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

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    Russia's President Vladimir Putin And Russian Billionaires At Russia Business Week Conference

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    ALISON STEWART: Last night on the NewsHour, you heard how the new sanctions planned against Russia would affect the economy there, but those sanctions might also come at a cost to some of Russia’s business partners in the West — most of all, in Germany. For more about that we are joined tonight from Washington by Stephen Szabo, he’s the executive director of the Transatlantic Academy. And Stephen it’s clear that stakes are higher in Europe, rather than in the United States, when it comes to the situation with Russia, but just for context can you tell us what are the most significant economic ties between Europe and Russia, and most specifically Germany because of its position as a power player.

    STEPHEN SZABO: Yes, well first of all with the German case, energy is a very big factor. They get about a third of their energy from Russia, both gas and oil, so that’s a major player. They also, the german energy companies are very close linked in with Gazprom and other Russian companies. So there’s a really close interlocking between those two. Secondly, they sell a lot of automobiles and manufacturing to Russia. Engineering is a big thing. And I think one of the most interesting facts that I’ve seen recently was the head of one of the biggest German engineering companies, Siemens, went to Moscow the week after the annexation of Crimea and met with Putin and assured him that they would continue a long term relationship with Russia. And that was a signal to me that the German business community is clearly concerned about maintaining its investments and even broadening them in the future.

    ALISON STEWART: On the front page of the New York Times, there’s an article that details just how concerned the European business community is about these sanctions. What is it that the European business community wants and what doesn’t it want?

    STEPHEN SZABO: Oh, I think it can live, it’s gonna have to live with some modified or at least targeted sanctions, but not major what they’re called sectoral sanctions on major sectors like energy or finance. And I think also the point that you raised before, it’s not just Germany — I mean there’s a lot of Russian money in London, for example, the Italians have a lot of energy connections with the Russians. So it goes way beyond that and I think that’s the concern that they have. What they’re lobbying for now is to stay cool. And that’s the same thing that American companies are saying to Obama: ‘don’t make this into a bigger thing than it has to be, let’s see if we can get diplomacy to work, let’s try to not do any long term damage to our economic relationship, and most importantly we’re just coming out of an economic crisis don’t pull us back into another one by a new financial crisis with Russia.’

    ALISON STEWART: Stephen, this week Chancellor Merkel is coming to the United States, she’ll be at the White House on Friday. Last time she was in the states there was a state dinner in her honor. Now shes coming after it was revealed that the NSA had been wire tapping her phone. What is the conversation going to be like? What is going to be the first thing on the agenda between Merkel and Obama and what will be the second thing on the agenda?

    STEPHEN SZABO: Right, well it depends on who you’re talking to. I think if it’s Merkel she definitely wants to get this NSA thing behind them and she’ll press him on that a lot. But she’s also very interested in this big Transatlantic trade agreement that is stalling right now in the Congress and in the EU. and she’s certainly going to want to push on that. From Obama’s point of view, he clearly wants to get some sense from her on how far Russia will go on Russia policy and on sanctions. Because he knows that without Germany being closely aligned with the American position, the U.S. will be isolated and the policy will be pretty ineffective.

    ALISON STEWART: Can we talk about the relationship matrix a little bit, Stephen. Chancellor Merkel has a relationship with President Putin and one with President Obama. How does her relationship with each man affect their relationship with each other.

    STEPHEN SZABO: Right, I think that’s a good point. I mean she has sort of bad, I would say a very bad relationship with Putin. She doesn’t like him at all, she thinks he’s overly macho and is kind of ridiculous in some ways. And she had this famous statement about two weeks ago when she was talking to Obama about Putin saying ‘he lives in another world.’ At the same time her relationship with Obama’s not very good. She got incensed over the bugging of her phone and she let Obama know it. At the same time, she’s a very practical, business-like politician, very realistic and she knows that she can’t let her personal emotions get too involved in these bigger interstate relationships. So I would see them having a very business-like relationship. They also respect, I think Obama and Merkel respect each other as very smart, realistic politicians. And I think Obama really depends on Merkel right now for advice on Russia because she’s spending so much time talking with Putin and with the Russians.

    ALISON STEWART: It should be an interesting week in Washington this upcoming week. Stephen Szabo, thank you so much for your time.

    STEPHEN SZABO: My pleasure, thank you.

    The post European business community concerned over new Russian sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Two Supreme Court cases about police searches of cellphones without warrants present vastly different views of the ubiquitous device.

    Is it a critical tool for a criminal or is it an American’s virtual home?

    How the justices answer that question could determine the outcome of the cases being argued Tuesday. A drug dealer and a gang member want the court to rule that the searches of their cellphones after their arrest violated their right to privacy in the digital age.

    The Obama administration and California, defending the searches, say cellphones are no different from anything else a person may be carrying when arrested. Police may search those items without a warrant under a line of high court cases reaching back 40 years.

    What’s more, said Donald Verrilli Jr., the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, “Cellphones are now critical tools in the commission of crimes.”

    The cases come to the Supreme Court amid separate legal challenges to the massive warrantless collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency and the government’s use of technology to track Americans’ movements.

    Librarians, the news media, defense lawyers and civil liberties groups on the right and left are trying to convince the justices that they should take a broad view of the privacy issues raised when police have unimpeded access to increasingly powerful devices that may contain a wealth of personal data: emails and phone numbers, photographs, information about purchases and political affiliations, books and a gateway to even more material online.

    “Cellphones and other portable electronic devices are, in effect, our new homes,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a court filing that urged the court to apply the same tough standards to cellphone searches that judges have historically applied to police intrusions into a home.

    Under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, police generally need a warrant before they can conduct a search. The warrant itself must be based on “probable cause,” evidence that a crime has been committed.

    But in the early 1970s, the Supreme Court carved out exceptions for officers dealing with people they have arrested. The court was trying to set clear rules that allowed police to look for concealed weapons and prevent the destruction of evidence. Briefcases, wallets, purses and crumpled cigarette packs all are fair game if they are being carried by a suspect or within the person’s immediate control.

    Car searches pose a somewhat different issue. In 2009, in the case of a suspect handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a police cruiser, the court said police may search a car only if the arrestee “is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment” or if police believe the car contains evidence relevant to the crime for which the person had been arrested.

    The Supreme Court is expected to resolve growing division in state and federal courts over whether cellphones deserve special protection.

    More than 90 percent of Americans own at least one cellphone, the Pew Research Center says, and the majority of those are smartphones – essentially increasingly powerful computers that are also telephones.

    In the two Supreme Court cases being argued Tuesday, one defendant carried a smartphone and the other an older and less advanced flip phone.

    In San Diego, police found indications of gang membership when they looked through defendant David Leon Riley’s Samsung smartphone. Prosecutors used video and photographs found on the smartphone to persuade a jury to convict Riley of attempted murder and other charges. California courts rejected Riley’s efforts to throw out the evidence and upheld the convictions.

    Smartphones also have the ability to connect to the Internet, but the administration said in its brief that it is not arguing for the authority to conduct a warrantless Internet-based search using an arrestee’s device.

    In Boston, a federal appeals court ruled that police must have a warrant before searching arrestees’ cellphones. Police arrested Brima Wurie on suspicion of selling crack cocaine, checked the call log on his flip phone and used that information to determine where he lived. When they searched Wurie’s home, armed with a warrant, they found crack, marijuana, a gun and ammunition. The evidence was enough to produce a conviction and a prison term of more than 20 years.

    The appeals court ruled for Wurie, but left in place a drug conviction for selling cocaine near a school that did not depend on the tainted evidence. That conviction also carried a 20-year sentence. The administration appealed the court ruling because it wants to preserve the warrantless searches following arrest.

    The differences between the two cases could give the court room to craft narrow rulings that apply essentially only to the circumstances of those situations.

    The justices should act cautiously because the technology is changing rapidly, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in her court filing.

    Harris invoked Justice Samuel Alito’s earlier writing that elected lawmakers are better suited than are judges to write new rules to deal with technological innovation.

    On the other side of the California case, Stanford law professor Jeffrey Fisher, representing Riley, cited FBI statistics showing 12 million people were arrested in 2012. In California and elsewhere, he said, those arrests can be for such minor crimes as “jaywalking, littering or riding a bicycle the wrong direction on a residential street.”

    It shouldn’t be the case, Fisher said, that each time police make such an arrest, they can rummage through the cellphone without first getting a judge to agree to issue a warrant.

    The cases are Riley v. California, 13-132, and U.S. v. Wurie, 13-212.

    Follow Mark Sherman on Twitter.

    The post Supreme Court takes on police searches of cellphones appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 1.28.43 PM

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    MEGAN THOMPSON: As the accusations and warnings from both East and West mount…

    As the pace of violence in Ukraine intensifies and the prospects of war grow…

    People living in what is now Ukraine find themselves in a familiar, uncomfortable position – seemingly at the mercy of a much more powerful neighbor.

    In this case, the Russians.

    Theirs is a tangled relationship – sometimes close; other times strained, but rarely equal.

    In fact, the connections between the two countries run deep. Through marriage. Religion. Culture. And language.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Can you walk me through all the things that have bound Ukraine and Russia together throughout history?

    TIMOTHY FRYE: Well one is Ukrainian and Russian languages are quite similar. Many Ukrainians are bilingual. Television programs in contemporary Ukraine often switch back and forth between Ukrainian and Russian.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Timothy Frye is the director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. It is one of the leading Russian study centers in the nation.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: There’s lots of Ukrainians who speak Russian as their first language. And in a lesser case, there are many Russians who also speak Ukrainian. So language is an important part of the equation.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The ties between the two dates back to the establishment of a state known As Kievan Rus before the year 1000. The capital was in Kiev but the area extended all the way to Moscow.

    ALEXANDER MOTYL: In its heyday, it was actually one of the most important, if not the most important, states within Europe.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Alexander Motyl is a political science professor at Rutgers University.

    ALEXANDER MOTYL: Both nations refer to Kievan Rus as the place where they were born. And it existed for about 200, 300 years, give or take. And sort of in the middle of the 13th century, with the Mongol attacks, the place pretty much fell apart.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Motyl says once that happened, for the next several centuries parts of the area now known as Ukraine were overrun by foreign powers including the poles, the Lithuanians, the Ottomans, and then the Russians.

    ALEXANDER MOTYL: Since around 1700, give or take a few years, the consensus view again is that Ukraine has been part of a Russian empire. To put a specific date on it, it was in 1709 with the battle of Poltava where Peter the Great defeated Charles the 12th of Sweden, who was then aligned to the Ukrainian leader of the so-called Cossacks. It’s from that moment, approximately, that Ukrainians virtually total incorporation into Russian empire occurs. And it’s at that moment as well that the consensus view is that Ukraine became the equivalent of a colony with all that that that means.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Then, in the late 1700s, an area in what is now in the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine, was taken by the Russians. It was called Novorossiya – the New Russia Putin referred to recently.

    And it basically stayed under Russian control until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    That was the first time parts of the geographic area that is now Ukraine tried to declare independence. Historians still argue over the details.

    But in the early 1920s the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was formed as part of the new Soviet Union, where it remained, side-by-side with Russia, for the next seventy years. Even then, relations were often fraught.

    Stalin’s collectivization of Ukrainian farms in the 1930s led to a great famine and millions of deaths. This is an area which had long been known as the breadbasket of the region.

    And during World War II, many in Western Ukraine sided with the Nazis, not the kremlin.

    FRANZ-STEFAN GADY: A lot of people were very anti-Russian, anti-Soviet, anti-Communist because Stalin starved the Ukrainians. And that was something that nobody truly ever forgot.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Franz-Stefan Gady is a senior fellow at the East-West Institute in New York.

    FRANZ-STEFAN GADY: Germany in 1941 occupied the entire Ukraine. They immediately enslaved large portions of the population, with the help of Ukrainian auxiliaries, drove out almost the entire Jewish population of Ukraine, and sent a lot of forced laborers back to Germany to help work in the war industry.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But after the war, Ukraine – the second most populous Soviet Republic – enjoyed an almost special status within the 15 republics of the USSR.

    TIMOTHY FREY: The relations between the Russians and the Ukrainians were– much closer than they were with any other ethnic group.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In 1954, the soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea to Ukraine, at that point a transfer within the Soviet Union.

    And during much of the next nearly 40 years people from Ukraine were well represented in the soviet elite. Khrushchev rose to prominence as a Communist Party leader in Ukraine. And Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over the Soviet Union for nearly two decades, was actually born in Ukraine.

    Kimberly Marten is a political science professor at Columbia University and Barnard College.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: There’s also no question if you just sort of go through who the personnel were at various times at top ranking positions in both sort of the politics of the Communist Party, but also in terms of who were the industrial leaders, who were the military leaders, who were the leaders in the arts… people who came from Slavic backgrounds, so Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians certainly had a disproportionate level of being favored at the top.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Frye says this was particularly true when it came to culture.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: They had easier access into cultural institutions. And Ukrainian high culture was really prized in the soviet period. So what’s interesting culturally is this this mix between Russians kind of looking down on the Ukrainians as their little brothers. At the same time, celebrating the high culture particularly in the Soviet period.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: When the Soviet Union came apart in the early 1990s, Ukraine became an independent country.

    By then the ties between the Ukrainians and Russians had only deepened.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: In the Soviet period lots of people studied in Moscow. They would meet spouses there and put down roots. And this was a very common way for Russians and Ukrainians, given the similarities in the language, to intermarry and to have lots of familial ties.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Many Russians and Ukrainians share a faith in Orthodox Christianity. And because of their similar languages, many read each other’s literature as well.

    In fact, a 2001 census showed that Russian was native language for a majority of people in Crimea, Luhansk, and in Donetsk, where much of the recent violence is occurring.

    Even so, despite the language and ethnic differences throughout Ukraine since independence, there had been little strife between Ukrainians and Russians.

    TIMOTHY FRYE: We have to bear in mind that for all the cleavages between east and west in Ukraine, for 23 years, Ukraine managed to govern itself not very well with lots of corruption and very poor economic performance. But without violence, without separatists movements. And it’s only in this last three months that we’ve seen violence on scale that we are currently seeing.

     MEGAN THOMPSON: First with huge pro-Western rallies in Kiev that sparked the pro-Russian government’s violent crackdown, leading to the ouster of Moscow’s ally, the elected president, Viktor Yanukovich.

    Followed by Russia’s seizing of Crimea.

    Weeks later those pro-Russian separatists occupied government buildings in cities in Eastern Ukraine, where they remain today. Some of the armed, masked men reportedly have close ties to the Russian military and special forces.

    If Putin’s behind all this, what’s motivating him?

    MARIA SNEGOVAYA: To get into Putin’s mind, read what he reads.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Maria Snegovaya is a PhD candidate in political science at Columbia University. She wrote a piece in The Washington Post on how early 20th century Russian nationalistic philosophers may be influencing Putin’s actions… writings she says he’s actually assigned to Russian regional governors to read.

    MARIA SNEGOVAYA: They say that Russia is a historically, very powerful civilization that has this very specific goal of preserving its traditional values and defining itself against the aggression of the West. And also Russia has to protect the neighboring countries, the cultures of Russia’s traditional influence, such as Ukraine for example. And we can see that Putin is following that suggestion pretty closely. He’s offering this new idea of the Russian world, where this kind of unifying feature would be the Russian language, and people with the Russian culture. And this Russian world is something that he’s trying to recreate.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Which is in line with what President Putin reportedly told former president George W. Bush in 2008: “you have to understand, George. Ukraine is not even a country.”

    That also fits closely with Putin’s recent remarks on a nationally televised call-in program.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN : I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya (New Russia) back in the Tsarist days Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa were not part of Ukraine back then. These territories were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. Why? Who knows?

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Marten says Putin’s use of the term “New Russia” to describe an area that includes part of Ukraine is an alarming change.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: That’s just one small point in historical background that he’s bringing up, but it seems to be a justification to the Russian people about taking further aggressive actions. When you start talking about Novorossiya on top of everything else that’s just a completely new ball game and I think it’s really sort of unclear what Putin’s next plan is going to be.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Including the biggest question of all: whether those tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border will invade or not.

    Like they have throughout history, Ukrainians will have to wait to see what a more powerful nation will do.

    FRANZ-STEFAN GADY: Ukraine in one way or the other was always a pawn between great powers throughout its history. And that I think is something that’s not going to go away. And now it’s somewhere in between the European union, western Europe, NATO and Russia and I think it’s a question of national identity. Where does Ukraine belong?

    The post What can history teach us about the unrest in Ukraine? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Thomas "Tom" Corbett, governor of Pennsylvania, speaks at the Bloomberg Link Economic Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. The Bloomberg Washington Summit gathers key administration officials, CEOs, governors, lawmakers, and economists to assess the economy and debate the path beyond the fiscal cliff. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania speaks in Washington, D.C. The state of Pennsylvania is awaiting a federal ruling on Gov. Corbett’s request to link a work requirement to Medicaid benefits. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has softened his rhetoric while he awaits a federal decision on his request to link a work requirement to benefits under the Medicaid expansion. It’s an issue that has flared up in his hotly contested re-election campaign.

    The request comes in the form of a waiver that the Republican governor has requested as part of his bid to receive additional federal funds for Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor and disabled.

    The federal government’s public comment period ended April 11.

    If approved, Pennsylvania would be the first state to include the work requirement for Medicaid. According to federal regulations, a decision by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could come as early as Monday, but Corbett’s office says that won’t happen.

    Points of debate in Corbett’s 124-page plan, dubbed Healthy PA, include questions over premium rates and plans to waive both retroactive eligibility and Medicaid’s appeals process, which advocates for the poor contend would violate the law.

    “The governor has told me and the rest of the negotiating team that it is very important to bring the issue of work-related criteria to resolution,” Jennifer Branstetter, Corbett’s policy director, said in a telephone interview. “If you take that away, it breaks the plan as a whole. The whole premise is to help individuals break a cycle of poverty.”

    She noted that while both sides would like an agreement soon, the governor also has made it clear to “get it right.”

    The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid expansion to all adults below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an additional 454,000 people in Pennsylvania, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Corbett’s plan seeks to build on modifications, or “waivers,” President Barack Obama’s administration has granted in states such as Arkansas and Iowa that allow use of federal Medicaid money to purchase private plans.

    Having originally pushed a mandatory work requirement, Corbett now is proposing a one-year voluntary pilot program that would offer lower premiums to those who participate and seeks separate coverage limits to help reduce expenses for the state. To date, CMS has balked at cost-sharing plans that place undue burdens on low-income recipients.

    CMS officials declined to comment on ongoing negotiations. But the agency made clear based on past applications that it does not feel bound by any specific timetable. As recently as February, CMS granted New York a separate Medicaid waiver that took two years to decide.

    “CMS remains in close contact with the state during and following the waiver application public comment period and continues to provide technical assistance before making a decision,” Emma Sandoe, a CMS spokeswoman, said in a statement.

    Corbett has softened his tone from earlier this month, when he suggested that he was reaching a “breaking point” over the Obama administration’s apparent resistance.

    Democratic gubernatorial challenger Allyson Schwartz released an ad this past week that touts her support of the federal health care law and criticizes Corbett’s stance on Medicaid, saying he failed “to take the Medicaid money” to help low-income Pennsylvanians.

    The ad was striking in that most Democrats in competitive races have steered clear of embracing the Affordable Care Act.

    Schwartz, a U.S. House representative, is seeking to differentiate herself from three primary challengers. All four Democratic candidates have expressed support for a full expansion of Medicaid without any modifications.

    Corbett is a conservative highly critical of the federal health overhaul law. His proposed Medicaid expansion would not take effect until January, providing some wiggle room for continued talks. Less frequently, CMS has rejected a state’s proposed changes outright if negotiations break down.

    “Gov. Corbett would love to reach agreement,” said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and public affairs professor at Franklin & Marshall College, noting that Schwartz’s ad lays down the markers for a line of attack in the general election. Corbett, rated by independent analysts as the nation’s most vulnerable GOP gubernatorial incumbent because of low favorability in polls, faces token opposition in the GOP primary.

    If CMS approves Corbett’s plan in its present form, it’s an immediate boost to a governor who can point to Healthy PA as a welfare-to-work model for other Republican-leaning or politically divided states weighing waiver requests such as Utah, New Hampshire, Virginia and Tennessee.

    But “if the Obama administration denies Corbett’s plan flat out, it immediately becomes one of the top issues in the gubernatorial campaign,” Madonna said, as needy Pennsylvanians may find themselves without coverage.

    Polling conducted last October by Franklin & Marshall College showed strong support in Pennsylvania for some kind of Medicaid expansion.

    About half the states so far have opted to take the ACA’s Medicaid expansion dollars, including those led by Republican Govs. John Kasich in Ohio and Chris Christie in New Jersey.

    Reporter Hope Yen wrote this report. Follow her on Twitter.

    The post Pennsylvania awaits ruling on proposal to link work requirements to Medicaid benefits appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    US President Barack Obama addresses young student leaders at the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Town Hall during a visit to University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur on April 27, 2014. Obama paid homage to Malaysia's moderate brand of Islam and picked his way through his hosts' contentious politics on April 27 on the latest leg of his Asian tour.      AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

    President Barack Obama addresses young student leaders during a visit to University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur on April 27. Obama has appealed to Southeast Asia’s youth to stand up for minority rights. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — President Barack Obama on Sunday pressed the Malaysian government to improve its human rights record and appealed to Southeast Asia’s teeming youth population to stand up for the rights of minorities and the rule of law.

    Yet Obama skipped a golden chance to promote that human rights agenda, declining to meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Instead, he directed national security adviser Susan Rice to see Anwar on Monday.

    Obama said his decision was “not indicative of our lack of concern” about the former deputy prime minister who recently was convicted for the second time on sodomy charges, which the U.S. and international human rights groups contend are politically motivated.

    Obama said he had raised his concerns about Malaysia’s restrictions on political freedoms during meetings with Prime Minister Najib Razak.

    “Those values are at the core of who the U.S. is, but also I think are a pretty good gauge of whether a society is going to be successful in the 21st century or not,” Obama said during a news conference with Najib.

    Obama called the prime minister a “reformer” committed to addressing human rights issues.

    To his critics, Najib said: “Don’t underestimate or diminish whatever we have done.”

    Malaysia is Obama’s third stop on a four-country swing through Asia.

    He planned to head Monday to the Philippines, where he was expected to announce a 10-year security agreement that would allow for a larger U.S. military presence there amid the Philippines’ increasingly tense territorial disputes with China.

    The agreement will give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships. Officials said the exact number of additional U.S. troops would depend on the scale of joint military activities.

    The accord is a centerpiece of Obama’s effort to highlight the U.S. military’s commitment to the security of Asian allies as China takes aggressive actions in territorial disputes. He carried that message during visits week in Japan and South Korea, two of Washington’s closest Asian partners.

    Obama’s visit to Malaysia, the first by a U.S. president in nearly 50 years, elevated human rights to the forefront of his agenda.

    While Malaysia has undertaken some reforms, the organization Human Rights Watch says religious and ethnic minorities face persecution and the government uses “highly restrictive laws and abusive implementation” to crack down on political opponents.

    Part of Obama’s strategy for confronting these issues has been through direct appeals to young people. It’s an approach that his advisers say could be particularly effective in Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia that have young populations.

    “Young people will ultimately determine the future of this region given that there’s such a big youth bulge,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

    Following his talks with Najib, Obama met with students participating in a new technology program and then held a town hall with 400 young leaders from throughout Southeast Asia. The event was part of a U.S. initiative to help mentor emerging business, government and civil society leaders, mirroring a program the White House launched in Africa during Obama’s first term.

    After days of meeting with government officials and attending state dinners, the president appeared to relish in his question-and-answer session.

    He described at length his work as a community organizer in Chicago, his relationship with his daughters, and his biggest regret, which he said was not spending enough time with his mother, who died of cancer.

    The president made calls for respecting diversity, saying “nations are stronger and more successful when they work to uphold the civil rights and political rights and human rights of all their citizens.” The audience responded with applause.

    In another nod to efforts to press for human rights reforms, Obama met in the evening with civil society leaders. But the gathering was closed to reporters and the White House did not release a list of those who attended.

    Malaysia has changed significantly in the nearly five decades since Lyndon B. Johnson made the last visit by an American president. Malaysia’s economy is booming, driven largely by its robust energy sector.

    Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines and Darlene Superville in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

    Follow Julie Pace on Twitter.

    The post Obama spotlights human rights issues in Malaysia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a meeting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the West Bank. Abbas said on Sunday the Nazi Holocaust was “the most heinous crime” to have occurred in the modern era. Credit: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday the Nazi Holocaust was “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”

    His statement coincided with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is held during the week after passover each year.

    The remark comes just days after peace-talks between Palestine and Israel came to a halt.

    Abbas expressed sympathies for the families and victims of the 6 million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust between 1939 and 1945.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the leader of being in bed with a holocaust denying Islamist group, referring to the recent power sharing agreement between Palestinians and Islamist group Hamas. Netanyahu has blamed last week’s peace talks collapse on the Hamas deal.

    “What I say to him very simply is this: President Abbas, tear up your pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu said in an appearance on the CBS news program Face the Nation on Sunday.

    News of the unity pact between the Palestinian Liberation Organization, led by Abbas, and Hamas surfaced on Wednesday after seven years of bad relations between the rival groups.

    After the agreement was announced, Israel canceled negotiations set to take place before the April 29 expiration date for the peace talks.

    Both the U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Washington officials were reportedly surprised by the sudden agreement between the PLO and Hamas.

    A spokesperson for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been brokering the peace talks, said the timing was “troubling” and called the development “disappointing.”

    The post Abbas calls Holocaust ‘most heinous crime’ on Israel’s remembrance day appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    ALISON STEWART: It’s one of those stories that comes and goes with little attention paid.

    We’re talking about “National Park Week.”

    It’s around this time every year that the Department of Interior designates new national historic landmarks. There are roughly 2500 of them on the list: buildings, properties, even objects that represent important aspects of American history. This past week, four more were added to the list.

    In Detroit, iconic murals by the legendary Mexican artist Diego Rivera, considered some of his finest work. They’re called Detroit Industry, and cover four walls of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The murals were commissioned to celebrate Detroit’s history of manufacturing, especially the automobile industry.

    Then there’s the 44-acre farm of politician and diplomat Adlai Stevenson II, located about 35 miles north of Chicago. A former Illinois governor and ambassador to the UN, Stevenson also ran twice for president unsuccessfully against Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson lived on the farm for most of his adult life.

    Another new landmark, north of Philadelphia: the home and studio complex of renowned woodworker George Nakashima. He was a major figure in the American craft movement. Many of his pieces featured large slabs of wood with raw edges and imperfections like cracks and knots.

    And on a more somber note, the site of a 1956 plane crash in Arizona. Two planes collided mid-air over a remote part of the Grand Canyon, killing all 128 aboard.

    At the time it was the deadliest accident in commercial aviation history, and the Federal Aviation Administration was created just a few years later to increase safety. But in a curious twist, the site’s exact location is secret, officially closed for years. The Park Service told NewsHour that’s the policy for sensitive sites.

    So unlike the other three new national landmarks – it’s unlikely the public will ever get to visit this one.

    The post Meet America’s newest historic landmarks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Housing Development Credit: Michael Melford/Getty Images

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    ALISON STEWART: For a few years now, we’ve been hearing a great deal about the nation’s housing recovery. But recent reports suggest that trend might be slowing. If it is, it could have a significant impact on the nation’s overall economic health. For more about this, we’re joined now by Michelle Conlin, she’s a senior correspondent with Reuters. And Michelle, the reports everybody’s sort of taking a look at, they say that existing home sales are at their lowest in about 18 months of July 2012 and new home sales are down by about 14 percent as compared with this time last year. So what’s happening in the past 12 to 18 months.

    MICHELLE CONLIN: Well, one thing that’s happening, is that in order to have a health housing market you have to have a healthy first-time buyers group. I mean, first time buyers are the engine of the housing market and they have virtually been locked out of this market by various things. I mean one thing that they’ve been locked out by is pretty tight lending standards, I mean we’re hearing about credit easing but if you’re going to go to a bank to get a mortgage, it’s still pretty darn tough to get one. Also, they’re being locked out by high prices, inventory is really low so prices are getting bid up. And you know a lot of these first time buyers are millennials, and a lot of millennials have a lot of student debt and if you’re paying off student debt. That’s virtually the equivalent of a mortgage payment right there and so it’s hard to take on another mortgage payment if you’re gonna buy a house.

    ALISON STEWART: So there’s a disappearing buyer, it’s a simple…

    MICHELLE CONLIN: Well you know economists like to call them missing households because these are households that would be traditionally would be going off and buying a home and starting off their families. Instead what they’re doing is they’re renting for longer and many of them are still living with mom and dad.

    ALISON STEWART: So you bring up the interesting question, it’s the chicken and the egg question, which comes first: the stable economy — people who don’t have to live at home with mom and dad because they can afford a house — or a healthy housing market?

    MICHELLE CONLIN: That’s right, and that would introduce a third factor. Which is you can’t have a healthy housing market without a healthy job market and healthy wage growth. And even though we’re seeing some job creation, these are largely service jobs, no benefits, stagnating wages. not the kind of jobs that you need to become a member of the home buying class.

    ALISON STEWART: But necessity is the mother of invention. There’s a new kind of home being presented to folks like this. This is so interesting, it’s called the express home.

    MICHELLE CONLIN: That’s right, the express home. So D.R. Horton is the country’s largest home builder and to address this very problem of the first time buyer being locked out, they’ve created a new product called the express home. This is a low price point home — $120,000 to $150,000 and the entire home was designed for the first time home buyer, designed so parents could help their kids get out of the house. Designed to finally provide entry for this whole class of buyers who haven’t had entry yet.

    ALISON STEWART: Michelle we should mention this is a bifurcated market and in parts of the country the real estate market is through the roof.

    MICHELLE CONLIN: That’s right. Well I always like to refer to the housing market — people always say what’s going on with the housing market? The housing market, there’s not one, there’s a million  of them. It goes zip code by zip code and if you live on one of the coasts, chances are you’re in a housing market that’s going nuts. You’re seeing foreign buyers come in and scoop up inventory, you’re seeing investors scoop up inventory.

    ALISON STEWART: Cash buyers..

    MICHELLE CONLIN: Cash on the coast is the new financing — the new financing is cash, which is also making it hard to compete. It’s hard to compete with a cash buyer if you’re coming in with a mortgage.

    ALISON STEWART: Michelle Conlin with Reuters. Thanks for the insight.

    MICHELLE CONLIN: Thanks for having me.

    The post New reports suggest slow down in housing market recovery appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sunday on NewsHour Weekend we took a look at the history and politics of Russia and Ukraine to dig deeper into what tensions underlie the current conflict.

    Below you’ll find additional writings from those experts, images from Ukraine’s past, and links to explore one thousand years of history.

    Click to view slideshow.

    Notes on the images:

    Ukrainian dance. The image, Mallorossiskaia pliaska, comes from the Russkii narodnyi lubok ; al’bom, published in 1885,  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

    Taras Shevchenko is celebrated as Ukraine’s national poet and the founder of Ukraine’s literary tradition. The Ukrainian language was prohibited during many years of the Tsarist reign. There is a statue of Shevchenko on P Street between 22 and 23rd Streets in Washington D.C. Find out more from the Library of Congress’ Taras Shevchenko collection.

    La Lavra, Kiev, Russia, c. 1890-1900. View more early colored photos from The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia, held at the Library of Congress.

    “Ukrainian Red Army liberates its peopleCollection of Russian and Ukrainian posters, 1917-1921, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Ukraine was briefly independent after the Russian Revolution of 1917 and bitterly contested by White and Red Russian armies as well.

    General meeting to discuss harvesting on a collective farm, Kiev (vicinity), Ukraine, USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This image, taken between 1930 and 1940 is part of a larger collection of life in the USSR held at the Library of Congress.

    “Donbas — Until We Overcome” The Donets Basin (Donetsk area) in Eastern Ukraine was home to some of the largest factories in the Soviet Union. Today the area is the location of clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups. Poster from the Dr. Harry Bakwin and Dr. Ruth Morris Bakwin Soviet Posters Collection, Special Collections Research Center, The University of Chicago Library. 

    Adding Ukrainian sign in Opera House in accordance with a seating chart, May 19, 1945. Ukraine’s important status was manifested in the Republic receiving its own seat at the founding of the United Nations. Image from the preparation the first meeting of the United Nations in  San Francisco between April 25 and June 26, 1945. United National Photo Archive.

    Soviet Ruble. The currency of the USSR used the languages from all 15 republics. The largest Russian, is followed directly by Ukrainian.

    Soviet magazine cover devoted to the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Ukraine with Russia. This 1954 issue of the magazine Огонек or Spark, suggests the important place held by Ukraine in the USSR. With both the “breadbasket” area and the large mines and industrial developments of the Donets Basin, Ukraine was a vital part of the national economy. 1954 was the year that Nikita Krushchev transferred Crimea to the Ukraine SSR as a gift.

    Ukrainian Independence, 1991. People wave Ukrainian national flags as they gather outside the parliament building in Kiev on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1991 during a pro-independence rally. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

    Additional materials:

    Related links:

    The post Exploring Ukraine: past and present appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Lawmakers return to work Monday after a two-week recess. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Lawmakers return to work Monday after a two-week recess. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Congress is back — what it isn’t dealing with (yet)
    • Immigration, Boehner and Lucy and the football
    • Are Republicans moving past “repeal”?
    • White House split on Ukraine

    Congress gets back to work, sort of: Lawmakers return to Washington Monday after a two-week recess with a long list of issues demanding their attention, but with a limited appetite for addressing any major pieces of legislation in advance of November’s midterm elections. Senate Democrats will again seek to move forward with a measure to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The proposal, however, is unlikely to advance given Republican opposition. In the House, meanwhile, GOP lawmakers plan to vote next month to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for failing to testify about the agency’s targeting of tea party groups. Democrats also will look to extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits, while Republicans want to force the government to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Associated Press writes that the two items lawmakers must address this fall are funding to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year in September, and approving money for the Highway Trust Fund “to keep road and bridge construction projects afloat.” The current highway bill expires at the end of September, and the AP’s Andrew Taylor reports “the fund is running critically low on cash.”

    Immigration reform – Back from the dead?: If there is going to be significant legislative action before Election Day, immigration reform might be the issue. The odds are still long against something getting done, given the election-year political dynamics in the Republican-controlled House. But Speaker John Boehner followed up his statement to GOP donors that he was “hell-bent” on passing reform by mocking Republicans opposed to legislation during a Rotary Club luncheon in Ohio last week. And Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a key GOP figure behind the immigration effort, told Roll Call that a proposal was gaining momentum. “I think we finally have the policy right. And what we’re finding is more and more people out there as they’re seeing it, different aspects of the policy, are starting to say, ‘Hey, that is something that makes sense,’” he said. GOP leaders floated a trial balloon earlier this year by releasing immigration overhaul principles during the party’s annual retreat, only to face strong pushback from conservatives. While a handful of GOP lawmakers have recently expressed interest in pursuing reform this year, most in the party would likely rather avoid a contentious policy decision before facing voters in November. Still, Boehner and immigration reform has been a little like Lucy and the football…

    Reform, not repeal?: Don’t miss this comment from Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., one of the leaders of the GOP-led House that has voted some 50 times to repeal all or parts of the health care law: “We need to look at reforming the exchanges.” The Spokane Spokesman-Review, her local paper, framed it this way: “With the news this week that more than 600,000 Washington residents have acquired new health care plans through the state exchange, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said it’s unlikely the Affordable Care Act will be repealed.” This is something to watch with other Republicans as they go home and learn of constituents who now have health coverage through the exchanges. Speaking at the Harvard Institute of Politics Friday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said repealing repealing the ACA is unlikely at this point. “I think it’s going to be difficult to turn the clock back,” he said. Remember, the Chamber of Commerce ran an ad touting that Mitch McConnell would “fix” the health care law, not repeal.

    White House divide on Ukraine response: President Obama announced Monday in Manila that the United States will impose new sanctions on Russia. That comes, though, as the New York Times reports some White House insiders think the president should have acted more quickly. But the president did not want to get out ahead of the Europeans, so there would be no appearance of any divide. It’s a criticism that has been heard by some more hawkish outsiders even in the president’s own party. By the way, the Times points to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for arguing caution. Lew is set to testify tomorrow before Congress.

    Quote of the day: “I am not and have never been, a supporter of cockfighting or any other forms of animal cruelty.” — Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin, responding to the ongoing fallout over his remarks at a cockfighting rally.

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1980, President Jimmy Carter accepted the resignation of one of his cabinet members who had opposed the failed rescue mission aimed at freeing American hostages in Iran. Who resigned and what position did he/she hold?
    Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer @NewsHour, @rachelwellford, @DomenicoPBS, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out.


    • President Obama has responded to racially charged comments allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Obama told reporters during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don’t really have to do anything — you just let them talk.”
    • The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is expected to announce their recommendations Tuesday, according to students and advocate groups who are invited to attend the announcement in Washington.
    • The New York Times analyzes Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s chances of becoming the 2016 GOP nominee and the parts of his past that might stand in his way.
    • What happens to government agency heads forced to resign? Some, like former CIA director David Petraeus, land at investment firms. Others, like the former head of the General Services Administration Martha Johnson, can’t get a job, even though, as Rep. James Lankford pointed out in a congressional hearing, it was Johnson’s leadership that prompted an investigation into the GSA’s contracting violations. It’s what happens in Washington’s thumbs-up, thumbs-down culture.
    • Lots of Republicans potential presidential hopefuls went to Indianapolis to woo the National Rifle Assocation, speaking at their national convention. The event was remarkable considering there were no Democrats there this year, when in past years they have spoken. But not everyone was happy with the Republicans who showed up. One talk-radio host who spoke, accused the party of being a “bunch of French Republicans.”
    • NRA head Wayne LaPierre said: “We will never submit and surrender to the national media, I promise you that.” He repeated a line from CPAC: “In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive, to protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want.”
    • Speaking of guns, two months after a court deemed California’s ban on concealed-weapons permits unconstitutional, one county has seen 4,000 of its 3.1 million residents apply for the permit already.
    • State Del. Barbara Comstock won the GOP primary in Virginia’s 10th district, currently held by retiring Rep. Frank Wolf. Comstock will face Democrat John Faust, the Fairfax County Supervisor, in a district Mitt Romney carried by one one point.
    • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence dodged questions about running for president on “Fox News Sunday,” but as CNN reports, he sounded like a candidate when addressing the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting Friday. He’ll speak at GOP conventions in Wisconsin and Alabama later this spring.
    • The Star Ledger says Chris Christie did create a “culture of retaliation.”
    • The Morning Line confirmed that a federal criminal indictment is expected for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) on campaign-finance charges. Washington Post reports that Grimm turned himself in to federal authorities Monday morning. His lawyer said in a statement that they are “disappointed … but hardly surprised,” dismissing the charges as a “politically driven vendetta.” He added that “Grimm asserts his innocence of any wrongdoing. When the dust settles, he will be vindicated.” He gave no hint that he would step down. “Until then, he will continue to serve his constituents with the same dedication and tenacity that has characterized his lifetime of public service as a Member of Congress, Marine Corps combat veteran and decorated FBI Special Agent.”
    • Politico notes recent House scandals are causing headaches for House Speaker John Boehner — from the expected indictment of New York Rep. Michael Grimm to the extramarital making out by family values Rep. Vance McAllister to the cocaine buy of resigned Florida Rep. Trey Radel: “Not since the days of the Jack Abramoff scandal a decade ago have so many House GOP lawmakers garnered this many scandalous headlines in such a short a period of time.” It should be pointed out, however, that only Grimm’s seat is potentially competitive and Republicans are expected to retain control of the House, in large measure because redistricting has created a playing field that favors Republicans.
    • Former Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pa., is stepping down from his role at Everytown, Michael Bloomberg’s new anti-gun group.
    • No longer in the GOP limelight, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin still has a role to play in the GOP, identifying and supporting conservative women whose stories resonate with her, like Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer or Iowa candidate for Senate Joni Ernst, for whom Palin stumped Sunday.
    • The fight is on to represent the second wealthiest congressional district. California Rep. Henry Waxman’s retirement announcement “unleashed a kind of political anarchy on the Botox Belt,” Mark Leibovich writes in the New York Times Magazine.
    • Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe heads to Charlottesville Monday to sign a mental health bill with state Sen. Creigh Deeds, whose son suffered from mental illness and killed himself last year.
    • New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan will speak at the Maryland Democratic Party’s annual gala next month.
    • Oregon is moving to the federal health exchange system, after the state-run exchange continued to be plagued with problems and failed to sign up anyone online.
    • The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, and its stalled authorization, is taking on added political significance, with Georgia Republicans accusing the White House of trying to deny its congressmen a project to tout in the runup to the Senate election.
    • 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.





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

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    A new report cites progress in U.S. public schools to increase graduation rates.  Photo by Flickr user Thomas Favre-Bulle

    A new report cites progress in U.S. public schools to increase graduation rates.
    Photo by Flickr user Thomas Favre-Bulle

    WASHINGTON — U.S. public high schools have reached a milestone, an 80 percent graduation rate. Yet that still means 1 of every 5 students walks away without a diploma.

    Citing the progress, researchers are projecting a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020.

    Their report, based on Education Department statistics from 2012, was presented Monday at the Building a GradNation Summit.

    The growth has been spurred by such factors as a greater awareness of the dropout problem and efforts by districts, states and the federal government to include graduation rates in accountability measures. Among the initiatives are closing “dropout factory” schools.

    In addition, schools are taking aggressive action, such as hiring intervention specialists who work with students one on one, to keep teenagers in class, researchers said.

    Growth in rates among African-American and Hispanic students helped fuel the gains. Most of the growth has occurred since 2006 after decades of stagnation.

    “At a moment when everything seems so broken and seems so unfixable … this story tells you something completely different,” said John Gomperts, president of America’s Promise Alliance, which was founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and helped produce the report.

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday the country owes a debt of gratitude to teachers, students and families whose hard work helped the country reach the 80 percent mark.

    “But even as we celebrate this remarkable achievement, our students have limitless potential and we owe it to all of our children to work together so they all can achieve at higher levels,” Duncan said in a statement.

    The rate of 80 percent is based on federal statistics primarily using a calculation by which the number of graduates in a given is year divided by the number of students who enrolled four years earlier. Adjustments are made for transfer students.

    In 2008, the Bush administration ordered all states to begin using this method. States previously used a wide variety of ways to calculate high school graduation rates.

    Iowa, Vermont, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas ranked at the top with rates at 88 percent or 89 percent. The bottom performers were Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and Nevada, which had rates at 70 percent or below.

    Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma were not included because these states received federal permission to take longer to roll out their system.

    The new calculation method allows researchers to individually follow students and chart progress based on their income level. By doing so, researchers found that some states are doing much better than others in getting low-income students — or those who receive free or reduced lunch meals — to graduation day.

    Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Kansas, for example, have more than half of all students counted as low income but overall graduation rates that are above average. In contrast, Minnesota, Wyoming and Alaska have a lower percentage of low-income students but a lower than average overall graduation rate.

    Graduation rates increased 15 percentage points for Hispanic students and 9 percentage points for African American students from 2006 to 2012, with the Hispanic students graduating at 76 percent and African-American students at 68 percent, the report said. To track historic trends, the graduation rates were calculated using a different method.

    Also, there were 32 percent fewer “dropout factories” — schools that graduate less than 60 percent of students — than a decade earlier, according to the report. In 2012, nearly one-quarter of African-American students attended a dropout factory, compared with 46 percent in 2002. About 15 percent of Hispanic students attended one of these schools, compared with 39 percent a decade earlier. There were an estimated 1,359 of these schools in 2012.

    Robert Balfanz, a researcher with the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University who was a report author, said some of these schools got better. Other districts closed these schools or converted them to smaller schools or parents and kids voted with their feet and transferred elsewhere.

    If the graduation rate stayed where it was in 2001, 1.7 million additional students would not have received a diploma during the period, Balfanz said.

    “It’s actually a story of remarkable social improvement, that you could actually identify a problem, understand its importance, figure out what works and apply it and make a difference,” Balfanz said.

    “It’s actually a story of remarkable social improvement, that you could actually identify a problem, understand its importance, figure out what works and apply it and make a difference,” Balfanz said. In New Hampshire, where the graduation rate is 86 percent, Anne Grassie, a state representative and former longtime member of the Rochester School Board, cites a change in state law in 2007 that raised the dropout age to 18. In Rochester, she said there have been numerous initiatives such as programs that allow students who fail classes to begin making them up online or after school instead of waiting for summer school and an alternative school for at-risk students.

    “We pay more attention to just making sure there’s an adult to connect with every child, so they know someone’s there for them,” Grassie said. “I think those kinds of initiatives have a lot to do with kids staying in school, but it’s a combination of things. It’s not really one thing.”

    Among the advice offered by report authors to get the nation’s graduation rate to 90 percent:

    • Don’t forget California. With 13 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren and 20 percent of low-income children living in California, the state must continue to show growth. The state’s overall rate was 79 percent compared with 73 percent for the state’s low-income students.
    • Improve outcomes for special education students. Students with disabilities make up about 15 percent of students nationally but have a graduation rate 20 percentage points lower than the overall average. The rate for students with disabilities varies by state, with a rate or 24 percent in Nevada and 81 percent in Montana.
    • Focus on closing racial and income gaps.
    • Think big cities. Most big cities with high concentrations of low-income students still have graduation rates in the 60s or lower, the report said.

    In addition to America’s Promise Alliance and Balfanz’s center, the report was produced by the public policy firm Civic Enterprises and the education group Alliance for Excellent Education.

    Watch the PBS NewsHour’s complete coverage of the graduation rate crisis in the U.S. here.


    Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. public high schools reach milestone graduation rate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Nikki Giovanni reads her poem “The Lost Cause … Lost” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.

    The Lost Cause … Lost

    The buzz of the flies
    Almost were a lullaby
    Rocking the dead
    To a restful place

    You couldn’t hear the ants
    Though they were
    Clearly there
    In the mouths
    Any wound or soft

    The worms had come
    Understanding those
    Which were not
    Would have a great

    The grasses had no
    Choice but to drink
    Down the blood and bits of flesh
    That was ground
    Into them

    In the future
    It would be girls
    Not field rats
    Who would follow soldiers
    Into the trenches

    In the future there
    Would be single
    Engine airplanes
    Dropping bombs

    And then
    In the scientific imagination
    Of the 21st century
    There would be men
    And women
    Pushing buttons
    Making war clean
    And distant

    But today
    On This battlefield
    The deadliest of This war
    The Song Birds had been
    Frightened off

    The Turkey Buzzards retreated to watch
    Deer Skunk Raccoons
    Possum Groundhogs gathered
    To let the smoke clear

    And only the moans
    Of the almost dead
    And the quiet march of Lice
    Gave cadence to this concert of sacrifice

    Nikki Giovanni’s poem “The Lost Cause … Lost” 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: Nikki Giovanni reads ‘The Lost Cause … Lost’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Associates and private companies close to Russian  President Vladimir Putin are the targets of a new round of sanctions levied by the U.S.

    Associates and private companies close to Russian President Vladimir Putin are the targets of a new round of sanctions levied by the U.S. and supported by the U.K. Phto by Mikhail Metzel/Getty Images

    MANILA, Philippines — The United States levied new sanctions Monday on seven Russian government officials, as well as 17 companies with links to Vladimir Putin’s close associates, as the Obama administration seeks to pressure the Russian leader to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine.

    The U.S. sanctions were implemented in coordination with the European Union, which moved to slap visa bans and asset freezes on 15 individuals alleged to be involved with stoking instability in eastern Ukraine.

    The new penalties were a response to what the West says is Russia’s failure to live up to commitments it agreed to under an international accord aimed at ending the dispute. The White House says Russia’s involvement in the recent violence in eastern Ukraine is indisputable and warned that the U.S. and its partners were prepared to impose deeper penalties if Russia’s provocations continue.

    President Barack Obama announced the U.S. sanctions while traveling in the Philippines, the last stop on a weeklong trip to Asia. He said that while his goal was not to target Putin personally, he was seeking to “change his calculus with respect to how the current actions that he’s engaging in could have an adverse impact on the Russian economy over the long haul.”

    Among the targets of the new sanctions is Igor Sechin, the president of state oil company Rosneft, who has worked for Putin since the early 1990s. Sechin was seen as the mastermind behind the 2003 legal assault on private oil company Yukos and its founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who at the time was Russia’s richest man. The most lucrative parts of Yukos were taken over by Rosneft, making it Russia’s largest company. Rosneft has a major partnership deal with ExxonMobil.

    In addition to the new sanctions, the U.S. is adding new restrictions on high-tech materials used by Russia’s defense industry that could help bolster Moscow’s military.

    Obama has been building a case for this round of penalties throughout his trip to Asia, both in his public comments and in private conversations with European leaders. The new sanctions are intended to build on earlier U.S. and European visa bans and asset freezes imposed on Russian officials, including many in Putin’s inner circle, after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine last month.

    But even with the new measures, Obama voiced pessimism about whether they would be enough to change Putin’s calculus.

    “We don’t yet know whether it’s going to work,” he said.

    Also on the list of those sanctioned by the U.S. Monday are Aleksei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected head of Russian parliament’s lower house, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, and Sergei Chemezov, another longtime Putin ally. The White House said Putin has known Chemezov, CEO of the state-owned holding company Rostec, since the 1980s, when they both lived in the same apartment building in East Germany.

    Most of the 17 companies on the list are controlled by three businessmen with close links to Putin: Gennady Timchenko, and brothers Boris and Arkady Rotenberg, all of whom were targeted by the first round of U.S. sanctions imposed in March.

    One of the companies Timchenko owns is Stroytransgaz, a construction company that has amassed millions in contracts to build oil pipelines for state-owned Transneft. The company has recently expanded and won lucrative deals to build highways and soccer arenas for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    None of the 17 are public companies.

    The European Union did not immediately release a list of the individuals targeted by its measures, which were awaiting formal approval from the bloc’s national governments. U.S. officials said they did not expect the two lists to be identical.

    Neither the U.S. nor Europe plans to announce broader sanctions on Russia’s key industries this week, though Obama said they were keeping those measures “in reserve” in case the situation worsens and Russia launches a full military incursion into eastern Ukraine. Among the targets of those so-called sector sanctions could be Russia’s banking, defense and energy industries.

    White House officials say they decided last week to impose additional penalties after determining that Russia had not lived up to its commitments under a fragile diplomatic accord aimed at easing the crisis in Ukraine. But the U.S. held off on implementing the sanctions in order to coordinate its actions with Europe.

    The EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner, giving it much greater economic leverage over Moscow than the U.S.. However, the EU treads more carefully in imposing sanctions since Russia is also one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.

    The failed diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva just over a week ago called on the Kremlin to use its influence to persuade pro-Russian insurgents to leave the government buildings they have occupied in eastern Ukraine. Those forces have not only balked at leaving those buildings, but have also stepped up their provocations, including by capturing European military observers and parading them before the media Sunday.

    U.S. officials said there is evidence that those observers have been abused while in custody.

    Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. imposes new sanctions on Putin associates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Doctors worry that a new trend of patients seeking testosterone supplements to treat low energy and sex drive could lead to more serious health problems. Photo by Flickr user Jerryonlife

    Doctors worry that a new trend of patients seeking testosterone supplements to treat low energy and sex drive could lead to more serious health problems. Photo by Flickr user Jerryonlife

    It is perhaps the biggest men’s health craze since Rogaine or Viagra: so-called low testosterone clinics, which have rapidly grown in cities and suburbs all across the country. But these “low T” clinics have also drawn the ire of leading urologists and endocrinologists who question the clinics’ safety.

    Testosterone prescriptions in the U.S. more than tripled in the last decade, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. But researchers suspect much of the testosterone dispensed at low T clinics isn’t tracked since it’s often bought with cash. This unfettered flow of testosterone—officially a controlled substance—has raised concerns among doctors who specialize in hormonal problems.

    “In most doctor’s offices, you don’t see a big shingle over their door saying, ‘Get your testosterone here!’” says Dr. Edward Karpman, a board certified urologist and the medical director of the Men’s Health Center at El Camino Hospital in Los Gatos, Calif. Karpman says low T clinics aren’t in the business of treating the complex medical problems that often masquerade as low energy and decreased sex drive. Those can include sleep apnea, depression and, perhaps most importantly, heart disease.

    “Any man who presents, especially in his 40s and 50s, with new onset erectile dysfunction is at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and even heart attack or myocardial infarction,” says Karpman.

    Hormone treatment itself isn’t without risk: a recent study of more than 55,000 men found a doubling of heart attack risk among older men who used testosterone. Younger men who had a history of heart disease had a higher incidence of non-fatal heart attacks. In addition, men who are on prolonged high level testosterone replacement therapy can experience testicular shrinkage.

    Yet, even as calls for closer scrutiny of the treatment intensify, the clinics continue to treat men like Greg Lucas. About three years ago, at age 25, Lucas was single and a rising star at a Dallas software company. But he didn’t quite feel right – his energy, his sleep, his libido were all lagging. He was having trouble managing his weight, too.

    His symptoms sounded a lot like those described in a television ad for low testosterone. So Lucas decided to do what the ad recommended: talk to his doctor.

    “His first response was, ‘OK let’s do a blood test and see where you’re at,’” recalls Lucas. “Following that, my blood test returned a rating that was in the normal range for the lab and he said that was fine.”

    “They are sex hormone factories,” says Anawalt. “What I mean by that is: They are out to promote all the potential virtues and great myths about how testosterone may solve all problems.”Lucas protested: His levels, after all, were in the bottom five percent of normal –that seemed out of step for a 25-year-old man. Lucas was seriously overweight, and his doctor advised him to diet and get more exercise.

    The problems persisted, though, and Lucas pressed his doctor for the next three years or so about testosterone treatment, but each time got the brush off.

    Lucas did manage to start exercising at a gym, but he wasn’t losing much weight. Then, a coach mentioned that testosterone treatment could be the answer to his mothballed mojo and suggested he get a second opinion at a low T clinic. He went online and ended up calling a clinic in Dallas. He was impressed. Finally, it seemed, someone was listening to him.

    “They did a blood test and found my testosterone level to be even lower that the last time I had it tested, and they said, ‘We would absolutely recommend that you start treatment right away,’” Lucas says.

    Lucas says the testosterone therapy changed his life: he lost weight and got his energy back. He only wishes that his regular doctor would treat him for low T, so that his insurance would cover the bills.

    Despite Lucas’ positive experience, the risks and health benefits of long-term, testosterone therapy are not well understood. The Food and Drug Administration is reassessing the safety of testosterone products. A spokesperson reiterated the agency’s own guidelines: none of the products approved by the FDA should be prescribed unless low testosterone is associated with a medical condition.

    Some doctors warn patients to stay away from low T clinics. Dr. Bradley Anawalt is one of them. He heads the Hormone Health Network, part of the professional association for endocrinologists, which has released clinical guidelines for testosterone therapy.

    “They are sex hormone factories,” says Anawalt. “What I mean by that is: They are out to promote all the potential virtues and great myths about how testosterone may solve all problems. And they’re really out to prescribe as much testosterone as they possibly can, and it’s not clear that all these practices are completely safe.”

    Still, the clinics aren’t prompting large numbers of patient complaints, according to a number of state medical boards contacted for this story. But a review by Kaiser Health News of physicians working for a number of low T clinics found very few specialized in urology or endocrinology. Instead, one doctor at a Chicago clinic and another in Fort Lauderdale were anesthesiologists; in Houston, an allergist; in Phoenix, an osteopath; and in Washington, D.C., an obstetrician-gynecologist.

    “There is some hope that state or federal governments will start to crack down and regulate unscrupulous prescription of testosterone to men, and perhaps they will review the practices of these clinics,” says Anawalt.

    The clinics themselves say they’re legitimate medical practices. Dr. Bill Reilly is the chief medical officer at Low T Center, one of the largest chains of low T clinics, based in Southlake, Texas. His company has 45 offices and some 35,000 patients. Reilly says patients must have a diagnosed medical condition.

    “Our number one complaint at Low T is, ‘Why won’t you treat me?’ We just don’t see a patient, ‘Hey, here you go. Here’s some testosterone,’” Reilly says. “They go through a complete history, physical, thorough evaluation. We go through their symptoms.”

    Indeed, Reilly says some 15,000 men are turned away with no treatment because they don’t meet the medical definition of low testosterone. And those with sleep apnea or high blood pressure or other serious illnesses are encouraged to see their family doctor. Before joining Low T Center, Reilly was a joint surgeon. He doesn’t believe medical training in urology or endocrinology is necessary to do the job well.

    “You don’t need to be an endocrinologist. You don’t need to be a urologist. We’re all doctors. And we study more about testosterone,” says Reilly. “We see more testosterone and know the results more than they do. We basically follow the national endocrinology guidelines.”

    Reilly says the growing criticism from others in the medical community is perhaps just ignorance and fear of the competition. After all, Low T Center expects to more than double its sites in the next year, reaching perhaps as many as 70,000 patients.

    This KHN story was produced in collaboration with NPR. 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.

    The post Doctors worry wide use of testosterone could lead to heart problems appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo by Flickr user Supermac1961

    The Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo by Flickr user Supermac1961

    Egypt’s Antiquities Minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced Monday the discovery of around 50 mummies within a large tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

    A death mask is seen in the foreground of this photo from the burial site. Photo by Matjaz Kacicnik, University of Basel/Egyptology

    A death mask is seen in the foreground of this photo from the burial site. Photo by Matjaz Kacicnik, University of Basel/Egyptology

    The remains, which included those of newborn babies, princes and princesses, are believed to date back to the 18th Pharaonic dynasty. Wooden coffins and death masks, dating from 1567 to 1085 BC, were found beside the mummies, Ibrahim told Egypt’s news agency MENA.

    The find was the product of a collaboration between a Swiss team from the University of Basel and the Egyptian government.

    The post Fifty royal mummies unearthed in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    MANILA, Philippines — President Barack Obama is sending his deepest condolences to those affected by a deadly tornado that ripped through Arkansas and has directed federal resources to the area.

    The White House said Obama is sending Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, to Arkansas “to ensure the appropriate federal resources are being brought to bear to support the state and local efforts.”

    Obama telephoned Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe to get an update on the situation and to see if other federal resources were needed. The president also praised the heroic efforts of first responders and neighbors.

    A broad tornado killed at least 16 when it sliced through suburbs in Arkansas on Sunday at the start of the U.S. tornado season. Another person died in Oklahoma.

    Obama spoke at a joint news conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino while traveling in Asia. He said people hit by the disaster should know that “your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes.”

    The post Obama pledges federal support after deadly Arkansas tornado appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — Not even Supreme Court justices can resist a good fish story.

    The court said Monday it will hear the case of a Florida fisherman who wants the court to throw out his conviction for getting rid of some small grouper under a federal law originally aimed at the accounting industry.

    Commercial fishing boat captain John Yates argues that the federal government used its mighty power to convict him of tossing overboard three fish that were under the 20-inch minimum legal size for red grouper caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Yates was prosecuted under part of the law Congress passed in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal and abuses in the accounting industry. He said the law’s anti-shredding provision is intended to prevent the destruction of financial records. The Obama administration said the law plainly prohibits the destruction of “tangible objects,” including fish.

    The tale begins in 2007 on board the Miss Katie, a commercial fishing boat out of Cortez, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico.

    A Florida fish and wildlife officer boarded the Miss Katie in the Gulf for a routine inspection, according to court documents. The officer noticed several fish that appeared to be too small and eventually counted 72 red grouper that were under 20 inches long. He ordered those fish to be set aside so that authorities could seize them when the boat returned to port.

    Four days later, after a federal inspector got involved in the case, the same Florida officer measured the fish again and this time counted only 69 that were too small. The officer suspected that the undersized fish he looked at in port were not the same ones he measured at sea.

    A member of the boat’s crew was questioned by federal agents and eventually said Yates ordered the undersized fish to be thrown overboard, according to a federal appeals court opinion. A jury convicted Yates of getting rid of the undersize fish and a judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail. The federal appeals court based in Atlanta upheld the conviction.

    Yates disputed that any fish were too small, but the Supreme Court case turns only on the use of the federal law against him.

    He said owners of fishing boats refuse to hire him because they fear his presence on their boats would lead to more trouble with the federal government. “I am now unable to make a living doing what I love to do,” he said in article he wrote for Politico.

    Yates said he can’t believe that a fisherman could be ensnared by a law intended to stop the white-collar crime of destroying evidence to frustrate an investigation.

    Something smells rotten in his story, he said, and it isn’t the fish.

    Yates v. U.S., 13-7451, will be argued in the fall.

    The post Supreme Court hooks fishing case appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    “We will not negotiate with terrorists” is one of the golden rules of state policy. But a new study from Michigan University assistant professor Jakana Thomas shows that
    acts of violence can actually help get terrorist groups to the negotiating table
    in conflict — and can even earn them greater concessions. Terrorism works, concludes Thomas, but only if states let it.

    Published in the American Journal of Political Science, the study looks at the impact of terrorism on negotiations and bargaining through monthly data on civil conflicts in Africa from 1989 to 2010. Comparing incidences of violence and the number of concessions violent groups are offered, the study shows a correlation between acts of terror and concessions afforded.

    Why is terrorism effective?

    “In short, it is because it hurts. Recurrent acts of terrorism undermine the state’s credibility and control by underscoring that the government is either unwilling or unable to protect civilians from violence,” wrote Thomas for the Washington Post’s blog The Monkey Cage.

    Thomas suggests governments should avoid legitimizing violent groups by bolstering their counterterrorism measures and living by the old adage — do not negotiate with terrorists.

    The post Don’t negotiate with terrorists, study says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    H W Brands. Photo by Marsha Miller

    H W Brands. Photo by Marsha Miller

    For historian H. W. Brands, there are many ways to write about history. When teaching his students at the University of Texas the different tried and true formats for a good paper, Brands, who is known for his books “Andrew Jackson” and “The Age of Gold” to name a few, likes to emphasize that any form is acceptable.

    “If you wanted to, you could write history in Haiku,” Brands told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown. “I’ve been saying this for some years when one semester, one bright student said, ‘Well, Professor Brands, have you ever written history in haiku.’”

    This challenge happened to coincide with the advent of Twitter and thus, “History in Haiku,” a chronological telling of North America’s past, was born.

    Listen to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s converstion with H. W. Brand about the origins and lessons learned for History in Haiku.

    “I’ve observed that the forms available to writers have changed over time and I thought one of the most radical changes was Twitter, the idea that you would send this message in a 140 characters. It occurred to me that the 17 syllables in a haiku fit conveniently in 140 characters of twitter.”

    Brands has learned lessons since his first haiku tweet in 2009. He began including parenthetical tags at the end of his tweets to help his readers recognize which historical event he was referencing. He also started slowing down his writing of history and breaking into smaller, more manageable slices.

    He thinks of his haiku as a “snapshot of one moment.” Brands will write a handful at a time and then tweet one every day or so over the following weeks. For some historical events, one tweet will do. For others, it can take much longer.

    “I covered 10,000 years in North American history in 2 or 3 haiku, but by the time I got to the Civil War, I found, in fact, that I was losing ground. It was taking me longer to write the haiku than it was for the events to roll out,” said Brands. “The Battle of Gettysburg lasted only 3 days, but I wrote it in probably 10 or 15 haiku that were spread out over 3 weeks.”

    So what is the ultimate goal? The present.

    “I don’t know how long it’s going to take and I don’t know how long twitter is going to be the social medium it is today, but haiku have been around for a long time so I think those are going to last.”

    The post American History in 17 syllables and 140 characters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken joins Gwen Ifill to discuss the strategy behind these new sanctions, their potential to hurt U.S. companies and the prospect of further sanctions still in reserve.

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Now, for more on the new sanctions, we turn to White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken.


    Is the goal here to isolate Russia economically, or politically, or both?

    TONY BLINKEN, Deputy National Security Adviser: The goal is impose a clear choice on President Putin.

    Either choose a diplomatic path to resolve this crisis in Ukraine or face increased pressure on the Russian economy. We have already seen significant impacts from the pressure that we have exerted to date, in coordination with our European markets, financial markets down 22 percent, the ruble at all-time lows, investment drying up, capital flight, downgraded credit ratings.

    All of that is imposing a hard choice on President Putin. If he wants to continue to deliver growth for the people, which is essential to their support, he has to make that head choice.

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s take this a piece at a time.

    Part of what you’re proposing today is to sanction government officials. That’s different than what we have seen so far. What is the point of that?

    TONY BLINKEN: So, we have a number of things, Gwen.

    We have government officials. And we actually have designated government officials before. And, significantly, we have two individuals who are at the very heart of the Russian economy and of the support system for President Putin, Mr. Sechin and Mr. Chemezov.

    Mr. Sechin controls the largest energy company in the world, Rosneft. That company wasn’t designated itself. He was in his individual capacity. But we have already seen an impact on the company itself. Its credit rating was dropped to near junk bond — junk status. And we have seen its stock price take a dive as well. So, this is having a clear impact and it’s forcing a clear choice.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, why sanction individuals, and not the company, if what you are after is the company?

    TONY BLINKEN: We’re looking to do this in a very deliberate way, to do it in coordination with our European partners, because, when we act together, the impact is greater and stronger.

    And so the president has been extremely focused on making sure that we have the Europeans with us. While he was in Asia, he convened a conference call with the senior European partners on Friday when it became clear that, unfortunately, Russia was not living up to the commitments it made in Geneva to try to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine.

    And there was agreement reached, with the president’s leadership, to have the G7 pronounce itself on the need for additional pressure, and now today with us and the Europeans following through today.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you this way. If you were to sanction the companies themselves, would that have an immediate impact on, say, their U.S. partners? Like ExxonMobil, for instance, is in partnership with Rosneft.

    TONY BLINKEN: What we have been focused on is making sure that we maximize the pressure we’re exerting on Russia and minimize the impact here in the United States or in Europe. That’s why we have done it in such a deliberate, careful fashion. That has been the result to date.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, I couldn’t tell whether that was the answer to my question or not.

    So, you are saying this step-by-step process is in part to insulate American companies?

    TONY BLINKEN: Yes, the step-by-step process is to make sure that everything we do is focused on exerting pressure on Russia and minimizing any impact or consequences on American companies, on European companies.

    But, look, the longer this goes on — and we have held various sanctions in reserve if this does continue — there will be spillover and there will be an effect, unfortunately, on companies here and in Europe. But the overriding and overwhelming impact is on Russia. We have no desire to do this. Unfortunately, we’re forced to do it by President Putin’s actions and Russia’s actions. And we hope that he will reconsider and choose a diplomatic resolution to this crisis.

    GWEN IFILL: Among the individuals that you are sanctioning, will their assets — do they have assets in the U.S. that will be frozen as a result of this? And do we know what that adds up to?

    TONY BLINKEN: Yes, some of them may well have assets in the United States. We’re looking at that.

    They will also be prohibited from traveling to the United States. But most significantly of all, U.S. persons, U.S. companies will not able to do business with them in their individual capacities. That’s significant because not only does it mean that their ability to do business with and in the United States is cut off, but that tends to have a chilling impact on their ability to do business elsewhere around the world.

    So, we think this will be very significant in terms of the individuals who have been designated.

    GWEN IFILL: One of the things you have suggested, that if Russia decides to cross the border into Ukraine, that — the quote is, “Robust sectoral sanctions will follow.”

    What does that mean? What is a sectoral sanction? And if it’s robust and it’s meant to deter bad behavior, then why not impose them now?

    TONY BLINKEN: So, the president put in place a mechanism with various executive orders to be able to target large sectors of the Russian economy and companies within those sectors, like energy, like the financial sector, like mining.

    But the very fact that we have established that mechanism, that the president put it in place, we believe, will have a deterrent effect. The president has been very clear that we need to hold options in reserve if unfortunately Russia persists in its actions and takes additional actions. So, that’s what we have.

    And we believe that having those in place, with Russia knowing that we’re able to, if necessary, take those — take those actions, will hopefully have a deterrent effect on what they do and again focus them on what they agreed to do already, which is to find a diplomatic resolution, de-escalate the crisis, make good on the commitments they made in Geneva.

    GWEN IFILL: So, is action against banks, like Gazprom Bank or VEB, are those being held in reserve for additional punishment?

    TONY BLINKEN: Look, I’m not going to get into specific companies or individuals going forward, but, again, we have already seen the impact to date that we have had with the sanctions, working in coordination with the Europeans.

    You can imagine that, going forward, if necessary, we will have an even greater impact.

    GWEN IFILL: A senior administration official — it could have been you — said today, briefing reporters, referring to Slavyansk as the new Bermuda Triangle of Eastern Ukraine.

    What does that mean?

    TONY BLINKEN: Well, you have seen the images just now of what is going on now in Eastern Ukraine.

    Unfortunately, these pro-Russian groups of separatists, who are actually quite small in number, have doing everything they can destabilize Eastern Ukraine, with Russia’s support. And we believe Russia is trying to delay or disrupt or ultimately delegitimize the elections that are scheduled for May 25.

    But this is all about one simple proposition. The Ukrainian people should choose their own future, not us, not Russia, not Europe, the Ukrainian people. And that’s why elections are so important. That’s why we’re supporting the elections. We would expect Russia to do the same thing.

    Unfortunately, Russia and the groups it supports are trying to do just the opposite.

    GWEN IFILL: Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, thank you very much.

    TONY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.

    GWEN IFILL: For a fuller picture of the history of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, our team at PBS NewsHour Weekend traced the centuries-long relationship. You can watch that full report online.

    The post U.S. sanctions Putin’s friends and advisors to force ‘clear choice’ on Ukraine appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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