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

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    Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff on the set of the PBS NewsHour. Photo by Joshua Barajas

    Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff on the set of the PBS NewsHour. Photo by Joshua Barajas

    Women get fewer bylines in print and online and less time on air than men by a considerable margin, a new study by the Women’s Media Center finds. The report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014, was released today revealing that men receive 63 percent of byline credits in print, Internet and wire news.

    The PBS NewsHour was singled out as a media outlet where female anchors deliver the majority of the news on air, but the report found our format to be the exception to the rule. Men anchor the news across all networks 60 percent of the time.

    The report is accompanied by an infographic that summarizes the numbers, which were culled from 27,000 pieces of content produced from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, “at 20 of the most widely circulated, read, viewed, and listened to TV networks, newspapers, news wires, and online news sites in the United States.” Online, the Huffington Post is credited with nearly achieving gender parity in its bylines, while the New York Times displayed the widest gender gap among daily newspapers.


    Former Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser summarized the motivation for the survey:

    “These findings confirm an ongoing truth that is not just disappointing, but unfortunate for all of us in so many ways,” said Geneva Overholser, who is a Women’s Media Center board member, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and former ombudsman for The Washington Post. “News media are at their best when they call upon the wisdom of all the people whom they serve, when they reflect everyone’s experience and bring in the hopes and dreams and fears of every sort of person. When media are overwhelmingly male (and still, alas, overwhelmingly white), they just aren’t anywhere near as good as they could be.”

    PBS NewsHour executive producer Linda Winslow is quoted in the report speaking about this organization’s leadership role in producing news with a diverse and qualified team of journalists, led by anchors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.

    More than their race and gender, Winslow [said], what won Ifill and Woodruff their current roles was their track record as consummate professionals. “Gwen and Judy have been the heart and soul of ‘NewsHour’ for years. It’s wonderful to … give them an opportunity to provide even more input on the content and direction of the show,” Winslow said. “They were named co-anchors because they are the best qualified journalists.”

    View the complete report online.

    The post Women are outnumbered and underrepresented in the news industry, research finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Joan Stallard (left) of Washington, D.C. discusses the Supreme Court's decision on campaign finance reform Wednesday as Scott Dorn (right) of Washington, D.C. looks on. Photo by Rod Lamkey/Getty Images

    Joan Stallard (left) of Washington, D.C. discusses the Supreme Court’s decision on campaign finance reform Wednesday as Scott Dorn (right) of Washington, D.C. looks on. Photo by Rod Lamkey/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • The fallout from Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision
    • Another shooting at Fort Hood
    • Michelle Nunn launches first TV ad
    • Cruz’s record-setting book deal

    What the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling means – mo’ money, mo’ problems?: The Roberts-led Supreme Court took one more step to loosen campaign finance laws in another 5-4 decision Wednesday. The ruling lifts the cap on the overall total one person can contribute in an election cycle. Previously, between candidates, committees and PACs, a donor could give $123,200 total. Now they can contribute as much as they want. Limits remain in place on how much a donor can give to a single candidate ($5,200 per cycle – $2,600 primary, $2,600 general), party ($32,400 national party, $10,000 state party) or PAC ($5,000). But a donor could conceivably spread the wealth and give millions. It’s not going to mean much for individual candidates, but now national parties won’t have to worry about a donor maxing out. The real boon could be for state parties that are always strapped for cash. A wealthy donor could give the max to every state party, which would be $500,000, more than quadruple the previous overall limit. Want a politician to know your name? Think about how many times these big donors’ names will pop up in FEC filings now. “How many donors will seek to fully exploit the McCutcheon ruling is difficult to predict,” writes Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times. “The existing cap was poorly enforced by the Federal Election Commission: During the 2012 election, according to a study by the Sunlight Foundation, as many as 600 donors appeared to exceed the aggregate contribution cap, most of them Republican donors.” Politico’s James Hohmann, meanwhile, notes that the immediate impact of the ruling on this year’s midterm elections will be minimal.

    The biggest potential consequence might not be this ruling itself but where the court might go from here. It did not strike down the individual contribution limit, but it also didn’t make it untouchable. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Wednesday on MSNBC that he was not in favor of any donor limits, “but that’s not what this case was about.” Proponents of the ruling argued that this would lead to more transparency, but, in reality, it’s just going to lead to more money. Before, donors could give without limit to Super PACs and anonymously to their sister “educational” arms that run as many political ads as the other. Nothing changes that. The ruling essentially boiled down to whether or not you think money corrupts. The majority said no, the dissent said yes.

    Fort Hood shooting: President Barack Obama found himself in an eerily familiar situation Wednesday reacting to a shooting at Fort Hood that left four people dead and more than a dozen wounded. It is the same Texas base where 13 people died after a gunman opened fire in 2009. “Any shooting is troubling. Obviously this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago. We know these families. We know their incredible service to our country and the sacrifices that they make,” the president said during a stop in Chicago. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure that the community at Fort Hood has what it needs to deal with the current situation, but also any potential aftermath.” The Dallas Morning News reports “the gunman was being evaluated for PTSD, but a diagnosis had not been confirmed,” according to the senior officer on the base, Gen. Mark Milley. While the initial focus will center on the investigation of the shooting and the background of the gunman, the episode is also sure to raise questions about mental-health issues experienced by those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, an issue that is not often talked about after more than a decade of war that has stretched the country’s all-volunteer military. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 31 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans said the wars caused them mental and emotional problems. More than four in ten service members reported having outbursts of anger and 45 percent said they experienced relationship problems with their spouse or partner. In 2012, there were 349 military suicides, which outpaced combat fatalities in Afghanistan that year. As the wars wind down, these are grim statistics that political leaders and military officials collectively will have to confront. Ironically, the president noted Wednesday that, for the first time since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, no soldiers were killed in either conflict in the month of March.

    2014 watch – Nunn’s first ad: Watching the latest spot to hit the airwaves in Georgia, you might not know it’s from a Democrat. Michelle Nunn’s first TV ad touts her experience leading former President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, completely ignores her party affiliation, and plays up her outsider bonafides. That’s hardly shocking. Nunn was hit with $150,000 in attack ads tying her to the president’s health care law earlier this week. Republicans are no doubt happy that outside spending has forced Nunn on the air before the primary, but having outraised her GOP competitors at the end of last year, Nunn looks to be in a strong position as the Republicans continue duking it out for the nomination (exhibit A). And as The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Daniel Malloy reminds us, a decent portion of Nunn’s fundraising haul is earmarked for primary spending. The primary is May 20. … In the Pennsylvania governor’s race, Democrat Tom Wolf looks like the favorite now, continuing to lead the primary, 33 percent to 7 percent, over Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Franklin & Marshall poll finds. Wolf is a former state revenue secretary under Ed Rendell (D) and owner of a kitchen cabinet-making company.

    2016 watch – Coming to a CPAC table near you…: Sen. Ted Cruz is likely to pull in a whopping $1.5 million advance for an untitled, unwritten memoir, The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reports. That would be more than Sarah Palin, who got $1.25 million for her book. It’s a reminder that the cult of Cruz is very real with conservatives. Iowa, here he comes… But it makes us wonder: if 2016 doesn’t work out, if he does decide to run, he’s probably a short-timer in the Senate.


    • Grandpa joke of the day: “If this all sounds familiar, it should be familiar because it was their economic plan in the 2012 campaign. It was their economic plan in 2010. It’s like that movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ it’s not funny. If they tried– if they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingermans, they’d have to call it ‘the Stinkburger.’– Or ‘the Meanwich.’” — President Obama on Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget.

    • Billionaire conservative Charles Koch writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday that his engagement in the political process is a fight to restore the principles of a free society.

    • An NPR poll shows the health-care law at 47 percent support, 51 percent opposed. President Obama’s approval is 46 percent, and Democrats lead by just one point, 44 percent to 43 percent, on the generic congressional ballot. Because of the demographics of a midterm and the favorable House map for Republicans, Democrats likely need a bigger lead than that to make a dent in the House.

    • Thanks to Wednesday’s court decision, big donors will no longer be able to say they’re maxed out when candidates come knocking at the door.

    • The Senate is expected to have a final vote on jobless benefits as soon as Thursday. But it is not likely to be taken up by the Republican-led House.

    • The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Thursday to request the White House declassify its 300-page executive summary of Bush-era CIA interrogation tactics. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the Democratic-led committee found not much useful information came of harsh interrogation tactics.

    • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., says he probably won’t run for the Senate in 2016 if he runs for president.

    • Even if Congress isn’t moving forward on a minimum wage hike, states are. There are efforts in eight states to get referendums on the ballot this year.

    • Boston.com’s Zuri Berry reports that David Ortiz’s selfie with the president at Tuesday’s White House ceremony honoring the Boston Red Sox was orchestrated by Samsung, and not a spontaneous act.

    • The New York Times’ Monica Davey looks at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal for fixing the city’s underfunded pension plan that includes higher contributions from city workers and raising property taxes on residents.

    • Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, are out of the running to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas are the remaining contenders.

    • Quinnipiac University’s National Thermometer finds that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the American politician who currently generates the most heat among voters. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ranks second in the survey, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped to ninth after placing first in January.

    • After steadily falling since December, Christie’s approval rating has stabilized at 51 percent, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released Wednesday — but not because the internal report Christie’s administration commissioned exonerated him from the George Washington Bridge scandal. Only 30 percent found it a fair investigation.

    • Hotline’s Karyn Bruggeman explains why “black-and-white attacks” over the Affordable Care Act seen in the Senate landscape “fade to a muddled gray in the nation’s governors’ races.”

    • USA Today’s Susan Davis argues that the GOP’s decision to term-limit their chairmen has only made Congress more ineffective and enhanced the power of K Street.

    • 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:

    The post Supreme Court eases restrictions on campaign cash appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    heroin2WASHINGTON — The government is taking a step to let friends or loved ones treat someone they suspect has overdosed on heroin or powerful painkillers called opioids, while they’re waiting on medical care.

    The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved an overdose antidote that doctors could prescribe for family members or caregivers to keep on hand, in a pocket or medicine cabinet. Called Evzio, it’s a device that automatically injects the right dose of the drug naloxone, a long-used antidote for opioid overdoses.

    Nalaxone has been a mainstay of overdose treatment for years, usually administered by syringe in ambulances or emergency rooms. But with the rise in drug overdose deaths, there has been a growing push to equip more people with the protection as well.

    New, cheaper heroin has flooded drug markets across the nation to serve addicts who are seeking more easily-available drugs after the FDA’s crackdown on prescription painkiller abuse. In February, Jeffrey Brown spoke with National Drug Control Policy director R. Gil Kerlikowske and Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Quinones about why heroin use in America has doubled since 2007 and the deadly consequences for users and addicts.

    The post FDA approves at-home heroin overdose treatment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Portland musician Michael Lewis (right) teaches guitar to an Afghan student. Photo courtesy of Sound Studies Projects

    Portland musician Michael Lewis, right, teaches guitar to an Afghan student. Photo courtesy of Sound Studies Projects

    Like many other boys his age, Humayun Zadran wanted to become a rock star. But he wasn’t allowed to learn Western music while growing up in the conservative climate of Peshawar, Pakistan. Now as an adult living in Afghanistan, he’s created a space where Afghans both young and old can pursue that dream.

    Zadran remembers buying bootleg albums of the bands Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and Led Zeppelin at local music shops but not being able to perform the songs himself. “To acquire an instrument such as a guitar was beyond imagination,” he said via email from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

    Non-religious music was forbidden under Taliban rule from the mid-1990s to 2001. After the restrictions lifted, it didn’t take long for rock music to start gaining fans in Afghanistan, where 64 percent of the 31.8 million population is under age 25.

    Robin Ryczek, a classically trained cellist from the United States, noticed the allure when she started teaching music at an established school in Kabul. Many of her students asked about learning rock and roll, even though it wasn’t part of the school’s curriculum.

    She and Zadran, who met through the music community, decided to oblige the students on an informal basis.

    “Three years ago when the rock scene in Kabul just started brewing, a group of young guys started to show up at our house to learn chords, scales and licks from our musician friends and Robin,” Zadran recalled. “That’s where the idea of opening up a rock school came up.”

    The two started providing lessons, with friends volunteering as teachers, in a café Zadran owned called “The Venue.” They built a stage in the restaurant for small performances and jam sessions.

    A converted room in a restaurant in Kabul serves as a studio for performers-in-training. Photo courtesy of Sound Studies Projects

    A converted room in a restaurant in Kabul serves as a studio for performers-in-training. Photo courtesy of Sound Studies Projects

    Word spread about the new Rock School Kabul, operated by the non-profit Sound Studies Projects, and it now has about 35 students, both male and female, ranging in age from 4 to 40. In addition to teaching music, the school aims to provide a safe place for people of all cultural and economic backgrounds to express themselves.

    Although rock and roll appears to be gaining popularity in Afghanistan, its acceptance isn’t widespread yet.

    “Students are nervous carrying instruments on the street,” where they might be harassed, said Michael Lewis, the 38-year-old lead guitarist in the Portland, Ore., band Blue Skies for Black Hearts. He was one of the guest musicians who taught at Rock School Kabul in November 2013 (read more about his experiences), and he intends to go back this spring.

    “The Taliban are not sitting in Kabul, but the students have families who may or may not understand what they’re doing,” he said.

    But appreciation of contemporary music is changing. When the Taliban were toppled in 2001, many people returned to Afghanistan from countries like Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, where they were exposed to rock and roll, said Zadran. Among that segment of society, the concept of rocking out on a guitar is more familiar and palatable. “Those are the people who come out to our concerts, and send their friends and family to the rock school,” he said.

    The students pay the equivalent of $50 for four individual lessons per month at Rock School Kabul. Donations help pay the way for those who can’t afford it. The students also get access to the school at any time to practice, and once a week they can join an ensemble to play with other students.

    The school benefits from visiting professional musicians like Lewis, who volunteer their time as teachers. It also is dependent on donations for supplies. Guest teachers help raise money in the United States and elsewhere to purchase instruments and music-editing software to send to the Kabul school. The Sound Studies Projects’ website thanks specific donors for items such as a mini-guitar, sheet music and “for leaving your ukulele with us!

    Another Portland-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Jerry Joseph, who is traveling to Afghanistan for the first time in mid-May to teach at the school with Lewis, said the music-editing software in particular is key to the students making music a profession.

    Joseph, 52, recalled meeting a singer at a nightclub in Malaysia, and was wowed that the young man had sold 3 million copies online of a ballad he had composed. The same thing is possible for the Afghan students, said Joseph. “It could be sugary pop hits that make them a ton of money. It’s really kind of exciting,” he said. “The world is available to you on your device. There are more places [the music] can go.

    “It’s a great time to be 20 and a weird time to be 50,” he added.

    Joseph said he and Lewis were waiting until after Saturday’s national elections to travel to Afghanistan for security reasons. Taliban militants have been blamed for scattered attacks and kidnappings leading up to the presidential vote.

    The school itself had to close its doors temporarily for the safety of the students, said Zadran. But they did manage to pull off a pre-election concert with musicians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Their message: “Vote for Peace.”

    Rock School Kabul students talk about why they take lessons there.

    View all of our Social Entrepreneurship profiles and tweet us your suggestions for more groups to cover.

    The post Learning guitar licks and other tricks at Afghanistan’s Rock School Kabul appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Cooperation remains critical to astronauts' efforts on the International Space Station. But down on Earth, NASA announced Wednesday they will halt most of their engagements with Russia, because of worldly disputes over Ukrainian soil and sovereignty. Photo by NASA

    Cooperation remains critical to astronauts’ efforts on the International Space Station. But down on Earth, NASA announced Wednesday they will halt most of their engagements with Russia, because of worldly disputes over Ukrainian soil and sovereignty. Photo by NASA

    NASA announced Wednesday that it is halting almost all of its activities and contact with Russia, after the State Department issued a directive to several federal agencies to terminate communications with the Kremlin, CBS News reports.

    “Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation,” associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations Michael O’Brien wrote in a memo to NASA staff.

    Activities that will not be suspended include cooperative efforts related to the International Space Station, which is jointly run by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. No one partner could operate the ISS independently of the other.

    The memo does call on Congress to decrease dependence on Russia where it can, specifically calling on lawmakers to increase funding for flights into space from U.S. soil. Currently, American astronauts must pay Russia a cool $70 million for a seat on the Soyuz space capsule — which launches from Kazakhstan — in order to get to and from the ISS.

    “The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple.”

    Since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, the Soyuz spacecraft is the only means of travel to the ISS.

    The post NASA halts engagement with Russia in response to ‘violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Why does money have value? It's about what distinguishes the U.S. dollar from Bitcoin, says money manager Jon Shayne. Photo by Flickr user Ceoln.

    Why does money have value? It’s about what distinguishes the U.S. dollar from Bitcoin, says money manager Jon Shayne. Photo by Flickr user Ceoln.

    Editor’s Note: With tax season well upon us, money manager Jon Shayne presents a timely way for understanding how and why American currency has value. Simply put, we need dollars. That’s not like saying we need money to obtain food and shelter to survive — that’s obvious. Americans have to pay their taxes in U.S. dollars – and nothing else. You cannot barter vegetables, and while Bitcoin can buy you plenty else, you cannot send crypto-currency to the government. (The IRS recently announced it will treat Bitcoin as property, not currency.)

    Jon thinks a lot about the value of money and the nature of money printing. He also sings about it, dressed up as his alter ego, Merle Hazard. We featured his “Inflation or Deflation” song in our segment on interest rates. Our econ-crooner’s latest tune is about the Fed’s “Great Unwind.”

    The Fed may not need more money, but in this adaptation of a topic first explored on his blog, Jon explains why Americans need dollars.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    Have you ever wondered why the U.S. dollar has value?

    It is not because of the gold in Fort Knox. There used to be gold behind the dollar, but not now. President Richard Nixon cut the last ties in 1971, effectively ending the foundation of the Bretton Woods international monetary system.

    Rather, the ultimate reason that the U.S. dollar has value, at least in the opinion of some economists, and in my own, is that no one likes being in jail. And dollars are a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    April 15, when Uncle Sam collects taxes on our incomes, is right around the corner. We must pay those taxes in dollars, and there are penalties for not paying them, which can include time in prison.

    On the front of U.S. currency, next to each president’s head, are the words “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.” Creditors must accept dollars in payment of what they are owed. Tax is just one of the obligations that cash satisfies, but it is, in a sense, the ultimate, because it is to the government itself.

    Now, you may think that you can skirt having to use dollars by, say, growing your own vegetables and bartering for everything else. Not so. Tax is due even if you make your way in the world by trading goods without cash. If you want to stay legal, you will need to sell something, perhaps your labor, to get some of those all-paper dollars. (Or their electronic equivalent, bank deposits.)

    Court opinions, like dollars, are words on paper, but they are not just words on paper. If a final court decision condemns you to years in prison, you will, in fact, have to do time. So, a court opinion, despite consisting only of words, means a lot more than a greeting card. And courts, interpreting the law, are what give the dollar its power to satisfy financial obligations.

    Beyond the court system, there is a social component to the value of a paper currency. The purchasing power of the dollar will change in response to inflation, as more dollars get created, and in response to the value of other currencies. Those changes are generally going to be gradual, however. I am not claiming that the extra-legal influences on the value of the U.S. dollar are insignificant. It is just that the need to come up with some cash to pay taxes is, practically speaking, absolute. Only the amount might be subject to a court’s interpretation. You could be arguing with the IRS about, say, how much the nursing care you bartered for with your homegrown vegetables is worth, but there would be no successful dispute about your owing something.

    To understand the value of the dollar, it is instructive to consider how U.S. dollars are different from bitcoins. We do not need bitcoins to stay out of prison, and U.S. law is unlikely to ever recognize them as legal tender. Granted, bitcoins are elegant and, in their wonky way, beautiful. But many things are beautiful. Bitcoin is not even the only crypto-currency.

    Few people, in my experience, consider taxes to be the grounding for the dollar’s value. Most people just don’t think about it. However, Paul Solman, the master of the bits on this page, touched on the idea last year in an interview with Boston University finance professor Zvi Bodie.

    Adam Smith, the father of economics, had the same idea in 1776. He wrote in “The Wealth of Nations”:

    A prince, who should enact that a certain proportion of his taxes should be paid in a paper money of a certain kind, might thereby give a certain value to this paper money, even though the term of its final discharge and redemption should depend altogether upon the will of the prince.

    These days, the easiest place to stumble upon the idea that taxation is the basis of money’s value is in a somewhat obscure school of economics called Modern Monetary Theory. MMT is, I think it is fair to say, just left of mainstream, and builds upon this idea as it makes a case for greater government spending. One prominent proponent is Jamie Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas.

    I am not sure why the idea of the dollar as a get-out-of-jail-card gets so little, um, circulation. But I have found it helpful, myself, as a money manager. It keeps me from freaking out at the necessity of, sometimes, holding cash in a portfolio while looking for other investments. There is still the possibility that the government – the “prince,” as Adam Smith put it in the passage above — will print too much, and that purchasing power will erode quickly. Still, dollars are better than bitcoins because like death, as Benjamin Franklin taught us, taxes are unavoidable. If the government were weak, we might worry, but ours is very strong.

    Paying taxes this month will get us down. We can take comfort in the idea that the need to pay them is much, and, as I see it, most, of what gives our paper currency its value.

    The post The good you do for the dollar when you pay your taxes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sits next to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, left,  at the White House in Sept., 2010. Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sits next to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, left, at the White House in Sept., 2010. Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

    Israel’s chief peace negotiator said Thursday officials will not release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners after the Palestinians’ continued push for United Nations recognition.

    A spokeswoman for Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni said the Israeli government was finalizing an agreement to free the prisoners when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed applications to 15 international conventions, the Associated Press reported.

    Livni later said “new conditions were established and Israel cannot release the fourth batch of prisoners,” according to the AP.

    On Wednesday, lawmakers at a House appropriations subcommittee hearing questioned United States Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers about the situation.

    “President Abbas announced that the Palestinians intend to be a party to 15 international conventions,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. “This is very concerning and could jeopardize the peace process and possibly U.S. assistance…The administration must send a clear message to the Palestinians that the only path to statehood is through a negotiated agreement with Israel, not through unilateral attempts at the U.N.”

    Power agreed, saying the U.S. has opposed every Palestinian attempt at a move in the U.N.

    “There are no shortcuts to statehood, and we’ve made that clear,” she said. “Efforts that attempt to circumvent the peace process, the hard slog of the peace process, are only going to be counterproductive to the peace process itself and to the ultimate objective of securing statehood, the objective that the Palestinian Authority, of course, has.”

    The post Israel cancels prisoner release following Palestinian UN bid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Enrollment Specialist Horacio Castaneda, left, helps Rosa Ayala Cruz, right, apply for health benefits at the Denver Health Westside Family Health Center on Oct. 1, 2013 in Denver. Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images

    Enrollment Specialist Horacio Castaneda, left, helps Rosa Ayala Cruz, right, apply for health benefits at the Denver Health Westside Family Health Center on Oct. 1, 2013 in Denver. Photo by Chris Schneider/Getty Images

    More than 5.4 million Americans gained health insurance since September, according to a survey released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    The results are the first indicator of how many uninsured Americans may have benefited from the Affordable Care Act since the insurance marketplaces opened last October. Supporters of the law say it’s another reason to be optimistic.

    The percentage of uninsured Americans dropped from 17.9 percent in September to 15.2 percent in March, the survey shows. And because 17.5 percent were still uninsured in December, the data suggests that most of that drop occurred in 2014 as Americans rushed to sign up before the March 31 deadline for open enrollment.

    Most of the survey was completed by March 6 – before the final open enrollment surge took place – meaning the final insurance tally could be even higher.

    The nationally representative survey of approximately 7,500 adults was conducted by researchers at the Urban Institute and funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is also an underwriter of the NewsHour health unit.

    Since President Obama announced on Tuesday that 7.1 million Americans had enrolled in coverage through the insurance marketplaces, many have wondered how many actually gained new coverage under the law. A percentage of the 7.1 figure are likely those who were forced to re-enroll in coverage after being forced from their previous plans by the law.

    Some, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, say the Obama administration’s figures may be inflated because it’s still unknown how many of the “newly insured” have taken the crucial step of paying their first month’s premium. The distinction: Those who have enrolled through the marketplace but fail to make that payment will remain uninsured.

    While those behind the survey admit that much is still unknown, they say it’s a good indicator that the law is working as intended.

    “The 15 percent drop in uninsurance among adults since September reveals a very promising start for the ACA’s key coverage expansion provisions,” said Sharon Long, an Urban Institute health economist and the coordinator of the survey. “One can expect even more significant changes as the end-of-March surge in enrollments is accounted for.”

    The post Survey finds 5.4 million Americans gained insurance under new health law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An excavator works in the debris field near Oso, Wash. Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol

    An excavator works in the debris field near Oso, Wash. Photo courtesy of Washington State Patrol

    The last time the U.S. Geological Survey made a national map of landslide hazards, it did so on paper. It didn’t use laser imaging for landslide detection and it didn’t render the maps with the high-powered geographic software near-universally used in today’s maps.

    It didn’t use these things because they didn’t exist. It was 1982.

    That’s how old the federal agency’s landslide overview map is, and it hasn’t been updated since. It lacks detail, and the USGS will quickly warn you not to use it for planning purposes. The map assigns ratings to broad swaths based on what percentage of land was involved in a slide. It also includes susceptibility ratings that the documentation states are “largely subjective.”

    After the deadly landslide in Northwest Washington last month, many are suddenly wondering why better maps don’t exist the way they do for, say, flood risks.

    Experts including those at the USGS have advocated for an updated system to track landslide hazards, but the agency lacks the resources. Using laser imaging, geologists are discovering more past landslides than ever. But they’ve applied that tool to only a sliver of the landscape.

    A preliminary map of the landslide area in northwest Washington. Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

    A preliminary map of the landslide area in northwest Washington. Image courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

    “We have no overall federal-level regulation or mandate to do further landslide maps on a national basis – the explosion of technology and geographic information systems that we have currently would make a national map much more complex, detailed and at least, up-to-date,” Lynn Highland, Coordinator of the National Landslide Information Center, wrote via email.

    Oregon and Washington are ahead of other states in mapping landslides, but their efforts have also lagged behind the tools needed to do the job. Ian Madin, chief scientist for Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimated the state’s inventory is at most 25 percent complete.

    Mapping Landslides

    Using inventories from DOGAMI and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, EarthFix mapped known landslide deposits in the Northwest. The map also includes the old USGS hazard zones, what portions of the states have seen state-level landslide hazard studies and what parts of the states have been mapped with LIDAR. You can also search for your city or address (but landslide deposits won’t show up at the furthest zoom).

    This map shows known landslide deposits, the last national map and areas surveyed with LIDAR and for geologic hazards. Image by USGS, DOGAMI, WA-DNR, PSCL

    The landslide deposits — the dark brown blobs — show times when the lands deposit shifted, which could be spread out over decades or centuries, according to Madin. The yellow and pink shaded areas behind it are the outdated USGS maps. You can toggle them on and off.

    Oregon’s inventory of landslide deposits comes from a patchwork of studies. Some are done specifically for geologic hazards. Others are done for mining or other purposes. The red “hazard-specific” patches on the map in Oregon show studies done specifically for geologic hazards.

    Some are finely detailed. Others are broad brushes. This leaves some portions of the state showing more deposits than others, whether they’ve experienced more slides or not. It also shows dense packs of deposits cut off in squares — a product of incomplete data, not modular landslides.

    In Washington, the inventory consists of an older repository of landslides at one mapping scale, and a more detailed but less comprehensive inventory of landslides produced more recently as part of the DNR’s “Landslide Hazard Zonation” project done for its forest practices division (there’s a long-standing link between logging and landslides. Read about it here and here.) The bright red patches on the map in Washington show the areas for these hazard studies. Some counties and other local authorities also produce similar hazard maps, but they are not part of the state’s inventory.

    The most detailed landslide inventories come from LIDAR — laser imaging that can cut past vegetation and reveal the ground below with unprecedented clarity. Geologists have found LIDAR can reveal several times the number of landslides that were previously known in a given area. Using LIDAR, geologists at DOGAMI estimate they’ve mapped more landslides in the past five years than in the previous history of the agency.

    News coverage following the Washington landslide sheds light on the need to connect the technology with planning.

    State maps show less than half of Oregon and Washington have been studied with LIDAR, and somewhere around 5 percent or less of Oregon has been studied with the tool specifically for landslides. According to the DNR, none of Washington’s state landslide inventory comes from LIDAR-produced data. Some counties in Washington use LIDAR for these purposes to a limited extent.

    Editor’s Note: This map shouldn’t be used for planning purposes. This map won’t tell you where to build your house if you want to avoid a landslide. It is an attempt to show the best available data, to illustrate what we know as much as what we don’t. This map is not a complete inventory of landslide occurrences or hazards, because such mappable data don’t exist.

    EarthFix is a public media project of Oregon Public Broadcasting and Boise State Public Radio, Idaho Public Television, KCTS 9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Southern Oregon Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post Potentially lifesaving national landslide maps are 30 years out of date appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Lt. Gen. Mark Milley speaks at a news conference, following the shooting at the Fort Hood military base on Wednesday evening. The incident left four dead and at least three in critical condition. Photo by Charlie Pierce / The Daily Texan

    Lt. Gen. Mark Milley speaks at a news conference, following the shooting at the Fort Hood military base on Wednesday evening. The incident left four dead and at least three in critical condition. Photo by Charlie Pierce / The Daily Texan

    Updated 4:50 p.m. EDT

    The Iraq War veteran responsible for Wednesday’s shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas — which killed three people and wounded 16 others — has been identified as 34-year-old Spc. Ivan Lopez, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday.

    The ongoing investigation has a strong indication that the trigger event for the shooting may have been an altercation between Lopez and a soldier, or soldiers, Milley said. He added that there’s evidence that Lopez “had a medical history that indicates an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition.”

    Milley said that the soldier’s next of kin have been notified and repeated Army Secretary John McHugh’s statement that the gunman appeared to have no connections to extremist groups, national or international.

    McHugh said that Lopez, who served in Iraq for four months as a truck driver from August to December 2011, was last examined by a psychiatrist in March and showed no violent tendencies. Service records indicated that Lopez saw no action during his deployment.

    McHugh added that the soldier was prescribed Ambien for a sleeping problem.

    Armed with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, Lopez, who had sought treatment for mental illness, opened fire on the Army base around 4 p.m. local time before confronting military police in a parking lot, where he then turned the gun on himself, Fort Hood’s senior officer, Milley said.

    Lopez grew up in the Puerto Rican coastal town of Guayanilla, the Associated Press reports. Lopez joined the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1999 and enlisted with the U.S. Army in 2008.

    A spokesman for the family told the AP that Lopez’s mother, a nurse at a public clinic, died of a heart attack in November, adding that:

    The soldier was upset that he was granted only a 24-hour leave to attend her funeral, which was delayed for nearly a week so he could be there, the spokesman said. The leave was then extended to two days.

    The gunman had sought help for depression, anxiety and other problems as part of an assessment for post-traumatic stress disorder, Milley said Wednesday, adding that the soldier complained of a traumatic brain injury after he returned from Iraq.

    Milley said the gunman transferred from Fort Bliss, an Army base in El Paso, Texas, to Fort Hood in February. Milley said Thursday that military records don’t show any specific incidents at Fort Bliss.

    Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug said that investigators have searched the gunman’s home and questioned his wife Thursday.

    Those wounded in the attack were taken to nearby hospitals, including the one on the base, which is about 70 miles north of Austin, Texas. All of the wounded are in the military.

    Three of the nine people transferred to the Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple, Texas, were in critical condition Thursday. Hospital officials expect them to survive.

    Milley said Thursday that four out of the 16 wounded have been released.
    A memorial service for the fallen soldiers has been planned for next week.

    Wednesday’s attack echoes 2009’s mass shooting on the base when Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire on Fort Hood, killing 13 people and wounding 30 others.

    President Barack Obama, who was attending a Democratic fundraising event in Chicago on Wednesday, vowed to “get to the bottom of what happened” at Fort Hood.

    Speaking at an event honoring the U.S. Winter Olympics team, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the Fort Hood victims Thursday.

    “During the course of a decade of war, many have served multiple tours of duty,” the president said. “To see the unspeakable senseless violence happening in a place they were supposed to feel safe, home base, is tragic.”

    He added: “We will make sure we do everything in our power to keep the troops safe, not just on the battlefield, but when they come home.”

    The post Fort Hood gunman showed no violent tendencies, Army says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The United States created a “Cuban Twitter” in 2010, the Associated Press reported Thursday, in order to covertly spur Cubans to stand up against their government.

    In a project funded and run by the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. launched “ZunZuneo” — a name taken from slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. The U.S.’ role in the service was hidden from the Cuban government through the use of several front companies which used a bank account out of the Cayman Islands. In order to bypass Cuba’s Internet restrictions, ZunZuneo based its network on cellphone text messages.

    According to documents obtained by the AP, the service aimed to build a subscriber base through news content which included sports, music and weather. Once Zunzuneo had reached a large mass of users, network operators would then start releasing political content and items that would aim to push Cubans to stand up against their government and “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

    ZunZuneo ended up attracting more than 40,000 users at its peak in 2011. However, by June 2012, the service was gone.

    USAID, who told the AP that the program officially ended in September 2012 after the end of a government grant, released a statement Thursday:

    “It is longstanding U.S. policy to help Cubans increase their ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world. Working with resources provided by Congress for exactly this purpose, USAID is proud of its work in Cuba to provide basic humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and universal freedoms, and to help information flow more freely to the Cuban people. All of our work in Cuba, including this project, was reviewed in detail in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office and found to be consistent with U.S. law and appropriate under oversight controls.
    It is also no secret that in hostile environments, governments take steps to protect the partners we are working with on the ground. The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period. At the initial stages, the grantee sent tech news, sports scores, weather, and trivia to build interest and engage Cubans. After that, Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that. USAID is a development agency and we work all over the world to help people exercise their universal rights and freedoms.”

    The post U.S. created Cuban social media network in attempt to stir unrest appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Brantley Bryant, associate professor of medieval literature at Sonoma State University, shares what he and others in his field see of the Canterbury Tales, Le Morte d’Arthur and Beowulf in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the first three seasons, you will learn what happens to certain characters.

    The land of Westeros may seem far off for fans of “Game of Thrones,” but as season four of HBO’s successful show is gearing up to start on Sunday, Art Beat learned it may not be as distant as one might think.

    According to Brantley Bryant, an associate professor of medieval literature at Sonoma State University, George R.R. Martin, the author of the fantasy series that inspired the HBO show, “has read deeply into medieval history.”

    “Sometimes people who haven’t had a chance to read a lot of medieval literature have this idea that it’s a kind of fairy tale world, that medieval literature is this kind of thing where everyone is always very chaste and everyone is very pure and nice,” said Bryant, who specializes in Chaucer and writes a blog in the meter and style of the poet.

    “Some of the most sensational, violent aspects of ‘Game of Thrones’ are actually also present in medieval literature.”

    From Ned Stark to Jaime Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, the violence, the conceptions of justice and the use of monsters and mythical creatures hark back to the worlds of Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Thomas Malory.

    Are Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre a new version of King Arthur and Morgan le Fay? How are the characters of Beowulf and John Snow similar?

    The post What does a medieval literature scholar read into ‘Game of Thrones?’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall talks about her coverage of the war in Afghanistan and why she chooses conflict areas to report.

    The relationship between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai took a nosedive after he was forced into a runoff when seeking a second term, said journalist and author Carlotta Gall.

    “It was so sad because it didn’t need to happen,” she told PBS NewsHour Weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan in a web-only portion of their interview. Their full conversation about her latest book, “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014,” airs on Thursday.

    In 2009, Karzai thought he’d won the presidential election outright. But after allegations of corruption and subsequent pressure by the U.S., he submitted to a runoff election. “I remember seeing the humiliation when he had to admit that” he hadn’t won at a press conference, said Gall.

    Karzai became convinced that Americans had tried to oust him, and he never got over it, she said. He also thought the U.S. government “was undermining his efforts to make peace with the Taliban.”

    In her interview, she also spoke about how the U.S. surge of troops worked to bring added security to Afghanistan, and where Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, might be.

    View all of our World coverage.

    The post What pushed U.S.-Afghan relations over the edge? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat in Camp David at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater March 21-May 4, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

    Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin, Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Khaled Nabawy as Anwar Sadat in Camp David at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater March 21-May 4, 2014. Photo by Teresa Wood.

    I slipped into my seat at Washington’s Arena Stage on Tuesday night to watch Lawrence Wright’s “Camp David,” his dramatic re-creation of the first, lasting peace negotiation between Arabs and Jews. Just hours earlier, I watched Secretary of State John Kerry react to twin, and grievous body-blows. The hits came to his relentless nine-month campaign to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal — the latest attempt after decades of conflict and negotiation. They were landed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both had broken their word to Kerry.

    That afternoon, Abbas suddenly announced he’d signed letters to apply to 15 international conventions and treaties, despite his promise to hold off until this round of negotiations ended on April 29. Three days earlier, Netanyahu had broken his pledge to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners by March 29, even as the Obama administration publicly dangled the possibility of releasing jailed spy Jonathan Pollard as an inducement.

    Kerry, who’s pursued this course with passion and focus, stood in front of reporters in Brussels to say that though the U.S. is eager to facilitate the process, “The leaders on both sides have to make the decisions, not us. It’s up to them to decide what they’re prepared to do, with each other, for each other, for the future, for the region, for peace.”

    It was a refrain I’ve heard many times before, from other negotiators, secretaries, even presidents. Kerry isn’t ready to give up yet, but it carries the whiff of defeat.

    I got on the peace process roller coaster in 1990 as diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek Magazine, at a relatively encouraging moment. It wasn’t the achievement of Camp David — an agreement that has kept peace for 36 years — but it was a breakthrough nonetheless. Secretary of State Jim Baker got the Israelis and the Arab states to sit face-to-face for 3 days in Madrid in 1991, launching nearly a decade of talks on a wide range of disputes. President George H.W. Bush had promised the Syrians and Gulf States he’d put U.S. skin in the game if they’d join the coalition against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. Baker was delivering on that pledge, and he could knock heads too. Fresh off its Gulf War victory, the U.S. was without a power peer in the Middle East, admired, respected and feared in the region — advantages President Obama and Secretary Kerry don’t have today.

    President Bush addresses the Middle East Peace Conference at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, in October, 1991. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    President Bush addresses the Middle East Peace Conference at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, in October, 1991. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    But Baker had no illusions. Aaron Miller, a mid-level advisor at the time, recalls visiting Baker in his hotel suite afterwards. “I’m not trying to buff your ego, but what you did was extraordinary,” he says he told his boss. Baker looked up, and in his dry Texas drawl said, “We did well. But if I had unsolicited advice for you, young man, I’d advise you to get off this train now. It could all be downhill from here.”

    It wasn’t entirely downhill. The Madrid peace conference did create an atmosphere in which Israelis and Palestinians met secretly, without the U.S., and concluded the historic 1993 Oslo accords. And Israel and Syria talked for years about how to settle the Golan Heights issue. But neither route bore fruit.

    “Camp David” is about a real achievement. Two bitter enemies, with guidance from a committed U.S. president, forged an agreement that has stood the test of time. So why did I find it disheartening?

    Because from the first moment, it showed that precious little has changed. Certainly not the litany of issues: Who has the right to the land Israel seized in the ’67 War? Are the Palestinian lands “occupied” territories or “liberated” ones? What should become of the Jewish settlers in those territories — some 3,500 in 1978, some 340,000 today? How could Israel ever be secure in its dangerous neighborhood with narrower borders?

    But even more disheartening is the human dimension brought out by the play. The biggest barriers are not these issues, but the mindsets of the two protagonists — and their successors — that make them prisoners of their pasts. They are so alike. Both are obsessed with who did wrong to whom. And both share a deep sense of victimhood, a certainty that neither the world nor their adversary recognizes their humanity.

    (L to R) Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin in Camp David. Photo by Teresa Wood.

    (L to R) Richard Thomas as Jimmy Carter and Ron Rifkin as Menachem Begin in Camp David. Photo by Teresa Wood.

    In “Camp David,” Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin fairly oozes his sense of betrayal by a world that did nothing as 6 million Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust. The Jews were killed, he screams at President Jimmy Carter, “because they didn’t have a country of their own, nor valiant Jewish army to defend them …So you ask me to rely on your assurances to safeguard Israel’s existence? I’m sorry … I will not allow Jewish people to face extinction again.” Likewise, Kerry apparently hasn’t won Netanyahu’s confidence in the newly designed post-occupation security plan drawn up by four-star Gen. John Allen.

    And in another foreshadowing, Begin is haunted by his family history. He tells Carter of his father in the Polish ghetto, striking a Polish policeman who’d snapped off a rabbi’s beard, and getting beaten bloody for it. “I am the son of set of Ze’ev Dov,” he says to Carter. “I tell you this story so you know what kind of Jew you are dealing with!” Likewise, though Netanyahu denies it, most observers believe he can’t shake the ideology of his hawkish late father, a fervent Zionist who distrusted the Arabs and advocated a “Greater Israel” encompassing all of the West Bank and beyond.

    Menahem Begin with Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter at Camp David. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    Menahem Begin with Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter at Camp David. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    For Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, the grievances are rooted in his conviction that the U.S. and Europe will always side with Israel, and that neither the Israelis or the rest of the world see the Arabs as human beings. “I sympathize with all Jewish people, for their suffering. But does he see me?” he says to Rosalynn Carter. “For him the Arab has no meaning, only as an enemy, not as a human being.” That distance remains even wider today than 36 years ago, thanks to the Israeli security barrier separating the two societies.

    Finally, despite the predictable carping about the Kerry approach, this play — which is about a triumph — also makes it clear that on a human level, the United States will never be entirely trusted by either side. The Sadat and Begin characters share the belief that the ever youthful, optimistic, forward-looking American nation can never empathize with peoples like theirs.

    “Christians cannot understand our history, what the land means to the Jewish people. It’s impossible,” Begin says, dimissing Carter’s descriptions of his ties to his family’s Georgia farmland.

    Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter confer at Camp David. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    Anwar Sadat and Jimmy Carter confer at Camp David. Photo by U.S. National Archives

    Later Sadat strikes a similar note. Carter reacts to Sadat’s comment that “God has told us we cannot trust the Jew, they are a treacherous people,” by retorting, “I’ve known bigots in my life. They almost always pick up a holy book to justify their prejudice.” Sadat explodes: “You are an ignorant man! Ignorant of who we are! You know nothing about our problems!”

    Sadat and Begin are actually right on that score. Despite our bloody civil war, we Americans do not know viscerally what it’s like to be consumed by a blood feud. And we are the luckier for it.

    For a Middle East aficionado like myself, “Camp David” is filled with so many telling kernels that it’s hard to choose among them. But here’s a revealing one. Near the end, even as a deal appears at hand, Sadat says to Rosalynn Carter, “I want to believe it, but my heart knows better. That Arabs and Jews can live together, without war? No, we are too much alike. We have too much history…For 30 years we have lived with our enemy. Can we live without him?”

    That is the question indeed. Now nearly seven decades since Israel’s birth, with both societies paying a terrible price for the endless hostilities, neither Israelis nor Palestinians seem prepared to live without their enemy. Or at least their leaders can’t. They still seem in the grip of their hatreds and fears. Like George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, they’re locked into mutually assured frustration, afraid to let go of the past to reach for the future.

    The post Camp David: Then, as today, Mideast leaders are haunted by their past appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Students learn about how to apply for financial aid at a California State University Fullerton seminar.

    Students learn about how to apply for financial aid at a California State University Fullerton seminar.

    This week college-bound students learned which schools were offering them admission. Most students have until May 1 to make their final decision. One question they’ll have to answer before making that decision is which schools they can afford.

    If next fall’s freshmen are anything like the class of 2012, 71 percent will take out at least one loan to finances their college education and those students will owe an average of more than $29,000 apiece at graduation. Those figures come from The Project on Students Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success, which says that student debt increased by an average of 6 percent a year between 2008 and 2012. Last year, Americans’ outstanding student loan debt topped $1.2 trillion and default rates are rising.

    Those trends have left some questioning whether a college education is worth the cost. A Pew Research study released earlier this year says the answer to those questions is a resounding yes. College graduates between ages 25 and 32 are earning an average of $17,500 more each year than their peers who hold only a high school diploma. That wage gap has more than doubled since 1965.

    On Thursday’s program, the NewsHour looks at what students and their families need to know as they decide how to pay for a college.

    Hari Sreenivasan talks to NPR reporter Claudio Sanchez, who is part of a month-long look at the rising cost of college, growing student loan debt and the decisions students and parent make about paying for college. They’re joined by Roberta Johnson, director of financial aid at Iowa State University, who testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about how federal student loan programs can be strengthened.

    They offer some additional information about some of the common misunderstandings and mistakes made by students and families.

    Here are some additional resources on financial aid:

    - Department of Education’s Financial Aid Website

    - FinAid.org, an independent financial aid website

    - Federal college Scorecard

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post College-bound students face financial aid maze appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

    Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

    With a scheduled pay increase on the horizon, members of the House of Representatives have proposed another freeze on congressional salaries. The automatic cost-of-living bump would have raised lawmakers’ salaries by 1.6 percent, totaling an additional $2,800 a year.

    Congressional paychecks have remained at $174,000 a year since January 2009, when the last pay hike was installed. The current proposed freeze is part of legislation that would fund the Congressional budget approved by a House Appropriations panel on Thursday.

    The automatic cost-of-living increase was put into place in 1989, as part of a plan to halt the then-common practice of members accepting large speaking fees and other honorarium, which was criticized by some as a way outside interest groups bought the good will and influence of Congress.

    The pay freeze may be seen by constituents as a gesture of goodwill during times of economic crisis, but the proposal is drawing criticism from within Congress. Virginia Democrat James P. Moran plans to introduce an amendment to the bill that would give lawmakers a per diem payment, as many state legislatures do, to cover housing costs.

    He told CQ Roll Call, “I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid. I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

    Moran cited steep housing prices in the Washington, D.C., area as one reason why legislators need a salary increase.

    “A lot of members can’t even afford to live decently when they’re at their job in Washington,” he said. He went on to explain that some take to sleeping in their offices to make ends meet, while others have “small little apartment units” that keep them from spending time with their families.

    Moran, who plans to retire from Congress at the end of his term, is sure the amendment will not pass, but hopes he can draw attention to the issue.

    The post Lawmakers propose another pay freeze on congressional salaries appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Gwen Ifill with Elsie Hillman at Chatham University's 2014 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women & Politics event. Photo by Anna Lee-Fields

    Gwen Ifill with Elsie Hillman at Chatham University’s 2014 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women & Politics event. Photo by Anna Lee-Fields

    I met a member of a dying breed this week. But I had to leave Washington and travel to Pittsburgh to do it.

    There, on the campus of Chatham University, I made the reacquaintance of Elsie Hillman, who has spent a lifetime in philanthropy and politics. She is a champion of diversity, of women’s leadership and she supports abortion rights.

    She helped create one of her city’s first informal hospices for people with AIDS.

    She is also an 88-year-old Republican.

    Hillman had no reason to remember when I first came to know her. I was a neophyte political reporter during her years as a powerful Republican national committeewoman. Years later, we met again when she chaired the board for WQED, Pittsburgh’s public television station.

    I was in Pittsburgh to deliver a lecture for the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University. The center fosters engagement on all level of state and local politics. (Two women are currently competing for the Keystone State’s democratic gubernatorial nomination, for instance.)

    I was reminded why it helps to leave the Beltway from time to time: it helps explode some of Washington’s calcified punditry.

    Pundit conclusion No. 1: Moderates are dead.

    Elsie Hillman is cheerfully resistant to the notion that there is nothing more to be done in a political environment where the two parties have retreated to their own corners and refuse to listen to one another. After working to revive her once struggling hometown and bolster its K-12 public education system, she still believes in the power of compromise.

    Hillman came of age as a political strategist at a different time. The book “Never A Spectator: The Political Life of Elsie Hillman,” points out that in 1980, 63 percent of the delegates attending the GOP nominating convention supported Roe v. Wade. The candidates Hillman supported — John Heinz, Richard Thornburgh, Tom Ridge — all were elected as mainstream moderate Republicans in Pennsylvania. None of these men are on the elective scene anymore and it’s hard to name their ideological successors, but optimists like Hillman believe the party cannot thrive without them.

    Pundit conclusion No. 2: Young people hate politics and want nothing to do with it.

    I was a member of a Sunday talk show panel recently where this was stated as fact. Then, in Pittsburgh, I met 28-year-old Marita Garrett, a Chatham graduate student who decided to volunteer in local politics but instead found herself stepping up to win election to the borough council in nearby Wilkinsburg.
    Her intention, she told me, had been to pass out a few flyers, work a phone bank and do a little neighborhood outreach. “I went to a meeting and said, ‘is anyone running against the incumbent?’” she said. The room was silent.

    “And I said, what are we going to do about that?”

    Garrett answered her own question, by launching her run for borough council and winning. “My background is in outreach,” she said. “But politics and government is like outreach on steroids.”

    That means there’s a lot to be fixed in her town, where the schools are struggling to keep up. “How has this gone on for so long?” she asks herself. “Then I remember that’s why I’m there. What’s in our past doesn’t have to be in our future.”

    Pundit conclusion No. 3: The debate about women’s voices begins and ends at Hillary Clinton.

    Wrong. The debate goes much deeper than that. Chatham University, for instance, is in the midst of a debate many women’s colleges are facing. Is single-gender education still worth the investment?

    Every women’s college I know — and I graduated from one — has wrestled with this question sooner or later. Many of these schools were created when opportunities for women were limited. Some were genteel finishing schools. Others were career schools designed to funnel women into the world as teachers and nurses.

    Elsie Hillman, left, Chatham University President Esther L. Barazzone and Gwen Ifill at the 2014 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women & Politics event. Photo by Anna Lee-Fields

    Elsie Hillman, left, Chatham University President Esther L. Barazzone and Gwen Ifill at the 2014 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women & Politics event. Photo by Anna Lee-Fields

    Graduates of these schools are passionate about the value of the education we received. I know I am. But Chatham President Esther Barazzone is raising a critical question as she helps to plot out her small school’s future. Is there a way to maintain the institution’s financial stability while preserving its mission of creating a place for women to nurture their voices?

    It’s a different take on co-education that alumnae are going to have to come to grips with if we seek to promote the value of women’s leadership while gradually changing the structure that has allowed them to flourish.


    So let’s talk about leadership.

    My favorite Elsie Hillman story appears in “Never A Spectator.”

    During the race for the 1980 Republican Presidential primary, she set out to help George H.W. Bush win Pennsylvania. Together with campaign strategist Ron Kaufman, she created a little mischief in advance of a visit to Pittsburgh by former California governor (and eventual nominee) Ronald Reagan.

    There is highway tunnel leading into Pittsburgh from the airport that, once you exit, gives way to a sudden and breathtaking view of the city skyline and its three rivers.

    On the day Reagan arrived, Hillman and Kaufman conspired to welcome him. They hired a giant hot air balloon and anchored it overnight in a downtown park. When the Reagan motorcade cleared the tunnel the next morning, the future president saw that famous skyline view and the balloon — which read “Bush for President.”

    This was before social media or even the internet existed to stir the pot. And it was not mean spirited or hostile. But it was old-fashioned poke-in-the-eye politics, and it was fun.

    Hillman is still fun, still curious, and still proof that middle ground can exist: politics can be about passion, and women’s voices can be heard. It was a kick to spend some time with her this week.

    The post Women’s voices: three ways to get heard appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Patients receive free medical attention at a Care Harbor LA free health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Los Angeles, in October, 2013. Photo by Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

    Patients receive free medical attention at a Care Harbor LA free health clinic for the uninsured and underinsured in Los Angeles, in October, 2013. Photo by Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

    The number of low-income people enrolled in Medicaid rose by 3 million to 62.3 million from October through February as more Americans joined the state-federal insurance program through state and federal online insurance marketplaces, according to a report released Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    States that expanded Medicaid eligibility under the health law saw an average 8 percent increase in enrollment, with enrollment leaping almost 35 percent in Oregon and almost 34 percent in West Virginia. The health law expanded the program to include all legal residents with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,800 for an individual.

    States that chose not to expand the program saw an average increase in enrollment of 1.6 percent, the report found. Florida saw the biggest increase – 8.2 percent — as people who were previously eligible but not enrolled signed up. Montana ranked second with a 6.9 percent increase and Idaho was third with a 6.6 percent jump.

    Federal officials say the latest numbers, which are compared to a baseline of average enrollment from July through September, 2013, underestimate the program’s growth because not all states reported Medicaid enrollment. In addition, the totals do not include sign-ups for March, when state and federal insurance marketplaces saw a huge influx of people looking for coverage.

    While enrollment closed for private coverage under the marketplaces on March 31, there is no deadline for people to apply for Medicaid.

    On April 1, Michigan expanded its Medicaid program under the law and New Hampshire will expand starting in July, bringing the total to 26 in addition to the District of Columbia.

    The expansion of Medicaid eligibility was expected to add 8 million beneficiaries to Medicaid nationwide in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That increase was expected despite the refusal of many states to participate after the U.S. Supreme Court made the expansion effectively optional.

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    Video still by PBS NewsHour

    Video still by PBS NewsHour

    A federal judge in Ohio said Friday he will strike down the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage, according to the Associated Press.

    “I intend to issue a written decision and order by April 14 striking down as unconstitutional under all circumstances Ohio’s ban on recognizing legal same-sex marriages from other states,” Judge Timothy Black said in a statement, according to TIME.com

    The ruling does not mean Ohio has to allow gay couples to marry within the state.

    According to Reuters, Black has previously issued orders allowing two gay men to be listed as “spouse” on death certificates for men they married outside Ohio.

    Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told WVXU radio station in Cincinatti that he’s not surprised by Black’s ruling and plans to appeal the case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

    DeWine said this case, or a similar one from another state, will likely make its way to the Supreme Court, “where it could ultimately be decided.”

    The post Judge to order Ohio to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain performs with his group Nirvana at a taping of the television program 'MTV Unplugged,' New York, New York, November 18, 1993. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

    American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain performs with his group Nirvana at a taping of the television program ‘MTV Unplugged,’ New York, New York, Novemeber 18, 1993. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

    On April 5, 1994, the life of Kurt Cobain ended abruptly with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His band Nirvana, which had only months earlier released its third studio album, “In Utero,” redefined 1990s rock, establishing the raw, dark, bohemian musical subgenre that came to be known as grunge.

    “Nirvana was the band that took all those influences from the late 1980s and turned them into a movement,” said Kevin Griffin, lead singer of the band, Better Than Ezra.

    Twenty years later, we remember Cobain, and, in the words of Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt, “the soulful presence and poetic lyricism that he brought to his music.”

    Every once in a while, a piece of art stops time and completely redefines the moment.

    Cobain tackled painful, complicated subjects in his lyrics, said Charles Cross, a Seattle-based journalist and author of the book,“Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain

    “If you think about ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ it’s not the typical song about girls and cars,” Cross said. “Kurt changed even what a pop song could be about. He had the capacity in his songwriting to make a listener feel like he was truly speaking to them and speaking for them.”

    On the eve of the anniversary of his death, we reached out to musicians, radio hosts and music producers, and asked them to reflect on Cobain and his legacy. Among them, Jack Endino, who produced and recorded Nirvana’s debut album, “Bleach,” and David Lovering, drummer of the rock band, the Pixies, who powerfully influenced Cobain’s musical style.

    Talib Kweli, Rapper

    Talib Kweli is a socially conscious Brooklyn-based rapper, best known for albums “Eardrum” and “The Beautiful Struggle.” He’s also known for his collaboration Black Star with fellow rapper Mos Def.

    “Every once in a while, a piece of art stops time and completely redefines the moment. The release of Nevermind was one of those times … [Nirvana was] untainted and not restrained by what rock was supposed to be at the time. They were far more influenced by what was going on in their musical community than what was going on in the music business.”

    from bruce pavitt's "experiencing nirvana" e-book

    Kurt Cobain was the first person Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt encountered at the Piper Club, Rome, 11/27/89. Photo by Bruce Pavitt

    Greg Gillis, Girl Talk

    Gregg Gillis is the DJ behind Girl Talk, a solo project that creates remixes and mash-ups of recent hits.

    “Getting into Nirvana is what led me to seriously consider making and performing music. They made me realize anyone could start a band … Many people have similar stories to me, with Nirvana being the primary influence in them starting their own music projects. I’ve seen this range from experimental electronic music to pop. I think it’s less about the exact sound and more about inspiring people to do whatever they want.”

    Bruce Pavitt, Sub Pop

    In 1986, Bruce Pavitt co-founded Sub Pop, the record label that first signed many popular Seattle grunge bands including Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. He is the author of “Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989,” which includes a collection of rare photos featuring eight days on tour in Europe with Nirvana and Mudhoney.

    “No artist of Kurt’s popularity ever embraced the creatively disenfranchised as much as Kurt Cobain.”

    from bruce pavitt's "experiencing nirvana" e-book

    Kurt Cobain and Sub Pop cofounder Jon Poneman in conference. Nirvana’s future was in jeopardy, but, by morning, the band had decided to stay together. Photo by Bruce Pavitt

    David Lovering, The Pixies

    David Lovering is the drummer for the Pixies. He also pursued a magic career as The Scientific Phenomenalist.

    “One time, it was Super Bowl Sunday, probably 1994, at the height of Nirvana when their album came out, and we went to Six Flags, which is an amusement park right outside of Los Angeles. It was myself, my wife, another couple, and Kurt and Courtney. We’re at the park walking around, and it was just a quiet day, there’s nobody there – if you want take advantage of bowling or amusement parks, go on Super Bowl Sunday.

    “Kurt is wearing pajama bottoms. He was kind of a shy guy. We just had small talk, and Courtney was doing a lot of talking. We’re walking along, and we’re going to a ride, and a young kid is walking along, and he goes ‘Oh my god, oh my god,” he goes. ‘It’s David Lovering!’

    “And I am standing next to Kurt Cobain, and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m with this huge star right now, and you’re pointing, and you recognize me?’ That was surreal.”

    Kevin Griffin, Better Than Ezra

    Kevin Griffin helped form Better than Ezra in 1988. He is the band’s singer and guitarist. Griffin also produces and writes for other artists, including James Blunt, Train, Howie Day and Debbie Harry.

    “So much great music was happening at the time…the Pixies, REM, the Smiths, etc. Nirvana was the band that took all those influences from the late 1980s, and turned them into a movement. Suddenly everyone was listening to and buying the sound of real bands playing music, and that was incredibly inspiring to a band like Better Than Ezra touring around the South in our van … On a personal level, Nirvana just had great songs. I love turning my 14-year-old onto their music. Every morning on the way to school it’s “Come as You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.”

    from bruce pavitt's "experiencing nirvana" e-book

    Nirvana bassist and co-founder Krist Novoselic, Kurt Cobain, and Tad Doyle of the grunge band, TAD. Rote Fabrik, Zürich, November 30, 1989. Photo by Bruce Pavitt

    Jack Endino, Recording Engineer/Producer

    In association with Sub Pop records, Jack Endino produced Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, along with early releases from other Seattle grunge artists, including Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and TAD.

    “Kurt would sit down and write out the lyrics right before recording his vocals. He seemingly had been carrying most of the lyrics around in his head but they were not “finalized” until he got to the studio and wrote them down. … If someone had told him this would happen, he would not have believed it.”

    John Richards, Seattle Radio Host

    John Richards is the host and producer of “The Morning Show” at Seattle’s 90.3 FM KEXP, a public radio station that specializes in alternative and indie rock.

    “There were countless “frontmen” ahead of Kurt Cobain, but most of them were nothing like him. The only ones you could compare him to would be punk icons like Iggy Pop or Joey Ramone, who while popular were not at the level he was at.

    Kurt spoke to the underdog, the music freaks, the outcasts, the people fed up with top 40 and hair bands. He changed not just how music was played, but how we listened to music.

    “It literally put the breaks on rock music being made outside of Seattle and made everyone rethink and recreate their sound. In Seattle, this was already going on, so it was fascinating to see the rest of the country suddenly figure out there IS a city called ‘Seattle’ in our country, and ‘My god, what is going on there, this is the most honest thing being made today.

    “There is a reason he struck so many people listening to music. You wait for a voice to come along like that, the John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Joe Strummer, Bono, and you’re lucky if one appears, let alone speaks to you. Kurt spoke to the underdog, the music freaks, the outcasts, the people fed up with top 40 and hair bands. He changed not just how music was played, but how we listened to music.”

    from bruce pavitt's "experiencing nirvana" e-book

    Within 15 seconds of Nirvana’s set at LameFest UK, Kurt Cobain broke a string. Photo by Bruce Pavitt

    Josh Franceschi, You Me At Six

    Josh Franceschi is the lead singer of British rock band, You Me at Six.

    “[When I think of Nirvana,] I think of rebellion, angst and a time when rock music ruled the world. When MTV was playing music videos full time and was dominated by grunge, rock and punk music…

    Kurt was a true lyrical genius. He was a storyteller with a voice was so honest and so very pure.

    “Nirvana inspired a generation and changed music forever. The first song I learned on guitar was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the first music video I ever saw was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the first mosh pit I was ever in was at a school dance to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” … Kurt was a true lyrical genius. He was a storyteller with a voice that was so honest and so very pure.”

    Jessica Lea Mayfield, Singer-Songwriter

    Jessica Lea Mayfield is an American singer-songwriter. Her new album, “Make My Head Sing,” goes on sale April 15.

    “His lyrics and music have and always will continue to inspire me in a countless ways. Nirvana is and always will be the king of their genre.”

    from bruce pavitt's "experiencing nirvana" e-book

    Kurt Cobain signs one of his first autographs at Rough Trade Records in London on December 4, 1989. Within two years Nirvana would be a global sensation. Photo by Bruce Pavitt.]

    Charles Cross

    From 1986 to 2000, Charles Cross was the editor of Seattle’s “The Rocket,” a biweekly newspaper that covered the local music scene. Cross has written four books about Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, including the New York Times bestselling “Heavier than Heaven” and his recently published “Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain.”

    “Kurt struggled with drugs, but I think there’s a myth in the media that he glamorized drug use. That’s far from the case. He was in rehab a number of times. And he never said anything in interviews that glamorized drug use. He talks about the horrors in his diaries … They include extensive notes that are pleading to God for sobriety. There’s a perception that he turned to drugs for euphoria, and that’s not the case by far.

    I think there’s a myth in the media that he glamorized drug use. That’s far from the case.

    I think that’s one of the great myths about him. His life ends in suicide, and it includes heroin addiction. This is a pretty dark life. People look at that and say, why should we embrace this guy, why celebrate him? But despite all that, there’s something heroic about him. All these things were stacked up against him, but he was able to get up off the couch and write these songs. And that’s something to celebrate and admire.”

    Do you remember the first time you heard a Nirvana song? What did Kurt Cobain mean to you? Add your reflections in the comments below or tweet @NewsHourArtBeat with #NewsHourAsks.

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