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- 06/06/14--14:54: _U.S. releasing undo...
- 06/06/14--15:02: _News Wrap: Bombs st...
- 06/06/14--15:07: _World leaders and v...
- 06/06/14--15:13: _Low-wage jobs drive...
- 06/06/14--15:18: _At Book Expo, publi...
- 06/06/14--15:26: _Shields and Brooks ...
- 06/06/14--15:26: _Your water cooler g...
- 06/06/14--15:38: _Watch the staggerin...
- 06/06/14--15:47: _Reports of corrupti...
- 06/06/14--16:15: _Declan Hill recount...
- 06/06/14--18:23: _Get up to speed on ...
- 06/07/14--08:40: _Obama promotes prog...
- 06/07/14--10:05: _Veteran remembers c...
- 06/07/14--10:06: _D-Day veteran recal...
- 06/07/14--11:00: _Photos: Six months ...
- 06/07/14--11:57: _U.S. reassembles te...
- 06/07/14--13:24: _Rising sea levels t...
- 06/07/14--13:42: _U.S. policy in Syri...
- 06/07/14--14:43: _Mourners gather at ...
- 06/08/14--08:26: _Bergdahl describes ...
- 06/06/14--14:54: U.S. releasing undocumented immigrants, but won’t say how many
- 06/06/14--15:02: News Wrap: Bombs strike Afghan presidential candidate convoy
- 06/06/14--15:13: Low-wage jobs drive gains in U.S. employment
- 06/06/14--15:18: At Book Expo, publishers and authors confront changing industry
- 06/06/14--15:26: Your water cooler guide to the World Cup
- 06/06/14--15:38: Watch the staggering preparations for D-Day in rare newsreel footage
- 06/06/14--15:47: Reports of corruption cast shadow over World Cup
- 06/06/14--18:23: Get up to speed on everything about the Sgt. Bergdahl situation
- 06/07/14--08:40: Obama promotes program for refinancing college debt
- 06/07/14--10:05: Veteran remembers crossing English Channel in 1944
- 06/07/14--10:06: D-Day veteran recalls jump that didn’t go as planned
- 06/07/14--11:57: U.S. reassembles team for upcoming talks with Tehran
- 06/07/14--13:24: Rising sea levels threaten South Florida
- 06/07/14--13:42: U.S. policy in Syria focuses on humanitarian crisis
- 06/07/14--14:43: Mourners gather at memorial service for Maya Angelou
- 06/08/14--08:26: Bergdahl describes being tortured, confined by Taliban captors
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is releasing inside the United States some immigrants who have crossed illegally into the country amid a surge in traffic across the Mexican border in southern Texas. But how many remains a mystery because the government won’t disclose the number.
The Homeland Security Department started flying immigrants to Arizona from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas last month after the number of immigrants, including more than 48,000 children traveling on their own, overwhelmed the Border Patrol there.
U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has said the immigrants were mostly families from Central America. They were flown from Texas, released in Arizona, and told to report to an ICE office near where they were traveling within 15 days.
The administration would not say Friday how many immigrants were affected — hundreds or thousands — or how many of those immigrants subsequently reported back to the government after 15 days as directed. As many as 400 people were flown to Arizona during one weekend last month. Many were then dropped off at bus stations to travel to their original destinations in the U.S.
Most immigrants arrested at the border in southern Texas are from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala and cannot be immediately repatriated so they are handed over to ICE. The agency said after immigrants report back to its offices it would make “appropriate custody determinations” based on the government’s enforcement priorities.
The perception that some immigrants could be getting a free pass into the U.S. could lead to even more attempts to cross the border. Illegal immigration increased heavily under a controversial “catch-and-release” strategy during the George W. Bush administration. Under that policy the government issued notices to appear in immigration court to migrants from countries other than Mexico until Bush stopped the practice.
In a draft memo from May 30, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello said releasing immigrants serves as an incentive for other would-be immigrants to try to cross the border.
Illegal immigration along the border is still near record lows in many places, but the Rio Grande Valley has seen a tremendous increase and now leads all Border Patrol sectors in annual apprehensions with more than 148,000 arrests so far this fiscal year. The region is seeing more children traveling on their own and migrants from countries other than Mexico.
Earlier this week Obama described the influx of children traveling alone as an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The Office of Management and Budget told Congress last month that the government would need an extra $1.4 billion to deal with the situation.
The post U.S. releasing undocumented immigrants, but won’t say how many appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the incoming leader of Ukraine engaged in high-profile diplomacy today at the D-Day commemorations in France.
Putin met briefly with Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko between events. Afterward, he said they agreed on the need for a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I cannot but commend the position of Mr. Poroshenko that bloodshed should be stopped immediately in the east of Ukraine. And he has a plan in that regard. What plan this is, you would better ask not me, but him. He told me about it in a few words, but it’s one thing to talk about it here in France and it’s another thing to explain it in his own country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier, Putin and President Obama kept their distance during a group photo, but they did chat at a luncheon, their first face-to-face session since the crisis erupted. A White House adviser said Mr. Obama told Putin he should recognize Poroshenko and stop helping the rebels in Ukraine, if he wants to ease tensions.
The acting secretary of veterans affairs sounded a new warning today for the VA’s troubled health care system. Sloan Gibson said administrators who punish whistle-blowers will themselves be punished. He spoke in San Antonio, Texas, after reports that 37 VA employees in 18 states were penalized for complaining of problems.
SLOAN GIBSON, Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs: I am setting the expectation that intimidation or retaliation, not just against whistle-blowers, but anybody that raises their hand and says, I think we have got a problem here or I think I know a better way to do this or I think this is wrong, that is absolutely unacceptable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative agency, is looking into the whistle-blower cases. Some involve employees who reported improper scheduling of veterans seeking care.
The Taliban insisted today that Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was treated well during five years of captivity. A spokesman for the militants contradicted White House claims that Bergdahl was in failing health. He said the soldier had fruit and other foods he requested, and even played soccer with his captors.
In Afghanistan, presidential front-runner Abdullah Abdullah narrowly escaped being assassinated when two bombs hit his campaign convoy. It happened outside a hotel in Kabul where Abdullah had just spoken. Six civilians were killed, and charred remains of cars and debris were left littering the street. Afterward, Abdullah charged the bombings were meant to scare voters and disrupt the election.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Presidential Candidate, Afghanistan (through interpreter): The enemies of Afghanistan failed in their plot today, but, unfortunately, we have lost a number of our countrymen. Three of my companions and three of our countrymen were martyred in today’s attack. I express my sincere condolences to their families and may God rest their souls in peace.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Abdullah is favored to win a runoff on June 14 to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
Back in this country, Seattle police dug into the background of the man who allegedly killed one person and wounded two at a college Thursday afternoon. He was identified as Aaron Ybarra, a grocery clerk. Investigators say he opened fire in a building at Seattle Pacific University. When he paused to reload, they say a student pepper-sprayed him and then tackled him.
The United Negro College Fund announced today that it’s getting $25 million dollars from the billionaire Koch brothers, a major force in conservative politics. Most of the grant will pay for nearly 3,000 scholarships for African-American students. The rest will support historically black colleges and universities. Charles and David Koch are best known for giving millions to libertarian and conservative causes.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 88 points to close at 16,924. The Nasdaq rose 25 points to close at 4,321. And the S&P 500 added almost nine to finish at 1,949, another record. For the week, the Dow and the S&P gained more than 1 percent. The Nasdaq was up nearly 2 percent.
The post News Wrap: Bombs strike Afghan presidential candidate convoy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Heads of state and surviving members of the armed services who bravely fought on the shores of Normandy, France, on this day in 1944 returned there today to mark the anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
As the sun rose over the English Channel this morning, American veterans in their 80s and 90s gathered to remember the day they came ashore on Omaha Beach to fight the Nazis.
DON MCCARTHY, World War II Veteran: Very special moment in my life. I’m so filled with joy right now, I can hardly control myself. Thanks, guy, for being here.
MAN: Six o’clock D-Day, landing time for the first beachhead boats.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Seventy years ago, Omaha was one of five beaches in Normandy where well over 150,000 Allied troops fought their way into France.
In the only color film footage of D-Day shot by director George Stevens, You see some of the more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft that took part. By the end of that first day, the Allies had a vital foothold. But it came at a high price. More than 20,000 Americans died at Normandy, including the 9,387 who lie in the American cemetery next to Omaha Beach.
President Obama paid tribute to them today.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: America’s claim, our commitment to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being, that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity. Normandy, this was democracy’s beachhead.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Of the 16 million American World War II veterans, only a little over one million are still alive. Mr. Obama said it’s important their stories are passed on.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are on this earth for only a moment in time. And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago. So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.
JUDY WOODRUFF: French President Francois Hollande vowed his country will always remember those who sacrificed their lives that day.
PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): They were your parents, your brothers, your friends. They were our liberators. France will never forget what she owes to these soldiers, what she owes to the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, British veterans, politicians and royal family members attended a service of remembrance at Bayeux Cathedral. It escaped damage during the war, and the city was the first one liberated in Normandy.
Later, on the sands of Sword Beach, where British forces landed, hundreds of dignitaries and veterans gathered for another ceremony. Queen Elizabeth II arrived to a loud round of applause. The 88-year-old monarch is one of the few remaining heads of state who actively served during the war, as a driver and auto mechanic.
Today’s events were the culmination of commemorative activities all this week. Military reenactments took place along the five famous beaches. And in the skies over Normandy, there were special parachute jumps by veterans; 93-year old American Jim Martin jumped near Utah Beach.
JIM MARTIN, WWII veteran: Wonderful.
QUESTION: Was it different from…
JIM MARTIN: Oh, yes. Nobody is shooting at me. Yes, it was — it’s much nicer.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Eighty-nine-year-old Scotsman Jock Hutton took a tandem jump into the very same field in Ranville, France, where he landed 70 years ago.
JOCK HUTTON, WWII Veterans: We trained for months and months and months, and we landed with one purpose in mind, and that was to liberate Ranville, which we did before first light.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the United States today, veterans attended a ceremony at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Bob Sales from Madison Heights, Virginia, was in the first wave of soldiers to land. His wife spoke for him today.
ALICE SALES: We have to make sure that there might never come a day when June the 6th means no more than any other day, that there might never be a generation of Americans for whom the name Normandy means nothing at all.
JUDY WOODRUFF: To enshrine that history, the National World War II Memorial in Washington was built 10 years ago. Today, veterans laid wreaths in front of the wall of gold stars that represent all the Americans who died in the war.
The post World leaders and veterans honor the invasion that turned the tide of WWII appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The latest government jobs report shows the American labor market moving into its strongest hiring pace in years. Employers added 217,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.3 percent, its lowest level since September 2008.
May also marked an important moment: the highest total payroll level in U.S. history, all in all, a seemingly solid report. But those looking closely say it’s premature to celebrate much, especially when at least 10 million people are still looking for work.
NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman has the story, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news
PAUL SOLMAN: Today’s headline: May was the fourth straight month employers added more than 200,000 jobs, the last time that happened, more than 14 years ago. Yet the unemployment rate didn’t budge.
So we asked MIT labor economist Paul Osterman for his take.
PAUL OSTERMAN, MIT Sloan School of Management: Good news and bad news.
PAUL SOLMAN: You know, it seems like every month, I interview someone like you on the first Friday of the month, and they say, good news, bad news.
PAUL OSTERMAN: That’s right. There’s a reason for that, the good news, 200,000 jobs in a month added. That’s great. The bad news, the level of pain out there has not changed. There’s still about 20 million people who are either unemployed, working part-time jobs, but would like full-time jobs, or not in the labor force, but would like to be in the labor force. That number is just stable, and it’s a lot of pain.
PAUL SOLMAN: The unemployment rate stayed constant, but that’s because we added 200,000 jobs, added 200,000 people to the labor force.
PAUL OSTERMAN: That’s right. But think of the population and think of the number of people in the population who are working. That tells you how healthy the economy is, how good the job market is. That number plummeted in the recession, and has barely climbed back up. We’re not at pre-recession levels.
PAUL SOLMAN: Indeed the so-called employment-to-population ratio has been below 60 percent for five years now, down almost one-seventh from the ratio pre-recession, to a low last seen in the Reagan recession of the early ’80s.
Now, the economy is adding jobs. In fact, May marked a milestone: Five years after the end of the great recession, we have finally regained the nearly nine million jobs that were lost.
But Osterman, who has researched the quality of the new jobs, says they represent no progress in wages for the economy as a whole.
PAUL OSTERMAN: Twenty to 25 percent of all adults who are working are in poverty level jobs, jobs that if they worked full-time, full year, wouldn’t raise them above 125 percent of the poverty rate for a family of three.
PAUL SOLMAN: A recent report by the National Employment Law Project found that lower-wage jobs in sectors like restaurants, retail and administrative services have accounted for the lion’s share of the job gains since 2009.
Christine Owens runs the group.
CHRISTINE OWENS, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project: They accounted for 39 percent of job growth in the recovery. Four out of every 10 jobs that were added were in those three very-low-wage industries.
PAUL SOLMAN: According to this same study, all low-paying industries accounted for less than a quarter of job losses during the recession, but they have accounted for almost half of job gains since.
CHRISTINE OWENS: We have gained far more jobs in low-wage industries than we did in mid-wage and high-wage industries.
PAUL SOLMAN: In May, for example, some of the biggest job gains were in health care. Seems promising. Yet many of those jobs are low-paying.
CHRISTINE OWENS: Jobs like home care. Home care is one of the fastest-growing jobs in our economy and it is the job that is expected to grow the most over the next 10 years. It pays poverty wages.
PAUL SOLMAN: Paul Osterman elaborated.
PAUL OSTERMAN: Health care is a very bifurcated, polarized industry. You have got the doctors and nurses at the top. You have got the home health care aides. You have got the CNAs, the certified nursing assistants, at the bottom. Those bottom jobs are going to grow immensely because of the retirement of the baby boom, because of the demand for home health care. And so a growth in health services, while expected, doesn’t necessarily lead to better jobs at all.
PAUL SOLMAN: Consider the entire economy, says Osterman, and what the average job has been paying.
PAUL OSTERMAN: If you look at wage growth in the economy, over the last 12 months, it’s been about 2.1 percent. That’s barely ahead, barely ahead of inflation, so people are not getting ahead in terms of their earnings in this recovery.
PAUL SOLMAN: And if you look at where so many of the new jobs cluster, in non-supervisory work, today’s employment report says that wage growth actually trailed inflation over the past year.
The bottom line for May, then: more workers and more jobs, but not necessarily the kind of jobs that signal anything like a robust recovery.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Paul details more employment numbers online, including the under-reported stat of those not in the labor force, but say they want a job. See how high that has risen on Making Sense.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to one particular business that’s experienced change from technology, consolidation and other factors: the world of books.
Jeffrey Brown was there for the publishing industry’s annual trade show that wrapped up this past weekend.
Here’s his report.
JEFFREY BROWN: Publishers large and small, booksellers from far and wide, agents, editors, publicists and, yes, authors. The annual Book Expo America at the Javits Center in New York is the industry’s largest trade fair, a place to sell your wares, make new connections and bask in the glory of the written word.
JAMES PATTERSON, Best-selling Author: For a bookstore junkie, this is heaven.
JEFFREY BROWN: James Patterson is a rock star at BEA, a publishing titan with dozens of bestsellers. For him, all would seem well, but he sees a continuing crisis in the world of books today, and he’s donating a million dollars to independent booksellers around the country to help them raise awareness of their plight.
JAMES PATTERSON: This is a period of evolution, revolution, whatever you want to call it, big shift into e-books, and I just think we just have to slow down and make sure it’s an orderly transition. People need to understand that what is at risk here is American literature.
JEFFREY BROWN: That’s been a long-running thought plotline in this industry in the age of e-books and Amazon. More on it later.
But, this year, we found a more upbeat story as well.
DOMINIQUE RACCAH, Sourcebooks, Inc: We’re in the middle of another big disruption in our industry, and that’s been the impetus for another kind of rethinking of our business.
JEFFREY BROWN: Dominique Raccah, for example, founded Sourcebooks, which has grown from a small startup outside Chicago into a large publisher of both print and e-books, from genres from children’s, to romance, to nonfiction.
A former statistician, she looks hard at the numbers.
DOMINIQUE RACCAH: What’s interesting is, at the beginning of this conversation, I think people believed that digital was going to — we were going to have a 100 percent conversion rate. Right? It was going to be, are you buying a p-book or an e-book? It was going to be an or conversation.
I think we now know the conversation is an “and” conversation, right, so that the bulk of buyers actually buy both. The bulk of users actually use them.
JEFFREY BROWN: E-books, she says, are bringing in more readers because keep people can sample more. The trick is to understand which books to vest where, especially since it’s harder than ever to break through, with thousands of titles published in print and electronically, not to mention the world of other readily available entertainment, so what’s a young author to do?
AMY EWING, Author, “The Jewel”: My role is essentially I think just to talk about the book as much as I can, to get it out there, to talk to the readers.
JEFFREY BROWN: One genre going gangbusters these days is Y.A., young adult. And Amy Ewing wants to be a part of it. This was her first time at the expo, touting and signing her first book, “The Jewel,” fantasy fiction she hopes will appeal to young people and all those adults who have likely increased readership for the likes of “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games,” and she’s willing to reach out to each and every one of them.
AMY EWING: What I love about Twitter is that you can really talk to people who are reading the books. And to see people who are not my mom or my friends reading these books and saying, you know, I can’t believe that ending, like, I can’t wait for the next book, and I get to say, oh, my God, I can’t believe that ending either. I know I’m awful.
JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, you’re responding to everybody individually?
AMY EWING: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Really?
AMY EWING: Yes. For now, yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: For now.
AMY EWING: Yes, we will see how that goes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Until there’s millions of readers.
AMY EWING: Oh, hopefully, yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: No one’s immune. Publishing house veterans do their own version of selling new titles to earn prominent placement in bookstores and online this coming fall.
Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp has overseen numerous bestsellers, with a likely new one soon to come in Hillary Clinton’s memoir. At the expo, he was drumming up interest in a new novel titled “We Are Not Ourselves” by first-time and to this point unknown author Matthew Thomas.
JONATHAN KARP, Simon & Schuster: This is a book that explains the American middle-class experience. If Eugene O’Neill were alive today and writing fiction, this is the kind of book he would write.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are you telling this to me right now?
JONATHAN KARP: I am — I am pushing. Yes, I am pushing the book.
JONATHAN KARP: If I can’t convey any enthusiasm about a book, why in the world would you want the buy it?
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
JONATHAN KARP: So it’s — basically, word of mouth starts with us, and then it spreads to the booksellers and then hopefully through the media, through influential people like you, and ultimately to regular readers. But we think readers need to hear about a book maybe four or five different ways.
JEFFREY BROWN: Four or five different ways?
JONATHAN KARP: Sure.
JEFFREY BROWN: You have got — and that’s — is that an actual calculation you get?
JONATHAN KARP: Yes, absolutely, well, sure, multiple impressions.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?
One possible last impression, of course, is at your local bookstore, if you still have one, and the news here is more positive as well. After a bloodletting amid the rise of big box stores and online shopping, the American Booksellers Association, representing smaller independent stores, says its members have actually grown to 664 this year, 250 more than five years ago.
Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas, says success today requires a cafe, an appeal to local quality of life, and a tough head for business.
SARAH BAGBY, Owner, “Watermark Books & Café”: I think, over the years, people realize that the bookstores that are in business and thriving in today’s climate are real businesspeople.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
SARAH BAGBY: We are very strategic about the books we get behind. We buy our product at the lowest price we can, and then we do everything in the store to connect that product to our customer.
JEFFREY BROWN: So much for the romance of owning a small bookstore.
SARAH BAGBY: Oh, my gosh. But it is — it’s fun.
JEFFREY BROWN: All good then, or at least better. But then there was the elephant in the room, or, as it happens, barely in the room, Amazon, where, by some estimates, at least 40 percent of all books are purchased today and many more of those bought online.
At BEA, much behind-the-scenes talk was of a fight between Amazon and major publisher Hachette, reportedly over to split profits for e-books and print. Amazon wants more and is playing hardball to get it, delaying shipments or removing buy buttons on its site for some of the publisher’s books.
In a speech at the expo, Hachette author James Patterson expressed his displeasure at the growing power of a Amazon.
JAMES PATTERSON: But that certainly sounds like the beginning of a monopoly to me. Amazon — Amazon also, as you know, wants to control bookselling, book buying and even book publishing.
JEFFREY BROWN: With us a bit later, Patterson was slightly more reserved, spreading blame far and wide.
JAMES PATTERSON: At this point, I’m going to say this: no villains, but no heroes.
JEFFREY BROWN: No villains, but no heroes?
JAMES PATTERSON: No heroes. Nobody’s stepping up and going, we need to look at ideas, we need to look at books, we need to look at American literature. The government isn’t dealing with it. The media really isn’t dealing with it much at all. And publishers need to be brave.
JEFFREY BROWN: Amazon didn’t respond to our request to comment at BEA, where all were aware of the high stakes of this fight and the continued churning of the industry as a whole.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch Jeff’s entire interview with novelist James Patterson. That is on our Art Beat page.
The post At Book Expo, publishers and authors confront changing industry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So the story, I guess, that dominated the news this weeks, Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war released from the Taliban, five days after the president announced this, lots of criticism from both sides, especially Republicans.
Yesterday, the president found himself still answering questions, still defending his decision.
Here’s just part of what the president said.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. Right? That’s par for the course.
But I will repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated, and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.
I write too many letters to folks who unfortunately don’t see their children again after fighting a war. I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, today the Taliban is disputing part of what the president said. They said Bowe Bergdahl was eating fruit, he was playing soccer.
Was this the right thing to do?
MARK SHIELDS: It was the right thing to do, Judy.
It was inexpertly and politically — politically ineptly done. And I think an expectation, sort of the announcement in the Rose Garden, and all that attended it, was just short of tone-deafness on the part of the White House and the president in particular. But the act itself is the right thing to do.
I mean, the principle he stated is a core principle of American values, and that is we do not leave Americans behind. And we can find out in plenty of time whether in fact the charges against Bergdahl made by some people are true or not true or whatever else, but we won’t do it on the basis of some sort of kangaroo court by conservative commentators and a rush to judgment to hang the guy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And some of the critics, David, are saying, well, because he left his post, apparently deserted, this is different.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Well, I’m with Mark on this one.
I think it’s not the health of the individual we should care about. It’s the national fabric, the national community. We are one national community. We’re a polarized country, we’re a segmented country, but at the end of the day, we do have to preserve the idea that we have some solidarity.
So, when there’s times of crisis, we do react as one. So, when we fight, we do fight as one. And to do that, you do have to have a sense it’s all for one and one for all, and you have to protect that fabric. So it’s not only about him. It’s about the fabric.
And whether he deserted, whether he said bad things about America, He certainly said bad and embarrassing and shameful things about the country and about the Army, but it’s not desert — get citizenship by merit. You get it by birth, by being a member of our community.
And whether he deserved it or not is really beside the point. The soldiers who fight for us are not doing it because we deserve it. They’re doing it because we’re Americans. And so I do think whether he deserved it or not is really not the issue. The issue is that he’s American.
If he did something against the law, we will bring him back, we will try him, but that is far from being proven. Right now, he’s just an American soldier.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, how do you explain the — just this huge criticism, including from some people who were calling for the president to get Bergdahl back?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
You know, I think that it has to be at some point a political explanation to an awful lot of it, Judy, especially those who were calling for every effort to be made to bring him back.
In a strange way, this has become, in my judgment, a metaphor for the war itself, that it’s a war that’s unresolved, unlike the one that we’re celebrating this day and where there’s a victory and a resolution and good triumphs and everybody comes home. This is a war that is — and it’s remarkable to me that, while we have grown somewhat accepting of the fact of the terrible toll that this has taken on America’s troops, that they come home and the mental and physical wounds that they carry with them, we acknowledge PTSD.
And I would just say, there he is in Afghanistan. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until I know. I have an idea. I don’t know what happened there. And the idea somehow this was an act of disloyalty to the country or wrong, make no mistake about it. Democrats on the Hill were outraged. They felt that they…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because they weren’t consulted?
MARK SHIELDS: They weren’t informed.
And Congress, as an institution, loves to have that. They don’t want the responsibility of declaring war. They haven’t done that since December 8, 1941, but they want sort of that acknowledgment of authority. But the White House has been inept — inept in its dealings with Congress.
And there is anger among Democrats that have taken it — been on the defensive on the Affordable Care Act, on the Veterans Administration, on the air pollution.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, I would say two things I agree with and one thing I disagree with.
MARK SHIELDS: OK.
DAVID BROOKS: Two things I agree with, give him the benefit of the doubt. People in combat, they’re under enormous stress. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
Second, the political tone-deafness of the White House really is mind-boggling, actually, not to see how people would react when you’re releasing five Guantanamo — really bad guys from Guantanamo.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean not to have anticipated this.
DAVID BROOKS: Not to have anticipated this, to have had the Rose Garden ceremony, as if it was just going to be the Oprah show and everybody was going to applaud.
That strikes me as very weird. And I don’t really have an explanation. The other area I disagree — and though we agree on the overall — and it’s a principle that we leave no one behind, but it’s not a blind principle. We do have to be aware of the consequences.
If we traded people that would then go off and kill 10,000 Americans for one soldier, then you really have to do think. So, we have got to be consequentialist a little. And so you would have to look at the specific people we’re releasing in this case.
There are five really bad guys. They have been out of circulation 12 years. It’s not clear that — how much damage they will do. They might do some damage, but I would say less damage than tearing up the national fabric by essentially saying to a member, a citizen of our country, we’re cutting you off.
The Israelis trade — as has often been said this week, they will trade 1,100 people for one, 1,100 people for three. And they will do that because they all know Israeli parents are flesh of one flesh. They all have some sympathy with each another and support and preserve that sympathy in a country like ours that’s deeply polarized.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does this endure, Mark? Do we wait and see what Bergdahl says when…
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I mean, we don’t know.
The poor guy — I mean, poor guy — I say poor guy. He spent five years, Judy. He spent five years essentially in isolation, away from anybody he ever knew, anything he was ever familiar with. And he’s in Germany at the hospital. They say he’s having trouble with English.
When he comes back, I mean, I’m sure there will be — there will be hearings. There will be — but he will have his chance. And I trust American justice a lot more than I trust Taliban justice.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, David, I’m hearing what Mark is saying about the contrast with D-Day. We’re looking, we’re seeing the shores of Normandy, France, and a very different kind of war and a very different kind of legacy for this country than anything we have ever experienced in Afghanistan.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
The one parallel I would draw is the president has made a lot of news this week and the last couple weeks by saying this phrase, which I will euphemize, as we don’t do stupid stuff.
And that’s — he said, this is the Obama doctrine. And it’s an Obama doctrine based very on his own feeling errs when it overreaches, when it tries to do too much. Well, the D-Day, though it looked smart in retrospect, Operation Overlord did not necessarily look smart beforehand.
The D.F. invasion a couple years before had been a disaster. The weather could have turned bad. It could have been a really horrible event. And Dwight Eisenhower was prepared for that.
And so the idea that all of our problems are caused by overreach, by overexertion, is just a half-truth. The World War II generation was a war and a post-war period where we — America was plenty aggressive, took plenty of chances, and some of them paid off and some of them didn’t.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what Eisenhower did, you’re saying, was clearly reaching.
MARK SHIELDS: On D-Day, it was reaching? It was. It was an incredible — it was an incredible act.
And I think what — it’s not simply the war. The war was remarkable, Judy, in that there was an equality of sacrifice. It was universal. We absolutely all were engaged, whether it was the rationing of meat or gasoline or cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.
One-third of all the vegetables and fruit in the United States were raised in victory gardens, 20 million victory gardens. The four president sons, all four served in combat in World War II. It’s back to Lyndon Johnson and Chuck Robb, his son-in-law, before we have even seen anybody in the president’s family in battle.
So that — that was part of it. The other thing was, we usually acknowledge individual acts of great bravery, the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star. This was thousands upon thousands of American — all an act of just incredible collective and individual courage, I mean, going and landing on that Normandy beach, 80 miles of open water, the armaments, Pointe du Hoc, all of it.
It was remarkable. And the unity of the country at the time is something that we can just treasure and just covet.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s something we want to remember.
So, let me bring up elections, politics, primaries. David, Mississippi and Iowa voted this week, and in Mississippi, particularly interesting. You now have a runoff, a seven-term Republican, stalwart Republican, Thad Cochran, now facing a challenger, Chris McDaniel, Tea Party. How worried should Thad Cochran be?
DAVID BROOKS: I think significantly worried.
What is interesting is the changing logic of the appropriators, which used to be that if you brought a lot of bacon home to the state, you were doing pretty well. We have seen that erode. But he’s the classic example because he brought so much post-Katrina to the state, that it really — he was giving a lot to Mississippians.
But a lot of people have decided, we understand the money coming here is good, but Washington is so messed up, we still got to vote these people out of office. A lot of people are saying that. The thing that’s interesting to me about this runoff is who has the passion.
We assume the Tea Party, the opponent has the passion. We assume they’re more impassioned and more motivated to vote than the regulars. But I’m not sure that’s true this year. And it will be very interesting. If Cochran survives, it will be a sign that among the establishment there are some passionate voters as well, at least as passionate as on the Tea Party side.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?
MARK SHIELDS: Thad Cochran seeking his seventh term. He’s had six terms.
He’s won nine consecutive elections in Mississippi, without ever once appealing to racial feelings at all. He’s been above it. He’s been an exemplary public servant.
And I agree with David that the remarkable thing about him — Michael Barone put it very well, the congressional scholar. He said, he represents a vanishing breed of the Southern Republican. He’s personally decent. He doesn’t demonize the other side. He works across the aisle. He does pride himself on bringing home — he’s conservative, but not rigidly so, and he’s agreeable to everybody.
I mean, it’s really a courtly Southern type, which is no longer in vogue. And I really do think that he’s in trouble. There’s no question about it. He didn’t get the majority that they had hoped for.
But Mississippi Governor, former Governor William Winter, who was an excellent player on both racial reconciliation and education in the state, told Jonathan Martin of The New York Times this would be the worst stereotype confirmed of Mississippi if McDaniel and the Tea Party win this one.
This is a — and I think there’s a lot to it. And I will say this, Judy. It’s a warning for the rest of the country. We are seeing the future in Mississippi politics; $5 million goes into McDaniel’s behalf from outside independent groups. His campaign raises one-fourth of that, 1.4.
So, these are campaigns being run. And $3 million went into Cochran’s.
JUDY WOODRUFF: By outside groups.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, just outside groups are running these campaigns. They’re funding them and they’re driving them.
And that’s — thank you Supreme Court of the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have to stop here, unless you have two seconds…
DAVID BROOKS: No, nothing that wise.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Save it for next — we’re just glad you two are insiders.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks.
The post Shields and Brooks on Bergdahl criticism, Mississippi primary politics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Are you an American struggling to understand the hype behind the World Cup? You’re not alone. In fact, a recent Reuters poll showed that 86 percent of all Americans said they know little to nothing about soccer’s biggest event, while two-thirds of all polled said they didn’t know it was being held in Brazil this year.
Not to worry though, we’re here to help.
What is the World Cup?
The World Cup is an international soccer tournament that pits 32 national teams against each other for the top title. This happens every four years.
The 32 countries are chosen through a two-year qualifying process. Here’s how it works: countries are grouped according to geographic location into one of six international soccer confederations. They are the CONCACAF (Central & Northern American teams), CONMEBOL (South American teams), CAF (African teams), UEFA (European teams), AFC (Asian teams), and the OFC (Oceania teams).
Within these confederations, member countries compete in qualification tournaments for entry into the World Cup. Confederations are allotted a guaranteed number of spots in the World Cup, with one of the 32 spots always reserved for the host nation. The number of entries each confederation is granted varies greatly though. Oceania, for example, has no guaranteed entries, whereas Europe has 13. (USA finished first this year in the CONCACAF qualification, earning the team a spot.)
The 32 teams are then randomly drafted into groups of four. Within their groups, those teams play three matches each, and the two teams with the top aggregate performances in each group advance to the knockout round of 16. From then on, each match is sudden death through the finals.
Just how big is the World Cup exactly?
Massive. It’s hard to quantify its importance internationally, but for to put it in perspective, think about Super Bowl Sunday. Last year’s Super Bowl was the most watched television event in United States history, drawing 111.5 million viewers, certainly not a paltry sum. That is, until you compare it to the World Cup.
The live broadcast of the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands drew an estimated 909.6 million viewers from around the globe. The tournament as a whole reached more than 3.2 billion viewers, the equivalent of 46.4 percent of the world population, and the average viewership for a live match was 188.4 million viewers, meaning that a group stage match between New Zealand and Slovakia in 2010 likely drew more viewers than the 2014 Super Bowl.
But it’s not just the number of spectators. To understand soccer’s impact on the global stage you have to understand their passion.
Following its 2010 World Cup victory, Spain saw an upswing in nationalism. For a country with strong separationist ideologies, specifically in the Catalonia region where an intense independence movement has been underway for decades, the sight of some 75,000 fans waving the Spanish national flag in the Catalan capital of Barcelona was hailed as a welcome moment of national identity.
Its more than just spirits that are lifted, but, some argue, fertility rates too. Nine months after the soccer club FC Barcelona won three major titles in May 2009, February birth rates in Catalonia jumped 16 percent. That baby boom is now referred to as “The Iniesta Generation” in honor of the Barcelonan midfielder Andres Iniesta.
A World Cup victory has been known to boost the nation’s economy. Goldman Sachs found that victorious countries’ stocks outperform the global market by an average of 3.5 percent in the month following a World Cup victory, and can experience growth of about 0.7 percent on their national GDP. In 2006 to 2007, for instance, Italy saw its GDP increase more than $250 billion following its World Cup victory.
What do I need to know about the U.S. team and our chances?
First the good news: the United States has a great soccer team this year. The U.S. squad is currently the 13th ranked team in the world by soccer’s governing body, FIFA. While FIFA’s rankings are notoriously fickle and plagued with irregularities, the team’s results don’t lie. The United States has compiled a record of 30 wins to 11 losses and eight draws under the tutelage of German-born coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The team, filled with young talent, has played faster and more aggressively with Klinsmann at the helm. Since Klinsmann took over in 2011, the U.S. has defeated a four-time World Cup champion for the first time ever, earned its first-ever win against Mexico on Mexican soil and defeated then second-ranked Germany early last summer.
Now the bad news: the U.S. got really, really unlucky with its schedule. Remember how the 32 teams are drafted into random groups that compete to make it to the knockout round? Well, the U.S. got placed in Group G along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Germany is currently the oddsmaker’s third-favorite pick to win it all, while Portugal is the sixth-favorite. As for Ghana: they’ve ended the United States World Cup dreams in the last two World Cups, eliminating the U.S.’s chances to advance out of the group stages in 2006 and then kicking them out of the round of 16 in 2010. There’s a reason Group G has been dubbed “The Group of Death”: its four teams have the best combined FIFA rankings of all the groups.
Still, despite the ominous draw, there’re plenty of reasons to be excited for the United States in Brazil. Simply advancing out of the group stage would be a great accomplishment for the U.S. and help the sport’s burgeoning popularity.
So when do we play?
The U.S. opens its campaign against Ghana on June 16 at 6 p.m. EDT. It follows that up with a matchup against Portugal on June 22 at 6 p.m. EDT and ends its group stage play against Germany on June 26 at noon EDT. All of these games will be televised on ESPN.
Before the D-Day invasion, there was massive preparation on both sides of the conflict. Pulling together footage from around the globe, including from behind enemy lines, this United News newsreel gives us a glimpse of how massive the defensive and offensive effort was in Europe. Railroads were built. Germany constructed a continent-spanning wall, fortified with guns and pill boxes, hoping to protect the western edge of their conquered territory. Thousands of soldiers prepared equipment and ran through drills, with no idea when or where they’d eventually be deployed.
Newsreel journalists gathered extensive historical footage of WWII, but one photographer also brought home reels of color footage from his personal 16mm camera. The National Archives profiles Jack Lieb, a Hearst newsreel cameraman who first landed in Europe in 1943 and landed with troops on Omaha Beach. Lieb’s behind-the-scenes footage caputured the human side of the massive armies in Europe, the moments between long marches and mobilized destruction. Audrey Amidon, of the Archives describes a special film, showcasing Lieb’s rare footage set to his own narration.
In the film below, donated by the Lieb family to the National Archives in 1984, you’ll see D-Day from a perspective different than the official military film or commercial newsreel. With his personal footage, Lieb takes the viewer through the preparations in England, where he spent time with war correspondents Ernie Pyle, Jack Thompson, and Larry LaSueur, to the liberation of Paris and finally into Germany. Along the way, Lieb captured his experience on 16mm Kodachrome, filming everyday people in France and the occasional celebrity, such as Edward G. Robinson or Ernest Hemingway.
The post Watch the staggering preparations for D-Day in rare newsreel footage appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Hundreds of millions of people around the globe will be watching fervently next week when the World Cup, the world’s most popular sporting event, kicks off in Brazil.
But a series of reports and investigations are casting a cloud over the sport and its international governing body, FIFA.
Jeff is back with that story.
JEFFREY BROWN: One investigative series, published in The New York Times, found a match-fixing syndicate was able to manipulate several contests in the run-up to the previous World Cup in 2010. The stories included tales of apparent bribery that led to clearly suspicious calls by referees in an effort to exploit matches for betting purposes.
Separately, The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, published new documents showing corruption and payments behind Qatar’s successful bid to host the Cup in 2022.
Declan Hill is an investigative journalist who co-wrote The New York Times series. He joins us now.
So these games that were fixed in the run-up to the last World Cup, tell us briefly what happened.
DECLAN HILL, Investigative Journalist: Well, Jeffrey, it’s an extraordinary story.
There’s essentially been a syndicate working out of Singapore and Malaysia that for years have been traveling around. European police estimate they have fixed hundreds of games. They have corrupted and got to players and referees around the world.
And this was just some of their activity. They got into the officials of the South African Soccer Association, not all of them, just a couple of them. Some of those officials were quite heroic in trying to stop them, and they were fixing games literally days before the start of the 2010 World Cup.
JEFFREY BROWN: These were games, as we said, leading up to it.
Is there any evidence that it reached higher into the World Cup itself, into more meaningful games?
DECLAN HILL: Well, I think it’s an excellent question, because the fixes have been coming to these big international soccer tournaments for at least 20 years. They have come chronically and consistently.
And what we found in the New York Times investigation was, strangely, the FIFA investigation report that we were using as some of our sources stopped their investigation at simply the exhibition matches before the World Cup.
So, they didn’t find any evidence of World Cup matches being fixed. On the other hand, they really weren’t looking for them. So we’re still unclear.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, this is a big part of your story, clearly. FIFA looked into all this, but you’re suggesting they didn’t — well, it’s not clear how hard they looked or what they did afterwards, right?
DECLAN HILL: It’s a very complicated, gray story. And there’s lots of heroes, there’s lots of villains.
But what’s clear is that this investigative report only started two years after these dodgy matches. And then it was released two years ago. And it’s kind of hung around. Lots of people inside FIFA, lots of people inside South African Soccer Association have known of its existence, have seen it, have seen all the allegations contained in the report, and yet nothing has been done.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so is there — the issue is how vulnerable, are these — the World Cup that’s about to start, these games, and what is being done to take care that this doesn’t happen again?
DECLAN HILL: I think it goes right to the question of credibility.
It’s not just that the games could or could not be fixed. It’s whether an honest fan, a fair-minded person could be watching those games thinking to themselves, hang on a second, was that a mistake or was that something worse?
And that’s what FIFA has to eliminate. They have tried fair play. They have got a new FIFA director of security, a guy named Ralf Mutschke, a former German police officer, who admitted has openly, for the first time FIFA history, that fixers do target these games. And they’re trying to do something, but it may be a question too little too late at this moment.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and as you showed and as the FIFA investigation showed, the way in was through particular individuals, right, through referees who would make certain calls, but even then looked funny, I guess.
DECLAN HILL: Actually — actually, Jeffrey, it’s far worse.
I have been following this story for a number of years. I have written a couple of books on this. But what we show with The New York Times was, it wasn’t just dodgy referees, the odd corrupted player. It’s now moved up into the very high-level soccer officials of National Association, so not FIFA itself, but some of the soccer associations.
For example, the South African Soccer Association, there were officials inside the South African Association that was organizing the last World Cup that were saying, hey, some of our colleagues are clearly corrupt.
Which of those officials were corrupt, we don’t know. We do know that there were allegations of death threats. There was bribes. You know, there was lots of money floating around, but we still haven’t been able to get to the bottom of this murky scandal.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, now I want to move to the — what we also learned about the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and apparently with a lot of money changing hands. What do we know at this point?
DECLAN HILL: Well, the decision to award the World Cup, which, as you know, is the world’s biggest sporting tournament by different factors — it far outranks the Olympics in terms of world attention and cash.
Almost from the very minute in December 2010 that Qatar was given the World Cup, there have been questions, why would such a country, which is so small, with such a small population base, tiny, really, much smaller than even Washington, D.C., being awarded this huge sporting tournament?
And our colleagues at The Sunday Times over in London announced last Sunday that they had millions, their words, of e-mails, cached e-mails both from FIFA and former FIFA officials alleging a series of very systematic payments to various soccer officials to award the World Cup hosting rights to Qatar.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Declan Hill, thank you so much.
DECLAN HILL: Thank you, Jeffrey.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have more online. You can find a World Cup primer on the Rundown. And a viewer’s guide for exciting matches to watch out for, that is on our World page.
On Friday’s NewsHour, investigative journalist Declan Hill speaks with Jeffrey Brown about new questions being raised — and some older ones that are back again — about corruption in the sport of international soccer and among some in its governing body, FIFA.
Internal documents released this past week, just days before the World Cup is set to begin in Brazil, have cast a cloud over the event. Hill, who has written two books on the subject, co-wrote a two-part series in the New York Times documenting how a match-fixing syndicate tried to rig contests in exhibition matches that led up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Times series begins with the extraordinary story of one referee depositing $100,000 in cash on the morning of a match and then officiating later that day while making highly suspicious calls.
In an online extra, Jeff asks Hill to spell out what happened in some of the specific matches, including one contest where skeptical officials swapped out a referee whom they did not trust just minutes before the game.
The post Declan Hill recounts story of how FIFA handled case of corrupt referee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — That feel-good moment in the Rose Garden seems like a long time ago. Just a week after the president announced that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been freed in Afghanistan, details emerging about the soldier, the deal and how the rescue came together are only adding to the list of questions.
Why did Bergdahl leave his military post in the first place? Should he be punished as a deserter? Did U.S. troops die looking for him? Was the swap — Bergdahl’s freedom for that of five Taliban commanders — a good deal for the United States or the Taliban, or both? Did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists? Why did President Obama OK the prisoner swap? And why now?
A look at what’s known — and unknown — about saving Sgt. Bergdahl:
On June 30, 2009, when he disappeared from his infantry unit, Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class who had been in Afghanistan just five months. Back home in central Idaho, he’d been known as a free spirit who worked as a barista and loved to dance ballet. After he disappeared, fellow soldiers recalled, he’d made some odd comments about the possibility of getting lost in the mountains and whether he could ship belongings home. Rolling Stone magazine later reported that Bergdahl had sent his parents emails suggesting he’d lost faith in the Army’s mission there and was considering deserting. By 2010, the Pentagon had concluded that Bergdahl had voluntarily walked away from his outpost. During the five years he was held by the Taliban, he was automatically bumped up in rank to sergeant. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Bergdahl’s next promotion to staff sergeant, which was to happen soon, is no longer automatic now that he has been freed.
Within weeks of Bergdahl’s disappearance, video surfaced revealing that he had been taken captive by the Taliban, who were embroiled in a bloody battle to topple the Afghan government and reclaim power. It’s believed that Bergdahl was held in eastern Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan under supervision of the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally that the U.S. deems a terrorist organization. Over the next five years, the Taliban trickled out at least a half-dozen videos of Bergdahl in captivity. The most recent one was a proof-of-life video taken in December that seemed to show him in declining health. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Bergdahl was held under “good conditions,” and was given fresh fruit and any other foods he requested. He said the soldier enjoyed playing soccer as well as reading, including English-language books about Islam. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar said the swap of Bergdahl for five of his men was a significant achievement for the organization, which is angling to increase its influence in post-war Afghanistan.
The Pentagon initially said it was “sparing no effort” to find Bergdahl, with members of his own unit involved in the hunt for their former comrade. But the search effort waned after it appeared he had been taken to Pakistan — out of bounds for American forces. No high-stakes rescue effort was launched, mostly because of a lack of actionable intelligence and fears that Bergdahl might be killed during a raid. Instead, the U.S. kept tabs on him with spies, drones and satellites as negotiations to get him back played out in fits and starts. Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers have said he should bear the blame for any deaths of soldiers killed or harmed while searching for him. The military hasn’t confirmed a link to any such deaths.
Bergdahl’s freedom was negotiated in exchange for the release of five high-level Taliban officials from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The five were the most senior Afghans still at the prison, all held since 2002. They are: Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country; Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence and was in direct contact with supreme leader Mullah Omar as well as other senior Taliban figures, according to military documents; Mullah Norullah Nori, who was a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001. Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and as a military commander and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. military documents, and Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, according to the military documents.
Several factors helped seal a deal after all this time. Interest in bringing Bergdahl home increased as Obama worked to complete plans for withdrawing nearly all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which would leave fewer resources to keep tabs on the soldier and get him out. U.S. officials say they were increasingly worried about Bergdahl’s health, although the video they used to justify those concerns was six months old. Then, this week, administration officials told senators in a closed-door briefing the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if the proposed prisoner exchange became public, requiring quick action. The administration decided it couldn’t follow a legal requirement to give Congress 30 days’ notice of plans to release detainees from Guantanamo.
Critics are asking whether one soldier was worth trading for five Taliban figures, especially when that soldier’s loyalty to the Army has been questioned. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., complained the U.S. had released the “Taliban dream team.” On the other hand, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the five were likely to be transferred to another country at some point anyway. So the dealmakers reasoned “we should get something for them,” she said. Still, Rob Williams, the national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate Intelligence Committee this week that four of the five were expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials who were not authorized to speak publicly because the session was classified. The officials did not say which four.
It was a celebratory moment when Obama stood in the Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents last Saturday to announce that their son had been released. But the White House soon was on the defensive both for failing to notify Congress about the arrangement and for the terms of the deal. Obama cast Bergdahl’s rescue as an easy call, regardless of how he came to be captured, saying: “Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”
Senior legislators had been briefed more than two years ago about the possibility of the prisoner swap, stirring up significant opposition among both Democrats and Republicans to the idea of trading Bergdahl for the five Taliban. More than a year went by without further consultation on the matter, and then suddenly it was a done deal, despite a law requiring 30 days’ notice to Congress before Guantanamo detainees are released. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said — before the explanation of the death threat — that the administration couldn’t afford to wait a month in a tense, fast-moving situation. “That would have seriously imperiled us ever getting him out,” he said of Bergdahl. The White House apologized to senior lawmakers for failing to give them advance notice.
Obama said his determination to bring Bergdahl home was grounded in a “pretty sacred rule” that the U.S. doesn’t leave behind men or women in uniform. But his critics say the deal violated another basic U.S. tenet: Don’t negotiate with terrorists, making it more likely that other Americans will be snatched as bargaining chips. “Every soldier on the ground should be upset by this,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Obama administration insisted the U.S. didn’t make concessions to terrorists; it simply negotiated a prisoner swap with enemies, just as has been done in previous wars. While the Haqqanis are listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, the Taliban are not.
The administration made sure that the negotiations that produced Bergdahl’s release went through intermediaries to keep the Taliban at arms’ length. Enter Qatar, a tiny Gulf state with channels to Islamist groups relationships with the West. The Qataris served as a go-between for months, including the intense final days of negotiations. Qatar has an ongoing role in ensuring the five released prisoners remain there for at least a year, under a memo of understanding with the U.S.
The military has a program to ease a former captive back into normal life. In military parlance, it’s known as “reintegration,” and Bergdahl, is working his way through its early stages at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Each case is different, and Bergdahl’s is especially complicated. That is partly because he was in captivity for so long and partly because he has been — or soon will be — made aware of accusations that he deserted his post and willingly sought out the Taliban. A military psychologist who briefed reporters at the Pentagon said negative publicity can “hugely” complicate the process of preparing a former captive or hostage for his return home. That would seem to suggest that Bergdahl faces a potentially lengthy reintegration.
At some point Bergdahl will be transferred to an Army hospital in Texas. Hagel has cautioned against a rush to judgment against the 28-year-old soldier. But Dempsey has said U.S. military leaders have no intention of “looking away from misconduct.” There are a variety of possible offenses related to an unapproved absence, and a number of potential actions: Bergdahl could be tried by court-martial for desertion. He could be dishonorably discharged. He could be given a non-judicial punishment for a lesser charge, such as being away without leave. If convicted and sentenced, he could be given prison credit for time already served under the Taliban.
The deal may be done but the politics of the matter are just revving up. Congressional hearings begin in the next week, and members of Congress will be eager to criticize the terms of the release and the administration’s foreign policy. Despite criticism from both parties, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of playing politics. On Wednesday, he read aloud past statements from Republicans who said no U.S. service member should be left behind.
THE PRISON AT GUANTANAMO: The Bergdahl deal underscores the difficulties that Obama has had in delivering on his 2008 campaign promise to shut down the U.S. prison. Congress has gradually eased its restrictions on releasing Guantanamo detainees, but there is still considerable concern that freed detainees could resume hostilities against the U.S. Of the remaining 149 prisoners at Guantanamo, 78 have been approved for transfers to their homelands or a third country, and 30 have been referred for prosecution. The U.S. says nearly 40 prisoners are too dangerous to release but can’t be charged for a number of reasons, often because there isn’t enough evidence against them. Officials have been trying to chip away at that number with a Periodic Review Board. The five Taliban released in exchange for Bergdahl came from that last group.
THE TALKING POINTS
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said the day after Bergdahl’s release that he had served with “honor and distinction,” a phrase that rankled some who consider his actions less than honorable. It was Rice’s second problematic TV appearance, the first being her now-debunked comments after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. This time, Rice said she was speaking respectfully of anyone who volunteered for the military in a time of war.
THE WIDER CONTEXT: Could the Bergdahl swap be part of a larger effort to start peace talks with the Taliban? The United States has indeed made past efforts to connect with the Taliban, unrelated to Bergdahl. Talks about releasing the five senior Taliban reach back to at least late 2010. In the beginning, the name of Bergdahl was not part of the talks. The Taliban wanted prisoners released and the U.S. sought confidence-building gestures with the ultimate aim of bringing hostilities in Afghanistan to an end. But when Afghan President Hamid Karzai found out about the talks, he was furious and they fell apart. U.S.-Taliban talks began again in 2013, again with prisoner swaps as a first confidence-building step, but again fell apart. Now, with a swap done, the question is whether the U.S. would try again, whether the next Afghan government will risk talks with the militants, and whether the Taliban themselves wish to negotiate or stay on the course of war.
Associated Press writers Calvin Woodward, Donna Cassata and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used the college commencement season Saturday to get behind Senate Democratic legislation that would let college graduates with heavy debts refinance their loans.
The Senate is expected to debate the legislation next week, but it faces significant obstacles.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama noted the program would be paid for by doing away with tax loopholes for millionaires. He says the choice facing lawmakers is whether to “protect young people from crushing debt or protect tax breaks for millionaires.”
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt for the class of 2012 was $29,400. Obama also notes that the unemployment rate for college graduates is about half what it is for high school graduates and that a typical college graduate makes $15,000 more a year than a worker with just a high school degree.
“At a time when college has never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive,” he says.
The White House is drawing attention to college affordability and student loans Monday with an event featuring Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a statement criticized the bill for not addressing college costs.
“This bill doesn’t make college more affordable, reduce the amount of money students will have to borrow, or do anything about the lack of jobs grads face in the Obama economy,” he said.
In the Republican weekly address, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called attention to recent findings of widespread problems with delayed or mishandled appointments at VA hospitals. He says Obama needs to describe fixes that improve VA service for the long-term.
“This is the biggest health care scandal in the VA’s history, and America deserves to know whether the president is committed to doing whatever it takes to make things right,” Miller said.
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CHARLES THOMAS: I didn’t take time out to pray. I didn’t have time.
EDDIE ARRUZA: Private First Class Charles Thomas was only 20 years old and thousands of miles away from his home in Chicago when he took part in the most audacious amphibious military invasion in world history.
CHARLES THOMAS: It was rough and I wouldn’t say exciting. Trying to stay alive was the main job I had myself.
EDDIE ARRUZA: Charles Thomas was a member of the 1st Infantry Army Division which on June 6, 1944 was among the first allied forces to land in Normandy. Only a year before Thomas was a recent high school grad living in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. He enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1943 and less than a year later he was making a historic 100 mile crossing of the English Channel.
CHARLES THOMAS: We were 12 miles out from the beach when they put us on Higgins boats. That’s a long ride in the rough water with a Higgins boat. Water was splashing we were all wet. Two hour sleep probably. Sea sick, we all got sea sick. We got bags to throw up in [laughs]. We had paper bags to throw over side.
We hit the beach, we get off the boat. You forget everything you’re not sea sick or nothin’ you’re just trying to take care of yourself. You could see the boats covered by tracers, really tracing the water.
EDDIE ARRUZA: First division army veterans like Charles Thomas have a museum dedicated to them in west suburban Wheaton. It’s on the sprawling estate once owned by Col. Robert McCormick. Among the displays there is a vivid exhibit recreating Omaha Beach.
EDDIE ARRUZA: Visitors here to the Cantigny museum can get some idea of what the troops saw as they stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. As you leave a landing craft you land on Omaha Beach. You encounter the beach obstacles, the barbed wire and up ahead are the Nazi-occupied hills of Northern France overlooking the English Channel.
PAUL HERBERT: This depicts what I personally believe is the single most important day in the history of the first division. The plan although a good plan didn’t work out as well as the planners had hoped and the soldiers took the fight into their own hands and won the victory, very heroically I might add.
EDDIE ARRUZA: Thomas’ survived D-Day to suffer a concussion from a German shelling later in the war. It was his only injury. Among his possessions, he still has the wallet he carried on D-Day which held a photo of a girl back home. He didn’t meet his wife Bernadette until later.
Thomas worked as a cartographer after his military service and is now 90 years old. While many might see his service on D-Day as his greatest achievement, he prefers to tout another accomplishment.
CHARLES THOMAS: I raised a family of five. I was married 63 years to my wife.
EDDIE ARRUZA: All in a life’s work for a D-Day hero.
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TOM RICE: We sat in our steel bucket seats and the take-off time was 10:41.
SUSAN MURPHY: Tom Rice has vivid memories of that night 70 years ago when he flew across the English Channel in the pre-dawn hours of D-Day.
TOM RICE: I can’t recall exactly how long the flight was other than maybe 57 minutes – 59 minutes.
SUSAN MURPHY: Only 22 years old – Rice was among the oldest of the 18 paratroopers on board the c-47 military transport plane.
The once-avid runner says he had no time during the flight to worry – he was busy assisting his jumpmaster with equipment.
TOM RICE: Then I moved up to the front to make sure everyone was alert and awake and cigarettes were out.
SUSAN MURPHY: Their mission – dubbed Operation Overload — was to parachute behind enemy lines in German-occupied France near the beaches of Normandy.
They were to secure bridges, roads and canals just hours before a massive sea and land invasion of 5,000 ships and nearly 140,000 American and allied troops.
For Rice, the mission was the culmination of a year-and-a-half of intensive training.
TOM RICE: Now there’s 45 aircraft in a v of v’s shape. I was in the third one to the right.
SUSAN MURPHY: From the plane’s open back door, Rice watched enemy fire streaking up from the ground as they approached their jump location.
TOM RICE: We were yawing and pitching trying to get away from the flack and all those candleworks coming up at us.
SUSAN MURPHY: Heavy fog and enemy fire caused pilots to panic and break up their formations. Still, Rice says, the red light above the back door of the plane came on.
TOM RICE: That means we’ve got five minutes to go, so the lieutenant got us all standing. And the order there – stand up and hook up.
SUSAN MURPHY: Rice was always the first jumper out of the plane — So when the green light came on, he jumped — and got snagged.
TOM RICE: My armpit got caught in the lower left hand corner of the door.
SUSAN MURPHY: He swung himself out, with a load of gear on his back that outweighed him.
TOM RICE: I normally weighed 137 pounds. That night I weighed 276.
SUSAN MURPHY: He says he twisted, freed himself, opened his chute and plunged in pitch darkness toward heavily-armed Germans – miles from his intended drop zone. He made a hard landing in a field near Utah Beach.
TOM RICE: So we were spread 400 square miles. Only 15 percent of us got together for the first five or six days.
SUSAN MURPHY: Rice spent 37 days fighting in Normandy, living out of holes, and equipped with just three days of food.
He says he lost many friends, and saw things eyes weren’t meant to see. He’s never forgotten.
TOM RICE: No… that stays.
SUSAN MURPHY: His living room mantel is filled with memorabilia and awards, including a Bronze Star, oak leaf cluster and Purple Heart.
TOM RICE: These are the two metals that the French department of the ancient warriors gave me.
SUSAN MURPHY: He hasn’t always openly shared his war stories. After retiring from the military, he got married, had five children and was history teacher in Chula Vista for 44 years. But his students were never aware their teacher was a walking history lesson.
TOM RICE: They figured I was in the military but I never told them a word about – I was in the Airborne.
SUSAN MURPHY: Now, at 92, Rice uses every opportunity to share his accounts of D-Day and World War II. He knows his aging generation of D-day veterans is fading.
TOM RICE: I developed a lot of camaraderie with those guys. Cause you have a lot in common with them.
SUSAN MURPHY: Rice plans to commemorate the 70th anniversary like he does every anniversary– by jumping out of an airplane.
Rice was among the first American troops to set foot in Normandy. Even at a distance of seven decades, the day continues to shape his life.
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Six months after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, our team traveled to one of the hardest hit parts of the country, Tacloban, to report on how the recovery effort has progressed.
An estimated four million people were displaced by what was one of the strongest typhoons on record to hit land. There are still tens of thousands of residents living in temporary housing in tent cities. Last month, a fire in one of the tent cities killed six children and their mother.
In Tacloban, our team found livelihoods still devastated by the storm, which took out fishing boats and palm trees in the area.
Despite interviews with residents who had lost countless family members, the team witnessed a sense of resiliency among the Filipino people, who seemed to embody a local phrase “bahala na,” which roughly translates to: “We’re determined to do the best we can, the rest we leave up to faith.”
Stay tuned for our full broadcast report from Tacloban, premiering on NewsHour Weekend in July.
View the full album of photos on PBS NewsHour’s Facebook page.
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. is reassembling key members of the diplomatic team that held secret negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, leading to a breakthrough agreement, and sending them to Geneva for direct talks with representatives from Tehran in hopes of making progress toward a comprehensive final deal.
The discussions involving Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, are set for Monday and Tuesday.
The interim deal reached in November by Iran and six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – limited Iran’s uranium enrichment program. In exchange, some penalties imposed against Iran were eased. But sanctions such as those targeting Iran’s oil imports, have remained in place.
Those nuclear talks are scheduled to resume June 16. There’s an informal deadline of July 20 for a comprehensive deal.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency said the upcoming U.S. talks would be followed by separate discussions in Rome between Iranian and Russian officials on Tuesday and Wednesday. IRNA quoted Abbas Araqchi, a senior member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, as saying that the Islamic Republic planned to hold other bilateral talks as well with the other world powers, but those meetings had yet to be set.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful energy and medical research purposes. Much of the world fears Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The new face-to-face talks come as the deadline approaches for world powers and Iran to translate their interim nuclear agreement into a comprehensive deal.
Talks have focused on restricting Iran’s uranium enrichment and eliminating the possibility of it producing plutonium that can be used in warheads. In exchange, the U.S. and others would ease penalties that have crimped Iran’s economy.
International inspectors would monitor Iran to ensure it doesn’t ramp up activities to reach a nuclear weapons capability.
Negotiators hope to clinch the agreement by July 20, but can extend the current interim arrangement for an additional six months.
That deal, reached in broad terms in November and implemented in January, provided Iran up to $7 billion in eased trading conditions for several nuclear concessions.
The Associated Press reported at the time that the compromise resulted from a series of secret meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials. The talks took place in the Middle East sultanate of Oman and elsewhere going back to 2012. They only really heated up with the election of Iran’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani in the summer of 2013.
Burns and Sullivan were not part of formal talks involving Iran and the world powers last year, but participated in some secretly. They used back doors and elevators and remained hidden until journalists, including photographers, left meeting rooms.
On the idea to call them back into discussions with Iran, a senior U.S. official said the administration was engaging “in as much active diplomacy as we can to test whether we can reach a diplomatic solution with Iran on its nuclear program.”
The larger gatherings will continue. The private American-Iranian sessions aim to contribute to an outcome ensuring Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons, said the official, who demanded anonymity to speak about administration thinking about the move.
AP Diplomat Writer Matthew Lee in Saint-Briac-Sur-Mer, France, contributed to this report.
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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — On a recent afternoon, Scott McKenzie watched torrential rains and a murky tide swallow the street outside his dog-grooming salon. Within minutes, much of this stretch of chic South Beach was flooded ankle-deep in a fetid mix of rain and sea.
“Welcome to the new Venice,” McKenzie joked as salt water surged from the sewers.
There are few places in the nation more vulnerable to rising sea levels than low-lying South Florida, a tourist and retirement mecca built on drained swampland.
Yet as other coastal states and the Obama administration take aggressive measures to battle the effects of global warming, Florida’s top Republican politicians are challenging the science and balking at government fixes.
Among the chief skeptics are U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both possible presidential candidates in 2016. Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for re-election, has worked with the Republican-controlled Legislature to dismantle Florida’s fledgling climate change initiatives. They were put into place by his predecessor and current opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist.
“I’m not a scientist,” Scott said, after a federal report pinpointed Florida – and Miami in particular – as among the country’s most at-risk areas.
He and other Republicans warn against what they see as alarmist policies that could derail the country’s tenuous economic recovery.
Their positions could affect their political fortunes.
Democrats plan to place climate change, and the GOP’s skepticism, front and center in a state where the issue is no longer an abstraction.
Their hope is to win over independents and siphon some Republicans, who are deeply divided over global warming. Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmental activist, has pledged to spend $100 million this year to influence seven critical contests nationwide, including the Florida governor’s race.
The battle in the country’s largest swing state offers a preview of what could be a pivotal fight in the next presidential election.
Crist is running for his old job as a Democrat, criticizing Scott and Florida Republicans for reversing his efforts to curb global warming.
“They don’t believe in science. That’s ridiculous,” Crist said at a recent campaign rally in Miami. “This is ground zero for climate change in America.”
Nationally, the issue could prove tricky for Democrats.
Polls show a bipartisan majority of Americans favor measures to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases, such as the new federal rule to limit carbon emissions from power plants. But they routinely rank climate change far behind the economy, the centerpiece of Scott’s campaign, when prioritizing issues.
In Miami Beach, which floods even on sunny days, the concern is palpable. On a recent afternoon, McKenzie pulled out his iPad and flipped through photos from a 2009 storm. In one, two women kayak through knee-high water in the center of town.
“This is not a future problem. It’s a current problem,” said Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University and a contributing author of the National Climate Assessment, which found that sea levels have risen about 8 inches in the past century.
Miami Beach is expected to spend $400 million on an elaborate pumping system to cope with routine flooding. To the north, Fort Lauderdale has shelled out millions to restore beaches and a section of coastal highway after Hurricane Sandy and other storms breached the city’s concrete sea wall. Hallandale Beach, which lies on the Atlantic Coast between the two cities, has abandoned six of its eight drinking water wells because of encroaching seawater.
By one regional assessment, the waters off South Florida could rise another 2 feet by 2060, a scenario that would overwhelm the region’s aging drainage system and taint its sources of drinking water.
“It’s getting to the point where some properties being bought today will probably not be able to be sold at the end of a 30-year mortgage,” said Harold Wanless, chairman of the geological sciences department at University of Miami. “You would think responsible leaders and responsible governments would take that as a wake-up call.”
Florida lacks a statewide approach to the effects of climate change, although just a few years ago, it was at the forefront on the issue.
In 2007, Crist, then a Republican, declared global warming “one of the most important issues that we will face this century,” signed executive orders to tighten tailpipe-emission standards for cars and opposed coal-fired power plants.
Bush, his predecessor, had pushed the state during his administration to diversify its energy mix and prioritize conservation.
Even Rubio, who was then Florida House speaker and a vocal critic of Crist’s climate plans, supported incentives for renewable energy. With little opposition, the GOP-led Legislature passed a bill that laid the groundwork for a California-style cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions and created a special commission to study climate change.
But the efforts sputtered as the economy collapsed and Crist and Rubio faced off in a divisive 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Although Rubio had voted for Crist’s landmark environmental measure, he soon hammered the governor for what he called a “cap-and-trade scheme.” Seeking support from the growing tea party movement, he distanced himself from the vote.
Rubio also began to voice doubts about whether climate change is man-made, a doubt he shares with Bush. Both have stuck to that position.
Amid meetings with conservative activists and Republican leaders in New Hampshire last month, Rubio said: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Proposals to cut carbon emissions, he said, would do little to change current conditions but “destroy our economy.” Rubio later said he supports mitigation measures to protect coastal property from natural disasters.
Scott and Florida Republicans share his current views.
Denouncing “job-killing legislation,” they repealed Crist’s climate law, disbanded the state’s climate commission and eliminated a mandate requiring the state to use ethanol-blended gasoline. Asked about climate change recently, Scott demurred, saying the state has spent about $130 million on coastal flooding in his first term, as well as millions on environmental restoration.
Meanwhile, Miami Beach is bracing for another season of punishing tides.
“We’re suffering while everyone is arguing man-made or natural,” said Christine Florez, president of the West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association. “We should be working together to find solutions so people don’t feel like they’ve been left on a log drifting out to sea.”
Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida, and Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Presidential elections were held in Syria on Tuesday. Turnout in state-controlled areas of the country was high, and as expected President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected with nearly 90 percent of the vote. US Secretary of State John Kerry called the elections ‘non elections,’ ‘a great big zero’, noting that opposition contenders were not able to participate. And many people in many areas of the country held by rebels did not vote.
Former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford criticized the United States this week in an interview with the NewsHour’s Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Margaret Warner:
MARGARET WARNER: What was the biggest mistake you think the Obama administration, this government, made?
ROBERT FORD: We’ve consistently been behind the curve, that events on the ground are moving more rapidly than our policy has been adapting. And at the same time, Russia and Iran have been driving this by increasing and steadily increasing, and increasing massively, especially the Iranians, their support to the Syrian regime.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on all this, we are joined via Skype by Liz Sly, the Beirut bureau chief for the Washington Post who covered the Syrian elections from there. So ‘behind the curve,’ the former ambassador made this charge, a fair criticism?
LIZ SLY: Yes, I think that’s a very fair criticism, I think we’ve seen since the beginning of this crisis in Syria, we’ve seen the Americans way behind the curve at every step of the proceedings. We saw them wait a very long time to pull for Assad to step down. Then they said they would help the rebels, but really very little help arrived. And meanwhile the extremists were getting a lot of arms, a lot of weapons, a lot of money, they got stronger than the moderate rebels at a time when the Americans were still really holding back on helping them. And now we see a situation with these elections where Assad really has asserted his control over the country and is really looking quite unassailable at the moment and still no real help has arrived for the rebels.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And there are other countries with stakes in this. Iran considered this election a victory, a defeat over Western influence.
LIZ SLY: It’s really hard not to interpret it that way. Iran has certainly been trumpeting this election as a victory and one of their top military officials called it a strategic defeat for America. And it’s all very well for the Americans to call the elections meaningless as John Kerry has done. But really when you see how Assad has capitalized on the pictures that you’ve seen on the television of all the adoring crowds turning out to vote for him and celebrating his victory, the mere fact that he could hold an election across the breadth of the country in almost every town, did tell you that three years later he’s still there, he’s the power to be reckoned with, he’s the one who’s got the most control over the ground.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, let’s talk a little bit about the aid situation. In your reporting you said the U.S. total now could be up to $2 billion in humanitarian and other aid to Syria. What’s the US hoping to accomplish with this?
LIZ SLY: Well it’s been part of the US policy all along, they’ve been so reluctant to get in and help the rebels, but at the same time they know this is a huge and horrible humanitarian crisis. So they’ve been very careful to get out in front of that crisis on the humanitarian level. The Obama administration would really prefer to see this as a humanitarian and not a political issue. We’ve heard Obama talk about how this is a sectarian conflict that America shouldn’t take sides in, that really it’s a humanitarian issue. So yes they’ve been very much involved in pushing more money than any other single country into the humanitarian effort. Now most of that is channeled through the UN and we know that 90 percent of what the UN provides to Syria in aid does go to regime held areas. So basically they’re just propping up the UN effort, which is a good effort, but it’s not actually making a difference with anything. It is helping on the ground, but it’s not helping all that much and it’s not helping people that don’t live in regime held areas.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the ripple effect of the refugee crisis in the entire region. There are probably a million people in Lebanon no where you are.
LIZ SLY: Well yes, this is an enduring and intractable part of what’s going on in Syria right now. You can sort of see how Assad believes he’s going to settle this problem in Damascus by crushing the rebels wherever he can and asserting his political power in the center with Iranian help, with Russian help. But you’ve got these 2 million refugees, growing every day, a million of them in Lebanon and it’s very destabilizing and that problem has to be solved before you can say that the Syrian crisis has been solved.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright Liz Sly of the Washington Post joining us via Skype from Beirut. Thanks so much.
LIZ SLY: Thank you.
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Friends and family gathered on Saturday in North Carolina to attend a memorial service in honor of the late author and activist Maya Angelou, who died on May 28 at the age of 86.
Oprah Winfrey, first lady Michelle Obama, former president Bill Clinton were among the guests at the ceremony held at Wake Forest University. Angelou was a professor at the North Carolina college for thirty years.
“She had enough experiences for five lifetimes,” Clinton said during the ceremony.
The first lady spoke about meeting the author for the first time at a presidential campaign event in 2008.
“She rolled up like she owned the place — she took the stage as she always did like she’d been born there,” she said. “And I was completely awed and overwhelmed by her presence.”
Winfrey gave a tearful tribute while discussing the guidance Angelou offered throughout the media mogul’s career.
“She taught me the poetry of courage and respect,” she said. “She was always there holding me up to know myself.”
Angelou talents varied from her work as a poet, novelist, dancer, playwright, actor and educator. She is possibly best known for her memoir, “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.”
In her 1969 autobiography, Angelou writes about growing up in St. Louis, Long Beach, California, and Stamps, Arkansas. The book was controversial for her discussion of going mute at age seven-and-a-half after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend. She stayed silent for five years, but has said this time period was when she fell in love with language.
Throughout her life, she received more than 50 honorary degrees, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.
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PARIS (AP) — U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has told people treating him at an American military medical facility in Germany that he was tortured, beaten and held in a cage by his Taliban captors in Afghanistan after he tried to escape, a senior U.S. official said Sunday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss what Bergdahl has revealed about the conditions of his captivity. The New York Times first reported on the matter.
The official said it was difficult to verify the accounts Bergdahl has given since his release a week ago.
Bergdahl, now 28, was captured in June 2009 after he disappeared from his infantry unit. He was held for nearly five years by Taliban militants.
Taliban spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday. On Friday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press by telephone that Bergdahl was held under “good conditions.” The claim could not be independently verified.
Military doctors at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center say that while Bergdahl is physically able to travel he’s not yet emotionally prepared to be reunited with his family. He has not yet spoken to his family.
It’s unclear when he may get to go home.
Typically, a returned captive would spend from five days to three weeks in the phase of reintegration in which Bergdahl now finds himself, according to a Pentagon psychologist who is an expert in dealing with military members who have been released from captivity said this past week. The psychologist spoke to reporters Thursday on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.
Once Bergdahl is considered ready to move on to the next phase of his decompression, he is expected to be flown to an Army medical center in San Antonio, where it is believed he will be reunited with his family.
Bergdahl was returned to the U.S. military in exchange for the release of five Taliban militants from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind, no matter what,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Qatar, a tiny Gulf state, served as a go-between during the negotiations, and has ongoing role in ensuring the five released prisoners remain there for at least a year, under a memo of understanding with the U.S.
The Qataris aren’t “the only ones keeping an on eye on them,” Kerry said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He said the U.S. has confidence in the restrictions imposed on the former detainees, as a condition of their release.
“I am not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved” in the terrorism fight against the United States, Kerry said.
“But they also have an ability to get killed doing that, and I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans. … So these guys pick a fight with us in the future or now or at any time at enormous risk,” Kerry said.
The deal, which the Obama White House brokered without consulting Congress, ignited a political firestorm that shows no signs of abating.
Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, who initially praised Bergdahl’s release, backed off amid questions about whether he was a deserter who walked away from his post and an outcry over the exchange.
Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers maintain that Americans died during efforts to find and save him. Also, there is great concern that the high-level Taliban officials will resume activities with the Taliban and threaten members of the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
“I just think that’s a lot of baloney,” said Kerry, noting that the U.S. will be ending its combat role in Afghanistan and will have fewer people in positions of risk.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was held prisoner during the Vietnam War, agreed with Kerry that the U.S. should do all it can to win the release of any American being held, “but not at the expense of the lives or well-being of their fellow servicemen and women.”
He told CNN that “when we join the military, we know we take certain risks, and among those risks are wounding, death, imprisonment.”
On Wednesday, Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho, abruptly canceled plans for a welcome-home celebration, citing security concerns. And on Saturday the FBI said Bergdahl’s family had received threats that are being investigated by federal, state and local authorities.
The U.S. official told the AP that Bergdahl’s parents were being harassed and threatened, including death threats.
Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.
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