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

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    President Barack Obama welcomed the 2013 World Series champions Boston Red Sox, at the White House on Tuesday

    One day after baseball season kicked off in America, President Obama hosted the Boston Red Sox on the South Lawn of the White House to congratulate the team for winning the World Series at the conclusion of the 2013 season. The president also recognized the role the team played in lifting up the city of Boston in the wake of the marathon bombings that occurred on April 15, 2013.

    Baseball has long been called America’s pastime, and major league teams have often been a source of pride for cities across the United States, from New York to Boston to Chicago to St. Louis. America’s connection to the sport is so strong that it has almost become a requirement for the president to be loyal to a team and enjoy a day at the ballpark.

    America’s affinity for the sport made its way to the White House during the Taft administration. President William Howard Taft was the first American president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in 1910. It was opening day for the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. Since Taft, every U.S. President has thrown out at least one first pitch during a Major League Baseball game.

    Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    Photo by Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    • President Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition on opening day in 1913, when the Senators played the newly-named Yankees.
    • Photo via Library of Congress

      Photo via Library of Congress

    • Wilson went on to throw out three more ceremonial pitches, including the first ever by a U.S. president in a World Series game.
    • Photo via Library of Congress

      Photo via Library of Congress

    • President Warren Harding did not help the home team much, when the Washington Senators fell to the Red Sox on opening day in 1921. It was the team’s first loss when a president threw out the first pitch.
    • Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

      Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    • “Cool Cal” threw out a record six ceremonial pitches during his time in office, including two World Series appearances. President Calvin Coolidge’s wife was an even bigger fan of the game. Grace Coolidge was a longtime supporter of the Boston Red Sox and was even named the “First Lady of Baseball” in 1955.
    • Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

      Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    • On January 9, 1955, President Herbert Hoover was quoted as saying, “next to religion, baseball has had a greater impact on our American way of life than any other American institution.” Hoover also threw out six first pitches while president, including two at World Series games.
    • Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

      Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    • President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our longest serving president, broke the record by throwing out nine first pitches between 1933 and 1941. Then in 1942, when the commissioner of baseball wrote to Roosevelt about whether to discontinue baseball for the duration of the war, FDR replied in a letter saying, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going.”
    • Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

      Photo via Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress

    • President Harry S. Truman threw out seven first pitches while in office, but his most memorable game was opening day 1950, when the president threw out two balls — one from his left hand and one from his right. Truman’s wife, Bess, was an avid Kansas City Royals fan, and some said a bigger fan of the game than her husband.
    • Photo by Abbie Rowe via Truman Presidential Library

      Photo by Abbie Rowe via Truman Presidential Library

    • President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a baseball player himself in his youth, kept the tradition going strong throughout his two terms in office. Eisenhower once said, “not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest.”
    • Photo via Eisenhower Presidential Library

      Photo via Eisenhower Presidential Library

    • Having grown up in Brookline, Massachusetts, President John F. Kennedy was a die-hard Red Sox fan. President Kennedy threw out three first pitches before he was assassinated in 1963.
    • Photo by Robert L. Knudsen via JFK National Archives

      Photo by Robert L. Knudsen via JFK National Archives

    • Like Eisenhower, President Lyndon Johnson played baseball in high school. LBJ threw out three first pitches in Washington during his presidency, and attended the first baseball game at the now-demolished Houston Astrodome.
    • Photo by Arnold Sachs/Getty Images

      Photo by Arnold Sachs/Getty Images

    • President Richard Nixon was perhaps the biggest baseball fan among the U.S. presidents. He was even offered a job as Commissioner of Major League Baseball after resigning the presidency. Nixon once said, “I don’t know a lot about politics, but I know a lot about baseball.”
    • Photo via Library of Congress

      Photo via Library of Congress

    • President Gerald Ford never threw out a first pitch in the nation’s capital, but he did continue the custom at a Texas Rangers game and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in 1976.
    • Photo by MLB Photos via Getty Image

      Photo by MLB Photos via Getty Image

    • President Jimmy Carter only managed to throw out one first pitch while president, during the World Series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
    • Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

      Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

    • President Ronald Reagan’s first ceremonial pitch happened in Baltimore, when the president arrived unannounced. Reagan watched the remainder of the game from the dugout.
    • Photo via Reagan Presidential Library

      Photo via Reagan Presidential Library

    • President George H. W. Bush was the captain of the Yale baseball team and even went to the College World series in 1947. President Bush threw out four first pitches during his time in office.
    • Photo via George H.W. Bush National Archives

      Photo via George H.W. Bush National Archives

    • President Bill Clinton was the first president to successfully throw from the pitcher’s mound to the catcher, during the Orioles’ opening day in 1993.
    • Photo by Scott Wachter//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

      Photo by Scott Wachter//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

    • President George W. Bush, like his father, was an avid baseball fan, and threw out seven first pitches while in office. President Bush is also a former owner of the Texas Rangers.
    • White House photo

      White House photo

    • President Barack Obama has thrown out two first pitches while in office, the second on the 100th anniversary of President Taft’s first pitch. President Obama is an ardent White Sox fan.
    • U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Selby

      U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Selby

    The post Baseball: the presidents’ pastime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Creative Commons image by Carol Moshier via flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/carol_moshier/

    Creative Commons image by Carol Moshier via flickr

    Stand aside, measly two or three: Eating seven or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day may reduce the risk of death by any health-related cause by 42 percent, according to a new study.

    “We all know that eating fruit and vegetables is healthy, but the size of the effect is staggering,” said Dr. Oyinlola Oyebode, the study’s lead author. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age.”

    Researchers at the University College of London surveyed the eating habits of more than 65,000 people between 2001 and 2003. Science Daily reports the study is the first to directly associate fruits and vegetables with all-cause, cancer and heart disease deaths in a nationally-representative population.

    Vegetables were found to have a stronger protective effect than fruit. Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, were found to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

    The USDA suggests that eating at least two and a half cups of vegetables and fruits per day could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer . But most Americans average just over one and a half servings of vegetables a day, and eat more than the recommend amounts of meats and added sugars.

    The post Breaking: Extra fruits and veggies may be extra good for you appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    It’s a scene few would have predicted six months ago.

    President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon, basking in the glow of the April sunshine and the welcome news that the Affordable Care Act surpassed 7 million enrollments before the March 31 deadline.

    “No, the Affordable Care Act hasn’t fixed our long-broken health care system, but this law has made our broken system a lot better,” the president said, touting 7.1 million sign ups despite the rocky rollout of the health care website in October of last year.

    House Speaker John Boehner said Monday that Republicans would “continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences.” And on the same day House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan unveiled a budget that would repeal the law, Mr. Obama rejected that strategy.

    “The debate over repealing this law is over,” the president insisted. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

    Mr. Obama, who struck a triumphant and aggressive tone, said opponents of the law “who have based their entire political agenda on repealing it” must explain why they want to do away with a policy that is helping so many Americans.

    Mr. Obama chided opponents of the law as telling “tall tales” that have been debunked.

    “There are still no death panels,” he said. “Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years, it’ll help millions more.”

    Ahead of the speech the top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is up for reelection this year, called the law “a catastrophe for the country.”

    “We don’t know how many have paid,” McConnell added. “What we do know is that all across the country, our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with ‘Obamacare.’”

    That’s despite the health exchange in McConnell’s home state being heralded as one of the more successful state exchanges in the country.

    Republicans are also pointing to a soon-to-be-published study from RAND that claims two-thirds of the sign-ups were from people, who previously had health insurance, but then lost it because of the law’s requirements.

    The administration does not outright reject the numbers, but one official pushed back, pointing out that the rate of uninsured dropped significantly between the last quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of this year, and that “plans in marketplace have consumer protections and quality coverage,” unlike the catastrophic plans many of the previously insured were on.

    Neither the insurance industry nor the administration has yet provided official figures on what percentage of those enrolled were previously uninsured. And, as noted, the RAND study itself has not been published publicly yet, either.

    The president’s victory lap comes as the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday found Americans feeling more positively toward the law, with 49 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.

    Most recent surveys have shown a less rosy picture. But Democrats hope that other surveys begin to reflect similar findings and would improve their political standing ahead of the November midterm elections.

    Still, Mr. Obama noted of Democrats who worked hard to pass the law, some of whom have suffered politically, “They should be proud of what they’ve done. They should be proud of what they’ve done.”

    The post President Obama takes health care victory lap appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Image by the PBS NewsHour

    Image by the PBS NewsHour

    The Obama administration has conducted warrantless searches of Americans’ communications as part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations that target foreigners located outside of the U.S., the administration’s top intelligence official confirmed in a letter to Congress disclosed Tuesday.

    These searches were authorized by a secret surveillance court in 2011, but it was unclear until Tuesday whether any such searches on Americans had been conducted.

    The recent acknowledgement of warrantless searches on Americans offers more insight into U.S. government surveillance operations put in place after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The government has broadly interpreted these laws to allow for the collection of communications of innocent Americans, practices the Obama administration maintain are legal. But President Barack Obama has promised to review some of these programs to determine whether the government should be conducting this type of surveillance at all.

    “Senior officials have sometimes suggested that government agencies do not deliberately read Americans’ emails, monitor their online activity or listen to their phone calls without a warrant,” Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado said in a joint statement. “However, the facts show that those suggestions were misleading, and that intelligence agencies have indeed conducted warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.”

    Wyden has pressed the administration on whether these searches on Americans have occurred. In a March 28 letter to Wyden, James Clapper, the government’s top intelligence official, said the NSA has searched for Americans’ communications within information it collected when it targeted foreigners located outside the U.S. In his letter, Clapper also pointed to a declassified document released last August that also acknowledged the use of such searches and stated that these searches were reviewed, and there was no finding of wrongdoing. It was unclear how often these searches are conducted.

    Documents disclosed last year by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden showed that the government collects mass amounts of data from major Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook through one of its programs designed to target communications of foreigners located outside the U.S.

    The government is not allowed to use this authority to collect Americans’ communications, but conversations of innocent Americans are collected inadvertently. When this happens, the NSA is required to take certain measures to hide the communications of Americans that have nothing to do with foreign intelligence.

    In 2011, the government sought and received approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search for Americans within the communications it already possessed through its collection of conversations of foreigners outside the U.S. Such searches would only be permissible if there were a foreign intelligence purpose.

    Former NSA deputy director Chris Inglis said this authority might be used to search for the target of a terrorist attack. As an example, Inglis said if the government was concerned that terrorists were plotting to attack the New York Stock Exchange, the NSA could search for the term “New York Stock Exchange” among the conversations it collected in its targeting of foreigners overseas.

    Wyden, Udall and other civil liberties advocates call this type of search a back-door loophole in the law that governs surveillance of Americans.

    “If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the Fourth Amendment requires that the government secure a warrant or emergency authorization before monitoring his or her communications,” Wyden and Udall said.

    The Obama administration contends the searches are legal because they are searching information they lawfully obtained.

    The post Top U.S. intel officer confirms warrantless searches of Americans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    At least three are confirmed dead and two are missing after the Baltic Breeze, a Singapore-flagged vehicle carrier, collided with a fishing boat in Spanish water early in the morning Tuesday, April 1. Five crew members were rescued.

    “The fishing boat and the cargo ship were alerted” to try to avoid the crash, coastguard official Jose Maria Suarez-Llanos told Spanish television. “But in the end it was inevitable because they were very close, we do not know why.”

    Divers have been brought in to inspect the damage to the Baltic Breeze’s bow. At 541 feet, the empty cargo ship is nearly five times the length of the Mar de Marlin fishing trawler.

    The post Fishing boat collides with cargo ship; three dead appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An 8.2 magnitude earthquake, with at least 60 aftershocks and minor earthquakes, struck 55 miles off the coast of Chile, prompting evacuations until early Wednesday.

    Tsunami warnings were placed on several areas in northern Chile overnight and more than 900,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas of Chile’s coast as a result.

    By Wednesday morning, Chile’s Interior Ministry lifted all warnings for the entire country. Residents have returned home and the overnight earthquake, Reuters reports, appears to have caused only limited structural damage.

    Mike Simons, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey told The Associated Press that this earthquake has proven to not be the large quake experts forecast will hit South America’s coastline. “Could be tomorrow, could be in 50 years; we do not know when it’s going to occur,” Simons said. “But the key point here is that this magnitude-8.2 is not the large earthquake that we were expecting for this area.”

    The Santiago Times, Chile’s English-language newspaper, reports that as of Wednesday, the Interior Ministry confirmed five deaths and three serious injuries connected to the earthquake were caused by heart attacks and falling debris. The Associated Press reports six people have been killed.

    President Michelle Bachelet declared parts of Chile as a disaster zone, promising emergency military support to maintain public order. More than 300 inmates at a women’s jail in Iquique escaped during the evacuation of the prison. According to The Santiago Times, local press have also reported instances of looting.

    As of Wednesday morning, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center still has a tsunami advisory in effect for Hawaii, cautioning against swimming and boating activities, which will be hazardous as large waves threaten the entire state.

    The post Chile lifts tsunami warnings after 8.2 magnitude earthquake; Hawaii braces for potential tsunami waves appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 04/02/14--11:44: Is pot getting more potent?
  • The average potency of pot has more than tripled in the past two decades, studies show. Photo by Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor.

    The average potency of pot has more than tripled in the past two decades, studies show. Photo by Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor.

    The average potency of pot has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to testing done for the federal government. This comes just over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized the drug and as many other states consider making it legal for medical or recreational use.

    Scientists determine potency by measuring levels of THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its “high.” And data from the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring program found that the average potency of marijuana has jumped from 3.4 percent THC in 1993 to 12.3 percent THC in 2012. Scientists at the lab say they’ve seen samples as high as 36 percent.

    This month’s “High Times” magazine, with a cover promoting “The Strongest Strains on Earth,” claims to have analyzed 15 strains of pot with potencies ranging between 25 to 28 percent THC. Marijuana near that strength can be bought at many legal retail shops and medical dispensaries across the U.S.

    A quick bit of botany: The two main species of the Cannabis plant, Cannabis indica and Cannibas sativa, produce different kinds of highs. Most varieties of pot sold today are hybrids of both. Effects of either can include “altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Newer strains of marijuana have different effects than those of the 1970s and 1980s, when THC averaged roughly 3 percent.

    Indica is described as having a calming, relaxing, and narcotic effect, while sativa is said to have a more uplifting, stimulating, or “cerebral” effect.

    Increasing the potency of the THC in marijuana plants means an increasing intensity of those effects.

    As Colorado and Washington began selling legal marijuana, the NewsHour traveled to the Netherlands — the one nation that’s been openly selling pot for more than 40 years.

    So what explains the rise in potency? Consumer demand is clearly one driver.

    “I see people walk in all the time saying, ‘Give me the strongest thing you have,’” says Tim Cullen, co-owner of Evergreen Apothecary, which runs two retail marijuana stores in Colorado. “It’s bizarre … Can you imagine being in a liquor store and having someone say, ‘Just give me your strongest stuff?’ But for now, that’s what a lot of people seem to want.”

    And marijuana growers have clearly been working to meet the demand. Robert MacCoun, a behavioral scientist at U.C. Berkeley who has studied drug policy here and abroad, calls it an “arms race,” in which growers strive to create the highest-octane varieties, and then bestow awards on themselves at the annual Cannabis Cup competition.


    “The unfortunate aspect of this arms race is that they’re finally turning the drug into everything the U.S. government once said it was,” MacCoun says. “It used to be we could say the government exaggerated the threat of this ‘crazy weed,’ but these new potent strains belie that.”

    Others say the U.S. government’s war on drugs has had the unintended effect of driving up potency.

    “This is a problem of our drug policies, not a problem of the drug,” says Julie Holland, a psychiatrist, drug researcher, and editor of “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis.” Because marijuana is still considered illegal by the federal government, she says, growers and sellers have an incentive to pack more potency into a smaller volume. And that’s a problem, she adds:

    “Because it’s illegal, you have no idea what you’re getting. If it were legal and could be taxed and regulated, it would be safer.”

    While many consider pot far less harmful than legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol, it can pose risks to adolescents, pregnant women, and those with the potential for certain mental disorders like schizophrenia, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

    NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow believes higher potencies may exacerbate some of marijuana’s harms, triggering more feelings of paranoia and panic attacks in certain users.

    “You become paranoid, you think that people are persecuting you and you get very, very anxious and you end up in the emergency room,” Dr. Volkow says. “[But] that usually resolves pretty rapidly.”

    Of greater concern, says Volkow, is rising admissions to drug treatment programs where marijuana is cited as the main problem. This too she attributes to the drug’s potency.

    “There really hasn’t been an increase in the number of people smoking marijuana,” Dr. Volkow says. “What has changed is the potency of the marijuana that individuals are exposed to.”

    Critics of this argument, like the Drug Policy Alliance, argue that the growing number of treatment admissions have nothing to do with potency, and are instead a by-product of the war on drugs where those arrested for marijuana possession are diverted into treatment by the courts. The Alliance writes: “increasing admissions for treatment are a reflection of the criminal justice system’s predominant role, rather than increasing rates of clinical dependence.”

    As to whether higher potency mean it’s more addictive, that’s unclear.

    NIDA states that 9 percent of people who are exposed to marijuana will become addicted to it. While that’s a much lower rate than that of drugs like cocaine, which has a 17 percent addiction rate, or heroin at 23 percent, Dr. Volkow believes that more potency may be linked to higher addiction rates, though she admits there’s no good evidence connecting the two.

    “[It’s] indirect evidence that there may be a linkage between the potency and its addictiveness,” she says.

    A recent small study conducted in the Netherlands indicates that the way a user smokes marijuana – how frequently they take puffs, and how much of a cigarette they consume – might be a better predictor of marijuana dependence than potency, though these results haven’t been replicated elsewhere.

    “What you worry about with dependence is, what does it look like if you abruptly stop?” Holland says. And withdrawing from marijuana, she says, is not nearly as difficult, or dangerous, as withdrawing from heroin or alcohol. “Abrupt cessation of alcohol is potentially lethal. Abrupt cessation of cannabis? … If you use pot every night to put yourself to sleep and then you don’t have any pot, then you may have trouble falling asleep. If you use pot every day to treat your nausea or your pain and you don’t have any pot, you’re going to be nauseous and in pain.”

    But if marijuana is stronger, won’t users just consume less of it?

    That’s what Columbia University neuroscientist Carl Hart says he’s documented in his work. Hart (also an author who has been critical of U.S. drug policy) has performed numerous cognitive experiments with marijuana. He believes that when experienced users are given stronger pot, they simply smoke less.

    Hart says when marijuana is smoked, the drug’s effects are felt almost immediately, so users know when they’ve had enough. When test subjects in his lab are given marijuana cigarettes with relatively low THC levels, they’ll smoke the entire cigarette. “But when you increase the THC, half the cigarette comes back,” says Hart. “They don’t smoke it all.”

    In fact, Hart believes there might even be a health benefit to stronger marijuana. “If you inhale less, it might reduce toxicity in the lungs,” he says.

    But Volkow says not all users are able to ‘titrate’ – or modulate – their intake. “If you are a regular user and an expert on how you’re expected to feel with marijuana, you may be able to titrate,” she says. “But if you are not such an expert, how are you going to?”

    Plus, modulating your intake of THC is also much harder if you’re eating rather than smoking it.

    In Colorado, where retail shops have been selling legal pot for several months, edible marijuana products have become hugely popular. In these ‘edibles’ – which can feature marijuana-laced cookies or chocolates or gum drops — the entire dose of THC is contained in just a few bites, and when eaten, the drug’s effects take longer to register on the user. So even though it’s virtually impossible to overdose on marijuana, someone eating THC could end up consuming far more of the drug than intended.

    In fact, a recent investigation by the Denver Post found “blatant misstatements” about the actual levels of THC in a range of edible products being sold presently in Colorado. Many of the products were far weaker than their labels claimed, but alarmingly, several of the products had THC levels almost 50 percent higher than advertised.

    The post Is pot getting more potent? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Norrie, who uses only a first name and does not identify as either male or female, poses for a photograph in Redfern near Sydney. Photo by Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

    Norrie, who uses only a first name and does not identify as either male or female, poses for a photograph in Redfern near Sydney. Photo by Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

    Australia’s supreme court has ruled that New South Whales must recognize gender neutrality in addition to categorizing people as male or female.

    The decision came after a long legal battle in the country’s southeastern state where Norrie, a Scottish-Australian transsexual, first applied for legal status as neither a man nor a woman. The New South Whales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages first approved Norrie’s “non-specific” sex, but revoked it shortly after saying the decision had been an error.

    Despite a gender reassignment surgery in 1989, Norrie does not live within concrete gender roles and appealed the registrar’s decision in 2012. When the court ruled in Norrie’s favor, it was appealed to the high court where it was upheld by a unanimous vote.

    “Norrie’s sex remained ambiguous so that it would be to record misinformation in the register to classify her as male or female,” the ruling said.

    The court also ordered the registrar to refund Norrie’s four years of court fees.

    “People seem to be able to accommodate the truth,” Norrie said of the court’s decision. “I’m not the first person like this in society, I’m the one that happened to put my hand up for this particular case.”

    “It’s important for people to have equal rights in society,” Norrie added. “Why should people be left out because they’re seen as not male or female? They should be recognized wherever they are and allowed to participate in society at an equal level.”

    The Guardian reports that several countries already recognized alternative genders. Germany was the first to provide an “undetermined” option on birth registrations.

    The post Australia’s high court rules in favor of gender neutrality appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Applicants wait in line to meet potential employers at the Diversity Job Fair in 2012 in New York City. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    Applicants wait in line to meet potential employers at the Diversity Job Fair in 2012 in New York City. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — While unemployment has been a major impediment to African-Americans’ economic progress, underemployment is a bigger obstacle for them than it is for whites or Hispanics, the National Urban League says in its latest State of Black America report.

    The annual report, called “One Nation Underemployed: Jobs Rebuild America,” noted that African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for blacks was 12 percent in February, compared to 5.8 percent for whites.

    The underemployment rate for African-American workers was 20.5 percent, the report said, compared to 18.4 percent for Hispanic workers and 11.8 percent for white workers. Underemployment is defined as those who are jobless or working part-time jobs but desiring full-time work.

    In February, we reported on groups who have higher unemployment rates than the national average, including minorities and young Americans.

    “The post-recession economy is leaving too many people behind,” National Urban League President Marc Morial said.

    Despite the dismal numbers, an analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found African-Americans significantly more optimistic about their future standard of living than whites, regardless of income level, education, or partisanship. Overall, 71 percent of blacks surveyed in the 2012 General Social Survey agreed that they have a good chance of improving their standard of living, outpacing the share among whites by 25 percentage points.

    The survey found high optimism even among blacks who say racism is a cause for economic inequality.

    Such findings illustrate “a level of optimism in the African-American community and it’s important to lift that up,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which released similar findings this week in separate research.

    The National Urban League is pushing for several economic measures, including an increase in the minimum wage, an issue being debated in Congress. Democrats backed by President Barack Obama want to force election-year votes on gradually increasing today’s minimum to $10.10 by 2016, an effort that seems likely to fail in Congress. Republicans generally oppose the proposal, saying it would cost too many jobs.

    “More must be done in post-recession America to try to help people and help communities close these gaps,” Morial said.

    The National Urban League derives its numbers from an “equality index” that is based on nationally collected data from federal agencies including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    With full equality with whites in economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement set at 100 percent, the National Urban League said this year’s equality index for blacks stands at 71.2 percent, a slight improvement over last year’s index of 71.0 percent. However, the economic portion of the index dropped from 56.3 percent to 55.5 percent.

    The equality index for Hispanics improved to 75.8 percent, compared to 74.6 percent last year, while the Hispanic economics index declined from 60.8 percent to 60.6 percent.

    The report for the first time ranked large American cities from most equal to least equal when it comes to income equality and unemployment equality.

    Memphis, Tenn., ranked the most equal for Hispanics when it came to unemployment equality, because in that city the Latino unemployment rate was only 3.8 percent, compared with a 6.5 percent unemployment rate for whites. For blacks, the Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., metropolitan area was most equal, with a 13.3 percent unemployment rate for blacks and an 8.5 percent unemployment rate for whites.

    When it came to income, the most equal city for blacks was Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., where the median black household income was $44,572, while the median white household brought in $57,252. For Hispanics, Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., was most equal, with median Hispanic income of $39,434 and median white income of $44,014.

    The post Post-recession economy leaving many blacks behind, Urban League reports appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Russian soldiers patrol the area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, on March 20, 2014. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

    Russian soldiers patrol the area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, on March 20, 2014. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The estimated 40,000 Russian troops poised along the border with Ukraine are capable of executing an attack order on 12 hours’ notice, according to the American general who commands all NATO forces in Europe.

    In remarks to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Reuters news agency, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said that despite Russian claims it was beginning to withdraw troops, it is not yet apparent that any significant number are leaving the border area.

    Breedlove’s statements were confirmed Wednesday by a U.S. defense official in Brussels who is familiar with the general’s comments.

    According to the official, Breedlove said the Russian force is well-equipped and capable of achieving Russian military objectives in Ukraine or beyond within three to five days.

    In response to Russia’s troop buildup, the U.S. has sought to reassure its NATO allies in Eastern Europe by reinforcing aspects of the U.S. military presence, including the temporary addition of F-16 fighter jets at a training base in Poland.

    On Wednesday a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, said the U.S. intends to soon send a Navy ship into the Black Sea as an additional gesture intended to underscore the U.S. commitment to defend European allies.

    Ukraine is not a member of NATO but is associated with the alliance through other arrangements. On Tuesday two senior American defense officials met with Ukrainian officials in Kiev to discuss the current crisis.

    In his interviews with The New York Times and other news organizations, Breedlove highlighted his concern that the Russians may not be carrying out their promised partial withdrawal of troops from the Ukrainian border region.

    “What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” the Times quoted him as saying. A battalion generally numbers between 500 and 800 troops.

    Breedlove said the Russian force is a mix of planes, helicopters, artillery, infantry and commandos. And they are backed up by a considerable support force that would enable the combat forces to move quickly into Ukraine or beyond, he added.

    The post NATO commander: Russian troops near Ukraine could attack on 12 hours’ notice appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A contact sheet shows images of U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressing the nation about the Iran Hostage Crisis in November, 1980. Photo: U.S. National Archives

    A contact sheet shows images of U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressing the nation about the Iran Hostage Crisis in November, 1980. Photo: U.S. National Archives

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is troubled by Iran’s choice for its ambassador to the United Nations and has raised concerns to Tehran about the nomination.

    Hamid Aboutalebi was a member of a Muslim student group that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

    State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf isn’t saying whether the U.S. would refuse to grant a visa to the envoy.

    The U.N. headquarters are in New York, and because the U.S. is the host nation for the U.N., Harf says that the U.S. generally is obligated to admit the chosen representatives of U.N. member states.

    But she does cite limited exceptions to that policy — but isn’t saying whether Aboutalebi’s case might be among them.

    The post Iran’s new ambassador to the U.N. held Americans hostage in 1979 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The head of the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday that sanctions imposed on Russia from the European Union and the U.S. have had a clear effect on the country.

    IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde spoke to Judy Woodruff about the diplomatic crisis following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and how subsequent sanctions have affected the Russian economy.

    “There has clearly been consequences from the talk of sanctions and from the sanctions themselves,” she said.

    You can watch the full interview with Lagarde Wednesday on the PBS NewsHour.

    The post IMF head Lagarde: Russia feeling the effects of U.S., European sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Italian officials unveil the recently recovered post-Impressionist works of Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

    Italian officials unveil the recently recovered post-Impressionist works of Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

    For decades, the kitchen of a retired Italian factory worker unwittingly held the secret to a 1970 art heist in London.

    On its walls hung two post-Impressionist paintings: one a still life oil-on-canvas by Paul Gauguin, now worth an estimated $14 to $40 million; the second a painting by Pierre Bonnard depicting a little girl in an orchard, currently valued at about $800,000. The paintings were unveiled by officials in Rome on Wednesday after the unnamed autoworker discovered what he had hanging in his kitchen.

    Italian Culture minister Dario Franceschini stands next to to the painting by French artist Paul Gauguin 'Fruits sur une table ou nature morte au petit chien.' Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

    Italian Culture minister Dario Franceschini stands next to to the painting by French artist Paul Gauguin ‘Fruits sur une table ou nature morte au petit chien.’ Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

    The man was the winning bidder at a 1975 auction of unclaimed lost-and-found items by the Italian national railway. He paid 45,000 Italian lire for the two paintings, the equivalent of $100 dollars at the time. He recently told authorities he had no idea of their value, but bought them because he loved art.

    Italian authorities speculated the paintings were abandoned by thieves traveling on a train from Paris, France to Turin, Italy once they realized they’d have to go through a border check.

    The paintings were stolen from a London home in 1970. The thieves posed as burglar alarm engineers, The New York Times reported that year, and distracted the housekeeper by asking for tea, before nabbing the paintings.

    Italian police believe the owners were American author and socialite Terence Kennedy and his wife Mathilda Marks, the daughter of British businessman Michael Marks. Both have since died, leaving it unclear who the rightful heirs are.

    The post Italian kitchen holds secret to decades-old art heist appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Participants in 2010’s Afghan parliamentary election hold up proof that they voted. Elections to be held April 5 have inspired a wave of Taliban-led violence. Photo by Sgt. Katryn McCalment

    Participants in 2010’s Afghan parliamentary election hold up proof that they voted. Elections to be held April 5 have inspired a wave of Taliban-led violence. Photo by Sgt. Katryn McCalment

    A suicide attack in Kabul killed at least seven people including the bomber Wednesday, three days out from Afghanistan’s presidential election.

    Local officials said a bomber, clad in a military uniform, was attempting to enter the Interior Ministry compound when he detonated his devices, killing at least six policemen. The Taliban claimed responsibility moments later.

    The attack is part of a wave of Taliban-led violence in advance of Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election, including attacks on campaign workers and election officials, and an assault on a Kabul hotel that left nine people, including four foreigners and two children, dead.

    On Tuesday a candidate for the provincial council and nine of his supporters were abducted and killed in Northern Afghanistan, CNN reports.

    Saturday’s elections are seen as particularly important to US-Afghan relations at a time of increasing tensions between the two countries. Although the White House does not endorse candidates, President Obama has made clear his hope that the next Afghan leader will sign a Bilateral Security Agreement, BSA, allowing U.S. forces to remain in the country after 2014, something President Hamid Karzai has expressly refused to do.

    “If there is … a refusal to engage in negotiations, you could see political support disappear in the U.S. and other countries,” said former senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy. “That would put whatever government emerges in a crisis situation.”

    Meanwhile, the Taliban has decried the election as “fake,” warning in a statement that, until Saturday, “Every official and every voting center will be in danger and a surge of attacks will start all over the country.”

    The post Kabul suicide attack latest in Afghan pre-election violence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Video by Associated Press

    ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Pressing his economic case in an election year, President Barack Obama came to Michigan on Wednesday to praise the state’s ongoing effort to raise the minimum wage — and to accuse Republicans who oppose that step in Michigan and in Congress of standing in the way of prosperity for millions of Americans.

    An upbeat Obama struck a distinctly partisan tone at the University of Michigan, a day after his administration received an unexpected burst of good news when his health care law beat expectations for its first year of enrollment. Addressing a crowd of about 1,400 in a stadium that included many students, Obama cracked jokes about his GOP foes as he touted his plan to raise federal wages to $10.10 per hour.

    “You’ve got a choice. You can give America the shaft, or you can give it a raise,” Obama said.

    At Obama’s side for his three-hour visit to this Midwest battleground state was Rep. Gary Peters, a Senate candidate embracing the chance to appear with the president before voters this year. Some other Democrats have shied away from Obama amid controversy over his health care plan, but Peters opted to appear with Obama as the president echoed his State of the Union affirmation that no American working full time should live in poverty.

    “It would lift millions of people out of poverty right away,” the president said of his proposal. “It would help millions more work their way out of poverty right away.”

    Michigan also has an effort to put a measure on the November ballot to increase the state minimum wage $7.40 to $10.10 an hour, an initiative that polling shows is popular among voters who have been hit hard by the economic downturn in recent years.

    Nationally, Obama wants to increase the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 as part of an election-year economic agenda focused on working families. The White House says that would benefit more than 970,000 workers in Michigan.

    The Senate could vote on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 as early as next week. The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, said Wednesday that if Republicans block Democrats’ efforts he would be open to negotiating a compromise.

    One potential compromise could involve moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins. The Maine lawmaker, who is facing re-election this year, said she’s talked to senators of both parties about a smaller minimum wage increase plus renewing tax breaks for small businesses that buy new equipment or hire veterans. She declined to provide details and said her plan could change.

    “What we know for certain is $10.10 isn’t going to get through the Senate, much less the House,” she said, referring to the GOP-run chamber. House leaders have expressed opposition to that proposal. She said the choice was between trying to craft a bill that might pass, “or do some members simply want one vote and a political issue?”

    On their way to the campus, Obama and Peters stopped at Zingerman’s Deli, an Ann Arbor landmark, where they ordered Reuben sandwiches and were served by a Michigan graduate who makes $9 an hour – a rate above the current federal minimum wage. “That’s worth celebrating,” Obama said.

    Peters could benefit from the publicity that a presidential visit brings, since he has not been elected statewide and polls show many voters are unfamiliar with him. Asked whether he was concerned about absorbing backlash from Obama’s unpopular health care law, Peters stressed the president’s economic message.

    “I’m happy to be with the president. I work with the president on issues that are important to middle class families here in Michigan and families who aspire to be in the middle class,” Peters said as Obama prepared to take the stage.

    Michigan voted for Obama in both his presidential campaigns and his bailout of the auto industry has been popular here. Still, appearing with Obama is not without risk.

    An EPIC/MRA poll of voters in the state taken in February showed 61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Obama’s job performance, verses 37 percent positive. The same poll found Peters and his Republican component separated by just a few points in a competitive race.

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who supports a higher minimum wage and is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, also planned to meet with Obama while he was in Michigan, his campaign said.

    Obama also plans to travel to his hometown of Chicago for two evening fundraisers benefiting the Democratic National Committee. The first is a private roundtable discussion being attended by about 25 supporters who contributed up to $32,400. The second, at the Lincoln Park home of Obama donors Grace Tsao-Wu and Craig Freedman, is a dinner reception with about 55 supporters contributing up to $10,000 apiece.
    Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post Obama stumps for higher minimum wage in Michigan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ukraine’s economy can’t make necessary reforms without a lifeline from the IMF or others in the international community, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told Judy Woodruff in an interview in Washington, DC today. Corruption, bad monetary policy and other issues have limited Ukraine’s economy, and the current government crisis has disconnected the struggling nation from international financial markets.

    But to qualify for aid, the IMF is requiring Ukraine to conform to strict qualifications.

    Watch Judy’s full interview with Lagarde tonight on the PBS NewsHour. Find us on your local PBS Station and live online at 6 p.m. ET.

    The post IMF director Lagarde: Ukraine needs to make tough reforms as part of loan conditions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Providing financial stability to countries around the world is a powerful tool for the U.S. in international relations, says IMF head Christine Lagarde. The U.S. Congress missed an opportunity to build a more stable, more solid institution by limiting IMF reforms, when it passed a bill supplying $1 billion in aid for Ukraine last week.

    Watch Judy’s full interview with Lagarde tonight on the PBS NewsHour. Find us on your local PBS Station and live online at 6 p.m. ET.

    The post IMF director Lagarde: Congress made mistake by not voting for IMF changes as part of Ukraine Aid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Fort Hood reported to local authorities that an active shooter was on the Texas Army base, Bell County Sheriff’s Office said late Wednesday.

    The Texas Department of Public Safety has dispatched deputies and troopers to the scene, the Associated Press reports. FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee told the AP that it has also sent agents.

    Urgent messages also appeared on the base’s Twitter feed, Facebook page and website, ordering everyone on lockdown. A spokesman for the base declined to comment, the AP reports.

    A mass shooting occurred on the base in 2009 when Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire on Ft. Hood, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 30 others.

    Ft. Hood’s press office released the following statement on its website:

    FORT HOOD, Texas — There has been a shooting at Fort Hood and injuries are reported. Emergency crews are on the scene. No further details are know at this time.

    As further details are available, they will be released through FortHoodPressCenter.com.

    The post Active shooter reported at Ft. Hood appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A federal judge in Texas halted two planned executions Wednesday because the source and additional details about the lethal drug were not disclosed.

    U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ruled that it violates the inmates’ constitutional rights for the state prison system to conceal detailed information, including the source, about the lethal drug.

    The supply of pentobarbital that Texas had been using for executions expired April 1, so the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, TDCJ, received a new supply of the drug, but did not disclose the source. The state prison agency said that releasing information about the lethal drugs, including details on the supplier, has jeopardized the safety and reputations of pharmacies or companies who sell the drug, Austin American-Statesman reports.

    Gilmore ordered TDCJ to disclose — under seal, so not available for the public –- the supplier and other details about the lethal drug. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office informed the attorneys and the court Wednesday that it will appeal the decision.

    The execution of two prisoners, Tommy Lynn Sells and Ramiro Hernadez Llanas, had originally been scheduled for April 3 and April 9, respectively.

    The post Judge stays two Texas executions over state’s refusal to reveal drug source appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Jeff Buckley’s 1994 single, “Hallelujah,” is one of 25 new entries inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. Video by VEVO

    The Library of Congress announced Wednesday that it was inducting 25 new sound recordings into the National Recording Registry — bringing the collection’s total to 400 pieces.

    Sound recordings chosen for the National Recording Registry, according to the Library of Congress, are selected to “be preserved as cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape.”

    “These recordings represent an important part of America’s culture and history,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, in a statement. “As technology continually changes and formats become obsolete, we must ensure that our nation’s aural legacy is protected. The National Recording Registry is at the core of this effort.”

    The inductees include a mix of multiple types of recordings. For music, both singles — such as Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” — and albums — such as “The Joshua Tree” from U2 were chosen. An episode of 1926 to 1949 radio program “The Goldbergs” made the cut, in addition to political comedy album “The First Family.” Also chosen were 1960s interviews with baseball players of yesteryear and phone recordings from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

    The 2014 inductions include:

    • “The Laughing Song” | single | George Washington Johnson | 1896
    • “They Didn’t Believe Me” | single | Harry Macdonough and Alice Green | 1915
    • “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” | singles | Bing Crosby; Rudy Vallee | 1932
    • “Franz Boas and George Herzog Recordings of Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Dan Cranmer (1938)
    • “Were You There” | Single | Roland Hayes (1940)
    • “The Goldbergs”: Sammy Goes Into the Army | Radio Episode | July 9, 1942
    • “Caldonia” | Single | Louis Jordan | 1945
    • “Dust My Broom” | single | Elmore James | 1951
    • “A Night at Birdland” (Vols. 1 and 2) | Albums | Art Blakey | 1954
    • “When I Stop Dreaming” | single | The Louvin Brothers | 1955
    • “Cathy’s Clown” | single | The Everly Brothers | 1960
    • “Texas Sharecropper and Songster” | album | Mance Lipscomb | 1960
    • “The First Family” | Album | 1962
    • Interviews with Baseball Pioneers of the Late 19th and Early 20th Century | Oral History | Lawrence Ritter | 1962-1966
    • Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson | Nov. 22, 1963 – Jan. 10, 1969)
    • “Carnegie Hall Concert with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos” | album | Buck Owens and His Buckaroos | 1966
    • “Fortunate Son” | single | Creedence Clearwater Revival | 1969
    • “Theme from ‘Shaft’” | album | Isaac Hayes | 1971
    • “Only Visiting This Planet” | album | Larry Norman | 1972
    • “Celia & Johnny” | album | Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco | 1974
    • “Copland Conducts Copland: Appalachian Spring”| album | Aaron Copland | 1974
    • “Heart Like a Wheel” | album | Linda Ronstadt | 1974
    • “Sweeney Todd” | album | Original Cast Recording | 1979
    • “The Joshua Tree” | album | U2 | 1987

    The post National Recording Registry reaches 400 entries as Library of Congress adds 25 recordings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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