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

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    A Russian flag is seen on top of an armoured personnel carrier in Slaviansk

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: We wanted to follow up on the interview Judy Woodruff did last night with deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes about the crisis in Ukraine. In case you missed it, Rhodes called on Russia to use all its influence to get pro-Russian demonstrators to leave government buildings they’ve been occupying in eastern Ukraine. For more, we’re joined by Timothy Frye, he is the director at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. So right now, it seems Russia is using its influence to do the opposite.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Yeah we’re not seeing the demonstrators leave buildings or disarm. They’re actually flouting this agreement that was signed in Geneva,  saying that “we’re not bound by this, we didn’t sign it.”

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And you know there’s all reports now of troops, kind of mysterious troops very similar to the ones in Crimea. Russia initially denied that those were Russian troops, now we see these troops in eastern Ukraine and President Putin is denying that as well.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Yeah, I mean we see a large buildup of of Russian troops on the border, and it’s important to keep in mind I think that the demonstrations came only after there was this large buildup of Russian troops on the other side of the border. So I imagine that pro-Russian militias are looking for cues from Moscow for their actions, as well as trying to drum up support locally. And they’ve largely been ineffective in bringing people onto their street. So I think the majority of people in eastern Ukraine would like to see the country remain whole and free.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So Ben Rhodes was mentioning last night that there is the possibility of more sanctions. Is there any evidence that the sanctions we have imposed so far are working?

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Well, they are working in the sense that there’s a much greater level of uncertainty around economic activity in Russia. Banks are much less willing to lend to Russia in part because they are uncertain about who actually is targeted here. So we have the names on the list, but let’s say the friend or a related company of somebody on the list wants to borrow as well, banks are afraid to lend money to them for fear of trying to being seen as trying to get around the sanctions. So we’ve seen $60 billion in capital flight from Russia this quarter. And it’s important to keep in mind that the Russian economy is big, it’s about the 6th largest in the world, but it’s very concentrated in the natural resources sector and the capital sector in Russia comes largely from two state-owned banks. So in this sense Russia is vulnerable.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what role does Europe play? I mean, they’re a much larger trading partner, and are they willing to make those hard choices.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Right, I think Germany is the important country here. It gets about a quarter of its energy from Russia. Angela Merkel has been much harder toward Russia than many of her constituents, or many of her businesses. So it’s going to be difficult to get the German’s to go a long. But I think if we see some aggressive action on the part of Moscow, there would be a rallying around sanctions in Europe and the United States. The tricky part though is that if Russia continues to play the role that it is and the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to be unstable, what would be a triggering event that would allow the U.S. to rally the Europeans to impose new sanctions against Russia?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So right now, that trigger event is troops crossing the border?

    TIMOTHY FRYE: We don’t know what it is. Part of the bargaining that’s going on is trying to let the Russians guess what would be the kind of activities that would invoke sanctions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Time Frye from Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Thank you.

    The post Pro-Russian militias continue to occupy buildings in eastern Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Another medical story that caught our attention this week. Word of what’s described as a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer. What’s novel is not necessarily the drugs being used, but how many and how they’re being targeted. Dr. Mark Kris, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, joins us. So what are they doing in the U.K. with this clinical trial? What’s so interesting about it?

    DR. MARK KRIS: They are taking a discovery that was made here almost ten years ago now where specific genes are damaged in lung tumors. And the damage brought on by those genes makes those cancer cells very susceptible to medications. So if you find one of these genetic changes and give a patient a drug targeting that, almost surely their cancer will shrink and normal tissues are not affected. I mean it’s exactly what oncologists hope to do. What they’re doing now in the U.K. is developing a nationwide program partnering with pharmaceutical companies that are developers of these drugs to do the testing in a much more generalized way and to test for many of these different gene mutations at the same time. So in essence a patient might have ten chances to find something in the tumor that’s in their body. Ten chances to get a medication. And also the pharmaceutical companies supplying drugs to go along with the discovery of those genetic markers and help individual patients.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And that’s different because we’re used to clinical trials that are one drug at a time or one gene at a time.

    DR. MARK KRIS: Exactly. And also ten years ago before these mutations were discovered, everyone with a lung cancer got the same chemotherapy. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. And we always wanted to know what is it that makes an individual’s cancer shrink or not. And this genetic information is the way we can do that, and we can really move much toward this goal of what we call personalized medicine. The right drug for the right patient.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So if this personalized medicine trial, so to speak, happens successfully in the U.K., does that mean something like that can happen here on a larger scale in the U.S.?

    DR. MARK KRIS: Well, it’s actually happening all over the world right now. And we have already completed a program here in the U.S., the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium, where 14 hospitals did something very much like this. There are programs in France as well. It’s a whole world-wide movement. And the fact that the U.K is doing it, they’re a little sometimes slower to embrace these new technologies and new drugs. And the fact that they’re doing it says that this technology, that this idea, is becoming more and more mainstream. And it’s really going to accelerate progress.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so tell me about how this is going to make this larger shift in terms of personalized medicine, almost on a genetic level, targeting each patient with a specific drug that could cure their cancer.

    DR. MARK KRIS: So the way that it is happening now is that when the cancer is first discovered, these genetic tests are done. In the panel we have at Sloan Kettering, MSK Impact, we test for 340 different genes. And then what we try to do is find the drugs that are most likely to help a person whose cancer is driven by these genes. These genes make a cancer cell horribly dependent on the proteins that these ankA genes produce. They call it ankA gene addiction, In other words, Achilles’ heel has been the term that’s been used. So if you find that arrow to go after the Achilles’ heel, the cancer cells die. And the beautiful thing about it is these drugs are much less destructive to normal people. The other thing is if you know this person’s cancer cells don’t have this medicine, then we wouldn’t recommend that medicine to a patient. Previously, it was one size fits all. Every person with the illness got the same medicine.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Mark Kris, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Thanks so much.

    DR. MARK KRIS: Thank you.

    The post New clinical trials underway for advanced lung cancer patients appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 17:  (EUROPE AND AUSTRALASIA OUT) Former US boxer Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, who spent 20 years in jail for three 1966 murders he did not commit poses on February 17, 2010 in Perth, Australia. Carter will launch JusticeWA, an incorporated public benevolent institution to raise funds to provide legal and forensic expertise to those fighting wrongful conviction. (Photo by James Croucher/Newspix/Getty Images)

    Former US boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter poses on February 17, 2010 in Perth, Australia. Credit: James Croucher/Newspix/Getty Images

    Rubin “Hurricane” Cater, the celebrated boxer whose wrongful murder conviction spurred widespread debate over racial injustice, has died at 76.

    The Associated Press, citing John Artis, a longtime friend and caregiver to the former boxer, said Carter died in his sleep on Sunday.

    Carter was found guilty of three murders at a tavern in Paterson, N.J. in 1966.

    In a 2011 interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS (above), Carter reflected on how he survived the 19 years he spent in prison before he being freed in 1985.

    “No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison, I wouldn’t give up,” he said.

    “And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person. So when I walked into prison, I refused to wear their stripes. I refused to eat their food. I refused to work their jobs and I would have refused to breathe the prison’s air if I could have done so and yet remained alive. So through those 20 years, I had to find a way to get out of those extraordinary situations and it took an extraordinary method in order to do it.”

    Carter’s story of wrongful conviction and subsequent incarceration inspired both music and film, including Bob Dylan’s 1975 song “Hurricane,” and a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington.

    The post Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter is dead at 76 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: If you read about politics on the internet, then you’ve probably read comments like this:

    COMMENTER #1: Can you imagine what the Bill of Rights would look like had Liberals written it?

    COMMENTER #2: Hey, genius, liberals did write the Bill of Rights, and you knuckle draggers should be thankful they did.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And if you like to visit sports websites, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to read this:

    COMMENTER #3: Why is it that Duke gets all the best white basketball players?

    COMMENTER #4: Why do you post something so stupid? And pointless?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But what about a site about movies:

    COMMENTER #5: Movie stupid. The actress is ugly and boring.


    COMMENTER #6: You are obviously deaf if you really think Taylor Swift who cannot hold a note, can sing better than Carrie Underwood?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Or even science:

    COMMENTER #7: Peer review should not mean statistical morons.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s comments like these that have turned the Internet into a veritable Wild West of rudeness, with abrasive and often completely anonymous commenters hijacking online conversations. Even a cooking blog like Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen isn’t immune. She now has 5-6 million visitors a month, not all of them polite.

    DEB (READING COMMENT): Thanks to following this, I totally wrecked my eggs. Needless to say, I won’t be back!

    DEB PERELMAN: I would say, that the bigger the site has gotten, the more off-hand or inappropriate comments have come through.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Comments have become a staple of the Internet. They’re used almost everywhere, from newspaper articles to online retailers, in part because they help keep people on those sites longer and increase ad revenue and product sales. But being able to say whatever you want with little to no consequences has left web publishers and bloggers wondering what to do about offensive comments on their sites. For Deb Perelman’s blog, there’s a simple solution.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what do you when you get a horrible comment?

    DEB PERELMAN: Delete it. Don’t think twice about it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But for some sites, like Reddit, it’s a bit more complicated. One of the biggest sites on the internet, Reddit is a sprawling network of online communities that is almost entirely comment-fueled. Users post articles, photos, and links they find online and then create giant discussions around them. Erik Martin is Reddit’s general manager.

    ERIK MARTIN: I think we had a hundred and twenty-something million unique visitors. And we do about a million comments per day.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A million comments per day. So, comments are fairly integral to Reddit’s infrastructure.

    ERIK MARTIN: Absolutely.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how does Reddit manage a million comments a day?

    ERIK MARTIN: We don’t. I’m we can’t—we couldn’t possibly manage a million comments per day. We try to step in as little as possible.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s not just about being rude. Comments can actually affect how you think about what you’re reading.

    Last year, researchers released findings from a study on what they called “the nasty effect”. Two groups of people were shown a web article about nanotechnology—basically tiny machines. It’s not something you’d expect people to feel strongly about. At the end of one version of the article, the researchers made-up civil, polite comments, and at the end of the other, angry and insulting comments. The researchers found that the group that had read the version with negative comments came away with very strong, polarized feelings about nanotechnology after reading it, regardless of whether or not they knew much about it in the first place.

    So, what are the solutions? Some sites, like Popular Science, are removing comments altogether. Others, like ESPN.com, are only allowing people to comment with their real names through sites like Facebook. The idea is that people are less likely to be rude if their real name and photo are attached to what they say. But Erik Martin of Reddit says anonymity has value.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are some examples of, uh, anonymity helping, uh, a discussion?

    ERIK MARTIN: If you’re a, you know, 15 year old kid in a family that is not very open mind—open minded about your sexuality, if you are someone who’s trying to figure out a very difficult health situation, if you’re thinking about, you know, switching careers, It’s very dangerous, sometimes, for you to comment with your real name.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The solution may lie somewhere in between total anonymity and real identity- with commenters who consistently use a nickname or pseudonym. Ro Gupta is the vice president of business development at Disqus, a commenting service used by more than 3 million websites, including the NewsHour’s.

    In 2011, Disqus compared three groups–anonymous commenters, commenters with consistent nicknames, and commenters who used their real names—and then measured how often those groups posted comments and how well other commenters reacted to them.

    RO GUPTA: The conventional wisdom, again, was real names was going to probably win in terms of quality, and that anonymous would probably win in terms of quantity; and it turns out, actually, that middle group of pseudonymous commenters was—scored the highest on both.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What is it about anonymous commenting that allows it to devolve so quickly?

    RO GUPTA: You know, I think one of the reasons, um, completely anonymous commenting can be an issue is that it’s just not tied to a sense of community norms or, you know, or standards in any way.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That seems to be the grand bargain that Facebook came with—is that it’s verified. I know who you are. I know who your friends are and you’re going to be more civil if this is connected to your reputation.

    RO GUPTA: Well, I think there’s a place for that. We’re not saying that it’s, um, it’s a bad thing to be able to use real names, real identities It’s just that giving users that choice turns out to be very important for getting the highest quality discussions.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In addition to identity choice, Disqus offers tools to screen and flag offensive words and allows users to vote comments up or down. But it leaves it up to individual website managers to use that information in moderating discussions. And it’s that element of human engagement that experts like Erik Martin say software can never replace.

    ERIK MARTIN: No one says you have to have comments. Um, I think if you are going to have comments, you should—you should care about them and you should, you know, be active in them and you should, you know, invest time and resources and people in making them, you know, the communities you want.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Although Reddit tries to avoid overseeing the comments on its site, it has posted guidelines on commenting etiquette and it allows its users to moderate the discussions they’re involved in—an activity which has become a daily routine for Deb Perelman. Every day she reads every new comment that’s come in from readers of smitten kitchen–and in some cases, she responds to them.

    DEB PERELMAN: I try to read everything that’s come in since the day before. And that won’t just be on the new articles. That will be on anything that anyone’s commented on any one of the 850 recipes in the archives.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, I could comment on something you wrote about four years ago and you’re going to see that—

    DEB PERELMAN: And it will probably start with, “You probably aren’t going to read this,” but I actually do. I think it’s like they think they’re speaking to like a corporate wall, and then when a human being is like, “Hey, I’m so sorry. Let’s walk through this.” All of a sudden it just totally softens the conversation.

    The post Taming the ‘Wild West’ of online comments appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user ep_jhu

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    HARI SREENIVASAN:  If you ever felt lucky that you got a free sample of a prescription drug from a doctor, it may actually be costing you in the long run. A new study from Stanford University’s School of Medicine found that doctors who are allowed to hand out free samples, often prescribe those expensive drugs versus doctors who don’t have access to free samples. We’re joined from California by Professor Alfred Lane, who teaches pediatrics and dermatology at Stanford and is a senior author of the study. So you looked specifically at the practice of dermatology, what did you find?

    DR. ALFRED LANE:  Yes, we found that those physicians across the United States who use samples are much more likely to write for higher prescriptions. The average cost of a first visit for acne or rosacea was over $450 for medication for the physicians that use samples. And we compared it to our clinic where we have no samples where the average cost was only 200-hundred dollars. So at least twice as more expensive were the prescription costs from the physicians who use samples.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And now this was focused on dermatologists and these particular types of medicines. But how does this translate out – is this a wider practice that’s happening in different fields as well?

    DR. ALFRED LANE:  Well, the reason for the study is I noticed in my practice once we did not have samples that I was writing for more generics and the patients referred from dermatologists were on more expensive medications. And so we tried to look at it, and in the data we found that it is true that dermatologists are using samples more than other specialties over the last ten years. And a lot of that has to do with the use of what’s called branded generics or generics that now are under brand name, and they’re very expensive.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So now, the drug companies would come back and say listen, don’t these free samples help the poor who might not able to afford the medications or help them get immediately on the drug?

    DR. ALFRED LANE:  That’s what dermatologists and that’s what physicians will often say, but the data is very clear that the poor patients are not the ones who usually get the samples. We didn’t look at that in our study, but that’s been shown in other studies.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And so is there a connection between the amount of money the drug companies now spend – is this basically, are free samples essentially the marketing right off?

    DR. ALFRED LANE: Yeah, so it looks like there’s at least over six-billion dollars a year that are spent by pharmaceutical companies in sampling. And so that cost eventually has to be paid by someone. And the price of the generic drug may be quite a bit less than what’s called brand name or branded generic. And it’s only the branded generics or the branded drugs that are sampled. So those are the ones that the dermatologists are channeled into writing prescriptions for.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the argument that samples are the way to get the most recent medications into the hands of doctors?

    DR. ALFRED LANE: Well, sometimes that’s not the best thing. There are studies with cardiovascular disease that sometimes the recent medications are not studied as well, and the risk of death or dying from the use of samples can be there. In dermatology, we don’t see that. But the other problem is that the recent medications have not been proven better than the generic in most situations.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So the six-point-three billions dollars, those are essentially costs passed onto the consumer?

    DR. ALFRED LANE: That’s exactly right. And one of the focuses of our study was for the dermatologists to realize that although they think they’re helping the patients, they are really being manipulated to write for more expensive medications with no proven benefit of those medications over the generic drugs.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Professor Alfred Lane joining us from Stanford, thanks so much.

    DR. ALFRED LANE: Thank you.

    The post Do free samples influence the way doctors prescribe drugs? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl. Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name 'Madiba', became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed underground wing of the African National Congress, in 1961, and the following year underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia. After more than a year underground, Mandela was captured by police and sentenced in 1964 to life in prison during the Rivonia trial, where he delivered a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela started his prison years in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island 7Km off the coast near Cape Town. In April 1984 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and in December 1988 he was moved the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. While in prison, Mandela flatly rejected offers made by his jailers for remission of sentence in exchange for accepting the bantustan policy by recognising the independence of the Transkei and agreeing to settle there. Again in the 'eighties Mandela rejected an offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate, he said, according to ANC reports. AFP PHOTO FILES / ALEXANDER JOE (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

    Credit: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

    Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s statement to the South African Supreme Court at his trial on charges of sabotage. Like other famous speeches it now has a shorthand reference — it’s the “an ideal for which I am prepared to die” speech.

    In it Mandela spelled out why he and others had turned to sabotage after years of failed efforts to win change. The effect of his widely publicized response to charges of  conspiring to “foment violent revolution” was so momentous that one historian calls it “The day Nelson Mandela became Nelson Mandela.”

    During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

    The outcome of the trial is well known. Mandela his seven co-defendants –Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg – were sentenced to life imprisonment. The speech was Mandela’s last public statement for 27 years.

    Listen to a documentary on the speech in the light of the anniversary and Mandela’s death from WNYC’s Radio Diaries.

    The post Remembering ‘the day Nelson Mandela became Nelson Mandela’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: On this Easter Sunday, we take a look ahead at an unprecedented event happening at the Vatican next weekend: a double canonization of two former popes who will be made saints. Here to tell us more is Rachel Zoll, she’s the religion writer for the Associated Press. So, we don’t see canonizations very often, but two at a time?

    RACHEL ZOLL: This is a first, and it’s something that Pope Francis obviously approved and wanted to put into effect and he did it as part of his whole breaking with Vatican protocol and tradition, as he’s done throughout his first year of the papacy.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so who are the two popes? And they seem to represent very different parts of the church?

    RACHEL ZOLL: One is Pope John XXIII who served from 1958 to 1963 and he’s known for his modernizing reforms of the church, bringing it out into the modern world. And the other is Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005 when he died. And he’s known for, obviously a lot of things, but he also helped uphold orthodoxy and doctrine, and was seen in a way as putting some control around, or course corrections around, the reforms that John Paul XXIII had put in place.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So were there political considerations here? I mean it seems that Pope Francis is pleasing both sides by doing this?

    RACHEL ZOLL: That’s how people are reading it, it’s kind of like balancing the ticket. There’s a left-right divide in the church and it is very wide. And by bringing these two men together for canonization at the same time, he’s saying a lot of different things. He’s saying one isn’t–there not at odds with each other, that they’re more on a continuum of how they led the church and also, that there’s room for everybody. This is a big message of his pontificate, that he wants all people of different views to be welcome in the church.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So backing up just a second, what does it take to become a saint?

    RACHEL ZOLL: There’s a process that the church goes through that’s incredibly lengthy and very intensive. First, someone looks through your entire life, your writings and decides whether or not you had exhibited “heroic virtue,” that’s the phrase that they use. The pope approves that. The next step is beatification, that’s when a miracle is attributed to your intercessions. So if I pray to Pope John Paul II and I was cured of something, then that’s a miracle that the church would have to certify, then you become beatified. And then the final step is canonization; that’s the sainthood. And usually that’s two miracles that have to be approved in order to be canonized, but in this case Pope John Paul II had two miracles certified and attributed to him. But John XXIII only had one and Pope Francis decided to wave the second miracle requirement. And it’s not as unusual as you think — it doesn’t happen a lot, but there’s a lot of debate in the Catholic Church among theologians about whether or not two miracles are required.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So besides the two miracles, there’s usually a waiting period, isn’t there? It’s almost like the NBA or Baseball Hall of Fame where there has to be a certain number of years to pass, but Pope John Paul II did that pass?

    RACHEL ZOLL: The way that it happened is that right after he died, there was this incredible outpouring of support for him and the crowds in St. Peter’s Square were shouting or chanting: “Santo Subito,” which means make him a saint immediately. And so when Pope Benedict was elected he decided to wave the five-year waiting period that is usually required after death before you’d even start looking at whether or not someone should be on track to become a saint.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, one pope got an exception for the two miracles, just down to one. And one pope got an exception for the sort of waiting time. And so we’re hearing that there’s going to be several world leaders present, but that this is somewhat different than standard because it’s not a huge three-day affair like it always becomes.

    RACHEL ZOLL: That’s right. This is a no-frills papacy and he’s making it a no-frills canonization. And so it’s just going to be the basic ceremony itself in St. Peter’s Square. It’s still enormously festive and something that people around the world will be watching, but it won’t be the three-day extravaganza.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Rachel Zoll, the religion writer for the Associated Press. Thanks for joining us.

    RACHEL ZOLL: Thank you.

    The post Pope Francis to hold double canonization at the Vatican appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Zimbabwe, Hwanae National Park, Elephant and baby drinking at pool. (Loxodonta Africana). (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

    An adult and baby elephant drinking at a pool in Zimbabwe in 2012. Protected areas for African elephants are being seized by political and military elites, putting these animals at risk. Credit: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Political and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa’s last bastions for elephants, putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a nonprofit research group’s report that examines government collusion in wildlife trafficking.

    Zimbabwe has maintained robust elephant populations compared with other countries on the continent. But economic penalties imposed by the United States and Europe have led Zimbabweans with ties to President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party to find new methods of making money. The report, set for release Monday, says they may be turning to elephants’ highly valued ivory tusks.

    Zimbabwe’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

    Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group, commissioned the report from Washington-based C4ADS to better understand the role organized crime and corrupt government officials play in ivory trafficking across Africa, said Adam Roberts, Born Free USA’s chief executive officer.

    Wildlife trafficking long has been viewed as a conservation issue, but it has exploded into an illicit global economy monopolized by mafia-like syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful business interests. The report describes a toxic combination of conflict, crime and failures of governance throughout Africa that threatens to wipe out the continent’s dwindling elephant herds.

    China, the world’s largest market for ivory, is compounding the threat, the report said. Chinese companies have won lucrative contracts in Zimbabwe for mining and construction projects near remote elephant habitats, bringing waves of workers and new roads that can be exploited by East Asian crime organizations, the report said.

    North of Zimbabwe, in central Africa, an estimated 23,000 elephants, or roughly 60 each day, were killed last year. A pound of elephant tusk sells for about $1,500 on the black market. That’s more than double the price just five years ago. Ivory is used to make carved ornaments and trinkets.

    Rhinoceroses also are heavily poached for their horns, which some Asian cultures believe contain medicinal properties.

    TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, says there are between 47,000 and 93,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. The gap is due to the fact that full-fledged surveys of the animals have not been carried out since 2007, said Richard Thomas, the organization’s spokesman.

    Across Africa, there are close to 500,000 elephants, a fraction of the nearly 10 million that roamed there just 100 years ago.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month signaled its worries about the future of Zimbabwe’s herds in a decision blocking the importation of African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe during 2014. Noting the cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants last year in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, the agency said it has “significant concerns about the long-term survival of elephants in Zimbabwe.”

    The ban also applies to Tanzania.

    The Obama administration in February published a national strategy for combating the multibillion-dollar poaching industry, relying on many of the same tactics used against terrorist organizations and drug cartels. The plan outlines a “whole of government approach” that includes working with other countries to increase the number of investigations and arrests, using high-tech gear to identify poaching hot spots, and targeting the bank accounts of wildlife traffickers and the corrupt bureaucrats who assist them.

    “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent,” said Born Free USA’s Roberts. “Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.

    Zimbabwe, the report said, could become a poaching hot spot with little warning.

    Mugabe has led the country since independence from British rule in 1980. In his early years in power, he expanded public education and health services, making Zimbabwe a beacon on the continent. But Zimbabwe’s economy went into meltdown in 2000 after Mugabe ordered the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms, leading to the collapse of the agriculturally based economy, once the region’s breadbasket.

    More than a decade ago, the U.S. and the European Union began imposing sanctions against Mugabe and members of his inner circle for human rights abuses, public corruption, and vote-rigging. The penalties set strict business and travel bans. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe’s economic woes.

    Among the areas in jeopardy is Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy, a 1,000-square-mile collection of unfenced wildlife reserves that is home to most of the country’s elephants and rhinoceroses. Land reform policies have allowed politically connected people to receive hunting permits and land leases in the conservancy, according to C4ADS.

    “Many have histories of exploitative business practices, muscling into firms, stripping them of all value, and moving on, which creates a high risk of systematic poaching on seized lands,” the report said.

    The lack of transparency into the inner workings of Mugabe’s government makes it difficult to establish direct links between government loyalists and their interests in wildlife areas. The report said ownership is often masked through associates, family members, and shell companies.

    Using data-mining software developed by Palantir, a technology company in California, C4ADS named 18 people involved in what the report describes as the “political/military takeover of Save Valley Conservancy.”

    They include Maj. Gen. Engelbert Rugeje, the inspector general of Zimbabwe’s defense forces. Rugeje is not on the sanctions list maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department. He did not respond to a request for comment.

    The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe has long been aware of concerns over Rugeje.

    In the fall of 2009, he was accused of threatening to shoot a Zimbabwean lawmaker who had criticized the general for using soldiers to intimidate voters, according to an embassy cable published by the Wikileaks website. Rugeje previously was reported to the embassy for orchestrating violence in parts of Zimbabwe where candidates who ran against Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party were elected to parliament.

    A government official reported to be involved in the distribution of wildlife areas to Mugabe loyalists disputed the allegations.

    “If I repeat a lie 20 times, does that make it factual?” Francis Nhema told The Associated Press last week.

    Nhema leads the ministry tasked by Mugabe with putting in place a program to take over 51 percent control of remaining foreign and white-owned businesses and assets. He formerly ran the environment ministry. He has been on the U.S. sanctions list since 2003.

    Embassy officials in Harare privately voiced misgivings about Nhema following a 2010 meeting he had with Charles Ray, then the U.S. ambassador. Nhema denied that high-ranking Zimbabwean officials were involved in poaching activities and he rejected reports that land within the Save Valley was being commandeered for personal gain.

    “He is soft-spoken and comes across as reasonable,” reads a February 2010 cable, marked confidential. “He is, however, at least somewhat disingenuous. … In short, he toes the ZANU-PF line.”

    Associated Press reporter Richard Lardner wrote this report. AP writer Tendai Musiya in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

    The post Land grabs by elites may endanger elephants across Africa appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An armored personnel carrier with a Russian flag drives outside the regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk Monday. Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images

    An armored personnel carrier with a Russian flag drives outside the regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk Monday. Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Ukraine violence threatens peace deal
    • Keystone delay won’t eliminate the pipeline midterm politics
    • The Jeb scrutiny cometh
    • Where money’s spent as important as how much

    Ukraine: The fragile peace deal in Ukraine looks to be in serious jeopardy after three more people were killed, this time by pro-Russian separatists. Both sides traded blame with Ukraine’s prime minister accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of wanting to “restore the Soviet Union.” Don’t miss that he also asked for “real support” from the West to build up its military to hold off Russia. With President Barack Obama’s approval of his handling of the situation in Ukraine in the 40s, some in the U.S. continue to use it as a political cudgel. Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said he believes Russia will take control of Eastern Ukraine and accused the Obama administration of enabling. “I think the administration is basically saying to Russia, look, don’t do anything overt, don’t come across the border with the 40,000 troops, don’t embarrass us in that way, but you can continue to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine by doing the things that you’ve done,” the Tennessee senator said on Meet the Press. The New York Times, however, reports that President Obama is aiming to isolate Russia and Putin in a similar way to after World War II “by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state.” Vice President Biden will be in Ukraine for the next two days. Mr. Obama Tuesday is set begin travel to Asia, where he would rather focus on trade. It’s yet another Asia trip complicated by other issues. He canceled an Asia trip in October because of the government shutdown.

    Keystone politics: The Obama administration’s indefinite extension of the government’s review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline may punt a decision beyond November’s midterm elections, but it’s unlikely to take the issue off the table for the rest of the campaign. Republicans seized on the delay to hammer vulnerable red state Democrats who support construction of the pipeline as “completely powerless” when it comes to their influence with the president. For some Democrats, such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, the move provides an opportunity to highlight their differences with Mr. Obama, who holds low approval ratings in their home states. Landrieu called the decision “irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” while Begich said he was “appalled” by the delay. Politico notes the decision is more complicated for other Democrats, like Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who’ve yet to take a firm stance on the project. It’s also important to remember that environmental activists provide Democrats with a fair amount of grassroots energy — and MONEY, which will be needed to help mobilize voters this fall. By pushing off a final decision, the administration is hoping it can keep those folks engaged while not causing at-risk members too much political heartache.

    2014/2016: House Majority PAC has reserved $6.5 million in fall television advertising in 24 districts, but as the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan notes, three-quarters of those districts are Democratic-controlled, “underscoring Democrats’ challenge this year: Even as the minority party in the House would like to make gains, it has plenty of vulnerable seats to protect.” The reservations are coming several months earlier than in 2012 — a clear response to GOP outside spending. Some of the biggest buys: AZ-1, AZ-9, CA-52, CO-6, FL-18 and NY-18. … Dan Balz reports that Democrats aim to spend more on field organizing in places like North Carolina than on television buys than in past elections. … And Jeb Bush is attracting a similar level of presidential scrutiny as Hillary Clinton, with the New York Times looking into how he made his money after leaving office.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this date in 1789, John Adams was sworn in as the first U.S. Vice President. Adams was later elected to the presidency. How many vice presidents have become presidents by being elected? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Friday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: the Nixons met doing community theatre.


    • Some 36,000 runners from around the world will compete in the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that this year’s marathon will be “a fun day and a safe one.”

    • A new report from the Government Accountability Office details how the Obama administration solicited private funds to promote the health care law.

    • Ukrainian officials allege covert Russian forces are behind unrest in the East.

    • The Obama administration’s lack of decision on the controversial Keystone Pipeline could create campaign woes from Democrats.

    • In an interview with ABC News, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said politics can dictate when a justice chooses to step down. Judy Woodruff will speak with Justice Stevens on Monday’s NewsHour about his newest book: “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

    • Rick Perry’s political prospects could be in peril, with a grand jury considering whether the Texas governor abused his power by threatening to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates public corruption.

    • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., are still trying to salvage an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.

    • The Clinton Presidential Library on Friday released the “conspiracy commerce memo,” which was created by the Clinton administration to detail how Republican conspiracy theories made their way to mainstream media.

    • Jonathan Martin: “Democrats could ultimately see some political benefit from the [health care] law. But in this midterm election, they are confronting a vexing reality: Many of those helped by the health care law — notably young people and minorities — are the least likely to cast votes that could preserve it, even though millions have gained health insurance and millions more will benefit from some of its popular provisions.”

    • White House records from the George W. Bush administration could be available faster than any of his predecessors.

    • In a very atypical race in the current political climate, a moderate Republican is looking to upset a conservative California congressman.

    • House Republicans have proposed legislation that would suspend the pay of federal officials who are found in contempt of Congress.

    • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised their Republican counterpart by $400,000 in March.

    • Getting back to fundraising after a year off, American Crossroads raised more in March than in the previous 14 months combined, but their fundraising base includes three corporations and just 21 individuals, with the average donation exceeding $218,000.

    • 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 Putin, Ukraine continue to test Obama appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A front end loader handles Distillers dried grain, a co-product of ethanol production used as animal feed, at the Mid Missouri Energy ethanol plant in Malta Bend, Missouri in 2010. Photo by Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

    A front end loader handles Distillers dried grain, a co-product of ethanol production used as animal feed, at the Mid Missouri Energy ethanol plant in Malta Bend, Missouri in 2010. Photo by Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

    WASHINGTON — Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

    A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.

    While biofuels are better in the long run, the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.

    The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.

    The biofuel industry and administration officials immediately criticized the research as flawed. They said it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and vastly overestimated how much residue farmers actually would remove once the market gets underway.

    “The core analysis depicts an extreme scenario that no responsible farmer or business would ever employ because it would ruin both the land and the long-term supply of feedstock. It makes no agronomic or business sense,” said Jan Koninckx, global business director for biorefineries at DuPont.

    Later this year the company is scheduled to finish a $200 million-plus facility in Nevada, Iowa, that will produce 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using corn residue from nearby farms. An assessment paid for by DuPont said that the ethanol it will produce there could be more than 100 percent better than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

    The research is among the first to attempt to quantify, over 12 Corn Belt states, how much carbon is lost to the atmosphere when the stalks, leaves and cobs that make up residue are removed and used to make biofuel, instead of left to naturally replenish the soil with carbon. The study found that regardless of how much corn residue is taken off the field, the process contributes to global warming.

    “I knew this research would be contentious,” said Adam Liska, the lead author and an assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “I’m amazed it has not come out more solidly until now.”

    The Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis, which assumed about half of corn residue would be removed from fields, found that fuel made from corn residue, also known as stover, would meet the standard in the energy law. That standard requires cellulosic biofuels to release 60 percent less carbon pollution than gasoline.

    Cellulosic biofuels that don’t meet that threshold could be almost impossible to make and sell. Producers wouldn’t earn the $1 per gallon subsidy they need to make these expensive fuels and still make a profit. Refiners would shun the fuels because they wouldn’t meet their legal obligation to use minimum amounts of next-generation biofuels.

    EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in a statement that the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”

    But an AP investigation last year found that the EPA’s analysis of corn-based ethanol failed to predict the environmental consequences accurately.

    The departments of Agriculture and Energy have initiated programs with farmers to make sure residue is harvested sustainably. For instance, farmers will not receive any federal assistance for conservation programs if too much corn residue is removed.

    A peer-reviewed study performed at the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory in 2012 found that biofuels made with corn residue were 95 percent better than gasoline in greenhouse gas emissions. That study assumed some of the residue harvested would replace power produced from coal, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s unclear whether future biorefineries would do that.

    Liska agrees that using some of the residue to make electricity, or planting cover crops, would reduce carbon emissions. But he did not include those in his computer simulation.

    Still, corn residue is likely to be a big source early on for cellulosic biofuels, which have struggled to reach commercial scale. Last year, for the fifth time, the EPA proposed reducing the amount required by law. It set a target of 17 million gallons for 2014. The law envisioned 1.75 billion gallons being produced this year.

    “The study says it will be very hard to make a biofuel that has a better greenhouse gas impact than gasoline using corn residue,” which puts it in the same boat as corn-based ethanol, said David Tilman, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has done research on biofuels’ emissions from the farm to the tailpipe.

    Tilman said it was the best study on the issue he has seen so far.

    The post Study questions environmental benefits of biofuels appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Gustavo Devito/Flickr

    Photo by Gustavo Devito/Flickr

    WASHINGTON — Thirty years after failing to convince the Supreme Court of the threat posed by home video recordings, big media companies are back and now trying to rein in another technological innovation they say threatens their financial well-being.

    The battle has moved out of viewers’ living rooms, where Americans once marveled at their ability to pop a cassette into a recorder and capture their favorite programs or the sporting event they wouldn’t be home to see.

    Now the entertainment conglomerates that own U.S. television networks are waging a legal fight, culminating in Tuesday’s Supreme Court argument against a startup business that uses Internet-based technology to give subscribers the ability to watch programs anywhere they can take portable devices.

    In September 2013, Hari Sreenivasan interviewed Aereo chief Chet Kanojia about his company and its innovative technical and legal approach to distributing TV over the Internet.

    The source of the companies’ worry is Aereo Inc., which takes free television signals from the airwaves and sends them over the Internet to paying subscribers in 11 cities. Aereo, backed by billionaire Barry Diller, has plans to more than double that total.

    Broadcasters including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS have sued Aereo for copyright infringement, saying Aereo should pay for redistributing the programming the same way cable and satellite systems do.

    The U.S. networks increasingly are reliant on these retransmission fees, estimated at $3.3 billion last year and going up to more than $7 billion by 2018, according to research by SNL Kagan, which analyzes media and communications trends. They fear that they will lose some of that money if the Supreme Court rules for Aereo.

    Aereo’s service starts at $8 a month and is available in New York, Boston, Houston and Atlanta, among others. Subscribers get about two dozen local over-the-air stations, plus the Bloomberg TV financial channel.

    In the New York market, Aereo has a data center in Brooklyn with thousands of dime-size antennas. When a subscriber wants to watch a show live or record it, the company temporarily assigns him an antenna and transmits the program over the Internet to the subscriber’s laptop, tablet, smartphone or other device.

    The antenna is only used by one subscriber at a time, and Aereo says that’s much like the situation at home, where a viewer uses a personal antenna to watch over-the-air broadcasts for free.

    “Aereo is in some ways novel, but it is also among a host of technologies that uses the Internet to offer consumers the ability to do what they always have more cheaply and conveniently,” the Dish Network and Echostar Technologies said in a supporting legal brief filed in the Supreme Court.

    But the broadcasters and their backers argue that Aereo’s competitive advantage lies not in its product, but in avoiding paying for it.

    “Aereo is simply a blatant free rider trying to make a quick buck without paying anything toward the true costs of what it misappropriates,” Time Warner Inc. said in a court filing.

    The broadcasters told the court that Aereo’s “competitors pay for the rights to retransmit ‘live TV’ to the public — as they must to avoid liability for copyright infringement — while Aereo does not.”

    The federal appeals court in New York ruled that Aereo did not violate the copyrights of broadcasters with its service, but a similar service has been blocked by judges in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

    The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said its ruling stemmed from a 2008 decision in which it held that Cablevision Systems Corp. could offer a remote digital video recording service without paying additional licensing fees to broadcasters because each playback transmission was made to a single subscriber using a single unique copy produced by that subscriber. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal from movie studios, TV networks and cable TV channels.

    In the Aereo case, a dissenting judge said his court’s decision would eviscerate copyright law.

    Judge Denny Chin called Aereo’s setup a sham and said the individual antennas are a “Rube Goldberg-like contrivance” — an overly complicated device that accomplishes a simple task in a confusing way — that exists for the sole purpose of evading copyright law.

    The Obama administration, artists, actors, Major League Baseball and the National Football League all support the broadcasters. But the administration and computer software and telecommunications groups are urging the court to avoid a broad ruling in favor of copyright protection that could call into question the rapidly evolving world of cloud computing, which gives users access to a vast online computer network that stores and processes information.

    Smaller cable companies, independent broadcasters and consumer groups are backing Aereo.

    FM radio and cable TV were initially derided as unnecessary, inefficient or just bizarre, said the digital civil liberties watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a legal filing joined by other public interest groups and the consumer electronics trade association, the group said the justices should not become regulators of technology and “the court should not attempt to predict the future of television.”

    The entertainment industry has changed dramatically since the high court ruled in favor of home video recording in 1984 in a 5-4 decision. Then, Sony was the maker of the Betamax recorder and Universal City Studios and Walt Disney Productions were arguing for protection under copyright law.

    Now, Disney owns ABC and cable giant Comcast owns NBC and Universal.

    The case is ABC v. Aereo, 13-461.

    The post Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments over Internet TV service Aereo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Rebecca Emery/Getty Images

    Photo by Rebecca Emery/Getty Images

    Joan Eisenstodt didn’t have a stopwatch when she went to see an ear-nose-and-throat specialist recently, but she is certain the physician was not in the exam room with her for more than three or four minutes.

    “He looked up my nose, said it was inflamed, told me to see the nurse for a prescription and was gone,” said the 66-year-old Washington, D.C., consultant, who was suffering from an acute sinus infection.

    When she started protesting the doctor’s choice of medication, “He just cut me off totally,” she said. “I’ve never been in and out from a visit faster.”

    These days, stories like Eisenstodt’s are increasingly common. Patients–and physicians–say they feel the time crunch as never before as doctors rush through appointments as if on roller skates to see more patients and perform more procedures to make up for flat or declining reimbursements.

    It’s not unusual for primary care doctors’ appointments to be scheduled at 15-minute intervals. Some physicians who work for hospitals say they’ve been asked to see patients every 11 minutes.

    And the problem may worsen as millions of consumers who gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act begin to seek care — some of whom may have seen doctors rarely, if at all, and have a slew of untreated problems.

    “Doctors have one eye on the patient and one eye on the clock,” said David J. Rothman, who studies the history of medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

    By all accounts, short visits take a toll on the doctor-patient relationship, which is considered a key ingredient of good care, and may represent a missed opportunity for getting patients more actively involved in their own health. There is less of a dialogue between patient and doctor, studies show, increasing the odds patients will leave the office frustrated.

    Shorter visits also increase the likelihood the patient will leave with a prescription for medication, rather than for behavioral change — like trying to lose a few pounds, or going to the gym.

    Physicians don’t like to be rushed either, but for primary care physicians, time is, quite literally, money. Unlike specialists, they don’t do procedures like biopsies or colonoscopies, which generate revenue, but instead, are still paid mostly per visit, with only minor adjustments for those that go longer.

    And many doctors may face greater financial pressure as many insurers offering new plans through the health law’s exchanges pay them even less, offering instead to send them large numbers of patients.

    This fee-for-service payment model, which still dominates U.S. health care, rewards doctors who see patients in bulk, said Dr. Reid B. Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, who practices in Kingsport, Tenn.

    “Doctors are thinking, ‘I have to meet my bottom line, pay my overhead, pay my staff and keep my doors open. So it’s a hamster wheel, and they’re seeing more and more patients … And what ends up happening is the 15-minute visit,” he said.

    Struggling For Control

    Dr. Richard J. Baron, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, said that patients and physicians often wrangle over control of that visit – a “struggle for control” over the allocation of time

    Sometimes the struggle is overt – as when a patients pulls out a long list of complaints as soon as the doctors comes in.

    Sometimes, it’s more subtle. When Judy Weinstein went to see her doctor in Manhattan recently, she knew she would get only 20 minutes with him – even though it was an annual physical, and she had waited nine months for the appointment.

    So when the doctor asked if he could have a medical student shadow him, she put her foot down.

    “I said, ‘Y’know, I would prefer not. I get 20 minutes of your divided attention as it is – it’s never undivided, ever – and I need to not have any distractions. I need you focused on me.’“

    How did visits get so truncated? No one knows exactly why 15 minutes became the norm, but many experts trace the time crunch back to Medicare’s 1992 adoption of a byzantine formula that relies on “relative value units,” or RVUs, to calculate doctors’ fees.

    If you must know, the actual formula is: (Work RVU x Geographic Index + Practice Expenses RVU x Geographic Index + Liability Insurance RVU x Geographic Index) x Medicare Conversion Factor.

    That was a switch for Medicare, which had previously paid physicians based on prevailing or so-called usual and customary fees. But runaway inflation and widespread inequities dictated a change. RVUs were supposed to take into account the physician’s effort and cost of running a practice, not necessarily how much time he or she spent with patients.

    The typical office visit for a primary care patient was pegged at 1.3 RVUs, and the American Medical Association coding guidelines for that type of visit suggested a 15-minute consult.

    Private insurers, in turn, piggybacked on Medicare’s fee schedule, said Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt. Then, in the 1990s, he said, “managed care came in and hit doctors with brutal force.”

    Doctors who participated in managed care networks had to give insurers discounts on their rates; in exchange, the insurers promised to steer ever more patients their way.

    To avoid income cuts, Reinhardt said, “doctors had to see more patients – instead of doing three an hour, they did four.”

    Rushed Doctors Listen Less

    How doctors structure the precious 15-minute visit varies – often quite dramatically. Generally, they start by asking the patient how they are and why they came in, trying to zero in on the “chief complaint” — the medical term for the patient’s primary reason for the visit.

    But most patients have more than one issue to discuss, said Dr. Alex Lickerman, an internist who has taught medical students at University of Chicago and is director of the university’s Student Health and Counseling Services.

    “The patient is thinking: ‘I’m taking the afternoon off work for this appointment. I’ve waited three months for it. I’ve got a list of things to discuss.’

    “The doctor is thinking, ‘I’ve got 15 minutes.’ There is almost a built-in tension,” Lickerman said.

    A 1999 study of 29 family physician practices found that doctors let patients speak for only 23 seconds before redirecting them; Only one in four patients got to finish his or her statement. Studies show that doctors’ visits have not gotten shorter on average in recent decades and may actually have gotten a few minutes longer. The mean time spent with a physician across specialties was 20.8 minutes in 2010, the latest year available, up from 16.3 minutes in 1991-1992 and 18.9 minutes in 2000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics; that includes visits with internists, family docs and pediatricians, which all increased by about two and a half minutes.

    In 1992, most visits – about 70 percent — lasted 15 minutes or less; by 2010, only half of doctor visits were that short (the data is from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, an annual nationally representative sample survey of visits to physicians).

    This doesn’t necessarily mean the patient experience is improving. Medical schools drill students in the art of taking a careful medical history, but studies have found doctors often fall short in the listening department. It turns out they have a bad habit of interrupting.

    A 1999 study of 29 family physician practices found that doctors let patients speak for only 23 seconds before redirecting them; only one in four patients got to finish their statement. A University of South Carolina study in 2001 found primary care patients were interrupted after 12 seconds, if not by the health care provider then by a beeper or a knock on the door.

    Yet making the patient feel they have been heard may be one of the most important elements of doctoring, Lickerman said.

    “People feel dissatisfied when they don’t get a chance to say what they have to say,” he said. “I will sometimes boast that I can make people feel they ‘got their money’s worth’ in five minutes. It’s not the actual time or lack of time people are complaining about – it’s how that time felt.”

    This KHN story was produced in collaboration with USA Today. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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    A five-and-a-half hour flight spent unconscious at 38,000 feet, complete with a temperature of negative 80 degrees and little oxygen to breathe, does not bode well for a human body. Authorities say a sixteen-year-old boy who was subjected to those conditions is lucky to be alive after sneaking inside the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound plane.

    “How he survived, I don’t know,” said FBI spokesman Tom Simon. “It’s a miracle.”

    The sixteen year old boy, whose name has not been released, reportedly hopped a fence at Mineta International Airport in San Jose, Calif., before managing to climb undetected into the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45. The teen was not discovered until an hour after the flight landed in Maui, Hawaii’s Kahului Airport, when he descended to the tarmac after regaining consciousness.

    While investigations are ongoing concerning how the teen was able to sneak into the secure runway and onto the flight, others are wondering how it was possible for the teen to survive such an ordeal. Teen stowaway survives five hour flight to Hawaii in plane’s wheel well appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Update 12:22 p.m ET: Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won today’s marathon, logging back-to-back wins and setting a new course record for women. Jeptoo crossed the finish line after 2 hours, 18 minutes, 57 seconds, running an average mile just under 5 minute 20 second.

    She is one of only seven women who have won three Boston Marathons.

    Update 12:30 p.m. ET: Meb Keflezighi, 38, an Olympic marathon runner, has become the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983. Keflezighi crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 37 seconds.

    Thirty-six thousand athletes began the 118th Boston Marathon at the start line in Hopkinton, Mass., with adrenaline and excitement.

    Runners and supporters joined together for one of the oldest annual marathons in the world, to prove that Boston is indeed “Boston Strong.”

    On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded on Boylston Street near the finish line of the race. The pressure cooker bombs killed three people and injured more than 260.

    More than 5,000 runners last year were unable to complete the race after the bombs exploded. This year, 80 percent of them accepted the Boston Athletic Association’s invitation to come back and participate in the race.

    Heavy security was visible at all points of the race with state and local police officers stationed everywhere. The AP reports that helicopters are monitoring from the skies and bomb-sniffing dogs are searching trash cans while more than 100 cameras along the race route monitor the crowd. Observers were sometimes required to to go through multiple security checkpoints before being allowed near the start line.

    Before the race began, the emcee recited the names of the four people who died last year, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and police officer Sean Collier and runners and crowds observed a moment of silence.

    The mobility impaired entrants were the first to begin the race at 8:50 a.m. EDT, followed by entrants in push rim wheelchairs and handcycles. The elite women and men kicked off at 9:32 a.m. and 10 a.m. respectively. The last wave of entrants leave the start line at 11:25 a.m.

    Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya returned to defend their titles as champions of the Boston Marathon. Desisa won last year’s race for the men with a time of 2:10:22 and Jeptoo won for the women with a time of 2:26:25.

    Watch a live stream of the marathon on the Boston Athletic Association’s website.

    The post Athletes return to Boston Marathon to finish race they started one year ago appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Yusef Komunyakaa reads his poem “I Am Silas” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

    I Am Silas

    We worked the thorn bushes
    & front garden, hunted quail
    & jackrabbit deep into the woods,

    dipped fat hens into boiling pots
    to pluck the speckled feathers,
    picked mayhaw & blackberries

    beside a bog, shucked yellow corn
    into grain barrels, & horsed around
    in the snowy clover at sunset.

    He was a buckaroo at sixteen
    & me at seventeen when he signed up
    for the 44th Mississippi Cavalry,

    & we shadowed each other
    as if of the same wet mother.
    The boy owned my surname,

    but I hadn’t ever said sir or mister
    & he never called me manservant
    or slave before we teamed up

    with Johnny Rebs yelling across
    the border of Cicasaw county,
    before we fought our way

    to Belmont, Shiloh, Chickamauga,
    & Crooked Tree. My Bowie knife
    will never rust because the blade

    knows blood. Sometimes dreams
    come out of verse in Revelations
    & other times out of love songs

    half-whispered on a hilltop,
    or blues down from the Delta
    the whole lonely climb to West Point

    winding into pine & shrub oak
    where the sapsucker & God Bird
    live by infernal grace & fire.

    Once I dreamt in a canebrake
    faces of the First South Carolina
    & I could no longer stand guard

    over our sleeping shadows.
    The pale horse & the dark horse
    shook in their trace chains,

    & that was when a bullet
    caught up with Andrew Chandler
    & Yankee soldiers took us to Ohio

    To save his right leg I paid
    the camp doctor a gold piece
    sewn into his gray jacket,

    & we were sent to Atlanta
    in a lucky swap. Sometimes,
    if you plant a red pear tree

    beside an apple, the roots tangle
    underneath, & it’s hard to say
    if you’re eating apple of pear.

    When we came back to runagate
    crops going to seed & bedlam,
    I was ready to bargain for a corner of land.

    But history tried to pay me
    in infamy with Judas’s regalia
    & a few pieces of tarnished silver.

    Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “I Am Silas” is published in “Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration: Poems and Photographs, Past and Present.” In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned 12 modern poets to reflect on our contemporary understanding of the war.

    The post Weekly Poem: Yusef Komunyakaa reads ‘I Am Silas’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Michael Coghlan

    Photo by Flickr user Michael Coghlan

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department says it is taking new steps to encourage certain federal prisoners to seek clemency and is preparing for thousands of new applications.

    The department plans to broaden the criteria that will be considered when deciding whether to recommend a prisoner for clemency.

    The criteria will be announced later this week. The department says new lawyers will be assigned to review the applications.

    In a video statement Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the change is designed to help federal drug offenders imprisoned under now out-of-date sentencing guidelines.

    The announcement comes months after President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight people he said were serving unduly harsh drug sentences. The Justice Department earlier had encouraged lawyers to help some drug prisoners prepare clemency petitions.

    The post Justice Department encourages imprisoned drug offenders to seek clemency appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Handout photo

    Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Handout photo

    NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government must publicly disclose in redacted form secret papers describing its legal justification for using drones to kill citizens suspected of terrorism overseas, because President Barack Obama and senior government officials have commented on the subject, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

    The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in a Freedom of Information Act case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and two reporters for The New York Times. In 2011, they sought any documents in which Department of Justice lawyers had discussed the highly classified “targeted-killing” program.

    The requests came after a September 2011 drone strike in Yemen killed Anwar Al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida leader who had been born in the United States, and another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, and after an October 2011 strike killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, al-Awlaki’s teenage son and also a U.S. citizen. Some legal scholars and human rights activists complained that it was illegal for the U.S. to kill American citizens away from the battlefield without a trial.

    The Justice Department did not immediately respond to phone and email message requests for comment.

    In January 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that she had no authority to order the documents disclosed, although she chided the Obama administration for refusing to release them.

    In an opinion written by 2nd Circuit Judge Jon Newman, a three-judge panel noted that after McMahon ruled, senior government officials spoke about the subject. The panel rejected the government’s claim that the court could not consider official disclosures made after McMahon’s ruling, including a 16-page Justice Department white paper on the subject and public comments by Obama in May in which he acknowledged his role in the al-Awlaki killing, saying he had “authorized the strike that took him out.”

    Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an email that “the government can’t pretend that everything about its targeted killing program is a classified secret while senior officials selectively disclose information meant to paint the program in the most favorable light.”

    David E. McCraw, vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Co., said in an email that the 2nd Circuit “reaffirmed a bedrock principle of democracy: The people do not have to accept blindly the government’s assurances that it is operating within the bounds of the law. They get to see for themselves the legal justification that the government is working from.”

    The post Feds must release targeted killing program documents, court rules appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Mexico Cartel Hits Midwest With New Heroin Killing Chicago Youth

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: The Justice Department announced today it would expand the criteria used to decide which drug offenders are eligible for presidential clemency. Hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates could qualify for suspended sentences.

    In a video released online, Attorney General Eric Holder said more details would be announced later this week.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. And we at the Department of Justice will meet this need by assigning potentially dozens of lawyers with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense to review applications and provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications require.

    GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Brown picks up the story from there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And we look at the new guidelines now with Bill McCollum, former attorney general of Florida and Republican congressman from that state. He is now a lawyer in private practice in Washington. And Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice.

    Well, Vanita Gupta, let me start with you.

    What is the problem that is trying to be addressed here by the president and Attorney General Holder?

    VANITA GUPTA, American Civil Liberties Union: Sure.

    Well, since 1980, our federal prison system has grown by about 800 percent. And about half are serving time for drug offenses. The attorney general put it better than anyone, our nation’s top law enforcement officer, back in August, when he said too many people are serving too much time in our federal prison system for low-level offenses. It’s coming at a huge cost to taxpayers.

    The federal prison system right now is about 35 to 40 percent overcrowded. And it’s over 70 percent of those serving time in our federal prisons are black and Hispanic. Our federal prison system has been grossly racially disproportionate in its impact. And so this is part of the problem that the attorney general is seeking to solve.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Bill McCollum, first, do you agree there is a problem, and, if so, is this the right approach, to expand the number of clemencies?

    BILL MCCOLLUM, Former Attorney General, Florida: I think clemency is in order for certain cases right now that has not been done in the past, I think the federal government more than the states, where I served on Florida’s clemency board for a number of years as attorney general.

    In the federal area, they have had very few. The president hasn’t pardoned very many people, hasn’t had very many commutations of sentences. And the minimum mandatory sentences of the past have led to certain cases which really do need to be addressed, where people were oversentenced.

    And in 2010, those sentencing guidelines were reduced significantly, especially in the drug area. And if the procedures that the attorney general is going to follow will indeed track those changes, and let some people out of prison who have been in there a long time that shouldn’t be there, then I’m all for it.

    On the other hand, I don’t want anybody to be left with a false impression. There are people who commit very serious drug-related crimes, trafficking in large quantities of drugs. And if you traffic in enough heroin, enough cocaine, you are killing a lot of people. And the mandatory sentencing is very valid for you, and you really shouldn’t have your sentence commuted.

    So I believe that probably that General Holder will do the right thing, but we will have to wait and see.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so that is — Vanita Gupta, that really is the question of the criteria here. What is used, or what should be used to decide who is eligible?


    The attorney general’s announcement today follows an announcement by the deputy attorney general back in February, who said that they were seeking increased commutation petitions for people who are serving very long sentences for minor, low-level crimes, who have good prison records, who have no affiliation to organized crime.

    And so it is going to be a very highly screened, scrutinized process to select the right number of people. Unfortunately, in our federal system, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who actually fit that criteria. And so there is no shortage, but it is a very select group of people that the attorney general is targeting for commutation recommendations.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Bill McCollum, what concerns you, I guess, as you look at those numbers? Because they do use the — they do talk about using — looking at people for nonviolent crimes.

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, nonviolent can include a drug trafficker who has not used a gun or a knife or anything. If you are a drug smuggler and you are shipping large quantities, a kilo of heroin, five kilos of cocaine, some huge quantity — and those are huge quantities of the drugs — in the United States and distributing them, then you may be doing it without violence.

    And you have got to take that into account. It’s not just a question of violence. It’s a question of quantity and whether you are a dealer or whether you are a mule, as they used to call it when I was in Congress and chairing the Subcommittee on Crime, and you are just going along, so to speak, as a side player, or maybe you got caught up as the girlfriend, as some cases have demonstrated, of a drug dealer, and you didn’t turn state’s evidence, so the prosecutor decided they were going to throw the book at you.

    Those kind of cases do need to be addressed. But the major drug traffickers shouldn’t. And the other thing about the federal system that’s very important that’s not addressed well at all — in many states, it isn’t either — and that’s rehabilitation, getting prisoners ready to go back out again into the streets and giving them job skills, giving them training, something that I have long advocated.

    And it just is hearing — you know, falling on deaf ears many times in the federal prison system. So the return-to-prison rate is very high. And if we take a lot of these folks and put them out on the streets, then my concern in part is going to be, if they don’t have this just right, you’re going see people returning to prison, and committing other crimes and then returning to prison. It is a public safety issue then.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, you want to respond to that?

    VANITA GUPTA: Well, I think the reality is, the Department of Justice is going to be very carefully scrutinizing the kinds of petitions that Mr. McCollum just spoke about.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I should say, they did say that they are going to put more attorneys assigned to this…

    VANITA GUPTA: And they are…

    JEFFREY BROWN: … which means a use of resources, which is another issue.

    VANITA GUPTA: Absolutely. They’re going to have to, because the response is going to be overwhelming.

    But, you know, the reality is mandatory sentencing has completely hamstrung the federal system. Federal judges have been unable to do their jobs in the system. And there is a real need for reform. So while we are very eagerly anticipating a very robust screening and scrutinizing process in this clemency announcement today, the reality is, we need to actually see action from Congress, and see Congress enact the Smarter Sentencing Act to really kind of enact the kinds of reforms that we’re seeing take place in red and blue states around the country, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws and keeping crime rates on the decline.

    And so that’s going to necessarily be a part of the effort on criminal justice reform for the next few years.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what — Bill McCollum, do you have a sense now of the impact of this step? I mean, we’re talking about thousands of people potentially out there?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, I worry about the numbers.

    We’re going to have to wait and see. But what I am concerned about is what I just heard her say, and that is the idea that you can take this example and suddenly say mandatory sentences all together ought to be done away with, and judges should have discretion. That is where we were in the ’80s and ’90s, when we put these in place.

    And we were getting widely disparate sentences. We were getting really wild differences among the federal system particularly and judges in how they sentenced. While I think there have been abuses and some of the statutes need to have been adjusted, the idea of doing away from — away altogether of mandatory sentencing for major traffickers or for people who commit crimes with guns, like in my home state, where there is a 10-20 life precision for using a gun or committing — firing the gun in the commission of a crime — I think it would be a big mistake to do away with those.

    We don’t need to go back to that system that failed before. We need to have determinate sentencing where we can and then adjust it so we don’t have harsh and wrong outcomes, and use the clemency laws where it is appropriate.


    BILL MCCOLLUM: That is why they are there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, very brief response.

    VANITA GUPTA: No, I don’t think that we’re actually that far off.

    The reforms that are on the table really apply to nonviolent offenses, and that that is where judges need to have more discretion to be able to tailor sentences in nonviolent drug cases.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK, well, we will watch the next steps.

    Vanita Gupta and Bill McCollum, thank you both very much.

    VANITA GUPTA: Thank you.

    The post What factors should be considered for clemency against drug charges? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Mieke Dalle/Getty Images

    Photo by Mieke Dalle/Getty Images

    What is extinction? For a species there is no greater failure. It’s a dead end for millennia of genetic adaptation and refinement. Extinction is the dustbin collecting the scratch paper of your discarded attempt to crack the genetic code. But extinction can also be a beginning.

    This week, to mark the 44th observance of Earth Day, we invite you to join us in our pursuit to better understand extinction. We’ll explore the traditional idea of extinction you learned about in grade school science, and we want to understand other sorts of extinction, as well. What happens when ideas, technology or even ways of life go extinct?

    Welcome to Extinction Week at the PBS NewsHour.

    To get started we asked, where does extinction happen? The traditional idea of extinction is global: the end of the dinosaurs, the biologically doomed dodo, the much-discussed mass extinction events. But scientists are beginning to understand how smaller-scale extinctions shape our world as well. In the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, researchers have found that fallen leaves, trees and plants lie on the ground for months without rotting. The local populations of microbes, wiped out by intense radiation, have stopped doing their part to break down organic matter. So the detritus remains.

    Extinction Week logoBut extinction can be even more local, like when it happens inside your own body. On Science Wednesday, PBS NewsHour reporter Producer Rebecca Jacobson talks to Dr. Martin J. Blaser about his new book, “Missing Microbes.” Blaser reveals what happens when populations of beneficial human gut bacteria are wiped out. We acquire this bacteria as babies crawling in the dirt and from the contact and kisses from our family members. But city-dwelling people, living squeaky-clean antibiotic lives, have lost a third of their internal microbial diversity compared to those who live in more rural settings. Perhaps it’s time we all got a little more dirty.

    Today we find out what happens when a coin becomes obsolete, as the Canadian mint collects and recycles more than 30 billion pennies that are being phased out of circulation. Later this week, we’ll meet a group living together on a Virginia commune, working to keep the values of the 1960s counterculture alive.

    And we’d like you to help us find things in your world that are going extinct. Share a photo of the vacant burger joint that used to bring life to your neighborhood’s corner, or the empty shopping mall collecting dust down the street. We’re collecting them on Instagram and Facebook under the hashtag #extinctionweek.

    And that brings us to the end — but not the real end. Is extinction really final anymore? On Earth Day, we’ll take a look at the controversies surrounding efforts at an emerging science called de-extinction with KQED’s Quest. It’s a mixture of conservation and genetic science focused on bringing back species that recently went extinct, like the passenger pigeon or the woolly mammoth. Proponents say it’s a way to save species we’re losing everyday. Critics worry it’s a flash in the petri dish — a distraction from the critical field science that can save these animals before they’re lost.

    Thanks for joining us for Extinction Week. We hope we’ll be around for a long time.

    The post Will you survive Extinction Week? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens  Speaks At The American Law Institute Annual Meeting

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: A former Supreme Court justice takes on the U.S. Constitution and the court he stepped away from.

    John Paul Stevens was known in his 35 years in office for views that evolved from the time he was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford to one of the court’s most outspoken liberal voices.

    Today, four years after retiring, the 94-year-old continues to make waves with an ambitious new book. It’s titled “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

    I talked to him last week in his chambers at the Supreme Court.

    Justice John Paul Stevens, thank you for talking with us.

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS, U.S. Supreme Court: Well, I’m happy to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re asking to amend the Constitution six different ways. How practical is that?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, it certainly would take time to do that job completely, but there’s no reason why — one or two amount amendments might be adopted before the others.

    And I think the issues in each of the ones I discussed are sufficiently important that it’s worth spending time debating them and thinking about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You single out rules, Justice Stevens, that were handed down, as you point out, by a slim majority of the court over the last 40 years that you say — and I’m quoting you now — “have had such a profound and unfortunate impact on our basic law, that resort to the process of amendment is warranted.”

    You’re essentially taking on the modern Supreme Court.

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, because I have been trying to do that for a good many years.

    But I think there were incorrect — incorrect decisions that were profoundly unwise, and really contrary to a lot of things that our country stands for. And I think they should be changed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re speaking in a mild mannered way, Justice Stevens, but I can tell you feel pretty strongly about this.



    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: There’s no doubt about that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about some of the ways that you would like to see the Constitution changed.

    Among other things, you want an amendment that would require the states not to draw legislative or congressional districts in a way to increase partisan strength. We know, clearly, there is partisan redistricting. But most redistricting is done around where populations live, whether it’s an urban area, a suburban area. Why isn’t this something that is better left to the political process?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, because the political process has misfired.

    And in a number of states, the dominant party has redistricted with its own objective of strengthening its control of the state in the future and of its congressional delegation at the time by drawing bizarre districts that have no purpose whatsoever, other than to enhance the political strength of the party in power.

    Now, it’s my very profound view that a person in public office has a primary duty to follow — to make impartial decisions, not motivated by personal profit or personal gain or advantage just to the political party of whom — of which he is a member.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying take it out of politics?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, not entirely. But don’t allow districts to be drawn for no reason other than political advantage.

    There are times when political — political considerations can be taken into account in making certain minor adjustments such as that.

    But the examples that I talked about in the book are examples of districts that are bizarre in shape and have absolutely — obviously no justification, other than the impermissible justification of partisan advantage to those who drafted the districts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also want to amend the Constitution to abolish the death penalty. People who have always opposed the death penalty lament how long they say it took you to change your mind, from the time you came on the court in 1975 until 2008.

    Why do you think it took you as long as it did to change your mind? And was it for humane reasons or constitutional reasons?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, I think that what has happened in the period that I have been on the court is that the court has used death penalty litigation to develop rules that make conviction more likely than it should be, the rules governing the selection of the jury, for example, rules governing the admissibility of victim-impact evidence at the penalty phase of the trial.

    Those rules have slanted the opportunity for justice in favor of the prosecutor. And I think it’s particularly incorrect to do it in the capital context, because the cost is so high. If you make a mistake in a capital case, there is no way to take care of it later on.

    And the risk of an incorrect execution in any case to me is really intolerable. And the system shouldn’t permit that possibility to exist.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Another controversy you’re jumping right into is campaign finance. You believe Congress should be able to put limits on the amount of money candidates spend on their campaigns…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … and that the Supreme Court has made mistakes in several decisions, allowing corporations, labor unions to advocate and spend money on candidates.

    Considering all the court has done, Justice Stevens, to open the door for huge money to pour into American politics, including the recent McCutcheon decision, what effect does all this have on American politics?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, I don’t think it’s a healthy effect.

    And I think it’s a change from what the people who direct — framed our basic government envisioned. For the — as the chief justice said, I think, in the first sentence of his opinion in the McCutcheon case the other day, there is nothing more important than participation in electing our representatives.

    But the law that developed in that case and in a number of other cases involved not electing the representatives of the people who voted for them, but electing representatives of — in other jurisdictions where the financing is used. In other words, that was a case that involved the right of the — of an individual to spend as much of its money as he wanted to elect representatives of other people. He didn’t use any of that money to elect his own representatives.

    And I think that’s a distortion of the concept that we started with many, many years ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The last area that I want to ask you about is what this country should do about guns. You would change the wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution to say the right of people to bear arms to own a gun should apply only when serving in the militia.

    Is it your ultimate hope that there would be no right to own a gun for self-defense?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, it would be my ultimate hope that legislatures would decide the issues, and not be hampered by constitutional restrictions, because, clearly, legislators are in a much better position than judges are to decide what could be permissible in different contexts.

    And the effect of the Second Amendment as it is now construed is to make federal judges the final arbiters of gun policy, which is quite, quite wrong, I think, and quite contrary to what the framers intended when they drafted the Second Amendment, to protect states from the danger that a strong federal armed force would have been able to the states of their own militias.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: When you look at all of these changes that you would like to see in the Constitution, and whether it’s campaign finance, redistricting or something else, do you believe the more conservative members of the Supreme Court have a partisan agenda? Do you think they are actually trying to get conservatives elected to office?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t question their motives at all.

    I think they have come to the incorrect conclusion, but I do think they have — where they have had chances to take a different tack, I think they have acted incorrectly. But I wouldn’t suggest that any of them were improperly motivated.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think you should have stayed on the court longer?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Should I have stayed on — no.


    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: If anything, I stayed on too long.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How does a justice know when it is the right time to retire? What do you think?

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, in my case, the time — I can remember the events that triggered the specific decision.

    I announced my dissent in the Citizens United orally, and I stumbled in my announcement. I had a little difficulty expressing myself. And that was out of character. And I used to have no problem at all being articulate and coherent.

    And I took that as a warning sign that maybe I had been around longer than I should.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Justice John Paul Stevens, thank you very much for talking with us.

    The book is “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

    FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure being here.

    The post How retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens would amend the constitution appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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