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

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    A woman blows air to ignite her traditional village stove made of mud at her residence in the village of Keiyal, India, in this Nov. 29, 2012 file photo by Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: In El Salvador, one group is trying to solve a major problem by tackling it on a small scale.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has the story.

    It’s part of his ongoing series Agents for Change.

    JULIA ROBERTS: Did you know that one of the deadliest threats facing women and their families around the world today is right inside their own home?

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Julia Roberts is a celebrity spokesperson for a renewed effort to provide cleaner stoves to the estimated three billion people worldwide who rely on open fire indoor cookstoves.

    These stoves and the smoke they produce are blamed for two million deaths each year from lung cancer and burns. Their fires are a major souse of greenhouse gases, their fuel a major cause of deforestation.

    There have been many efforts so far to provide improved stoves, but with only scattered small-scale success.

    RADHA MUTHIAH, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: These are what, five or six of 65, 70 different stoves that are out there.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Radha Muthiah heads the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which was set up in 2010 to bring some coherence to the various efforts.

    Working under the U.N. foundation and with a $100 million U.S. government grant, the agency is trying to find out what works and what doesn’t work to rate the various models for efficiency and to fund research into new ones.

    RADHA MUTHIAH: The things that we learned from the past efforts are that in the assumption that, oh, if we provide a cleaner cookstove, that is far better than a three-stone fire, so, of course every household member would want that.

    But cooking patterns are different. Cultural habits are different. And people everywhere are the same. We would like to have some say. We would like to have some choice.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One enterprise in Central America believes it offers the right choice. In rural El Salvador, Gustavo Pena is the chief traveling salesman for a cookstove made in his factory, one that he promises housewives can vastly improve their lives because it burns fuel more efficiently, meaning it needs less firewood and emits less smoke.

    GUSTAVO PENA, stove factory owener (through interpreter): The stove uses very little firewood because the heat is concentrated in the chamber.

    We normally raffle one stove. The idea is to leave the stove in the community, so that everyone can see it, how it performs, how it really saves wood.

    This is going to be a fiberglass mold.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pena is a native of central El Salvador who lived previously in the U.S. and Canada. He got started in the business when he met Nancy Hughes, the founder of StoveTeam International.

    Hughes is a 70-year-old Oregon native who began visiting this region about 14 years ago as a volunteer.

    NANCY HUGHES, founder, StoveTeam International: After I was widowed, I decided to reinvent my life, so I went on a medical mission to Guatemala.

    And I did what they asked me to do, which was cook in the kitchen. And a young woman came into the kitchen whose hands had burned shut — been burned shut from falling in an open cooking fire.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Such experiences drove Hughes to look for ways to provide cleaner, safer stoves. A noted engineer and friend, Larry Winiarski, offered to design one, and with Pena ready to manufacture it, Hughes went to her local Rotary Club and asked them for startup funds.

    NANCY HUGHES: I was standing around with these Rotarians and they said, you can start a factory in El Salvador. And I was like, I’m over 65. I’m not doing that. And so one of the people on the team said, listen, we have got a great stove. We have got a guy who wants to produce them. We can raise money, so let’s raise money and place an order for stoves with him, and let him go and let him own the factory, and we don’t have to do it.

    That was very appealing.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: With similar Rotary Club funding, StoveTeam has since set up six factories across Central America and Mexico, each owned by a local entrepreneur. It’s a very different approach than most aid groups. They have often imported mass-produced stoves and given them out for free or at almost no cost to users.

    One reason StoveTeam says it’s been successful is that its stoves are locally produced. And their design is informed by local food customs. The biggest problem, most women here probably could not afford to buy one.

    GUSTAVO PENA: After a couple of weeks, we come back. We get a list of people that really want the stove. And then we contact some NGOs that can bring them over to the community, and they make an application to see if they apply to get a discount for the stove.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Discount, not giveaway. Pena says it costs about $40 to make one of these models. He sells them for $60. But aid groups subsidize most sales.

    Patricia Savaleta works for the charitable arm of a nearby power utility. She agreed on this day to help with the purchase of 200 stoves, bringing their price down by about 50 percent.

    PATRICIA SAVALETA, (through interpreter): We prefer to charge them something for the stove. People won’t appreciate them if they don’t pay for them.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: She and many other development experts say if people are going to pay for something, they need to be convinced it’s worth it. This may seem like common sense in a market-based system, but in the business of aid, historically, few donors have asked their recipients’ opinion, one reason experts say many aid projects fail.

    RADHA MUTHIAH: It’s a big lesson. I think it’s a big lesson of, you know, really not just assuming that the users as beneficiaries, but users as consumers and active participants in the whole process. I think…

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That you should talk to.

    RADHA MUTHIAH: Absolutely.

    RADHA MUTHIAH: So — and I think its a lesson broadly in development. It extends outside of the cookstove space as well. In the past, I think, in development, you have heard the term beneficiary being used a lot. And I think that speaks volumes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The lessons not learned in the past can be measured by how many people stopped using the stoves. A 2012 Harvard-MIT study followed 2,600 households in India that were provided improved stoves. It found that most people quickly reverted to their old methods. They weren’t able to start and use the improved stoves properly or maintain them. As a result, there was little benefit to human health or air quality.

    StoveTeam wants to make sure the 40,000 stoves it has sold so far remain in use and in working order. It’s training teams to visit buyers regularly and survey the use of their stoves.

    The plan is to fund these home visits through the sale of carbon credits. Since the stoves reduce emissions, Pena’s company gets credit that it can sell to manufacturers, most of them in Europe, who use them as offsets for their own pollution.

    Firewood consumption before and after a stove is purchased are measured to determine the size of the credit.

    NANCY HUGHES: We know through laboratory and field testing they save 50 percent of the wood that is being used normally in an open fire, and they reduce carbon emissions and particulate matter by 70 percent.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: While StoveTeam tries to protect a business model that promises to be sustainable, the Global Alliance say the overall effort will need to be vastly scaled up and made attractive to commercial investors. Its goal is to provide 100 million clean stoves by 2020.

    GWEN IFILL: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota.

    Online, you can find examples of five different clean-burning stoves used around the world.

    The post Designing cleaner stoves for home cooks in the developing world appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Offshore bank accounts and tax evasion, it’s a sore spot between the U.S. and Switzerland. Now a new Senate investigation is adding more fuel to that fire. The Senate probe finds that banking giant Credit Suisse helped thousands of wealthy Americans hide billions of dollars from the IRS overseas.

    The report found that, in 2006, the Swiss bank had about 22,000 accounts with U.S. customers totaling more than $12 billion. But, so far, it has provided only 238 names, or just about 1 percent of the total, to U.S. authorities.

    Today, the bank’s leadership testified before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Credit Suisse general counsel Romeo Cerutti said Swiss law prevents his firm from disclosing more information.

    But that drew a testy reaction from committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan.

    ROMEO CERUTTI, General Counsel, Credit Suisse: Article 47 of the Swiss banking law, it’s the banking secrecy provision, prohibits us from furnishing any client names to anyone within Switzerland or outside of Switzerland. And this is subject to imprisonment and fines.

    SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-Minn., Chair, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: You come to this country, and you’re governed by this country’s laws, by almost universally accepted law. And yet you hide behind the Swiss law, even though you’re operating here. And that’s just simply not going to cut it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The report details what Credit Suisse allegedly did to help Americans evade taxes, and it also criticized the U.S. Justice Department for its role in prosecuting all this.

    Gina Chon of The Financial Times has been covering this story, and she watched today’s hearing.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    GINA CHON, The Financial Times: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gina Chon, what did — first of all, what did this report say these banks have been doing?

    GINA CHON: Well, it was a pretty scathing report and went into great detail about what Senator Levin called cloak-and-dagger tactics they employed to basically help their clients hide taxes, avoid U.S. taxes and hide assets.

    So they listed using secret elevators that were remote-controlled, having a special office at the Zurich Airport, and even passing account statements hidden in “Sports Illustrated” magazine to hide these activities.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what was the reaction? We heard what Senator Levin was saying. What did other senators — what was the overall reaction of the committee today?

    GINA CHON: Well, they were pretty harsh, and they spared no criticisms all around for both Credit Suisse, for the Swiss government, and for the Justice Department, for all failing to act more quickly and providing more transparency to get these names.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And for its part, Credit Suisse is what? They’re saying, well, we are just abiding by the law? Is that their explanation?

    GINA CHON: Yes, they just kept repeating that they’re caught between a rock and a hard place, where they are under both U.S. law and Swiss law. And so if they abide by the U.S. laws and provide these names, then, as you heard Mr. Cerutti say, they could face prosecution.

    And there was an interesting exchange with Senator Coburn where he basically asked Mr. Cerutti, well, where — where would you prefer to serve time, here or there?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, I mean, is it clear, though? I mean, does it come out of the hearing whether they are in violation of American law?

    GINA CHON: Well, interestingly, even Justice Department officials, the deputy attorney general, James Cole, also said that the Swiss bank secrecy laws had prevented them from getting the names, and that the Swiss government had essentially blocked Credit Suisse from providing that. So even they agreed that that was a problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in — and we mentioned that is another strand of all this, that the Senate report pointed a finger at the U.S. Justice Department and said, you’re not doing enough to go after this.

    What is the explanation coming from the Justice Department?

    GINA CHON: Well, they are also saying, even when they issue subpoenas, that the Swiss government also moves to block that, so that hasn’t even been effective in getting records. So what they are saying is they are trying to build a criminal case against Credit Suisse and try to use that then as incentive to cooperate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Was there any new information or explanation that came out today? I assume the senators raised with the Credit Suisse officials some of these stories that you were just telling about hiding a financial report inside a “Sports Illustrated” magazine or having a meeting on an elevator. Did they bring some of this up?

    GINA CHON: Sure.

    Yes, a lot of that had come out in previous indictments, because there were seven former Credit Suisse bankers who were indicted back in 2011. But the problem is that the senators kept repeating that no one has faced trial, no one has had a U.S. extradition request, and that has been a problem for prosecution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as of right now, what is the liability of Credit Suisse and its officials, its leadership?

    GINA CHON: Sure.

    Well, so, they stressed very heavily during the hearing that no management were involved or had knowledge of this. And they are negotiating with the Justice Department over negotiation for a settlement. And the hearing could possibly put more pressure than on Justice to get higher fines.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just finally, these 238 names out of thousands, what has happened to these people? Are they being prosecuted in some way?

    GINA CHON: Well, they said that they are forcing them now to pay the U.S. taxes, but they haven’t been prosecuted. What they are hoping to get is more names and some of the people who are responsible at the bank for perpetrating this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is a story we will all continue to watch.

    Gina Chon with The Financial Times, thank you.

    GINA CHON: Thank you.

    The post Swiss banking giant refuses disclosure in Senate grilling on tax evasion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Now: A showdown for big labor raises questions about its future in the South and beyond.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Two weeks ago, employees at this Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga voted against joining the United Auto Workers. It was close, 712 to 626, but the outcome ended the union’s two-year-long effort to organize the plant.

    Officially, Volkswagen was neutral, but it had made clear it wanted to create an employee management council at the plant, and, legally, it can’t do that without union involvement.

    Frank Fischer is CEO of V.W.’s Chattanooga operation.

    FRANK FISCHER, CEO, Volkswagen Chattanooga: I want to thank all of our Chattanooga production maintenance employees for their participation in this election to decide the question of union representation. They have spoken. And Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For its part, the UAW hoped a win in Chattanooga would launch it toward organizing 20 foreign auto plants across the South and reverse a long decline in its membership.

    In 1979, the UAW’s ranks peaked, at 1.5 million members; 35 years later, that number has plummeted to around 390,000. The UAW’s efforts in Chattanooga ran into strong opposition, including from Republican Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor. He insisted unionization wouldn’t have provided any real benefits.

    SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: The pay out there is already above what UAW workers make that have worked the same amount of time. I don’t see how they can improve the environment that they work in or the safety. We have probably the number one environmentally-sound building in the world. And so this was about one thing, and I think the employees realized that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The UAW has filed a formal objection with the National Labor Relations Board, charging Volkswagen workers were unfairly influenced and intimidated by outsiders. But five V.W. Chattanooga workers filed their own petition yesterday, asking the NLRB to block any revote. They accused the company and the union of colluding to force unionization.

    The post What does the VW union failure mean for the future of U.S. organized labor? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    UAW, still

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And now two people who have followed these events closely.

    Linda Chavez is chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, and author of “Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics.”  And Kate Bronfenbrenner is director of labor education research at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University and editor of the book “Global Unions.”

    Well, Kate Bronfenbrenner, let me start with you.

    This was clearly a loss for the UAW and organized labor, but how big was it and do you see anything positive for the unions to take from it?

    KATE BRONFENBRENNER, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University: I think people are making more of this loss than they should.

    It was a close election. and it wasn’t a surprising loss, given that this was, as we see in many campaigns, a campaign where a union went in expecting to have neutrality, and ended up with an opposition campaign, a fairly aggressive opposition campaign, not from the employer, but from political figures and the business committee — business community that was, in effect, the same as an employer opposition campaign.

    The problem was, the union didn’t run the kind of campaign that is needed when you have opposition.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let me get Linda Chavez first to comment on, what do you take from what happened in Chattanooga?

    LINDA CHAVEZ, Center for Equal Opportunity: Well, I think it wasn’t surprising. I think Ms. Bronfenbrenner is right about that.

    What is not surprising about it is that we had seen a very precipitous decline of union membership around the country for the last 60 years. It’s down to less than 7 percent of non — of private sector workers are in unions. And the union movement would be almost dead if it were not for public employee unions.

    So there wasn’t — it wasn’t terribly surprising that they lost this election. And I think it has much to do with what has happened to the labor movement, what their goals are, their shift away from organizing and into politics. And I think this really hurt them in a place like Tennessee.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of a place like Tennessee, Kate Bronfenbrenner, you have made a case in your writing that the South is actually — this goes against what we normally hear, but that there really are opportunities for unions in the South.

    KATE BRONFENBRENNER: That’s right.

    In fact, unions have had higher win rates in the South than they have had in the rest of the country. And that’s because the South is fertile ground, both because of the demographics in the South — the South is an area where the percent of workers of color, both black workers and Latino workers, is growing faster than anywhere else in the U.S. — and because the kind of occupations and industry that are in the South are the kind of jobs where workers are most likely to want to organize, low-wage jobs in manufacturing and service and jobs where there are a high percentage of women workers.

    And low-wage women workers of color are the workers who are most likely to organize unions. And we see in the country that we have seen janitors in Houston. We have seen public sector workers throughout the South have been organizing. And we see have seen health care workers organize and manufacturing workers organize in the South.

    Yes, the workers in Tennessee didn’t win, but those were primarily white workers and primarily white male workers. And they could have won, actually, if the union had not been thinking that there wasn’t going to be any opposition. If the union had actually run a comprehensive campaign, they would have won.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Linda Chavez, this goes to the changing demographics of the country, the possible changing demographics that affect unions in the South. What do you see?

    LINDA CHAVEZ: Well, first of all, union membership among women is lower than it is among men. It is true that blacks are more likely to join unions than whites are, but Hispanics are not very likely to join unions.

    And so the democracy has part of the explanation. But I think the real explanation is unions used to be able to provide something to workers. There was a time when if you wanted to have a safe working place, if you wanted to have decent benefits, joining a union made sense, and you were willing to fork over the two hours’ worth of pay that the UAW requires in order to be part of the union.

    But now the unions really have seen that most of their activity is political. Many of the kinds of benefits that they used to provide are now guaranteed by law. Health care, which used to be a big, big plus for union membership, now with Obamacare, unions lose even that advantage.

    And, in fact, the kind of Cadillac insurance plans that unions were very successful at getting for their workers are going to receive an excise tax.

    And so you’re going to see that that is not going to be much of a plus for union members either.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you’re — but to stay with you, Ms. Chavez, you’re — you’re saying that this is the overarching issue generally for the larger picture for unions that goes beyond individual projects, such as at — in Chattanooga?

    LINDA CHAVEZ: That’s right.

    I mean, it used to be that — employers smartened up. They have to attract workers. There’s competition for workers. And so you have got employers now giving their employees the kind of thing that used to be won with very hard battle by the union. And, again, you have unions now focusing almost entirely on political activity.

    They spend a lot more of their time, energy and money organizing politically. And the agenda that they support generally is quite liberal, very left-wing. Even though 40 percent of union households vote Republican in presidential elections, 90 percent of the money from unions goes to the Democratic Party. So this is — this is part of their problem.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Kate Bronfenbrenner, just in our last minute, you can respond both to the political issues she brought up, and also just the — what do unions have to offer today to workers?

    KATE BRONFENBRENNER: Well, they must offer something, because we have workers who went all over the country who were willing to risk their jobs and go out on strike, and to strike for — at Wal-Mart and at McDonald’s and at car washes because they wanted a union.

    And these workers were not — they were striking because they wanted better working conditions, because they wanted less arbitrary decisions by supervisors. They felt like the union is the way that they can get those things. And we had hundreds of strikes this year by workers all over. They were — and they wanted $15 an hour and a union.

    We had hundreds of thousands of workers organize this year. And, in fact, more workers organized this year in the private sector than in the public sector. Union density increased in the private sector. So workers seem to want unions. It’s hard to do it. They have to jump through hoops of fire to do it because of employer opposition.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    KATE BRONFENBRENNER: But they’re still fighting for unions…

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK, we do have to…

    KATE BRONFENBRENNER: … today, just as much as ever.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, I’m sorry. We do have to leave it there.

    Kate Bronfenbrenner and Linda Chavez, thank you both very much.

    LINDA CHAVEZ: Thank you.

    The post What do unions offer American workers today? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Gov. Jan Brewer at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Feb. 2014. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a Republican bill that set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.

    Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement.

    “My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona,” Brewer said at a news conference. “I call them like I seem them despite the tears or the boos from the crowd. After weighing all the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.”

    The governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the debate.

    But Brewer said the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.” The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences, she added.

    The bill backed by Republicans in the Legislature was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.

    The bill thrust Arizona into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill, calling it an attack on gay and lesbian rights.

    Prominent Phoenix business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if bill became law.

    Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation.

    Brewer was under intense pressure to veto the bill, including from three Republicans who had voted for the bill last week. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote “was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.”

    SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cite a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn’t exist in Arizona.

    Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during a Senate debate.

    “This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” Yarbrough said. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

    Democrats said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people and could allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

    “The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is.”

    The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by Brewer, a Republican. That legislation also would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on their religious rights.

    Yarbrough stripped that provision from the bill in the hopes Brewer will embrace the new version.

    Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful social conservative group that backs anti-abortion and conservative Christian legislation in the state and is opposed to gay marriage, had sought to minimize concerns that last year’s bill had far-reaching and hidden implications.

    Yarbrough called those worries “unrealistic and unsupported hypotheticals” and said criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the courts.

    The Center for Arizona Policy argues the law is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law. “We see a growing hostility toward religion,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group.

    Similar religious-protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has been passed by a state legislature. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.

    The push in Arizona comes as an increasing number of conservative states grapple with ways to counter the growing legality of gay marriage. Arizona’s voters approved a ban on gay marriage as a state constitutional amendment in 2008. It is one of 29 states with such constitutional prohibitions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Federal judges have recently struck down those bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.

    Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Jesse Holland in Washington contributed.

    The post Arizona governor vetoes religious freedom bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    “Dirty Wars” director Richard Rowley talks to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about the dangers of investigating covert American wars in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

    Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill are both war reporters who have been covering America’s military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade. During their time in Afghanistan, they began to notice a trend of night raids on Taliban members. Dozens would be killed or captured, but there wasn’t any more information in the two-line press release than that.

    Jeremy Scahill in Afghanistan. Photo by Richard Rowley

    Jeremy Scahill in Afghanistan. Photo by Richard Rowley

    “We were seeing on the ground in Afghanistan a covert war eclipsing a conventional war,” Rowley told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown.

    “By 2010, more Afghans were being killed or captured by these covert forces and covert missions that we knew nothing about than by the entire 200,000 strong NATO force there. So this was clearly a huge story, a huge hidden story.”

    Rowley and Scahill joined forces to tell what was happening on the ground. That snowballed into a documentary, “Dirty Wars,” now nominated for an Oscar.

    Watch the trailer for “Dirty Wars.”

    The film opens with the investigation into one night raid in the city of Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan. That raid, which led to the deaths of pregnant women and a police commander, wasn’t perpetrated by NATO troops but rather by a covert unit called JSOC (Joint Special Operations Commander).

    “That revelation that this was an elite group who was supposed to do hostage rescue missions, things like that, was kicking down the doors on farmers in the mountains in Afghanistan without any transparency, without any access for journalists, without any real oversight — we decided to try and trace what JSOC was doing around the world, and that story took us to Yemen and to Somalia.”

    But filming in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia isn’t easy, especially when undertaking an investigation like this. Rowley and Scahill tried to remain as invisible as possible. They grew out beards, wore local clothes, and tried to be back before sunset because the Taliban takes control of certain roads at night. Somalia was even more difficult.

    “Somalia is the most dangerous place I’ve ever filmed in my life. There we couldn’t possibly fly under the radar,” said Rowley.

    Jeremy Scahill in Somalia. Photo by Richard Rowley

    Jeremy Scahill in Somalia. Photo by Richard Rowley

    The investigation became a journey the two reporters never expected.

    “We never imagined when we knocked on the door of that compound in Gardez, that that story would end up taking us to Yemen and Somalia. We certainly never imagined that we would begin the film talking to Afghan victims of JSOC and end the film talking to American citizens whose own family members had been killed by the same units.”

    Even though Rowley and Scahill were unaware of what they might uncover, it was a story Rowley felt needed to be told.

    “I set out to make a film that was passionately committed to the real and the powerful and the true, that was a real piece of journalism … the most powerful thing that we can do is to make the war real to people.”

    “Dirty Wars” is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards. The film is currently available in select theaters and is streaming on Netflix and on Amazon. Tune in on March 2 to see how the film fairs.

    The post Oscar-nominated ‘Dirty Wars’ aims to make a covert war more ‘real’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ever felt like you needed a calculator and a medical textbook to understand the nutritional content of your food? Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label.

    Changes to the label reflect new scientific understanding about the roles of fat, sugar and sodium in our daily diet, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

    When the label was introduced 20 years ago, fat was the primary concern in the American diet, Hamburg said. Now scientists understand that the amount of fat is not as concerning as the type of fat. Trans fats are considered extremely unhealthy, but Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient, for example. Nutritionists are also more concerned about the amount of sugar and sodium in American diets.

    Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.43.11 PMHamburg, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and First Lady Michelle Obama presented the new label today at the White House.

    “Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

    If the changes are approved, here are some of the changes shoppers will see:
    Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 3.44.10 PM

    • Calorie information will be in larger print, making it easier to read.
    • Food labels will still show the amounts and types of fat in products, but “Calories from Fat” will be removed.
    • Products will now be required to list sugars added to their product. The new labels will show naturally occurring food sugars and added sugars.
    • Serving sizes will be based on how much food a person actually consumes in one sitting, on average. As a result, certain packages of food will now be labeled as a single serving, with the appropriate nutritional information. Dual column labels will indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calorie and nutrition information for larger packages.
    • Vitamins A and C will no longer be required for food labels, but vitamin D and potassium information is now mandatory. Vitamin D plays a vital role in bone health and potassium lowers blood pressure; some American populations are lacking in these nutrients.
    • The FDA will be lowering the daily recommended intake for sodium, and revising the daily recommended values for dietary fiber and Vitamin D as well.

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    Three years after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O’Brien returned to Japan for an update on clean-up efforts and the continuing impact of the radioactive spill.

    Friday, February 28: Inside Fukushima:  Covered head to toe in protective gear and wearing a respiration mask, Miles O’Brien offers NewsHour viewers a rare look inside one of the most dangerous places on earth – the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.  There, he reports on on-going efforts to contain radiation-tainted water that continues to leak from the plant into the sea and efforts to remove and secure the nuclear fuel from the disabled reactors.

    Wednesday, March 5: Fish Fears:  Radioactive water continues to leak from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the nearby harbor.  Now the plume of radioactive water is reaching across the Pacific to the US West Coast, fueling fears and speculation about the safety of Pacific fish. O’Brien speaks with marine scientists in both Japan and the US about the risks to sea life posed by the radioactive plume, and to what extent Americans who enjoy bluefin tuna from Japan should –or should not –be worried.

    Friday, March 7: The Future of Nuclear Power:  Before the meltdown, Japan strongly embraced nuclear power.  But three years later, there is not one nuclear plant generating power in the country. Utilities and the current government are anxious to get them re-started by this summer.  But polls show that 80% of the Japanese people prefer they stay shut down forever.  O’Brien takes viewers inside the world’s largest nuclear power plant – also run by Tepco in Japan –to examine the technology and the issues facing the country’s nuclear future.

    The reports are part of PBS NewsHour’s on-going coverage of science and technology.  Videos, transcripts and information about PBS NewsHour science reports and its Science Wednesday feature can be found on the PBS NewsHour Science Page.

    Support for PBS NewsHour’s coverage of science is provided by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

    About PBS NewsHour

    PBS NewsHour is seen by more than 4 million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced in association with WETA Washington, DC, and WNET.org in New York. Major corporate funding for PBS NewsHour is provided by BAE Systems, BNSF and Charles Schwab with additional support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others.

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    In this handout photo from the United Nation Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, Yarmouk refugees in Syria gathered to wait for food aid in January 2014. Photo by UNRWA

    In this handout photo from the United Nation Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, Yarmouk refugees in Syria gathered to wait for food aid in January 2014. In a report released Thursday, the U.S. State Department said that the situation in Syrian “stands apart in its scope and human cost.” Photo by UNRWA

    WASHINGTON — A chemical weapons attack in Syria last summer that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people was the world’s worst human rights violation of 2013, the Obama administration concluded Thursday.

    The report by the State Department also foreshadowed the unrest in Ukraine that just toppled its government.

    The survey singled out some countries that appear regularly in this annual roundup of abuses: Iran, for manipulation of elections and civil liberties restrictions; North Korea, for rampant reports of extrajudicial killings, detentions, and torture; and Belarus, for beatings of protesters and lack of checks and balances by the authoritarian government.

    But the department it said the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs in Syria was “one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity,” including the torture and murder of prisoners, and the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles.

    “The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost,” according to the report.

    More than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war. The chemical weapons attack, which Washington blames on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, according to the U.S.

    The U.S. cites intelligence reports for those totals, but has not provided specifics on how they were obtained.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists in Syria, has reported a far lower death toll of below 1,000.

    The report also highlighted government crackdowns on peaceful protests in Ukraine and Russia’s refusal to punish human rights abusers during 2013.

    The unrest in Ukraine over the past year erupted this month, forcing President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the capital, Kiev. On Thursday, Russian news agencies reported Yanukovych was staying at a Kremlin sanatorium, outside Moscow, for protection.

    In Ukraine, according to the U.S. report, parliamentary elections did not meet international standards for fairness or transparency, and security forces beat protesters with batons and other forms of force at a peaceful Nov. 30 demonstration against the government at Kiev’s main square.

    But the report said the most egregious abuse in Ukraine last year was the government’s crackdown on media, including violence against journalists. It criticized Yanukovych’s government for increasing pressure on civil society activists and nongovernment organizations.

    The report said Ukrainian security forces beat detainees, maintained unhealthy prisons, fostered corruption in the courts and across the government, and harassed or otherwise discriminated against ethnic minorities and gay people.

    Secretary of State John Kerry described Ukraine as just one example of a nation where overbearing governments and corruption have met a sharp public backlash and demands for democracy. He said Venezuela, where anti-government protests this month have left 16 dead, is another.

    “The struggle for rights and dignity couldn’t be more relevant to what we are seeing transpire across the globe,” Kerry told reporters. “The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations’ people, and that is no coincidence.”

    He added: “We have seen how national dialogue and democratic progress can make countries more stable and make them stronger partners for peace and prosperity.”

    In Egypt, where the government was overthrown for the second time in three years, the State Department criticized security forces for failing to respect assembly and religious rights, and for using excessive force.

    The report concluded that neither former President Mohammed Morsi nor the interim government of Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had done a good job in upholding human rights.

    Assistant Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who oversaw the survey, cited “persistent concerns and deficits” about both. “These concerns certainly continue,” Zeya said.

    Zeya also said the U.S. has “seen little meaningful improvement” in Iran since the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, who is widely seen as a more moderate leader in the Islamic republic’s cleric-run government.

    Kerry also criticized Iran, along with Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and as many as 80 nations worldwide where gay people face discriminatory laws and violence because of their sexual orientation.

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    Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA

    Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA

    A rocket containing the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory satellite launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 3:37 a.m. Japan Standard Time Friday. The GPM satellite, a joint-effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will be used to measure rain and snow around the world and collect data that will allow scientists to to better understand Earth’s weather and climate cycles.

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    A mass of hot dogs grace the table at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest  in 2007. Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage.

    A mass of hot dogs grace the table at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2007. Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage.

    Juliet Lee once ate 160 shrimp wontons in six minutes. Another time, she scarfed down 51 burgers in eight minutes. She’s eaten enough hot dogs in one sitting to fill a wheelbarrow. And she’s done it all in the name of sport.

    vice-weekLee is an accomplished competitive eater, or gurgitator, as it’s known in the sport. She is currently ranked eighth in the world, according to competitive eating’s governing body Major League Eating, and has turned a life of second and third helpings into a sort of celebrity, competing before crowds from Brooklyn to Bangkok. She is capable of jaw-dropping feats of ingestion, ranging from gobbling up 22 dozen clams in six minutes to wolfing down 13.23 pounds of cranberry sauce in eight minutes. In one memorable competition, she ate 3.5 pounds of “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” also known as fried bull testicles.

    “Originally, I was excited when someone told me I was going to be eating oysters in a contest in Colorado…,” Lee said, in slightly broken English. She immigrated to the U.S. from China 25 years ago. Recalling the memory from a dimly lit corner of a Mexican restaurant just outside Washington D.C., the 46-year-old former chemistry professor-turned-hair salon owner laughed. “But then I read what Rocky Mountain oysters are and I was like, ‘Oh no!’”

    The history of competitive eating dates back to the 13th century. According to Norse myths, the god Loki and his servant participated in an eating competition that was only won after the servant ate his plate. Roman emperor Vitellius once served more than 7,000 birds at a feast. American railroad tycoon “Diamond” Jim Brady was known for regularly chasing a typical dinner of seven lobsters with two pounds of bonbons for dessert. And then there was Eddie “Bozo” Miller, considered by some to be the greatest eater ever. According to his obituary in the Wall Street Journal, in his heyday, Miller existed on a daily diet of 25,000 calories, and in 1963, reportedly ate 27 two-pound chickens in one sitting. Organized competitive eating, however, is a relatively new phenomenon.

    George Shea, president of Major League Eating, kicks off the 2013 Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York.

    George Shea, president of Major League Eating, kicks off the 2013 Nathan’s hot dog eating contest at Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y. Photo by Getty Images.

    “Nobody used to know about competitive eating,” said George Shea, president of Major League Eating, “Now look at it. We’ve become internationally recognized.”

    Shea claims to have attracted more attention to the sport since he and his brother Richard assumed leadership of the organization in 1991. The famous Coney Island Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest now draws international television coverage and packs some 50,000 spectators onto the boardwalk annually, up from the “40 people that would just kind of stand around watching” and “eight or nine eaters randomly pulled off the boardwalk” that populated the contest in its early days, according to Shea.

    Shea credits the massive surge in popularity to a few random landmark occurrences. First, the “discovery” of the famed mustard yellow championship belt awarded to the Nathan’s contest winner. Detractors of competitive eating view the belt as a tacky item that celebrates abhorrent displays of overeating, created by Mr. Shea to help drum up interest in Major League Eating. But Shea’s explanation of the belt’s origin story traces decades into the past and is far more mythical.

    The belt, Shea said, went missing in Japan some time during the 1980’s after years of Japanese domination at the Coney Island contest. Then, in 1993, after former professional eater Mike “The Scholar” DeVito defeated a diminutive Japanese lady named Orio Ito in a 30-minute hot dog-eating contest held underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the crown jewel of competitive eating was returned home.

    “I received an unmarked package from Japan a couple weeks after Mike won the contest,” Shea said. “And inside was the championship belt. After its return, Japan started sending eaters here every year to try to recapture it, so in a way it became this weird, self-fulfilling prophecy.”

    This is how George Shea talks. Conversations for him are more about painting a picture than conveying a point. Each facet of competitive eating seems to have its own golden, fabled backstory. For example, the “barker,” which Shea considers the driving force behind the Nathan’s contest. In the early 20th century, barkers would shout at passersby from boardwalks and circuses, extolling the magnificence of their various attractions to increase ticket sales. Shea models his persona after these showmen, right down to the red ribbon straw hat he always wears.

    “For me, the intrigue came out of the Coney Island experience, where anything you say is true and anything you do is real,” Shea said. “We created a league, and then there was a league. We said there was a rivalry with Japan, and there was. It was that simple.”

    That rivalry has perhaps brought competitive eating more publicity than any other factor, due in large part to Takeru Kobayashi, a Japanese eater who famously ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes in 2001. Kobayashi doubled the previous world record and brought a new level of intrigue to Major League Eating. Kobayashi went on to win six straight Nathan’s contests, setting multiple world records and capturing national attention. Yet despite his international celebrity, Kobayashi and Major League Eating are no longer on speaking terms, the result of a lengthy and harsh contract dispute. In short, Shea wants Mr. Kobayashi to sign an exclusivity contract to compete only in Major League Eating-sanctioned eating events, and Kobayashi refuses to do so. The arrangement would constitute a “slave contract,” Kobayashi contends. The dispute culminated in an odd scene in 2010 when Kobayashi was arrested and removed from the Coney Island contest after attempting to rush the stage after the competition.

    One of the reasons for the rise in popularity of Major League Eating is the cast of colorful competitors who populate its league ranks — each with a biography more far-fetched than the last. Consider, for example, a man by the name of Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti.

    Left to right: Tim Janus, Jason "Crazy Legs" Conti, and Juliet Lee

    Left to right: Tim Janus, Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti, and Juliet Lee. Photos of Janus and Conti by Getty Images. Photo of Juliet Lee by Robert Pursell.

    Conti is an eater with a background unlike any other. The 41-year-old Belmont, Mass., native graduated from John Hopkins University in 1993 as a three-sport athlete and went on to work an array of post-graduation jobs including bouncing at bars, window washing, donating sperm and posing as a nude model for art classes. He got his start in competitive eating when he traveled to New Orleans to support the New England Patriots in the 2002 Super Bowl. Unable to afford tickets to the game, Conti found himself at Felix’s Oyster Bar in the French Quarter, admiring one man’s ability to quickly shuck oysters, when an idea occurred to him.

    “Having always been a big eater and competitor, I decided to ask what the most oysters anyone ever shucked was,” Conti said. “They told me that across the street, at Acme Oyster House, a man had eaten 33 dozen oysters. So I walked into Acme, had a seat and set the world record by downing 34 dozen oysters.”

    Conti, whose dreadlock-and-top-hat appearance most closely recalls that of a voodoo doctor, became an instant crowd favorite for his eccentric personality. A world record holder in the sweet corn and green beans categories, the former collegiate athlete’s devotion to Major League Eating and outspoken ways captivates followers. For example, when asked whether competitive eating should really be considered a sport:

    “Of course it’s a sport,” Conti said. “If you look back to the earliest Olympics, the marathoners were allowed to eat and drink whatever they wanted during the contest, and for some reason, down the line, we stopped celebrating the food and started celebrating the running, which is a shame, because the food is what fuels you. I mean we’re watching the biathlon in the winter Olympics now. You tell me, in what occasion in your life are you ever going to have to cross-country ski and shoot a gun?”

    Conti believes competitive eating, too, deserves its place as an Olympic sport. After all, he says, the training is just as rigorous.

    “I used to eat six hot dogs in a row as fast as I could to get ready for Nathan’s,” he said. “I know guys who would swallow ice cubes to strengthen their throats.”

    The diversity of training methods is seemingly endless. Retired eater Ed “Cooki” Jarvis would consume entire heads of boiled cabbage and drink as much as two gallons of water a day prior to competitions. Former chicken-wing champion-turned-cocaine-distribution convict Bill “El Wingador” Simmons gnawed on bags of rawhide bones meant for German Shepherds to strengthen his jaw. Yet despite the caloric requirements, competitive eaters are in surprisingly good shape.

    “Furious Pete” Czerwinski, a Canadian competitive eater who holds the world record for eating a whole raw onion in 45.53 seconds, works double-time as a bodybuilder. Before leaving Major League Eating, Kobayashi used to famously flash his washboard abs before the Nathan’s contest every year. And Miki Sudo, the world’s fourth-ranked eater, looks more fit for walking a runway than inhaling 8 pounds of Kimchi in six minutes.

    Then there are the techniques used. There’s the “reverse-fold” used for eating pizza, which requires folding the slice so cheese is touching both the roof and tongue of one’s mouth and “chipmunking” — the act of stuffing one’s cheeks full of food before time is called.

    There are also the multitude of dangers eaters must avoid in competition, ranging from choking to suffering the “Roman method incident” (vomiting). The exhaustive training combined with the daunting prospect of having to consume 20,000 calories in a 10-minute interval and the hellish indigestion that must ensue, begs the question, why would anyone ever want to become a competitive eater?

    That answer is far from clear-cut.

    “Well, for one thing you get to live a bit of a rock-and-roll lifestyle,” Conti said. “Traveling, partying, groupies; it all comes with the territory.”

    Wait, there are competitive eating groupies?

    “Oh yeah,” Conti said. “It helps when you’re on television in a bar in a tiny four-antenna town.” Wisconsin, for example, is a great place for groupies, he said.

    For others, the attraction to the sport is more simple.

    “I wish I could say it was for the money or the fame,” says Tim “Eater X” Janus. “But in reality this doesn’t pay that well, and I’m far from an international celebrity. Any money made while touring is simply money I’m going to use for retirement.”

    Janus is the third-ranked eater in the world, a man who once ate 11.81 pounds of burritos in 10 minutes who paints his face before every contest in homage to his favorite childhood wrestler The Ultimate Warrior.

    “Sure I don’t like how I feel after eating all that food, but competitive eating has enabled me to do things and go places I would have never been able to do otherwise,” he said.

    Conti shares this sentiment. “I’ve gotten to perform in front of troops stationed overseas and bring some amount of happiness to them,” he said. “I’ve seen the top 32 competitive eaters in the world shut down the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Luxor in Vegas. I’ve made a lifetime of memories through all of this. Auntie Mame once said, ‘Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death.’ Well, if you’re a competitive eater that is far from the truth.”

    Back at the Mexican restaurant, it’s gotten late. The table is littered with crackling fajitas and perspiring mugs of light beer. Juliet Lee has finished her food, and she reflects on how competitive eating has changed her life. As a child in China, her 20 cousins teased her for her insatiable appetite, she recalls. But that changed when she moved to the U.S.

    “I was always very embarrassed by my appetite until I moved here,” she said. “Here, people like me. Now, I feel proud of how much I can eat.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine’s parliament voted in a new government today, and it immediately faced a challenge from the country’s Crimea region. Pro-Russian gunmen seized official buildings there, as Russian military jets patrolled along the border.

    It raised concerns at a NATO meeting in Brussels, where U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he’s keeping a close watch on Russian actions.

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: Let’s keep the tensions down. Let’s see no provocative actions by anyone, any military. These are difficult times. We all understand that, but this is a time for very cool, wise leadership, on the Russian side, on everybody’s side

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Russia’s foreign minister, who promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

    Meanwhile, Russian news accounts said that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is sheltering at a Kremlin retreat near Moscow. There’s word he plans a news conference tomorrow. We will get the latest on the developing situation right after the news summary.

    Bomb blasts shook Baghdad and other parts of Iraq today, killing at least 52 people. Most of the deaths came in a motorcycle bombing that struck a Shiite market. Other attacks hit both Shiite and Sunni sections of the city. A wave of violence began last April, and has continued, despite government pledges to restore security.

    In northeastern Nigeria, Islamist fighters struck again today, killing at least 33 people. Survivors said gunmen with Boko Haram staged an all-night attack on a town and several villages after soldiers ran away from military checkpoints. On Tuesday, the militants murdered almost 60 students at a government school in a neighboring state.

    Gay rights activists cheered today after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill letting businesses refuse service to gays on religious grounds. The Republican’s closely watched decision came last night. She rejected arguments by bill supporters who cited religious rights violations in other states.

    GOV. JAN BREWER, R-Ariz.: Senate Bill 1062 doesn’t address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded, and could result in unintended and negative consequences.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Similar legislation is pending in at least six other states. Also today, a federal judge in Louisville ordered Kentucky officials to begin immediately recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and countries.

    The Netherlands is the latest country to suspend aid to Uganda over a new anti-gay law there. It imposes sentences of up to life in prison for those who engage in homosexual relations. Norway and Denmark have already halted millions of dollars in assistance in Uganda. The U.S. has warned that it, too, may cut aid.

    Democrats in the U.S. Senate fell short today in a bid to advance a $21 billion veterans benefits package. The measure would expand health care, education and job-training. Republicans blocked the bill in part over its cost. They also were insisting on new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

    Food nutrition labels may be getting a new easier-to-read look. Calories and sugar content will stand out more, and serving sizes will be updated to bring them more in line with the portions people actually eat.

    First lady Michelle Obama rolled out the proposal today at the White House.

    MICHELLE OBAMA: Families deserve more and better information about the food they eat. And it’s important to note that no matter what the final version looks like, the new label will allow you to immediately spot the calorie count, because it will be in large font and not buried in the fine print.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Food and Drug Administration will take comments on the proposal for 90 days. A final rule could take another year. We will look more closely at the proposed changes later in the program.

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was taken to a Washington hospital for a time today. An aide said he felt faint and had trouble breathing during a morning staff meeting. He was discharged after several hours and sent home. Holder is 63 years old.

    In economic news, the new chair of the Federal Reserve Bank acknowledged a spate of weak reports could mean slower growth. Janet Yellen told a Senate committee that consumer spending and job growth have been lower than expected. But she said the severe winter could be the main cause.

    JANET YELLEN, Chair, Federal Reserve: Part of that softness may reflect adverse weather conditions. But, at this point, it’s difficult to discern exactly how much. In the weeks and months ahead, my colleagues and I will be attentive to signals that indicate whether the recovery is progressing in line with our earlier expectations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street rallied today partly on Yellen’s testimony. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 74 points to close at 16,272. The Nasdaq rose more than 26 points to close near 4,319. And the S&P 500 finished at a record high, gaining nine points to close at 1,854.

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    GWEN IFILL: In Ukraine, a crisis is unfolding in the eastern province of Crimea.

    Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News reports from Simferopol, the capital of the pro-Russian region.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: Police were on guard outside the Crimean regional parliament this morning, the entrance barricaded by old furniture and pallets, the Russian flag flying alongside the Crimean on top, and inside the building, some 60 armed men.

    MAN (through interpreter): Nobody knows what’s going on inside now. We just saw the building being taken over; 30 fully armed guys went inside. They kicked out the police. Then more buses came and about 30 more guys arrived. They had bags full of RPGs, sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs, handguns. These guys were fully armed.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: The crowd was all in favor. They said they didn’t know exactly who would occupy the building, but they all wanted the same thing, a referendum on whether Crimea should remain part of Ukraine or, as they all want, join Russia.

    In Kiev, parliamentarians responded angrily. It’s a challenge to the new government’s control.

    OLEKSANDR TURCHYNOV, Acting President, Ukraine: Anyone who tries to — and I stress anyone — to take over the government buildings in Ukraine’s east, west, center, south, and north is going to be treated as having committed a crime against the government of Ukraine.

    LINDSEY HILSUM: So what are they going to do about it?

    The people occupying the Crimean parliament are armed. And those outside, including the police, are sympathetic. So it’s hard to see how the authorities in Kiev can force an end to the siege. They will have to negotiate. And that gives leverage, not just to the militant Russian Crimeans, but to the only man they respect, President Putin.

    This morning, Russian armored vehicles headed towards Simferopol. President Putin may be insuring that everyone remembers that the Russian military has bases here. They turned around at a Ukrainian police checkpoint. In Simferopol, a group of men were building a camp outside the headquarters of the Berkut, the riot police. They want to protect them from the new authorities.

    The two courses have become entwined. These men love Russia, and they see the Berkut, accused of murdering protesters if Kiev, as their heroes. A small group of pro-Russia, pro-Berkut protesters marched through the streets, yelling their message that they don’t accept the authority of Kiev and its European Union backers. People milled around, as deputies inside the occupied parliament voted in favor of the referendum on whether the Crimea should join Russia.

    Kiev may declare such a vote illegal, but it’s not clear how they’re going to stop it.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The State Department released its annual human rights report today and concluded that last summer’s chemical weapons attack in Syria, which killed more than 1,400 people, was the worst human rights violation of 2013.

    While there have been no new reports of chemical attacks, the civil war rages on, and the humanitarian crisis continues to escalate.

    Tonight, we take a closer look at those barely surviving amid the conflict.

    It’s a scene of utter desolation. Here in the Yarmouk camp, thousands of Palestinian refugees are caught in the crossfire of civil war in a country that is not their own.

    MAN (through interpreter): By God, we are dying from hunger. We can’t take this anymore.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Yarmouk was first established in 1957, near the center of Damascus. Once, 160,000 Palestinians lived there. Now, 18,000 are left. They have been under siege by the Syrian army since July, after some Palestinian factions turned against the Assad regime.

    Since then, the U.N. says more than 100 residents have died of starvation and related illnesses. This week, aid workers negotiated their way into the camp and were met with a swarm of desperate people. U.N. footage showed an elderly woman who came out to receive aid.

    The workers ask if she is Palestinian or Syrian. “I’m Palestinian,” she laments.

    Filippo Grandi is head of the U.N.’s Palestinian Refugee Agency. He visited Yarmouk on Tuesday, and said later the people looked like ghosts.

    FILIPPO GRANDI, Commissioner General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency: These are people that have not been out of there, that have been — that have been trapped in a situation not only without food, medicines, clean water, all the basics, but also probably completely subjected to fear, because there was fierce fighting, noisy fighting going all along.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as the fighting rages on, an ever-growing number of Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. Nearly seven million are displaced within their own country. Another 2.5 million have sought refuge in surrounding states.

    Lebanon has the largest contingent, at more than 900,000. Jordan and Turkey now host roughly 600,000 Syrian refugees each. And more than 200,000 Syrians are living in Iraq.

    In Washington today, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia highlighted the humanitarian crisis, insisting that Russia put pressure on Assad.

    SEN. TIM KAINE, D-Va.: None of this is an accident. The Assad regime is using forced starvation and forced sieges as a weapon to destroy the Syrian people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, U.N. staffers continue to work through negotiations with the Syrian government, rebel and Palestinian factions within the Yarmouk camp, with the aim of delivering more aid while it can still do some good.

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    In this handout photo from the United Nation Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, Yarmouk refugees in Syria gathered to wait for food aid in January 2014. Photo by UNRWA

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to two who have focused on the humanitarian crisis caused by the Syrian civil war. Nancy Lindborg is assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in charge of conflict and humanitarian assistance. And Michael Gerson is a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

    And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

    Nancy Lindborg, we see these terrible pictures, almost impossible to believe.

    How did it get like this?

    NANCY LINDBORG, U.S. Agency for International Development: You know, it’s been steadily escalating, particularly in the last year.

    We have seen the number of people who have been displaced rise by three times in the last year. And the Yarmouk people who you saw are part of 12 cities that are literally besieged, 250,000 people, many of whom haven’t received aid for months and months. And they’re eating cats and dogs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so is it as bad — we saw pictures in one place inside Syria. Is it that bad in other refugee encampments? 

    NANCY LINDBORG: I think it’s hard to imagine the depth of difficulty people are facing inside Syria right now.

    In Aleppo, they are dropping barrel bombs. These are bombs that are constructed from bolts and rebar and specifically designed to horrifically injure people. So what we are seeing is the unfolding, not just of a humanitarian crisis, but a serious human rights crisis, where people are being systemically denied food and targeted.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Michael Gerson, there is the crisis for those who are inside Syria, terrible. You were at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. What did you see there? 

    MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Well, I was with the Holocaust Museum that was examining these issues over there.

    And we were at a border crossing seeing the people coming right across the border from Syria. And it is exactly what you are describing, their stories right on the border, very much — these are the besieged areas of Syria, the government surrounding areas, depopulating them, attacking them, using barrel bombs, using hunger as a tool.

    This is not a case where these are the innocent bystanders or the byproduct of a civil war. This is a case where one side in that civil war is using attacks on civilians, mass atrocities, as a tool of war, as a strategy of war. That’s the testimony we heard from person after person, from homes in Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, 40-some areas right now, in the estimates, that are besieged and where civilians are being attacked.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us some of the stories you heard.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I — you know, I was surrounded at the camp by a bunch of people who were very anxious to tell their stories.

    But there was one man that hung back and talked about how he had been a protester and then had his house targeted by a tank, a regime tank, lost a 4-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son. A 15-year-old son lost a leg. And all he said — I asked — you know, I was in tears when he was telling this, but all he said at the end was, “I just wanted someone to know.”

    And this is a case where part of the problem is, is a failure of sympathy. I talked to a lot of the great aid groups over there that are not getting much donor money right now for the Syrian crisis. One told me that they had raised in three months for the Philippines what it had taken three years to raise in the Syrian conflict.

    People are not very engaged in this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Lindborg, how much is getting in and who is sending it in? Where is it coming from? Remind us where this money is coming from.

    NANCY LINDBORG: Well, the United States is the single largest donor. We have given about $1.7 billion of humanitarian assistance since the crisis began.

    And we’re working with U.N. agencies, international NGOs, local Syrian groups. The courage of the humanitarian workers, who every day are risking their lives to deliver assistance, is really remarkable. Just one of our partners has lost 42 of its staff members since the conflict began.

    So, the aid is coming in through all different ways, reaching people throughout the country. But it’s difficult to escalate the assistance as fast as the needs are arising.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, I was going to say, I mean, there’s aid going in, but a lot of people are not getting aid.

    NANCY LINDBORG: The United States alone is feeding two million people a day. We support the World Food Program. We’re the largest donor. They fed last month more than four million people. But the needs are so much greater.

    It’s as if the entire state of New Jersey needs food and medical assistance every day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What else — what needs to happen? Who needs to step up here? Michael Gerson, I want to ask you, too. Who needs to step up and what needs to be done?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I want to confirm, on the humanitarian side, it is extraordinary, what the U.S. government is doing, what the Jordanian government is doing. They have taken in 600,000 people in a country that has poor water resources and, you know, is not a very wealthy country themselves.

    The problem is there may be 500,000 mobile refugees right on the other side of the border in Southern Syria that could overwhelm a country like Jordan. And the problem — the difficulty is, how do you change the situation on the ground within Syria? And I think the administration is now reexamining some of its methods to try to do that, the question of whether…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean affect the conflict itself?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Affect the security situation that’s producing this problem in the long-term.

    But a lot of the humanitarian organizations are now beginning to plan for five years, 10 years out. This is going — not going to be solved in any short amount of time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you — how do you see it? What needs to happen in the short run and the longer run?

    NANCY LINDBORG: Well, immediately, we have the opportunity of the U.N. Security Council resolution that was passed on Saturday. It’s the first time there’s been a unanimous agreement among the members of the Security Council that the barrel bombing must stop, there must be full, unfettered humanitarian access, that, if this is not complied with, that the Security Council will examine and take further action.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that having an effect?

    NANCY LINDBORG: It just passed on Saturday, so we will be closely watching and pushing. The — Secretary Ban Ki-Moon will be making a report within a month.

    There has to be action. Every day, Syrians are dying. Every day, children are suffering. And just to note to Michael’s point about people have become almost numb because of the complexity and enormity of this crisis. The children in particular have been suffering.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, is there something people watching can do who want to help?

    NANCY LINDBORG: I suggest they go to championthechildrenofsyria.org, where there are different calls to action to help people get engaged, to help people partnership in a global call, both for action, as well as to let the Syrian people know that their stories are being heard.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Lindborg with USAID, Michael Gerson, we thank you.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

    NANCY LINDBORG: Thank you.

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    New documents reveal a British security agency collected millions of images of Yahoo video chat users through a clandestine program called "Optic Nerve."

    New documents reveal a British security agency collected millions of images of Yahoo video chat users through a clandestine program called “Optic Nerve.”

    Updated 6:15 p.m. ET

    A NSA spokesperson, late today, emailed the following statement to the NewsHour:

    “As we’ve said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the U.S. Government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself. NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign-intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with U.S. law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate. A key part of the protections that apply to both U.S. persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with U.S. Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about U.S. persons.”

    A Yahoo spokesperson also emailed the following statement to the NewsHour:

    “We were not aware of nor would we condone this reported activity. This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December. We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”

    Tonight on the NewsHour, Senior Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan talked with The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman about the “Optic Nerve” covert program.

    Video by PBS NewsHour

    It might be time to disconnect the webcam from your computer.

    The British surveillance agency GCHQ, in coordination with the U.S. National Security Agency, collected and stored webcam images of millions of Yahoo chat users between 2008 and 2010, according to a report in the Guardian.

    During a six month period in 2008 a program named “Optic Nerve” collected images of approximately 1.8 million users alone. The agency then stored these images in databases for bulk inspection. The program, which saved one image every five minutes during users’ conversations, was conducted without Yahoo’s knowledge, and the company has strongly condemned the operation.

    “This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December,” Yahoo said in a written statement to the Guardian.

    “We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”

    The report originated from secret documents first revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

    Analysts’ access to these webcam images was limited to displaying metadata only when conducting bulk searches. However, they were allowed to see the faces of people who had similar usernames as surveillance targets. This was done to experiment with automated facial recognition software in order to monitor current targets and discover new ones.

    The bottom line: millions of civilians with no criminal record had their private video chat conversations cataloged by intelligence officials, and many were directly viewed by agents.

    In addition, the report cites that “a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of the body to the other person”. After conducting a survey, GCHQ estimated that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested was sexually explicit.

    There is no indication in the documents leaked that GCHQ made any attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, though eventually the system’s designers began to exclude images that didn’t contain a detectable human face.

    Although the operation was conducted by a British intelligence agency, the program collected global Yahoo users’ data, meaning that millions of Americans may have had their photos captured. The Guardian writes “there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant”.

    Furthermore an internal guide for GCHQ staff cautioned Optic Nerve users “there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them”.

    The post UPDATED: Intelligence officials secretly collected private Yahoo video chat images appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Leaders from the corporate, philanthropic, arts, faith and sports worlds gathered at the White House today to address a single issue: the challenges facing young men and boys of color.

    The issue has become a key priority for the president.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us.

    GWEN IFILL: When President Obama uttered these words during his State of the Union address, this is who he had in mind.

    Christian Champagne is an 18 year-old senior at Hyde Park Career Academy on Chicago’s South Side. He plans to go to college and hopes to become a lawyer. But, as a young black man, he faces challenges steeper than most: high incarceration rates, low high school completion, and unemployment dramatically higher than the rest of the population.

    But Christian and the other young men like him who traveled to the White House this week hope to buck that trend. They are all part of a program called Becoming a Man, or BAM.

    CHRISTIAN CHAMPAGNE, “Becoming a Man” (B.A.M.): BAM was needed because it helps young black men to become great and get goals in life. It was more than needed, in my opinion, and it should be worldwide.

    GWEN IFILL: BAM is one of dozens of programs nationwide that will be part of My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative focused on young men of color announced today at the White House. Twenty-eight foundation executives are pledging $200 million to support literacy, school and criminal justice reform and jobs programs to help young men like Christian.

    CHRISTIAN CHAMPAGNE: I would probably be still a little less me, to say — I don’t want to express my feelings that much, so I would be blank as a page.

    But now I can, like, talk to people and have conversations with everybody. Without hope, you have nothing. You can have, like, goals, but, like, you have got that — that hope to get you there.

    GWEN IFILL: Mr. Obama says My Brother’s Keeper will be part of his presidential legacy.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is an issue of national importance. It’s as important as any issue that I work on. It’s an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for president, because, if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody, the notion that no matter who you are or where you care from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.


    GWEN IFILL: The announcement comes well into the president’s second term, and almost exactly two years after George Zimmerman killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in an incident that transfixed the nation and the president, who spoke after Zimmerman was acquitted of the crime.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.

    GWEN IFILL: Even before the Martin incident verdict, the president had connected with BAM, which provides counseling, mentoring and violence prevention to more than 1,400 students in 36 Chicago public schools.  This week’s White House trip is now their second visit to the home of the world’s most famous black man.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I explained to them that, when I was their age, I was a lot like them. I didn’t have a dad in a house. I made bad choices. I got high, without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses.

    Sometimes, I sold myself short.  And I remember, when I was saying this — Christian, you may remember this — after I was finished, the guy sitting next to me said, “Are you talking about you?”


    GWEN IFILL: As part of the new initiative, the Obama administration will also evaluate existing government programs. But much of the effort will be focused on community efforts like BAM.

    The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab found that a year in the BAM program increases graduation rates by 10 percent to 23 percent, and has cut violent crime arrests by 44 percent.

    Marshaun Bacon runs the Chicago program.

    MARSHAUN BACON, “Becoming a Man” (B.A.M.): It’s more economically incentivizing to fund programs like this to prevent crime and a lot of the social ills than to lock people up, incarcerate them, and really try to give people a shot before things get bad.

    GWEN IFILL: Nineteen-year-old Kerron Turner is interested in a career in mortuary sciences or archaeology. BAM, he says, helped him deal with depression. 

    KERRON TURNER, Becoming a Man: It’s like where kids get off their mind and things that they’re going through, they release it, and I guess they feel better from it. Well, it worked for me so far.

    GWEN IFILL: The goal, to make it work for a lot more young men in a lot more places.

    Each of the foundations that signed on today gets to decide which projects they will fund. But, as the president said today, there are broader underlying questions.

    Yesterday, I discussed some of them with Gail Christopher, vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Eddie Glaude, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University.

    Welcome, Gail Christopher and Eddie Glaude.

    I want to start with you, Gail Christopher, because the Kellogg Foundation has a lot of money invested in this project. Why is it essential? What is important about it?

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER, W.K. Kellogg Foundation: When we look at the disparities that our young men of color face in terms of opportunity and access to opportunity in this country, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation.

    Young people of color make up about 23 percent of the population between ages 10 and 17. Yet, they make up over 50 percent of those who are incarcerated in the juvenile and sometimes criminal justice systems. They are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school.

    The data is clear that there are underlying factors that are limiting opportunity for this population group. And these underlying factors need to be addressed.

    GWEN IFILL: Why are the solutions in the hand of the private — hands so much of the private sector?

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER: They really aren’t. The solutions are also in the public sector.

    But they aren’t really focused in a specific way around this population.  There are work programs. There are employment programs. There are all sorts of things. There are health programs. But they really haven’t been examined thoroughly enough and focused in on the needs of this population.

    GWEN IFILL: Professor Glaude, if you agree with Gail Christopher that this is a serious problem that needs addressing, whose responsibility is it to address it?

    EDDIE GLAUDE, Princeton University: I think that’s the perfect question to ask.

    We do know that there is a crisis engulfing young people, young people of color in this country.  And I think it’s the responsibility of Americans, and I think it’s a responsibility of government. Part of — I’m excited about the initiative, but I’m skeptical.

    I’m thinking — I’m skeptical about it, in the sense that it seems to have bought into a particular frame, that kind of public-private partnerships are the answers to public problems. And it reflects, I think, sister Gwen, that it reflects, I think, a troublesome notion of government that we have to displace and dispel.

    I think we actually need something more robust on the public side to respond to the crisis. And I’m not so convinced that the private sector, and in partnership with the public sector, can address the crisis at all of its levels, if you understand what I mean.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Gail Christopher about that, because you funded a report that came out in 2006, some time ago, which reached a lot of these conclusions then. What is different about what is being proposed now?

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER: I think it is unprecedented that we have the bully pulpit of the highest office in the land, that the president of the United States is drawing attention to the scope and the scale and the nature of the issue, and that’s important.

    When you have lived long enough and worked in these issues of social justice, you know that it takes a lot of time. Sometimes, it takes decades to bring attention to and really mobilize and solve a problem.  So we recognize that it’s been a long time coming and that communities have been working hard on the ground, but too often in isolation, without the support of the broader community, the philanthropic, the private, and the public sector.

    This is really an all-hands-on deck moment for us as a nation.

    GWEN IFILL: Eddie Glaude, I have to ask this. Do you think — she mentioned the fact of having the bully pulpit at the White House. Is it significant in any way that a black president would be the one heading up this initiative, and does it make a difference? Is there enough?

    EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, I think it’s significant on its face. I hope it will play itself out in a substantive way.

    But let’s be very clear. We can talk about public-private partnerships as being at the heart of the housing crisis. We can think about the 1968 HUD Act. And part of what that act involved was public-private relationships designed to increase homeownership among black folk, black Americans.

    What was the result? The creation of an emerging market with predatory lending, right, behaviors and practices that led to billions of dollars of loss within black communities in the 1970s, predating, right, the housing crisis of 2008.

    So, part of what I’m suggesting here is that we believe in this country that public-private partnerships can be responsible for maintaining the public good, securing the public good. But we see what public-private partnerships are doing with regards to public education.

    And I think we need to understand that this crisis, this crisis that has everything to do with unemployment, that has everything to do with the failure of the education system, that has everything to do with structural, systemic racism in terms of the criminal justice system requires a robust response from the government.

    But we are living in times — and we have lived over a few decades — and I don’t want to take too much time here, but for the last few decades, we have lived in a moment where the conception of government being an active — playing an active role in ensuring — ensuring the public good has been under a relentless assault.

    And part of what I hoped with this initiative — but it was a hope against hope, to invoke Du Bois — was that we would somehow break out of the frame.  But, instead, the frame has limited the scope and in some ways limited our imagination.

    GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Gail Christopher, are you more optimistic than that? And I want to ask you about one particular piece of that as well.

    But, first, are you more optimistic?

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER: I am more optimistic.

    But it’s because the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is not in denial about the issues of racism in this country. And we have been working over the last five years, actually the last 20 years, on the issues of men and boys of color. But, very specifically, we learned after trying the service model and the policy model and the philanthropic model that we won’t make progress until we deal with the underlying issues of racism and structural racism, and actually lead the nation in an effort to heal the legacy, the perception of a difference in value of human beings, which is racism.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you both about one specific thing, piece of this, which is, say, recidivism, that we hear a lot about the “cradle to prison” pipeline, but it turns out that sometimes it becomes the “prison, back to the streets, back to the prison” pipeline as well.

    What in this initiative, starting with you, Gail, would actually address this in a lasting way?

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER: Communities have to be able to embrace the young men that return to the communities. They have to be able to be employed.

    That’s one way to break the cycle of recidivism, even access to proper medical care, including mental health care. There are models all over the country where they have beefed up the services within the community, and they have provided access to health care and mental health care in particular, which helped to break to cycle and reduce recidivism dramatically.

    So there are ways to do this. And I couldn’t agree more that it is a public responsibility, as well as a private responsibility.

    GWEN IFILL: And, Professor Glaude, how do you measure improvement on things like this?

    EDDIE GLAUDE: Oh, well, we can measure it by just looking at the data, right?

    What we have to do is look at the number of young men of color returning to prison. Look at the numbers of young boys of color who find themselves caught up in the juvenile system. We can measure it by way of looking at graduation rates, admission rates to higher education.

    We have the standards of judgment, of evaluative measures to see whether or not this project will work, this initiative will work. But I want to be very clear. We’re returning our kids to opportunity deserts, where social networks have broken down, where public service — the social service delivery institutions have failed, where public schools are being closed, where — as William Julius Wilson at Harvard would say, where work has simply disappeared.

    So part of what this involves — I mean, in some ways, and I would like to say, and I say this not to suggest that President Obama is doing too little too late.  I don’t want to get involved in that kind of debate.

    But, in effect, what we are doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. And I guess Band-Aids are OK. But what we need is a more robust discussion, a more robust policy initiative to address the crisis that is engulfing, I know, particularly black communities, right, and black men, right?

    And, so, part of what I don’t want is a kind of market-driven solution to a longstanding social and moral problem that has defined the nation for generations.

    GWEN IFILL: Professor Eddie Glaude at Princeton University and Gail Christopher at the Kellogg Foundation, this is the first of many conversations.

    GAIL CHRISTOPHER: I hope so.

    GWEN IFILL: Thank you. 

    EDDIE GLAUDE: I hope so.  Thank you so much.

    The post How should the U.S. improve opportunity for young men of color? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    At ShopRite on the Riverfront in July, a tour with Christiana Care Health System dietitians showed Anthony Graves and other local teenagers that healthy eating often starts with reading the label. Photo by Flickr user Christiana Care Health Systems

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For the first time in two decades, the federal government is making significant changes to the nutrition labels on the food and drinks you buy at the store.

    Jeffrey Brown sorts through the details and what the changes are designed to do.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As Michelle Obama said today, unless you had a thesaurus, a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck. So the new labels put forward by the Food and Drug Administration aim to reduce confusion about calories, serving sizes and more.

    We get an explanation from William Dietz, former director for the CDC’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.

    And welcome to you.

    I want to start with some props that we have to help us, a 12-ounce bottle of soda that used to be thought of as a single serving, and a 20-ounce bottle that is nowadays perhaps at the lower end of what people actually consume in a serving. How do the new labels deal with this growth in serving sizes?

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ, Former CDC Official: Well, the nutrition facts panel was originally developed about 20 to 30 years ago, at a time when servings were much smaller than they are today.

    And the 12-ounce to the 20-ounce soda is a good illustration. Another good illustration is that ice cream used to be, a serving was half-a-cup, and, today, it’s a cup. So one of the most important changes in the nutrition facts panel is an updating of portion size.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, now I want to show a proposed new label so we can see another way that these new labels would help. This is — this emphasizes calories, and the number of servings are given much more prominence here. This is to overcome some of the confusion?

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ: Well, twofold.

    Yes, part of it is to overcome confusion. Part of it is to highlight the role of calories. The issue in the United States today is obesity. And obesity is caused by excess calories. So highlighting the caloric content of the product is an important step towards trying to control obesity.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s also in this new proposed label at least something new. It’s a separate line for sugars that are added. Now, explain what that means and why it’s important.

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ: Well, the last two dietary guidelines, under two different administrations, 2005 and 2010, called for a reduction in the intake of added sugars by Americans.

    But the prior labels didn’t have added sugars on them. Furthermore, we know that sugars are an important contributor to obesity. So highlighting added sugars gives Americans an additional piece of information on how to begin to control their weight.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In thinking about how important all of this is, what — how much is known about the degree to which people actually read these labels and are guided by them?

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ: Well, my understanding is that about a third of people read those nutrition facts panels today.

    But our hope is that this will get increased use. And, as the panel becomes more helpful and to helping Americans make good decisions about their nutrition, that it will receive increasing use. But it’s certainly not be-all and end-all. People make decisions for all sorts of reasons, and nutritional content is only one of those reasons.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Also still on the table, but I gather delayed so far, are changes to labels on menus in restaurants and fast food stores. So that, of course, is another component of all of this.


    And, in my view, that’s a much more complicated business, because restaurants, the way they prepare their portions and their foods is going to be very hard to assign a nutrition facts panel too.

    But, certainly, most people get their calories from those products that they buy in the grocery stores. And those products are going have the nutrition facts panel, which will enable a more educated judgment about that purchase.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, the food industry and everyone actually gets to weigh in for — before all of this is set. Would you expect changes or delays to these proposed new labels?

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ: Well, I think that there’s going to be a lot of controversy about this.

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association had kind of a noncommittal statement this morning about their response to these panels. But I think there’s an opportunity for both the industry and the public, most importantly the public, to respond to these changes and let the federal government know how they feel about it and whether they think this is going to be helpful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, William Dietz, thanks so much.

    DR. WILLIAM DIETZ: You’re very welcome.

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    Webcam Spying

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A British news outlet reported today that the governments of the U.S. and United Kingdom have been literally peering into the lives of Americans and Britons.

    A covert program code-named Optic Nerve apparently used computer Webcams to watch online users. The Guardian newspaper based all this on documents provided by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

    Hari Sreenivasan has more.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The report details how a British spy agency collected images from Yahoo! Webcam chats, with help from the NSA. The images and associated metadata were stored and subject to search using experimental facial recognition software.

    According to the documents, in one six-month period, the program collected images of nearly two million Yahoo! users around the world, including a number of sexually explicit communications. The British agency the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, said in a statement today that all of its actions are in accordance with the law.

    Late today, the NSA e-mailed a statement to the NewsHour saying the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the U.S. government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself.

    Joining me to walk us through what they discovered is Guardian reporter Spencer Ackerman.

    So, Spencer, how did this program work?

    SPENCER ACKERMAN, The Guardian: So what happened was, is, as part of its very broad abilities to collect data in transit across the Internet, GCHQ collected a lot of information from users of this specific Webcam service based out of Yahoo Messenger.

    And from there, it went into databases that analysts could use to comb through both the imagery and the associated data around where those images came from to both find targets that it already had in its intelligence-gathering purposes and figure out new targets.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you are saying that it’s not just the targeted folks that got swept up in this net. What about Americans that were using Yahoo! Webchat between 2008 and 2010? Should they be conditioned that there are images of them stored either at the NSA or GCHQ now?

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: It’s a major question, because GCHQ, like the NSA, does not have the ability on the front end of its bulk collection programs to filter out data coming from the U.S. and coming from the U.K.

    We didn’t get direct answers as to how many Americans, if any, have been collected. But the rules and the laws that GCHQ is under on the search end, when analysts can look through this database, distinguish merely between people believed to be in the U.K. and people not believed to be in the U.K.

    So, Americans’ data — Americans’ imagery data that has been caught up in this could in fact be searched by GCHQ, the most important partner of the NSA from surveillance purposes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what did they do with all these pictures?  What is the facial recognition element?

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: The facial recognition element is fascinating, because it’s an emerging technology that even the documents can see just really isn’t precisely mature yet.

    The idea would be, from an intelligence perspective, if you had a partial identifier, maybe an e-mail address or part of a screen name of an intelligence target, but didn’t really have much more than that, potentially, if you swept up all of this Yahoo! Webcam data, you might be able to find the image of someone’s face or someone’s body type, and that could be used as part of a way of targeting this person, finding out more about this person and, if necessary, apprehending that person.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there anything in the documents that says this program stopped? Is it still going on?

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: No, it’s an interesting question. We didn’t get a precise answer to it.

    The latest the documents indicate that it was still active is 2012. But when we asked if it is ongoing or if it stopped, we got responses similar to the one that you read out, that discuss matters of law and how all of this was legal, not whether or not this actually stopped.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what are the legal consequences there? Was GCHQ allowed to do something that perhaps the U.S. government wouldn’t do, or does the U.S. government have to get approval from the FISA court for all this?

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: It’s a fascinating question.

    GCHQ is under fewer legal constraints than the NSA is, from the sort of equivalent privacy laws, which aren’t really equivalent, but, for the sake of this discussion, close enough. All GCHQ analysts have to have is a reasonable suspicion, not even reasonable from a particularly legally binding context, that its intelligence targets are genuine from out of this program.

    If they want to search for it, the protections are about whether they have reason to believe that the accounts associated are inside or outside the U.K. Beyond that, not really a lot. The question that still remains outstanding that NSA wouldn’t address is what, if the level of access is to this database.

    They didn’t directly address that to us when we went to them on that. And NSA’s tools, like the XKeyscore query tool, are said in the documents to work alongside this data. So there are suspicions that remain outstanding as to the degree to which NSA was able to access this data.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright. Alright. Both the statements from the NSA and Yahoo! are on our Web site.

    Spencer Ackerman from the Guardian, thanks so much for your time.

    SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thanks for having me.

    The post Report suggests U.K. spies collected images from Yahoo webcam chats with NSA help appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Courtesy: Drafthouse Films

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, with the Oscars this weekend, we look at a film nominated for best documentary. It’s centered in Medan, the capital of Northern Sumatra in Indonesia.

    Jeff is back with a conversation he recorded recently.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a history that’s little known in the U.S., the slaughter of more than a million people in Indonesia after a military coup in 1965.

    The victims were communist and those labeled as such, including intellectuals, ethnic Chinese, and anyone opposed to the new regime. The perpetrators were often members of paramilitary groups who carried out their executions with the approval of the military government.

    And in the new documentary “The Act of Killing,” it is they, the killers, who speak up and show exactly how they did their work.

    Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer joins us now.

    Welcome to you.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER, director, “The Act of Killing”: Thank you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This is a group of men who operated openly, violently. They were self-described gangsters, right? And they modeled themselves on movie gangsters.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That’s right.

    In the city of Medan, where we made this film, they recruited their killers from the ranks of gangsters who were hanging out in cinemas. They all had a love of Hollywood films. And when I met them, not only were they boastful about what they had done, because they had never been forced to admit it was wrong, but when they started suggesting that they dramatize it, they chose to suggest that they dramatize it in the style of their favorite Hollywood…

    JEFFREY BROWN: So you made what is in essence a sort of film within the film, with their cooperation. I mean, they said, here, let us act it out for you.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: That’s exactly right.

    I started this project in collaboration with survivors. And we were working very closely to try and document the horror that they had experienced and what it’s like for them to live today with the perpetrators still in power.

    But when the army found out what we were doing, the army warned them, threatened them not to participate in the film. The survivors then said, OK, if you can’t film us, try and film the perpetrators. You might find out what happened to us.

    When I approached the perpetrators, they were boastful, eager to show what they had done, eager to take me to the places where they killed and show how they killed, and then started to suggest stylizations, improvements. And I realized that, if we could let them do that, we would be able to expose the whole regime that the killers had built.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, the obvious question is, how did you get them to talk to you? But it sounds as though it wasn’t a problem at all.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: These men have never been removed from power — never been removed from power. They’re still in power.

    They have never been forced to admit what they have done is wrong. And, therefore, they have been able to cling to the lie, namely the victor’s history, that they have told ever since 1965, justifying their actions, and imposing that version of the events on their whole society.

    And, when they met me, as an American, knowing that the United States supported, participated in and ultimately helped to ignore and deny what had happened, they were open immediately.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I want to show one little clip here, and it is one of the main characters, Anwar Congo. Just tell us a little bit about him, by way of introducing this.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Anwar Congo was, in fact, the 41st perpetrator whom I filmed.

    He was more boastful than anyone else, but underpinning it was a shame, a pain, a trauma. And I recognized that the boasting and guilt are two sides of the same coin. I lingered on him. And he’s the one who started to propose these ever more elaborate dramatizations, almost as though he was trying to run away from what he knows is wrong about what he did.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let’s take a look at that short clip.

    MAN (through interpreter): That’s me. I’m wearing a played shirt, camouflage pants, saddle shoes. See how elite I am?

    MAN (through interpreter): That is what you should wear in the studio scene.

    MAN (through interpreter): And for its killing scene, jeans.

    MAN: Jeans.

    MAN (through interpreter): I wore jeans for killing.

    MAN (through interpreter): When you kill people, you should wear thick pants, like this.

    MAN (through interpreter): How about a checkered pattern? That would be great, but small ones.

    JEFFREY BROWN: As they casually, right, gleefully boast, as you say, describe these kinds of horror stories, one wonders what you were feeling.

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: Well, I was astonished and horrified much of the time.

    But I also forced myself not to make the leap from saying these men have done something monstrous to these men are monsters.

    And I think so many of the stories we tell are based on dividing the world into good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists. And these are — seem like they have done bad things, so they’re bad guys. So we interpret their boasting as a sign that they are monstrous.

    But what if they are not? What if we looked — our task as nonfiction filmmakers is to see what is really there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You had an Indonesian co-director. You worked with many Indonesians. They, I gather, have chosen to remain anonymous out of fear of their safety. What has been the reaction to the film in Indonesia?

    JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER: The film has helped catalyze a transformation in how Indonesia talks about its past.

    Ordinary Indonesians are now able to talk about the genocide as a genocide and relate it to the moral catastrophe of the present-day regime built by the killers, even as the Indonesian media also has started to report on the genocide as a genocide and investigate it in-depth.

    Once the film was nominated for an Academy Award, the government finally broke its silence about it. A spokesman for the president of Indonesia said, yes, it was a crime about humanity, but we don’t need a film to tell us how to deal with this. We will deal with it in our own time.

    Now, that is an inadequate response, but it is a sea change. It’s an about-face, because, until now, the government has maintained that what happened in 1965 was heroic. Finally, they have admitted that it was wrong. That’s enormous. And now, very recently, we have held a screening on Capitol Hill for members of Congress.

    And the big discussion was, what can we do about this? If we want to have a constructive and ethical relationship with Indonesia moving forward, we need to acknowledge the crimes of the past and our collective role in supporting, participating in and ultimately ignoring those crimes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    “The Act of Killing” is the new film by Joshua Oppenheimer.

    Thank you so much.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find our other conversations with Oscar nominees for best documentary feature on our Web site.

    The post ‘Boasting and guilt are two sides of the same coin’: Confronting Indonesia’s genocide in ‘The Act of Killing’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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