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

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    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed divided Tuesday over whether employers’ religious beliefs can free them from a part of the new health care law that requires that they provide coverage of birth control for employees at no extra charge.

    The case involves family-owned companies that provide health insurance to their employees, but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs.

    The fast-paced 90-minute argument at the court touched on abortion and the health care law in general, but focused mainly on the question of whether profit-making businesses have religious rights. The justices have never ruled that way before, but the companies in the Supreme Court case and their backers argue that a 1993 federal law on religious freedom extends to businesses as well as individuals.

    The Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the businesses also could undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.

    The outcome could turn on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote. Kennedy voiced concerns both about the rights of female employees and the business owners. Kennedy asked what rights would women have if their employers ordered them to wear burkas, a full-length robe commonly worn by conservative Islamic women.

    Later in the 90-minute argument, he seemed troubled about how the logic of the government’s argument would apply to abortions. “A profit corporation could be forced in principle to pay for abortions,” Kennedy said. “Your reasoning would permit it.”

    Under the new health care law, health plans must offer a range of preventive services at no extra charge, including all forms of birth control for women that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

    The three women on the court, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, repeatedly questioned Paul Clement, representing the businesses, whether blood transfusions and vaccinations would be subject to the same religious objections if the court ruled for his clients.

    “Everything would be piecemeal and nothing would be uniform,” Kagan said.

    Clement acknowledged that courts would have to decide on a case-by-case basis, but he said only the kind of family-owned companies he represents would make such claims, not large, multinational corporations. “That’s something that’s not going to the happen in the real world,” Clement said.

    Chief Justice John Roberts at one point suggested that the court could limit its ruling to apply to just such companies.

    One key issue before the justices is whether profit-making corporations may assert religious beliefs under the 1993 religious freedom law or the First Amendment provision guaranteeing Americans the right to believe and worship as they choose. The court could skirt that issue by finding that the individuals who own the businesses have the right to object.

    The justices still would have to decide whether the birth control requirement really impinges on religious freedom, and if so, whether the government makes a persuasive case that the policy is important and is put in place in the least objectionable way possible.

    Kennedy also showed some interest in the argument that the companies could decide not to offer any health insurance to their workers and instead pay a tax of $2,000 per employee. That route might allow the court to sidestep the thorniest questions in the case.

    Clement objected that businesses would find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in a situation where other employers were offering insurance.

    But when Kennedy asked Clement to assume that the company would come out the same financially, Clement acknowledged that the government might have a strong case.

    Some of the nearly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives object to paying for all forms of birth control. But the companies involved in the high court case are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized.

    The largest company among them is Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City-based chain of more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states with more than 15,000 full-time employees. The company is owned by the Green family, evangelical Christians who say they run their business on biblical principles. The Greens also own the Mardel chain of Christian bookstores.

    The other company is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of East Earl, Pa. The business is owned by the Hahns, a family of Mennonite Christians, and employs 950 people in making wood cabinets.

    Members of the Green and Hahn families were at the court Tuesday, while protesters on both sides congregated outside in an early spring snow.

    The post High court seems divided on health law’s contraception coverage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chinese relatives of the flight MH370 march towards the Malaysian Embassy on March 25, 2014 in Beijing, China. Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    Chinese relatives of the flight MH370 march towards the Malaysian Embassy on March 25, 2014 in Beijing, China. Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

    Hundreds of angry relatives of passengers that were aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 marched on the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing Tuesday with demands of more information.

    Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Monday that the airliner, which has been missing for 18 days, had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. The relatives, gathered in protest, were not keen to accept that answer.

    Separated from the embassy by Chinese police, protesters joined in chants such as “Malaysian government has cheated us” while holding signs that read “We want our families. We want the truth.”

    The Chinese government is also playing skeptical. China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng Monday demanded all of Malaysia’s relevant data analysis from satellites on how the country came to their conclusions. On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said it hoped that Britain would provide the data from British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat, whose data Prime Minister Razak cited when claiming the plane had crashed.

    The post China demands evidence of Malaysia flight location as families protest for more information appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russian billionaire and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, on Dec. 24, 2011. Photo by Sergey Rodovnichenko/ Flickr

    Russian billionaire and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, on Dec. 24, 2011. Photo by Sergey Rodovnichenko/ Flickr

    Russian billionaire and owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, said he plans to relocate the company that owns the basketball team to Russia, as a way to push back against sanctions being placed on his country.

    In Moscow Monday, Prokhorov said he is heeding the call of Russian President Vladimir Putin to repatriate businesses and assets to Russia, as a way to protect them against international sanctions.

    In recent weeks, the U.S. and its western allies have imposed strict travel bans and frozen the assets of several Russian businessmen with close ties to Putin, in response to the annexation of Crimea.

    While Prokhorov is not one of those yet hit by sanctions, he still pledged to do what he could to support Putin. Speaking to reporters before he received a medal for service from Putin, Prokhorov said, “This [move] does not violate any NBA rules, and I will bring it [under Russian jurisdiction] in accordance with Russian law.”

    Though correct, there are still several of steps that first need to be taken before such a transfer could actually take place. According to NBA rules, any ownership change must be approved by the league and by at least 23 of the 30 team owners.

    For perspective on how long a process this can be, it took eight months for the league to approve the initial sale of the Nets to Prokhorov in 2010.

    Moreover, a spokesman for the NBA said it has yet to receive any formal request from Prokhorov about changing the team’s ownership structure.

    “The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov through a U.S.-based company,” a statement read. “We have received no official application nor is there a process underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to another company.”

    The post To protest U.S. sanctions, Brooklyn Nets owner wants to move team control to Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Courtesy Teju Cole

    Courtesy Teju Cole

    Three years after novelist Teju Cole penned the highly acclaimed “Open City” about a young man’s meditation on post-9/11 New York, he returns with “Every Day Is for the Thief,” a reflection in words and photographs on the city of Lagos. But for Cole, storytelling is beyond the page. He recently captivated online audiences on Twitter with his short stories and longer essays published entirely in tweets.

    The new novel comes out Tuesday, although it was previously released in Nigeria in 2007. The book’s unnamed narrator is a young Nigerian returning home after 15 years abroad. He struggles to embed himself into Lagos and his efforts give way to an examination of the city, its characters and himself. Born in Michigan, Cole composes Lagos with some authority, having grown up in Nigeria before returning to the U.S. for college and most of his professional life.

    Art Beat recently spoke to Cole about his new novel, taking photographs in Nigeria and composing stories on Twitter.

    ART BEAT: You share several biographical similarities between the narrator in “Every Day Is For The Thief” and Julius in “Open City.” For readers who see connections between your work and your life, what is the biggest difference between your characters and you?

    TEJU COLE: Well the differences are numerous that’s for sure. In all sorts of important ways. Not just biographically but also in terms of the attitudes and opinions of these characters. The similarities have to do with the extent to which I try to draw these characters as complex characters who have a complicated and unsolved relationship to the world in which they find themselves. But I think in part, it has to do with a certain interest I have in exploring interior complexity as opposed to inventing out of whole cloth certain things that do not need invention. In the case of “Every Day Is For The Thief,” the main character of that book is the city of Lagos. And we certainly get some of (the narrator’s) inferiority for sure. The focus in the book is on his reaction to the city and the effect it has on him and other people who live there. It is an encounter of place. I think a reader coming to this without any sort of preparation will read this book and will feel an immersion into this strange, exciting and somewhat frightening city. I wanted it to be an immersion in a place that you don’t necessarily know well.

    ART BEAT: You understand the city by his reaction to it?

    TEJU COLE: Absolutely. In “Open City,” there were these dueling characters. It was Julius and it was new New York City. But in “Every Day Is For The Thief,” I think Lagos as a place has an upper hand.

    ART BEAT: This novel was first published in Nigeria in 2007. Did you expand the book for American audiences?

    TEJU COLE: Very lightly. I wanted to protect the integrity of the original text. There’s a natural temptation to go in, change it and turn it into the book that I would write today. But it’s not a book I wrote today; it’s a book I wrote some years ago. It’s interesting on its own account because the intensity out of which I wrote it is not something that is mentally available to me now. I added, maybe two or three pages? The main difference is the audience to which it’s available now — an American audience as opposed to a Nigerian one. And the photographs have all been changed.

    Listen to Teju Cole read an excerpt from his new novel “Every Day Is For The Thief.”

    ART BEAT: Let’s talk about the photographs. When I see the images in “Every Day Is For The Thief,” I’m reminded of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work and his idea of a decisive moment. How do you approach a scene?

    TEJU COLE: I often say I’ve spent more time with photography than I have with literature just in terms of hours. Cartier-Bresson is a huge influence. He’s an important part of the work that I do, the way I think about this part of the world, understanding the art of it and the labor that goes into it. How can he not be for a street photographer? If you think about some other people who use photographs in their books, generally they have used photographs that are not theirs. They use archival photographs. Unlike all of those people, I actually have a serious photographic practice of my own so I am looking at people like Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander as influences. It involves a lot of waiting. If you see a theme that you might want to take a photo of, you sort of stand there for an hour waiting for it to resolve, waiting for the geometry of a theme to be exactly what you want them to be. That was my process to get photos. To complicate matters, Nigeria is a difficult place to take photographs.

    ART BEAT: Why? How do you shoot in Nigeria?

    TEJU COLE: Defensively. For one thing, it’s not as popular in Nigeria though a lot of Nigerians are now shooting with smart phones. Photography has changed the whole world over. But when I go out there, if I walk down the street and start taking pictures of some building, somebody’s liable to walk up to me and say, “Who gave you the right to take a picture of that?” And it can very easily become a hostile interaction. That means a lot of street photography has to be done surreptitiously and for years, it was just impossible for me to do any good work there as far as photography went until I started to learn. Number one, I got bolder and number two, I learned how to take more surreptitious sorts of photos. And my own priorities in photography have also changed. I’m not trying to be in your face and take a picture that is like a journalistic kind of image. I got interested in a kind of complicated, compiled, visual field.

    ART BEAT: Not too long ago, Nigerian literature was narrowly defined by Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” Now the Nigerian literary experience is expanding across continents with work from you, Chimamanda Adichie, Chris Abani, and others. How does your new novel relate to the latest wave of Nigerian and Nigerian-American literature?

    Courtesy Teju Cole

    Courtesy Teju Cole

    TEJU COLE: Well, it is true that there is a boom or at least, a boomlet. But even if you count all the people you’re talking about, there’s still going to be less than ten Nigerians who you would say have made a recent mark internationally. I suppose that’s quite a boom for African literature from our own country but when you consider this is a country of more than 150 million people, that is really a pretty small showing. On one hand, I want to recognize that things have changed and things are changing. But on the other hand, I certainly feel that we are very much underrepresented. My role between that is simply what the role of an author always is, which is testifying language to the things you have experienced and the things you’ve imagined. Being Nigerian is a strong part of my identity. Being American is a strong part of my identity. And there are important parts of who I am that really have nothing to do with my national connection.

    ART BEAT: A lot of your recent microfiction has been published through Twitter. If Twitter didn’t exist would you have found another venue for your short pieces like Small Fates,” “A Piece of the Wall,” or “Hafiz” or can those projects only exist through that platform?

    TEJU COLE: I wonder if I would have ended up doing them on blogs or done small magazines with friends. The creative part of oneself finds its way out. In this case, I got interested particularly in the medium of Twitter and looked for ways to use it creatively. What’s interesting about Twitter is the unmediatedness of it, the directness of it. I’m on a train somewhere in New York and I send out a tweet. Somebody sitting at dinner in Bombay checks their phone and they see it. Or somebody who’s watching a football match in Lagos checks their phone sees it. I’m constantly amazed by this thing; you’re able to put sentences in an unmediated way in other people’s heads.

    ART BEAT:Some of your online work is obviously written beforehand or coordinated with other people in advance. What’s your process of writing an online piece?

    TEJU COLE: Well every project is different. That’s what makes it interesting for me. When I was doing “Small Fates,” those short summaries of news reports from Nigeria, I would read the newspaper, spend half an hour crafting a tweet based on a particular story and post it. When I did the short stories about drones, I sat down one Saturday or Sunday morning, I decided what books I was going to take the first lines of and use as a kind of protest against assassination by drone. I wrote that very quickly and posted them out. In the case of “Hafiz,” I worked on that story for quite a while over the period of many days. I put it aside for many months never publishing it. And then I went back to the story and I thought, how can I share this? I came up with distributing them through other people’s tweets.

    The most recent piece I did, “A Place By The Wall,” was a 4,000 word, 250 tweet nonfiction reportage. That involved two journeys from New York to Tucson, Arizona, and back. Interviews with more than a dozen people. Trips to Mexico, the courts. It was actually a thoroughly researched nonfiction piece of reportage which I then spent a couple of weeks writing and editing and polishing and fact checking and dividing into 250 tweets. Then I sat down and over the course of seven hours in one day, tweeted it out on a dedicated Twitter account. I’m quite aware of how crazy this sounds because nobody pays you to do this. But I’m clearly interested in the medium and I’m interested in how you can use the medium in an excellent way. Like somebody who sits down and says “I want to learn the cello,” I think that there’s definitely a part of me that wants to use Twitter and use it well.

    ART BEAT: What do you have planned going forward?

    TEJU COLE: I have a book to write. I’m working on a nonfiction book about Lagos. It will contain memoir, lyrical essay and interviews and all the things that I want to put into a book that is a story of a city. So that’s the most important thing. And I want to get better at taking photos.

    The post Teju Cole gives ‘Lagos the upper hand’ in his new novel appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sen. Mitch McConnell holds up a University of Louisville Cardinal's magazine during a Capitol Hill news conference in July 2013. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Sen. Mitch McConnell holds up a University of Louisville Cardinal’s magazine during a Capitol Hill news conference in July 2013. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    One of these things is not like the other: the Kentucky Derby; Cassius Clay; the University of Louisville; Duke University.

    Unfortunately for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, all four of those elements made it into his latest campaign video highlighting Kentucky’s sports traditions.

    At the 1:09 mark in the video there is a quick shot of two Blue Devils celebrating their 2010 national championship victory instead of a pair of Kentucky Wildcats.

    For McConnell, the timing couldn’t be worse. Bluegrass State basketball powers Kentucky and Lousville are set to face off Friday night in the Sweet 16. It’s also worth noting that McConnell has strong ties to the University of Louisville, with the school being home to his Center for Political Leadership. But McConnell has to walk a fine line in not upsetting the Wildcats faithful. He has already held one event, for example, at Kentucky’s famous Rupp Arena with former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    The McConnell campaign almost immediately removed the clip. McConnell spokesperson Allison Moore, a Kentucky grad, told the AP the campaign was “horrified by the error.”

    Pulling down the video failed to spare the campaign from criticism by McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. Her campaign blasted out a release saying the video showed McConnell was “irreparably out of touch” with the state.

    Grimes, however, has been playing defense with her own NCAA tournament bracket after picking Wichita State to beat Kentucky, and having Louisville falling to Florida in the title game.

    The post McConnell’s March Madness misfire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Washington Monument will reopen to visitors May 12 after being closed for nearly three years due to a 2011 earthquake. Photo by National Park Service

    The Washington Monument will reopen May 12 after being closed for nearly three years. Photo by National Park Service

    The Washington Monument will reopen on May 12, after a 2011 earthquake forced the structure to close for repairs, the National Park Service said Tuesday.

    Tours will resume at 1 p.m. May 12, on a first-come, first-serve basis. For tours on May 13 and beyond, tickets can be reserved online beginning April 16. Visit the NPS website for details.

    The last of the scaffolding around the 555-foot tall stone structure will begin to come down this week, the park service said. After 32 months and $15 million, workers have repaired more than 150 cracks, the result of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

    The post Washington Monument to reopen in May, 3 years after earthquake appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New York area men BASE jumped off the 105-story One World Trade Center in September and posted the video of their jump to YouTube. Four were arrested Monday in connection with the jump.

    Four people were arrested Monday in New York for BASE jumping more than 1,300 feet from atop the One World Trade Center tower in September.

    James Brady, Kyle Hartwell, Marko Markovich and Andrew Rossig were each charged with third-degree burglary, second-degree reckless endangerment and jumping from a structure — the first a class-D felony and the latter two class-A misdemeanors. James Brady was a construction worker at the World Trade Center at the time of the jump.

    “These men violated the law and placed themselves, as well as others, in danger,” said New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton in a statement. “These arrests should send a message to anyone thinking about misusing a landmark this way.”

    “Being a thrill-seeker does not give immunity from the law,” Bratton added.

    The term BASE is an acronym standing for the four structures jumpers can leap from: buildings, antennas, spans and Earth.

    The post Four arrested for BASE jumping from One World Trade Center appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Case Challenging Affordable Care Act

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The hotly contested — or debated issues of contraception, religious freedom, and the president’s health care law took center stage today at the U.S. Supreme Court.

    We start with a look at the people involved in the case.

    It comes from Tim O’Brien, who filed this report for the PBS program “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

    TIM O’BRIEN, Correspondent, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: The challenge is from the Conestoga Furniture Company in East Earl, Pennsylvania and by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores with some 28,000 employees.

    Both companies are run by devoutly religious families who say requiring them to include certain contraceptives in their health insurance violates their religious convictions. The Obamacare contraception mandate requires companies to provide coverage for 20 government-approved methods of contraception.

    The plaintiffs object to only four of them, those they say work like abortifacients, such as the morning-after pill.

    STEVE GREEN, President, Hobby Lobby, Inc.: This is an issue of life. We cannot be a part of taking life. And so to be in a situation where our government is telling us that we have to be is incredible.

    DAVID GREEN, CEO, Hobby Lobby, Inc.: And there’s no way we’re taking anybody’s rights away. It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something that’s against our conscience.

    TIM O’BRIEN: In deciding these cases, the Supreme Court will not be writing on a blank slate. Rather, it will be drawing on two of its most controversial decisions in recent memory.

    In 1990, the court ruled Native American Indians could be punished for ingesting the hallucinogenic drug peyote, even though it was part of their religious rituals. More important, the court held that laws that apply equally to everyone do not have to make exceptions for religion.

    The ruling set off an uproar, prompting Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. President Clinton signed the measure into law in a lavish Rose Garden ceremony after it passed the House unanimously and sailed through the Senate, 97-3.

    That law is at the heart of this week’s Supreme Court cases. It states that the federal government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.

    Hobby Lobby tapped Paul Clement.

    PAUL CLEMENT, Attorney, Hobby Lobby: You know, it may at first blush seem like there’s something odd about a corporation exercising religion, but a lot of people are familiar with something like Chick-fil-A, and if you try to get a Chick-fil-A sandwich on a Sunday you have a problem, because they’re closed on Sunday.

    TIM O’BRIEN: The contraception mandate does make exceptions for churches and religious-oriented nonprofit corporations. There’s a grandfather provision exempting many other plans, and the law doesn’t even apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees. That adds up to millions of American workers who are exempt — so many, in fact, says Clement, that all the exemptions undermine any claim that the mandate furthers a compelling government interest, as the law requires.

    PAUL CLEMENT: We’ve never had a law exactly like this, where the government tells me that I have to pay for somebody else’s abortifacients or contraceptives. I think to this point the government has recognized, you start talking about abortion and contraception, you are treading on religiously sensitive topics.

    TIM O’BRIEN: The contraception mandate was drawn up by the Department of Health and Human Services and follows a report from the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit division of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The Institute concluded that contraceptives help reduce unwanted pregnancies, which reduces the number of abortions, but that many women do not have the resources to buy the contraceptives they need, or those that will be most effective.

    DR. LINDA ROSENSTOCK, Institute of Medicine: We know that unintended pregnancies are quite prevalent in the United States; there are several million a year.

    And we know that 40 percent of those end up in abortion. There’s also evidence that the more you provide family planning, the less unintended pregnancies there are, and the less abortions there are.

    TIM O’BRIEN: While Hobby Lobby may have the support of many religions in the U.S., the health care community has rallied behind the government and the contraception mandate.

    The Guttmacher Institute, a national and international champion for women’s health and reproductive freedom, tapped another Supreme Court heavyweight, Walter Dellinger, to make its case. Dellinger, solicitor general in the Clinton administration, says, even if Hobby Lobby is a person at all under the law, its claim to religious freedom is weak.

    WALTER DELLINGER, Guttmacher Institute Attorney: Even assuming corporations can assert rights under the religion clauses or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a corporation is very unlikely ever to be able to establish a claim that it has a conscience that is being violated or overridden. There just isn’t a tradition of a for-profit corporation having a soul or being faced with damnation.

    The compelling governmental interest here is that companies not be allowed to impose their religious views on their own employees in a way that substantially burdens the employee’s right to make her own decision about whether or not she wishes to use contraception.

    TIM O’BRIEN: The implications of the court’s ruling could be enormous, defining what laws a person or corporation may challenge on religious grounds and under what circumstances government policy might override the exercise of individual religious faith.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal” was in the courtroom this morning, and she’s back with us tonight.

    Welcome back to the program.

    MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”: Thanks, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Marcia, as we see strong feelings on this case…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … outside the courtroom, tell us how it went inside the courtroom with this, especially starting off with the arguments made by the lawyers representing these two companies.


    It was a great argument, Judy. It was 90 minutes, but it really felt like 30, because we had two really good lawyers arguing the case, a lot of questions from the justices. The arguments focused primarily on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is commonly called RFRA.

    And as Tim O’Brien pointed out in his piece, there are really four parts of that act that the arguments are going to center on. One, are corporations a person able to exercise religious rights? Two, was the government requirement here of contraception coverage a substantial burden on the corporations and their owners?

    Does the government have a compelling interest in providing or mandating that coverage? And, finally, has it chosen the least restrictive means? Mr. Clement was first at the lectern. And he immediately was questioned vigorously by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

    Justice Sotomayor started with the threshold sort of issue: Can a corporation exercise religious rights? And, if it does, how does it do it? And Mr. Clement said, yes, it does, and he pointed to the fact that person, as defined by Congress in what is called the Dictionary Act, includes corporations.

    Courts, he said, are very able to determine whether a corporation’s religious beliefs are sincere, just as they determine every day what a corporation’s intent or motivation is in other cases.

    Mr. Verrilli came back to say that’s just the sort of excessive entanglement of government and religion that the Constitution strives to avoid. You’re going to have courts looking into the sincerity of religious beliefs.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And it was notable the other two women justices were behind many of the questions at this phase.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes, Justice Ginsburg.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor.

    MARCIA COYLE: Right.

    Justice Kagan probed what we call the slippery slope here. If it’s true that corporations can bring these claims, she and Justice Sotomayor asked, is your argument limited to sensitive issues or materials like contraceptives?

    Justice Sotomayor said, what about religious adherents who don’t believe in transfusions, blood transfusions, vaccinations? And Mr. Clement responded, well, it does depend on the burden that is being placed on the person who has the religious belief, as well as it’s possible the government would have a compelling interest in imposing that burden. But there’s no compelling interest here in this particular case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How unusual is it, Marcia, to have the three women justices coming at an argument like this?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, to be honest with you, it’s not unusual, because Justices Sotomayor and Kagan are very active questioners.

    Justice Sotomayor is often the first questioner in any argument. But, clearly, they were ready and primed, I think, to go to the heart of the concerns that have been raised about the issues in this particular case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, tell us how the other side came at this, the attorneys representing the government, and we just saw Walter Dellinger, who is arguing for some of the reproductive freedom groups.

    MARCIA COYLE: Mr. Verrilli, the solicitor general of the United States, told the court that corporations don’t exercise religious rights. They are not persons under RFRA.

    He said that no court and no case has ever held that they exercise religious rights. Justice Scalia interjected, well, there’s no case that says they haven’t. But Mr. Verrilli did point to a case involving an Amish employer who wanted to opt out of Social Security, and the U.S. Supreme Court said they could not.

    He tried — Mr. Verrilli tried very hard to bring the court’s argument somewhat back to the other parties that are affected in this case. It’s not just the employer, he said. It’s the burden on third parties, the workers. And Justice Kennedy did interject at one point, what about employees who don’t share the religious beliefs of the owners or the corporations? Does religion trump those employees?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, vigorous questions, though, from the more conservative members of the court at this point.

    MARCIA COYLE: Yes. They trained almost all of their questions on the government’s attorney, Mr. Verrilli.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what did you find memorable about that?

    MARCIA COYLE: I think they seemed hostile to the government’s arguments, although I never predict.

    They’re very good at playing devil’s advocate. But it was clear that the chief justice, for example, asked a question. He said, the excessive entanglement of government and religion may be able to be avoided here by just saying that corporations that are closely held, S-type corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, can bring these claims, and we will await another day when a publicly held corporation like Exxon tries to bring a claim, which he said, I don’t think will happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia, there’s already analysis that Justice Kennedy, who you just mentioned, could end up being the swing vote here.

    Is that — is it too early to say that? Or what did you — how did you read that?

    MARCIA COYLE: No, it’s not too early. He often is the determining vote in cases where they are closely divided.

    And they do appear closely divided here. His questions during the argument today would give some support to each side. So, he really didn’t tip his — his — where he was headed. Or he didn’t tip his hand in the arguments. So, we’re going to have to wait and see what he does with it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the comment we heard — and we heard at the end of Tim O’Brien’s report — that what the justices say in this case could have much broader implications for how corporations are seen and some of the other things you’re…

    MARCIA COYLE: It absolutely could.

    And you do have to wait to see how they write their decision, however they write it, narrowly or broadly, and who wins, actually. If they rule in favor of the corporations here, then there’s that concern that corporations will be able to bring other kinds of claims, trying to opt out of other legal requirements.

    And some of the suggestions were, you know, are we going to see them trying to opt out of, say, our discrimination laws? And so it really does depend on how the court writes the opinion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Not a dull day at that Supreme Court.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Never is.

    MARCIA COYLE: No, it isn’t.

    And one other thing, Judy, I always forget to say. You can read the transcript of argument on the Supreme Court Web site right now. You can listen to the audio on Friday on the court’s Web site.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You can do it right at the end of the NewsHour.

    MARCIA COYLE: That’s right. You can.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marcia Coyle, thanks.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure.

    The post Can corporations exercise religious rights? Supreme Court hears case on contraception coverage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ukraine interim prime minister Speaks On Ukrainian Crisis In Washington DC

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Now our exclusive interview with the interim prime minister of Ukraine.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner spoke with Arseniy Yatsenyuk this afternoon in Kiev.

    MARGARET WARNER: Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, thank you so much for having us.

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Interim Prime Minister, Ukraine: My pleasure.

    MARGARET WARNER: You have major Russian forces amassed on your southeastern border. Are you prepared to fight them there if they start to cross, or will you give way, as you did in Crimea?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: First of all, on Crimea, what we did in Crimea, we refrained from use of force in order to prevent the bloodshed, and in order to show to the entire world that it’s Russian military and Russian regime who occupied the Ukrainian territory and who has made a real aggression.

    Look in the international community. At the U.N. Security Council, 14 out of 15 actually supported Ukrainian independence. On the question you just raised, what is going to happen in case if Russia crosses the border of the mainland, this is the duty of every Ukrainian citizen to protect our country. We will fight.

    MARGARET WARNER: Is your military up to the job?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: My military was deliberately dismantled by the former government.

    And what we are doing today is, we tried to maintain a capability of Ukrainian military to fight. We made a number of steps in order to prepare the military to defend Ukrainian territory. But, in any case, what we need, we need support from the international community. We need technical and military support to overhaul the Ukrainian military, to modernize it, and to be ready not just to fight, but be ready to win.

    MARGARET WARNER: What do you need in the way of military assistance right now from the U.S., from NATO, from the West that you are not getting?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: You probably do remember this so-called notorious Budapest memorandum.


    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Absolutely, when Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapon. And, at that time, we possessed the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.

    And they were given towards the U.S., the U.K., and Russia that signed the Budapest treaty and guaranteed Ukrainian independence. One of these key signatories, Russia, have violated the deal.

    And so today, we need not just the statements, not just the declarations. But we ask our partners to undertake real steps in order to support Ukrainian independence. And independence and military strength is so tightly correlated in this world.

    I’m not sure I can dwell into details on this particular issue, but we have started a dialogue with our American partners and with the U.K. government how to support Ukraine to defend its independence.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel betrayed by the U.S. and Britain, which did sign that 1994 memorandum? Do you think that the U.S. and NATO owe Ukraine more?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: I do believe that every G7 member also owe it to the world, because this is not about the Ukrainian case. It’s about the global security, which was heavily undermined by Russia.

    And Russia actually undermined the nuclear nonproliferation program, as we gave up our nuclear weapons and didn’t get anything instead. We got Russian tanks, artillery and barrels.

    On the U.S., I truly appreciate the U.S. support. The House, the Senate, and, personally, the U.S. president, Barack Obama, made bold and strong steps. Is it enough to secure the world? It’s a good step forward.

    MARGARET WARNER: But President Obama said today in The Hague again, though, that, essentially, the U.S. and the E.U. so far are counting on sanctions and the threat of more sanctions to restrain President Putin from further moves.

    What level of confidence, if any, do you have that that would be effective?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: We have just two options on the table how to tackle this kind of crisis.

    The first one is a military option, and it’s crystal-clear that no one wants another Third World War in the globe. So, the second option is to implement another type of non-military measures. The world is so interrelated and interdependent that economic measures are much stronger than even military ones.

    MARGARET WARNER: But those are long-term measures. Don’t you face a very short-term emergency, potentially?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Yes, we face. And that’s up to us to fix it, then. And in case if it happens, I believe that we will get an additional support from our partners and from the entire international community.

    MARGARET WARNER: You mean if Russia invades?


    MARGARET WARNER: Now, meanwhile, your big portfolio here is to respond to the demands of the Maidan, to get this economy up off its back and revamp it and retool it.

    How much does this threat from Russia also undermine the prospects for that or your ability to tackle that?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Russia has two options, too.

    The first one is to invade military, and another one to undermine Ukrainian stability, misusing, for example, austerity measures that will be employed by Ukrainian government, because we need to do this. We need to undertake tough reforms in order to survive and in order to get the IMF loan and international support from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Investment Bank.

    And they will definitely play with this, saying that, look, the so-called progressive government imposed a number of hardships for you, and look at your living standards. They are going down. In case if you go to Russia, you are going be in another world, which looks like a real happy world, with free cash, with higher living standards.

    And we’re already prepared for this, because what we rely on, we rely on Ukrainian people that, after Maidan, started to be the Ukrainian nation. This is the process of nation-building. And Ukrainians are ready to face these troubles, and they are ready to overcome them.

    MARGARET WARNER: How are you going to keep the Ukrainian public with you, though, the momentum that you have now, once you start instituting some of these tough measures, especially cutting back, say, on energy subsidies, but all of the things you just talked about?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: We had to do it 20 years ago.

    You know, how can you get the support? It seems to me the key problem of every politics is a lack of every politics is a lack of trust and lack of honesty. I want to deliver real changes in this country. And in order to get these changes, I have to be open, frank, honest. And in this case, people will support or approve or disapprove these measures.

    MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the Russian pressure has in any way affected your ability to do that, or maybe perhaps even made the public more willing or ready to support the government?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: I believe that, in a few years, we will decorate Russian regime with a special medal for the unity of my country.


    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: Yes. They did a lot.

    MARGARET WARNER: You have met Vladimir Putin a few times. What do you think — had you do you read him?  What do you think his intentions are?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: His intention — his intention is very clear, to reinstate the Soviet Union, to become not the president of Russian Federation, but an emperor of new type of USSR, version 2.00.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, do you think that Ukraine and Russia can ever have a normal interdependent relationship, as they have had for the last 20 years, if — as long as Putin is president?

    ARSENIY YATSENYUK: It depends.

    It depends whether Russia is ready to negotiate and whether Russia is ready to have a level playing field in our relations. It’s clear for me that they are not ready, because we extended the hand for negotiations, and, instead, they extended a barrel of a gun.

    MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.


    MARGARET WARNER: Thank you very much. Good luck to you.


    GWEN IFILL: During her reporting trip, Margaret and NewsHour producer Morgan Till visited former President Viktor Yanukovych’s lavish home outside Kiev. You can see the opulent estate, complete with a panoramic view of a multimillion-dollar staircase, in their online photo gallery. That’s on the Rundown.

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    Facebook has agreed to buy virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion.

    Facebook Inc. said Tuesday that the deal includes $400 million in cash and 23.1 million shares worth about $1.6 billion.

    In February the company announced it would pay $19 billion for WhatsApp, a messaging application and service.

    In 2013, PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman gave the virtual reality equipment a test drive. Watch that report below:

    The post Facebook buys virtual reality company Oculus for $2 billion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Egypt crackdown show graphic

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: the continuing crackdown in Egypt, this time in the courts; 638 suspected Islamists stood trial today on charges of murder or attempted murder during attacks on police stations back in August. No defense lawyers were present.

    Yesterday, in a similar scene, more than 500 suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death.

    We explore these developments with former State Department Middle East specialist Michele Dunne. She’s now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Welcome back to the NewsHour.

    MICHELE DUNNE, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michele Dunne, what were the charges that the court said these people were guilty of?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Well, they said they were guilty of rioting that led to the death of one — one single police officer. And they convicted, as you said, more than 500.

    And there were about 147 of those people in custody.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, not all of them?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Many of them are at large. But, still, we’re looking at nearly 150 people who could potentially be executed for the death of a single police officer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what kind of a trial was it? It was less than a day, several hours long, no defense lawyers present. What was it like?

    MICHELE DUNNE: There were two very brief sessions, two very brief court sessions over a couple of days, I think, less than an hour each.

    There were apparently — there were lots of — thousands of pages of evidence, but they were not reviewed. The defense lawyers couldn’t present their arguments. It really — it was nothing that you would call a trial.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Who are the people who are being charged? If you add it all up, it’s over a thousand people. Who are they?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Well, these — by the way, these are not the only cases. There are some other mass trials going on, because right now in Egypt, there are close to 19,000 people who have been detained since last summer.

    About 2,500 or so of those are considered to be political leaders of the Brotherhood. The rest of them are people who were picked up in demonstrations, demonstrations protesting the removal of former President Morsi last summer.

    So, they’re all kinds of people. They’re not — certainly not all Brotherhood supporters. And there are even small numbers of women and children among them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: What does this — this system of putting people on trial, convicting them, and sentencing them to death in the same day — we know in the second trial, they said the sentencing will come a little later. What does this say about the regime in power right now in Egypt?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Well, there’s been a massive crackdown going on since last summer against particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, but also against their forms of dissent, against some secular activists and journalists and so forth as well.

    Now, we don’t really know the sentencing that took place of over 500, whether this was the initiative of a particular judge or whether it was a kind of an instruction from higher up in the Egyptian government.

    But I would say there have been a series of steps that have attempted to close down dissent in Egypt. You will recall there was the very violent breakup of a sit-in this Cairo in which hundreds and hundreds were killed. They passed a law outlawing demonstrations. They declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and said anyone who goes out to demonstrate in favor of Morsi could be sentenced to five years in prison just for showing up at a demonstration.

    And then there have been a number of these harsh sentencings. Just recently, a group of students at Al-Azhar University were given more than 14 years for destroying some university offices, in which no one was killed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what effect is all this having, Michele, on dissent in Egypt?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Well, it goes on.

    So, there are several things going on. I mean, there’s dissent. There are still weekly protests protesting the removal of Morsi, despite all these harsh measures.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The former president?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Exactly.

    Terrorists — and then there’s terrorism. There are terrorist groups based in the Sinai who are attacking police officers and military officers. And there are also a lot of small-scale what I would call sort of revenge attacks on police officers, just someone on a motorcycle shooting.

    So, in Egypt nowadays, there’s almost a police officer killed every day.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But if you step out — if you participate in some of these actions, the — basically, what the courts are saying is, we’re going to come down hard on you?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Yes, absolutely.

    I mean, and I think they’re — they are sort of waiting to see whether these very harsh sentences will stick. Now, there was a big outcry in the international community. In Egypt, I think, the sentiment about sentencing these hundreds of people to death is much more mixed. There are supporters of military who really want to see the Muslim Brotherhood eradicated. And they spoke up in favor of these sentences.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, is it believed that the courts are going to carry out these sentences, the capital punishment?

    MICHELE DUNNE: Well, there’s the possibility of appeal.

    And then the highest — the Muslim religious leader, the mufti, has an ability to review these sentences. So, there are a couple of possibilities that they could be overturned or lessened.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Michele Dunne, we thank you very much.

    MICHELE DUNNE: Thanks, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

    The post Dissent in Egypt persists despite government’s mass trials, death sentences appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An insurance agent helps people purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at Miami's Mall of Americas on March 20. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    An insurance agent helps people purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at Miami’s Mall of Americas on March 20. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    • Administration gives Americans more time to enroll in health plans
    • President Obama to talk Ukraine overseas
    • Unemployment insurance update
    • Rubio to New Hampshire; Santorum in Iowa
    • Tuesday’s 2014 misfires

    Extra time for health care enrollment: The Obama administration is expected to announce Wednesday it will give extra time to Americans who are unable to complete their enrollment for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace by the March 31 deadline. The decision comes despite repeated claims by administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that the mandate would not be delayed. But it’s important to note, as the Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein explains, that the move is actually not a delay: “The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period,” she writes. In other words, people who were in the queue, but had problems enrolling of some sort will get more time. The change again highlights the difficulties the administration continues to have when it comes to implementing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Before the rollout, White House officials likened the usability of the health care site to travel sites like Travelocity. That has not been the case. By the way, this is just the latest delay or extension that Republicans are sure to capitalize on. For example: In February the administration announced it would delay the mandate on medium-sized employers until 2016; that came on top of a one-year delay for big companies, letting insurance companies sell plans for an additional year that don’t match the level of coverage required under the law and extending the sign-up deadline by a week last December, just to name a few. By giving Americans flexibility when it comes to completing their enrollments, the administration is protecting itself should a last-minute surge of applicants overwhelm the online exchange. But that calculation also carries risks. Republicans, who have made attacking the health care law the focus of their midterm campaign strategy, are sure to fire away at the administration for making yet another change in how it has gone about implementing the law.

    Obama expected to focus on Ukraine: Watch President Obama’s 12:45 p.m. ET remarks in Belgium for possible comments on Ukraine. Just yesterday, the president dismissed Russia as a “regional power,” and even though his trip has been, on the surface, about nuclear proliferation, the sideline discussions have been dominated by Ukraine. Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to drop the reforms for the International Monetary Fund that Republicans, particularly in the House, opposed. The Senate is likely to have a final vote on Ukraine funding, which is expected to easily pass now, Thursday. But the problem for the president is that what he’s encountering in Europe is European leaders who are trying to balance their own economic concerns with how strictly to sanction Russia. That’s largely about energy. By the way, there’s an intraparty Democratic fight brewing on energy exports with Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, and even Mark Warner of Virginia on one side — all in competitive reelection fights — and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ed Markey of Massachusetts on the other.

    Unemployment insurance extension: With Ukraine aid first on the docket, Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in town through the weekend in order to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. “I hope my Republican colleagues will cooperate so we can move forward and get over all of the procedural hurdles that they put up all the time,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to move forward either with or without them.” The bipartisan bill up for consideration would reauthorize the program for five months, and although Republican senators admit it’s likely to pass the upper chamber, some see little value in pushing legislation that will go nowhere in the House. “You can’t let a minority of the minority in the Senate decide what the majority of the majority is going to do in the House,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. Speaker Boehner said Tuesday he’ll wait to see whether the Senate bill passes, which may not happen until next week, before deciding whether to introduce his own legislation.

    2016 watch – Biden’s challenge, Rubio to N.H. and Santorum in Iowa: On the heels of Vice President Joe Biden’s trip Tuesday to New Hampshire, the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker explores the challenges facing the Democrat as he weighs a potential third bid for the presidency in 2016. During his visit to the Granite State, as part of an effort to promote workforce training, Biden responded to a question about his future ambitions by saying: “I’m here about jobs, not mine.”

    Speaking of the first primary state, WMUR’s James Pindell reports that Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio will be the featured speaker at the Rockingham County Republican Committee’s annual fundraising dinner on May 9 in New Castle.

    Another potential 2016 Republican contender, former Sen. Rick Santorum, will be in Iowa Wednesday to help raise money for Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s congressional campaign, according to Politico. Santorum is also expected to sit down with local press and meet with advisors from his 2012 presidential campaign.

    2014 watch – A day for gaffes: As the campaign season heats up, silly and not-so-smart things candidates say will get magnified. Case in point, as the 2008 and 2012 presidentials showed, closed-door fundraisers are fair game for oppo treasure troves. In what National Journal has dubbed a “47 percent” moment, Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for the seat held by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, criticized GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” The recording, released by America Rising PAC, shows Braley speaking to a group of donors about the consequences of Republicans winning a majority in the Senate, which would put Grassley in line to chair the Judiciary Committee. He apologized to Grassley several hours after the video was posted.

    And trying to sell a GOP majority that begins in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell stumbled into problems of his own when his latest campaign video accidentally included a clip of the Duke men’s basketball team celebrating its 2010 NCAA tournament title victory instead of footage of the Kentucky Wildcats. The campaign removed the video but not before Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes used the sports gaffe to lodge a deeper criticism, calling the minority leader “irreparably out of touch” with the state. Of course, Grimes has her own problems, picking Wichita State over UK in her bracket.


    • The National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle explained Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court.

    • Three Secret Service agents protecting Mr. Obama in Amsterdam this week have been sent home and placed on administrative leave after being caught drinking Sunday night before going on assignment. One agent was found passed out in a hotel hallway.

    • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says the president could stop the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program without congressional approval. The Kentucky Republican also took some credit for bringing about the Obama administration’s decision Monday to have private companies store call information. “I don’t want to take all the credit for ending this, but I think our lawsuit had something to do with bringing the president to the table,” Paul said during an appearance on Fox News.

    • Democrats, meanwhile, backed the president’s move to rein in the NSA’s activities, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, saying her committee would hold a hearing on the administration’s proposal soon.

    • Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign a new gun law passed last week by lawmakers in the state, which would allow firearms in public places like bars, schools, churches and airports.

    • The latest campaign spot from Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, one of five Republicans running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, gives Hawkeye State voters something to “squeal” about.

    • The Club for Growth, it seems, is growing up, writes National Journal’s Alex Roarty. Their early involvement in down-ballot races spawned a movement of outside group activity on the right that now places them at the political center of the GOP.

    • Former Sen. Alan Simpson explains the difference between naked and “nekkid” to the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs.

    • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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

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

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

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    Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

    Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — People who’ve started applying for health insurance but aren’t able to finish before the March 31 enrollment deadline will get extra time, the Obama administration has announced.

    “We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment, either online or over the phone,” Health and Human Services spokesman Aaron Albright said Tuesday.

    The White House is scrambling to meet a goal of 6 million signed up through new online markets that offer subsidized private health insurance to people without access to coverage on the job. The HealthCare.gov website got more that 1 million visitors Monday, and the administration also wants to prevent a repeat of website problems that soured consumers last fall.

    Officials said the grace period will be available to people on the honor system, meaning applicants will have to attest that special circumstances or complex cases prevented them from finishing by March 31.

    It’s unclear how long the extension will last. Some have urged the administration to allow until April 15, the tax filing deadline. People who are due refunds may be willing to put some of that money toward health care premiums.

    The latest tweak to the health care rollout is certain to infuriate Republican critics of President Barack Obama’s signature law. It follows delays of the law’s requirements that medium-sized to large employers provide coverage or face fines. The GOP is making repeal of the health care law its rallying cry in the fall congressional elections.

    The White House had signaled last week that a grace period of some sort was in the works. Spokesman Jay Carney said Friday that people in line by the deadline would be able to complete their applications. Administration officials argue that’s not extending the deadline. They compare it to the Election Day practice of allowing people to vote if they are in line when the polls close.

    The decision to grant extra time was first reported late Tuesday by The Washington Post.

    The administration’s decision affects the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead on sign-ups. The 14 states running their own websites are likely to follow, since some had been pressing for an extension on account of their own technical problems.

    Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at the Jackson Hewitt tax preparation firm, welcomed the move.

    “The disbursement of tax refunds appears to be making a substantial difference in the willingness and ability of uninsured Americans to sign up for … coverage,” Haile said.

    Jackson Hewitt projects the administration can meet the goal of 6 million only if it allows people to keep signing up through April 15.

    Enrollment has already crossed the 5 million mark.

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    Crew on board an RAAF AP-3C Orion crossing the coast of Perth, having just completed an 11 hour search mission for missing Malaysia Airways Flight MH370, before landing at RAAF Pearce airbase in Perth, Monday, March 24, 2014. AAP Image/Richard Wainwright

    Crew on board an RAAF AP-3C Orion crossing the coast of Perth, having just completed an 11 hour search mission for missing Malaysia Airways Flight MH370, before landing at RAAF Pearce airbase in Perth, Monday, March 24, 2014. Photo by Richard Wainwright/AAP Image

    Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Wednesday that a French satellite found 122 objects in the Indian Ocean that could potentially be a plane debris field related to the missing Malaysian Flight MH370.

    The images, which were captured Sunday by France-based Airbus Defence and Space, show objects ranging from 3 to 75 feet in length. The potential debris field stretches across a 155 square mile area of the ocean in a region southwest of Australia.

    “We have now had four separate satellite leads, from Australia, China and France, showing possible debris,” Hussein said in a news conference. “It is now imperative that we link the debris to MH370.”

    Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been missing since March 8 with 239 passengers. On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that satellite data showed the plane most likely crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

    The post French satellite finds possible Malaysia flight debris field appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jennifer Johnson and her parents, Gail and Ron Thompson, attend a candlelight vigil for mudslide victims on March 25, 2014 in Arlington, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

    Jennifer Johnson and her parents, Gail and Ron Thompson, attend a candlelight vigil for mudslide victims on March 25, 2014 in Arlington, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

    Two more bodies were recovered Tuesday from the enormous mudslide in Washington state, bringing the official death toll to 16. Eight more bodies were located in the debris field from Saturday’s slide, which would likely bring the death toll to 24, the Associated Press reports.

    Scores more are missing and two dozen homes were destroyed in the landslide that swept through a small riverside community 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday.

    As the search entered its fifth day Wednesday officials were still hoping to find survivors.

    “We haven’t lost hope that there’s a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area,” said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.

    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency that could bring in supplemental federal money beyond the assistance President Barack Obama ordered on Monday to aid local rescue efforts.

    The Red Cross is taking donations to benefit those affected by the mudslide. People can call 800-733-2767 to donate or text “RedCross” to 90999 and $10 will be charged to their phone bill.

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    People hold placards as they protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the government blocked access to Twitter in Ankara, on March 21, 2014. Photo by Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

    People hold placards as they protest against Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after the government blocked access to Twitter in Ankara, on March 21, 2014. Photo by Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

    A Turkish court ordered the government to end its six day ban on Twitter Wednesday by issuing a temporary injunction against the policy. According to AFP, the government has acknowledged the ruling and local media report that access to Twitter for the populace is expected to be restored late Wednesday.

    The statewide block against the social media site began March 20, days before a national election, when tweets linked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to corruption. Turkish anti-government factions have long turned to social media sites to criticize Erdoğan and the ruling party. Though Erdoğan has tried blocking sites in the past, the first statewide ban on Twitter spurred further protests and received international criticism.

    Of Turkey’s 10 million Twitter users, many bypassed the tweeting ban through text message or by accessing virtual private networks. Several prominent Turkish cabinet members defied the ban as well, including President Abdullah Gul who expressed hope that the ban would not last forever.

    Because the court’s action is a temporary injunction, it is unclear if another ban could be implemented.

    The post Turkish court orders government to lift Twitter ban appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Researchers have found that "robust" emerging markets initially suffer more adverse consequences from the Fed's hints about tapering than "fragile" emerging markets. Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

    Researchers have found that “robust” emerging markets initially suffer more adverse consequences from the Fed’s hints about tapering than “fragile” emerging markets. Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

    Perched before rows of reporters and thousands of traders watching on TV, Fed Chair Janet Yellen held her first press conference this time last week. It was hardly blockbuster television. Fed events never are.

    But they’re a bigger draw than they used to be. Investors worldwide watched carefully to see what Yellen would reveal about the economic indicators the Fed’s Open Market Committee would use to set future policy — so called “forward guidance.” Fed-watchers expected some degree of transparency, in large part because of the communications strategy overhaul Yellen led under Ben Bernanke’s tenure as chair.

    Before Yellen’s ascendance, of course, economists, reporters, academics, policy-writers, politicians, financiers, analysts and anyone else who cares about monetary policy (we’ll call them Fed-watchers) have been tuning in to the Fed each time Bernanke so much as sneezed.

    Recently, they have all wanted to know one thing: when would the Fed start tapering. “Tapering” — a simple word that provokes blank stares from even the most astute news junkies — means exactly what it sounds like: a drawing down, or gradual reduction, in this case, of the Fed’s monetary stimulus, as we illustrated only recently on the NewsHour.

    Since the financial crisis began in 2008, the Federal Reserve has sopped up several trillion dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bonds with newly created money, a process known as quantitative easing: “QE.” The last round has been doing so to the tune of $85 billion a month.

    At their last meeting of 2013, the Open Market Committee decided to begin tapering these asset purchases by $10 billion a month. Last week, at the end of their two-day meeting, the committee approved another $10 billion reduction — bringing monthly bond purchases to $55 billion a month.

    But even just hints at Bernanke’s June press conference that tapering was imminent sent Wall Street into a tizzy, beginning a short-term trend in which lower monthly unemployment numbers actually sent the market down because investors feared the Fed was closing in on its tapering threshold.

    The big change is that Fed-watchers anxiously waiting for hints of tapering weren’t only to be found on Wall Street. Across the globe, in Mumbai, Istanbul, Makati City and elsewhere, financial markets were glued to that June Bernanke press conference. As they have been to these press conferences ever since QE began.

    Like Wall Street — emerging markets have arguably been propped up by quantitative easing and were wary of it ending. By keeping interest rates low on U.S. Treasury bonds, the Federal Reserve seems to have increased capital flows to emerging markets — places like Latin America, Africa and Asia.

    Because of the low interest rates, investors can borrow money cheaply in the United States and then invest it at a higher return in riskier assets abroad. That’s all well and good for the recipient markets — as long as the capital keeps flowing in.

    But when tapering causes U.S. interest rates to rise, that “hot money” may flow out of these emerging markets as quickly as it flowed in.

    A big deal? First of all, University of Southern California’s Joshua Aizenman said, roughly half of the world’s economic activity comes from emerging markets. These places may seem far-flung to an American audience, but when things go wrong, they’re a lot closer than they appear. Pressure to adjust to abrupt capital outflows strains these countries’ banking systems. A banking crisis, a foreign currency crisis or political upheaval are all plausible in those situations, Aizenman said.

    Aizenman is one author of a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that examines how emerging markets reacted to tapering-related news from the Fed between November 2012 and October 2013. His paper contributes two significant takeaways about the relationship between the American central bank and emerging markets.

    The first is about the Federal Reserve itself. Emerging market asset prices responded most to statements about imminent tapering from the Fed chair as opposed to comments from other Fed VIPs. That’s not shocking.

    What was surprising, Aizenman said, was their second finding. Tapering news from the Fed more adversely affected emerging markets with “robust” fundamentals (economies with account surpluses, high international reserves and low external debt) than markets with fragile fundamentals.

    Why would a robust emerging market suffer more from signs of imminent tapering than a fragile emerging market? Aizenman and his co-authors developed several theories.

    The first is that robust countries probably received more capital inflows than other countries because they were robust. These markets had more to lose from tapering because they were exposed to more so-called “hot money” to begin with.

    Secondly, unwinding a larger portion of that hot money, Aizenman said, will induce larger price adjustments in markets that are less liquid, which may be the case in some of these robust economies.

    And third, stronger economies have lower discount rates, so their stock markets are more attuned to fluctuations in reference interest rates. An increase in U.S. 10-year bond rates, Aizenman explained, would have a much bigger impact on the stock prices of an emerging market where the interest rate on public debt is low than on stock prices in a place with higher interest rates on public debt, like, say, India.

    “We are agnostic,” Aizenman said in an interview — not able to determine which explanation is most plausible, in part because the shifting attention span of the global market makes it hard to test fully.

    Indeed, adapting a longer time horizon in this study allowed the authors to see that not all emerging markets are affected at the same time. The authors found that while initially, tapering news hit robust emerging economies hardest, several months out, tapering news had actually hit the more fragile emerging markets more. That’s one reason why it’s worth examining markets’ reactions to suggestions of tapering, even after tapering has begun.

    What’s the big takeaway? The “Washington consensus,” especially on trade, Aizenman explained, has often been that economic integration benefits emerging markets. But “financial integration is more of a mixed bag,” he said. As America’s central bank, the Fed exercises a dual mandate to maintain robust employment and contain inflation — domestically. But naturally, some emerging economies wish that the Fed’s mandate didn’t also have repercussions for them.

    “At this time of instability,” Aizenman said, “one can understand the frustrations of emerging countries that they listened too much to the U.S., and our internal focus is exposing them to new challenges.” Some markets may fear they’ve overexposed themselves to integration, Aizenman noted, and that’s led to an increasing willingness among emerging markets to limit capital inflows.

    And yet — nowhere does Aizenman see emerging countries trying to reverse the integration they’ve achieved thus far. So when Yellen next materializes in the Fed’s stately press room, should emerging economies hang on her every word?

    Aizenman seems to think that’s just as much a question for the Fed, whose transparency is largely regarded as a virtue. “It raises the question,” he said, “of how much talking a lot may overshoot constructive transparency.”

    The post How candid should Janet Yellen be? Watching emerging markets overreact to Fed transparency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Rachel Docherty

    Photo by Flickr user Rachel Docherty

    In the past year, did you tune in to your local news channel to learn about the latest developments regarding the NSA? Have you kept up with the search for the Boston bombers on Twitter, read about the Syrian crisis in the newspaper or listened for the name of the new Pope on your car radio?

    However you get your news, it’s safe to say that the media landscape has and will continue to change. Pew Research Center’s 11th State of the News Media report, released Wednesday, looks at these changes and examines consumer, ownership, investment and technology trends of the various news industries over the past year.

    One of Pew’s findings showed that nearly 300 local television stations changed hands in 2013, and viewership grew for the first time in five years.

    “Whether that’s an anomaly or not is something we’ll watch,” said Amy Mitchell, Director of Journalism Research for Pew.

    In regards to social media’s affect on news organizations, Pew found that while 30 percent of Facebook users get their news through Facebook, those that do stumble upon a news story in their newsfeed have a lower engagement rate than those who go directly to a site.
    Pew state of media

    Other takeaways include:

    • Online video: “A third of U.S. adults are watching online news videos,” said Mitchell. Ad revenue for online video grew 44 percent from 2012-2013, and is expected to increase as digital storytelling evolves.
    • Cable networks: Cable news audience declined “by nearly all measures.”
    • Employment: Thirty of the biggest digital-only news organizations, including Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Vice Media, account for 3,000 jobs.
    • Audio: Traditional radio continues to reach the majority of Americans ages 12 and older, and online listening has grown 29 percent from 2012 to 2013.
    • Newspapers: Of the 5,000 professional jobs at 500 digital news outlets, the majority of original reporting comes from the newspaper industry — but newspaper jobs aren’t secure.

    The post Pew examines news industries in latest State of News Media report appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Women currently do not have access to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews clubhouse, pictured, but a vote this year could change that. Photo by Flickr user Graeme Bird

    Women currently do not have access to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews clubhouse, pictured, but a vote this year could change that. Photo by Flickr user Graeme Bird

    After a 260-year wait, women will finally get the chance to become members at the “home of golf,” The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland. The current roster of around 2,500 elite members will vote in September on whether to admit women. A statement from the club said committees are “strongly in favor of the rule change and are asking members to support it.”

    Founded in 1754, with its male members spanning the globe, the R&A is golf’s governing body outside the U.S. and Mexico.

    “As society changes, as sport changes, as golf changes, it’s something the R&A needs to do, and we’re trying to be as forward-looking as we can today,” chief executive of the R&A Peter Dawson said Wednesday in a conference call.

    Both men and women can golf the seven public courses in the town of St. Andrews, including the Old Course, one of the oldest and most famous in the world. But access to the R&A clubhouse has been off limits to women since it was built in 1854, except for social occasions like “Lady Guest Dinner Nights.” It wasn’t until 2007 when the Women’s British Open was hosted by the Royal and Ancient that women were allowed inside as golfers. As recently as 20 years ago there was still a sign hanging just outside the clubhouse that read “No dogs or women allowed.” It has since been removed.

    In the U.S., Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters is played, admitted its first female members in 2012. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore were the first two women to join the storied American club.

    The post Storied St. Andrews golf club to vote on admitting women appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The flight data recorder, or black box of a crashed Russian passenger jet is displayed during a press conference in Jakarta on May 31, 2012. Indonesian searchers  found the second 'black box' of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 three weeks after slammed into the 7,200-foot (2,200-metre) Mount Salak in western Java killing all 45 people on board. Photo by Jefri Tarigan/AFP/Getty Images.

    The flight data recorder, or black box of a crashed Russian passenger jet is displayed during a press conference in Jakarta on May 31, 2012. Indonesian searchers found this second black box three weeks after the Sukhoi Superjet 100 slammed into Mount Salak in western Java killing all 45 people on board. Photo by Jefri Tarigan/AFP/Getty Images.

    Many of the answers to what caused Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to veer off its flight path and vanish are contained in an unpressurized compartment in the tail of the missing airplane.

    With the search still ongoing, we wanted to know more about the jet’s “black box,” which is actually two black boxes, and which isn’t actually black, but orange.

    Black boxes are high-tech, heavy duty, digital data recorders. They are made of steel and titanium. And they are fire resistant, waterproof, and shock protected, built to crash into a mountain at 500 miles per hour — and survive.

    “Think of it as a virtually indestructible hard drive for your computer,” said Capt. Dave Funk, a retired Northwest Airlines captain and an associate with Laird and Associates, a firm that specializes in aviation security. “It’s amazing how much information they can cram into these things. It’s as if you were to load your cell phone into an artillery shell and shoot it 20 miles away, and it’s still usable.”

    The black box, painted orange for visibility, comes in two versions. One records 30 days worth of highly detailed flight information, captured on hundreds of channels. This includes airspeed, altitude, hydraulic pressure, outside air temperature and the status of what does and doesn’t work on the plane.

    Then there’s the flight recorder, which picks up everything transmitted and received through the radio, along with sounds from the cockpit and flight deck from the last two hours of the flight. The belief, Funk said, is that everything you need to know is contained in those last two hours.

    Information gleaned from these recordings can be invaluable.

    In 1987, a South African Airways 747 jet aircraft crashed into the Indian Ocean, killing all 159 people on board. The cockpit voice recorder, recovered two years later, revealed the popping of circuit breakers, signs of an onboard fire.

    In December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland en route from London to New York. That cockpit recorder picked up sound waves that allowed investigators to determine the precise location of the bomb.

    “It can have hundreds of parameters, everything from airspeed to outside air temperature — hundreds of channels constantly recording data,” said Alan Diehl, author of “Air Safety Investigators: Using Science to Save Lives — One Crash at a Time.”

    “The bad news is, if its in a big body of water like Indian Ocean, you’ve got a big problem trying to find it.”

    That’s the trick. You’ve got to find it, and in the world’s third largest ocean, that’s no easy task.

    Black boxes that stream data have been proposed as a solution, but thousands of airborne aircraft streaming data could overwhelm existing satellite channels, Diehl said. Another possible option would be a feature that allows a pilot to trigger a data dump during an emergency situation.

    Attached to the Malaysian Airlines black box is an acoustic device called a pinger that emits sound waves. But it’s only guaranteed to reach a couple miles. As Pinger Locator Systems, capable of detecting the device from the air to a depth of 20,000 feet, are being dispatched to locate the black box, the pinger’s 30-day battery is quickly draining.

    In a recent interview on the PBS NewsHour Andy Pasztor of the Wall Street Journal told Gwen Ifill that it’s “certainly a possibility” that the plane and its black box will never be found.

    “Many experts — and experts who know about searches — say the area is too vast and the pieces may be so small and the depth of the water may be so significant that, in fact, we may never find the wreckage.”

    Still, Funk is optimistic.

    “We’re going to find it,” he says of the black box. “There’s no doubt in my mind. It’s still attached to the tail section of the airplane.”

    The post Inside the box that might hold the answers to the missing jet appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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