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

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    mapping

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For now, the most useful lead in the search for the missing airliner has been those satellite images of possible debris. But nothing has been confirmed yet. And even as the hunt continues, people around the globe are trying to do their share to help aid in the search by utilizing technology.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien has our report.

    JENNY PETERSON, Tomnod User: It’s interesting because we don’t even know where the haystack is. It could be here, it could be here, it could be here. And so there’s all these different places to look.

    MILES O’BRIEN: This is what spare time looks like for Jenny Peterson these days.

    JENNY PETERSON: It makes it seem like a game. And for being a former gamer, it’s almost like you’re on a quest.

    MILES O’BRIEN: She is on a quest to find that missing Malaysian airliner, without ever leaving her home in the Washington, D.C., area.

    JENNY PETERSON: People have also found whales. I found a whale. I don’t want to say it’s fun, but it is kind of fun, to get new pictures every day, because you don’t know what will be there. You just want to keep going and uncover the whole picture. It’s like putting together a puzzle.

    MILES O’BRIEN: She is one of more than three million people who have volunteered their time to pore over satellite imagery of the search areas to see if there is anything unusual, any sign of the missing Boeing 777.

    JENNY PETERSON: You want to be able to do something, but you can’t, because you’re not in the line of work, you’re across the world, you have family or whatever time. You can’t just up and leave and volunteer for the Red Cross. This is something that we can do.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Jenny is searching on the Tomnod site run by DigitalGlobe. This is the company that released these images of debris in the Indian Ocean that are the current focus of the search, although they were not the fruits of the crowdsourcing campaign.

    The Colorado company acquires and sells satellite imagery captured by a fleet of five satellites in polar orbits. When they pass over the region, those satellites, the most powerful available outside the classified world, are now focused on the huge area where they are searching for the missing airplane. They release the images on the Web site as quickly as they can, so the crowd can use its many hands to make light work.

    LUKE BARRINGTON, DigitalGlobe: So far, we have received millions of tags from millions of users. Anything you can use satellite imagery for, crowdsourcing just makes it better.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Luke Barrington is senior manager at geospatial big data at DigitalGlobe. He explains how the search works.

    LUKE BARRINGTON: If you see anything interesting, if you think that it might be evidence of the crash or wreckage, or a life raft or an oil slick, or anything that could be useful, you simply click on it in your Web browser, and that tag gets recorded.

    And what we find is, if you agree with 10 or 100 other people who have all independently seen that same location in their own Web browser, we start to identify these locations of consensus, and that’s where the real information comes out. That’s the wisdom of the crowd. That is crowdsourcing.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Once the crowd agrees, the object in question is passed along to the real experts, who can determine if it is something that can be eliminated or an urgent destination for search-and-rescue aircraft. This crowdsourced search for the Malaysian airliner is just the latest manifestation of a powerful mix of space, computer and mobile technology coupled with social networking and the plain old human desire to help others in need.

    PATRICK MEIER, Qatar Computing Research Institute: So we stop this nonsense of, we wait for the government to help, right, this fire truck approach to quickly putting out the fires. Why don’t we become citizen firefighters ourselves?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Patrick Meier had that epiphany in the immediate wake of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. At the time working on an international affairs Ph.D. at Tufts University, he gathered some friends together in his living room to brainstorm ways to harness the information generated through social networking in the wake of the disaster, so that the humanitarian response will be more effective.

    He is an early and leading advocate of the power of crowdsourced mapping.

    PATRICK MEIER: Humanitarian professionals, paid professionals cannot be everywhere at the same time. But the crowd can. The crowd is always there, and the crowd has agency and they’re going to respond a lot faster.

    You’re getting real-time information from sort of bird’s-eye view angle of who’s been affected, how badly and where. So a lot of humanitarian organizations, when you start talking to them about, hey, it’s like having your own helicopter, get it a bit more about what the added value might be.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Even so, many humanitarian organizations were initially skeptical of Patrick and his band of enthusiastic, young, technologically savvy friends.

    But, over time, the United Nations, the Red Cross and other large humanitarian organizations became true believers. The U.N. has created something called the Digital Humanitarian Network to help capture all the urgent tweets and texts, map them and try to connect the pleas for help with someone who can.

    PATRICK MEIER: You have this “big data” — quote, unquote.

    And what we’re all realizing, humanitarians, technologists alike, is the overflow of information generated during disasters can be as paralyzing to humanitarian response as the absence of information.

    MILES O’BRIEN: And they enlist the crowd to analyze the data to make sense of all of the information being collected.

    PATRICK MEIER: And the best way to visualize that is, you imagine a haystack that’s been put together in a square form, in a cube, right? And you basically then slice up the haystack in tiny little cubes, and every volunteer takes care of their little part of the haystack, and they all do it at the same time. That’s far more, far more efficient.

    MILES O’BRIEN: The Digital Humanitarian Network was last mobilized in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

    Maning Sambale was a volunteer with OpenStreetMap, an open source collaboration that is the Wikipedia of mapping.

    MANING SAMBALE, OpenStreetMap Volunteer: We have asked people all over the world to trace features, map features, using satellite imagery.

    MILES O’BRIEN: More than 1,600 volunteers provided 4.75 million updates to maps of the Tacloban region in less than a month. The volunteers looked at commercial satellite imagery captured after the storm by DigitalGlobe and traced out the footprints of homes and buildings to give relief workers maps that accurately reflected their devastated surroundings.

    MANING SAMBALE: It’s the most comprehensive map they were able to see a week after the typhoon. There are other maps that’s there on the ground, but the difference is, we have this detail on the street level.

    MILES O’BRIEN: But does it work? Does it really save lives? Relief workers in the Philippines or in Haiti would tell you yes. And at DigitalGlobe, they claim some success as well, although not always with a happy ending.

    They instigated a crowdsourced search for two lost hikers in the Peruvian Andes in 2012. The crowd found tracks that led to the hikers, but, unfortunately, they were already dead. Most, crowdsourcing looks like this, frame after frame of nothing.

    But even nothing can be something. The idea that there is value in documenting that a particular image has nothing special in it is what drives people like Jenny Peterson to keep looking at swathes of the Indian Ocean night after night.

    JENNY PETERSON: Even if you can’t say, oh, I found something, finding nothing is still finding something. You know that you don’t have to expend resources to search in that area when you don’t see anything there.

    And if I can help eliminate areas to search, and have — and let the — let them focus on the areas that are of interest, then, great, I’m good with looking at nothing, if that can help them out.

    MILES O’BRIEN: While the cartographers of the crowd are constantly looking for ways to automate some of this painstaking work, this is one innovation that is enabled by technology, but driven by the most amazing computer of all: the one that sits behind our discerning eyes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Miles joins me now.

    Miles, so, this goes on. It’s an amazing thing to think people all over the world are doing this.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, you can join right now if you to. You can be a part of the search.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What — so, back to that search, yes, we know there’s bad weather, yes, we know it’s far away from Australia, where they’re looking, but why is this so hard?

    MILES O’BRIEN: It’s hard because we just have a paucity of data.

    It’s hard to imagine, in the 21st century, that an airliner, with all the electronics and all the technology we have, could go missing with so little — you would think at least a trail of electronic bread crumbs would exist. And it doesn’t.

    And there’s any number of directions still that it could have flown. It’s still not guaranteed that it’s in that very spot. The wreckage that we saw in the piece and that’s been released by Australia might — that might just be debris, just plain old debris. There’s plenty of it in the ocean. We know about that.

    To say it’s a needle in the haystack is an understatement, I think.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So the pings that this satellite picked up could have been from something else?

    MILES O’BRIEN: It could be anything.

    When you think about that giant hunk of plastic out in the Pacific, that gives you an idea of the kind of things it could be seeing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You have talked, Miles, about the Malaysia Airlines decided not to invest in a communications system that would have sent more data back to home base. Explain what that is and why that would have made a difference.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, we’re all familiar of course with the radio transmissions that the crew engages in with the air traffic control.

    But in addition, there are a couple of other channels of communication on a modern airliner. And one of them is this device called ACARS. It’s just a fancy acronym for kind of an almost fax machine meets e-mail kind of thing, where it spits out a little bit of information about the airplane on a routine basis.

    In this case, it wasn’t as frequent as it was in the case of, if you will recall, the Air France flight that went missing over the Mid-Atlantic regions a few years ago. That had the upgraded ACARS with an app on it which actually provided much more information much more frequently, and aided the searches, because they knew better where it was and what the condition of that aircraft was.

    In this case, they didn’t have it, and it really is a very inexpensive thing to add on. It’s like about $10 per flight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So a lot more information — we would have a lot more information?

    MILES O’BRIEN: We would know much better where — what direction that plane was in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, final analysis, where is the greatest hope for finding out what happened?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, they’re going to need a little bit of luck, I think. They’re going to need some luck with the weather.

    Let’s hope, frankly, that that — what those satellite saw were in fact pieces of the aircraft, because that gives them something to go on. Without any debris, there’s really very little chance that they will find this. It’s a big ocean and a big planet, and you just can’t go every in which way trying to find a potential debris pattern. So, let’s hope for some good weather, for starters.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien, thank you very much.

    MILES O’BRIEN: All right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Great to have you with us.

    The post Using social media to scour the ‘haystack’: More than 3 million join search for Flight 370 from home appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user Bectopia

    Photo by Flickr user Bectopia

    Forests, for the time being, cover one-third of the Earth’s surface and 1.6 billion people depend on them for their livelihoods. Yet they are disappearing at the rate of 32 million acres every single year. That compares to an area the size of Greece, or in sports terms, it’s equal to losing 36 football fields per minute. New satellite data released today to celebrate the International Day of Forests shows the biggest losses of tropical forests are still in South America and Africa.

    This is the second year the UN has highlighted the plight of the forest on March 21st and today Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Forests are the lungs of our planet.” Ban noted how crucial forests are to the wood and pulp and paper industries, which globally account for nearly 1 percent of Gross Domestic Product. He and other officials called on countries to push efforts to promote forests for their economic and social benefits, as well as the key they play in fighting climate change. In the U.S. alone, forests absorb 11 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, a significant contributor to climate change.

    The post UN: Threatened forests create jobs and fight climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    California schools use blended learning to teach students

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report spells out the scope of a problem with access, opportunity and discipline in public schools in the United States.

    For the first time in almost 15 years, the Department of Education has published data on this subject from all 97,000 public schools across the country. And the findings highlight big patterns of disparity by race.

    Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studio has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The findings cover a wide spectrum of issues: African-American and Latino students who aren’t even offered some essential courses in math and science, too many kids taught by inexperienced teachers, and a high percentage of suspensions among students of color.

    Catherine Lhamon is assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, who worked on this survey. She joins me now.

    So this was the first year you began tracking preschool suspensions. And a fact that grabbed a lot of headlines today was that African-American children comprise 18 percent of all those enrolled, but account for nearly half of all suspensions.

    And, you know, frankly, I didn’t even know that you could get suspended in preschool. How does someone get suspended? And then really what does this mean for them down the line?

    CATHERINE LHAMON, Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education: You know, Hari, we feel the same level of shock that you describe.

    I do not understand how it can possible that we see thousands of children who are suspended at years 3 and 4 years old from preschool. I can’t conceive of a situation that would actually justify a preschool suspension.

    I am offended, as the chief civil rights enforcer at the Department of Education, and I am offended as a mom of two little girls. I just think that that information is shocking. And it’s something that we categorically need to end for all of our children in all of our schools.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, does this contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline?

    CATHERINE LHAMON: It absolutely does.

    And the preschool suspensions also send an unmistakable message that the children who are suspended are not welcome in school, are not kids that we want to see in school, and that our schools aren’t prepared for them. So we’re teaching them an appalling lesson at the very beginning of their educational experience about their worth in life and their school’s preparedness for them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Besides punishment, the data reveals a pattern of students of color and how they have less experienced teachers. African-American, Latino and Native American students attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers than white students do.

    Why is this?

    CATHERINE LHAMON: Well, the data doesn’t tell us why.

    The data that we released today tells us a picture of inequity and inequity in our schools across the country. And then the task for each of next is to try to figure out the whys. That’s something that my staff and my office and I do on a daily basis.

    But the good news about this data is that it’s also something that all of us can access. We have made this data. In the Obama administration, we have made this data publicly available, very accessible. Any mom, any student, any researcher, any educator, any teacher, any community member anywhere in the country can take a look at the data, can try to figure out what it means, and what needs to be changed or not changed in their schools, and how to act on it.

    So I hope all of us are taking this data as a call of action, so that we can see greater equity in the conditions in all our schools.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It also points to the fact that these inequities continue over the years.

    Let’s turn to the question of kids not even being offered the classes they may need to go on in college and life. The report found, while more than 80 percent of Asian-American and more than 70 percent of white students had access to full range of math and science courses in high schools, only 67 percent of Latinos were at a school that offered a range of advanced classes, 57 percent for African-American students, and fewer than half of American Indian and native Alaskan high school students.

    So, what are the consequences of students coming out of these schools without access to same basic science or math education?

    CATHERINE LHAMON: The consequences are devastating for us as a country, in addition to the devastating consequences for each of the kids who are in these schools.

    We are not preparing our youth to be able to be productive, full members of our society. And we’re not preparing our youth, all of our youth on an equal basis for college and career readiness. We are seeing discrepancies that are shocking about the full access to college and career-ready course work in schools that we need to see for all our kids.

    But we also are seeing just shocking discrepancies in the offerings of these schools — of these courses across the board. We have learned in this data that only half of our high schools in the nation offer calculus. Fifty percent of our high schools offer calculus to anyone.

    And when we talk about the offerings, we’re not even saying, you know, is there enough for everybody who wants to take it and is it well-taught and is it well-supported? It’s, does anybody in that high school — and these high schools often have thousands of kids in them — does anybody in these schools have access to calculus? That’s — that’s amazing.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this might be a bigger-picture question, but there’s been a push for national equity in education for a long time. We had a Supreme Court decision in the ’50s, the Civil Rights Act in the ’60s. Why are we still having these outcomes?

    CATHERINE LHAMON: Very, very frustrating. And it’s hard to know all of the reasons why we see discrimination in its various forms.

    What we know from this data is not that discrimination exists. What we know from the data is that disparities exist. And then we need to look underneath that to try to get at those whys. And that’s what we do in the Office for Civil Rights with the data. When we take a look at these discrepancies, then we go in and we investigate to see if there’s more that needs to be done and if there’s changes that need to be made.

    And the kinds of things that we see when we do those investigations are, for example, that school administrators think there are particular kids in their school who can’t succeed, and so then they don’t offer courses to those kids and we don’t have those offerings in the schools.

    We see that and then we get it changed. So we enter into agreements and we change those practice for those kids. But it’s a bit of a Whac-A-Mole problem, where we find out about it in one place, and we correct the problem in one place, and then have got to go find it in another.

    And it’s time for us as a nation to enter into a different conversation and to commit ourselves to the educational opportunity that all of our kids are entitled to and that our laws promise to all of our kids.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, thanks so much.

    CATHERINE LHAMON: Thank you.

    The post Department of Education finds pattern of inequality by race in public schools appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    shieldsbrooks

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So, Ukraine, it is again the story on the minds of so many right now.

    David, the president, now two rounds of sanctions against Vladimir Putin, the Russians, working with the allies to try to do something. What is the view now of how the president is handling this?

    DAVID BROOKS: Doing a good job, has been forceful, started out maybe a little too modest, sanctions on just a few people, ratcheting it up, ratcheting it up.

    So, I think he’s been quite as forceful as you could be, given the constraints he faces with our allies in Europe. He’s certainly been aggressive. He certainly understands the stakes. He certainly understands aggressively that Putin is not just — it’s not just about Crimea; it’s not even just about Ukraine. It’s about the post-Cold War order.

    Do we have a situation where Russia can declare spheres of influence, can rewrite borders, can mess with Iran in our efforts to not allow a nuclear Iran? This is sort of a radiating thing where Putin is just an agent of disorder. And I think Obama understands that and has ratcheted up the pressure.

    The only way I would fault him, a lot of what we’re dealing with here is the psychology of fear. Are we causing Putin to fear us? And by ratcheting it up, I mean, the early response to our limited sanctions was one of contempt. And now we’re getting a little more serious. But we haven’t shocked him with a little surge of fear, and Putin responds to fear.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you read what the president is doing? How do you hear — what do you hear and what do you think?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don’t think there is in this country a great partisan divide.

    I mean, I think there’s posturing and posing. There’s a lot of — been criticism of the president, which has been a little inconsistent and contradictory. He’s gone from being a megalomaniacal despot and dictator to being a weak-kneed, lily-livered critic — now is the criticism of Republicans publicly.

    But I don’t think, in a policy sense, Judy, there’s any real major disagreement about what the United States can do and what our options are. Nobody is talking about military action. The president did take that off the table in an interview with a domestic television station.

    But I do think that the sanctions — in order for the sanctions to work, they have to be felt on both sides. And it’s not only going to be discomfort and inconvenience and worse for the Russians and for Putin and his particular group, but it’s going to have to be felt in the West as well.

    That’s how — that’s how sanctions do. They’re felt by those who…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: … the kind of sanctions level…

    MARK SHIELDS: The people who impose them are also inconveniencing themselves. And I think that will be a test.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is one of those occasions when you start to question, I think, David, is — can a president — I mean, this is a president who’s struggling right now, public opinion, low favorability ratings, in the low 40s.

    Is foreign policy something typically that a president can use to lift, or does it hurt him? Can it hurt him by the way he handles this?

    DAVID BROOKS: It can’t help him. It can hurt him. Welcome to the White House.

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS:  So, right now, the country doesn’t want to be involved in Ukraine. The country is not particularly paying attention to Ukraine, except for on this program.

    But — I hope — but if he messes it up, or if we in the West mess it up, and we really do have a much more disorderly world here, then it could seriously hurt him. So, you know, foreign policy’s the responsibility of elites. And that’s what they do.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Judy, there was a period — we have to understand, the end of the Cold War was a moment, a period of unalloyed joy in the West, particularly the United States.

    Our values prevailed. Our nemesis, our — the villain of the piece dissolved, the Soviet Union. And Putin and many Russians, this is an enormous sore spot. I mean, he has called the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century, he Putin, the breakup of the Soviet Union.

    So we had a unipolar world, in which the United States just stood sort of by itself. It was dealt a serious blow by the United States going into Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which has worked out as its architects expected it to.

    And I think Barack Obama has brought to it far more collaborative approach, which sometimes is not dramatic, but that’s — as David was describing it, bringing the allies along is what this is all about. And it all comes back to NATO. NATO’s Article 5 is, an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. And so that’s how serious it is.

    DAVID BROOKS:  I’m also thinking, sometimes you just have to do something a little crazy. Putin did something a little crazy. And we’re all, ooh, let’s not get in front of that guy.

    Obama is like the least likely person you’re ever going to meet to do something crazy. He’s prudent, thinks thing through? But sometimes you just got to strike a little fear…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Like what? I mean, what would be…

    DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I’m beginning to think we’re going to get to a spot, if this continues to escalate, and it’s clear — well, it seems clear that Putin is — just wants to — if Ukraine wants to go West, he will dismember Ukraine.

    And it seems to me that arming, not getting involved, us, in Ukraine, but arming Ukraine for some deterrent effect to keep the Russians out of there is a useful thing to start to think about. And I think we’re probably going to end up having a serious debate about that.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    The irrationality of all of it all is that Crimea was turned over under Khrushchev. This is going back 60 years. This isn’t something that happened in the post-Cold War world. So, I mean, what he is about, he is a bully, he Putin, and he is unpredictable and mercurial, and I think it’s fair to say corrupt.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a president…

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS:  Breaking news there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That may not be going out on too much of a limb, but we will give you credit.

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, I just — I don’t want to jeopardize relations between the NewsHour and…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But we know a president juggles many things.

    One of the other things the White House is very much engaged in this week, David, is pushing — trying to get more people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, for the health care law.

    The president has been appearing on, shall we say, some less than — well, entertainment and sports venues, ESPN. He did that “Between Two Ferns” show online. He did “Ellen DeGeneres.’

    Some — there’s been some criticism that isn’t so presidential. And the president came back and said, well, you know, Abraham Lincoln did this kind of thing. How far can a president stray and still be presidential?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If he’s on with Miley Cyrus on the wrecking ball, then I would think he’s gone — Beyonce, I have been drinking, and — that’s going a little too far.

    I think he’s fine. I think he’s totally fine. Remember, Bill Clinton did this. He went on “The Arsenio Hall Show” decades ago, and people thought, oh, that’s not presidential. But it depends on who the president is.

    One thing Barack Obama does lack for, it’s dignity. He has dignity. And so this is not something he’s really putting it risk. And so when he went on the show, the “Between the Two Ferns,” or whatever it’s called — I’m not super hip to it myself, but Web site traffic surged.

    DAVID BROOKS: So, it’s working for him.

    And they need the young people. We’re at a stage in the health care enrollments where they have got some legitimacy. They’re not where they want it to be, but it’s sustainable. Where they aren’t yet is with young people, and people who are going to pay for this thing. And so whatever you have to do to get those people, Ellen DeGeneres, between the — whatever plant you choose, he has got to do that.

    MARK SHIELDS: Matt Reese, who’s a great political consultant, and he said about seeking voters, you pick cherries where the cherries are. You don’t go to the apple orchard to pick cherries.

    And this is what Barack Obama is doing. We’re long past the day when a president could talk to 65 percent of Americans by going on the evening news. This is a niche-driven, fragmented, segmentized television media market. And to reach people, they have shows they watch.

    I don’t think Barack Obama could be accused of being unpresidential. I mean, he’s dealing with Ukraine, he’s dealing with Iran, he’s dealing with the economy. And, you know, the idea — I mean, Bill O’Reilly, who lodged the principal criticism against him for being unpresidential, is a dominant figure on cable news, he’s seen in exactly 1 percent of homes on a given night. Three million people see him.

    So, Barack Obama has to — has to — I think if there’s a criticism to be made, it was the failure to sell the Affordable Care Act when it came out. There was no sales program. And we’re paying for it right now, the administration is, in trying to convince people to sign up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A few other quick things I want to ask you about. Republicans this week are talking much more confidently, David, about taking over control of the Senate. Should they be more confident now?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you look at the numbers, yes.

    It seemed a couple of weeks ago they had to have a run and win all the at-play seats to take over control. Now there’s just more seats at play because of various candidacies in New Hampshire and elsewhere. Now they could — there’s talk of 10, 11. You look at the 34 states where there are Senate races, and the Republican vs. Democratic generic battle number, it’s 50 Republican, 42 Democrat.

    So they’re not doing great nationally, but in the states where there happen to be elections this year, they’re doing pretty well. And so if you look at the data, they are right to be feeling pretty good.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Should they feel so good about it?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, yes, the problem for Democrats is that any incumbent party, after you have held the White House for six years, there’s a cycle. You can argue with it, the six-year itch, call it what you will.

    Average number of House lost is 39 seats in that sixth year. When you go to a president below 50 percent approval rating, as President Bush was, for example, in 2006, the damage to his party becomes geometrical. And so, all of a sudden, states where — for example, West Virginia, where the president’s job rating is in the 20s, and that’s a Democratic seat the Democrats would like to hold on to, the 30s in South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, states where the Democrats are either hoping to win seats or defending seats.

    So that’s what the president — Democrats are fighting. They’re fighting to retain their control of the Senate in states that are basically red that Mitt Romney carried. So, it’s an uphill fight. And the Republicans are going to have a decided money advantage. They outspent Democrats 2-1 in super PACs in 2012 and misspent it, didn’t spend it wisely. I don’t think you will see the same kind of mistakes made this time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: One last thing I wanted to ask you about, and that is somebody who was really a major figure in this city a long time.

    Former Democratic Party chairman Bob Strauss died this week, David, at the age of 95. He was considered the power broker of power brokers, somebody who worked across party lines. What is his legacy?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, he was an insider. And there aren’t that many insiders of that sort anymore.

    What always struck me about him, he wanted to run for president. He came sort of close to running for president. And they said, you’re kind of a fixer lobbyist, you can’t run for president. And we have had a lot of outsiders. We go for outsiders.

    But I’m like of a mood, like, let’s get an insider. And let’s get a guy who’s a lobbyist. We say we need an LBJ who can work with Congress to actually get something done. Well, Strauss could get something done. If I’m talking to you, Mr. and Mrs. America, vote for an insider next time, because it is actually a skill to get things done around here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thirty seconds.

    MARK SHIELDS: Irreverent, profane, colorful, took over a Democratic Party that was broken, had carried 14 states between the last two presidential elections, promised not to give the party a candidate, but instead to give the candidate a united party.

    He overcame the factions. He was remarkable. He was funny. He came from West Texas, only Jewish family in Stamford, Texas. He said he grew up in an area where they thought Hanukkah was a duck call. He was just a self-mocking…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Your wife, Anne, was from…

    MARK SHIELDS: My wife, Anne, is from the same town. Charlie Strauss, Bob’s father, ran the dry goods store there.

    A remarkably effective man. He loved politics. He liked political reporters. He loved life. And he was awfully good at his business. And he made the Democrats — he gave them a winning hand in 1976. He was trusted by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He worked across party lines.

    We thank you both. You’re here every Friday. And we’re grateful.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

    The post Shields and Brooks on strengthening Russia sanctions, midterm election math appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ukraine2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: how the people in eastern Ukraine are reacting to the Russian takeover of Crimea.

    Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, is in Donetsk tonight, where loyalties to both Ukraine and Russia run deep.

    MARGARET WARNER: Shoppers strolled through the Donetsk city mall last night, a gleaming island in this gritty industrial hub of Eastern Ukraine, to tunes of piped-in pop music, until exactly at 6:30. A small flash mob of Ukrainian activists materialized, waving flags and singing the national anthem.

    But there were almost as many cameras as carolers. Afterward, organizer Diana Berg said these small-scale shows of Ukrainian identity and unity were safer than large demonstrations.

    DIANA BERG: There are reasons to be afraid after the 13th of March, when one of our people was killed by pro-Russian activists.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel there’s much of a threat of Russian intervention here?

    DIANA BERG: Well, now that we see what is happening in Crimea, of course there is a threat.

    MARGARET WARNER: On March 1, just as Putin’s troops took over Crimea, dueling protests erupted in Southeastern Ukraine too between supporters and opponents of joining with Russia.

    The death came in this melee last Thursday. Pro-Russian protests continued through last weekend, as demonstrators briefly occupied government buildings.

    Did these divisions exist before, before the last six months?

    ALEKSEY RYABCHYN, Economist: No, we never had this kind of division.

    MARGARET WARNER: As economist and analyst Aleksey Ryabchyn points out, unlike predominantly Russian Crimea, the Donetsk region is almost entirely divided between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, with many of mixed heritage, who have lived peacefully together.

    But the winter Maidan uprising in Kiev, triggering the ouster of Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, tapped into undercurrents that had simmered here.

    ALEKSEY RYABCHYN: The Ukraine society is divided. We have western people that is more close to Europe; we have here east that is more close to Russia. Ukraine is not so globalized-conscious, so here people here are not tolerant.

    MARGARET WARNER: That intolerance is rooted partly in a powerful collective memory of World War II. Soldiers in Eastern Ukraine fought and died with the Soviet army against the Germans, while many Easterners say some in the west collaborated with the Nazis.

    Now the new government in Kiev and its Western allies fear Putin is trying to exploit that history and the present unrest as a pretext to move on this part of Ukraine too. In announcing the incorporation of Crimea into Russia, Putin vowed again that Moscow will protect oppressed ethnic Russians living elsewhere, but he insisted he has no designs on Southeastern Ukraine.

    PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): Do not believe those who try to frighten you with Russia, who scream that Crimea will be followed by other regions. We do not want the division of Ukraine.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you believe Putin when he says that?

    SERGEY TARUTA, Governor, Donetsk Region (through interpreter): I think he’s a serious politician and his statements should be backed up by his actions. But I do not know the man.

    MARGARET WARNER: Industrialist magnate Sergey Taruta was appointed governor of the Donetsk region two weeks ago by the new Kiev government. The billionaire oligarch’s first job? Restore quiet to the streets.

    SERGEY TARUTA (through interpreter): When I arrived, this building was blocked and the Russian flag was flying on the roof. Today, the situation is quite different. The squares are empty. And that is a result of the work that’s been done in two weeks.

    MARGARET WARNER: He maintains that the violent protests are fueled by professional instigators from Russia.

    SERGEY TARUTA (through interpreter): Part of the people in the protests are Russian-born, not natives here. Our security apparatus came to this conclusion. They noticed the presence of numerous Russian tourists.

    MARGARET WARNER: Taruta was so alarmed by Russia’s designs, that he paid for an insurance policy of sorts out of his own family’s pocket.

    SERGEY TARUTA (through interpreter): This is a line they will not cross.

    MARGARET WARNER: This is the line he’s talking about carved into this vast plain, the site of epic tank battles during World War II: an eight-foot-wide, eight-foot-deep trench that the governor and his brother had dug along the entire 90-mile-long border between Donetsk and Russia.

    Farmer Yevgeniy Voedenko, who left his hog wallow to take us to the trench line, believes Putin is up to no good.

    Does it make you feel more protected?

    YEVGENIY VOEDENKO, Pig Farmer (through interpreter): I don’t know. The modern tanks would cross this easily. We’re fearful. The future is uncertain.

    MARGARET WARNER: But there are forces already inside this line that threaten the stability of Ukraine.

    Donbass news Web site editor Oleksiy Matsuka says there is substantial pro-Russia feeling in this park of Ukraine, fed in large part by economic disparities.

    OLEKSIY MATSUKA, Donbass News (through translator): The division is based on the poor and the rich. But that’s not because it’s western or eastern Ukraine. The east-west division is profitable for the politicians.

    MARGARET WARNER: This industrial heartland area generates one-quarter of Ukraine’s GDP, yet many workers live in miserable conditions, the result of corruption and government neglect.

    Just north of Donetsk in Dimitrov, where coal mines dot the rolling land, we met 25-year-old Yaroslav Yarmolenko, a third-generation miner whose grandparents moved here during the Soviet era of lifetime jobs.

    YAROSLAV TARMOLENKO (through interpreter): Salaries and life standards were much higher then. But in 20 years of independent Ukraine, everything was destroyed. And when I am asked what kind of salary I have, I am ashamed to tell. We are not living here, just surviving.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel your life would be better if this region were a part of Russia?

    YAROSLAV TARMOLENKO (through translator): I think yes, from the economic stand point of view.

    MARGARET WARNER: But that nostalgia for more secure days is not shared by many young people, says editor Oleksiy Matsuka. He sees a large generational divide between young people who came of age after Ukraine broke free of the collapsed Soviet Union in 1991 and their parents and grandparents.

    OLEKSIY MATSUKA (through translator): But, meanwhile, they are forgetting about gulags, about repressions. They remember only partially, something good in the social matter and something good about their youth. And the logic of the double standard is deep down in our society, not only in past memories, but in the present actions.

    MARGARET WARNER: Whatever the myriad causes, this vital southeast part of Ukraine remains a tinderbox.

    Aleksandr, who wouldn’t give his last name, is the self-styled leader of a pro-Russia roadblock brigade, on the lookout for vehicles carrying what he calls instigators from the west. He ferried us to two lookouts near the city, one near a crossroads and another next to a Ukrainian police traffic outpost.

    MAN (through interpreter): The big mistake Kiev made, Kiev cannot threaten our blood ties with Russia. Let us decide our own future.

    MARGARET WARNER: Back in the city, Donetsk University Professor Kirill Cherkashin devotes his free time to coordinating the pro-Russia demonstrations. He says his feelings of separatism have grown.

    KIRILL CHERKASHIN (through translator): I actually always thought of myself as being Russian, and I always thought that Ukraine should integrate within Russia; now I think it should be our part of Ukraine first.

    MARGARET WARNER: Demonstrations by locals are not difficult to organize, he said, and he acknowledged that there are Russians involved too, who often egg on the crowds.

    KIRILL CHERKASHIN (through translator): Yes, there are some people coming from Russia. They are extremists that just love to do revolution inside their own country. People are becoming quite aggressive. We can stop it if our government would listen to their people. But I predict this weekend, we will see more violent clashes.

    MARGARET WARNER: An ominous forecast from a region of Ukraine not known for such strife before.

    The post Political turmoil, Crimea annexation enflames underlying divisions in Eastern Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    blackeyedblonde

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a celebrated Irish author picks up the mantle of an American master of crime fiction.

    Jeffrey Brown has our book conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s been more than 50 years since the death of Raymond Chandler, but his trademark noir ingredients are suddenly back in full, 1950s Los Angeles, the femme fatale, the Hollywood stars, underworld, dead bodies, and of course private eye Philip Marlowe, one of the great characters in American fiction.

    All of this found in the new crime novel “The Black-Eyed Blonde.” Its author is Benjamin Black, the pseudonym used by acclaimed Irish writer John Banville, who joins us now.

    And welcome to you.

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK, Author, “The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel”: Hi. Glad to be here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, this is interesting and even a bit confusing. We have John Banville doing Benjamin Black doing Raymond Chandler.

    So, who is sitting here with me?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Well, it’s Banville, of course. I mean, there’s just me.

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: And I invent these other voices.

    But none of us is a singular being. We all invent versions of ourselves…

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: … in the world.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Part of what you do anyway as a writer?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Yes, of course, of course.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. What attracted you to taking on a Philip Marlowe voice?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Well, I have been reading Chandler since I was in my early teens, a wonderful writer I admired. He invented a new kind of fiction, not just a new kind of crime fiction, but a new kind of fiction.

    He brought the crime novel up to the level of literature and above, also wonderfully entertaining, wonderfully accommodating. He never despised his audience, the way that so many of the great writers do.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Despise their audience?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: The modernists, they were always going on about how they couldn’t be read by mere mortals.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, I see.

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: I have always hated that.

    People can read — people who are — as Chandler said himself, you know, that what he wanted to do was write the kind of fiction that would be very, very good and could be read by the semi-literate and they would get it. So he didn’t write down. He wrote his audience up.

    JEFFREY BROWN: How do you do it without overdoing it, how to channel his style, without making us feel that that’s, you know, all we’re reading is this sort of pastiche of…

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Well, when I started out to do the book, I thought that I was going to update Marlowe, make him more contemporary, give him a harder edge.

    And then when I read — went back and reread the books, I thought, why should I interfere with this? This is wonderful.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: This is a marvelous formula and Marlowe is a marvelous, marvelous character.

    He’s slightly old-fashioned, but there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s in a way a sort of constructed romantic, as I am myself, as I suspect everybody is, although, nowadays, we have to pretend otherwise, so a marvelous character.

    And I just sort of slipped into the Raymond Chandler voice. It was easier than I thought it would be.

    JEFFREY BROWN: To capture the specific sense of place, the very specific Los Angeles. He helped define that Los Angeles for many of us. Right?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: He did.

    He invented Los Angeles. When Vladimir Nabokov moved from Europe to America, he said, I spent the first half of my career inventing Europe. Now I’m going to have to invent another continent. And that’s what writers do. We invent places.

    Chandler’s and Marlowe’s Los Angeles is an invented place, a wonderfully convincing place, but it is invented.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So some part of this is John Banville reinventing…

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: It has to be.

    JEFFREY BROWN: … Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Yes, it has to be.

    My Los Angeles is a Los Angeles from the inside of my head. And my Marlowe is slightly different to Chandler’s, in that he’s — Chandler always felt that he had to make Marlowe slightly brutal. He had to remind himself every now and then he was writing crime fiction.

    I didn’t have to do that. I see Marlowe as essentially a melancholy creature. The essential quality of Marlowe is his loneliness. He has no family. He has no friends. He lives in a rented house. He has no possessions. Everyone he falls in love with betrays him. So he is lonely.

    But he is brave in his loneliness. And I admire that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You use the pseudonym Benjamin Black for your crime fiction.

    And I have read where you have said that it is easier being or writing as Benjamin Black than as John Banville. Is it the style of writing that’s easier or is it just taking on another persona? What is it?

    (LAUGHTER)

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: I hope I have never said it’s easier, but real crime writers get very, very cross when I say that.

    It’s a different way of writing. I write more quickly as Benjamin Black. I write spontaneously. I say to myself, don’t pause over a sentence. Don’t try to get everything right. Just be spontaneous. Just keep — keep going.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that’s different than your other writing?

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Oh, yes.

    The image I use, Benjamin Black is a tightrope walker, you know? He’s walking. He said, don’t look back, don’t look down, don’t pause. Just keep going to the end.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Banville is a mole digging away blindly in the dark, not knowing where he’s going, hoping, hoping that he will come out into the daylight at some point. And, usually, he does.

    Two entirely different ways of working, but Black is not easier than Banville. It’s just a different way of doing it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Well, John Banville, Benjamin Black, the new book is “The Black-Eyed Blonde.”

    Thank you very much.

    JOHN BANVILLE/BENJAMIN BLACK: Thank you.

    The post John Banville adopts pen name, famous protagonist to reboot Chandler’s iconic crime series appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Russian President Vladimir Putin signs bills marking Crimea part of Russia. Russia's moves in Ukraine have Europe's leaders on edge. Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

    Russian President Vladimir Putin signs bills marking Crimea part of Russia. Russia’s moves in Ukraine have Europe’s leaders on edge. Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Pushing back against demands to supply arms to Ukraine, Obama administration officials said Friday that economic sanctions would remain the primary weapon as the U.S. and its European allies seek a diplomatic solution to Russia’s aggression.

    “Our interest is not in seeing this situation escalate and devolve into hot conflict,” Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice said. “Our interest is in a diplomatic resolution, de-escalation and, obviously, economic support for Ukraine, and to the extent that it continues to be necessary, further cost imposed on Russia for its actions.”

    President Barack Obama, traveling across the Atlantic next week, will seek a cohesive stance from European leaders unnerved by Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula but cautious about the economic punishment the United States says it’s willing to unleash if Moscow makes further expansionist moves.

    The trip, scheduled long before Russia moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine, had initially aimed to nurture international relationships as well as feature a high-profile audience with Pope Francis. But Russia’s actions will now dominate Obama’s visit as the president and U.S. allies seek to confront one of the most serious political crises in Europe since the Cold War.

    Underscoring the gravity with which the United States and the West perceive Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Obama will meet with leaders of the Group of Seven leading economies on Monday to display a unified stance against Moscow.

    “What will be clear for the entire world to see is that Russia is increasingly isolated, and that the United States is leading the international community in supporting the government of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, and in imposing costs on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine,” Rice said.

    Secretary of State John Kerry will join Obama during his trip, which will include stops in The Hague, Netherlands; Rome; Vatican City; and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. While in The Hague, Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

    Obama this week ordered sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Putin’s inner circle and a Russian bank and he signed an executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key Russian industries. U.S. officials said Russia’s energy, financial services and metals and mining sectors are among the industries that could be targeted.

    On Friday, the European Union announced its own new sanctions, aiming for a deputy prime minister, two presidential advisers and the speakers of both houses of parliament. It also stated that further steps by Russia to destabilize Ukraine would lead to unspecified economic consequences and asked its members to prepare possible targets.

    In that sense, the EU actions and threats against Russia fall short of the U.S. efforts, illustrating the European nations’ caution over matching the U.S. measures against a country that is so intertwined with their own economies as both a trading partner and energy supplier.

    Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said the U.S. needs to provide financial aid to Ukraine, immediately send defensive weapons to the country, resume work on the missile defense system in Poland, develop a long-term plan to get energy to Europe and Ukraine and speak up for the people.

    Critics also say Obama has not been swift enough in imposing sanctions.

    “This incrementalist approach is failing, and it will continue to fail,” said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “He’s got to step outside of his comfort zone and seize the initiative, take measures that put Putin on the defensive.”

    Beyond presenting a joint front against Russia, Obama while in Europe will be sure to make an appeal for European political and economic assistance for Ukraine, which has been left reeling in the wake of the February street protests that upended the government and provided an opening for Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize Crimea.

    Obama, however, will have to make that request empty-handed. Congress has yet to approve $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine because of Republican objections over provisions to expand the lending authority of the International Monetary Fund.

    On Tuesday, Obama will meet with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, an opportunity to reassure Eastern European members of the alliance, including the Baltic states, which have become especially alarmed by Putin’s moves.

    Rice said the economic measures were already taking a toll on Russia.

    “You can see that these measures have had at least an initial impact when you look at the markets, when you look at the currency, when you look at the ratings by the major ratings agencies which have downgraded Russia from stable to negative just in the last 24 hours that these steps are consequential,” she said.

    But Rice would not say under what circumstances Obama would advance to broader, harder- hitting sanctions on Russia’s economic sector.

    “We have not taken that decision; as the president said yesterday, that is not our preference,” she said. “But if the situation escalates, that remains a tool at our disposal.”

    ___

    Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn

    The post Russia rewrites the itinerary for Obama’s trip to Europe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    FacebookWASHINGTON — A week before a self-imposed deadline for a review of National Security Agency programs, President Barack Obama sought Friday to assure leading Internet and tech executives that his administration is committed to protecting people’s privacy.

    CEOs from Facebook, Google, Netflix and others spent more than two hours with Obama in the Oval Office discussing their concerns about NSA spying programs, which have drawn outrage from tech companies whose data have been scooped up by the government. Joining Obama and the CEOs were Obama’s commerce secretary, homeland security adviser and counselor John Podesta, whom Obama has tasked with leading a review of privacy and “big data.”

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues departed the White House without speaking to reporters. The White House said Obama gave the CEOs an update on the big data review, which is examining the complex and evolving relationship between the government, its citizens and their private information.

    “The president reiterated his administration’s commitment to taking steps that can give people greater confidence that their rights are being protected while preserving important tools that keep us safe,” the White House said in a statement.

    The meeting came two months after Obama proposed changes to NSA spying programs following public and industry concern.

    Zuckerberg wrote on his own Facebook page last week that he had called Obama to express his frustration over damage he says the government is creating for everyone’s future. Zuckerberg says it seems like it will take a long time for true reform to occur.

    Also attending Friday’s meeting were Reed Hastings of Netflix and Drew Houston of the file storage site Dropbox.

    The post Obama meets with Facebook, Google, Netflix and Dropbox on privacy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Marijuana for saie in a coffeeshop in the Netherlands.

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When you first visit Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops –that’s what all the marijuana shops here are called — the thing you notice is how normal it all seems.

    It’s not unlike a quiet café or Starbucks in the U.S.: people, mostly foreign tourists, sitting around, sipping coffee, all the while openly smoking the marijuana they bought right there in the shop.  What could easily get you arrested in most American cities, here, it’s just fine.

    MICHAEL VELING: And of course Americans, they love the potent weed.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Michael Veling owns and runs two coffee shops in Amsterdam.  He was one of the original entrepreneurs back in the 1970s when the Netherlands first began allowing the sale of cannabis.

    MICHAEL VELING: And this has been going on for more than 40 years now and nobody gives a real s***.  And it hasn’t brought this country down.  I mean, what’s the fuss all about? 

    atlanticmap1970WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  So you might think that buying, selling, smoking and growing small amounts of marijuana is perfectly legal… Well, it’s not.  Tolerance is the key word here. The government tolerates all these activities, and you won’t be arrested or fined or hassled.  The government licenses coffee shops to sell marijuana as long as they follow a strict set of rules:  no one under 18 is allowed to buy (or even set foot in the door)   no advertising (that’s partly why they’re called ‘coffee shops’ and not ‘cannabis shops.’) no alcohol or hard drugs. Customers can buy a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana at a time – that’s about half a cup.   You can take it home, or smoke it in the café. (This is one thing you won’t see in Colorado or Washington – on site smoking)

    So… if the United States is heading down this road of allowing recreational use of marijuana, what is the potential harm?

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: We have a drug which is relatively harmless.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Franz Trautmann is a lead researcher at The Trimbos Institute – the Netherlands’ top government-run research group on mental health and addiction. For years he’s been evaluating the effects of different national drug policies.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What about the larger argument that many people in the U.S. feel that when the government does step forward and say, “We’re going to allow the sale of cannabis for recreational use,” that that is a terrible message to young people?

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN:  Well, it is a– let’s say, it’s a less terrible message than to say, “We keep alcohol legal and we keep tobacco legal.”  In fact, I’d say alcohol and tobacco; they really cause, in the long run, irreversible health damage. Can be brain damage, liver damage, lung damage. With cannabis, we don’t have overdoses.  We don’t have liver cirrhosis.  We don’t have lung cancer.  We have a drug which is relatively harmless.  It is harmful, partly, but it is relatively harmful—harmless.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Scientists with the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S. point out that marijuana can be damaging:  they estimate that about 9 percent of people who use it will become addicted to it… its harms can be especially pronounced for kids, pregnant women, and those with the potential for mental illness.  But in the Netherlands at least, two of the other big public health fears about loosening marijuana laws haven’t come to pass:

    First – according to European Union data, forty years of coffee shops haven’t coincided with a rise in the use of hard drugs like cocaine or heroin.  This is the fear of what’s called the ‘gateway effect’ – where critics argue marijuana users are more likely to move on to harder drugs.

    Second, according to the U.N. (among others), Dutch policy hasn’t turned the Dutch into a nation of potheads, either. Only about 6 percent of people in the Netherlands report using marijuana, compared with about 9 percent in France, 11 percent in Spain, and about 15 percent in the U.S.

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: In the Netherlands, if it comes to prevalence of cannabis use in the population, we are not the highest.  France is much higher.  Spain is much higher.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Places that have no coffee shops–

    FRANZ TRAUTMANN: –and which are fully repressive also on the user.  I mean, Spain is changing now, but France has been always very repressive.  So you have there higher prevalences than here.  So making it easily accessible doesn’t mean that you get an enormously high prevalence.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Of course, it’s not clear if Americans’ drug use will match the Netherlands – the two countries are different in so many ways:  in size, in culture, in demographics.

    And there are aspects of Dutch policy that are causing significant problems … and those problems have prompted a vigorous debate among citizens and politicians alike in the Netherlands about how their coffee shop system should evolve.

    Here’s one example:  even though you’re allowed to walk into a coffee shop and buy pot…  no one is allowed to grow large amounts, or sell pot to those coffee shops.  Just listen to coffee shop owner Michael Veling describe this:

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I see over here you have a menu where people can come and make a selection from a variety of different choices of things that you sell.  Where do you get that from?

    MICHAEL VELING: I don’t know.  That is the great mystery of the Dutch system.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So you just wake up in the morning and there’s a little delivery that magically appears?

    MICHAEL VELING: Magically, for certain.  But officially and also unofficially, I do not have suppliers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  The Dutch say they always intended to address this bizarre gap in the law… which exists because when the coffee shops were first introduced back in the 70s, there was such widespread criticism from America and from Europe that the Dutch say they were pressured to not go further and regulate their supply chain as well.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So the person who ‘magically’ delivers your supply to your shop, he’s breaking the law?

    MICHAEL VELING: Oh, definitely.  And he– if he’s arrested, he’ll go to jail.

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: I started as a grower….

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Veling put us in touch with his supplier, who agreed to talk with us as long as we didn’t reveal his identity, or even use his real voice.  He told us he imports some of his marijuana from abroad, but much of it he says is grown domestically in the Netherlands by a network of home-growers — housewives, lawyers and the like.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Do you ever worry that, even though this is considered a fairly tolerant society, that you might be prosecuted for what you do?

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: That’s a possibility.  Yes, every day.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Every day?  Doesn’t that get stressful after a while?

    ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER: No, you get used to it.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  This decision not to regulate the supply chain causes several problems: not only do the Dutch lose their chance to tax that side of the business, but more importantly: it’s allowed an illegal export market to flourish.   A senior police official estimated that 80 percent of the pot grown in the Netherlands gets sent abroad and ends up on the black market.

    Another Dutch official said: “We now function as a supplier of drugs for the rest of Europe…we never intended to become one of the major exporters of cannabis to the world.”

    Officials in ten major Dutch cities have appealed to the government to finally fix this gap in the law, but nothing’s happened.

    Back in the U.S., Colorado and Washington are regulating the entire pot market – how it’s grown, processed, sold and taxed.  Their rules were designed to protect consumers, and to ensure none of that legal pot ends up on the illegal market.  The irony here of course is that the U.S. – which used to criticize Dutch policy – now has two states implementing even more comprehensive policies than the Dutch ever have.

    Back in the Netherlands, the Dutch have continued to refine their policy.

    They’ve stepped up enforcement of coffee shops. Back in the late 90s, there was a concern about too much leniency towards them so stricter rules were written, and violators closed down.  No new licenses have been issued in almost 20 years.

    The Dutch are also tackling the rising potency of pot – (something both Colorado and Washington want to do as well).  Dutch scientists regularly test coffee shop marijuana, and anything over a certain level is considered a hard drug and forbidden for sale.

    The Dutch have also had a big national debate about whether ‘drug tourism’ needs to be reined in.

    In the small city of Maastricht, which sits on the Netherlands’ southern border with Belgium and Germany, city officials saw an alarming number of foreign visitors crossing into their town with just one destination in mind.

    Onno Hoes is the mayor of Maastricht.

    ONNO HOES: In the past we had more than two million foreign visitors of the coffee shops.  And you can say of course that’s good for the economy, because when they are here they spend also money to other things.  But the knowledge is they don’t go to other shops.  They don’t go to hotels or restaurants.  They just enter the country, buy it, smoke it in the shop, in the car, go back to the shop for a second part and then go back home.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  For a city of just 120,000 residents – and one whose streets were laid out back  in the Middle Ages – two million visitors snarled traffic and caused a headache for local residents.

    Other border-town mayors voiced similar complaints, and so two years ago, new national rules went into effect banning anyone who’s not a legal Dutch resident from buying in the coffee shops.  No more tourists allowed.

    The new rules exposed some sharp divisions in the country.  Amsterdam (along with other big, northern cities) said it would never comply with the ban on foreigners.  (It can handle crowds better, plus tourists bring in hundreds of millions in revenue) but Maastricht and other mostly southern border towns welcomed the ban and did comply.

    Subsequently, six of Maastricht’s fourteen coffee shops closed down (some for breaking the rules and selling to tourists… several said they just didn’t have enough customers anymore).  By all accounts, the streets are much quieter now, but there was a downside: street drug sales spiked.

    ONNO HOES:  I’m very satisfied with the fact that the foreign people aren’t welcome any more in Maasrticht.  So we need a certain period of course to get a new balance. And, again, it’s much safer– much healthier in the city of Maastricht now.  And it’s much more place for the city to develop in an economic way.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  For his part, Amsterdam coffee shop owner Michael Veling hopes that the U.S. doesn’t continue its rapid path towards legalization… he’s worried that might encourage other countries – including his – to follow suit.

    Veling says the Netherlands’ odd, quasi-legal, patchwork system serves to keep the price of pot high – and the number of competing coffee shops low – which this one businessman does not want to see changed.

    MICHAEL VELING: I’m fearing American policy makers because when cannabis is legalized in this country, I lose my business.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Why is that?

    MICHAEL VELING: Well, because it’s a legal product.  So the margins and everything will change dramatically–

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meaning if everyone can sell it, prices are going to go down, your profits go down–

    MICHAEL VELING: Yes.  Of course.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Economics.

    MICHAEL VELING: Simple economics.

    The post What can the Dutch teach the U.S. about selling pot? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    New sanctions on Russia are targeting some of Putin's closest allies. Photo by Alexi Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

    New sanctions on Russia are targeting some of Putin’s closest allies. Photo by Alexi Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — U.S. penalties against a Russian bank and the Kremlin’s inner circle have pinched Moscow, but their effectiveness is in doubt if the goal is to get President Vladimir Putin to roll back his forces from Crimea or prevent more land grabs.

    Putin has mocked the punitive steps President Barack Obama has taken so far.

    He made jokes of Obama’s decision to freeze the assets of businessmen with close ties to Putin, as well as Bank Rossiya, which provides them support. Putin retaliated with travel restrictions on nine U.S. officials and lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain. “I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off,” said McCain, R-Ariz.

    For now, Putin says there is no need for further Russian moves, even as his Foreign Ministry said Moscow would “respond harshly.”

    Putin claims to have no plans for further incursions into Ukraine or elsewhere in the region. But he’s not planning to reverse Russia’s annexation of Crimea, either.

    The U.S. and Europe are left to consider the possibility of tougher measures on Russia’s energy and banking sectors. That could backfire if Moscow seized American or other foreign assets or cut exports of natural gas to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russia for energy.

    “If Russia doesn’t do anything other than what they’ve done so far with Crimea, I think the Obama administration will probably stand pat with the sanctions that it has already imposed,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

    “I think they are waiting to see if this is the end of the Russian adventurism, or if there is more to come, and then they will react with more sanctions accordingly.”

    By taking a step-by-step approach, the U.S. is giving Russia a chance to resolve the crisis, Fontaine said. “The problem with that is that Putin has shown absolutely no appetite to take any off-ramp,” he said.

    Just the threat of harsher penalties has dimmed the outlook for the fragile Russian economy. Russian stocks were under pressure Friday as a second credit rating agency put the country on notice of a possible downgrade. Visa and MasterCard stopped serving two Russian banks, including Bank Rossiya.

    The Russian stock market has lost more than 10 percent this month.

    Also Friday, Russia said it might scrap plans to tap international markets for money this year.

    The European Union imposed penalties against 12 more people Friday, bringing its list of those facing visa bans and asset freezes to more than 30. They include one of Russia’s deputy prime ministers, two Putin advisers and the speakers of both houses of parliament.

    But it still is short of the top-tier list of Putin associates punished by the United States, and evidence that Europe is not as eager to punish its energy supplier and trade partner.

    Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who went to Ukraine with McCain last week, urged Obama to rally U.S. allies. “To do it alone is very limited. To do it with our allies can have some impact on Putin,” he said.

    McCain also said cracking down on Russian lawmakers and Putin’s inner circle won’t get Putin’s attention. He said the U.S. should provide financial aid to Ukraine, immediately send defensive weapons to the country, resume work on the missile defense system in Poland and develop a long-term plan to get energy to Europe and Ukraine.

    “The higher price that Putin thinks he has to pay for further aggression, the more likely that he doesn’t act,” said McCain.

    Fifty former U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts wrote Obama on Friday urging him to strengthen Ukraine’s democratic transition and impose “real costs” on Putin.

    They said Obama should go after Putin, and expand the sanctions to isolate Russian financial institutions and businesses that are complicit in Russia’s incursion into Crimea or support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    The group praised the deployment of U.S. fighter aircraft to Poland and the Baltic states but said the U.S. should send additional ground forces, missile defenses or other assets to former Warsaw Pact members of NATO, work to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas and expand U.S. military rotations to Georgia, which is seeking membership in NATO.

    Experts on Russia and Europe caution against looking at the Crimea problem too narrowly. Putin’s move into Crimea can be seen as part of a broader strategy of stopping NATO enlargement, or at least keeping neighboring countries off balance so they can’t be further integrated into the alliance or have closer ties with the West.

    “We don’t have anything against cooperation with NATO, nothing at all,” Putin said in a speech earlier this week. “We are against having the (NATO) military alliance … behaving as the master of the house outside our fence, next to our home or on our historical territory.”

    Associated Press writers Donna Cassata in Washington and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

    The post Are tougher penalties against Russia to come? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Cathy and Laurie Fisher were married at a Michigan courthouse on Saturday after a Federal judge decided on Friday that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. (Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

    Update: A federal appeals court has issued a stay that will bring same-sex marriages to a halt in Michigan until at least Wednesday. The order will give the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati more time to consider the state’s appeal of a decision to overturn Michigan’s 10-year ban on gay marriage.

    Same-sex couples lined up outside courthouses in Michigan on Saturday to receive the first gay marriage licenses issued by the state, after a U.S. District court judge’s decision on Friday to overturn the state’s 10-year ban on gay marriage

    Dozens of licenses were issued throughout the morning at courthouses in four of the state’s counties, with many anticipating the possibility that a stay on the decision would be issued at the request of the state’s attorney general.

    Two women — Glenna Dejong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51 — were the first same-sex couple in Michigan to receive a marriage license.  The license was issued just after 8 a.m. on Saturday at an Ingham County courthouse near the state’s capital city.

    U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman decided on Friday that the state’s voter supported ban from a 2004 election was unconstitutional.

    The judge did not suspend his decision in order to wait for Attorney General Bill Schuette to make an appeal — something that has been done in other states. Schuette has asked for a stay on the order and was reportedly waiting to hear whether the 6th Circuit court would act on this request.

    The lawsuit against the Michigan legislation was initiated in 2012 by Jayne Rowse and April Deboer, a couple seeking the ability to jointly adopt the three special needs children they are raising together. In Michigan, only married couples are permitted to jointly adopt children.

    “It’s unbelievable,” DeBoer said, according to the Associated Press. “We got our day in court. We won.”

    Rowse and Deboer did not testify in the case, but experts took the stand to testify that there is no difference in children of same-sex couples. The state argued in favor of respecting the Michigan Marriage Amendment Act which was supported by 59 percent of voters. The state used experts and studies to argue that children were negatively impacted when raised by same-sex parents.

    “State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people,” the judge said. “No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples.”

    A spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had said the governor would respect the judges decision and Michigan was not “obligated” to uphold the 2004 vote.

    Marriage licenses are currently issued to same-sex couples in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

    The post Michigan issues first marriage licenses to same-sex couples appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pro-Russian troops force their way into a Ukrainian air force base in the Crimean city of Belbek on Saturday, injuring one Ukrainian serviceman. (Credit: Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

    Shots were fired as pro-Russian troops broke through concrete walls and forced their way into a Ukrainian air force base in the Crimean city of Belbek on Saturday.

    According to Reuters, the base’s Ukrainian commander Col. Yuily Mamchur said a serviceman was injured when the unmarked troops entered the facility.

    Ukraine’s Defense Ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznev wrote on Facebook that these troops were members of recently formed local militias.

    Russian forces also stormed a base about 30 miles west of Simferopol on Saturday, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry. Ukrainian troops reportedly attempted to keep them at bay with smoke grenades.

    Saturday’s events come after Russian troops took over multiple Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea during the past week. Sanctions from the United States and E.U. have failed to deter Russia in its plans to annex the region.

    Russia has also moved more troops to the border with eastern Ukraine where protests have grown over the idea of  holding a referendum about whether or not to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

    A rally in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Saturday drew 5,000 pro-Russian supporters.

    A team of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O.S.C.E.)  will be deployed, but questions remain as to whether they will be allowed into Crimea.

    The O.S.C.E’s chief U.S. envoy Daniel Baer said the team should be able to enter Crimea because it is still part of Ukraine, while Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the O.S.C.E. mission would not cover Crimea and Sevastopol as they are part of Russia.

    The post Pro-Russian troops storm Ukrainian military base appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Satellite imagery provided to AMSA of objects that may be possible debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, we are joined now from Los Angeles by Andy Pasztor. He’s been reporting this story for the Wall Street Journal.

    Andy, you were on a couple nights ago speaking with Gwen about debris the Australians had spotted, today we’re hearing that the Chinese have spotted some debris. Are we likely to see this repeat over and over again? It’s a big ocean.

    ANDY PASZTOR: It is a big ocean and people are looking very hard so I think we might see some more of it. It’s not clear, of course, whether either of these two are hits on debris matter. But what I really think you’re really starting to see is an intriguing conflict between the extremes of nature and the extremes of technology. That nature part, of course, is that this is a very forbidding part of the world, huge waves, constant wind, whitecaps everywhere – very hard to spot even 60 or 70-foot long pieces of debris. On the other hand you have pieces of technology – you have various countries trying to use their super-secret highest resolution imaging satellites to try to see what they can find. And what you have is sometimes a gap between the time that the image is spotted and the time when a person or person can eyeball it to make sure it really merits further investigation. And then when the planes go out to find it; it may not be there because of the extreme weather or it may have sunk or may have moved away.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the idea that all these satellite systems are looking at specific areas. Are they working together so that they’re not redundant? Is the quality of the imagery the same from a government to a private company?

    ANDY PASZTOR: For the outside it’s a little hard to tell how well they are working together. The Australians, in fact, have been talking about the need for assistance – for more experts to look at imaging and for countries to work closer together. I think they’re trying but it’s not clear that it’s working so well because these are really very special assets for ever county. And so they don’t want to divulge publically or even to some other partners in the search exactly what they have.

    The resolution or the quality of the images does vary, of course, depending on the quality of the systems. In the case of the U.S. we’re using partly a commercial satellite company, Digital Globe, and their imaging is absolutely as good as using certain satellites and in certain instances as good any national imaging system.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There are reports now that the Pentagon has spent about $2.5 million on this. What sorts of technology assistance might the U.S. Defense Department be giving to Malaysia in the search?

    ANDY PASZTOR: Well, I would say that $2.5 million is a tiny, tiny portion of how much we’ve actually spent. If we task satellites, that is instruct them, to look at certain areas that means that they are not looking at other areas. And we’ve certainly used some expertise to look at these images so I think we’ve probably spent much more than that. But what the Malaysians have asked for, and what I think that the U.S. is likely to give them some of what they’ve asked for, is submersibles – that is tiny robotic submarines to go underneath the surface of the ocean and see what they can find. And they’ve also asked for listening devices – underwater listening devices, as well as tankers which is much harder because many of these search planes can’t be refueled in midair.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: : So if we look back at wreckage of the Air France disaster, it took two years for people to agree really on where to go back and search where the wreckage actually was. And it was in an area where they had previously searched. So, I guess my question is are they really taking precautions now before making sure that they check off the box that this area is clear of the plane?

    ANDY PASZTOR: We’re certainly learned a lot, they have, the experts have, from previous searches, so I think they’ve being very careful.  But once again, it’s not quite as deep as it was in the Air France crash, but the weather is very bad and it’s becoming fall. So every day that goes bar, fall in the that portion of the world, every day that goes by I think it’s going to be a bigger challenge, because Mother Nature is really fighting our technology.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Andy Pasztor from the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

    ANDY PASZTOR:  You’re welcome.

    The post Missing plane search focuses on new satellite imagery data appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    How are people coping with their twitter being turned off in Turkey? We spoke with a 16 year old in Istanbul who admits it has become more difficult but he has found a way around it, as have many of his peers.



    #twitterisblockedinturkey has been “trending” depending on who you follow over the past couple of days thanks to a significant push by the Turkish Prime Minister to block the social media service which spreads information quickly. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made this speech:

    and then began blocking access. He has also threatened to block other social media including Facebook and YouTube, possibly to stem videos like this audio recording allegedly between the Prime Minister and his son, that critics say is proof of corruption. Erdogan denies the allegations and the authenticity of the illegal recording.

    Users and activists quickly switched to alternate Domain Name Servers to access the service. Word of the method spread quickly:

    It was scrawled on the side of buildings

    Kuşun ötsün #TwitterisblockedinTurkey #TwitteriYedirmeyiz #eyytwitterdedirtmeyiz #TurkeyBlockedTwitter #DictatorErdogan #twitter #yasak #yassak

    and splashed on posters

    According to Yahya Ozel, alternate DNS servers are now actively being blocked by the government so he and his peers have switched to Virtual Private Network or VPN software which allows his computer to access another machine elsewhere in the world. So as he points out in our interview, while he is in Istanbul, his computer continues to access all that the internet has to offer from Virginia.

    The post Circumventing the Turkish Twitter crackdown appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Farm for sale. Jefferson County, Kansas, Farm Security Administration Photo, 1938. Library of Congress

    Farm for sale. Jefferson County, Kansas, Farm Security Administration Photo, 1938. Library of Congress

    The image of the families like the Joads from The Grapes of Wrath loading up their meager possessions and leaving the farm for the city is a powerful one in the American psyche. It’s almost as powerful as the image of the sturdy farmer plowing the acres he received under the Homestead Act of 1862.

    Yet, it wasn’t until the last census in 2010 that rural America officially lost population for the first time. In fact, 72 percent of United States is classed as “rural” area. That majority of the land mass holds only 15 percent of the population — about 46.2 million people.

    It is the center of the country that lost population in the Great Depression that is hollowing out again. Our NewsHour Weekend report  (below) documents efforts in Kansas to lure people back to  rural areas with student loan and tax incentives. But will it work? 

    Rural area depopulation, U.S. Census 1980-2010

    Rural area depopulation, U.S. Census 1980-2010

    Kansas actually gained population in the last census, but almost none of it went to rural counties. You can find out where Americans are headed with USA Today’s interactive feature on the 2010 Census. The migratory paths show that it’s not just younger people heading to cities for opportunity that’s draining the plains, but also the growing number of retirees trading in rural life for the burgeoning settlements in the sunbelt.

     

    The post Is rural America a thing of the past? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Police intervene during a student protest in Caracas on Saturday. Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators participated in marches throughout Venezuela, often clashing with government supporters. (Credit: Joaquin Ferrer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

    Three people died from gunshot wounds in Venezuela on Saturday after a day of protests from both the opposition and government supporters, bringing the death toll to 34 after five weeks of heated unrest against the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

    One of the victims, Jesus Orlando Labrador, was gunned down in the city of Merida while participating in a peaceful anti-Maduro march. The city’s mayor, Carlos Garcia, told the Associated Press that the incident occurred when suspected government supporters began shooting the demonstrators.

    Argenis Hernandez was shot and killed by a driver in Valencia while he joined with other protesters to guard a highway barricade. The third victim was a bus driver Wilfredo Rey who was killed by Maduro supporters on motorcycles who aimlessly fired into the crowd. Rey was reportedly not involved in the protests.

    In cities like Caracas, tens of thousands of anti-Maduro activists joined in peaceful marches throughout the day.

    The deaths and large demonstrations came on the same day that President Maduro, the chosen successor of deceased leader Hugo Chavez, said the protests had caused $10 billion in damage.

    Maduro also spoke to a crowd at a smaller rally held by loyalist students who were angry that the demonstrations and violence have kept universities closed for weeks.

    “These Chuckys are direct descendants of the Nazis,” Maduro said while speaking to the crowd, according to the Associated Press. Maduro uses the Hollywood horror movie character’s name to refer to the protesters.

    With economists expecting a recession to hit Venezuela this year, the protests have put further strain on a country dealing with serious economic struggles. Inflation rates hit 57 percent in February, while business closures and shortages of basic goods have been widely reported.

    The post Three dead after day of demonstrations in Venezuela appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — A top White House aide says it’s possible that Russia could invade eastern Ukraine, and even U.S. military assistance would be unlikely to prevent it.

    Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken says Russia seems to be trying intimidate Ukrainians by massing thousands of troops along the border.

    But Blinken also tells CNN’s “State of the Union” that “it’s possible they are preparing to move in.”

    He says the U.S. is looking at providing military assistance to Ukraine. But he also says “it’s very unlikely to change Russia’s calculus and prevent an invasion.”

    Russia’s defense chief has told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russia had no intention of crossing into Ukrainian territory.

    Blinken says economic penalties are working to isolate Russia.

    The post Obama aide: ‘Possible’ Russia could enter Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A micrograph image of human liver tissue infected with the Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Officials in Guinea said on Sunday that an unidentified subtype of Ebola was detected in samples from a viral fever that has killed 50 people. (Credit: Getty Images)

    The Ebola virus was detected in samples of a viral hemorrhagic fever that has killed more than 50 people in the West African nation of Guinea marking the first ever human outbreak of the disease in the country, according to government officials on Sunday.

    A statement from Guinea’s Health Ministry said they had documented 80 suspected cases of the virus, including the 59 deaths. UNICEF said three children were among the dead.

    Most of the cases occurred in the southern part of the country near Sierra Leone and Liberia.  Guinea’s health minister and a team of workers have been deployed to the area, while Doctors Without Borders has installed an isolation unit to prevent the virus from spreading.

    “In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating,” UNICEF’s country representative Dr. Mo-hamed Ag Ayoya said in a statement Sunday.

    There are also concerns that the disease may have spread across borders. According to the Health Ministry, one of the infected individuals had traveled into Liberia. Additionally, the World Health Organization said that in Sierra Leone, near the border with Guinea, they are seeing cases with similar symptoms.

    While officials have yet to determine how Ebola was introduced in Guinea, humans can contract the virus from contact with an infected animal. Once infected with the disease, humans can pass it to each other through the exchange of bodily fluids.

    The only other case of a human contracting Ebola in West Africa occurred in 1994 in a scientist who had been working with chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast. The most recent outbreaks of the disease were seen in Congo and Uganda in 2012.

    The post Ebola virus detected in Guinea fever outbreak appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Twitter protest VPN addresses, Turkey

    Watch Video

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And now our occasional feature: The Connection. As we reported yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech in Beijing, where she talked about – among other things — the value of free speech, especially free speech online.

    MICHELLE OBAMA:  …because time and again, we have seen that    Countries are stronger and more prosperous when the voices and opinions of all their citizens can be heard.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:   Her comments were notable because she made them in China, which blocks websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube…just like Iran does – as our reporter saw during a recent trip there.

    Earlier this week, Turkey became the latest nation to try and control what its citizens see and hear online.

    Prime Minister Erdogan threatened to quote “wipe out” Twitter, and then took steps to block it.  He was facing a barrage of corruption charges — many of which were amplified and spread across social media services.

    But Twitter, like the rest of the internet, doesn’t get ‘wiped out’ very easily. Turkey’s Internet users quickly found ways to get back on it.

    Twitter itself sent out a simple workaround, which was relayed across the web. Some people posted graffiti showing easy instructions how to redirect your computer around the censors.

    And yesterday I talked with Yahya Ozel in Istanbul. This 16 year old is already tech savvy enough to use what’s called a VPN, which lets your computer pretend to be somewhere else.

    YAHYA OZEL: They change your virtual location, so right now I’m “in Virginia”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So you’re in Istanbul, your computer is pretending to be in Virginia, where Twitter works just fine.

    YAHYA OZEL: Yes, it is.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  This resiliency has been built into the Internet. It’s become a decentralized, free-ranging, global forum –  creating a technological game of whack a mole — every time a frustrated government tries to suppress it,  it pops right back up again in several other places letting voices of dissent be heard.

    You can see my entire interview with the 16 year old from Istanbul at newshour.pbs.org

    The post Turkish and Chinese Social media users bypass crackdowns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Monday morning that based on new analysis of satellite data of the plane’s path, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. “This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Razak explained.

    The prime minister did not indicate that wreckage has been found or that the reason for the plane’s failure was known, but U.S., Australian and Chinese ships searching in the region off the coast of Perth, Australia have reported spotting some unidentified objects in the water.

    Families and relatives of the passengers on the plane were informed of the plane’s fate by Malaysia Airlines on Monday.

    There were multiple reports over the weekend of new leads in the form of satellite images of possible debris, but the overall scope of the search has narrowed as resources have been pulled away from the effort by the U.S. and other nations.

    The Prime Minister’s statement was delivered at 10 p.m. local time in Malaysia on Monday, and he indicated there would be more information released on Tuesday at a press conference.

    Update 11:18 a.m. EDT:

    BBC reports that this is the message Malaysia Airlines sent to the families of the passengers of flight 370:

    “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, new analysis of satellite data suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.

    On behalf of all of us at Malaysia Airlines and all Malaysians, our prayers go out to all the loved ones of the 226 passengers and of our 13 friends and colleagues at this enormously painful time.

    We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain. We will continue to provide assistance and support to you, as we have done since MH370 first disappeared in the early hours of 8 March, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

    The ongoing multinational search operation will continue, as we seek answers to the questions which remain. Alongside the search for MH370, there is an intensive investigation, which we hope will also provide answers.

    We would like to assure you that Malaysia Airlines will continue to give you our full support throughout the difficult weeks and months ahead.

    Once again, we humbly offer our sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.”

    The post Malaysia Prime Minister: Flight 370 ended in the Indian Ocean appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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