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

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    A Russian soldier stands in front of a recruitment poster for the Ukrainian armed forces in an area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol in Crimea, on March 20, 2014. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

    A Russian soldier stands in front of a recruitment poster for the Ukrainian armed forces in an area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol in Crimea, on March 20, 2014. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

    A new Cold War is not upon us. Probably the only country that could afford one is China, and even it has some regime-threatening problems at home, such as the air its citizens breathe every minute, that require some very expensive fixes.

    What is upon us is a return to old fashioned international power politics.

    That is why these past weeks have marked a page turn in history, more decisively even than 9/11, if not yet as deadly. The 21st century expectations among Western officials, analysts and thinkers that countries would not use or threaten force to change borders and the balance of power are dashed.

    The 25-year break or vacation from history since the fall of the Berlin Wall has turned into an illusion. Far from the end of history, we are back to history.

    This page turn certainly does not translate automatically into war, either hot or cold, even though we will have scary moments and the risk of accident is now much higher. What it does mean is more confrontation, more friction as two regional hegemons, Russia and China, seek to expand their space and influence and power while bumping up against the United States and its friends and allies whom they see as getting in their way.

    That these two countries have benefited politically, and certainly economically, from the U.S.-led world order since World War II now becomes almost immaterial. Russia and China both have serious ambitions in the areas immediately beyond their physical borders and are increasingly showing and describing the lengths they will go to achieve them. For Russia, it is special forces in Crimea. For China, it’s development of missiles that could knock out U.S. aircraft carriers in a single blow.

    Russia, still a declining power, is playing a short game. China, an ascending one, is playing a longer one. That they are not always in sync was clear on the U.N. Security Council vote. Russia exercised its veto. China, which hardly wants to encourage separatist referendums in its ethnic regions, much less Taiwan, abstained.

    How the United States and its allies and friends confront this new world is far from clear. Beyond some elites, the appetite for international engagement in the U.S. is all but non-existent. The willingness of others spans a range from Italy to Germany to the Baltic, from Thailand to Japan. Perhaps one place to start is not to issue threats or draw lines unless you mean to act upon them. To do otherwise, is only to invite disdain and contempt.

    The Ukraine crisis even has invaded the pages of Facebook, more often a venue to learn where your friends are having lunch. Recently, the international affairs analyst Leon Hadar, a man of the non-interventionist camp who usually argues against misleading historical analogies, suggested the world should re-create the Congress of Vienna to ensure another century of peace and stability. To which I responded: those leaders were all in tandem, pulling Europe in a conservative direction. That’s hardly the case now.

    Then there is the matter of personalities: British Prime Minister David Cameron as Viscount Castlereagh; French President Francois Hollande as Charles Maurice de Talleyrand; Russian President Vladimir Putin as Tsar Alexander. And who gets to play Klemens von Metternich, Kurt Waldheim or Marco Rubio? It would last a week.

    Little would we have imagined that baby boomer and Gen X Americans, and even more so Europeans, would watch their imaginations of a postmodern world so quickly go glimmering amid a search for historical analogies, some now 200 years old.

    Michael D. Mosettig was the PBS NewsHour’s foreign affairs and defense editor from 1985 to 2012. He now watches wonks push policy in Washington’s multitude of think tanks and writes occasional dispatches on what those scholars and wannabe secretaries of state have in mind for Europe, Asia and Latin America.

    The post Commentary: Ukraine crisis signals our 25-year break from history is over appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    This simulation shows the G2 gas cloud during its close approach to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Image by ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann.

    This simulation shows the G2 gas cloud during its close approach to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Image by ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann.

    The landscape in Chile’s Atacama desert is Martian-like: dry, barren and flanked by volcanoes, and its high altitude and unpolluted skies make it a prime spot for stargazing. It was there, after a full night of such observation — and over a 4 p.m. breakfast — that astronomer Stefan Gillessen found himself in possession of some very special data. His observations showed a cloud of gas being stretched out, or “spaghettified,” about to be ripped apart, as it barreled toward the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

    He and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany had been observing Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole, using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. And for nearly a decade, they had been sitting on a batch of low-resolution data. When the atmospheric conditions are poor, it is common to use the telescope’s adaptive optics system at longer wavelengths, which allows scientists to still peer through the atmospheric turbulence, but compromises the sharpness of the image. It was in 2011 that he decided to systematically study this coarser data.

    “It immediately jumped to our eyes that there is an object that we do not see at shorter wavelengths, and it’s moving right to position at the black hole,” Gillessen said. “It was clear that this was not a usual star.”


    The gas cloud, known as G2, is three times the mass of the Earth — which seems big until you consider the size of the black hole, which is 4 million times the mass of our Sun. Unequal players, Gillessen said.

    Compared to the temperature of a star, G2 is cool — about 750 degrees Fahrenheit and comprised mostly of hydrogen. And it’s hurling through space at a few thousand miles per second, powered by Sagittarius A’s gravitational force. For perspective, it could fly from the U.S. to Germany in about a second.

    Its orbit has it barreling almost straight toward the black hole, though it will pass at a distance of about 100 times the space between Earth and our sun. It’s expected to reach its closest approach to the black hole next month, and science, in a first, will be able to watch the encounter in real time.

    There are several theories on the properties and origins of G2. Some say it’s simply a cloud of gas and dust. Others, like theoretical astrophysicist Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard University’s astronomy department, has a theory that a star could be hidden inside the cloud. Or it could be a stream of gas that’s been ripped from the outer layer of a giant star.

    “Usually in astrophysics, timescales are very long,” Loeb said. This means it’s rare to see changes within a human lifetime. But since the G2 cloud’s orbit can be monitored over a year or two, scientists will hopefully be able to settle on a leading model.

    “It’s just like arranging an experiment in your backyard and looking at it,” Loeb said. “Except nature does it for us.

    This artist's concept shows a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy.  Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    This artist’s concept shows a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Let’s back up. A black hole is Einstein’s solution for what happens when a star dies. Sometimes, as a massive star burns off all of its fuel, it collapses into a fantastically tiny, tremendously dense object called a neutron star. (Imagine a billion tons of weight packed into a teaspoon.)

    And some of these neutron stars become so massive that gravity will cause them, too, to collapse under their own weight to a point — that’s a black hole. Black holes are voracious eaters that gulp up everything they can — dust clouds, stars and other space debris — and they’re shrouded by what’s known as an event horizon. That’s the area where the gravitational pull is so strong that nothing — not even light — can escape. Supermassive black holes like Sagittarius A are thought to live at the center of most galaxies.

    But Sagittarius A has long been inactive. And G2 could be its first feast in about 100 years, astronomers believe. Part of the gas cloud has already whipped around the black hole, but some could spiral downward and get swallowed up, potentially producing a flare.

    “It’s extremely exciting, because it’s of such great interest to see how black holes eat,” said Shep Doeleman, an astronomer with MIT’s Haystack Observatory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It’s like watching a baby eat strained peas. So much food gets splattered on the wall. If the baby were efficient, all the food would wind up in the baby, but in this case, it makes so much of a mess, and that is what we see.”

    Scientists are also eager to observe what happens as the gas cloud rear-ends the accretion disc, the pancake of dust and matter swirling around the black hole. Doeleman calls this its “cosmic traffic jam.”

    The first thing that will happen, he said, is the gas cloud will slam into something approximately the size of our solar system, producing X-ray emissions. Then the really interesting part begins: the cloud just might start to spiral into the black hole.

    “What everyone is waiting to see happen is whether the output of the Sagittarius A star starts to grow dramatically,” Doeleman said. “It might start to blossom from a timid vacuum of a black hole to a beauty queen, the belle of the ball. It would then start to really emit powerfully.”

    That would confirm that black holes periodically erupt.

    “We really don’t know precisely how black holes eat or the frequency of their meals,” he continued. “This would give us the opportunity to not only to do in real time, but to do it in a place that resolves what happens.”

    G2’s journey past Sagittarius A takes about a year, and we’re halfway through it now. The cloud’s front end is already getting disrupted by the black hole’s gravitational force. Scientists have determined through measurements of its velocity that the front part of the cloud is moving faster than the back part. But what happens next is anybody’s guess.

    “That’s great for observational astronomers,” Gillessen said. “We’ll be learning something, but we still don’t know what we will learn.”

    Next week, Gillessen will return to Chile to continue observations. The altitude, dry air and odd hours can be exhausting, so no one observes for longer than two weeks, he said. So he’ll work in shifts.

    “Having some aspirin with you is a good idea. You can get easily a headache,” he said. “And chocolate. But that’s more for the mental health.”

    The post A gas cloud collides with the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and we get to watch appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A homeless U.S. military veteran stands in line for free winter clothing at a "Stand Down" event hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Nov. 3, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    A homeless U.S. military veteran stands in line for free winter clothing at a “Stand Down” event hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs on Nov. 3, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The unemployment rate for veterans who served since 2001 dipped slightly in 2013 to 9 percent, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That’s down from 9.9 percent the year before, but well above overall civilian unemployment levels of around 7 percent over the same period.

    The youngest veterans, aged 18-24, posted an ultra-high jobless rate of 21.4 percent, said the agency’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual review of unemployment among former members of the armed services.

    The report documents that, despite training and job skills acquired in the military, young veterans of recent conflicts have generally encountered more difficulty in finding work than civilians.

    “Veterans have the skills that employers are looking for. They make our nation’s workforce more productive, our companies more profitable and our economy more competitive. Smart businesses recruit veterans because it’s in their self-interest, because they know it’s a sound investment in their bottom line,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement.

    Veterans with the highest jobless numbers served in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

    For all veterans, the unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in 2013, down from 7 percent the year before.

    That’s not markedly different from overall unemployment levels in the United States, which averaged 7.4 percent in 2013 and finished the year with a 6.7 percent rate for December. The most recent overall unemployment rate was also 6.7 percent in February 2014.

    “Those in the youngest group are experiencing unemployment at a higher rate than their nonveteran peers,” said Teresa W. Gerton, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

    “But their labor participation rates are higher. Their attachment to the labor force is stronger. They’re out there trying to get a job,” Gerton said in an interview. She suggested that the picture will get brighter “as the economy continues to recover.”

    Gerton said there has always been a transition period as people leave the military and join the civilian workforce. “We work closely with a broad spectrum of employers” to help shorten that transition time, she said. “They understand the value that veterans bring.”

    The economy is still digging out from the 2007-2009 Great Recession and it will likely be some time before overall unemployment returns to pre-recessionary levels of 5 percent or lower.

    Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute, said the new report documents a well-known trend: “We all know that young workers have higher unemployment rates. It doesn’t mean they’re worse off as a group.”

    Other highlights of the veterans’ jobs report:

    • Twenty-nine percent of veterans serving since 2001 reported having a service-connected disability as of last August, compared with 15 percent of all veterans.
    • In 2013, 21.4 million men and women, or 9 percent of the general population age 18 and over, were veterans.
    • Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam era accounted for roughly half of the total veteran population in the United States of 21.4 million men and women.
    • The unemployment rate for recent veterans has been noticeably higher than it is for non-veterans in the same demographic group, although the gap has been narrowing.
    • States with the highest unemployment rate among veterans were Michigan and New Jersey, both with over 10 percent. States with the lowest rates were Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont and Virginia, all under 4 percent.

    The new numbers came out a day after President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans in recognition of their valor during major combat operations in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

    The annual report was compiled by the Labor Department with the help of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Among all of the veterans, the unemployment rate for women declined to 6.9 percent in 2013 while the rate for men edged down to 6.6 percent.

    The post Unemployment rate among veterans drops, but remains high appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sometimes even the simplest household items, like dinnerware, are hard to navigate for individuals suffering from dementia. So a student designed this set with anti-slip bowls and curved spoons.

    Sometimes even the simplest household items, like dinnerware, are hard to navigate for individuals suffering from dementia. So a student designed EatWell with anti-slip bowls, curved spoons and bright colors. See more innovative designs below.

    It’s a sombering statistic: 36 million people suffer from dementia worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. By 2050, that number is expected to triple. A whopping $600 billion is being spent globally each year to treat and care for those with dementia.

    During the course of my reporting for a NewsHour story on innovation and aging, I heard a common theme about the need for new solutions to help seniors “age in place” in their own homes, to provide support for the caregivers (often family members), and to keep costs down. Many of the entrepreneurs working with the San Francisco based start-up incubator Aging 2.0 are trying to do just that, and some like BrainAid are specifically focused on developing apps geared toward those with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. But clearly there is a lot of need out there for some fresh thinking about aging with dementia.

    That need inspired faculty at Stanford University’s Center on Longevity — whose mission is to “redesign long life” — to launch a design challenge last fall. Partnering with the Aging 2.0 team, they invited students around the world to submit ideas for new products that can maximize independence for those with cognitive impairment.

    “Students are often exposed to new ideas that aren’t contaminated by old ways of thinking,” says Ken Smith, Director of Mobility at the Stanford Center on Longevity who is spearheading the student competition. “Our goal was to get the students thinking about issues that come up with aging and we were hoping some unique solutions would come forward.”

    Some pretty cool ideas did come forward. Fifty-two teams of students from 15 countries submitted their designs, and seven finalists were chosen by Smith and his colleagues.

    Here are the finalists:

    Memory Maps

    Memory Maps

    Memory Maps: This system, using GPS technology, lets those with early-stage cognitive issues and their families record memories and then coordinate them to a map with the real-world locations where they took place.

    Caresolver: This app by Harvard University’s Arick Morton would give lay caregivers support to facilitate coordination with a larger caregiving team.



    ThermoRing: A plastic ring goes around an electric stove burner and changes from black to red to warn people the burner is still hot.

    EatWell: A 7-piece tableware set designed by San Francisco Academy of Art graduate Sha Yao would help people with Alzheimer’s have better control while eating. Yao’s experiences caring for her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, made her realize that meals can be tricky for people with cognitive impairment. EatWell’s anti-slip bowls and curved spoons help users to feed themselves. And she chose the colors carefully. “I found research by Boston University which discovered that 24 percent of Alzheimer’s patients can eat more food if the color of their tableware is red or blue.” said Yao. “That’s very useful information I combined into my product.”



    Confage: This game-like app helps people with memory and hand-motorics issues learn the gestures needed to use touch-screen devices.

    Automated Home Activity Monitoring: A camera-operated system “learns” its user’s daily behavior and then sends alerts to caregivers when abnormal activity occurs.



    Taste+: This spoon helps those who have lost some of their sense of taste by electrically stimulating their taste buds.

    Each of the finalists received $1,000 and several months of mentoring from corporate sponsors. The winner, who will be announced at Stanford in April, will receive $10,000. Ken Smith says several well-established companies have already expressed interest in learning more about the students’ designs.

    The post Designing a better way to cope with Alzheimer’s appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Russia and the West stayed locked in a stare-down today, as the crisis over Ukraine continued to build. Announcements of sanctions flew back and forth between Washington and Moscow. And, in Crimea, the Russians intensified their pressure on Ukraine’s military. We will have a full report right after the news summary.

    This day has seen a new flurry of activity and hope in the search for a missing Malaysian airliner, the new focus, an area in the southern Indian Ocean.

    We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: This morning, Australian and American surveillance planes set out in search of the remains of Flight 370 after satellite imagery pinpointed possible debris floating below.

    They dropped yellow marker buoys over the spot. They’re designed to record the ocean’s drifting currents and so detect where that debris might drift next. But clouds prevented any glimpse. One plane spotted only two passing pods of dolphins and a freighter. That ship, a Norwegian car transporter, was diverted from its course to investigate, but its Filipino crew have seen nothing so far.

    A satellite recorded two objects, this one thought to be up to 24 meters long, though, after so many false leads, caution is the order of the day.

    JOHN YOUNG, Australia Maritime Safety Authority: This is a lead. It’s probably the best lead we have right now, but we need to get there, find them, see them, assess them to know whether it’s really meaningful or not. And I caution again, they will be difficult to find.

    TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia: We don’t know what that satellite saw until we can get a much better, much closer look at it. But this is the first tangible breakthrough in what up until now has been an utterly baffling mystery.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. heading for Beijing 12 days ago. The last good night from the co-pilot came at 1:19 a.m., about 40 minutes after takeoff. Just after that, communications were turned off.

    At 2:15 a.m., the plane turned sharply west off course. A satellite carried on picking up a signal for the next seven hours, the plane heading somewhere along one of these two vast corridors. Today, satellite images show potential debris close to the southern corridor, over 1, 500 miles west of Perth in Australia.

    At Kuala Lumpur airport, the world’s press was hungry for eyewitness confirmation, which never came, 12 days on, the relatives of 239 missing people still left in the agonizing dark. The jet may have crashed into the ocean, but the mystery of what really happened could go on for days, months or even years.

    GWEN IFILL: We will have more on the huge challenges in the search for Flight 370 later in the program.

    Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair was fined $20,000 today for sexual misconduct, but given no jail time. He was initially accused of sexual assault, as the Pentagon acknowledged the problem is widespread within the military. But the case against Sinclair crumbled, and he pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

    Today, he appeared upbeat after leaving court at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

    BRIG. GEN. JEFFREY SINCLAIR, U.S. Army: It’s been a very difficult time for me and my family. It really has. The system worked. I have always been proud of my Army. All I want to do now is go up north and hug my kids and see my wife.

    GWEN IFILL: Sinclair is retiring immediately, but a disciplinary board could yet reduce his rank and his pension. We will talk to a reporter who’s been covering the court-martial later in the program.

    In a separate case, a military judge acquitted a former Naval Academy football player of sexual assault. Joshua Tate was accused of attacking a female classmate at an off-campus party in 2012. Tate said the sex was consensual. Prosecutors argued the woman was too drunk to consent. Two other Navy football players were charged, but the charges were later dropped.

    International criminal gangs are making California their number one American target for cyber and other crimes. The state attorney general reported today California leads the nation in hack attacks and identity theft. The report also estimated more than $30 billion is laundered through the state economy every year.

    Wall Street rebounded today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 108 points to close at 16,331. The Nasdaq rose 11 points to close at 4,319. And the S&P 500 added 11 to finish at 1,872.

    Leaders on both sides of the aisle paid tribute to Robert Strauss, who died Wednesday. For decades, he was a major Washington figure, advising presidents of both parties.

    Power broker, peacemaker, deal negotiator. Robert Strauss’ career in politics began as a law student at the University of Texas, where he worked on Lyndon Johnson’s first congressional campaign. By 1972, he’d become chair of the Democratic National Committee, after George McGovern’s shattering loss in the presidential race that year.

    Strauss set about rebuilding the party and helped engineer the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter. He served as the president’s personal representative in Middle East peace talks that led to the Camp David accord. But he also moved easily across party lines, as a trusted adviser in the Reagan administration and as ambassador to the Soviet Union under President George H.W. Bush.

    ROBERT STRAUSS, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union: I’m old-fashioned enough to believe still that politics does end at the water’s edge, and believe that I can serve in the tradition of others who have made that step.

    GWEN IFILL: In 1992, Strauss returned to Dallas to work at the law firm he co-founded in 1945 and to lecture at the University of Texas. Robert Strauss died Wednesday at his home in Washington. He was 95 years old.

    The Kansas preacher who led his Westboro Baptist Church on a fiery crusade against gays has died. Reverend Fred Phelps organized anti-gay protests nationwide, even picketing funerals of AIDS victims and soldiers. That led to a major free speech ruling in 2011. That’s when the Supreme Court barred grieving families from suing Westboro Baptist for damages. Fred Phelps was 84 years old.

    The post News Wrap: Satellite image of debris shifts Malaysia plane search to remote stretch of Indian Ocean appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama upped the ante against Russia over Crimea today and triggered a return salvo from Moscow.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The words of warning came on the White House lawn, as the president expanded economic sanctions first announced on Monday.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I signed a new executive order today that gives us the authority to impose sanctions, not just on individuals, but on key sectors of the Russian economy. This is not our preferred outcome. However, Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest sanctions target President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff and wealthy supporters.

    And they quickly provoked a reaction. Within minutes, the Kremlin announced sanctions against nine U.S. officials, including Senators John McCain and Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner. The Russian inner circle also faces new penalties from European leaders, who met in Brussels today to consider their next punitive measures.

    In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the G8 meeting that Russia was scheduled to host in June has been suspended indefinitely.

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): It is clear that as long as the political conditions for the G8 are nonexistent, like right now, the G8 doesn’t exist anymore, either as an organization or as a summit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Russians remained undeterred. The Lower House of Parliament approved the treaty to annex Crimea, with the Upper expected to give final approval tomorrow.

    And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call, making clear there’s no going back. The Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying, “The decision on the reunification of Crimea with Russia is not subject to review and should be respected.”

    Lavrov warned again that the Kremlin has its eyes on ethnic Russians elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

    SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): We will be defending the interests of Russians abroad by political, diplomatic and legal means. We will be insisting that the countries where our compatriots found themselves in respect their rights and freedoms in full.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ukraine charged Russia is preparing for an invasion of more Ukrainian territory beyond Crimea.

    While in Crimea, pro-Russian forces stormed and seized three Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol. The crew of one vessel left with their belongings, as a Russian flag flew from the rigging.

    Meanwhile, in Washington, debate is growing about the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis. Senator McCain and others have argued the U.S. should have stood up more firmly to Russian President Putin.

    From a different perspective, there’s criticism that U.S. actions provoked the Russians, as when Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Kiev last December, offering bread and support to protesters.

    The post Brushing off expanded sanctions, Moscow moves to annex Crimea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russia's President Vladimir Putin And Russian Billionaires At Russia Business Week Conference

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how has the president handled the Ukraine crisis overall?

    Joining us to discuss this is David Kramer. He’s former deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the George W. Bush administration. He’s now president of Freedom House. And Richard Betts, he’s a member of the National Security Council — he was — in the Carter administration. He’s the director of the International Security Policy Program at Columbia University.

    And we welcome you both.

    Let me start with you, David Kramer.

    Let’s talk first about these sanctions imposed today on top of what we heard on Monday. Will these punish Russia as much as the administration says?

    DAVID J. KRAMER, Freedom House: I think the step taken today by the administration was a very positive one. It is going to have an impact. Dealing with Bank Rossiya, the first bank that is being affected by today’s announcement, is a positive step.

    I think we will see another round if Mr. Putin doesn’t show any willingness to back down. It also went after more people in the higher levels of the Russian government, as well as businessmen. And I think that is particularly important, because Putin has the circle around him of people who have benefited, personal enrichment, since he’s been in power.

    And going after them and going after the money I think is what is going to get their attention.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Betts, how do you see as the effect of these sanctions, when you add together what happened — what they did Monday with today? 

    RICHARD K. BETTS, Columbia University: Well, the sanctions can make the Russians pay a price for what they did, which is inexcusable, but understandable, I think.

    But they’re unlikely to change Russian policy to get them out of Crimea or to turn them away from the stance that Putin has taken on a much larger set of issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why do you believe they’re not likely to have an effect?

    RICHARD BETTS:  Well, as far as I can see, this is much more about politics and basic national interest to the Russians than about economics.

    And it may be a price they’re more willing to pay than NATO is to keep upping the ante. The European allies, who have a much bigger stake in all this than we do, are not as anxious as we are, it appears, to put maximum pressure on the Russians.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me bring that back to you, David Kramer.

    What about this argument that the Russians don’t really care if — yes, they may be hurt in some economics, their bank accounts may be pinched, but they are going to keep on doing what they want to do?

    DAVID J. KRAMER: This is coming against the backdrop where the Russian ruble is at its all-time low, the stock market has dropped 20 percent this year, interest rates are going up.

    The Russian economy is stagnating. And Putin is going to have serious problems trying to maintain the standards of living in Russia. If there is diversification of energy supplies to Europe, that will have a big impact, since energy is such a huge part of the Russian economy. It depends on it for its GDP.

    My colleague is right that the E.U. does also have to step up. It did on Monday with sanctions that were not quite as severe as the ones that the U.S. has announced. We’re still waiting for the E.U. to take additional steps. And if they do, I really do think that is going to get the attention of people in the Kremlin.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Betts, in other words, Russia is in a more vulnerable economic position than it has been, and this has to hurt. What about that?

    RICHARD BETTS:  It certainly will hurt, but they have taken very dramatic action, very decisive action to absorb Crimea.

    And it’s hard for me to believe that they are going to back off from that because they’re suffering pain economically. Sanctions, very often, can make countries pay a price for bad actions, and they may help to deter third countries from thinking about doing the same thing, but there aren’t many cases in which economic sanctions have forced their targets to turn around and change the policies they were meant to change.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s broaden this out, David Kramer.

    I know you also — you had argued earlier that the administration should have moved more quickly on sanctions, that, in some ways, they sent signals that encouraged the Russians to do what they did. How — broaden this out, and describe your view of how the administration handled this back from when it really began.

    DAVID J. KRAMER: When Russian forces first went in, I thought the administration was too reticent. It wasn’t active enough in moving forward and pushing against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    I do give the administration credit. I think this week has been a good week. It has imposed serious sanctions against individuals, also Bank Rossiya. I do think expect that there will be additional sanctions.

    So, I think the administration is catching up. The challenge is going to be that Putin is also trying to demonstrate he’s not backing down. There’s been talk about southern and eastern parts of Ukraine. There’s concern in neighboring Moldova. There’s concern even in Latvia, a member of NATO with a fairly large ethnic Russian population.

    It’s not to say that Putin is going to send Russian troops into Latvia or to Moldova, but he can stir up lots of trouble, that — what we need to do is to make it clear to him this kind of behavior will incur serious costs, and he needs to do a cost-benefit assessment before he takes further action.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Betts, what do you think the administration’s posture should be and should have been?

    RICHARD BETTS:  Well, I think the original me stakes was, along with the Europeans, insisting on forcing Ukraine to choose between the West and Moscow.

    Given history, given Ukraine’s position, given the way the Russians have been treated in the past 20 years and their more recent desire to push back, for all those reasons, I think it would have made much more sense to try to strike a middle course, which would have avoided escalating the confrontation.

    At this point, I think, ideally, the thing to do, which wouldn’t be popular, for obvious reasons, would be to seek an arrangement that guaranteed, in effect, the neutrality of Ukraine, and a status something similar to what Finland had during the Cold War, which was much criticized in the West at the time, but which served the Finns pretty well in preserving their domestic independence and democracy, while compromising their foreign policy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Kramer, you’re vigorously shaking your head no. DAVID J. KRAMER: Yes, I would hope that the days are over where the U.S. and Russia decide the fate of other countries without the other countries being present.

    We shouldn’t be declaring Ukraine neutral. That’s up to Ukrainians to decide. I don’t think NATO is at the top of the list of priorities of the interim government. There will be elections on May 25. The future government can decide that, but we shouldn’t be closing doors in Ukraine, either in NATO or the E.U. We should be focusing on the current situation.

    And the current situation is the responsibility, I would argue, not of the E.U., but of President Yanukovych, who betrayed his country and then forfeited his legitimacy, and is responsible for the deaths of over a hundred people, but also President Putin of Russia, who invaded Ukraine, violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They’re the ones who are principally responsible for this, not — not the West.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do I understand you, Richard Betts, to be saying, really, the administration shouldn’t be much more active than it’s already been, that the thrust now should be to back off, if anything?

    RICHARD BETTS:  No, we have to impose sanctions. We have to make the Russians pay a price for what they did.

    But we also have to try to avoid escalating the confrontation to more dangerous levels. There are still things that could happen that send things out of control, things that neither Moscow nor Washington can control directly.

    And, for better or worse, great powers do try to shape and constrain the actions of other countries that affect their interests. So, the fact that we may have interests in avoiding escalation that affect our policy towards Ukraine, I think, is quite reasonable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want to react? And how much more should the administration be pushing right now?

    DAVID J. KRAMER: I think the administration has to keep an additional round of sanctions open. Sanctions are both punitive and psychological.

    And if the target of the sanctions thinks that more sanctions are coming, then the target might change his or her behavior. And I think that’s the case with Russia. It’s very important that we continue to push back. This is the biggest challenge that I would say we have faced since the end of the Cold War, possibly going back even decades before that.

    It’s critically important that the United States, together with the Europeans, Canada, which has a large Ukrainian population, by the way, say that this is unacceptable and we really should be insisting on status quo ante, not simply avoidance of escalation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you both.

    David Kramer, Richard Betts, thank you.

    DAVID J. KRAMER: Thanks.

    RICHARD BETTS:  You’re welcome.

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    GWEN IFILL: The satellite images of possible debris in the Indian Ocean captured international attention today, as the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner continued. But even with a more targeted area to focus on, the challenges are daunting.

    Andy Pasztor, aerospace reporter for The Wall Street Journal, joins us again.

    Andy, what are the challenges, the special challenges facing this search?

    ANDY PASZTOR, The Wall Street Journal: The first challenge is the weather. It’s really, really lousy, so the search planes and ships will have a very hard time identifying and locating the suspected piece of debris.

    It’s not clear that it is from the plane. Everyone hopes — everyone who’s part of the search clearly hopes it is, but that’s not clear yet. But, even if it is, the next big step is a much bigger challenge. And that is to try and figure out where the plane would have gone down in the water if there’s part of the debris here.

    And that’s science. Yes, there are lots of ways to look at the wind and the currents and the waves, but it’s also a little bit of an art, and it’s extremely complicated and can be very controversial to figure out where to look for the wreckage and the debris field — debris field is what they call it — underneath the water.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, and this is particularly deep water. I mean, this is a very, very remote area of the Indian Ocean, which hampers the search even more.

    ANDY PASZTOR: That’s absolutely right, and the depth is a problem.

    And if you look back at previous crashes of aircraft into water, what you learn is that they often break into many small pieces, relatively small pieces, which are hard to find. And the currents can move them 100 or 200 miles from the point of impact where the plane went into the water.

    But, more importantly, for this investigation, I think we should be looking at how the decisions will be made. When the Air France jetliner went into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, there was a huge fight between the airline, the manufacturer of the airplane and French investigators about where to look for the wreckage. It took them two years.

    They finally found it, but it was extremely controversial. And I think, considering the multinational makeup of this search, we’re, unfortunately, likely to see some arguments about where to look, how to look, and how to continue if — if we have some debris.

    GWEN IFILL: It actually feels as if we have been seeing that already. We have seen jurisdictional disputes, questions about whether Malaysia was stepping up. The announcement today was made by the Australian prime minister. China has been involved, a dozen countries.

    And now there’s a Norwegian ship in the region. That is — is that what’s adding to the delay? It’s now been 12 days.

    ANDY PASZTOR: Confusion and delay, definitely. There’s a friction within the Malaysian government between the civilian and military sides, there has been, on how much information to release.

    People who have looked at this would say that the Malaysians were slow in releasing information that the plane has flown for an additional 6.5 hours after it disappeared off radar. The Malaysian government says they were corroborating the information and wanted to make sure that everything was correct.

    But, in fact, some folks, including the satellite provider of the information, got so concerned that they went to the British government, as one of our stories indicates, and basically said to the British government, this information has to become public. We’re counting you know to do it.

    I think the situation is better in Malaysia. I think they’re more willing to accept help. They realize the scope and size of this investigation and the search and how much scrutiny they’re under.

    But, still, you’re going to see those kinds of points of friction between countries inevitably.

    GWEN IFILL: Are there also problems in the quality or challenges in the quality of the satellite technology itself?

    ANDY PASZTOR: Well, the image — the signals that we’re talking about — we’re not talking about images at this point of the debris where we’re talking about the satellite signals that show where the plane may have gone.

    The images themselves, I think, are better than we have seen. I think that the satellite company that provides the images, DigitalGlobe, a private company which sells imagery to the U.S. government, they’re actually able to do much more precise images that look much more clear than they do often from the ones that we have seen publicly.

    So I think that’s a plus. But, to me, it’s clear that nobody is completely convinced that this is part of Malaysian Flight 370, the piece that’s floating in the Indian Ocean now.

    GWEN IFILL: To what degree is the United States government involved in this search, as compared to other countries in the region?

    ANDY PASZTOR: I think we’re deeply involved.

    In the beginning, it was our air safety folks from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board who definitely contributed and helped decipher where this plane may have gone. At this point, it’s becoming — it’s turning into more of a criminal probe, and the FBI and other U.S. national security agencies, I think, are very deeply involved.

    But the Malaysians, of course, want to say that this is their investigation. And that’s part of the pressure and part of the dynamic that, I think, will continue throughout. It’s a Malaysian investigation, but the whole world is watching them, and all these other countries are basically breathing down their necks to make sure that everything is done right as those countries think it should be.

    And so this dynamic is going to continue. And it may get worse if there are big decisions that need to be made about where to search, who is going to pay for the search, those kind of questions.

    GWEN IFILL: Andy, has anybody suggested to you or to your colleagues in your reporting that, in fact, this plane or debris from this plane may never be found?

    ANDY PASZTOR: I think that that’s certainly a possibility.

    Some people would say it’s a strong possibility. Many experts — and experts who know about searches — say the area is to vast and the pieces may be so small and the depth of the water may be so significant, that, in fact, we will never find — we may never find the wreckage.

    And, of course, the other problem is, even if we do find the wreckage, figuring out why this was done is a whole ‘nother question about what the black boxes will show.

    GWEN IFILL: All right, we will get to the bottom of this latest piece of information possibly within the past — the next 24 hours.

    Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal, thank you.

    ANDY PASZTOR: Thank you.

    The post New lead, new challenges: How weather, deep water and confusion may factor in search for Malaysian jet appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Most of us think of start-up companies as primarily focused on younger customers for their business, but some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs see opportunities with a very different demographic. They are designing innovative products for seniors and their caregivers.

    The NewsHour’s Cat Wise has our report.

    CAT WISE: Eighty-one-year-old Bud Glickman has lived in a San Francisco apartment for nearly two decades. He wants to stay there as long as possible, but he knows he needs some help.

    BUD GLICKMAN: I have had some short-term memory problems. I have tripped a couple of times. I certainly don’t want people to be overly concerned about me. On the other hand if something really happened, I would want their support.

    CAT WISE: Glickman’s family is very supportive, and they want him to remain independent, in his own home, but they also want to keep an eye on him and make sure he is keeping up with his daily routines without being too intrusive.

    The solution? These small, sleek motion sensors placed throughout the apartment. They wirelessly transmit information to a Web-based app that his son David checks regularly.

    DAVID GLICKMAN, Lively: For my dad, this morning, I can see that he is eating and drinking, has been getting out of the house, probably walked the dog. But I noticed that, for medication, the face is not green. It’s actually red. And what that means is that he missed the time he’s supposed to take it.

    CAT WISE: David Glickman isn’t just a user of the new product called Lively, which helps him stay connected to his dad. He’s also a co-founder of the company.

    DAVID GLICKMAN: People are spending money, meaning families are spending money caring for their adults. And we didn’t see anybody really kind of creating beautiful products, super simple, easy to use, and affordable, using today’s technology, not technology 10 years ago.

    CAT WISE: Lively is part of a new wave of tech start-ups developing products and apps for seniors and their caregivers. It’s a multibillion-dollar market, which, until recently, has been largely ignored by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

    KATY FIKE, Aging2.0: The past products for seniors have been what we call big, beige and boring.

    CAT WISE: One of those leading the charge for more innovation in aging is Katy Fike, a 35-year-old former investment banker who has a Ph.D. in Gerontology. She’s the co-founder of Aging2.0, which provides mentoring for start-ups, including Lively, which target the 50-and-older demographic.

    KATY FIKE: But we see real potential to bring in the technology folks, bring in the investors, bring in the designers, because I think the more smart brains we have thinking about and looking for new solutions, the better we will all be.

    CAT WISE: Many of the start-ups, like one called BrainAid, are trying to keep older adults engaged and living independently longer. Some, like Sabi, are redesigning products used by seniors like canes and pill boxes; others are creating new apps for caregivers.

    It’s still too early to know which ones will actually make a dent in the aging services market, which has been long been defined by a certain well-known commercial.

    ACTRESS: I have fallen, and I can’t get up.

    CAT WISE: But Stephen Johnston, Fike’s Aging2.0 co-founder and a former mobile industry executive, says the new players want to connect with seniors in a different way.

    STEPHEN JOHNSTON, Aging2.0: Three-quarters of people over 60 already have a cell phone. If you look at the usage of social media, Facebook and Twitter, the biggest demographic growing is always the — it’s often the 55-65, and increasingly also the over-65 as well.

    And, every day, we’re seeing more and more people figure out how — ways to connect this population with the great services that they offer.

    CAT WISE: Fike and Johnston decided to base their start-up incubator in a slightly unorthodox location, at a senior center. The Institute on Aging is a Bay Area nonprofit which provides a wide range of services for thousands of elderly clients each year.

    Bringing the entrepreneurs and seniors together under one roof has led to a lot of collaborations and has been meaningful for the institute’s aging clients, according to chief operating officer Cindy Kauffman.

    CINDY KAUFFMAN, Institute on Aging: As someone gets older, we have a tendency to do for them. And we have their best interests at heart, but we take away their dignity, we take away their purpose. And so part of what this Aging2.0, and Institute on Aging does is, we get their opinion, and then we have a conversation as to what’s available, what’s not available.

    But it’s really important. I want my opinion to be heard, and it doesn’t change as we get older.

    CAT WISE: And Aging2.0′s Fike says the start-ups have benefited as well.

    KATY FIKE: We wanted to immerse the entrepreneurs in who they’re designing for. We didn’t want them to have to guess about what’s needed or about what would work.

    You know, there’s all these folks that are really living every single day either as the older adult themselves or the care providers. They know the needs. We just need to pair them with people who know how to make the solutions.

    CAT WISE: One of those entrepreneurs is 26-year-old Jay Connolly, the founder of Lift Hero, a new ride-sharing service which employs off-duty EMTs and other medical professionals as drivers. Pickup requests can be made online or over the phone.

    Like many of his fellow founders, Connolly says personal experiences with an aging family member inspired him to start his company.

    JAY CONNOLLY, Lift Hero: The seed was planted really when my own grandmother — it took her a long time to find a trustworthy driver. And that’s the process we’re trying to facilitate, is make that much easier for someone to find a driver that they trust and get where they need to go.

    CAT WISE: On a recent afternoon, Connolly and a group of other young entrepreneurs gathered at Aging2.0 to hear an unusual perspective on product design.

    JUNE FISHER, Retired Physician: I hope, you know, that you will be able to develop strategies, so that you can really design for our needs, and not design for something that you think is clever and we will never use.

    CAT WISE: June Fisher, an 81-year-old retired physician and product design lecturer at Stanford, is now Aging2.0′s chief elder executive. Among the first products she’d like to see redesigned are her walking sticks, which she thinks are ugly. She appreciates being asked to give her advice and being taken seriously.

    JUNE FISHER: I want things that make my everyday life easier, and that they’re aesthetically appropriate. And I don’t want to be labeled as an old lady and being pampered and catered to, but not really addressing my needs to participate in everyday life.

    CAT WISE: For their part, Aging2.0 co-founders Fike and Johnston refute any skepticism that technology can truly improve seniors’ quality of life.

    KATY FIKE: I really don’t see technology replacing what humans do. I think it really augments what we can do. I think it fills the time when someone would have been alone. It fills the time when you probably couldn’t have gotten there.

    And I think it also changes and improves the quality of when you are together. You know, if you have been having kind of ongoing interactions remotely, that, when you’re together, you’re more in synch. You can kind of catch up in a more meaningful way.

    CAT WISE: The number of seniors in the U.S. is expected to double by 2050 to more than 85 million, a statistic very much on the minds of the new aging entrepreneurs.

    GWEN IFILL: We have a photo gallery of products designed to help seniors age in place created by students as part of a competition sponsored by Stanford University and Aging2.0. That’s on our Web — on our home page.

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    Army General To Enter Into Plea Deal In Military Sexual Assault Case

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A military judged ruled today that Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair will serve no jail time. Sinclair is believed to be the highest ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges.

    Those charges were dropped after the prosecution’s case fell apart and the general pled guilty to having inappropriate relationships with three subordinates.

    Reporter Paul Woolverton has been covering the case for The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina. And he joins us now.

    So, Paul Woolverton, welcome.

    This case started out as something very different from what it ended up. Remind us what the original case looked like.

    PAUL WOOLVERTON, The Fayetteville Observer: Originally, it was a sexual assault case.

    The general was accused of forcing his accuser, a captain under his command, of giving him oral sex at times when she didn’t want to, and this was in the war zone in Afghanistan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what happened to that case over time?

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: Well, the general fought it very hard, and his legal team fought very hard. And they pushed and pushed to get the sexual assault charges dismissed, on the allegation that the accuser — basically, they said she was lying.

    And the prosecutors, of course, kept at it over time. But, in the end, they arranged to plea-bargain, and the sexual assault charges were dismissed, but that still left numerous other charges, including adultery and misconduct and maltreatment of the accuser.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Explain what happened to the prosecution’s case, because, as you point out, there were some very serious charges leveled originally against General Sinclair.

    But then, as the case — as time went by, as you said, it became clear that some of what the accuser was saying wasn’t borne out.

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: Well, the accuser stands by her position that the sexual assault took place. The question, I think, was whether it could be proved in court.

    The — I guess late last year, they were still negotiating to try to get to a plea. And the accuser was opposed to the plea. But then the commanding — the convening authority, the general in charge of saying we’re going to have a court-martial, he said, we’re not going to do a plea deal.

    So there was a letter from a lawyer representing the accuser that said, A., she opposes a plea deal, but also that brought in the specter of Congress changing laws regarding how the military treats sexual assault, and that if they drop this case against General Sinclair, it would force Congress or lead Congress to punish the Army politically by taking power away from the courts-martial.

    So, that became an indication of what they call unlawful command influence over decisions on how to proceed with the case within the military. They can’t have outside influences such as that decide justice, and that led the — basically, that led up to having the plea bargain take place in the end.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But — so, essentially, what you’re saying is that it looked as if there had been political considerations, and that took a case that was already on shaky ground and — and weakened it even further.

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: Exactly, yes.

    Whether it was on shaky ground, the defense and prosecution would dispute that. There were discussions, I think, within prosecution circles to take the deal, but the higher-ups didn’t want to take the deal.

    So, going in, the defense was very optimistic that they would win if the jury heard all the evidence of sexual assault, but, you know, in the end, they took the plea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The accuser, of course, hasn’t been identified publicly.

    Was there a consensus about — in court about the strength of her accusations and the strength of the general’s defense?

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: Well, I saw her testify in court.

    And she was very persuasive and very emotional about how he assaulted her and how it affected her life. You know, the relationship started consensual back in 2009. But then, over time, she said she wanted to leave him and felt she couldn’t because of — he was her boss. He could damage her military career.

    And she also claimed that he had threatened to kill her and her family if she exposed their relationship. But the defense countered that her private e-mails and journals and other such materials and messages show that she wasn’t so, I guess, wanting to leave him, that more so that she — that they contend that she wanted him to leave his wife and marry her.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when — when — the end of it, when this finally came down to the judge deciding on whether — what he was guilty of, which was much less than what was originally charged, and the penalty, what was the reaction in the courtroom and in the community?

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: In the community, I think a lot of people were surprised. He’s not getting any active prison time. The plea bargain allowed for as much as 18 months of incarceration. And, in the end, the judge didn’t do that.

    He’s going to be reprimanded. He will be allowed to retire. And when he retires, he will probably be demoted down to lieutenant colonel, which will affect his retirement. He also has — he also to pay a $20,000 fine and pay $4,100 in restitution for some travel expenses he accrued visiting his accuser when they were still having their relationship.

    But I talked to several people who thought that he would get active time. And even the defense team said that they were stunned at the sentencing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and, as you point out, all this is taking place during a time when there’s a lot of not only discussion about the extent — or the amount of sexual — at least accusations of sexual assault in the military, the debate right here in Washington about whether these kinds of charges should be taken out of the chain of command.

    Would you say that — I mean, you have been talking to a lot of folks in the military. Are they coming away from this case saying this argues for that, or not?

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: People who I talk to over time in — within military legal circles, generally, a lot of them are opposed to taking command authority away from the generals and other commanders in terms of deciding who gets court-martialed and whether to overturn a conviction, should a jury convict somebody.

    But there’s a lot of pressure from the outside in some other areas of the legal community that say other countries do it differently, that they have independent prosecutors. The — it’s interesting that the lead defense lawyer for General Sinclair favors the bill that would remove command authority from deciding courts-martial.

    Whether it happens now, I imagine this will provide some fodder as Congress goes forward to decide whether to take that authority away.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Paul Woolverton with The Fayetteville, North Carolina, Observer, we thank you very much.

    PAUL WOOLVERTON: Thank you.

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    Twenty nine out of 30 banks passed the Federal Reserve's "stress test," demonstrating that big banks in the U.S. have enough capital to withstand a severe economic downturn. People pass a sign for JPMorgan Chase & Co. at its headquarters in Manhattan in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Twenty nine out of 30 banks passed the Federal Reserve’s “stress test,” demonstrating that big banks in the U.S. have enough capital to withstand a severe economic downturn. People pass a sign for JPMorgan Chase & Co. at its headquarters in Manhattan in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    On the first of two report card days for big banks in America, all but one bank received a passing grade from the Federal Reserve.

    The central bank released the results of its “stress test” of 30 bank-holding companies with consolidated assets of $50 billion or more Thursday, showing that most of these institutions have enough capital to withstand a severe economic downturn.

    This means that big banks may feel they can reward shareholders with dividends and stock buybacks, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    Known as the Dodd Frank Act stress Test, DFAST, because it was enacted as part of the Dodd Frank legislation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the test assesses how banks would fare under a “severely adverse” scenario. This year’s hypothetical economic storm? Imagine an unemployment rate over 11 percent, a greater than 4 percent decline in real GDP, a 50 percent drop in the stock market and residential and commercial real estate declines of 25 and 35 percent, respectively.

    The idea is to catch early any bank that’s overleveraged and avoid another housing bubble or 2008 crisis. Having sufficient capital reserves is essential to the individual bank’s health and to the lending that supports the entire financial system. When banks can absorb their own losses, the the Fed points out, it’s shareholders, not taxpayers, who are left in a lurch.

    Zions Bancorp, a regional bank in Utah, is the one bank that failed to pass the Fed’s test because they didn’t have enough capital, but as the Journal notes, several of America’s biggest banks, including Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, were relatively low in the ranking of bank capital levels. Bank of America was the lowest ranking of these bigger banks.

    On Wednesday, the Fed will release the results of their second stress test — the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, CCAR, in which they review the banks’ capital action plans for the next four quarters. If those plans are approved, the banks can release them to the public.

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    GWEN IFILL: As this year’s midterm election campaigns intensify, Democrats are growing nervous that geography, policy and politics may cost them control of the Senate. History usually predicts midterm setbacks for the party in power. And with the help of some strong challengers, Republicans are hoping to take advantage of that fact.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Valencia!

    GWEN IFILL: In public, President Obama owns the bully pulpit, and Democrats own the Senate majority. Today, the president focused on the economy in a public speech in Orlando.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When women succeed, America succeeds.

    GWEN IFILL: But, tonight, he will be fulfilling another mission: raising money for Democrats at a private Florida fund-raiser at a politically perilous time.

    Warning signs are popping up everywhere for Democrats. Last week, Republican David Jolly won a special House election in the Sunshine State that Democrats had hoped to use to build momentum. Red flags are also popping for Democrats in the Senate, where Republicans need only six seats to take the majority this fall.

    Part of the problem: Democrats are struggling in seven states they now hold that Republican Mitt Romney won in 2012. Now the GOP has extended its target map to include a handful of typically Democratic-leaning states. For Democrats, the best chances to turn the tide on Republican turf are in Georgia and in Kentucky, the home of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    But Democrats recently acquired two new worries, in Colorado, where Republicans landed a top-tier recruit when Congressman Cory Gardner announced he would challenge Democrat Mark Udall, and in New Hampshire, where former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has moved across the border to explore a challenge to incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

    We explore the contours of the midterm election landscape with Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call newspaper, and Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report.

    In a nutshell, why are Democrats so worried, Amy?

    AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: You laid it down politically.

    It’s the map, I think, is the most important thing that makes them nervous, and it’s the political environment. And when the president’s approval rating right now is sitting at 42, 43 percent, even if you’re in a relatively Democratic-leaning or you could call it competitive state, that’s a tough place to be as a Democrat. If you are in a red state, that is dismal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s what you’re seeing, too, Stu?

    STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: There’s a particular dynamic that kicks in, in midterm elections.

    There’s a reason why the president’s party has won House seats only twice in the last 100 years in midterms. It’s that voters tend to go to the polls to express their dissatisfaction with the president, and his party’s candidates suffer.

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s divide this into two big chunks.

    One, the states that Romney won in the 2012 election where there are now Democratic — Democratic seats which are endangered, some of them are Democrat retirements. We can see them here. And that’s South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia. And some of them are endangered incumbents, North Carolina, Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

    Let’s just unpack that for a moment, Amy. Which of those states are you watching?

    AMY WALTER: Well, the open seats are the toughest ones for the Democrats, mostly because these are the seats that have moved over to the Republicans, at least at the federal level, for quite some time.

    The only reason they stayed in Democratic hands is because they had Democratic incumbents who were really connected to those states. Those people are gone.

    GWEN IFILL: Like Montana.

    AMY WALTER: Like Montana, like West Virginia with Jay Rockefeller. And those folks — with those folks done, almost impossible for Democrats to keep those seats.

    The other states are places where the Democrats, they have been fighting against the tide, in some cases for quite some time and holding on, like Louisiana with Mary Landrieu. In others, they’re a brand-new senator in a state that has traditionally been Republican, like Mark Begich in Alaska. But they come with a big last name. The Begich name in Alaska is very well-known. His father was a former senator there.

    GWEN IFILL: Or North Carolina, for instance. That falls into that same…

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, North Carolina is a little different, in that it’s not quite as red as the other states, like Arkansas, and Alaska and Louisiana.

    It is a competitive state. The president won it initially in 2008. He lost it narrowly in 2012. But, again, I think Amy is exactly right. You have states where Democrats have a better chance, either because the landscape is better or the Democratic incumbent has the kind of name that has allowed him or her to resist against what has been a Republican wave.

    GWEN IFILL: Like in Arkansas.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Like in Arkansas.

    Mark Pryor in Louisiana, Mary Landrieu, or Mark Begich in Alaska, these are Democrats who have deep connections to the state. And that’s what they need to do. They need to try to localize these campaigns, so voters in those states say, it’s not about — just about Barack Obama. It’s not about the national environment. It’s about my senator, Mary Landrieu or Mark Pryor.

    The Democrats are trying to do that. It’s going to be difficult, frankly, for them to succeed.

    GWEN IFILL: And it’s even difficult in areas — and let’s at another map here, where these are states that President Obama won in the last election. They’re retirements, two Democratic retirements, one in Michigan, Carl Levin, one in Iowa, Tom Harkin.

    And there are endangered incumbents in two other states. We mentioned them in the setup there, in Colorado and New Hampshire. How does that…

    GWEN IFILL: … the problem?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: I think the thing to note about those four states is that we were watching three of them as swing states in the presidential race last time.

    GWEN IFILL: That’s true.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: So, yes, the president won them. But he won New Hampshire 52, Iowa with 52, Colorado with 51.5.

    So these were narrow wins. And so that — I think that means that the landscape isn’t as good for Democrats as Democrats may be thinking.

    AMY WALTER: Yes. Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: Go ahead. Add to that.

    AMY WALTER: Oh, no, no, no.

    And, you know, at the end of the day, this comes down to mood. Right? And Stu pointed this out. Angry people vote. People who are sort of complacent or even people who are generally happy don’t always go out and vote. It’s the most motivated people, especially in a midterm election, that go out and vote.

    And so when the president — this is why it’s important when you look at his national number at 42 or 43 percent. You have to take it then and say, well, what would that mean in a state that he already lost by 10 points or a state he narrowly carried? That means he’s even lower than that national number. It’s very tough for a Democrat to overperform the president by that big of a percentage.

    GWEN IFILL: How much of a drag in the big picture is the health care law, and how much would he have had problems whether this law existed or not?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I think it is a drag, in part because Republicans are enthusiastic about it, and they’re energized.

    GWEN IFILL: It’s, what, being angrier here.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Right. Right. It’s going to affect Republican turnout.

    But I think, at the end of the day, when we talk about the final few weeks, few months of the campaign, independent voters make up their mind, it’s more generally about mood. How’s the economy doing? Are there new jobs being created? How has the president performed?

    For them, I think the ACA is already baked into this.

    AMY WALTER: Except if there are more problems with the ACA. And that’s really the question, because September and October could bring — that’s traditionally when insurance companies come and they bring you your insurance premiums if you’re a small business for the next year.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    AMY WALTER: If those go up in September and October, right before the election, not really a good sign for Democrats.

    GWEN IFILL: We see this big push to get people enrolled. Is there a plus to be had out of that, or is this just running in place?

    AMY WALTER: I feel like it’s a little bit running in place.

    Look, the bottom line is going to be, I think, health care reform’s success politically, at least in the short term, will be based on how people who currently have insurance feel about it. Do they feel like their own health insurance has been in any way compromised by this new — this new health care law?

    If it has, then they will take it out on the president. If it hasn’t, they’re not going to use it as a motivating factor.

    GWEN IFILL: We have been watching Senator Harry Reid go full-bore against the Koch brothers, the big Republican finance brothers duo.

    How much does that indicate that money is a big problem and Republicans are the ones who have got it?

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, I don’t think it’s that the Republicans have all the cash.

    I think it’s an attempt to kind of redefine the election to say — the problem is, it’s really inside baseball.

    GWEN IFILL: Yes.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: The average voter doesn’t say, wow, who’s contributing to who?

    So I think it’s a general Democratic frustration here. When you look at these races, it’s not as though the Republican candidates have a lot more money than the Democratic Senate candidates. That’s not the case at all. AMY WALTER: But the AFP is out, which is the Koch brothers-backed group.

    GWEN IFILL: Americans for Prosperity.

    AMY WALTER: I mean, when you look at how much they’re spending in some of these states we just talked about…

    STUART ROTHENBERG: That’s true.

    AMY WALTER: … in North Carolina, their super PAC up against the Democratic super PAC called the Majority — Democratic Majority — what is it? Majority PAC, yes.


    AMY WALTER: Majority PAC.

    It’s, in some cases, 3-1, 4-1 difference in the number of ads that have been run. But I agree with you that it’s — it may not stay that way.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: And, remember, the Republican super PAC that was so big last time, Crossroads, seems not to be active this cycle, at least at this point. They will be later in the cycle. But, so far, AFP, the Koch brothers group, has really been carrying the ball for Republicans as the outside group.

    GWEN IFILL: But no matter how much money is involved, it doesn’t matter, if the president is the drag.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Everybody is going to have enough money, I think, in these races, although now that there are more races on the table for Democrats, there may be trouble. But, no, the president is a much bigger problem.

    AMY WALTER: Absolutely.

    GWEN IFILL: OK. We will leave it there.

    GWEN IFILL: Just say yes.

    AMY WALTER: Just say yes.


    GWEN IFILL: Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, thanks.

    AMY WALTER: Thanks.

    STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks, Gwen.

    The post Why Democrats are worried about the midterm map appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user futureatlas.com

    Photo by Flickr user futureatlas.com

    BP won 24 new oil tracts Wednesday after a 16-month ban from new federal contracts was lifted from the company.

    The oil and gas company reached a deal with the Environmental Protection Agency Friday, allowing it to participate in the latest round of bidding Tuesday. BP submitted a total of 31 bids, with the winning bids totaling $41.6 million. None of the winning bids, however, were for contracts in the Gulf of Mexico.

    The EPA banned the company from placing bids on new federal contacts in November 2012, more than two and a half years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010 — considered the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

    The post BP wins two dozen oil bids after EPA lifts ban appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Media surround the relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 answers media questions at Lido Hotel on March 11, 2014 in Beijing, China. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

    Media surround the relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 answers media questions at Lido Hotel on March 11, 2014 in Beijing, China. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

    When it comes to politics -– and missing planes for that matter -– it helps to be an expert, or at least to play one on TV.

    As I type this, cable news is playing mutely on the television on my desk. The “Breaking News” banner reads: “Officials: This is the best lead we have right now.”

    That caption perfectly captures the endless speculation we have been enduring about the search for the Malaysian jetliner that disappeared March 8 in a fog of mystery worthy of nighttime soap opera.

    For days, everyone was operating on the best information they had right then. It mattered little whether the information was correct. Everywhere I went people asked if I knew what had become of the plane. (If I knew, would I have kept it to myself?)

    This approach –- let’s call it speculative invention — also completely fits the way we absorb and analyze our domestic politics. In general, we know just enough information to be dangerous -– or at least to be guided by opinion rather than fact.

    In an election year, speculation is part of the potion. Polls can only do so much to predict how things will turn out in the end. So we (and the candidates) start brewing up conventional wisdom pretty early in the process. This usually includes bits of detail combined with educated guessing and –- occasionally -– discussions with actual voters.

    Why wait for an actual election when we can start making stuff up years in advance? There are books to be written; beats to be assigned. No need to wait for a candidate to announce his or her intentions, right?

    In the midst of geopolitical crisis, this approach works even less well.

    We were supposed to be welcomed with flowers in Iraq. And we were supposed to have partners we could work with in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Decades later, things have proved a bit more complicated.

    But we couldn’t resist. In the latest instance, it was way too easy to boil the upheaval in Ukraine down to the bad guy (presumably former President Viktor Yanukovych) versus the good gal (his imprisoned foe Yulia Tymoshenko). Neither seems central to the dispute now.

    We couldn’t help but watch the crowds massing in Kiev’s Maidan Square through the same lens that we used when other nations fell. As we have since discovered, the view from Kiev (or Cairo or Baghdad, for that matter) is seldom a comprehensive one. We soon discovered the bigger challenge would be in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and perhaps still other former Soviet territories.

    When it got complicated watching here at home, domestic political analysis took over. Critics began casting the conflict as a new Cold War; a personal test of relative strength and weakness involving two world leaders who have never seemed fond of one another.

    This conventional wisdom was too hard to resist, even as it became clear that this would not be your classic post-war East-West dispute.

    I suppose the lesson here is to always resist conventional wisdom, no matter its source. This is a theme I suspect we’ll be returning to again and again.

    The post The perils of conventional wisdom – geopolitical edition appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Companies hope to excavate copies of "E.T." the video game that are rumored to have been buried in New Mexico for over three decades. Photo by Flickr user Erik Abderhalden

    Companies hope to excavate copies of “E.T.” the video game that are rumored to have been buried in New Mexico for over three decades. Photo by Flickr user Erik Abderhalden

    E.T. may have phoned home in the hit 1982 feature film, but the mass-produced 1982 video game of the same name had trouble finding enough homes to play it.

    In fact, so many cartridges went unsold or returned that a rumor started claiming that game-maker Atari had extra inventory of the “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” game buried in a city landfill located in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A planned dig now hopes to uncover the games, if they exist, and along the way take a look at the product that many believe contributed to Atari’s fall from the top of the then-burgeoning video game industry.

    Companies Fuel Entertainment and LightBox Interactive — after receiving permission to dig in May 2013 — faced initial roadblocks from the New Mexico Environmental Department, which seeked a revised waste excavation plan. The companies, however, say plans haven’t been halted and they hope to start searching the 100-acre area within four to six weeks — and they hope to turn it into a documentary.

    “We thought this has got a really neat story to it. Why don’t we do some digging?” Mike Burns of Fuel Entertainment told The Guardian. “This almost killed Atari: it was a major pop culture shift, and it could have really impacted how gaming turned out long-term. It’s a critical turning point.”

    The post Treasure hunt for long-buried ‘E.T.’ video games to begin in New Mexico appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    It was the perfect Cinderalla story: 15-seed Hampton upset 2-seed Iowa State in 2001, The image that lives on from that game is Hampton coach Steve Merfeld being victoriously lifted by a player. Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

    It was the perfect Cinderalla story: 15-seed Hampton upset 2-seed Iowa State in 2001, The image that lives on from that game is Hampton coach Steve Merfeld being victoriously lifted by a player. Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

    Raise your hand if you have ever filled out a bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Now keep them up if you’ve ever torn it up after watching an unheard-of university (Mercer?) ruin your picks.

    It’s OK to admit to it. It’s all just part of the beautiful chaos that is March Madness. But what might surprise you is just how close this yearly national hysteria came to being quashed.

    If you’re reading this and live in the United States, you are probably well aware of March Madness. The NCAA said that in 2011 more than 176 million people tuned into the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament at some point; that’s about 56 percent of Americans. Last year, each game of the tournament averaged 10.7 million viewers. The championship game between the University of Michigan and the University of Louisville earned about 23.4 million viewers.

    That’s the audience. And now the money: The FBI estimates that more than $2.5 billion is illegally wagered annually on March Madness. All of those $5 buy-ins at your office or community pool add up. Playing on the popularity of those pools, Warren Buffet offered up $1 billion to anyone who picks a perfect bracket this year.

    While the chance for making money might sound well and good to you and the rest of your pool, the consequences for businesses across the nation are far less profitable. The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas calculated that $1.2 billion dollars in potential revenue is lost by businesses across the country for every hour employees spend watching the games (which, with the advent of free streaming of every NCAA game online, has grown exponentially).

    Underdog madness: 14th-seeded Mercers pulls off the upset over 3rd-seeded Duke on the second day of NCAA men's basketball tournament action. Photo by Corey Lowenstein/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT

    Underdog madness: 14th-seeded Mercer pulled off the upset over 3rd-seeded Duke on the second day of tournament play. Photo by Corey Lowenstein/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT

    Spectating the tournament has become a national pastime, with the names of “Cinderella” teams etched into the national conscience for years to come. Before the 2010 tournament, you probably could have counted the number of your friends on one hand who knew about Butler University, and that’s being generous. With two championship game appearances, not so anymore. Thursday night 12-seed North Dakota State upset 5-seed Oklahoma, busting millions of brackets, while simultaneously becoming the most famous non-Coen brothers-related export from Fargo, N.D.

    But if not for a game some 25 years ago that wasn’t even supposed to be televised, teams like Davidson and Northern Iowa may never have gotten the chance to become national sweethearts, when mounting pressures from the NCAA to remove little-known schools from the tournament could have ended the madness before it really began.

    In his recent Sports Illustrated article “The Game That Saved March Madness,” Sean Gregory teamed up with Alexander Wolff to tell the story of how an electrifying game in 1989 between the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas and 16th-seeded Princeton Tigers made March Madness the phenomenon it is today.

    Gregory, a former self-described “benchwarmer” on later Princeton teams, sat down to talk about how that one game helped preserve the tournament, while paving the way for schools like the Valparaiso Crusaders and the North Dakota State Bisons to make their way into the public lexicon.

    NEWSHOUR: Did this game really save March Madness? Isn’t that a bit of an oversimplification?

    SEAN GREGORY: We wrote that headline because it speaks to how different the tournament is today versus where it was back then. Back in 1989, before the Princeton-Georgetown game, the first round games were only broadcast on ESPN, which was still a very young network in barely half of American households. The first-round games didn’t really get the mass exposure they do today back then.

    And at the same time you had this movement amongst the NCAA leadership saying, “Why are we letting in these smaller conference champions into this event? Half of them are getting blown out; there are 64 teams, so logically shouldn’t the 64 best teams be in it?” The NCAA was saying, why shouldn’t the sixth best ACC team have a spot instead of the Patriot League champ? Because on paper, if say, Washington State was the eighth best team in the Pac 10, on paper they would probably be favored to beat the champion of the Patriot or Ivy league, so there was this argument of, “Hey, wait a second, why do we have these automatic bids to these no-name schools?”

    Now it didn’t get that extreme to where they were ready to get rid of all the smaller teams, but what was being hatched on paper was this plan that could’ve been the start of a real movement to locking out even more small conference teams. The idea was always for the 30 automatic bids to go to conference champions, but looking forward into ‘91 and ‘92, they were afraid of constant conference proliferation with all these new conferences popping up seemingly overnight.

    So they said enough was enough, we are going to pick the 30 best conferences on Selection Sunday, and even if you won your conference tournament you could potentially get shut out. So what would’ve happened was those bubble conference tournaments like the MEAC (the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), the tournament championships could’ve ultimately meant nothing if a committee decided not to include you. So that would’ve taken all the fun away from these smaller tournaments, where you see students at small school like George Mason or UC Santa Cruz having an absolute blast.

    And on the other side, you had the idea of basing it on a conference’s previous year success. So that could’ve meant theoretically that if a team in the Patriot League went undefeated and was a top team in the country, they could have been shut out from the big dance because their conference the year before performed poorly. So what this game helped do was convince the NCAA brass that everyone should be allowed in. After Princeton almost knocked off the giant of Georgetown, the NCAA changed their course and said, “Everybody has a chance to get in.” Now they’re expanding it even further with all the play-in games past just the 16 seeds; just the other night we saw an overtime game from two big-time schools, Iowa and Tennessee, in a play-in game for the 11-seed that was an absolute romp.

    NEWSHOUR: Let’s talk about the money aspect. CBS paid $1 billion shortly after this game to retain the tournament for seven years, and has now signed a 14-year $10.8 billion contract (which is up in 2024). How has this game affected the profitability of NCAA basketball on the whole as a business?

    SEAN GREGORY: After the Princeton-Georgetown game, CBS bought the exclusive rights to the first round games. Basically this game got them saying, “We should be showing these games.” Now I wouldn’t say the Princeton game is the only reason they bought the rights to the whole tourney, but I would say it’s a major reason for the decision, and that decision really helped make March Madness this shared American cultural experience it is today. As I said prior to that, it was on this ESPN network that wasn’t that widespread. So now all these games are on national television, and I remember one of the first years they did this, it was a snow day and I was home from school, and I’m sitting at home saying, “Are you kidding me? I can watch six games today? You’re telling me I can watch basketball from noon to midnight?” It was like heaven. And now we have the whole cultural aspect: the office pools, the betting, the watch parties. Would CBS have bought the rites without Princeton-Georgetown? Maybe. But that game was a spark. That game helped the NCAA sell the brand.

    NEWSHOUR: What has the benefit been for the smaller programs?

    SEAN GREGORY: Beyond your conference and school getting a nice check if you make the tournament, your school gets incredible exposure. You know, people look through the office bracket and see, “George Mason, who are they?” But now they’re on your radar and in your brain. Or, the flip side of that, is some guy in the office sees his small alma mater is in the tournament, let’s say VCU, and you get the whole pride and nostalgia that goes with it. All of this leads to these magical moments.

    There is the monetary aspect of the games; an old MEAC commissioner famously said “shoulder pads cost as much in the MEAC as they do in the Big 10.” But more importantly you get the memories and the moments. Not to be too sentimental about it, but the MEAC and the SWAC, which are two historically black conferences, were on the verge of not getting bids because ultimately, they weren’t that competitive. Well, the Georgetown-Princeton game happens and it keeps them alive. So then in 2001, you have Hampton, a MEAC school, beating Iowa State in the first round. And there’s this lasting image of the Hampton coach (Steve Merfeld) being lifted off the floor by one of his players with his feet dangling. And you look at Merfeld and his face is pure elation — and again, not to get too poetic, but that image is this great thing that will live on forever in time. And that might not happen if the Princeton game doesn’t happen.

    there have been studies about how this has bolstered schools with enrollment and popularity. For example I know that following Butler’s two miracle runs to the championship (in 2010 and 2011, when they were a 5 and an 8-seed, respectively) their applications increased exponentially. Now they’re this very high profile school that previously nobody knew about. It’s sculpting the face of colleges across America. There are plenty of examples. This is one of the main reasons universities argue now to keep their sports programs because they are the front porch to the university.

    NEWSHOUR: Where would you see the NCAA tournament without this game?

    SEAN GREGORY: It’s hard to say some other game wouldn’t have come along and had the same effect, but without this game maybe it delays the process. Without that magical moment for little schools, that momentum to cut out the small programs would’ve carried at the NCAA. I think we got to where we are quicker and more powerfully because of this game.

    The post Basketball fans win when underdogs prevail in March appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

    Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

    Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox, which filed for bankruptcy in February after losing 744,408 bitcoins belonging to customers in addition to 100,000 it owned, reports it has found nearly a quarter of its lost cache in a forgotten online wallet.

    The exchange claims that it found 200,000 bitcoins — the current equivalent of $119 million — in a digital file that had not been accessed since June 2011. The discovery brings the amount of missing cryptocurrency down to around 650,000.

    Mt. Gox, based in Japan, was the world’s largest bitcoin exchange until the loss forced them to halt operations.

    The post Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox finds $119 million in missing bitcoins appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rural Kansas, NewsHour Weekend

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    MONA ISKANDER: Traveling this stretch of highway 36 in rural northwest Kansas in the dead of winter… it’s very quiet. This is the road that leads to the town of Phillipsburg. The population: just over 2,500. There’s only one set of stoplights, one movie theatre and several restaurants.

    Amber and Patrick Patterson grew up here.

    PATRICK PATTERSON: Everybody knows everybody.  You know, everybody helps out everybody.  It’s– nice.

    MONA ISKANDER: The Pattersons were high school sweethearts. They went to college in Hays, Kansas a city of about 20,000 people an hour away. Like most young people from around here, they didn’t think they’d be back given the lack of opportunities.

    PATRICK PATTERSON: So I’d say the job market is probably one of the things that– made it hardest to come back.  ‘Cause a lot of the jobs around here are set.  People have been doing’ their job for a long time. And we didn’t think there’d be any available to– come back.

    MONA ISKANDER: In fact jobs and people have been disappearing from rural Kansas and most of the Great Plains for the last 80 years…  it started in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and accelerated with the mechanization of farming in the 1960s. Fewer workers were needed than ever before in farming and other industries.

    SAM BROWNBACK: I’ve been around rural Kansas all my life.  I was raised in rural Kansas.  I’ve seen it decline for 50 years.

    MONA ISKANDER: Sam Brownback is the Republican Governor of Kansas. He vowed to take action after the most recent census in which most counties reported a loss to their population.  Brownback’s idea was to create something like a new homestead act – much like the one that lured people to these rural areas in the late nineteenth century with the promise of free land.

    SAM BROWNBACK: I think there’s something worth preserving. It’s– about knowing the person that grows the food that you’re eating. It’s about forming a community.  Well, we already have that.  It’s Phillipsburg, Kansas.  It’s Parker, Kansas.  And you– know not only the person, you known their parents and maybe their grandparents.  Why destroy it?  This is– this is a beautiful community.  We just need to give it some economic activity.

    MONA ISKANDER: His idea was to create what are called rural opportunity zones and in 2011 the state legislature overwhelmingly approved the plan. The ROZ program works like this: if you’re a college grad with student loan debt, you can get up to $15,000 over five years just to move to a designated rural county in Kansas that has experienced a loss in population. Those coming from outside of Kansas won’t pay state income taxes.

    SAM BROWNBACK: There’s an old western saying that if you’ll wear out a pair of boots living here, you’ll live here the rest of your life.  Well, in five years, you’d wear out a pair of boots.  And I– think we’re going to have a great chance of getting people. And not only getting people.  I think we’ll have people coming home that have wanted to come back for some period of time.

    MONA ISKANDER: The help with their student loans is what brought the Pattersons back to Phillipsburg in 2012.  Between the two of them they owed $46,000 after graduating from Fort Hays State University.

    AMBER PATTERSON: Without ROZ I honestly don’t know if we would be here.  ‘Cause we were– we were questioning it so much on whether we could make it work.  With– our student loan payments and rent payment.

    PATRICK PATTERSON: We felt like without it was a gamble…, you know, to—- come back if—


    PATRICK PATTERSON: –with– without it.

    AMBER PATTERSON: ROZ made it that much easier.

    MONA ISKANDER: Patrick started off working odd jobs until he landed a position at a credit union. And Amber found work in customer relations at a pharmacy in town.

    The state and participating counties split the cost of student loan reimbursement for people like the Pattersons. Last year the total cost of the ROZ program was $838,000.

    MONA ISKANDER: You’ve built a reputation as a conservative Republican both in the senate and now as governor.  So you’re not known exactly for big government programs. Doesn’t something like this fly in the face of– the– principles that you espouse.

    SAM BROWNBACK: I’m a growth guy. It’s about creating opportunities for people.  And they may decide to take ‘em.  They may not.  But it’s about growth and creating those– opportunities that to me is very consistent with what I’ve tried to be about.

    MONA ISKANDER: But the governor admits that the plan is a gamble. There’s no guarantee or requirement that people taking advantage of the ROZ program will stay in these rural parts.

    Take 27-year-old Kellen Adams. He moved to the small town of Logan in Phillips County seven months ago from a bigger city in Kansas. Adams lives here with his girlfriend.

    He’s receiving $3,000 a year for the next five years from the state and county.

    But he told us even before he applied to the ROZ program he had accepted a job as principal of the town’s only school. But ultimately, he doesn’t see himself staying here.

    KELLEN ADAMS: And the reason why is I don’t want to take my current superintendent’s job.  And so– he and I have kind of– agreed that it’d probably be– in our best interest that I– pursue another position elsewhere.  So.

    MONA ISKANDER: So the opportunities are limited here.

    KELLEN ADAMS: They are.

    MONA ISKANDER: Adams says he plans on moving elsewhere in Kansas…  but others may just leave the state.

    MONA ISKANDER: You’re offering people, you know, up to $15,000– to help them with their student debt.  What if these people come into these areas and they’re like, “Oh, great opportunity.  You know, I was going to move here anyway.  But let me just take advantage of this and then I’ll leave the state”?

    SAM BROWNBACK: You could have some of that taking place.  And there probably will be some of it.

    You could see where we were and say, alright, we can choose to do nothing.  That’s– that’s a legitimate policy choice.  And we were 28th most populous state in America in the ’70s and we’re 33rd now, headed to 35th if we don’t break the trend line.  But I don’t know any team or businesses that hires a coach or a leader to manage slower decline.  Just manage the decline comfortably.  You—- bring ‘em in to change things.

    MONA ISKANDER: So far more than 650 people are enrolled in the ROZ program – 36 of whom are living in Phillips County which includes the towns of Phillipsburg and Logan. But some question the long term impact of an initiative like this.

    LASZLO KULCSAR: My assessment would be that this may help a few people or a few communities in a very small way but that it will not turn back depopulation.

    MONA ISKANDER: Laszlo Kulcsar is a sociologist At Kansas State University who specializes in rural population trends. He says he doubts that young people will move to rural counties in large numbers because jobs are scarce and these areas lack the conveniences that can be found in larger towns. He showed me the projections for Phillips County.

    LASZLO KULCSAR: The population has been going down since the 1900 census but according to the projections of the census bureau to 2030 we are going to see the same population decline.

    MONA ISKANDER:  When you speak to people who are involved in this initiative, they say, “You know, we’ve had– we’ve had people move back here.  They are putting down roots.  They are starting families.  They are opening a business here and there.”  I mean, isn’t that worth something?

    LASZLO KULCSAR:  It is worth something.  It is very important for a place to show some sign of– vitality.  So a place to show others that this is not a place that’s going to go away anytime soon. And it’s really– it does not work as much for others who may move there.  But it does work on people who are thinking of moving away.  So in that sense, that may help retaining the population that is still there.

    MONA ISKANDER: For Kellen Adams, his decision to eventually leave is based squarely on where the jobs are.

    KELLEN ADAMS: It has nothing’ to do with Logan or the school or anything else.  But– I am looking for a position, you know– that would be obviously in the best interest of my family.  And I have pretty big– dreams and goals.  And so– I want to be able to– achieve those.

    MONA ISKANDER: The Pattersons on the other hand, have long term plans to stay put. The success of the ROZ program will likely hinge on bringing more people like them to rural Kansas.

    The post Kansas offers incentives to lure people back to the plains appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Linda Brown sitting in her segregated classroom at the Monroe School re case brought before Supreme Court on her behalf resulting in decision to make school segregation illegal. Photo by Carl Iwasaki//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    Linda Brown sitting in her segregated classroom (center) at the Monroe School in 1953. Photo by Carl Iwasaki/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that black children have the right to the same education as their white peers.

    But civil rights data released Friday by the Education Department reflect an education system rife with inequities for blacks and other minority students and those with disabilities.

    Minority students are less likely to have access to advanced math and science classes and veteran teachers. Black students of any age, even the youngest preschoolers, are more likely to be suspended. And students with disabilities are more likely than other students to be tied down or placed alone in a room as a form of discipline.

    “It is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

    But the department offered no explanation of why these disparities exist.

    Here are five things to know about the department’s findings:

    STEM is the buzzword in education these days. Education in the fields of science, technology and engineering and math is considered critical for students to succeed in the global marketplace. Yet the department found that there was a “significant lack of access” to core classes like algebra, geometry, biology, and chemistry for many students. That lack of access was particularly striking when it came to minorities.

    “A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II; a third of these schools do not offer chemistry,” the department said.

    And it’s not just lack of access to core curriculum subjects.

    Only a quarter of black and Latino students were enrolled in an Advanced Placement class, which allows high school students to earn college credit, and fewer than one in five got a high enough score generally necessary to get college credit.

    Even as black and Latino students represent 40 percent of the enrollment in schools offering gifted and talented programs, they represent only a quarter of the students in their schools enrolled in them.

    Christopher Emdin, a professor of science education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said if a school doesn’t offer advanced math and science classes, students are told they are not expected to take those classes.

    “There is nothing more severe in contemporary America, particularly as it relates to youth of color, than the soft bigotry of low expectations,” Emdin said. “These inequities in the availability of science and math classes show young people that not much is expected of them. It highlights a subtle and severe bias that we will collectively suffer from as our STEM jobs continue to go unfilled, and our young people refuse to be scientists and engineers.”

    Quality teachers can play a key role in student performance.

    Minority students are more likely to attend schools with a higher concentration of first-year teachers than white students. And while most teachers are certified, nearly half a million students nationally attend schools where nearly two-thirds or fewer of teachers meet all state certification and licensing requirements. Black and Latino students are more likely than white students to attend these schools.

    There’s also a teacher salary gap of more than $5,000 between high schools with the highest and lowest black and Latino students enrollments, according to the data.

    Maddie Fennell, a literacy coach at Miller Park Elementary, an urban school in Omaha, Neb., said that too often in teaching, the mindset is that the more experienced a teacher is, the more deserving the teacher is of a less-challenging school environment. She said this doesn’t make sense because, in comparison, an experienced surgeon wouldn’t be given the healthiest patients. Ultimately, she said, the most qualified teachers will request to follow strong principals.

    “A lot of it has to do with the leadership of a (school) building,” Fennell said.


    The Obama administration issued guidance earlier this year encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office, the so-called “schools-to-prisons pipeline.” But even before the announcement, school districts had been adjusting policies that disproportionately affected minority students. The civil rights data released Friday from the 2011-2012 school year show the disparities begin among even the youngest of school kids. Black children represent about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but they make up almost half of the preschoolers who are suspended more than once. Six percent of the nation’s districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

    Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys. More than half of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.


    “Seclusion and restraint” is a term used to describe when students are strapped down or physically restrained in schools. The data show students with disabilities represent about 12 percent of the student population, but about 60 percent of students placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement and three quarters of students restrained at school. While black students make up about one in five of students with disabilities, more than one-third of the students who are restrained at school are black. Overall, the data show that more than 37,000 students were placed in seclusion, and 4,000 students with disabilities were held in place by a mechanical restraint.

    Democrats Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., have unsuccessfully fought for a federal law for years to end the practice. National associations representing school boards and superintendents have said such legislation would reduce the authority of states and districts, but that seclusion and restraint should only be used as a last resort to protect school staff and students.


    The Obama administration views access to preschool as a civil rights issue. It says 40 percent of school districts do not offer preschool programs. Their numbers don’t include private programs or some other types of publicly funded early childhood programs outside of school systems. Obama has sought a “preschool for all” program with the goal of providing universal preschool to America’s 4-year-old that would use funding from a hike in tobacco taxes.


    The post Five things to know about today’s report on unequal education appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Two weeks on, and searchers today appeared no closer than ever to finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

    Hopes had been raised after a satellite spotted two large objects in a remote region of the Southern Indian Ocean, more than 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.

    Search planes crisscrossed part of the area today, and Australia’s acting prime minister promised to continue the effort. But he cautioned that it’s difficult.

    WARREN TRUSS, Acting Prime Minister, Australia: Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating. It may have slipped to the bottom. It’s also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Chinese and Japanese aircraft will join the search this weekend. At the same time, people around the globe are poring over satellite photos, hoping to find clues to the plane’s fate. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien looks at the crowdsourcing effort right after the news summary.

    The crisis over Ukraine played out in dueling pen strokes today. In Brussels, the European Union signed an agreement with Ukraine, including defense and trade cooperation. The E.U. also slapped sanctions on a dozen more officials in Russia and Crimea. At almost the same time in Moscow, the president of Russia completed the annexation of Crimea.

    John Irvine of Independent Television News reports.

    JOHN IRVINE: He had already had it sealed and delivered. So, today, Vladimir Putin signed for the parcel of land that is Crimea.

    Whether the peninsula belongs in Russian hands or they have stolen it depends on your point of view. In Crimea itself, many Ukrainian soldiers have been sent packing. Russian soldiers, for weeks the enemy at the gate, are now looking out, not in. They have taken over most military bases here, today being the deadline for Ukrainian troops to leave.

    At one barracks where the transition was still happening, the mismatch was obvious. The Russians had armor, and the Ukrainians very little. A Ukrainian colonel came out and told us that he’d been ordered to get his men to remove all their belongings. With the victor within earshot, the vanquished agreed it was a sad day indeed.

    It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Ukrainian soldiers, because, in less than a month, they have gone from being a home guard to fallen forces. The land they swore an oath to defend has switched sides, and now they have got a choice, to do the same or to leave Crimea.

    One place where a Russian siege is yet to cause complete capitulation is Sevastopol. By scuttling in strategic places, the Russians have insured that Ukrainian warships are kept in port, but getting the Ukrainians to surrender all of these valuable assets may yet take some time.

    On the turncoat territory that is Crimean land, the Ukrainian cap no longer fits. Here, Ukrainian troops are yesterday’s men. Today, many accepted the offer to switch sides. He’s now a Russian soldier digging Russian soil.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Moscow this evening, fireworks marked the annexation of Crimea. But the celebrating masked concerns about sanctions, as Russian financial markets lost ground again. Russia did agree today to allow European security monitors in Ukraine for the next six months. It was unclear if they would be allowed into Crimea.

    Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice voiced concerns about Russian military movements near Ukraine. We will have a report from Margaret Warner in Eastern Ukraine later in the program.

    In Iraq, nearly 30 people died in a wave of violence today. Most of the attacks targeted security forces north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, west of the capital, a suicide bomber struck the funeral for a leader of an anti-al-Qaida militia.

    The government of Turkey has apparently failed in a bid to block access to Twitter. Tech-savvy users found ways today to circumvent the effort. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called for banning the social media network. A Turkish newspaper editor says it’s because people have been tweeting links to recordings that implicate Erdogan in corruption.

    OGUZ GUVEN, Online editor for Cumhuriyet newspaper (through interpreter): Because sound recordings and videos were spread through Twitter, more precisely, since communication through

    Twitter is very strong, they see it as an enemy. Erdogan said before, “There is an evil called Twitter.” Yesterday, it was closed hours after he said that he would close it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The ban even sparked divisions within the government, as Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, tweeted his opposition to it.

    First lady Michelle Obama formally began a weeklong goodwill visit to China today. She met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, accompanied by her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, and mother. The first lady also visited schools, spoke with students, and even played some ping-pong. Later, she toured Beijing’s Forbidden City.

    American first ladies have visited China 15 times over the years, but Mrs. Obama is the first to be invited on her own.

    Thailand will have to hold new general elections after the country’s constitutional court annulled last month’s results. The judges ruled all voting should have been on the same day. That wasn’t possible because of anti-government protests in some areas. The demonstrators, who continue to occupy part of the capital city, have demanded that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra step down.

    The bankrupt Bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox has been going through its pockets and turned up a fortune in the digital currency.

    The Tokyo-based company says it discovered 200,000 Bitcoins thought to be missing. That has a value of about $120 million. The funds were in old format digital folders, or electronic wallets. Some 650,000 Bitcoins remain unaccounted for.

    Wall Street faded on this Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 28 points to close at 16,302. The Nasdaq fell 42 points to close at 4,276. And the S&P 500 slipped five points to finish at 1,866. For the week, the Dow and the S&P gained about 1.5 percent; the Nasdaq rose 0.7 percent.

    The post News Wrap: Putin completes Crimea annex as EU signs agreement with Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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