maidan for the last three months. And I think that was a major concern for people there, that somehow the politicians might just take over and sweep away all of the civic activists, all of the people who really have been — in some cases put their life on the line for a better future for Ukraine, to get out the corrupt government.

    There are a lot of people from the Maidan here. And it looks like a very serious attempt to combine both professional people — I see that the minister of finances and the economy are actually professional, good, solid people who have been if government before and are very familiar with the kind of…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So people with experience.

    NADIA DIUK: With experience and new faces, too, and also slightly different generations, which is also good to see.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fiona Hill, let’s talk about the Russians, though. They have mobilized. They’re doing what Moscow is calling war games. What does this say?

    FIONA HILL, Brookings Institution: Well, this is sending a signal obviously that if the Russians deem it to be necessary, that they’re prepared to intervene in some fashion.

    We have to say that we have seen these kinds of exercises many times when there are tensions in different regions, including on Russia’s eastern borders, not always in the West. It’s something that we have seen again time and time when there is some point that the Russians are concerned about. It does not necessarily mean that they’re going to intervene.

    And as Nadia has said, the pictures that we’re seeing that are most troubling coming out of Ukraine are in Crimea, the peninsula in the Black Sea, not on this border region where the Russian activity is right now, where the mobilization of the forces and exercises are going on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You say it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to intervene. What would — what would determine whether they do that or not?

    FIONA HILL: Well, I think we have to be very careful when we’re looking at this situation.

    We’re — it’s only at the — really at the very beginning of a sequence of events now that is going to move us forward in Ukraine. The Russians are standing back. They’re looking at what is happening. And I think it would really be, if it’s deemed that there is going to be some serious threat to their interests directly, Crimea is one of the places where that could happen, because that is the base for the Black Sea fleet, the Russian Black Sea fleet that has a long-term lease on parts of the peninsula for their basing.

    And so if there is deemed to be some kind of physical threat to the Black Sea fleet, one could envisage that there might be some kind of action, but not necessarily in the way that we’re perhaps thinking about it right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The new — the leadership, this new leadership that’s in formation, Nadia Diuk, in Kiev — and you talked about other parts of the country — they have to be very aware of what the Russians are up to.

    What would their reaction be if Russia started to make moves toward intervening in some way?

    NADIA DIUK: That would then — that would be an international situation. And I think it would go far beyond the beyond the Ukraine.

    I think the White House actually put out a statement today where they did reference an agreement where OSCE members really should be informing each other of any…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OSCE being the European security organization.

    NADIA DIUK: Yes. Yes, although the Russians have before intervened in countries or threatened to intervene where they see the Russian-speaking people needing protection.

    They did — they threatened this a lot in the Baltic states in the 1990s. And it’s — that is one of the pretexts that they could use.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fiona Hill, what is the impact? How is a statement like the one that came out today, Secretary Kerry saying it would be a terrible mistake, or words to that effect, for the Russians to do something, the White House itself putting out a statement, how is that read by Moscow, do you think?

    FIONA HILL: The problem we have right now is we have all kinds of competing narratives about what is happening.

    The Russians have also been accusing us, frankly, the United States and the European Union, of directly intervening here as well. So sometimes the statements are not received in the way that we would hope they are in Moscow. This might be seen as grandstanding, in fact, rather than as a very clear statement that there is a red line here.

    We were, as Nadia suggested, in this situation before in 2008, before the war with Georgia in August of 2008. Similar statements were made on all kinds of sides. And there was also a situation there where many citizens of Russia, people who were living in the secessionist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had assumed Russian citizenship, were deemed to be at risk by the Russian government.

    And, again, there was a situation where we saw momentum towards an intervention by Russia, a lot of statements made. So we have been in this kind of very tense, difficult situation before.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you both saying we’re early in this process. And, Nadia Diuk, you were talking about, of course, the new leadership being introduced, the next government being introduced to the protesters today.

    What is it that the people of Ukraine are going to be doing in the days to come, their leadership, that is going to send a signal to the world one way or another about what is going to happen? We know they have got crushing economic problems. They’re looking to the West to help them out, or to Moscow.

    NADIA DIUK: Well, firstly, the government was prevented to the people in the Maidan today, but it will — it does actually have to be voted on by the parliament tomorrow.

    And there is a good chance that it will — that this list will go through. But the political leaders have at every step of the way needed to check what they’re doing with the people in the Maidan, who through the last three months have been a little bit more radical and a bit more demanding than the politicians.

    The people generally want to have justice. They want to see that the corrupt politicians that were leading this country for the last three years are somehow brought to justice and made to account for the crimes that they have committed, the killings that have taken place, and also for a lot of the money that they have stolen, which, this weekend, we saw these rather surreal pictures of what this money was spent on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Fiona Hill, just for now, I hear you saying the Russians will hold off before they make any dramatic decisions here.

    FIONA HILL: Well, it will really depend on what happens on the ground in Ukraine. Again, it depends on how Russia sees its interests being served or threatened in some way by events.

    I think we also have to be very well aware that the situation in Ukraine is such that this government may not stick. As Nadia said, they’re trying to balance a whole set of competing interests. We may be in a phase where Ukraine goes through a whole series of successive governments. And this will be a great concern to Moscow as well, of what the composition of future governments will be, what stance they take, not just on domestic issues, but also on their foreign relationships, and if governments seem to veer very quickly towards Europe or towards other sets of relationships, and neglecting the very important ties that the Russians see they have with Ukraine.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That would have an effect.

    FIONA HILL: That would have an effect.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fiona Hill, Nadia Diuk, we thank you.

    FIONA HILL: Thank you.

    NADIA DIUK: Thank you.

    The post Will Russia intervene in Ukraine? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Two kids Sharing

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    GWEN IFILL: Researchers are assessing, and in many cases applauding, a new paper that reports a substantial drop in childhood obesity among the preschool set, a 43 percent decline.

    It’s raising interesting questions about whether a shift in public health policies helps explain what’s happening.

    First lady Michelle Obama has become the face of the administration’s anti-obesity campaign, encouraging young people especially to eat better, move more, slim down. Now the Centers for Disease Control is reporting some progress.

    Among preschoolers aged 2 to 5, obesity rates have dropped from 14 percent to about 8 percent overall during the past decade. It’s welcome news, since overweight preschoolers are five times as likely to become overweight adults.

    Possible causes for the drop include efforts to promote breast-feeding, cut consumption of sugary drinks and encourage exercise. The first lady’s Let’s Move campaign, for instance, has focused on changing nutrition and exercise habits among children, planting and harvesting a White House vegetable garden, and collaborating with celebrities like comedian Will Ferrell.

    WILL FERRELL: Also, is diet cola, is that a vegetable?

    (LAUGHTER)

    GWEN IFILL: And, yesterday, the administration unveiled new rules that ban marketing of unhealthy food in schools.

    MICHELLE OBAMA: So, I think we can all agree that our classrooms should be healthy places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food.

    GWEN IFILL: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also took up the cause, moving to eliminate trans fats and limit the size of sodas and other sugary drinks.

    Still, the CDC reports, the apparent progress among preschoolers does not extend to other age groups. Instead, a third of American children and teenagers and more than two-thirds of adults remain obese or overweight.

    Christina Economos of Tufts University watches all this closely. She’s an associate professor at the Schools of Medicine and Nutrition Science. She also helps lead an initiative called ChildObesity180.org — got that right.

    OK, Christina Economos, give me a sense of how significant the news of this decline is.

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS, Tufts University School of Medicine: Good evening.

    These results are unequivocally amazing, and we really need to applaud, but we can’t stop yet. This is a small snapshot, and it’s a small group of children within the United States. And we need to reach all children between the ages of 2 and 19 and see progress.

    GWEN IFILL: All good news is good news. I don’t disagree with you there.

    But we do wonder whether — why it is younger people are seeing improvement and others are not.

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Well, in that age group, there’s been tremendous effort to regulate within child care centers, so that children are eating healthier foods, moving more and are exposed to less screen time.

    We also know there have been changes to the WIC package over the last few years that provides more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and supports breast-feeding. And these efforts really target 2- to 5-year-old children and have resulted in really significant declines.

    GWEN IFILL: Can I walk you through each of those possible reasons one at a time?

    Let’s talk about the impact of sugary drinks. How much does that contribute to what we’re seeing? Especially in children so young, you wouldn’t think that would be a big issue.

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Sure.

    A big percentage of sugar consumption in children comes from sugar-sweetened beverage. And there have been several public health campaigns in place over the last five to 10 years trying to reduce consumption for all children, particularly young children, so they don’t begin to drink sugary beverages and they continue consumption through the teen years.

    We know that hundreds of calories are consumed by teenagers every year, and, surprisingly, even around 100 calories in our very youngest children.

    GWEN IFILL: And what about physical activity? In this children this young, you would think that would be a given.

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: You would think so. They should be getting between one to two hours per day.

    But with all the different sedentary enticements now, children are often watching screens for many, many hours per day. And in unsafe neighborhoods, they might not be going outside to play. So a real effort is under way to get kids up and moving, expending calories for one to two hours per day. Within child care centers, that’s a really important cause.

    GWEN IFILL: A lot of this is — in fact, we talked about recess coming — making a comeback on this program not long ago. In a lot of cases, we’re talking about nutritional awareness. Is this something which starts with adults and is affecting the youngest children?

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Definitely. I think there is an increased awareness in this country that we have an obesity epidemic, that we need to change our eating habits.

    And, very importantly, we need to change the environment that we live in. So that means better policies, access and availability to healthier food for all Americans, so in underserved areas, as well as privileged areas. And many efforts are under way to make that happen.

    GWEN IFILL: Is there any way to — you mentioned the difference between what’s happening in underserved areas, as well as privileged areas. And you also mentioned the change in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

    How much of that can you break out? I know this is a small incident, but how much do you know in these kinds of programs is it having an effect?

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Sure.

    Well, we know that children who are eligible for supplemental food assistance like WIC are underserved children. And those changes are very important for them. But if we pull apart the recent data that we’re talking about now in the decline in the obesity rates, it starts to unravel when you look at the disparities.

    So we know that white children have lower rates than black children and Hispanic children. And the disparities are quite striking. And that tells us that more effort has to be put into reaching underserved children, whether it’s income or race, ethnicity that’s impacting that, and putting more effort into government programs and community programs that really reach those children.

    GWEN IFILL: How do you do that at a time of other priorities being made in government spending and in government in general and in nutrition programs? I mean, how do you take the piece of good news that we discovered today and have it extend to other demographics and age groups?

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Sure.

    Well, this problem of obesity is quite complex, and it really requires a systems approach to deal with it. So it means that we can’t just work within health care or schools or child care. We need to work systematically and make changes in all of those systems, because collectively that’s what will show us the change.

    And we know that children move out of environments throughout the day that are serviced by government dollars and private dollars. And so everyone working together and make these changes will really add up to declines in obesity throughout childhood.

    GWEN IFILL: The other thing we heard about this weekend, we keep hearing about labeling and nutrition labeling, and also this idea that marketing in schools, even if you are not serving soda, just having a big soft drink sign could have an effect. How much of that is going to drive what happens next?

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: I think it will be a big part. A lot of us believe that we need to reduce exposure to marketing for young children.

    They’re unable to differentiate something that is being advertised to them and something that is being brought to them as education. So we need to work really hard to make sure that children aren’t exposed to messages for unhealthy foods, and schools shouldn’t be a place where they see those messages.

    We also need to reduce exposure through television and other areas where they go.

    GWEN IFILL: What do you say to people who look at something like this and say, the government cannot take away my hot dog for my child; this is just getting in the way of our right to nourish ourselves the way we choose?

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Yes, government steps in to make changes that we know are best for the population.

    And we have done this through multiple public health strategies, with smoking, for example. And, in this case, we have a set of dietary guidelines. We know what children should be exposed to and should be consuming. And in situations where they’re spending large amounts of time, they should be provided with those healthy foods.

    And if government plays a role, I think that’s really important. But it’s not just government. It’s also the private sector and academics who are doing good research, putting out recommendations, and communities across the country. So it really is a collective effort that we need to be focused on.

    GWEN IFILL: Christina Economos of Tufts University, thank you very much.

    CHRISTINA ECONOMOS: Thank you.

    The post Why are younger children alone in reducing obesity rates? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A solitary confinement cell at Alcatraz Island. Photo by Flickr user Chris Gray.

    A solitary confinement cell at Alcatraz Island. Photo by Flickr user Chris Gray.

    Senate leaders held a committee hearing Tuesday to reassess solitary confinement in prisons for juvenile, pregnant and mentally ill patients.

    Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) believes the thirty-year-old practice is a “human rights issue we can’t ignore.”

    Durbin claimed 35 percent of juveniles in custody report being held in solitary confinement, leaving them at risk for depression and suicide. The overuse of solitary not only threatens prisoners, Durbin said, but the increase in violence inside and outside prisons presents “a serious threat to public safety.”

    At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, the Federal Bureau of Prisons director Charles Samuels, testified that of the bureau’s 215,000 inmates, only one juvenile and 197 women are confined in “restrictive housing.”

    Solitary confinement should only be used in “the rarest of circumstances,” Samuels said. “We confine a significant number of dangerous people.”

    Currently, 6.5 percent of the inmates Samuels oversees are in confinement.

    He elaborated that 77 percent of inmates at a medium security level prison have a history of violence and over 50 percent have been sanctioned for violating prison rules. In order to run a safe and secure prison, Samuels said some offenders have to be removed but aren’t isolated in the way that outsiders assume.

    Inmates still have daily interactions with staff member who track mental and physical health, he said. Inmates also can contact other inmates, family and friends.

    The subcommittee heard from former inmates including Piper Kerman, the author of the popular prison memoir turned Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black.”

    According to Kerman, female prisoners — the majority of whom serve for nonviolent offenses — are the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system.

    “The terrible threat of isolation makes women afraid to report abuse as a powerful disincentive to ask for help or justice,” said Kerman.

    “We take for granted how we interact with other people on a normal, healthy basis,” said Dr. Craig Haney, who testified for a similar Senate committee in 2012 and has conducted research on solitary confinement for 30 years. “People in isolated environments can start to feel anxiety when they’re actually around other people and sometimes these anxiety disorders persist after they are released.”

    A recent study of New York inmates says that inmates sent to solitary confinement are seven times more likely to hurt or kill themselves than those who aren’t.

    “They can experience a loss of identity and their sense of social self,” Haney said. “They act out in a way of provoking a response from the outside world that demonstrates they’re still there.

    While investigative reports have questioned the effects of solitary confinement cells, some researchers struggle to find a concrete link between solitary confinement and a decline in psychological health.

    For Dr. Peter Seudfeld, a University of British Columbia psychology professor who specializes in enclosed spaces, he found that the majority of inmates in his solitary confinement study didn’t find the experience negative.

    “They said living in a prison population was very stressful and they had to be very alert,” Seudfeld told NewsHour. “If they made an enemy, they would be attacked. They broke rules so they would be put in solitary to be safe.

    Seudfeld’s research was published over 30 years ago. A more recent longitudinal study of the psychological effects of administrative segregation from 2010 did not see a rise in psychological disorders in inmates after time in solitary confinement.

    One of the researchers, Maureen L. O’Keefe, is employed by the Colorado Department of Corrections and didn’t comment on the report and Dr. Kelli K. Klebe did not immediately return a request for comment.

    The post Senate leaders consider solitary confinement reform for select prisoners appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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