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

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    Margaret Warner reporting from Crimea, March 15, 2014.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We’re turning now to the crisis in Ukraine. The NewsHour’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins us now from the Crimean capital city of Simferopol where a key referendum will be held tomorrow. What’s the atmosphere like on the eve of the vote that the whole world is watching?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well Hari, this was proclaimed a day of quiet before the vote meaning no rallies, demonstrations or speeches. And in fact the day did apparently pass without any provocations or confrontations here in Crimea, but it’s totally enforced by Russian and Russian sympathetic, Russian supported Crimean troops. So for example when we came to the parliament today, these hordes of journalists to get our credentials for tomorrow, we were met by lines of Russian cossack soldiers. As you can see the russian flag is flying in the atrium of the parliament building. Right across from me, this is Saturday night, there’s a restaurant lit up with lights, but there are more Russian cossacks standing in front of it than there are Crimean customers walking in. And when we left town to go visit some villages, we had to run a gauntlet of Russian manned, or Russian irregular manned, roadblocks, where we simply let our Russian cameraman do the talking.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today the election commission introduced the idea of independent international election observers. You were there, tell us about it.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well Hari, they did say these were independent international observers , but when they started speaking to the press corps they sounded anything but. The first person to speak was from the Crimean parliament and she defended the election as completely fair, legitimate and legal under international law, and she went on to denounce the Americans saying that the government in Kiev was illegitimate and that whenever Americans called, they responded. The one American observer sounded much the same themes. A Serb-American from the Chicago area who writes for a conservative magazine said this will usher in a new era to end the global hegemony of the United States and he said at one point it was ironic that President Obama and Secretary Kerry were defending essentially a decision of a former Soviet leader, Khrushchev, to give Crimea away to Ukraine, when Vladimir Putin was the one upholding the democratic right of self determination. They are going to be running the monitoring operation at all the polling places tomorrow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You said there was a sense of unease, what are people telling you about what may happen after the vote?

    MARGARET WARNER: They do fear violence and that was exacerbated by late reports that in fact Russian forces of some nature moved into Ukraine proper today, north of Crimea to seize a fuel dump. Hari, above all, they fear violence. They fear violence coming to what has been a very peaceful part of Ukraine. A place where Russians and Ukrainians came to vacation and they really fear the unknown and I would say that people are most uncomfortable not about what will happen tomorrow in the vote, but what may happen next.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Margaret Warner, thanks so much.

    The post Crimea braces itself for Sunday’s referendum vote appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Quarantine sign in window, Dubuque, Iowa Creator(s): Vachon, John, 1914-1975, photographer. 1940 Apr.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We want to turn now to another story that’s gotten a lot less attention this week — recent outbreaks of measles on both the East and West Coasts. It’s part of a larger story about how infectious diseases that had all but disappeared in the U.S. are now reappearing. For more, we’re joined by Stephen Morse, he’s a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. So nearly 20 cases of measles in New York, but nationwide the number of measles cases according to the C.D.C. was up three times last year. So why is this happening?

    STEPHEN MORSE: Well measles is vaccine preventable and so to a large extent it’s because of people who are not being immunized or are too young to be immunized. Normally we start recommending immunization at about one year. But for example we had an outbreak last summer in Brooklyn largely because the decision in those communities was to wait before immunizing the children and vaccinate them later, and so some of the younger children got infected.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so how much of this is related to people coming in from other parts of the world and then combining with those populations here that aren’t immunized?

    STEPHEN MORSE: In most cases that’s what’s happening. There are a number of places in the Netherlands, for example, and the U.K. and elsewhere, where for various reasons there are communities, various religious communities for example, that refuse immunization. They just don’t want to be immunized, and occasionally a case will break out there in that population, someone will come over here and introduce it. And most of the population is immunized and protected but not everybody.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what are some of the other infectious diseases that kind of keep you up at night? When I was looking this up that scarlet fever cases are up at a 24 year high in the U.K. I mean obviously in this global and connected world people are carrying infectious diseases along with their luggage as they travel to and from.

    STEPHEN MORSE: Well the one that worries me the most is the one we don’t yet know about. Because you know all of these have popped up; scarlet fever has been with us a long time. My mother was hospitalized with it, 60 or 70 years ago and it was very common then. And we don’t understand why it waxes and wanes. And the streptococcus bacterium, of which it is a member, is with us all the time, strep throat for example, but some of the different forms seem to have their own variable patterns, we don’t know why. And then of course we have meningitis which is also bacterial, but an unusual type for which we do not have an effective vaccine yet in this country, although we’re going to be licensing that soon.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So I want to ask, how much of this is kind of our own success sort of leading to a certain type of complacency? You said your mother had scarlet fever, you had first hand knowledge of it, you knew what to be fearful of. Most of us have never seen polio or measles in our lifetime immediately.

    STEPHEN MORSE: That’s absolutely true and I think for the diseases that are vaccine preventable, and more and more of them are. I had measles when I was a child and in fact a vaccine was developed a few years later, so it’s possible now to be immunized and not ever have to experience what so many of us went through earlier. But for the vaccine preventable diseases very often it’s just those people who are afraid to be immunized, afraid to have their children immunized for whatever reason and depending on their neighbors to protect them. measles is extremely transmissible so you really need a very high level of immunization to protect people. So the complacency there is the fact that we don’t see the threat quite the way we did 50 years ago or perhaps even 25 years ago. There are others that are in the environment, that in other species, occasionally get to human being through human activity such as land use changes, agriculture and then they spread through trade. SARS, the outbreak we had starting in China and Hong Kong and spreading throughout the world in 2003 is one example. Right now we have a related situation that has not spread as widely, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome — MERS — which is similar to SARS, but has not yet been spreading throughout the world. But all of these are out there in nature and I think complacency has something to do with it, but also the actions that we ourselves may take without realizing their effects.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright Stephen Morse from Columbia University, thanks so much.

    STEPHEN MORSE: Thank you.

    The post Measles outbreak sparks fear of resurgent diseases appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — The White House says that if Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t back down in Crimea, he will face penalties from the West that will hurt the Russian economy and diminish Moscow’s influence in the world.

    White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer also says supporting the new Ukrainian government “in every way possible” is at the top of the Obama’s administration’s priority list.

    But action on $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine is on hold because Congress is on a break now.

    Pfeiffer tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Putin has a choice: “Is he going to continue to further isolate himself, further hurt his economy, further diminish Russian influence in the world, or is  he going to do the right thing?”

    The post White House urges Putin to back down in Crimea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Quarantine sign in window, Dubuque, Iowa Creator(s): Vachon, John, 1914-1975, photographer. 1940 Apr.

    Quarantine sign in window, Dubuque, Iowa, April, 1940. Farm Security Administration Photo, Library of Congress.

    On March 7, the New York City Department of Health issued a warning about an outbreak of measles in northern Manhattan and the Bronx and urged all New Yorkers to make sure they are vaccinated against measles. Canadian officials joined the call for vaccination on March 14, after five new measles cases were confirmed in British Columbia.

    Diphtheria strikes unprotected children Protect your child with toxoid--Toxoid prevents diptheria : Chicago Department of Health.

    Chicago Department of Health. WPA Poster Collection, Library of Congress,. 1936-1941.

    It appears that some of the 19 cases reported thus far have occurred in children who had their vaccines and some who were too young to have their first jab. Even though 90 percent of the American public is vaccinated against measles, cases in the United States tripled in 2013. It’s a situation of which the Centers for Disease Control says: “Fifty years after the approval of an extremely effective vaccine against measles, one of the world’s most contagious diseases, the virus still poses a threat to domestic and global health security.” Slate.com offered an explainer for worried city dwellers: “Should New Yorkers Get Revaccinated Against Measles?

    The resurgence of diseases once through nearly eradicated is a growing problem in both the developed and developing world. While diptheria is still mostly encountered in 19th-century novels, scarlet fever, whooping cough and tuberculosis have all had recent outbreaks. And, a polio-like disease is causing partial paralysis in children in California and Australia.

    Centers for Disease Control Traveler's Health Guide

    Centers for Disease Control Traveler’s Health Guide

    To find out more about disease outbreaks around the corner and around the globe you can visit the Centers from Disease Control’s outbreaks center online. It’s important to know if you’re visiting a country where vaccination rates are lower and disease rates higher, that many of the U.S. outbreaks started with an unvaccinated traveler returning home to a community with declining immunity.

    Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, about the reasons for these outbreaks.


    The post Diseases once thought eradicated reappear in the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Detail of Woman Holding a Balance by Johannes Vermeer, 1664

    Detail of Woman Holding a Balance by Johannes Vermeer, 1664

    Several months ago the National Gallery in London made headlines by acquiring  its first ever piece by an American artist, George Bellows’ Men of the Docks (1912) for $2.25 million. The purchase broke a long-standing tradition of nearly 200 years, and incidentally, was made with money from a fund established by late American billionaire J. Paul Getty.

    The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., turns 73 on March 17. The museum is the gift of another American of great wealth, Andrew Mellon, who felt that the United States should have a gallery of art comparable to those of capitols of Europe. Mellon donated his personal art collection, paid for construction and left a sizable donation.

    Of course the National Gallery (and Mellon) collected Old Masters to rival those housed in Paris, London and Rome. But the gallery also included American art and design from the outset. And because this is the gallery of the nation, their website makes learning more about the art simple and entertaining.
    Click to view slideshow.

    To explore further, make a visit to the NGA images bank, which holds more than 35,000 open access images.

    The post Celebrating 73 years of the National Gallery of Art appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    PBS NewsHour producer Morgan Till is documenting his journey with chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner across Ukraine on Twitter.

    Today they are watching as voters throughout the Crimean Peninsula post ballots on a local referendum to decide whether the region will secede from Ukraine. Margaret Warner will report on NewsHour Weekend Sunday about the days events.

    The post NewsHour reporters document the voting process in Crimea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Focus Shifts To Crew And Passengers In Missing Malaysian Airliner Investigation

    A family member of a passenger on the missing Malaysia Airline flight has an emotional phone conversation in a Beijing hotel where families wait for new information. Malaysian authorities have expanded the search area and focused their investigation to those on board the plane. Credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    Nine days into the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, investigators have refocused their efforts on looking into the backgrounds of the pilots, crew and ground staff for clues about why someone deliberately flew the plane off course.

    Investigators searched the homes of both the pilot and copilot for the first time after Malaysian authorities announced on Saturday that the aircraft’s communications systems had likely been turned off by someone on board.

    Other details came to light indicating that part of the jet’s communication system had already been disabled when the final words, “All right, good night,” were spoken to Malaysian air traffic controllers.

    “This will tell you something … because this is something not normal that the pilot would do,” Maj. Gen. Affendi Buang said when discussing the significance of this information with reporters.

    Affendi indicated that it was unclear which pilot said those final words and some have questioned whether it could have been another individual speaking.

    Various experts and officials have expressed have said there is no evidence to indicate disappearance is linked to terrorism. Malaysia’s transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said they had not received a ransom request or any other demands.

    “That makes if very difficult for us to verify whether its a hijacking or terrorist,” Hussein said on Sunday.

    As the investigation turns to those on board the plane, the transport minister appealed to other countries for help and information on Sunday.  Hussein asked governments to provide Malaysia with sensitive radar and satellite data that could help in the search.

    “The search was already a highly complex, multinational effort. It has now become even more difficult,” Hussein said at a news conference.

    With new tracking information indicating a signal from flight 370 came in seven and a half hours after takeoff, the search area has expanded to cover 11 countries whose airspace the plane could have flown through. The number of countries helping in the search also jumped from 14 to 25.

    While the search now covers an area reaching from Kazakhstan to the southern Indian Ocean, experts consider it more likely the person in control would have flown south because the northern search corridor has more air traffic.

    Australia will meet Malaysia’s request to send two aircraft to scour remote islands in the Indian Ocean where the plane might have ended up.

    Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar appealed for countries to conduct background checks of their citizens who were on the plane. Some countries had already gathered information on their respective passengers, while he was waiting for information from others.

    The post Investigators looking into on board crew and ground staff for clues in missing plane search appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Riot police stand guard in front of a regional government building as pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Kharkiv

    Riot police stand guard in front of a regional government building as pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in Kharkiv. Credit: Reuters Images.

    WASHINGTON — With the Crimea referendum an apparent foregone conclusion and U.S. and European sanctions on Russia imminent, the Obama administration shifted its sites Sunday to stopping Russian military advances near eastern and southern Ukraine that could further inflame the crisis.

    Repeating that the United States will not recognize the results of the Crimea vote and will, with the European Union, impose penalties on Russia if it annexes the strategic region, senior U.S. officials warned that any Russia moves on east and south Ukraine would be a grave escalation requiring additional responses.

    Secretary of State John Kerry called on Moscow to return its troops in Crimea to their bases, pull back forces from the Ukraine border, halt incitement in eastern Ukraine and support the political reforms in Ukraine that would protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and others in the former Soviet Republic that Russia says it is concerned about.

    In a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, their second since unsuccessful face-to-face talks on Friday in London, Kerry urged Russia “to support efforts by Ukrainians across the spectrum to address power sharing and decentralization through a constitutional reform process that is broadly inclusive and protects the rights of minorities,” the State Department said.

    Kerry expressed “strong concerns” about Russian military activities in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, just north of Crimea where Russian troops appeared on Saturday, and about “continuing provocations” in cities in east Ukraine, the department said.

    Kerry “made clear that this crisis can only be resolved politically and that as Ukrainians take the necessary political measures going forward, Russia must reciprocate by pulling forces back to base and addressing the tensions and concerns about military engagement,” the department said.

    A senior State Department official said Lavrov’s willingness to discuss Ukraine political reforms was positive, but the official stressed that the Russian military escalation was of “greatest concern” and must be reversed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

    White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer stressed that Russia faces penalties that will badly hurt its economy and diminish its influence in the world if President Vladimir Putin doesn’t back down. He said the Obama administration’s top priority is supporting the new Ukrainian government “in every way possible.”

    “President Putin has a choice about what he’s going to do here. Is he going to continue to further isolate himself, further hurt his economy, further diminish Russian influence in the world, or is he going to do the right thing?” Pfeiffer said.

    U.S. and European officials have said they plan to announce sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and potential asset freezes, on Monday if Putin does not shift course. But Putin and other Russians have shown no sign they are willing to back down. They insist they will respect the results of the Crimean referendum in which voters in the largely pro-Moscow peninsula are expected to choose joining Russia by a wide margin.

    Members of Congress said they were prepared to enact tough sanctions on various Russian leaders, but $1 billion in loan guarantees to help the Ukrainian economy is on hold while Congress is on a break.

    “President Putin has started a game of Russian roulette, and I think the United States and the West have to be very clear in their response because he will calculate about how far he can go,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the U.S. and Europe were entering a “defining moment” in their relationship with Russia.

    “Putin will continue to do this. He did it in Georgia a few years ago. He’s moved into Crimea, and he will move into other places unless we show that long-term resolve.”

    Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut returned early Sunday from meetings in Ukraine. He called Sunday’s annexation vote a “sham referendum.” He said that Ukrainians he talked to, both inside and outside the government, said war could occur if Russia attempts to annex more territory. They indicated that “if Russia really does decide to move beyond Crimea, it’s going to be bloody and the fight may be long,” Murphy said.

    Pfeiffer spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Menendez and Corker appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” Murphy was on ABC’s “This Week.”

    The post U.S. warns Russia on moves near east, south Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An Army general has reportedly agreed to enter a guilty plea as early as Monday in a move that could end a high profile sexual assault case that has plagued the military for the past two years, according to a report from the New York Times on Sunday.

    Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who was the deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, will reportedly have some of the charges brought by his mistress of three years dismissed in lieu of the plea bargain.

    According to the New York Times, the charges to be dismissed include threatening her family, forcing her to perform oral sex twice in Afghanistan and performing consensual “open and notorious sexual acts.”

    Officials had announced on Friday that a new hearing for the married general would be set for Monday, March 17 at Fort Bragg. The trial had previously been postponed to allow for potential plea negotiations.

    Prosecutors will likely push for General Sinclair to receive prison time. The defense is expected to cite that in similar cases sentencing did not include jail time. They will also emphasize that he will retire at a lower rank, taking a retirement pay cut of more than $1 million.

    The case against General Sinclair took a hit earlier this year when the prosecution determined the chief witness — the general’s mistress and a captain in the military — potentially lied in a pretrial hearing while under oath.

    In February his lawyers filed a motion to have sexual assault charges dropped, for which he would face life in prison if convicted.

    Judge Col. James Pohl, who is presiding over the case, decided against dismissing the charges, but instead allowed the defense team another chance at a plea deal.

    The post Army general expected to enter plea bargain, New York Times reports appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People carry a giant Russian flag during a pro-Russian rally in Kharkiv

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the situation in eastern Ukraine we’re joined now via Skype by James Jones who is in Kharkov reporting for Frontline. Again, the Russians call it Kharkov, the Ukrainians call it Kharkiv, just an indicator of how tense the situation is on the ground.  This is the second largest city. This is where Yanukovych ran to for support. What’s happening on the ground as this vote takes place in Crimea?

    JAMES JONES:  Here the situation is incredibly tense. And as a way of kind of showing their solidarity with Crimea, and their own desire to perhaps gain independence, and join Russia; they had this kind of unofficial and actually illegal referendum on the square here today.  It seemed like about 10,000 people came.  And they were chanting “Russia, Putin save us,” slagging off the new government in Kiev who they see as kind of fascists and thugs, effectively. And so then they had this big vote, which frankly is meaningless it’s not an official referendum and has no consequences , but it’s just a show of strength. And then just outside, about 200 meters from where I’m sitting now, they are trying to storm the government building. And it’s very hard to tell what proportion of the population here support what they’re doing, but certainly this minority is incredibly vocal and sometimes can be violent.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So this is a city where neighbor is fighting neighbor on this particular issue.

    JAMES JONES: That’s right. On the streets there are constant arguments breaking out between people, some of whom know each other, but simply they are miles apart. Some of these people are desperate to become part of Russia, in fact even going back to the Soviet Union. You know there are hammers and sickles – flags showing hammers and sickles on the square – enormous flags and people chanting about the Soviet Union. It’s kind of a weird time warp we’re in here. And yet the other half of the city are incredibly supportive of the revolution in Kiev so it feels very, very tense here. On Friday night a couple of people were killed by Ukrainian nationalists.  And that potentially is the kind of provocation that gives Putin legitimate reasons, or at least the pretext, to send Russian troops in.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, James Jones joining us from eastern Ukraine, thanks so much.

    JAMES JONES: Thanks.


    The post Tensions Rise in Eastern Ukraine After a Series of Rallies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more the disappearance of the Malaysian jet liner, we joined now from Washington by Michael Schmidt of the New York Times. He’s been covering this story for them.

    So where are investigators focusing their efforts now? We’ve heard that they’ve looked through the homes of the pilots and tried to find any connection to terrorism there.

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT:  Yeah, they have access now to a flight simulator that one of the pilots had in his house and they’re going through that. They’re also going through some computers that they found there and are also talking to his family members.  So as of today, as we’ve seen the story has changed so much, the focus is now on the pilot.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And how much access do American investigators or U.S. agencies have to the fruits of these investigations?

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT: They actually don’t have a lot. In terms of raw data and where the plane may have been and satellite imagery and sort of pings that have come off of the plane, the U.S. has a fair amount of access to that information. But U.S. investigators don’t know a lot about the Malaysian investigation. The Malaysians have not asked for formal help from the Americans. And the FBI has less than a handful of guys on the ground there.  So in terms of the actual investigation of who these people were and what their motivations may have been the U.S. has far less visibility. And that’s something that has frustrated officials here in Washington.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, in some of your reporting you pointed out that Malaysian radar essentially picked up this aircraft going in different places. Malaysian military radar did. But nobody sent up a warning flare. That there were actually jets ready to scramble but nobody did.

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Correct. There’s a lot of questions that have come out about the Malaysians – why they haven’t been sharing more information sooner. Why it took it more than a week for them to come out and make the declaration that they did the other day about the transponders and about how they thought that this was foul play. And sort of as the American look at this they think ‘well, we have a lot of expertise in this and we could really help.’  But the Malaysians don’t want to look like they can’t do it on their own and they don’t want us to come in and do it for them.  So the U.S. kind of stands on the outside, like many of us,  and looks in and sort of theorizes what happened. But they don’t seem to know much more than any of us do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So how costly has that time been. In the amount of time that all these planes and ships have been searching, really in the wrong area.

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Look, the problem is that the ocean there is just so big and it’s so vast and there’s only so much area that can be covered. And because the transponders went off, they have very little clue of where it could be. If they plane had hypothetically blown up as it was going on its route, then they would have a clear idea of where to look. There would be a sort of a narrow area they could look through in the water, but  they have essentially an entire ocean to look at and that is really, really difficult. And there’s even some folks who think they may not even ever find it. So, that’s probably the biggest issue here is that there’s just so much water.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So Michael, based on all your reporting, what do you think the most likely scenario is?

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Unfortunately, I think that the plane is probably at the bottom of the ocean. It seems pretty far-fetched to think that the plane was taken somewhere, landed and no one detected it.  And if you talk to aviation experts, they say it’s very difficult to sort of hide a plane of this size and for it to end up on land somewhere without anyone finding it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michael Schmidt from the New York Times joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

    MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

    The post New details on missing plane emerge shifting investigation’s direction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The government has your number, and the meta-data surrounding it. What does that really mean? From the heads of intelligence agencies to the president, they’ve all said it is not identifiable, but a couple of students at Stanford are finding something different in their research.

    As part of an ongoing study at Stanford, computer science doctoral students Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler have found that collecting highly sensitive information using phone metadata — including a person’s medical condition, firearm ownership, or religious affiliation — is easier than most people may realize.

    Watch this Google Hangout between Hari Sreenivasan and  Mayer to learn more about their study. Mayer says, even in their small scale experiment they were able to glean a lot of personal information and attach it to a number.

    More of their research can be found at Webpolicy.org and you can also check out the chart we showed you during the video chat.

    The post Study finds phone metadata can reveal sensitive personal information appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Margaret Warner in Simeropol, Crimea on referendum day, March 16, 2014,

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening thanks for joining us. Defying international protests calling the process illegitimate, Crimea today went ahead with a referendum and voted overwhelmingly to join Russia. The vote came almost exactly two weeks after thousands of Russian troops occupied the region which has been part of Ukraine for 60 years, but is also home to the Russian Black Sea fleet. The NewsHour’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins us from Crimea. So what was it like at the polls today?

    MARGARET WARNER: Hari the thing that surprised me today was really the high turnout we did observe at the four polling stations we went to. I mean, one it was 53 percent by 2 p.m. and another it was 63 percent by 5 p.m. The one exception was at a district that is heavily Muslim Tatar. They had said they would boycott the vote and it was only 10 percent. The voters seemed in a celebratory mood. The head of one polling station said ‘all Slavic peoples, this is a very big day for them.’ And what they said, they don’t understand that this is causing a huge east-west confrontation. Their concerns were really practical, really. They talked about having more jobs and investment if they joined Russia, and they also talked about feeling much more at home with Russia. You know this is an area that for 300 years was part of Russia and then the Soviet Union. And they all, almost all, complained about being forced to fill out forms in Ukrainian, for example. So there seems to be a kind of yearning, and also a feeling that the post-revolutionary government in Kiev is hostile, or at least has people in it hostile to Russian speakers and ethnic Russians here. HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of practical matters, how does Crimea become apart of Russia? How quickly could that happen? MARGARET WARNER: It could happen quite quickly Hari. Tonight the official results are supposed to be announced at this celebratory concert that’s going on nearby. Tomorrow morning at 10 the Crimean parliament will meet in this building right behind me to quote: “evaluate the results.” But they’ve already said that if the public here affirms the idea they are ready to vote, and in fact they have voted to ask Russia to join. Now of course there is a group here, ethnic Ukrainians, who feel very alienated by this. We spoke to a group of them tonight who said they also did not vote, that they feel completely ostracized by the kind of move that’s underway here and they didn’t want to participate in something that seemed illegitimate to them. So it’s not a wholesale endorsement of this, but I think it’s going to move very fast at least on the Crimean side. HARI SREENIVASAN: Are they ready for this kind of a move? It’s a big deal to secede. MARGARET WARNER: It is a huge step Hari and of course we don’t know yet whether the Russian Duma will complete this circle, but the Prime Minister here, this new fellow Aksyonov — pro-Russian, pro-separatist — reassured people here he’s made plans already for getting gas and electricity which they currently get from Ukraine. And today the largest commercial bank here on Crimea, it’s actually the largest commercial bank in all of Ukraine, put a sign on its door today at 4:30 “Do to the conversion from the local currency to Rubles, the bank will not be open on Monday. We apologize for the inconvenience.” HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s a significant shift. So what happens in the next couple of days, the next coming weeks? MARGARET WARNER: Well Hari, there are still huge unknowns, as I said. First of all, the Russian Duma has not voted, has not made this official. And there’s another unanswered question which is how quickly will Vladimir Putin, President Putin, and the Russians follow through on their threat to move into eastern Ukraine to protect Russian speakers and ethnic Russians there; that’s another thing that’s unknown. And of course, how quickly will the U.S. and the E.U. move to impose the sanctions they’ve threatened  Today the White House said it could come in a matter of days, but Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov did have a big conversation this morning at which they talked about resolving this perhaps diplomatically through constitutional changes to the Ukraine constitution. It’s a complicated set of issues but it would have to do with granting more autonomy to some of these regions in eastern Ukraine where Russian speakers are if not a majority as they are here, the ethnic Russians are a sizeable minority; it’s also the richest part of Ukraine. So I would say there are still several steps left to be taken, several shoes to drop. And I suppose there is a possibility, perhaps remote, of resolving this diplomatically in some fashion. HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, NewsHour’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joining us from Crimea. Thanks so much. MARGARET WARNER: Pleasure Hari.

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    MISSION, Texas — Esteban Manzanares was working his regular day shift as a U.S. Border Patrol agent along the busiest stretch of Mexican border when a trio of Honduran immigrants spotted him and offered to surrender.

    A woman, her teenage daughter and a teenage family friend later told authorities they were taken into custody and driven away from a popular county park just north of the Rio Grande and upriver to a more remote, scrub brush-filled area. It was there, in this rugged no-man’s land between the river and a stretch of rust-covered steel border fence, that the older woman says the group was assaulted by a man wearing green fatigues who left the area with one of the girls.

    Based on the woman’s description of the attacker’s clothing and his vehicle, investigators quickly concluded the suspect was likely a U.S. Border Patrol agent, according a federal law enforcement official.

    More than seven hours after the older woman was first spotted Wednesday, her wrists cut and bloodied, agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement found Manzanares dead in his apartment from what investigators have described as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The missing teenager was there, too, bound and naked.

    Manzanares’ family has no idea what could have led the Border Patrol agent to his apparent suicide. They said allegations that he kidnapped and assaulted the women were even harder to comprehend.

    “Honestly, I don’t know,” Manzanares’ ex-wife, Susana Manzanares said Sunday. “It’s really hard to believe.”

    She and Esteban Manzanares met online about 10 years ago. She described him as a sweet, kind-hearted man who helped strangers. They married in 2006.

    The pair divorced earlier this year, but Susana Manzanares, 30, said they remained friendly and spoke often, usually about their 6-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, both of whom have cystic fibrosis.

    “What surprises me is that he would leave his children,” she said as she watched her daughter, Artemis, toddle around the living room of her apartment.

    Manzaneres, 32, was originally from the McAllen area and he had been with the Border Patrol since 2008, serving at a checkpoint further away from the border before transferring to a station along the border to be closer to his children, his ex-wife said. Before joining the Border Patrol he worked as a local jailer and served in the Army National Guard, she said.

    The day the FBI said Manzanares kidnapped and assaulted the immigrants, he and Susana Manzanares texted each other about the kids. In his last message to her, about 3:15 p.m., he said he wanted to help with the kids.

    “I want to help in any way I can but I am very limited,” he wrote.

    Susana Manzanares said she sent him another message at 5:23 p.m. to chat about plans to swap sofas. By then, according to officials who discussed the case with The Associated Press, Manzanares had left the border with the teenage girl. At some point, he dropped off his patrol truck at the nearby station in McAllen, a border city about 350 miles south of Houston. He never responded to his ex-wife’s message.

    The details of what happened between the time other border patrol agents found the older woman near the border fence in a place called Abram and when investigators heard a single gunshot inside his first-floor apartment remain unclear.

    The FBI has declined to discuss specifics of the case. The Homeland Security Department has referred questions about Esteban Manzanares’ shift and activities that day to the FBI.

    The federal law enforcement official and a border patrol agent who helped in the search for the missing girl told the AP previously that the woman was spotted on a border camera shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday. Agents made it to the area within about 10 minutes and started searching for the teenagers. Both the official and the agent spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the case being investigated by the FBI.

    Esteban Manzanares’ day shift was ending as the search started. If he had his radio on as he left the border, he likely would have heard his colleagues start the search for him and the missing girl.

    Investigators narrowed in on Manzanares hours later after finding blood and remnants of duct tape inside the vehicle he had been assigned for that day’s shift, the federal law enforcement official said.

    As authorities approached his apartment sometime after midnight Thursday they heard a gunshot.

    Since the attack the women have received medical attention for what the law enforcement official described this week as non-life threatening injuries. Their exact whereabouts have not been released, but ICE said Friday the group was not in its custody.

    Their future remains uncertain. Immigrant victims of crime can be eligible for a special visa that allows them to stay in the country to help authorities investigate a crime.

    Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney in New York, said the teens may also be eligible for green cards, depending on the circumstances of their home life in Honduras.

    After the attack, the new Customs and Border Protection commissioner, R. Gil Kerlikowske, apologized for the incident.

    “I want you to know that I consider these actions, if true, to be reprehensible and I know they are not representative of the agents of the U.S. Border Patrol,” Kerlikowske said. “I am deeply sorry that this incident occurred and am committed to doing everything in my power to prevent incidents like this from occurring again.”

    Susana Manzanares’ sister, Nelly Ceniceros, said the family just wants to know what happened.

    “We want the truth, even if the truth is something my sister and I and everybody else doesn’t want to hear,” said Ceniceros, an Army soldier who drove to the Rio Grande Valley from El Paso, Texas, after hearing about her former brother-in-law’s death.

    Associated Press reporter Christopher Sherman contributed to this report from Caracas, Venezuela.

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    Video by Associated Press

    Updated 5 p.m. EDT, March 17 | Following Sunday’s referendum vote, the European Union and the U.S. issued more sanctions against several Russian officials. Regarding those sanctions, Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, told PBS NewsHour that measures were more symbolic than anything.

    The sanctions, only targeting a few people, don’t go after heads of energy companies, Gvosdev said. The people the Obama administration are going after don’t have money over seas; it’s not a massive interruption of trade, he said.

    He added: If you really wanted sanctions that bite, you’d say Russian companies should be barred from being listed on a sanction list, for example.

    Updated 2:50 EDT, March 17 | Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Monday formally recognizing Crimea as a “sovereign and independent country,” the Associated Press reports.

    The Crimean parliament formally declared independence from Ukraine on Monday after an overwhelming vote for Sunday’s referendum to join Russia.

    Crimean lawmakers filed an appeal Monday to join Russia after 96.7 percent of the region’s residents voted to support the annexation. Crimean officials also reported a high voter turnout of 83 percent.

    Crowds celebrated the vote to join Russia on Sunday night. Photo by PBS NewsHour producer Morgan Till

    Crowds in Simferopol celebrated the vote to join Russia on Sunday night. Photo by PBS NewsHour producer Morgan Till

    Within the month, the region is expected to adopt the Russian rouble as its new currency and move two hours ahead of Kiev to Moscow time, BBC reports. The Crimean parliament also nationalized all Ukrainian state property, seizing it for independent Crimea.

    Thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators gathered in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, AFP reports, in solidarity with Crimea. Frontline’s James Jones told the NewsHour that he saw a similar situation Sunday in Kharkiv, another eastern Ukrainian city, where 10,000 strong rallied in support of the referendum, chanting “Russia, Putin save us.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to address a joint session of Parliament on Crimea on Tuesday, CNN reports.

    President Barack Obama announced further sanctions against Russian officials on Monday after the European Union and the U.S. condemned Sunday’s referendum.

    The White House said the referendum violated Ukraine’s constitution and that the “international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.”

    Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called Sunday’s vote a “circus performance,” while Ukrainian Parliament mobilized 40,000 reservists to its army and national guard, BBC reports.

    In the meantime, the Ukrainian and Russian defense ministries have agreed on a truce until March 21, Reuters reports.

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    Photo by Alfredo Guerrero/Mexican federal government/Flickr

    The Mexican drug cartel known as the Knights Templar is supplementing illegal drug trade with the illegal trade of lucrative raw materials from the port of Lazaro Cardenas — so much so that it has become their top source of income. Photo by Alfredo Guerrero/Mexican federal government/Flickr

    The pseudo-religious Knights Templar drug cartel has diversified to the extent that illegal mining, logging and extortion now rank as the gang’s top sources of income, a Mexican government official told the AP in the country’s first official acknowledgement that a major organized crime group has moved beyond drugs.

    The cartel was once known for their production and smuggling of methamphetamine. Now, iron ore tops the list as their “principal source of income,” said Alfred Castillo. He is the Mexican government’s special envoy sent to restore rule of law in Michoacán, the Mexican state controlled by the Knights Templar through extortion, kidnapping and murder over the last several years.

    “They’re charging $15 (a metric ton) for the process, from extraction to transport, processing, storage permits and finally export,” said Castillo. The gang controls the entire production chain, according to authorities.

    Mexico’s total exports of iron ore to China through Michoacán’s port of Lazaro Cardenas climbed from 1.5 percent in 2008 to nearly 50 percent in 2012. This month, the government seized 119,000 tons of minerals at the port and 124 pieces of heavy machinery.

    The Knight’s Templar’s also controls, through extortion, Michoacán’s lime and avocado production.

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    New evidence released today gives us a look at the universe less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Image of a portion of the Milky Way galaxy by Serge Brunier / NASA

    New evidence released today gives us a look at the universe less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Image of a portion of the Milky Way galaxy by Serge Brunier/NASA

    Scientists believe that less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe began to rapidly expand as fast as the speed of light. The idea that the universe underwent a rapid expansion is called inflation. As the universe spread out and cooled down, atoms that later made gas, dust, stars and planets were formed.

    But what exactly happened at the start of the universe has been unconfirmed until now. With a radio telescope at the South Pole, scientists followed gravitational waves 13.8 billion years into the past and found the first direct evidence of the universe’s rapid expansion immediately following the Big Bang.

    “This is a totally new, independent piece of cosmological evidence that the inflationary picture fits together,” said theoretical physicist Alan Guth of MIT, who proposed the idea of inflation in 1980.

    This is the first concrete evidence of gravitational waves, a phenomenon first predicted by Einstein 100 years ago. After major cosmic events like the merging of black holes or the Big Bang, gravity makes waves in spacetime that travel like ripples on a pond. These ripples travel at the speed of light, but Einstein thought they would be so feeble, they would be undetectable.

    But scientists suspected that these ripples could still be found. Billions of years later, the waves are too weak to measure directly, so scientists have been looking for imprints left on the “cosmic microwave background”, a soup of elementary particles left over from the Big Bang. A U.S.-led team, headed by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, along with the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, used a specialized radio telescope called BICEP2 (which stands for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) at the South Pole to hunt for the gravitational waves. The dry air, thin atmosphere and distance from cell phone and radio towers made the South Pole the ideal wave-hunting location.

    Finding these primordial gravitational waves is the “smoking gun” in inflation theory, said. Chao-Lin Kuo, assistant professor of physics at Stanford University. While you can never truly prove a scientific theory, this is testable evidence, he said.

    “We’re not claiming that we definitely proved the theory,” he said. “It’s the closest to a proof you will ever get.”

    The results will be submitted to a scientific journal this week for review and publication, said John Kovac of Harvard, who led the research project.

    It’s the most exciting discovery in cosmology for 25 years, said theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, who was not involved with the project. If the evidence of gravitational waves is confirmed, the discovery “gives us a window on the universe at the very beginning,” when it was less than one-trillionth of a second old, he told the Associated Press.

    “If you want to know where did we come from, this is it,” Krauss told NewsHour. “We are the products of that burst in empty space.”

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    Photos show regrowth of moss that had been frozen for about 1,600 years. Photos by Current Biology

    Photos show regrowth of moss that had been frozen for about 1,600 years. Photos by Current Biology

    A moss plant that spent around 1,600 years under Antarctic ice has been revived by scientists and is growing anew in a case of “unprecedented millennial-scale survival.”

    In a study published in the journal Current Biology, scientists claim that the moss, retrieved from permafrost in Antarctica, initially looked black and dead. However, after being thawed in an incubator and receiving distilled water, the plant began to green and grow new shoots after only three weeks.

    The finding easily makes it the longest case by far of a plant or animal revived after being frozen. The scientists wrote in the study that while mosses have “well-developed stress tolerance” in these cases, direct regeneration has only been observed with material preserved 20 years at most.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia’s annexation of Crimea now appears imminent. Late today, the Kremlin recognized the region’s vote for independence from Ukraine, in the face of U.S. and European penalties.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our report on the day’s diplomatic developments.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A day after Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, President Obama went before White House cameras with the toughest sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today, I’m announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and on those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The cost means freezing assets and imposing travel bans on seven Russian officials, including some close to President Vladimir Putin, and on four Ukrainians, including former President ViktorYanukovych.

    Mr. Obama said he stands ready to ratchet the costs higher, but still holds out hope for another solution.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe there’s still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and Ukraine. That includes Russia pulling its forces in Crimea back to their bases, supporting the deployment of additional international monitors in Ukraine, and engaging in dialogue with the Ukrainian government.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In Brussels, European Union leaders adopted their own sanctions on 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials.

    E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the Crimean referendum.

    CATHERINE ASHTON, Foreign Policy Chief, European Union: I don’t have to remind any of you that it’s illegal under the constitution of Ukraine and under international law. I call upon Russia yet again to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to start dialogue with them and to try and move to de-escalation, please, as quickly as possible. We have seen no evidence of that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Russia appeared unfazed. Putin signed an order recognizing Crimea as a sovereign state. And Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted: “I think the decree of the president of the United States was written by some joker.”

    The Russian Foreign Ministry called for Ukraine to hand over more power to its provinces and declare itself neutral.

    In Kiev, the Ukrainian defense minister insisted his country won’t back down.

    IHOR TENYUKH, Defense Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): One thing I want to say, Crimea was, is and will be our Ukrainian territory. And our military will stay there, and we will fix this question. I think the whole world supports us, and we will fix this question in a peaceful and diplomatic way.

    But, in any case, our defense forces are ready to execute an order.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: To that end, Ukraine’s parliament authorized mobilization of 40,000 reservists to counter what it calls blatant aggression by Russia.

    Meanwhile, President Putin will address the Russian parliament tomorrow on annexing Crimea. And Vice President Joe Biden heads to Europe tonight for talks with NATO allies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will get a look from inside Crimea with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, right after the news summary.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The court-martial of an Army general has ended in a deal that dropped sexual assault charges. A military judge at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, accepted a guilty plea today from Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair on lesser charges. He admitted to improper relationships with three subordinates, including a female captain, who made the most serious accusations against him.

    The border between Lebanon and Syria is alive with new tensions. The Lebanon army sent commandos to stabilize the area today, as Syrian rebels poured across. They’re escaping Syrian government forces who captured the Syrian town of Yabroud on Sunday. It was the rebels’ last stronghold in the border region.

    President Obama today worked to keep Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations afloat. At a White House meeting, he pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make tough decisions. Abbas, in turn, made no public concessions, but he agreed on the need for a settlement.

    MAHMOUD ABBAS, Authority President, Palestine (through interpreter): We don’t have any time to waste. Time is not on our side, especially given the very difficult situation that the Middle East is experiencing and the entire region is facing. We hope that we would be able to seize this opportunity to achieve a lasting peace.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president met two weeks ago with the Israeli prime minister. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to get a framework for peace talks by late April.

    Wall Street vaulted ahead, due partly to relief that things remained calm in Crimea today, and partly to strong factory output last month. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 181 points to close at 16,247. The Nasdaq rose 34 points to close near 4,280. The Standard & Poor’s 500 was up 17 to finish over 1,858.

    More international investigators have arrived in Malaysia to help search for a missing jetliner. The search area now stretches from Central Asia to the southernmost Indian Ocean. But confusion continues, with Malaysian officials now backtracking on when exactly the jet’s communications were disabled. We will get a full report later in the program.

    General Motors has announced a major new recall over potentially defective air bags and other issues. It involves 1.5 million Buick, Chevrolet and GMC SUVs and vans, plus Cadillac XTS sedans. Model years range from 2008 to 2014. GM is already facing investigations over a recall of 1.6 million vehicles with ignition switch problems.

    A partial vehicle ban took effect across Paris today to ease the worst air pollution in years. Under a thick haze, cars with even-numbered license plates were barred from driving in the French capital. Taxis and commercial vehicles were exempt, and some public transportation was free.

    Many people said they support the move.

    PIERRE VENOT, Paris (through interpreter): I was driving around on a Scooter last Thursday and Friday, and it was really polluted. It’s a good idea, but if we had more advanced notice, we could have organized ourselves. Now, to learn of it the day before it starts is a bit hard, but we have to adapt like everyone else.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: If the pollution persists, odd-numbered vehicles will be banned from driving in Paris tomorrow.

    The Los Angeles area escaped without serious damage this morning after one of its strongest earthquakes in decades. The quake was centered about 15 miles northwest of the city’s downtown Civic Center, with a magnitude of 4.4. It shook buildings for 150 miles across Southern California. The tremor ranks as one of the region’s largest since the deadly Northridge quake in 1994.

    The world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades went on today in New York, without the city’s new leader. Kilted Irish Americans and bagpipers were in abundance, but Mayor Bill de Blasio boycotted after organizers barred signs deemed pro-gay. On Sunday, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh stayed away from his city’s parade for the same reason.

    The scientific world is abuzz this evening with a discovery from the heavens. For the first time, there’s evidence the universe exploded in growth in the first instant after the Big Bang. Researchers at Harvard used this telescope at the South Pole to scan the sky for three years. The discovery supports a longstanding theory of an initial growth spurt nearly 14 billion years ago.

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