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

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    At least 27 are dead and 109 others were injured after a group of uniformed men with knives attacked people at the Kunming train station in southwestern China on Saturday, according to reports from official Xinhua News Agency .

    According to the AP,  a local news station said officers had shot several of the attackers.

    Authorities have yet to identify the attackers. While a motive has not been named, state television has labeled the incident a “violent terror attack.”

    There have been multiple mass stabbings in China in recent years, with Saturday’s attack being one of the deadliest.

    The province of Yunnan, where Kunming is located, does not have a history of violent attacks.

    The post Knife attack at China train station leaves at least 27 dead appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Despite blunt warnings about costs and consequences, President Barack Obama and European leaders have limited options for retaliating against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the former Soviet republic now at the center of an emerging conflict between East and West.

    SIMFEROPOL, UKRAINE - MARCH 1: Pro-Russian supporters rally outside the Consulate General of the Russian Federation as Ukraine's Berkut riot police force march down the street on March 1, 2014 in Simferopol, Ukraine. According to media reports Russian soldiers have occupied the airport at nearby Sevastapol while soldiers whose identity could not be initially confirmed have stationed themselves at Simferopol International Airport in moves that are raising tensions between Russia and the new Kiev government. Crimea has a majority Russian population and armed, pro-Russian groups have occupied government buildings in Simferopol. (Photo by Aleksandr Miridonov/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

    Pro-Russian supporters rally outside the Consulate General of the Russian Federation as Ukraine’s Berkut riot police force march down the street on March 1 in Simferopol, Ukraine. Credit: Aleksandr Miridonov/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far dismissed the few specific threats from the United States, which include scrapping plans for Obama to attend an international summit in Russia this summer and cutting off trade talks sought by Moscow.

    Because Ukraine does not have full member status in NATO, the U.S. and Europe have no obligation to come to its defense. Broader international action through the United Nations seems all but impossible, given Russia’s veto power as a member of the Security Council.

    “There have been strong words from the U.S. and other counties and NATO,” said Kier Giles, a Russian military analyst at the Chatham House think tank in London. “But these are empty threats. There is really not a great deal that can be done to influence the situation.”

    As if to underscore that point, Putin on Saturday requested and was granted permission to use Russia’s military not just in the pro-Russian region of Crimea, but also throughout Ukraine. Putin’s request came one day after Obama warned that any violation of Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”

    Saturday’s developments follow three months of political upheaval in Ukraine following President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of a partnership agreement with the European Union in favor of historical ties with Moscow. Yanukovych fled Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, last week and now is in Russia.

    Putin’s moves are sure to deepen tensions in his already troubled relationship with Obama, who has struggled to find a formula for getting the Russian leader to change his calculus on myriad issues.

    American efforts to punish Russia on Ukraine and other matters have been complicated by the White House’s need for Russian cooperation on stopping Syria’s civil war, negotiating a nuclear accord with Iran, and transporting American troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes.

    “We face a difficult choice of punishing Russia by effectively punishing ourselves,” said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Obama has tried to use his travel plans to Russia as a bargaining chip before, in the hopes that Putin might bend under the threat of a diplomatic embarrassment. Last summer, the White House dangled the prospect of canceling a bilateral summit between Obama and Putin as it pressed Russia to return National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to the United States.

    When Russia instead granted Snowden temporary asylum, Obama scraped his one-on-one meeting with Putin, but still attended an international meeting in St. Petersburg.

    U.S. officials say they are in discussions now with European officials about Obama and other leaders possibly skipping the Group of Eight economic summit scheduled for June in Sochi, the site of the just-concluded Winter Olympics.

    The White House appears to be giving no serious consideration to American military involvement in Ukraine. In his carefully worded statement Friday, Obama avoided saying that a destabilized Ukraine would be a national security concern for the U.S. Instead, he said only that it was “not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.”

    In Europe, officials expressed concern about the Russian military escalation, but offered few specific options for stopping or punishing Putin. The European Union, dealing with its own internal problems, has appeared reluctant to fully embrace troubled Ukraine or risk the economic consequences of confronting Russia, one of its largest trading partners.

    “The world is on the verge of a conflict the outcome of which cannot be perceived yet,” said Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk, whose country shares a border with Ukraine. Tusk appealed for on Europe to send a “very clear signal” that it will not tolerate acts of aggression, but he did not outline specific steps.

    In Kiev, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for international diplomacy to reduce tensions.

    The U.N. Security Council planned to hold a closed-door meeting on Ukraine Saturday, its second in two days. But there’s virtually no chance of getting even a resolution condemning Russian intervention given Russian veto power at the U.N.

    Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Karel Janicek in Prague, and Greg Katz in London contributed to this report.

    The post Limited options for U.S., Europe in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Map of Russia, Ukraine and Crimea, NewsHour Weekend

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the rapidly unfolding events in Russia and Ukraine, we are joined now from Washington by Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations. So tell us, what is this vote in the Russian parliament mean today?

    CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well the vote basically authorized Russia to use force in Ukraine. it appears that it’s happened after the fact, in the sense that over the last 24 hours we have reports of troop movements; of Russians moving from Russia proper into Crimea. The Russians are saying that thats occurring under the pretext of the troops that are already there and so that’s a large contingent, some 15,000. But it looks pretty clear that they’re doing more than just rotating troops. Those troops have been out in the field. And the Russian parliament has also called for the withdrawal of its ambassador in the United States in response to the speech that Obama gave yesterday. So, clearly, the temperature is rapidly rising and Russia seems to want to escalate the situation, not to back down.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But what about the possible EU response? They’re scheduled to have more crisis talks the second time in a couple of weeks. What can they do?

    CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well, they’re really moving I think on two fronts. One is to move as quickly as possible on putting together some kind of economic package because Ukraine is teetering on the edge of default, and the United States, the EU and the IMF are working together to come up with a package; maybe as high as $15 billion dollars. That’s what the Russians initially offered to Yanukovych, he accepted, that’s when these protests began and toppled him. And the second conversation, which I’m guessing is taking place as we speak, is one about a response to what has occurred. President Obama said yesterday “there will be costs,” and it looks like Russia is throwing down the gauntlet, is using military force, wants to try and separate Crimea to stir up trouble. And so the U.S. and the EU will be talking about what can we do to say to Russia ‘this is unacceptable.’

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the U.S. options? What does President Obama have?

    CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well I’d say there are three arrows in the quiver. The first kind of response would be diplomatic and that would be to say we’re going to perhaps withdraw ambassadors from Europe and the U.S., those that are in Moscow. It could involve a cancellation of the G8 summit which is scheduled in Sochi in about two months. It could also involve a suspension of Russian membership in the G8. Moving up the ladder would be sanctions of one sort, economic sanctions, freezing assets, denying visas to Russian individuals that are deemed to be involved in the trouble in Ukraine. And finally, I’m guessing that there is also a conversation about some kind of military response. Certainly it will not focus on a military response in Ukraine, but it’s conceivable that if this situation continues to escalate that we could see NATO deployed troops in Poland, in the Baltics; that is to say to fortify the eastern frontier.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So will any of these actions, these possible actions that you outlined, be a deterrent on Putin?

    CHARLES KUPCHAN: I don’t think that they will be a deterrent in the sense that we are moving very, very rapidly forward. Russia seems to be doing whatever it can to stir up trouble. One huge question that looms on the horizon is, is Russia going to interfere, not just in the Crimea but in the Eastern Oblast, the eastern states of Ukraine where you have about 40 percent of the population being ethnic Russians. were that to happen it’s conceivable that we could see this widen into a civil war between a Europe oriented, western Ukraine and a Russia oriented, eastern Ukraine.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Charles Kupchan joining us from Washington from the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks so much.

    CHARLES KUPCHAN: My pleasure.

    The post U.S. and EU react to Russian vote on military force appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ukrainian activists gather outside the White House on March 1, 2014 in Washington. Protesters gathered to rally against foreign involvement in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

    Ukrainian activists gathered outside the White House on March 1. In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, President Barack Obama expressed concern over Russian intervention in Ukraine. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

    President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on Saturday about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, according to separate statements from the White House and the Kremlin

    During the 90-minute call, Obama condemned Russia’s use of military intervention in Ukraine.

    From the White House:

    President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and which is inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act. The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory.

    A statement from the Kremlin said Russia reserved the right to protect its interests in the face of “the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists.”

    “Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas,” the statement said.

    The White House also said it would suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8.

    Despite objections from Russia, the U.N. Security Council held an open meeting on Saturday

    According to the Associated Press, Ukraine had reached out to the Security Council permanent members to help stop Russia’s “aggression.”

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke with Putin on Saturday, expressed his concern about the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

    “I am gravely concerned by some of the recent events in particular those that could in any way compromise the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” he said in a statement. “It is crucial to restore calm and proceed to an immediate de-escalation of the situation.”

    Russian forces tightened the country’s control over the region of Crimea on Saturday.

    Putin has reportedly put Russian troops on high alert.

    Arseny Yatseniuk, Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister, said if Russia used military forces it “would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia.”

    The post In lengthy phone call, Obama and Putin trade words on Ukraine crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    This report was originally broadcast on Dec., 21, 2013. 

    IVETTE FELICIANO: This might look like a typical Saturday matinee on Broadway…

    But the fact that Annmarie Scotti is here with her son Nick, tells you it’s anything but…

    (Annmarie Scotti: “Hey Nick, you ready?”)

    IVETTE FELICIANO: And tickets for this particular performance weren’t available to the general public; they were only sold to families like hers…

    (Annmarie Scotti: “we are in row f”)


    Because this performance of “Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark” was specially tailored for people with autism…

    People like 10-year-old Nick Scotti, who often has a very difficult time going to any kind of show.

    (Nick: “I’m very excited!” Annmarie: “You’re excited?!”)

    ANNMARIE SCOTTI: When you’re on the spectrum, some kids either flap their hands, or scream. They have impulses. When you go to places, I always feel like I’m on guard. I have to be, like, okay, my son has autism. I’m sorry if he does something to, you know, to bother you or upset you, but I want him to be able to enjoy this as well.

    (Annmarie Scotti: “see right there, the lady”)

    autism play

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Annmarie Scotti says her family has walked out of performances, wasting hundreds of dollars because of disapproving stares and comments from other audience members.

    ANNMARIE SCOTTI: Nick actually wanted to see Spiderman in the worst way. And that, I gotta tell you, is one play I was not gonna go take them to.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: That’s where the Theater Development Fund stepped in…

    LISA CARLING-DIRECTOR, THEATER DEVELOPMENT FUND: This is a way of ensuring a warm, welcoming environment, judgment-free, so that families can come and relax and have a good time and not worry about how the person on the spectrum is going to behave or what– other people might think.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Lisa Carling is director of accessibility programs at the Theater Development Fund. The non-profit organization coordinates autism-friendly performances on Broadway, like these, four times a year. TDF’s mission is to make live theater more accessible to diverse audiences…

    LISA CARLING-DIRECTOR, THEATER DEVELOPMENT FUND: So we hope to raise awareness about autism and help people become more accepting and more inclusive.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Here are some of the things you’ll see at an autism friendly show that you wouldn’t see on Broadway otherwise:

    Ushers have about 30 extra helpers on hand…They hand out colorful stress relievers and koosh balls called manipulatives to help autistic audience members relax before and during the performance.

    Producers and actors work with autism specialists to make the autism friendly shows as close to the regular shows as possible…but this audience is especially sensitive to jarring lights and sounds…

    So audio levels are reduced by about 20%, and strobe lights are completely eliminated.

    Yet organizers say it’s what happening off the stage that truly makes this Broadway performance unique.

    SAM BLANCO, AUTISM SPECIALIST, TDF: We have children and adults with autism at the show so if they need a break; they have a place that they can come to.

    The usually empty lobbies are transformed into activity spaces with bean bags and toys for families who need a break from the sensory overload…And if anyone needs a bigger break, some sections are designated to be completely silent.

    SAM BLANCO, AUTISM SPECIALIST, TDF: I’ve been working with kids with autism for 10 years and I’ve never seen so many of them openly able to enjoy something that we really take for granted on a daily basis.

    (Nick:  “want to sit in the middle?”)

    IVETTE FELICIANO: For weeks before this special performance, Theater Development Fund was already helping Nick Scotti ease into this new experience by making customizable social stories available on its website.

    (Annmarie Scotti: Here’s the lobby. Do we walk or do we run? What are we gonna do?

    (Nick: walk.)

    (Annmarie Scotti: We’re gonna walk, right… )

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Even with the changes to the show, Nick had a hard time getting through the first act…but he was allowed to leave the theater as much as he needed to.

    IVETTE FELICIANO TO SCOTTI: Is it different than other times?

    ANNMARIE SCOTTI: Oh yeah, it’s definitely different because if you were in a regular play you’d be getting kicked out by now…you know, if your kid wasn’t quiet enough. So everyone here is great, all the volunteers have been great with my kids. So, I couldn’t ask for a better day…

    The post Spiderman stages a special performance for autistic fans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    KIEV, UKRAINE - MARCH 2: People attend a rally against Russia on Kiev's Independence square on March 2, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The new government of Ukraine has appealed to the United Nations Security Council for help against growing Russian intervention in Crimea, where thousands of Russian troops reportedly arrived in recent days at Russian military bases and also occupy key government and other installations. World leaders are scrambling to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to refrain from further escalation in Ukraine. Ukraine has put its armed forces on combat alert. (Photo by Vladislav Sodel/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

    People attend a rally against Russia on Kiev’s Independence square on March 2 in Kiev. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Western powers are prepared to isolate Russia for its military incursion into Ukraine. Credit: Vladislav Sodel/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Western powers are prepared “to go to the hilt” to isolate Russia for its military incursion into Ukraine, “an incredible act of aggression” that may lead to visa bans, asset freezes, trade and investment penalties, and a boycott of a Russian-hosted economic summit of global powers in June, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday.

    Kerry said Russian President Vladimir Putin should respect the democratic process through which the Ukrainian people ousted their pro-Russian president and assembled a new government.

    But President Barack Obama had pressed his case in a 90-minute phone call Saturday with Putin, calling Russia’s actions “a clear violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and asking for his forces to pull back, and still the situation only grew more dire Sunday.

    Ukraine’s new prime minister warned that “we are on the brink of disaster,” while hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea.

    Despite the strong words Sunday from America’s top diplomat, the Obama administration struggled to find a response that might deter Putin, who contends that the turmoil in its neighbor posed real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens living in Ukraine and that Moscow has the right to protect them.

    Russia’s “incredible act of aggression” amounts to “a stunning willful choice” by Putin to invade another country on a “trumped-up pretext,” Kerry said.

    Kerry said he spoke on Saturday with foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries and a few other nations, and “every single one of them are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia” because of the invasion.

    “They’re prepared to put sanctions in place. They’re prepared to isolate Russia economically. The ruble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges. I can’t imagine that an occupation of another country is something that appeals to a people who are trying to reach out to the world, and particularly if it involves violence,” Kerry said.

    Kerry also mentioned visa bans, the freezing of Russian assets, trade and investment penalties. He suggested American companies “may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this.”

    He said the U.S. was “absolutely prepared” to boycott the G-8 meeting planned for June in Sochi, Russia, site of the just-concluded Winter Olympics, “if we can’t resolve it otherwise.”

    Putin is “not going to have a Sochi G-8. He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues,” Kerry said. Along with the potential loss of foreign business investment and other economic penalties, that would be “a huge price to pay,” Kerry said, calling Russia isolated. “That is not a position of strength.”

    The G-8 countries are the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

    Kerry also said the administration was ready to provide economic assistance “of a major sort” to Ukraine.

    He made clear that a military response to counter Russia’s action was unlikely.

    “The last thing anybody wants is a military option,” he said. “We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations.”

    The U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to Ukraine’s defense because it does not have full-member status in NATO. Broader international action through the United Nations seems all but impossible because of Russia’s veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.

    Kerry tried to frame the crisis as broader than U.S. versus Russia or East versus West. “We’re not trying to make this a Cold War,” he said. It’s about Ukrainians “fighting against the tyranny of having political opposition put in jail.”

    Kerry was interviewed on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week.”

    The post Kerry names possible repercussions for Russian aggression in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Illustration by Getty Images

    Illustration by Getty Images

    Mechs is a whale. More specifically, Mechs is the username of a well-known high roller whale on an online gambling website where there is nearly no limit on the size or frequency of bets. Last October, Mechs made a series of winning online wagers, culminating with a single all-or-nothing bet of a little more than $800,000. Mechs had a 96.2 percent chance of winning. Mechs lost.

    But what really set Mechs’ game apart wasn’t the odds, but the currency. All of his bets were placed in Bitcoins. The wagers rolled instantly across the Internet in both directions, registered in Bitcoin’s public ledger, known as the blockchain. Mechs’ transactions were anonymous, but as public as a scoreboard at a high-school football game. While Mechs betted, other gamblers watched as his fortune drained away.

    Bitcoin gambling has had a short, but explosive lifetime on the Internet. Satoshidice.com, the most widely-known gambling service, was founded in April 2012. In July 2013, the site’s founder, Erik Voorhees, sold it to an anonymous buyer for 126,315 bitcoins—equal to $12.4 million. That pile of Bitcoins is worth around $70 million today. By most estimates, more than half of global Bitcoin transactions are wagers on gambling sites. Just-Dice.com, where Mechs made his colossal bets, has handled more than $2 billion in wagers since it was founded in June 2013. All of this gambling happens in a currency that is largely unregulated, on websites set up on offshore servers, and right under the noses of officials who are unaware it exists.

    The minimalist interface of Just-dice.com, where gamblers have wagered more than $2 billion since it opened in July 2013.

    The minimalist interface of Just-dice.com, where gamblers have wagered more than $2 billion since it opened in July 2013.

    Bitcoins have gained popularity in a relatively short period of time (as our Making Sen$e broadcast segment explained). The currency is growing and changing so fast, regulators are having a difficult time keeping up. Even Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who chaired last November’s Homeland Security Committee hearing on virtual currencies, admitted to the PBS NewsHour that he’d only learned about Bitcoin six months before. His only knowledge of virtual money had come from his teenage son’s World of Warcraft habit. Carper had heard of Bitcoins being gambled, but said “we talked about a lot of uses of virtual currency yesterday, and I don’t recall gambling ever coming up in a two-and-a-half hour hearing.”

    Efforts to regulate Bitcoins, let alone Bitcoin gambling, have barely begun to materialize. Meanwhile, wagering the currency grows ever-more popular.

    Bitcoin makes online gambling easy

    By most accounts, gambling represents between 50 and 60 percent of all Bitcoin transactions.

    vice-weekTransaction costs are extremely low, meaning it doesn’t cost a lot to send and receive coins. Transactions are also irreversible. Once you send Bitcoins to someone else, you can’t request them back in exchange for returning the service or good you purchased. For gambling operators, this irreversibility eliminates the risk of chargeback fraud.

    The benefits of doing business in Bitcoins have been a boon for 34-year-old professional poker player Bryan Micon, the chairman of Bitcoin poker site SealsWithClubs.eu. The site, Micon estimates, has done about 20,000 transactions over its 2.5 year existence, and paid about $20 in transaction fees.

    Betters like Bitcoin because they receive their winnings right away. There are no bank wires or deposits to wait on because Bitcoin is itself a payment processor.

    “This is absolutely revolutionary, and isn’t being done by any billion dollar casino in Vegas,” Voorhees said.And in the same way the Internet breaks down international boundaries, the uniformity of Bitcoin enables international gambling without the hassles of currency exchanges.

    Bitcoin gambling sites also take a lower cut of the winnings than a Las Vegas Casino would, said Satoshidice founder Erik Voorhees, in an email. SatoshiDice’s house edge is about 1.9 percent. Just-Dice is only 1 percent. “A Vegas casino game might have a house edge of 10%,” Voorhees said. “This means that if you’re going to gamble, it’s far smarter to play SatoshiDICE than a Vegas casino.”

    Central to Bitcoin’s success is this apparent contradiction: all transactions are at once anonymous and transparent. Every transaction and its size is listed in a public ledger, while the parties involved remain anonymous. When it comes to gaming, Voorhees said, that transparency allows all players to verify that each bet is fair. Because of Bitcoin’s mathematical algorithm, there’s no way for the house to cheat, he explained.

    “This is absolutely revolutionary, and isn’t being done by any billion dollar casino in Vegas,” Voorhees said.

    But with all gambling, players have to trust that the operators won’t steal the money they put down, which seems particularly risky with anonymously run sites. The immediacy of transacting Bitcoins minimizes that risk. And for the gambling operators, not holding players’ money for long periods of time allows them to more easily skirt gambling laws that crack down on payment processing.

    The SatoshiDice site as it appeared in early 2013. The site has since changed after being sold to an anonymous new owner.

    The SatoshiDice site as it appeared in early 2013. The site has since changed after being sold to an anonymous new owner.

    SatoshiDice, Voorhees’ Bitcoin casino game, was the first, and for a long time, the most popular Bitcoin gambling site. The game is simple. The “Ghost of Satoshi” rolls the dice to select a number. If the “lucky number” is less than your chosen number, you win. (“Satoshi” refers to Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous person or group who circulated the whitepaper floating the “peer-to-peer electronic cash system” that gave birth to Bitcoin.)

    But is it legal?

    In May 2013, SatoshiDice, whose servers are overseas, announced that the site would be blocking IP addresses from the United States.

    The move was not, SatoshiDice claimed, in response to any official investigation, but rather a “proactive measure” to minimize risk. U.S. courts have been unclear about the definition of Internet gambling, and the ambiguity has been enough to spook the sites.

    Voorhees sold SatoshiDice because he said running a Bitcoin gambling site made him a target. “I needed to separate myself from it before it put me in the crosshairs of the U.S. government.”

    “Bitcoiners” are generally wary of the U.S. government–their aversion to a centralized monetary system is typically what draws them to Bitcoin in the first place. But avoiding any legal grey area is a smart move, said Whittier Law School professor Nelson Rose, who’s consulted for the gaming industry and taught classes about gaming to the FBI.

    There are no signs the federal government is cracking down on Bitcoin gambling, Mercatus Center senior fellow Jerry Brito, who testified before the senate, told the PBS NewsHour.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s legal – or does it? You’ll be sorry you asked.

    Even though online gambling carries an illicit perception, there is no consensus on its legality within the United States. Gambling in general, Rose explained, has always been a state issue, and almost all federal statutes require that gambling be a violation of state law for the feds to take action. Half of states have laws against making a bet, but many of these laws haven’t been updated in the era of online gambling, let alone Bitcoin gambling.

    Complicating the state-by-state laws are subjective assessments of whether a game involves “betting” or “gambling” and whether it’s a “game of chance” or “game of skill.” In only three states–New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada–gambling on games of chance (which includes Poker) is legal, as is online gambling.

    The state’s gaming regulations make no mention of digital currency at all. “The laws don’t contemplate it,” Burnett said, “and we’re not interested in changing that.”But even those states haven’t updated their laws to include the possibility of betting with digital currency. A.G. Burnett, the chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, told us that the state doesn’t allow gambling with Bitcoins. “Unless it’s expressly allowed,” he said, “it simply can’t happen.” But the laws don’t say you can’t gamble with Bitcoin either. The state’s gaming regulations make no mention of digital currency at all. “The laws don’t contemplate it,” he said, “and we’re not interested in changing that.”

    Of course, the laws Burnett was talking about regulate official operators; they have no oversight over people wagering with Bitcoin on their own computers in the middle of the night. Asked whether that was happening, Burnett said, “I have no idea.”

    At the federal level, the legislation that does exist isn’t very strong. The laws focus on the gambling operators, not the betters. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), for example, can only go after gambling businesses who are already doing something illegal. It’s a toothless law, Rose and fellow gaming law expert Dr. Joseph Kelly agreed. The bill squeaked through Congress at 2 a.m. attached to an anti-terrorism bill.

    The Wire Act used to be the federal government’s most powerful weapon against online gambling, but two years ago, the Department of Justice loosened the law by limiting its application to online sports betting.

    What has been used at the federal level to crack down on online gambling (in the Black Friday crackdown on poker sites, for example) is the Illegal Gambling Business Act. It’s a relic of the Organized Crime Control Act of the 1970s, but here again, U.S. attorneys can only go after operators big enough to be violating interstate commerce regulations.

    The clearest anti-gambling laws regulate payment processors (like credit card companies and banks) that would funnel winnings from the operators to the betters. But Bitcoin is a decentralized payment processing system. So there’s no person or organization to prosecute.

    And even if Bitcoin could be regulated, Bitcoin–or the various organizations that speak for it–could argue, Rose said, that they’re just like the U.S. Treasury–separate from the activities people use Bitcoins for.

    Of course, how the feds interpret Bitcoin gambling depends on what Bitcoin actually is. A currency? A commodity? A payment system? “If it’s not money, it’s not gambling,” said Rose. No one is sure, and November’s senate hearings didn’t come any closer toward settling the matter.

    Days after the Japanese Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox collapsed, taking many people’s coins with it, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen said last week that the Fed doesn’t have any authority to regulate the coin.

    For now, Bitcoin gamblers are free to keep rolling the die – even in the U.S., where porous blockage from dice sites is hardly enough to restrict tech-savvy betters in the mood to win a Bitcoin — or lose $550.

    This story was updated to correct the spelling of Mr. Voorhees’ name.

    The post Gamblers wager billions on unregulated Bitcoin betting sites appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Concerns Grow In Ukraine Over Pro Russian Demonstrations In The Crimea Region

    Soldiers took up positions around a Ukrainian military base stand next to a church at the base’s periphery in Crimea on March 2. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russia’s actions were equivalent to a declaration of war. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Ukraine readied its military forces for war on Sunday following Russian President Vladimir Putin declaration of Russia’s right to invade the country.

    As Russian troops maintained a hold on the eastern Ukrainian region of Crimea, the Ukrainian security council put its military on high alert. The country’s defense ministry also issued an order to call-up reserve troops.

    “This is not a threat: this is actually the declaration of war to my country,” Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

    Russian forces surrounded local military bases on Sunday and ordered Ukrainian troops to disarm. These actions have led to standoffs with Ukrainian soldiers who have refused to follow these demands.

    Yatsenyuk asked Putin to retract his military forces and warned that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

    The new prime minister also sought out help from NATO under a 1994 accord between the organization and Moscow that guarantees security for Ukraine. NATO ambassadors met in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

    Rebuffing calls to back down, Putin said Russia has the right to protect its interests in the ethnically Russian part of the country. He has also said that Russian speakers in other parts of eastern Ukraine were under threat from the Ukraine’s new pro-Western government.

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    Hundreds of thousands of Ultra Orthodox Jews gather on March 2, 2014, in Jerusalem to demonstrate against any plans to make them undergo military service. The protests were sparked by cuts in government funding to Jewish theological seminaries, or yeshivas, and a planned crackdown on young ultra-Orthodox men seeking to avoid Israel's compulsory military draft. AFP PHOTO/THOMAS COEX        (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered on March 2 in Jerusalem to demonstrate any plans to make them undergo military service. Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

    Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews descended on Jerusalem on Sunday to protest a bill that would require members of their community to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

    Israeli media estimated that between 250,000 to 400,000 people attended the mass prayer.

    Most Jewish men are required to serve in the IDF, but the ultra-Orthodox — who make up about 8 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens — have long been able to avoid service to pursue full-time religious studies.

    “We want to show that we are united and we want to stop a bad thing that they are trying to force us into. The army is not our way of life. It is not run by our rabbis,” 18-year-old Mordechai Seltzer told Reuters.

    The military exemption of ultra-Orthodox men has become a point of contention for other Israelis who say the community is not pulling its weight. Secular Israelis also take issue with the fact that older ultra-Orthodox men often don’t work, and collect welfare stipends while studying the Torah and other religious texts at yeshivas.

    Naftali Bennet, Israeli economy minister and chairman of the Jewish Home party wrote a piece in the New York Times earlier this month arguing Israel’s economic future depends on finding ways to pull the ultra-Orthodox into the mainstream workforce.

    “With extremely low labor participation, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli-Arab women have unfortunately slipped into a situation of welfare and poverty. For ultra-Orthodox men, it stems from a refusal to serve in the military and instead to sign up for religious study in yeshivas,” he said.

    The ultra-Orthodox contend they serve the country through their study and prayer, therefore maintaining the traditional Jewish culture and keeping religious traditions alive.

    According to the Washington Post, the controversy over drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF has intensified in recent weeks, as members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition finalize legislation to call for a universal draft.

    The draft bill up for a vote in Israel’s parliament would require only a fraction of eligible ultra-Orthodox to serve, Inna Dolzhansky, spokeswoman for lawmaker Ofer Shelah, told the Associated Press.

    According to Dolzhansky, the bill calls for the IDF to draft an increasing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews each year, with the goal of ultimately enlisting 5,200 by mid-2017.

    Ultimately, if the quotas are not met, the bill calls for criminal sanctions for those who avoid mandated military service.

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    The Healthcare.gov website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. The race to construct an online insurance exchange by Oct. 1 spurred the Obama administration to use an expedited bidding system that limited its choice of a builder to just four companies, including CGI Group Inc. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Healthcare.gov website displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in November. By March 31, nearly everyone in the United States is required to be signed up for health insurance or risk paying a fine. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON  – Sick of hearing about the health care law?

    Plenty of people have tuned out after all the political jabber and website woes.

    But now is the time to tune back in, before it’s too late.

    The big deadline is coming March 31.

    By that day, for the first time, nearly everyone in the United States is required to be signed up for health insurance or risk paying a fine.

    Here’s what you need to know about this month’s open enrollment countdown:


    Most people don’t need to do anything. Even before the health care law passed in 2010, more than 8 out of 10 U.S. residents had coverage, usually through their workplace plans or the government’s Medicare or Medicaid programs. Some have private policies that meet the law’s requirements.

    If you’re already covered that way, you meet the law’s requirements.

    Since October, about 4 million people have signed up for private plans through the new state and federal marketplaces, the Obama administration says, although it’s not clear how many were already insured elsewhere. In addition, many poor adults now have Medicaid coverage for the first time through expansions of the program in about half the states.

    President Barack Obama is urging people who have coverage to help any uninsured friends and relatives get signed up.


    Chances are you’ll hear more reminders about health care this month. The push is on to reach millions of uninsured people.

    The administration, insurers, medical associations and nonprofit groups are teaming up with volunteers to get the word out and guide people through the sometimes-rocky enrollment process. They plan special events at colleges, libraries, churches and work sites.

    Singing cats, dogs, parrots – even a goldfish – are promoting the message in TV and online spots from the Ad Council.

    A big hurdle for the effort: As recently as last month, three-fourths of the uninsured didn’t know there was a March 31 deadline, according to polling conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most said they didn’t know much about the law and had an unfavorable opinion of it.

    Plus, many worry they won’t be able to afford the new plans.

    The enrollment campaign is emphasizing that subsidies are available on a sliding scale to help low-income and middle-class households pay for their insurance.

    How to enroll? Start at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. Residents of states running their own marketplaces will be directed there; people in other states go through the federal exchange.

    After March 31, many people won’t be able to get subsidized coverage this year, even if they become seriously ill.

    The next open enrollment period is set to begin Nov. 15, for coverage in 2015.


    There are exceptions. The big one is the Medicaid program for the poor. People who meet the requirements can sign up anytime, with no deadline.

    Also, people remain eligible for Medicare whenever they turn 65.

    If you are insured now and lose your coverage during the year, by getting laid off from your job, for example, you can use an exchange to find a new policy then. People can sign up outside the open enrollment period in special situations such as having a baby or moving to another state.

    You can choose to buy insurance outside the marketplaces and still benefit from consumer protections in the law.

    People who do that wouldn’t normally be eligible for premium subsidies. But the Obama administration says exceptions will be made for people whose attempts to buy marketplace insurance on time were stymied by continuing problems with some enrollment websites.


    Some 12 million people could gain health coverage this year because of the law, if congressional auditors’ predictions don’t prove overly optimistic.

    Even so, tens of millions still would go without.

    That’s partly because of immigrants in the country illegally; they aren’t eligible for marketplace policies.

    Some of the uninsured will not find out about the program in time, will find it confusing or too costly, or will just procrastinate too long. Some feel confident of their health and prefer to risk going uninsured instead of paying premiums. Others are philosophically opposed to participating.

    Figuring out just how many of the uninsured got coverage this year won’t be easy because the numbers are fuzzy.

    The administration’s enrollment count includes people who already were insured and used the exchanges to find a better deal, or switched from private insurance to Medicaid, or already qualified for Medicaid before the changes.

    Some who sign up will end up uninsured anyway, if they fail to pay their premiums.

    The budget experts predict enrollment will grow in future years and by 2017 some 92 percent of legal residents too young for Medicare will have insurance.

    But even then, about 30 million people in the United States would go uncovered.


    A gap in the law means some low-income workers can’t get help.

    The insurance marketplaces weren’t designed to serve people whose low incomes qualify them for expanded Medicaid instead. But some states have declined to expand their Medicaid programs. That means that in those states, many poor people will get left out.

    People who fall into the gap won’t be penalized for failing to get covered.

    Some others are exempt from the insurance mandate, too: American Indians, those with religious objections, prisoners, immigrants in the country illegally, and people considered too poor to buy coverage even with financial assistance.


    The law says people who aren’t covered in 2014 are liable for a fine. That amounts to $95 per uninsured person or approximately 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. The penalty goes up in later years.

    A year from now, the Internal Revenue Service will be asking taxpayers filing their forms for proof of insurance coverage. Insurance companies are supposed to provide that documentation to their customers.

    If you owe a penalty for being uninsured, the IRS can withhold it from your refund.

    The agency can’t put people in jail or garnishee wages to get the money. But it can withhold the penalty from a future year’s tax refund.

    This report was written by Associated Press reporter Connie Cass. Follow her on Twitter.

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    Chinese police remained on guard on Sunday at a train station in western China where knife-wielding attackers killed 29 people.

    Chinese police remained on guard at a train station in western China where knife-wielding attackers killed 29 people on Saturday. Authorities have labelled the violence a terrorist attack and are blaming Uighur separatists. Credit: Mark Ralston/Getty Images

    Authorities have blamed separatists in western China for the knife attack that killed 29 people and left 143 injured at a train station in Southwest China on Saturday.

    A group of knife-wielding attackers in black clothing descended on a train station late in the day on Saturday in the Yunnan capital city of Kunming.

    Local media reported that police shot and killed four of the perpetrators, captured one and were looking for five more suspects.

    The assailants’ identities have not been released, but China’s state broadcast station CCTV reported that both the detained suspect and one of the dead attackers were women.

    Official Xinhua News Agency reported that there was evidence at the scene indicating “a terrorist attack carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces.”

    Some of the Uighurs residing in the western Xinjiang have been part of a separatist movement that the Chinese government has cracked down on in recent years.

    According to the Associated Press, authorities were rounding up members of Kunming’s Uighur community after the attack.

    Kunming does not have a history of Uighur unrest. The city is more than 900 miles southeast of Xinjiang province where clashes between the Uighur community and China’s ethnic Han majority are more common.

    While residents were rattled by the attack, the AP reported that some were sympathetic to the Uighur community.

    “It’s the pressure,” local restaurant worker Xie Yulong told the Associated Press. “Beijing has put too much pressure on them since Xi Jinping took over. They are under so much pressure they do not want to live, and they did that.”

    Saturday’s train station attack was the deadliest event linked to Uighur-Han clashes since riots occurred in Xinjiang in 2009.

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    Protesters sing the Ukrainian national anthem near the Russian Embassy March 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. Activists gathered to protest Russian intervention in the Ukraine and Crimea. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

    Activists gathered to protest Russian intervention in the Ukraine and Crimea near the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC on March 2. Western powers warned Sunday that Moscow may face economic penalties and isolation if Russian forces remain in Ukraine. Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Western powers on Sunday prepared a tough response to Russia’s military advance into Ukraine and warned that Moscow could face economic penalties, diplomatic isolation and bolstered allied defenses in Europe unless it retreats.

    The crisis may prove to be a game-changer for President Barack Obama’s national security policy, forcing him to give up his foreign policy shift to Asia and to maintain U.S. troop levels in Europe to limit Russia’s reach.

    The ill will and mistrust also could spill over on two other global security fronts – Syria and Iran – where Russia has been a necessary partner with the West.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that he would heed the West’s warnings. Hundreds of armed men surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea. In Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk alerted allies that “we are on the brink of disaster.”

    Secretary of State John Kerry said he has consulted with other world leaders, and “every single one of them are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion.”

    He was considering a stop in Kiev during his trip this week to Paris and Rome for discussions on Lebanon and Syria.

    In Brussels, NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Russia’s actions have violated a U.N. charter. He said the alliance was re-evaluating its relationship with Russia.

    “There are very serious repercussions that can flow out of this,” Kerry said.

    Beyond economic sanctions and visa bans, freezing Russian assets, and trade and investment penalties, Kerry said Moscow risks being booted out of the powerful Group of Eight group of world powers as payback for the military incursion.

    Several senators also called for bolstered missile defense systems based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Russia is “going to be inviting major difficulties for the long term,” said Kerry. “The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this. They know how to fight.”

    Still, it was clear that few in the West were prepared to respond immediately to Putin with military force.

    At the Vatican, Pope Francis used his traditional Sunday midday appearance in St. Peter’s Square to urge world leaders to promote dialogue as a way of resolving the crisis in Ukraine.

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., discussing the potential of U.S. military strikes against Russian troops in Crimea, said, “I don’t think anyone is advocating for that.”

    Rubio said it would be difficult to rein in Moscow. He said Putin has “made a cost-benefit analysis. He has weighed the costs of doing what he’s done, and … clearly he has concluded that the benefits far outweigh the costs. We need to endeavor to change that calculus.”

    As a starter, Rubio and fellow GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Obama administration should return to plans it abandoned in 2009 to place long-range missile interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Russia believed the program was aimed at countering its own missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent. The White House denied that, and has worked instead to place medium-range interceptors in Poland and Romania – aimed at stopping missiles from Iran and North Korea.

    Experts said potential U.S. budget cuts to Army units based in Germany also could be slowed, or scrapped completely, to prevent a catastrophic erosion of stability and democracy from creeping across Europe.

    The Pentagon is considering new reductions to Army units in Germany that already have been slashed under Obama. Currently, there are two Army brigades – up to 10,000 soldiers – based in Germany, where armored and infantry units have dug in since World War II. At the end of the Cold War, more than 200,000 American forces were stationed across Europe.

    Damon Wilson, an Eastern European scholar, former diplomat and executive vice president of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank, said the U.S. must be ready to pour its efforts into Ukraine, even at the cost of policies and priorities elsewhere.

    “We should be no longer deluded by the fact that Europe is a safe spot of stability and security, and not a security risk for the U.S.,” Wilson said Sunday. He said that if Putin goes unchecked, it could result in war – the second one on NATO’s borders.

    The 3-year-old civil war in Syria is already a crisis for neighboring Turkey, a NATO member state. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but it borders four nations that are – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

    “This is the biggest challenge to Obama’s presidency,” Wilson said. “This is a pretty tectonic shift in our perception of European security.”

    Wilson said the White House may have to abandon the policy shift to Asia – its attempt to boost America’s military, diplomatic and economic presence there – to refocus on Russia’s threat.

    He played down concerns that the new schism between Washington and Moscow will have an effect on the their efforts to end the war in Syria and limit Iran’s nuclear program.

    In Syria, Wilson said, Russia relied on a “bankrupt plan” in its failure to convince President Bashar Assad to embrace peace. “There’s nothing happening there that’s credible in a positive way,’ he said.

    With Iran, the bulk of negotiations already have been between the U.S. and Iran, said Wilson, who described Russia as mostly playing in the background.

    Even so, officials said the U.S. and the West would not be able to roll over Russia on any number of global diplomatic or economic fronts.

    Russia has made clear it is ready to provide weapons and military equipment to governments across the Mideast that have irked Washington. Russia’s permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council gives it veto power over major world deliberations.

    “The challenge is, we do need to have some kind of working relationship with Russia,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday. “And while we can impose these costs and take these steps, we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that they can impose their own costs on us.”

    Kerry appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Rubio was NBC, while Graham and Schiff were interviewed on CNN.

    Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes wrote this report. Follow her on Twitter.

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    The online world has been buzzing about thousands of pages of documents from the Clinton administration that were released by the Clinton Presidential Library on Friday.

    Much of the conversation has focused on insight the documents provide about then-first lady Hillary Clinton, who many think will seek a bid for president in 2016.

    I spoke with Josh Gerstein who has been covering the story for Politico about some of the most interesting details to come from the trove of documents, from universal healthcare to an amateur White House cartoonist.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Welcome to a Lunchtime Hangout at the PBS Newshour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan and I’m joined by Josh from Politico. Josh Gerstein or Gerstein?

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Gerstein

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And he’s been covering the story. It’s been hashtagged #ClintonDocs all over Twitter and the internet. This is of course the story about a huge trove of documents released by the Clinton Presidential Library. And Josh, how many documents are we talking about?

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Well the batch that were talking about is about 33,000 pages in all. They’re documents that have been withheld over the last dozen years when the library was processing records in response to various requests and even some nominations of Supreme Court nominees and so forth. They set aside these records that have confidential advice to the president or among his advisers or something related to appointments. And now in batches the library is going to release at least some of them. We don’t have a firm commitment that all 33,000 pages will come out, but we got the first batch of 4,000 and we’re expecting sort of similar batches over the next few weeks.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So of those 4,000 pages, the headlines have primarily been focused on Hillary Clinton who many people think might run for president and it really seems that all of the conversations that she had as first lady are now in the public sphere.

    JOSH GERSTEIN: A lot of them certainly are, the ones that were reduced to paper. You’ve gotta remember we were living here sort of at the cusp of the internet age. So in the early years of the Clinton Administration there’s still a lot of paper a lot of actual typewritten memos being circulated back and forth. As you come up into the late ‘90s and the early 2000 periods you start to get more email back and forth. But you’re right a lot of the traffic here that we’re seeing is about the first lady. Both about her healthcare efforts in the early couple years of the Clinton Administration, I should say Clinton White House, and then the last couple years as she was gearing up to run for the senate from New York — her getting sort of advice on how to polish her public persona as what is really her being a first time political candidate on her own.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And she seemed to be somewhat prescient on some of the pitfalls of universal health care, back when it was called that, and really almost even what the Obama Administration has had to go through in terms of positioning it in mid-term elections.

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Yeah I mean between the first lady and the Clinton White House staff they pinpointed a couple really big problems that the Obama healthcare law has encountered. Now we shouldn’t say that they cured these problems because in many cases they pointed them out and said they were necessary. One being the individual mandate. Very early on, Hillary Clinton in a closed door meeting with people on Capitol Hill said it would be very politically tough to push through a mandate that every person in the country buy, or require in someway, health insurance. That became the Republican alternative to the Clinton healthcare plan back in the ‘90s and in a strange turn of fate became the Obama healthcare plan in 2009. People may also remember that during the 2008 campaign Hillary Clinton pushed the individual mandate as the sort of next obvious solution here on healthcare and then-Senator Barack Obama opposed the individual mandate, picking up the idea eventually when it was time to push legislation through the hill. So they really pointed out that particular mistake. And then another top adviser in the White House, there’s an internal email sent back and forth from a fella named Todd Stern saying ‘Can we really say everyone can keep their doctor and their health care plan? That might be a promise we can’t follow through on.’ And that’s precisely one of the pitfalls that President Obama ran into just these last few months as people got these cancellation notices.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So is there concern, perhaps maybe it’s in the Hillary camp maybe its among Democrats, that these troves of document now 12, 15 years later could possibly jeopardize or could possibly re-litigate the entire Clinton presidency as Hillary Clinton maybe makes a run for it?

    JOSH GERSTEIN: I mean I think that’s a concern. I don’t know too many people who are worried that there’s some huge smoking gun here that would destroy her public political life or persona or that she would have to scramble to respond too. But there’s enough grist for the mill on all these issues, be they healthcare, we’re expecting some future waves of documents to see things about White Water and the Independent Counsel investigations. Maybe even things about Mrs. Clinton’s response to the Monica Lewinsky affair and then the way the investigation surrounded that and impeachment. And every time there’s we information that comes out these issues get injected back into the public discussion and even if the specifics aren’t damaging to Mrs. Clinton they’re probably not the subjects that she would want to discuss at length in advance of a 2016 presidential bid. she’s trying to focus on the issues on her service as Secretary of State on the things she’s most concerned about right now and I don’t know if this walk down memory lane is really something she’d like to see.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, so when you poured through as many documents as you poured through, anything that you were surprised by?

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Well you know, it’s always interesting to look back, as I mentioned earlier, at what a different time this was. You know there’s a lot of awkward discussion from one aid about how we might use internet to advance the first lady’s senate bid or some other things she wanted to do. People were really feeling their way through on this. It was clear that many people in the White House found the whole thing kind of foreign. You see Bill Clinton making jokes about the only chips he knew about growing up were potato chips or something along those lines. You know it’s interesting, it makes you think about just how long ago the ‘90s were. Maybe chronologically not that long ago, but in terms of technology they seem like forever. I don’t know if that has any political importance, if it makes the Clintons seem older, a generation or two older, than they might actually be, but it certainly what struck me as I went through the documents.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay and finally I saw NPR had a little collection of them, but there was at least one aid that had a gift for doodles, a former cartoonist.

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Yeah that’s right, Jeff Shesol who was one of the president’s top speechwriters, President Clinton’s top speechwriters, before he started out as a speechwriter was actually a cartoonist, a pretty good cartoonist. I believe he was in one of the Ivy League newspapers had a cartoon called “The adventures of PC, Politically Correct Man” and in addition to having the talent to put together the cartoons as the wording and the political aspect of them, he’s pretty good with a pen and apparently got bored in a number of White House meetings and put together some pretty, pretty good doodles. If they look professional it’s because they basically are.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright so doodles happen at the White House just like they do everywhere else. Alright Josh Gerstein from Politico. Thanks so much for your time.

    JOSH GERSTEIN: Anytime Hari, take care.

    Related: Clinton Library to release 5,000 pages of confidential records

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: The crisis in Ukraine will be front and center this week. But important talks about another international trouble spot — the Middle East —  are set to get underway in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting with President Obama. For more about this, we are joined now from Washington by Jay Solomon. He is foreign affairs correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.

    So I imagine front and center are the conversations between the United States and Iran and what sort of sanctions we want to set up. Obviously, Israel says right now that the plan that we have on the table is too easy.

    JAY SOLOMON: Yes, that’s right the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been very critical since this negotiation really picked up steam last November, saying they want a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and if they don’t do it, keep the sanctions on them.

    The Obama administration is pursuing a diplomacy now that’s really accelerating and has basically accepted that Iran will maintain some ability to produce nuclear fuel in the future and the sanctions have already been eased. So, there is a huge gap between the Israelis and the Americans on this diplomacy and I do think that will be the key issue that the Prime Minister wants to talk with Mr. Obama about.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the Middle East peace process in the background? There’s been some friction from the Israelis saying it looks like President Obama wants to spearhead a specific agenda and it’s too aggressive.

    JAY SOLOMON: Yea, the peace process has kind of been hanging out there. It’s doesn’t get as much attention in the press as it used to, but it’s still there. Basically, by the end of April – April 30 was the original deadline for these negotiations that we’re brokering  between the Israelis and the Palestinians was supposed to end. Right now Secretary Kerry is really pushing for what’s called a framework agreement which will set clearer terms for what the negotiations will focus on and will allow for this April 30 deadline to sort of be kicked down the road and continue the process.

    The Israelis have always been concerned that Americans will create their own deal and say ‘basically take it or leave it.’ This is something they have fought very aggressively and are pushing back about. And I’m sure that after Iran that will be the second-biggest issue the two leaders will discuss.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of Secretary Kerry, he ruffled a few feathers early on in the month, almost threatening economic isolation and words like boycott were used and the Israelis pushed back quite aggressively to that.

    JAY SOLOMON: Yes, correct. He was speaking in Munich at a Security Forum, and he was saying that if this peace process collapses the push by many European companies or governments to bascially boycott Israel will increase a lot. Secretary Kerry basically said he was just describing what was going on, he wasn’t threatening, but there was real pushback by the Prime Minister and a number of very kind of  conservative politicians in Israel.  So I think it just shows how much tension there is between the Obama camps on the Middle East peace process.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks so much.


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    Map of Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, NewsHour Weekend

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  What’s driving Vladimir Putin’s thinking about all of this? What is the Russian perspective? For more about that, we are joined now by Stephen Cohen. He is professor emeritus of Russian Studies at New York University and of politics at Princeton University. Thanks for joining us. Putin just raised the stakes a significant amount, why?

    STEPHEN COHEN: We hear the American view that Putin is a neo-imperialist and a Soviet leader and he’s trying to recreate the Soviet Union. He’s something fundamentally different. Remember he came to power 14 years ago and he inherited a collapsed state. Remember also that the Russian state has collapsed twice in the 20th century – in 1917 and again in 1991. Putin’s mission as he sees it, and as the Russian political elite sees it, is to restore Russian stability, greatness at home and that includes to secure Russia’s traditiona, historical security zones around Russia. First and foremost, that is Ukraine. So what Putin did when he mobilized his forces, was to say to the United States and to Europe, you are crossing my red line and I have no choice. And politically at home, and given the pro-Russian forces and sentiments in Eastern and Southern Ukraine bordering Russia, I don’t see that he had a choice. Now, he has a choice of what he will do next, but that will depend on us, I think.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the options for the U.S. here?

    STEPHEN COHEN: Zero. Zero, unless we want to go to war. Putin holds all the cards for better or worse. He holds the military cards because it’s his territory. He holds the political cards because a very large portion of Ukraine supports Putin, not the West. He holds the economic cards because Ukraine is part of the Russian economy. And legally — you’ll have to ask a lawyer — there is the question of whether the Russians are right – is the government in Kiev which overthrew, 10 days ago, the constitutional order in Kiev and threw out the elected president — is it a legitimate government – whatever that word means? Putin says it it’s not legitimate. We haven’t recognized it as yet, but we’re acting as if it is legitimate. I don’t know what a lawyer would say.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Are we following the same path of 2008 in Russia and Georgia? Where essentially this escalated into an all-out war for a few days?

    STEPHEN COHEN: You’re right, there is a similarity in the sense that that two was a red line — the Former Soviet Republic of Georgia. But there was something else there. First it was of much lesser importance to Russia than Ukraine because of its location and its size. Secondly, even though we always say that Russian and Putin invaded tiny little Georgia, the fact is that the war was begin, by the American-backed military forces of Georgia– because they attacked Russian enclaves in Georgia. Today, nobody fired a shot and if nobody fires a shot there is a way out. But there is a worse scenario and that is if the Russians think they have to move their troops not only into Crimea, this peninsula where their naval base is and historically part of Russia, but also into eastern and southern Ukraine as well.  There will be enormous pressure for NATO to move into western Ukraine and then all bets are off.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What is the capability of capacity of the Ukrainian army? Where do their loyalties lie?

    STEPHEN COHEN: That’s a terrific question, after all, as much of the Ukrainian army, such as it is, 130,000 troops, is ethnically Russian. We don’t know whether they would follow Kiev’s orders.  But if there was a war – and literally even if we’re not religious we need to pray there’s not a war – because this would be a turning point in history. If there’s a war, Ukrainians who support Kiev and the West will become partisan fighters. They don’t really have an army that can fight and that will be as bloody as anything. It will be a civil war and ancient hatreds – tombstones will be kicked over as they say – and all sorts of ancient hatreds will roam the land for years and years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Briefly, you’ve studied American-Russian relations – how bad is this point now?

    STEPHEN COHEN: I think we now have seen the descent of a new Cold War divide –this time not in Berlin but on Russia’s borders. Can it end there? I mean it’s already fateful – can it not get worse? I think it depends on whether the West now rises to leadership and gives Putin the guarantees he needs to back off. Now, in America there’s a different view – that he has to back off first. But that’s where we stand.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Stephen Cohen thanks so much.

    STEPHEN COHEN: My pleasure.

    The post As tensions build, U.S. has ‘zero options’ in Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ukrainian soldiers stand inside the gate of a Ukrainian military base as unidentified heavily-armed soldiers stand outside in Crimea Monday in Perevalne, Ukraine. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Ukrainian soldiers stand inside the gate of a Ukrainian military base as unidentified heavily-armed soldiers stand outside in Crimea Monday in Perevalne, Ukraine. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    With Ukraine’s interim prime minister declaring the country to be “on the brink of disaster,” President Barack Obama finds himself entangled in a diplomatic standoff with Russian President Vladimir Putin with no clear path forward and Republican lawmakers at home openly criticizing his foreign policy.

    Secretary of State John Kerry made the Sunday show rounds, describing Russia’s intervention in Ukraine an “act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext.”

    Kerry, who will travel to Kiev Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian officials, said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” the administration had consulted with allies about the possibility of leveling economic penalties against Russia should it continue to take provocative steps in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

    “All of them, every single one of them, are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion,” Kerry said. “They are prepared to put sanctions in place. They are prepared to isolate Russia economically.”

    Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether a military option had been considered, Kerry responded that such action was “the last thing anybody wants.”

    “We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations,” he added.

    Kerry’s tough posture followed a 90-minute conversation between the president and Putin on Saturday. The White House said Mr. Obama “made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community.”

    One potential next step could be a U.S. boycott of the Group of Eight summit in Russia this June. The U.S. could also move to have Russia expelled from the G-8.

    The administration’s immediate response to the situation in Ukraine has done little to quiet Republican critics who have in the past charged the president with “leading from behind.”

    “I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

    Rogers said the Russians have been “running circles around us” when it comes to negotiations involving Syria and missile defense.

    Speaking on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also took aim at the president’s strategy toward Russia.

    “Stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit,” he advised. “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”

    The National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes that Ukraine could be the “toughest crisis” of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

    Politico’s Reid Epstein surveys the president’s options with Russia, and finds there is no easy way out of the situation.

    The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson, meanwhile, looks at how the situation squares with the president’s broader foreign policy strategy.

    And the New Yorker’s David Remnick examines Putin’s hopes for reasserting Soviet power this winter:

    He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.


    • The House and Senate are taking a snow day.

    • The Supreme Court, however, is open and will hear oral arguments in Hall vs. Florida, about states’ authority to identify mentally disabled defendants when determining eligibility for the death penalty.

    • The Washington Post’s Pam Constable traveled to Virginia’s 6th Congressional District, where she found House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte facing pressure from immigration activists over his tough stance on immigration reform.

    • The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore writes that wealthy campaign donors are looking to have more input on strategy.

    • House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is publishing a 204-page critique of the federal government’s anti-poverty programs Monday as a prelude to the release of the House GOP budget later this month. The president unveils his budget Tuesday.

    • Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray said Friday that Democrats would not offer a budget resolution this year.

    • National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar reports former Rep. Travis Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat, plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. Veteran GOP Sen. Thad Cochran faces a June primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

    • Police arrested hundreds of students protesting the Keystone pipeline outside the White House Sunday.

    • Retiring Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., tells Salon why millions “are already dying” from climate change.

    • Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Jennifer Epstein dig through the roughly 4,000 pages released Friday by former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library. The documents give a sense of the concerns within the Clinton administration about its health care reform package. They also reveal efforts to soften Hillary Clinton’s public image, including by having her appear on the sitcom “Home Improvement.”

    • “Regardless of their success in 2014,” Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter writes, “Republicans will start out in a hole” in 2016 the longer they make opposition to Mr. Obama their biggest issue.

    • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is raising his public profile on the campaign trail, abandoning his push for immigration reform in favor of stauncher conservative positions.

    • Democrats, the New York Times’ Jackie Calmes reports, are using data-driven targeting to try to bring white men back into their fold.

    • Business groups are not happy about House Ways and Means Chair David Camp’s tax reform proposal.

    • Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, plans to challenge Paul Ryan for chair of the Ways and Means committee after Camp relinquishes the seat because of term limits next year.

    • Drama is building over who will replace retiring California Rep. Henry Waxman as top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a surprise endorsement of the committee’s fifth-ranking Democrat and fellow Californian Anna G. Eshoo over third-ranking Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey.

    • In the latest edition of “Being Biden,” the vice president talks about meeting with with Special Olympian Jonathan Stoklosa.


    • Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed Ukraine and the power of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and on domestic issues weighed in on the veto of Arizona’s SB-1062 and the response to Chairman Camp’s tax reform proposal.


    Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    The post Putin puts Obama’s foreign policy to the test appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rachel Zucker

    Rachel Zucker was once told that poets either write out of noise or out of silence and she has no doubt which category she falls into.

    Zucker just published a new collection of poems called “The Pedestrians.” A native of New York, she has lived in the city for almost her entire life, which has greatly influenced her poetry.

    “Being a New Yorker is very intrinsic to my personality,” Zucker told Art Beat. “New York has always shown up in all my poems, but in this book, I was really interested in being more explicit about it and not just writing about New York, but writing in a way that somehow mimicked the experience of living in New York.”

    She wrote poems in forms that felt “rushed” and “chaotic,” that implied many voices, what she calls “high population density poetics.”

    “I think the writing both absorbs the city and everything that I am as part of New York, but I think the writing also is an attempt to carve out some sort of quietness or some sort of aloneness within that very hectic, cacophonous storm.”

    That goal in Zucker’s writing is reflected in poems like “i’d like a little flashlight.”

    “In a way it’s a very, very private sort of solitary poem of a single voice talking about wanting to get even more and more quiet and more and more focused and more and more alone … we normally think of loneliness as a really bad thing, but once you have a lot of people in your life in close proximity to you, loneliness takes on a new appeal.”

    Listen to Rachel Zucker read “i’d like a little flashlight.”
    i’d like a little flashlight

    & I’d like to get naked & into bed & be
    HOT radiating heat from inside these
    blankets do nothing to keep out the out keep
    my vitals in some drafty body I’ve got in & out
    in all directions I’d like to get naked into bed but
    HOT on this early winter afternoon already
    dusky grim & not think of all the ways
    I’ve gone about the world & shown myself
    a fool shame poking holes in my thinned carapace
    practically lacy woefully feminine I’d like to get
    naked into bed & feel if not hot then weightless I
    once was there a sensory-deprivation tank
    Madison WI circa 1992 I paid money for that
    perfectly body-temperature silent pitch-dark tank
    to do what? play dead & not die? that was before
    e-mail before children before I knew anything
    just the deaths of a few loved ones which were poisoned nuts
    of swallowed grief but nothing of life
    or life giving which cuts open the self bursting busted
    unsolvable I’d like to get naked into the bed of my life
    but hot HOT my little flicker-self trumped up somehow
    blind & deaf to all the dampening misery of my friends’ woes
    I’d like a little flashlight to write poems w/ this lousy day
    not this poem I’m writing under the mostly flat
    blaze of bulb but a poem written with the light itself
    a tiny fleeting love poem to life a poem that says
    Look here a bright spot of life oh look another!

    That desire for a sense of quiet is a direct response to the “crush of the whole city” around her.

    “I’m not sure that I would have felt the call to write that poem if I were living in beautiful rural Vermont or something, and that my outside world was very quiet and sparse and bucolic. That desire that I talk about in that poem is inspired by the feeling of being one person almost in a borg cube amidst so many other people, so many other consciousnesses and voices and needs and desires.”

    For Zucker, it’s the noise of New York that inspires her.

    “i’d like a little flashlight,” from “The Pedestrians.” Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Zucker. Reprinted with the permission of Rachel Zucker and Wave Books, Seattle, Washington.

    The post Weekly Poem: Rachel Zucker pulls inspiration from the noise of New York appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A NASA satellite image shows the eastern U.S. on March 3. Photo by NOAA-NASA GOES Project

    A NASA satellite image shows the eastern U.S. on March 3. Photo by NOAA-NASA GOES Project

    The latest bout of winter’s fury is causing canceled flights, icy roads and mounds of fresh snow in need of shoveling as it rolls into the South and East after pummeling Texas to Tennessee with heavy sleet.

    Are you a stranded traveler? Have a snow day? Looking for an excuse to not head out to dig your car out of the snow just yet? Stuck at work wishing you did have a snow day? Take our U.S. Winter Weather ’14 quiz to prove your cold climate trivia chops from some of the unique events this season.

    With a forecast of 10 inches of snow for the nation’s capital Monday, the federal government was closed and bus service was stopped. Philadelphia could face six inches of snow and some in New Jersey could see nearly a foot by nightfall. More than 4,500 flights have been cancelled, and Virginia’s governor declared a state of emergency and cancelled school in many of the state’s districts.

    According to Accuweather, the height of the storm could produce two inches of snow an hour. The heaviest snowfall will be focused over the mid-Atlantic, including West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

    Here are some city’s ranks in the “snowiest winter” category:

    Detroit: No. 1 “snowiest” winter on record for the city
    Columbus: No. 1
    Philadelphia: No. 2
    Chicago: No. 2
    New York City: No. 4
    Boston: No. 9
    D.C.: No. 17

    Note: Snow data compiled by NOAA and based on primary airport reporting stations, dating back to the 1940s.

    The post Quiz: How well do you know this winter’s weather? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

    PBS NewsHour holds live Twitter chats each Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. EST. Join @NewsHour on Twitter using the hashtag #NewsHourChats. Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Union membership  in the United States has been on a decline for decades. In 1983, there were 17.7 million union workers or 20.1 percent of workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2013, there were 14.5 million union workers or 11.3 percent.

    Earlier this year, employees at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted against joining the United Auto Workers union. Had the plan been successful, it would have been the first organization of workers at a foreign automaker in the South. But it’s failure calls into question the future of organized labor.

    In this week’s #NewsHourChats we’ll discuss unions in the United States.

    • What do you know about unions?
    • How do unions play a role in your life if at all?
    • How do modern unions differ from the early days or organized labor?
    • What do unions have to offer today’s workers?
    • What are the arguments against unions?
    • What rights and/or work benefits can be attributed to union actions?
    • Why are unions declining?

    Join PBS NewsHour on Twitter, March 6 from 1 to 2 p.m. EST for #NewsHourChats and let us know what you think.

    The post Twitter Chat: What do unions have to offer today’s workers? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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