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

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    WASHINGTON — The House began to consider legislation Wednesday that would allow some schools to opt out of healthier meal standards — a proposal that has drawn a veto threat from the White House.

    The GOP spending bill on the House floor would allow schools to waive the school lunch and breakfast standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama for the next school year if they lost money on meal programs over a six-month period. The chamber is expected to have a final vote on the bill next week.

    In a statement threatening a veto, the White House said Tuesday that the bill would be “a major step backwards for the health of American children by undermining the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food.”

    The school meal rules set by Congress and the Obama administration over the past several years require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the lunch line. Also, there are limits on sodium, sugar and fat.

    Some school nutrition directors have lobbied for a break, saying the rules have proved to be costly and restrictive. The schools pushing for changes say limits on sodium and requirements for more whole grains are particularly challenging, while some school officials say kids are throwing away fruits and vegetables they are required to take.

    Republicans have said the standards are overreach. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the Republican author of the agriculture spending bill that includes the provision, said the rules were put in place too quickly and schools need more time to comply. On the House floor, he emphasized that the waivers are meant to be temporary.

    “This is a real problem in many school districts across the country,” Aderholt said. “It only allows schools more time if they need it.”

    California Rep. Sam Farr, the top Democrat on the agriculture spending panel, called the provision a “cop-out.” He held a rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday with parents, chefs and lawmakers to protest the opt-out language and is expected to offer an amendment to strip out the provision.

    Mrs. Obama has lobbied Congress to keep the standards, holding a White House event late last month with school nutrition directors who said the guidelines are working in their schools. On Thursday, she is scheduled to harvest crops from the White House kitchen garden with school nutrition directors and children from schools that have successfully put the standards in place.

    The Senate did not include the opt-out language in its version of the spending bill.

    The post House considers waiving healthy school lunch rules despite veto threat appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrapimage

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: More cities in Iraq fell today to a rapidly advancing wave of al-Qaida linked militants. Today, it was Tikrit, only 80 miles north of Baghdad. Yesterday, the extremists took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News has this report from northern Iraq.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: For a second day, militants of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria continued their rapid advance. Yesterday, Mosul fell to them. Today, the fighters continued south, taking the strategic town of Baji, and even advancing to Tikrit.

    Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, looked empty, apparent testament once again to the lack of government opposition, to the extremists in their midst. In Mosul itself, ISIS consolidated its control, parading the spoils of victory, U.S.-made military vehicles and hardware, abandoned as the Iraqi army fled, though the man notionally in charge of this country suggested a counterattack is coming.

    NOURI AL-MALIKI, Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter): Today, we are dealing with the situation. We are making preparations and regrouping the armed forces necessary to mop up the territory from those terrorists.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: There was little sign of any significant fight back yet. A stream of refugees continued to flee from Mosul, according to one estimate, half-a-million, mostly Sunni Arabs, heading for the relative safety of the Kurdish-controlled north and Irbil, its capital.

    MAN (through interpreter): We have come with absolutely no plan. We just came here because it’s stable. We’re looking for stability.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: If the figure of half-a-million people on the move is correct, that is the biggest exodus of people this region has seen since 1991, when the Kurds of Northern Iraq were fleeing from Saddam Hussein. The question is whether these Islamic extremists have made their gains so fast, that they can’t hold on to the territory they have captured, a vast swathe of territory now stretching from Iraq across into Syria.

    The sight of scores of jihadist fighters celebrating the capture of military booty not only embarrass Baghdad, but it will intensify concerns that not just Syria, but Iraq now poses the biggest threat to security in the Middle East and beyond.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At the State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied the situation in Iraq showed a failure of Western policy there, but acknowledged the U.S. is concerned.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: We’re focused right now on how we can assist the government at this point in time during what is a very challenging security situation on the ground, and that’s where we’re going to exert our efforts.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Psaki also said the U.S. has no confirmation of reports the militants are expanding their offensive closer to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

    GWEN IFILL: In Pakistan, more flights were canceled to Karachi’s airport today, amid concerns over the security situation in the port city. Residents are still reeling from two attacks this week at Karachi’s Jinnah Airport.

    Today, a group of ethnic Uzbek fighters claimed to have played a role in Sunday’s attack. They said it was revenge for airstrikes by the Pakistani army in tribal regions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Here in the U.S., a bill designed to let people refinance their student loans stalled in the Senate today. Democrats said it would have permitted about 25 million people with older student loans to refinance that debt at lower, current interest rates.

    Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota co-sponsored the legislation.

    SEN. AL FRANKEN, D, Minn.: You can refinance a home loan. You can refinance a car loan. You can refinance business debt. Why not allow our — the 44 million people in America to refinance their student debt?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans argued the legislation was too expensive, especially on high-income Americans, who would have been levied a 30 percent tax to pay for it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was an election-year ploy, and asserted Americans are too smart to fall for it.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Minority Leader: Students can understand that this bill won’t make college more affordable. They understand it won’t reduce the amount of money they have to borrow. And students know it won’t do a thing, not a thing, to fix the economy that’s depriving so many young Americans of the jobs that they seek.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama signed an executive order on Monday to make it easier for five million people to pay off their student loans.

    GWEN IFILL: The FBI has started a criminal investigation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. FBI Director James Comey told a congressional hearing it will be led by the field office in Phoenix. An inspector general’s report last month confirmed the VA hospital there had excessive wait times and inappropriate scheduling of patients.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The European Union launched an investigation into tax reduction deals that Apple, Starbucks and Fiat have in some European countries. It’s part of a wider push to keep multinational corporations from taking unfair advantage of tax loopholes. The deals are in Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The E.U. says they may be improper if they give companies an advantage over competitors who don’t get the same deal.

    GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street today, stocks took their worst hit in three weeks, with the Dow ending its five-day rally. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 102 points to close above 16,843. The Nasdaq fell six points to close above 4,331. And the S&P 500 slipped seven points to close at 1,943.

    The post News Wrap: Sunni extremists extend control toward Baghdad with Tikrit takeover appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    cantor steps down

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    GWEN IFILL: Today’s announcement by Eric Cantor that he would step down as majority leader at the end of July sent an election-year jolt through Washington. The move opens up a battle to replace the second-ranking Republican in the House, even as the party tries to determine how the campaign was caught so off-guard.

    Cantor spoke with reporters after meeting with his Republican colleagues behind closed doors late this afternoon.

    REP. ERIC CANTOR, Majority Leader: House Majority Leader: While I will not be on the ballot in November, I will be a champion for conservatives across the nation who are dedicated to preserving liberty and providing opportunity. Surely, what divides Republicans pales in comparison to what divides us as conservatives from the left and their Democratic Party.

    GWEN IFILL: The Richmond lawmaker’s decision to give up his leadership post came less than 24 hours after he became the first House majority leader ever defeated in a primary.

    REP. ERIC CANTOR: I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight. And it’s disappointing, sure.

    GWEN IFILL: Cantor was ousted in convincing fashion by a virtual unknown, Randolph-Macon College Professor David Brat, who had never run for office before.

    The loss was the biggest upset so far this primary season. As House Speaker John Boehner’s second in command, Cantor had long been seen as the leading candidate to succeed or overthrow him. Internal polls showed him well ahead in the campaign’s closing days. Cantor was confident enough of a coming victory that he spent part of Election Day in Washington, not in his home district.

    DAVE BRAT, Republican House Candidate: This is the happiest moment, obviously, of my life. And I owe it to all of you in this room.

    GWEN IFILL: Brat, who was outspent by Cantor 20-to-1, came out of nowhere, snubbed even by some national Tea Party organizations.

    DAVE BRAT: The reason we won this campaign, if there’s just one reason, and that’s because dollars do not vote; you do.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    GWEN IFILL: Brat will face Democrat and fellow Randolph-Macon College Professor Jack Trammell in November’s election. The party committee had only selected him Monday.

    Although Cantor’s defeat was a huge Capitol Hill surprise, there have been others. Former House Speaker Thomas Foley and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, both Democrats, each went down to shocking defeat, but, in general, not primary races.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the results should send a strong message to the GOP.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: His opponent said he was too close to Wall Street, instead of Main Street. That’s what we have been saying all along about this party.

    GWEN IFILL: Another Republican incumbent considered to be far more endangered, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, cruised easily to victory in a crowded field last night, defeating six challengers. He won with 57 percent of the vote.

    But in the wake of Cantor’s precipitous fall, the Republican majority in the House tonight is in an uproar.

    We get the latest now on the flurry of activity on Capitol Hill today from Ed O’Keefe. He covers Congress for The Washington Post.

    Ed, almost 24 hours later, what’s the generally accepted understanding of what happened last night?

    ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: Well, basically, he got thumped.

    Dave Brat came from behind, only had raised only about $123,000, to take the Republican nomination in the Seventh Congressional District of Virginia. Bottom line, based on the reporting of my colleagues who cover Virginia, frankly, a lot more closely than I can from here, it turned into a few things, one, general Tea Party outrage at a top Republican leader, two, concerns that he was seriously considering moving the House into a broader debate about immigration with the Obama administration and with Senate Democrats, and, believe it or not, the fact that there are more Republicans now in his redrawn district that showed up and, for whatever reason, just didn’t want to renominate him.

    GWEN IFILL: So there was a turnout question in the end, too?

    ED O’KEEFE: No.

    Well, it’s not that there were too few people that showed up. In fact, more than 20,000 additional voters compared to the last primary race showed up. The problem is, these weren’t Republican voters voting for Cantor. They were Tea Party-inspired folks or conservative voters who just felt that it was time to turn him out, that he hadn’t done enough for the district, that he was more cultivating his roughly 230 colleagues here on Capitol Hill in the House Republican Conference than in worrying about their concerns back home or about the general concerns of Republicans voters across the country.

    GWEN IFILL: There was a lot of drama today involving the House Republican Congress — Conference. I will get to that in a moment.

    I want to talk a little bit about the guy who actually won, David Brat. What does anybody know about him at this point?

    ED O’KEEFE: Well, he’s an economist and a college professor who was inundated today, now that the national spotlight is upon him. He did some national television interviews this morning, got some questions on policy that he wasn’t expecting, was planning to hold a news conference with reporters around midday, and about 30 minutes after they announced it, he abruptly canceled it.

    He has since said that he is going to take off a few days off to spend some time with his family and regroup. Notably tonight — and this is going to be concerning for Republicans — the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the group that elects Republicans to House seats, and Speaker Boehner said that they have tried reaching out to Brat, they have called, they have texted him.

    They haven’t heard back. His voice-mail box is full.

    GWEN IFILL: Boy, that’s interesting for somebody who is possible to be the next member of Congress.

    ED O’KEEFE: Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: I want to talk a little bit about that drama that unfolded.

    Not long ago, we saw Eric Cantor come out after a meeting with members of his caucus and kind of straight up say, hey, I got beat and I wish everybody the best.

    What is his mood? What is the mood up there?

    ED O’KEEFE: I tell you, shocking, stupefied aren’t proper descriptions of what is going on up here.

    I think people are just completely dumbfounded at this result. It was about this time last night as polls were about to close that people began to realize that this was a possibility. And within hours, others who would like to rise in the leadership ranks started texting their colleagues and saying, hey, if you’re thinking about backing a new majority leader, why do you consider me?

    Pete Sessions of Texas, who is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, we know he was doing that late last night and early this morning. Sessions would like to challenge Kevin McCarthy, who is the whip, or the top vote counter, in the House Republican Conference.

    You saw Cantor as he addressed reporters a little while ago say that he thinks that McCarthy would make an outstanding majority leader, so he essentially threw his support behind him, but McCarthy expected to face Sessions in what will be the only race up for grabs next Thursday, when Republicans vote.

    And basically this means that for the next week or so, the 233 House Republicans essentially act like high schoolers in a student council race. You have got to go around asking your classmates, are you with me, are you against me? What can I do to get your vote?

    And instead of talking about better lunch meals in the cafeteria or less homework, it will be things like, hey, would you like a senior position on a committee or would you like to be a deputy whip and help count the votes in the future or do you need extra money for your reelection campaign?

    And it will be that kind of horse-trading. I know you remember it probably from the ’90s and earlier this century. This is the first leadership race we have really had up here in several years.

    GWEN IFILL: Life is a lot like high school in the end.

    Ed O’Keefe, stick with us for a moment.

    The post House GOP’s second-in-command to step down after primary upset appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    david brat

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    GWEN IFILL: I want to talk to folks here with us a little bit about what Cantor’s defeat and Brat’s victory tells us about the future for Republican Party leadership.

    Joining us are Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia and past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Adam Brandon, executive vice president of FreedomWorks, a conservative grassroots organization based in Washington.

    How did David Brat, Tom Davis, pull this off and surprise everybody? 

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS, R, Va.: Well, this was basically a vote against the Republican establishment.

    Eric Cantor, when he became a leader, instead of going after the president, had to start sitting down, passing bills, like the debt ceiling, reopening the government, that are very unpopular with the Republican base. On weekends, instead of being back home in his district, explaining the votes, he’s out across the country raising money for the Republican Party and electing other Republicans. And it created an atmosphere, basically a vacuum, where David Brat stepped in and was able to fill it.

    GWEN IFILL: The theme throughout this campaign so far, this midterm campaign, has been the Republican insurgency vs. the Republican establishment.

    When someone like Eric Cantor, who has maybe 100 percent rating from conservative groups, goes down, how do you define establishment?

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, look, Eric is probably the most conservative member of the elected Republican leadership in the House. I think that’s pretty well-documented.

    But the base is very, very angry at this point, that they don’t want to sit down and work with — they want somebody who’s going to express their anger and rage. And when you start sitting down and compromising, that’s not what they want to do right now. Things are not going well for the middle part of this country.

    Their wages have been stagnant for 20 years. They have had an economic meltdown. They see bailouts for Wall Street, nothing for Main Street. They have seen two wars go sideways, and they’re very angry at this point.

    GWEN IFILL: Adam Brandon, exactly how much money did FreedomWorks invest in David Brat?

    ADAM BRANDON, FreedomWorks: Exactly zero dollars. We did not spend any money in that race?

    GWEN IFILL: Why not?

    ADAM BRANDON: Well, I wish we could. I wish we could invest in a lot of different races across the country. We just don’t really have the resources.

    There’s races in Mississippi. There’s other races we’re working now in Oklahoma. We have got runoffs in Atlanta or in Georgia. So, there’s only so much money that can spread around. Money is definitely not the strong suit of what we have. What we have is energy.

    GWEN IFILL: How do you think Eric Cantor stumbled?

    ADAM BRANDON: Well, I think it’s — well, first of all, democracy works and the people back in his district just felt he got a little out of touch with them.

    And I think that the candidate, when you hear how he ran his campaign, he says grassroots, grassroots, grassroots. And money cannot buy enthusiasm, but going door to door and shaking hands, you can build up quite a machine that way.

    GWEN IFILL: What are the issues — I’m going to ask both of you this. I will start with you, Adam.

    What are the issues that drives this kind of grassroots anger, activism, whatever term you want to use? We have heard today maybe it’s immigration or we have heard today it’s this insiderness of Washington.

    Are there policy reasons why people seem to be throwing the bums out?

    ADAM BRANDON: Sure.

    I think if you go back even a few years ago, say starting in 2010, people wanted to send people to Washington to get the national debt and deficit under control. Today, the debt and deficit is $17 trillion and counting, and they’re not seeing that progress.

    And for Eric Cantor, he was one of the people they were expecting to show some progress and actually bring in that debt and deficit down. And that didn’t happen, so they’re more than willing to find someone else to send to Washington to advance that cause.

    GWEN IFILL: Tom Davis, is Eric Cantor seen in the eyes of folks as an appeaser in any way on issues like immigration reform?

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS:Look, I think by virtue of being in leadership, you have to produce a legislative work product.

    You can’t just shut everything down indefinitely. If you don’t have the Senate and the presidency, what are you to do on your own? And so they had to try to take what they felt were responsible actions, raising the debt ceiling, ending the shutdown.

    And I think a lot of Republicans in his district and across the country said, we don’t see a very good deal here. We’re not getting what we hired you to do. And so just by virtue of being in the leadership and having to make these decisions, I think you become, to a degree, radioactive with this base.

    GWEN IFILL: If I’m John Boehner, that makes me pretty nervous.

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS:Well, John Boehner won reelection handily.

    This is a Southern district. It’s a swing district. And understand this. The cultural mores in this country are changing very rapidly. People feel threatened all the way through, and they want somebody who is going to stand up for what they believe, not people that are going to sit there and try to compromise and work their way through it.

    GWEN IFILL: So, no compromise?

    ADAM BRANDON: Well, there’s word bipartisanship that gets thrown around.

    And every single time I have seen a bipartisan deal, government still grows. And so what I think people are looking for is a bipartisan deal that — how do you shrink government, how do you reduce taxes, how do you reduce spending?

    And so if the compromise means we’re just going to have to grow government, I don’t think the base in the Republican Party is that interested in that. What they’re looking for are the compromises that will actually shrink the government.

    GWEN IFILL: I asked you both about immigration reform, and neither of you has really come back to that, so I want to come back to that one more time.

    Did that idea, that comprehensive immigration reform should be part of the Republican agenda for the future of the party, backfire?

    ADAM BRANDON: Well, when I talked with some activists, one of the things I heard from was they felt that this immigration bill was being done behind closed doors, the K Street and lobbyists were crafting this piece of legislation and they wanted more of a debate and they had some real concerns about the process.

    GWEN IFILL: Tom?

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS: Eric Cantor has been a good, strong conservative leader. I think he has had a position of responsibility.

    I think, on immigration, he’s trying to manage his way through something that is very, very difficult. And I think he got a raw deal in terms of the way he was portrayed. But if you aren’t back in the district every week explaining it to rotary clubs and party caucuses and the like, you’re just not going to be able to sell it.

    The grassroots over immigration right now are very upset. It is going to make it very difficult to get any kind of immigration bill through this year.

    GWEN IFILL: He did today at his press conference that he went back to his district every week, actually.

    FMR. REP. TOM DAVIS: Well, you may go back there, but if you aren’t there during the waking hours, what good does it do?

    You have got to be three-dimensional and you have got to be out there. Eric is a team player, and was helping his colleagues get elected and raise money.

    ADAM BRANDON: And what is he doing when he goes back? I saw in his campaign reports he spent more money on steak dinners and his campaign spent more money on steak houses than he did — actually than his opponent.

    GWEN IFILL: In Washington.

    Ed O’Keefe, final question to you. What are the next shoes that everybody is waiting for to drop up there?

    ED O’KEEFE: Well, we will see exactly who prevails in the race for majority leader next week.

    Important to remember it’s the majority leader who sets the schedule and the legislative agenda. So, until that new leader begins, we’re kind of in limbo as to what exactly the House might be doing. As you talked about, immigration probably a nonstarter, but, remember, there’s problems to sort out at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    There are spending bills that have to be passed by the end of September and there are elections under way, all of this expected to be a factor and really the entire plan for the Republicans this year was no drama.

    Well, it’s about as dramatic as it gets right now, and we will see how they sort it out.

    GWEN IFILL: You got that right, a lot of drama.

    Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post, Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks and former Congressman Tom Davis, thank you all very much.

    ADAM BRANDON: Thank you.

    The post Brat topples Cantor in show of grassroots enthusiasm over GOP establishment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    chuckhagelhearing

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    UDY WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stepped into a firestorm today, facing angry lawmakers upset over a controversial deal that freed a U.S. soldier in exchange for five Taliban detainees.

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: We could have done a better job, could have done a better job of keeping you informed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Hagel struck two different tones at a House hearing today, as he discussed the prisoner swap that freed Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He was conciliatory at first, then firm.

    CHUCK HAGEL: The exchange needed to take place quickly, efficiently and quietly. We believe this exchange was our last, best opportunity to free him. We didn’t know the general area of the handoff until 24 hours before.

    We did not know the precise location until one hour before. And we didn’t know until the moment Sergeant Bergdahl was handed over safely to U.S. special operations forces that the Taliban would hold up their end of the deal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The hearing was the first time an administration official has testified publicly on the deal. It comes less than two weeks after the U.S. agreed to release five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl.

    Lawmakers have since sharply criticized the White House for releasing the detainees without the required 30 days’ notice to Congress. That became a centerpiece of the questioning today, starting with Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon.

    REP. BUCK MCKEON, Chair, Armed Services Committee: The detainee transfer raises numerous national security, policy and legal questions. The explanations we received from the White House officials were misleading and at times blatantly false.

    There is no compelling reason why the department could not provide a notification to Congress 30 days before the transfer, especially when it has complied with a notification requirement for all previous Gitmo detainee transfers since enactment of the law.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hagel disputed that claim, which also came from other Republicans and Democrats, saying time wasn’t on our side.

    CHUCK HAGEL: But under these exceptional circumstances, a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of an American service member held captive and endangered for almost five years, the national security team and the president of the United States agreed that we needed to act swiftly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hagel said the administration consulted the Justice Department and was told notification was unnecessary. He also said the administration was concerned about leaks.

    The hearing grew tense at times, including one exchange between Hagel and Florida Republican Jeff Miller over why Bergdahl is still being treated in Germany at a U.S. military hospital.

    REP. JEFF MILLER, R, Fla.: You’re trying to tell me that he’s being held at Landstuhl, Germany, because of his medical condition?

    CHUCK HAGEL: Congressman, I hope you’re not implying anything other than that. The fact is…

    REP. JEFF MILLER: I’m just asking the question, Mr. Secretary, that you won’t answer.

    CHUCK HAGEL:  I’m going to give an answer too, and I don’t like the implication of the question.

    REP. JEFF MILLER: Well, answer it. Answer it. Answer it.

    CHUCK HAGEL: He’s being held there because our medical professionals don’t believe he’s ready, until they’re — they believe he is ready to take the next step to his rehabilitation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Today’s hearing comes as new opinion polls shed light on the public’s view of the swap. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl.

    And if officials find that Bergdahl did, in fact, desert his post before his capture, the disapproval rate jumps above 60. Meanwhile, new details emerged about the soldier’s past. The Washington Post reported today that Bergdahl had been discharged from the Coast Guard for psychological reasons.

    His case has raised larger questions about prisoners being transferred from Guantanamo Bay. Hagel noted today 620 detainees have left Guantanamo since 2002, 532 during the George W. Bush administration and 88 since President Obama took office.

    The post Lawmakers blast Hagel over failure to communicate on Bergdahl deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba. Photo by the National Guard.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where do things stand at Guantanamo today? In all, 149 detainees still remain at the prison camp from 19 different countries; 78 have been cleared for transfer or repatriation to their homelands. Of the 71 detainees not cleared for transfer, the Department of Defense expects 20 will be prosecuted before military commissions.

    The 51 remaining prisoners have been deemed by the administration as too dangerous to release; however, there is not enough evidence to charge them with specific crimes.

    To sort through these numbers, and the complications of closing the detention facility at the Naval base, we get two different views.

    Benjamin Wittes is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book “Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantanamo.” And Baher Azmy, he is legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. It’s an organization that currently represents 10 detainees at the prison.

    And we welcome you both.

    So let’s start with the 78 detainees who have been cleared for transfer or repatriation to their homelands.

    And let me ask you this, Baher Azmy. Why haven’t they have been released? What’s holding this up?

    BAHER AZMY, Center for Constitutional Rights: What’s holding it up is simply a failure of political will from the Obama administration.

    He has been vested for years with authority to transfer individuals from Guantanamo. The only current restraint is that he gives Congress 30 days’ notice prior to transfer and that the Defense Department makes certain representations to ensure that the transfer won’t jeopardize national security, representations that the Obama administration has been making for years in advance of any transfer.

    So there are no serious political or legal obstacles to transfer. It’s simply a function of political will on the Obama administration. Just it seems to me that, given — this recent kerfuffle about Bergdahl demonstrates the president can’t win no matter what if he’s trying to satisfy his Republican opponents, and so he should just simply act on his commitment to close the facility and do so soon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and I want to get to that larger point in a minute.

    But, first, Ben Wittes, what about those 78 who are cleared to either go home or go somewhere else? Do you agree it’s a matter of political will?

    BENJAMIN WITTES, Brookings Institution: It’s partly a matter of political will, but there are additional factors.

    When you clear somebody for release or transfer, that’s generally not an unconditional clearance. It’s not like, oh, this person is completely harmless, so let’s just set them free. There’s usually a clearance conditional on certain security arrangements being made with the country that’s going to receive them.

    That is, you have to find a country that’s willing to receive them, that’s willing to treat them appropriately and that’s willing to keep track of them, and those arrangements can be difficult to make, they can be complicated, and particularly when you’re dealing — a lot of these people are from Yemen. We have had a very, very hard time getting the Yemeni government to make assurances that we can take seriously as to what will happen to people when they come home.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying there are practical reasons why it hasn’t happened; it’s not just the political?

    BENJAMIN WITTES: Each repatriation or resettlement takes a very delicate negotiation and set of arrangements, and those are hard and they sometimes take a lot of time, and some of them have not been possible to do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Baher Azmy, it sounds like he’s saying it’s more than just political will, there are some real complications.

    But I do want to turn you to these other detainees. I think it’s 71 who are not cleared for transfer, 20 of them going before military commissions; 50-some, what we’re told is that they’re in this ambiguous situation. They are dangerous, but there’s not enough evidence to charge them with a specific crime. What should happen to them?

    BAHER AZMY: Well, they should either be charged with a crime or released. I mean, our position is that this notion that some are — cannot be tried, but are too dangerous, is a null set.

    In our constitutional system, a system grounded on rationality and international human rights, one cannot be detained unless you have committed a crime, and that’s the basis to assess dangerousness, not by looking into some abstract prediction about darkness in their heart or who their connections were 12 years ago. And if we remain faithful to our constitutional traditions, individuals should either be tried or sent home.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re arguing they should be released?

    BAHER AZMY: Yes, unless they are charged either through a fair criminal process in an Article 3 court or through the ill-fated — eventually ill-fated military commissions. Yes, they can — we have no authority to detain those individuals.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ben Wittes, what about this other group?

    BENJAMIN WITTES: Well, so — what Baher said right now, just now, is an articulation of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ position. It’s not an articulation of U.S. law.

    The courts have repeatedly confronted the question of whether criminal charges are the only lawful basis on which to hold Guantanamo detainees, and they have repeatedly said that, in an armed conflict — and there is an armed conflict under U.S. law between the United States and al-Qaida and the Taliban — it is lawful to hold the enemy until the end of hostilities.

    And that is the basis, not criminal charges, on which people at Guantanamo are being held, and that’s an assessment — based on an assessment of dangerousness. And so there is a group within that 71 against whom charges have either been filed or are expected, but that’s not the basis on which all of them are being held or under the law need to be held.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just quickly, how much of this gets resolved, Baher Azmy, when the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, when the conflict ends there?

    BAHER AZMY: Well, even under Ben’s articulation of the law, the end of the hostilities in Afghanistan represents the end point of the authority to detain individuals who, as he suggests, we claim hold pursuant to our authority to prevent a return to active hostilities.

    And the Supreme Court explained in the 2004 decision in Hamdi that when active hostilities end, the authority to detain ends.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: OK.

    So bottom line here, to both of you, what — how do you resolve this? I mean, is there a way to get to resolve it short of the end of the war? Even after the war ends, it sounds like there is still ambiguity.

    BENJAMIN WITTES: So, look, you have got to try the people you can try. The people who have committed crimes, and you can prove that, you need to bring them to trial.

    The people who you can set free and whom you can transfer, you need to work to get that done. There is a residual population, some of whom, particularly the Taliban members, as Baher says, you may have to free at the end of hostilities in Afghanistan.

    But even beyond that, there’s a group of al-Qaida people against whom you’re not going to press charges whom there’s a long-term detention problem, and that’s a very hard problem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a final word, Baher Azmy. Is that what you see, just a hard problem going on indefinitely?

    BAHER AZMY: Well, we start with the easy problem, which is starting to repatriate or transfer to third countries those 78 already who have already been cleared for release.

    I don’t think the possibility of abstract, challenging legal questions on the back end should prevent us from making serious efforts to close the prison now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So there is a difference of view. We’re not going to resolve it today, but we want to — we want to give you both an opportunity to express your point of view.

    Baher Azmy, we thank you.

    Ben Wittes, thank you.

    BENJAMIN WITTES: Thank you.

    The post What’s holding up the closure of Guantanamo Bay? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: Now: High school students use art as a way to stay focused on learning in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our report.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Little Black Pearl Academy, a public school on the South Side of Chicago, is trying to write a new songbook for success. It started last fall, when the school’s founder, Monica Haslip, transformed her after-school art center into a full-time public school focused on the arts.

    Her students come from some of the highest-crime areas in the city. The undertaking was born from frustration.

    MONICA HASLIP, Founder, Little Black Pearl Academy: My biggest motivation for this school was about looking at the volume and the number of children that we have in Chicago that are dropping out of school.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Haslip partnered with Chicago public schools to identify students on the wrong track.

    MONICA HASLIP: A lot of our students that we have had had really poor attendance prior to coming here, so we believe and we have been able to see that by offering them access to the arts, that in itself is the thing that is inviting them to come to school every day.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The hope is that art can offer students, who may be distracted or even traumatized by violence that surrounds them, a way to return to learning.

    Why art? Why is this the reason that they should come?

    MONICA HASLIP: A lot of young people who dropped out of school, they’re still engaged in hip-hop and rap and drawing and all the things that we see in our communities that are tied to the arts.

    SAMANTHA PETERSON, Lead Teacher, Little Black Pearl Academy: What we have been talking about is appearance and how we judge people based on those appearances and based on those stereotypes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Teachers like Samantha Peterson, who teaches freshman English, use art as a way to engage Little Black Pearl’s 200 students in academics.

    SAMANTHA PETERSON: So, what we’re going to work on first is a poem called “Just Because,” and on the back of the poem, there is an example of a Hispanic who wrote their own poem.

    I would like to have somebody read this. Who would like to volunteer?

    STUDENT: “Just because I’m dark-skinned doesn’t mean I’m not like good people.”

    SAMANTHA PETERSON: What we’re trying to do is develop a character that breaks stereotypes, so we’re working on some sociology terminology and vocabulary around like the words prejudice, stereotype, self-fulfilling prophecy, and talking about those connections, and all of that is in order to break those stereotypes with our character.

    It engages them because they’re interested in it, and it means a lot to them. The students were always creating characters negatively, based on their skin being black, and so we really tried to look at what did that mean and the greater picture of creative writing in general.

    MONICA HASLIP: We’re trying to use the arts to really make what they’re learning in the classroom relevant.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For Samantha Peterson, the approach seems to be working. Her students have shown the highest academic gains in the entire Chicago Public School District.

    Beyond the awards, degrees, and teaching certificates, Peterson also brings an extraordinary personal story to the classroom.

    SAMANTHA PETERSON: I dropped out of high school at 15 years old, and I have a GED. I grew up on the streets in the South Side of Chicago, in and out of group homes, as a ward of the Illinois court, so I had a lot of problems in my life, and I can personally relate to all — a lot of the experiences that they’re going through.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But resources are expensive.

    To help foot the bill, the school has relied on private donors to cover the high cost of materials. The glass-blowing studio alone racks up thousands in monthly bills.

    WOMAN: Closer.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On the day we visited, students showed us a glass project they created as a commentary on the prevalence of guns in their lives.

    Tracy Kirchmann is their teacher.

    TRACY KIRCHMANN, Director of Glass, Little Black Pearl Academy: It’s a performance piece. The students wanted to illustrate some of the issues, their feelings about gun violence, through the medium.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Using a fake gun, students created a sand mold, melted the glass, and then formed guns.

    TRACY KIRCHMANN: Guns are the most relevant thing in their world. There’s not like a week that goes by in the school that we don’t have students that are personally, intimately, directly influenced and affected by the gun violence that’s happening here on the South Side of Chicago.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Working as a team, the students formed an assembly line of glass gun production, then carefully hooked each gun onto a display, and knowing the glass would explode if not cooled, they named their performance piece “Bang Bang.”

    TRACY KIRCHMANN: They’re using the fact that glass will actually explode because of stress and temperature change outside by casting these guns in glass, and then leaving them to cool to the point of breaking. So the idea is that they are creating guns constantly, but they’re also exploding, or cracking apart, and leaving broken pieces.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Sixteen-year-old Tammi Crockett says the piece is a metaphor for how families too can be shattered by gun violence.

    TAMMI CROCKETT: Every day basically, like, the life is gun violence. From most killings that we have here that we hear about are from gun violence.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Crockett’s 18-year-old brother, Maurice, was shot and killed in high school only days before he was scheduled to graduate.

    TAMMI CROCKETT: It’s kind of (INAUDIBLE) no more shooting, no more gun violence. We make them. We have seen them fall. And that’s basically saying like, X-out the killing. We don’t use guns, we don’t like them, and we wish they were taken off the street.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tracy Kirchmann says her students are learning quite a bit more than art.

    TRACY KIRCHMANN: We’re trying to re-enchant them with the — with wanting to learn, and that happens really easily in here, obviously. It’s a very enchanting process.

    So, we get them hooked kind of on the process, and then I take them deeper by explaining the physics and the molecular level of glass, and then they might be more interested in science because of something that they see in here.

    MONICA HASLIP: Just by providing them with the tools and the equipment and the professional support helps them to see that there is a pathway for a career.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: As the end of the academic school year approaches, educators in Little Black Pearl academy are optimistic that those career pathways are already taking shape.

    The post Special arts academy helps Chicago teens transcend tough streets appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    By Zachary Laub, Associate Writer, and Jonathan Masters, Deputy Editor of the Council on Foreign Relations

    Introduction

    Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate — a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia law. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, and the insurgency that followed provided AQI with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

    After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly 8,000 civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted a new moniker, Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS, a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there.
    Origins

    Al-Qaida in Iraq was launched by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Arab of Jordanian descent, and flourished in the sectarian tensions that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Zarqawi had commanded volunteers in Herat, Afghanistan, before fleeing to northern Iraq in 2001. There he joined with Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), a militant Kurdish separatist movement, where he led the group’s Arab contingent. Analysts say this group, not al-Qaeda, was the precursor to AQI.

    Ahead of the 2003 invasion, U.S. officials made a case before the UN Security Council linking Zarqawi’s group with Osama bin Laden, though some experts say it wasn’t until October 2004 that Zarqawi vowed obedience to the al-Qaeda leader. The U.S. State Department designated AQI a foreign terrorist organization that same month. “For al-Qaida, attaching its name to Zarqawi’s activities enabled it to maintain relevance even as its core forces were destroyed [in Afghanistan] or on the run,” wrote Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism fellow at the New America Foundation.

    According to a 2011 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Zarqawi developed a four-pronged strategy [PDF] to defeat the coalition: isolate U.S. forces by targeting its allies; discourage Iraqi collaboration by targeting government infrastructure and personnel; target reconstruction efforts through high-profile attacks on civilian contractors and aid workers; and draw the U.S. military into a Sunni-Shiite civil war by targeting Shiites.

    The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the transitional government established by the United States and its coalition partners, made two decisions early in the U.S.-led occupation that are often cited as having fed the insurgency. The CPA’s first orderbanned members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party from government positions (so-called “de-Baathification”); its second order disbanded the Iraqi army and security services, creating hundreds of thousands of new coalition enemies, many of them armed Sunnis.

    AQI’s fighters were drawn initially from Zarqawi’s networks [PDF] in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and later merged with recruits from Syria, Iraq, and its neighbors. The group’s makeup became predominantly Iraqi by 2006, the Washington Post reported. But while the group peaked in 2006 and 2007 at the height of Iraq’s sectarian civil war—which AQI helped foment—its ranks were diminished by a counterterrorism campaign by U.S. Special Operations Forces and the U.S.-backed Sahwa, or Sunni Awakening movement.

    Leadership

    Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri believed AQI’s indiscriminate attacks on fellow Muslims would erode public support for al-Qaeda in the region, and in July 2005 they questioned Zarqawi’s strategy in written correspondence. Fishman said the relationship collapsed when Zarqawi ignored al-Qaeda instructions to stop attacking Shiite cultural sites.

    A U.S. air strike that killed Zarqawi in June 2006 marked a victory for U.S. and Iraqi intelligence and a turning point for AQI. In its aftermath, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian-born explosives expert and former Zawahiri confidant, emerged as AQI’s new leader. In October 2006, Masri adopted the alias Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) to increase the group’s local appeal, which suffered just as Zawahiri had feared, and embody its territorial ambitions.

    AQI is currently led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also known as Abu Du’a. The U.S. government believes he resides in Syria, highlighting the extent to which AQI has exploited opportunities beyond Iraq’s borders.

    Funding

    Supporters in the region, including those based in Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, are believed to have provided the bulk of past funding. Iran has also financed AQI, crossing sectarian lines, as Tehran saw an opportunity to challenge the U.S. military presence in the region, according to the U.S. Treasury and documents confiscated in 2006 from Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives in northern Iraq. In early 2014, Iran offered to join the United States in offering aid to the Iraqi government to counter al-Qaida gains in Anbar province.

    The bulk of AQI’s financing, experts say, comes from sources such as smuggling, extortion, and other crime. AQI has relied in recent years on funding and manpower from internal recruits [PDF]. In Mosul, an important AQI stronghold, the group extorts taxes from businesses small and large, netting upwards of $8 million a month, according to some estimates.

    Staying Power

    Heavy-handed actions taken by Maliki to consolidate power in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal have alienated much of the Sunni minority, and AQI has since exploited the “failed social contract,” said former CFR press fellow Ned Parker. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government was reluctant to integrate Awakening militias into the national security forces, and critics say he has persecuted Sunni political rivals.

    Sunnis who felt marginalized by the Maliki government began protesting for reforms in Anbar province in December 2012, and prominent Shiite clerics such as the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr acknowledged the legitimacy of their grievances, Parker wrote. According to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service [PDF], there were roughly a dozen days in 2012 on which AQI executed multi-city attacks that killed at least twenty-five Iraqis. On at least four of those days, coordinated attacks left more than a hundred Iraqis dead.

    In April 2013, security forces raided a protest camp at al-Hawijah, provoking an escalation in Sunni militancy. Car bombings and suicide attacks intensified, with coordinated attacks regularly targeting Shiite markets, cafes, and mosques. In 2013, 7,818 civilians (including police) were killed in acts of terrorism and violence, more than double the 2012 death toll, according to United Nations figures. An additional 17,891 were injured, making 2013 Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008.

    At the end of 2013, security forces sought to clear a protest camp in Ramadi. The move provoked an uprising in which security forces pulled out of the city as well as nearby Fallujah, and AQI moved to fill the void. Maliki exhorted Sunni tribesmen there to repel ISIS themselves; they remain divided.

    Meanwhile, the civil war in neighboring Syria has drawn Sunni jihadists into the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which is dominated by the Alawite sect, a minority Shiite group. AQI has been active in Syria’s northern and eastern provinces, where it has taken administrative control of some towns, providing services while imposing its ultraconservative brand of Islamic law.

    While al-Qaida-linked groups in Syria have fought among themselves and with the secular opposition, the Free Syrian Army signed a truce with ISIS in late September, an acknowledgment of their efficacy on the battlefield. But divisions within the Islamist opposition camp remain stark.

    ISIS, as AQI rebranded itself as it expanded into Syria, declared a merger with Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has greater indigenous legitimacy in Syria, in April 2013. But Zawahiri, who succeeded bin Laden as head of so-called “core al-Qaeda,”annulled the merger, ruling that Baghdadi’s group’s operations be limited to Iraq. Baghdadi rejected Zawahiri’s ruling and questioned his authority, AQI’s pledge of fealty to core al-Qaeda notwithstanding. Various rival Islamist militant groups coalesced in late 2013 as the Mujahedeen Army with the common goal of forcing ISIS to cede territory and leave Syria.

    The significant jihadist spillover into Syria is a concern for the Obama administration, which has responded to the regional al-Qaeda resurgence by increasing the CIA’s support for the Maliki government, including assistance to elite counterterrorism units that report directly to the prime minister, and providing Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. Briefing the UN Security Council in July 2013, UN envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler characterized the spiraling regional dynamics: “[Iraq and Syria] are interrelated. Iraq is the fault line between the Sunni and Shia worlds.”

    This backgrounder first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website.

    The post Background Briefing: What is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Seven years after Brazil was awarded the right to host the World Cup, matches are finally ready to kick off tomorrow in the world’s most widely-watched sporting event, with perhaps more than three billion viewers over the next month.

    But hosting soccer’s top event is no longer just a simple matter of pride for many Brazilians.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 32 national teams are tuning up. Fans are beginning to party. But for many Brazilians, the joys of hosting, and seeking the country’s sixth world title, have been greatly diminished since the heady day in 2007 when FIFA, soccer’s international organizing body, awarded Brazil the World Cup.

    SEPP BLATTER, President, FIFA: FIFA’s World Cup 2014 to the country Brazil.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    JEFFREY BROWN: The chief reason: sticker shock. Brazil is spending $15 billion to host the celebration of what Brazilians call the joga bonito, the beautiful game, but that has led to recriminations: Thousands of poor Brazilians were relocated from their homes in slums, called favelas.

    The government has denied charges that the displacements were to make way for World Cup building projects, and for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Major construction problems have led to deaths of workers at still-unfinished venues and transpiration hub points.

    One died just this past Monday night when a section of monorail collapsed. And some projects slated for the World Cup were barely begun, then scrapped. In the meantime, protests have been launched, and strikes were mounted by transit workers and others around Brazil against what many see as money wasted.

    At a march on Monday, a teacher in Rio spoke for many:

    MARIA DE LURDES FONSECA, Teacher (through interpreter): Our country needs to invest in health care, education, public transportation and culture, not in stadiums, not in airports. We need public goods that go to the people, not FIFA, not to tourists. We want investments that stay here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The protests are nothing new, however: A dry run for the World Cup in Brazil last year was met with sometimes violent clashes in the streets over these same issues.

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is up for reelection this fall, took to the airwaves yesterday and made her case.

    PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF, Brazil (through interpreter): There are people who claim the resources for the Cup should have been directed to health care and education. I hear and respect those opinions, but I don’t agree with them. From 2010 until 2013, the federal, state and municipal governments invested about $762 billion in education and health care, 212 times more than the amount invested in stadiums.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Brazilian authorities say more than 150,000 police and military will secure the month-long tournament held across 12 Brazilian cities, but with only one-third of the country convinced the Cup will ultimately benefit Brazil, success on the field may not be enough, this time, to keep soccer-mad Brazilians satisfied.

    The post Big spending and construction chaos deflates Brazilian joy over World Cup appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JEFFREY BROWN: Our two guests have been studying and writing about these issues. Dave Zirin is the sports editor of “The Nation,” host of the show “Edge of Sports” on SiriusXM, and author of a new book, “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.” And Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center.

    And, Paulo Sotero, let me start with you, just to back up a little bit for context. When Brazil got this World Cup, was awarded it, it was a different time, right? It was seen — it was a power on the rise.

    PAULO SOTERO, Brazil Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Yes, there was a very popular president. The economy was growing at about 6 percent a year.

    Income was being distributed and there was a sense of possibility that this once very unequal society continues to do, to be so, but was transforming and continues to transform itself into a thriving democracy.

    But, yes, times have changed. The economy now may be at this moment in a recession. Lula is gone. There’s a less popular president. And the challenges created by the past success are much more complicated now.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, and we will pick up on that, but Dave Zirin, the other part of the context here of course is the role of football, soccer in Brazil, this tradition, its identity really with the country.

    DAVE ZIRIN, Author, “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil”: Absolutely.

    And Paulo is absolutely correct. When the World Cup was awarded to Brazil, the growth rates were on the rise. I remember “The Economist” had a cover of the Christ the Redeemer statue actually taking off like  a rocket ship. And this was supposed to be Brazil, and the idea that Brazil was going to be a world power, it was actually going to challenge the United States for economic supremacy of the Western Hemisphere.

    And the World Cup was seen as part of Brazil’s coming-out party coupled with the 2016 Olympics in Rio. And yet what’s happening right now is, because the economy has slowed down, you have a situation where FIFA still has all of the same demands that it had when the World Cup was awarded.

    So Brazil can’t go to FIFA and say, well, our economy has slowed, we don’t have as much fat in the system, we can’t build the stadiums at the pace that you like. FIFA just says, no, you signed your name on the dotted line. We want to see our stadiums. And I think that’s what’s rubbing people the wrong way in Brazil.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Paulo Sotero, what do you see as the main reasons for discontent right now?

    PAULO SOTERO: It is precisely that there is a narrative in the government that Brazil is transforming itself, the greater Brazil is a better Brazil.

    But people look at public transportation and they say, no, it’s not that much better. There has been very good positive news in terms of salaries, but this phase is already passing. And they see then, as Dave says, those stadiums, state-of-the-art things, being built.

    And Brazilians are very discerning. And this is the positive thing coming out of the World Cup. There is an awakening in Brazil that, yes, we love soccer, but we have to have a sense of priorities in public expenditures here. And this is — this rancor, this opposition, this discontent I think reflects that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you see that as a positive change in terms of…

    DAVE ZIRIN: I have to say, I see it as very positive as well because what’s happening in Brazil with regard to its relationship with both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee is not unique to Brazil.

    I have covered every World Cup and Olympics in the last decade. And at each one, you see a lot of similar issues, debt, displacement, the militarization of public space. And yet this is really the first time that you have seen people in advance of one of these mega-events voicing these kinds of concerns. And I think that is going to have a positive effect internationally going forward.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Paulo Sotero, just bring us back to even today, on the edge of the games. Is Brazil ready? Is the infrastructure, everything ready?

    PAULO SOTERO: As ready as we can be.

    The stadiums will be ready.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    PAULO SOTERO: Some of the transportation, the transit systems that were promised, some of them will be ready. Some others will not be ready. The surrounding part of the stadiums will probably be below par.

    But the stadiums are for 60 people — 60,000 people, so those people will get to those stadiums. What you will see on television will be probably be nice. We know how to throw a party in Brazil, as you know, so there will be a positive image.

    But there is behind the scenes this attitude of a society that, right now, 60 percent to 65 percent of Brazilians sees this as a negative, saying that this may hurt Brazil’s image abroad that, by the way, is positive, and this may take — make more cost than benefits to Brazil precisely of what David is talking about. FIFA is taking away money from this tournament tax-free.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Dave, you’re about to head down there, I know. So, there’s still the threats of strikes that may affect some of the transportation.

    Is there a larger political context, I mean, possible consequences out of this?

    DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, absolutely.

    There are elections this October, and every political formation in Brazil from the right to the left is attempting to use the discontent with the World Cup to capitalize for these elections, frankly, as they should, because the discontent is there. But President Dilma Rousseff is wrong, in my view, when she says that the resistance to the World Cup, the demonstrations are being politically orchestrated by enemies of the government.

    The discontent is very organic. It comes from the people themselves. And that’s why the slogans about we want FIFA-quality hospitals, we want FIFA-quality schools, I mean, these come from the heart of people who love soccer. They love, as Paulo said, to put on a party, but they feel like they are being left out, they’re behind the velvet rope, and they can’t get in the party, and so it is breeding more alienation than it a sense of community and understanding.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Paulo Sotero, to the extent that this still is a football-mad country, right, how much is riding on how well the team actually does?

    PAULO SOTERO: I think obviously we still love soccer. We will always love soccer. We hope that we will be champions for the first time at home. Remember, in 1950, we lost in Maracana.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which still is part of the national psyche, right?

    PAULO SOTERO: Oh, yes. I was born that year. I’m still traumatized.

    (LAUGHTER)

    PAULO SOTERO: But the fact is that politicians in Brazil will have a hard time in try to use this.

    This is our collective joy, especially if we win. Soccer in Brazil is an emotional equalizer in a very unequal society. So, abusing this, trying to make political capital out of this is a very risky business. And I think that message is also being conveyed by the streets.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will all be watching.

    Paulo Sotero, Dave Zirin, thank you both very much.

    DAVE ZIRIN: Thank you.

    PAULO SOTERO: Pleasure.

    The post Why soccer-loving Brazilians are voicing discontent over World Cup appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The 250-year old lighthouse sits in the Atlantic Ocean near the entrance to New York Harbor. Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki.

    The 250-year old lighthouse sits in the Atlantic Ocean near the entrance to New York Harbor. Photo by Flickr user Shinya Suzuki.

    For 250 years the Sandy Hook lighthouse in New Jersey has guided sailors safely in and out of New York Harbor. Its original whale lamps were first lit on June 11, 1764. It survived the Revolutionary War, when it was controlled by the British and attacked by colonists. It survived two world wars — the only time it went dark to prevent enemies from finding New York Harbor. And more recently, it survived the ravages of Hurricane Sandy.

    The original Fresnel lens, made in Paris. Photo by Flickr user Bee Collins.

    The original Fresnel lens, made in Paris. Photo by Flickr user Bee Collins.

    Built out of a granite known as rubblestone, it was shored up in the 1850′s with three feet of brick inside. Now it lights the way for ships with a 1,000 watt bulb, magnified through the prisms of a Fresnel light. The beacon can be seen from 12-miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

    The post America’s oldest working lighthouse turns 250 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    US soldiers walk past military vehicles at Camp Victory on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

    US soldiers walk past military vehicles at Camp Victory on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama said Thursday that Iraq will need more help from the United States as it seeks to push back a violent Islamic insurgency that has captured two key cities and threatens to press toward Bagdad.

    Obama did not specify what type of assistance the U.S. would be willing to provide but said he had not ruled out any options.

    “We do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter,” Obama said during an Oval Office meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

    Senior administration officials said the U.S. was considering whether to conduct drone missions in Iraq but was not looking to put American forces on the ground. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name and requested anonymity.

    Iraq has been beset by resurgent violence since the last American troops withdrew in late 2011 after more than eight years of war. The violence escalated this week with an al-Qaida-inspired group capturing two key Sunni-dominated cities this week and talking of a march on Baghdad.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders have pleaded with the Obama administration for more than a year for additional help to combat the growing insurgency, which has been fueled by the unrelenting civil war in neighboring Syria. Northern Iraq has become a way station for insurgents who routinely travel between the two countries and are seeding the Syrian war’s violence in Iraq and beyond.

    House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s policies in Iraq were jeopardizing the progress the United States made in years of fighting. He noted that terrorists have been capturing territory, including the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, the home of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

    “They’re 100 miles from Baghdad,” Boehner said. “And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap.”

    The president said he was watching the situation in with concern and his team was working around the clock to identify the most effective assistance. He said that while short-term military solutions were required to tamp down the growing insurgency, Iraq also needed to make longer-term political changes.

    If Obama orders US military strikes or involves American forces, he would face opposition in the House. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked, “Where are they going to get the funds?”

    “To just go in and burn up more resources on a place that seems bent on destruction,” McKeon told reporters. “We had an opportunity there. They had an opportunity there. We blew it. They blew it. I don’t think we’re ready to go in another one.”

    The post Obama said Iraq will need U.S. assistance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Image courtesy of U.S. Army

    Image courtesy of U.S. Army

    Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recuperating in Germany after being released from five years of Taliban captivity, is scheduled to arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas on Friday, a defense official said.

    The official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced, declined to provide details. Officials had previously said the intention was for Bergdahl to be reunited with his family at Brooke and to spend an undetermined period there in further recuperation.

    Officials have kept a lid on details of Bergdahl’s condition and his travel plans out of concern that he not be rushed back into the public spotlight after a lengthy period in captivity and amid a public uproar over the circumstances of his capture and release.

    Bergdahl was released from Taliban captivity on May 31 and has been at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since June 1.

    He was deployed in eastern Afghanistan when he disappeared in June 2009.

    Many have criticized the Obama administration for agreeing to release five Taliban prisoners from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl. Some of Bergdahl’s former Army colleagues have accused him of deserting his post.

    Republicans and Democrats questioned the wisdom of releasing the five Taliban members, saying they could return to the battlefield. Administration officials have told Congress that four of the five Taliban officials will likely rejoin the fight.

    In congressional testimony Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the former Taliban government officials “enemy belligerents” but said they hadn’t been implicated in any attacks against the United States. He said Qatar, which has promised to keep the five inside the country for a year, promised sufficient security measures to warrant making the swap for Bergdahl.

    Hagel also said Bergdahl was early in the process of recovering from the trauma of captivity. He said that process began with his arrival at Landstuhl on June 1.

    “He’s being held there because our medical professionals don’t believe he’s ready. … This isn’t just about a physical situation,” Hagel said. “This guy was held for almost five years in God knows what kind of conditions. … This is not just about can he get on his feet and walk and get to a plane.”

    Bergdahl has not made any public comment since his release, and Pentagon officials say there is no timeline for arranging his initial contact with the news media.

    The post Bergdahl scheduled to arrive in Texas on Friday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Flickr user acanyi

    Photo by Flickr user acanyi

    A taxi-driver protest Wednesday against the ride-for-hire app service Uber had the opposite effect as the service claims its sign-ups skyrocketed 850 percent.

    The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association organized a strike in London Wednesday that saw black cabs parked around tourist hotspots and other landmarks, causing traffic. Other taxi associations in cities across Europe joined in the protests.

    As the strikes were happening, Uber took advantage of the situation and offered discounts to its customers.

    Andre Spicer, professor of organizational behavior at Cass Business School in London, told CNBC that the protests raised awareness of the service instead of dissuading people from using it. “Uber is top of everyone’s minds. Lots of people who have never heard of the app before now know what Uber is.”

    Uber, a company that provides mobile apps which allow riders to be connected to drivers and ridesharing options in cities across the world, has been controversial with taxi companies due to complaints that they are not regulated like taxis are, despite charging based on time and distance. Without the same regulations, taxi drivers have argued that Uber has an unfair advantage.

    The post European taxi strike against Uber backfires as usage spikes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Former President George H.W. Bush blew away every other 90th birthday celebration by jumping out of a helicopter at a height of approximately 10,000 ft. Thursday in Maine.

    The 41st president has lost his ability to walk due to Parkinson’s disease, but that didn’t stop Bush from making his eighth jump. He also celebrated his 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays by skydiving.

    Bush jumped in tandem with retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike Elliott, a former member of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team.

    The post Former president skydives for his 90th birthday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A new Pew Research Center poll finds liberals and conservatives disagree on where to live, how big their house should be and whether walking to stores and restaurants is important.  Photo by Flickr user Chris Dlugosz

    A new Pew Research Center poll finds liberals and conservatives disagree on where to live, house size and the importance of faith. Photo by Flickr user Chris Dlugosz

    Liberals and conservatives don’t agree on much when it comes to politics. But it runs even deeper than that, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.

    The most polarized on the right and left disagree on where to live, who to associate with, even how big their house should be and who their children should marry.

    NewsHour will have a deeper look Thursday night at the Pew poll, but here are some of the data points, from a sociological standpoint that stood out:

    • Seventy-three percent of consistent liberals say it’s important to live near art museums or theaters, just 23 percent of consistent conservatives agree. Liberals and conservatives mostly agree that they want to be near extended family though that’s less important to liberals (73 percent conservative, 64 percent liberal), close to the outdoors for hiking, fishing and camping (73 percent conservative, 65 percent liberal), and having high-quality public schools, though that’s slightly less important to conservatives (86 percent liberal, 79 percent conservative).

    • Consistent liberals are more likely to prioritize ethnic diversity than consistent conservatives. Seventy-six percent of consistent liberals say it’s important to live in an area with people of mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds, while just 20 percent of consistent conservatives say so.

    • Conversely, consistent conservatives – 57 percent — are more likely than consistent liberals — 17 percent — to believe it’s important to live in a place where many people share your religious faith.

    • Fifty percent of consistent conservatives say it’s important to live in a place where people share their views compared to 35 percent of consistent liberals.

    • Sixty-three percent of consistent conservatives say their close friends share their views compared to 49 percent of consistent liberals.

    • Forty-one percent of consistent conservatives prefer to live in rural areas; 35 percent say small towns. Almost a majority of consistent liberals –- 46 percent — say they want to live in the city.

    • Seventy-five percent of consistent conservatives would rather live in places where the houses are larger and farther apart, and where you have to drive to schools, stores and restaurants. Seventy-seven percent of consistent liberals say the opposite. They prefer smaller houses, closer to each other, where you can walk to schools, stores and restaurants.

    • Just nine percent of the country overall would be unhappy if someone married “outside” their preferred party. But those numbers rise sharply among the most polarized with 30 percent of the consistently conservative saying they’d be unhappy if their child married a Democrat and 25 percent of consistent liberals saying the opposite.

    The post Poll shows liberals, conservatives worlds apart not just on politics appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A blanket designed to shield students from debris flying through the air from tornadoes is selling as gunfire protection, due to anxiety over national school shootings.

    The orange, 5/16th in. BodyGuard Blanket was developed by ProTecht in Oklahoma after a tornado in the city of Moore killed 24 people in 2013. It was designed to give an extra layer of protection to students without access to tornado shelters, co-developer Steve Walker, a podiatrist, told The Oklahoman.

    But now, parents and educators are turning to the $1,000 blanket as a defense against bullets, the company reported Thursday.

    “The government is not going to do anything in law about guns, and there is nothing else out there to protect the children,” said co-developer Stan Schone.

    Schone reported that his company took 1,000 orders the first day the blankets were made for sale.

    While many schools are turning to armored accessories and shields, some security experts say that they could be a diversion from real, practical safety resources.

    “Schools have limited resources and they ought to use that money very wisely, put it into an additional school psychologist or a school police officer, train your staff and work with first responders. The most valuable school security tools are invisible,” said Ken Trump, a school safety consultant and a father of young children, during his interview with NBC News.

    The post Can a $1,000 blanket ward off gunfire? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others look on. East Room, White House, Washington, D.C. Photo by Cecil Stoughton

    President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others look on. East Room, White House, Washington, D.C. Photo by Cecil Stoughton

    Fifty years ago this July, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination pertaining to race, sex, religion and origin.

    The act was a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, much like the Voting Rights Act that would follow in 1965.

    PBS NewsHour has already started exploring the legacy of the Civil Rights Act. We’ve spoken with professors, politicians, even President Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb. Now, we want to hear from you.

    We’re asking: Do you or someone you know remember when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964? How did its passage change your life or community? Did it?

    To share your story, call our oral history hotline at 703-594-6727. You can also email us with your story and a photo at NewsHour64 [at] gmail [dot] com. Please include your name and location, and your story might be featured on our website.

    Questions? Feel free to email Colleen Shalby at cshalby [at] newshour [dot] org.

    The post Do you remember the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: House Republicans scrambled today to organize their party ahead of next week’s vote for a new majority leader. The race has been whittled down to two contenders: GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the House Rules Committee.

    Fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling pulled out of the race. House Speaker John Boehner didn’t throw his support behind either candidate, but said he would work with whoever wins.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: The members are going to make this decision. We’re going to do it next week. I’m sure some will argue it was too soon. Some will argue it was too long. But it’s important we resolve this issue in a fair amount of time, so that we can do the work that we were elected to do.

    GWEN IFILL: Boehner also said Americans’ frustration with President Obama’s — quote — “failed policies” contributed to Eric Cantor’s loss. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republican leaders are to blame and that a new leader won’t make much of a difference.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: We have not passed immigration. We have not passed the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan. We have the votes for the immigration bill. It passed the Senate in a bipartisan way. So I don’t know how things could get worse than the obstruction that is already here.

    GWEN IFILL: Eric Cantor, who was defeated Tuesday, will serve out his term, but vacate the number two leadership spot at the end of July.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is headed back to the U.S. from an Army medical center in Germany. Pentagon spokesmen confirmed that today. Bergdahl will arrive early tomorrow at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, for further medical treatment. He was held by the Taliban for five years and freed almost two weeks ago.

    GWEN IFILL: U.S. drone strikes have started back up in Pakistan after a nearly six-month lull. Pakistani intelligence officials said 13 suspected insurgents were killed overnight in two separate strikes. The targets were in Northwest Pakistan in North Waziristan. It is home to a number of militant groups. The strikes come just days after the airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s busiest, was attacked.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Oil prices spiked to their highest levels of the year today on news of the spreading insurgency in Iraq. In New York trading, a barrel of oil settled above $106, its highest close in almost nine months.

    The Iraq turmoil also impacted stocks on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 109 points to close at 16,734; the Nasdaq fell 34 points to close at 4,297; and the S&P 500 shed nearly 13 points to close at 1,930.

    GWEN IFILL: Former President George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday the way he celebrated his 75th, 80th and 85th, by skydiving. The 41st president made a tandem parachute jump over the skies near Kennebunkport, Maine.

    After his last jump, he’d vowed he would skydive again, even though he can now no longer walk. Family and friends greeted him on the ground. This was his eighth jump. The first came under fire, when his plane was shot down over the Pacific during World War II.

    The post News Wrap: U.S. resumes drone strikes in Pakistan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Iraqi policemen and soldiers in the city of Ramadi, west of the capital Baghdad. Photo by Azher Shallal/AFP/Getty Images

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As militants from the Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant continued their march toward Baghdad and widened the group’s areas of operation and control across Syria and Iraq, talk in Washington turned to whether the U.S. should respond and how.

    At midday, the president spoke in the Oval Office after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He said Iraq would need more assistance, not only from the U.S., but other nations as well.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or — or Syria, for that matter.

    In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily and our national security team is looking at all the options. But the basic principle obviously is, is that we, like all nations, are prepared to take military action whenever our national security is threatened.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, administration officials said that all options didn’t include U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq.

    The New York Times reported this morning that Iraq had asked the Obama administration last month to conduct airstrikes on militants in Western Iraq, but was denied.

    At the Capitol earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner had a harsh, direct appraisal of White House policy to date.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: It’s not like we haven’t seen this problem coming for over a year. And it hasn’t — it’s not like we haven’t seen over the last five or six months these terrorists moving in taking control of Western Iraq. Now they have taken control of Mosul. They’re a 100 miles from Baghdad. And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That anger was echoed on the Senate floor from Arizona Republican John McCain. He laid blame squarely on the withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011, pushed for by the president, amid failed talks with the government of Nouri al-Maliki for a further U.S. presence.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R, Ariz.: To declare that a conflict is over doesn’t mean that it necessarily is over. A takeover of Iraq in the Iraq-Syria area, which is now the largest concentration of al-Qaida in history, is a direct threat to the United States of America.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But elsewhere on the Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was the original decision to invade, by the George W. Bush administration, supported by McCain and Boehner, that was at fault. She said she opposed further U.S. military action in Iraq.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: It’s just not a good idea. And what’s next? That’s what the American people would want to know. What’s next? I think this represents the failed policy that took us down this path 11 years ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki earlier today, and according to a White House statement, he told Maliki that the U.S. is prepared to continue to intensify and accelerate security support and cooperation with Iraq.

    American officials say three planeloads of Americans are being evacuated from an Iraqi air base in Sunni territory north of Baghdad to escape threats from the fast-moving insurgency.

    Meanwhile, the Iraq government launched airstrikes on insurgent positions in and around Mosul.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how are Iraq’s leaders in Baghdad viewing this crisis?

    For that, I spoke a short time ago to Jane Arraf. She’s a freelance correspondent for Al-Jazeera English and “The Christian Science Monitor.”  She also was in Irbil.

    Jane Arraf, thank you very much for talking with us.

    How is the government in Baghdad dealing with all this? We see reports that a large number of government troops are simply laying down their arms in the face of these insurgents.

    JANE ARRAF, Iraq-based journalist: It’s absolutely scrambling.

    One of the things that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has tried to do, along with trying to form a new government, because this now is a government in the making, is essentially he has tried to get parliament to agree to declare a state of emergency across the country. Parliament has declined to do that.

    They feel he is using all of this for political gain, to further expand his powers. So it’s really a political crisis on top of a huge security crisis. He’s reaching out to the United States, as you have seen, and he’s reaching out to Kurdish leaders to try to solve this.

    But this is such an intractable problem, and the scale of it, the consequences of it, the potential repercussions of losing Iraq’s second biggest city are absolutely huge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any question there, Jane, about how serious a threat this insurgency poses?

    JANE ARRAF: There’s very little question, because these people are not going to go away. In the space of four days, they managed to take over Iraq’s second biggest city, one of the major cities in importance, as well as in terms of size.

    So, now we have a situation where, according to people who are still coming out to try to come to the Kurdish areas, still coming to that checkpoint just 20 miles from Mosul, they say that the city is now completely in control of this group that has been — that essentially is a reincarnation of al-Qaida.

    But the group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is working as well with tribal leaders, some tribal leaders from the Fallujah and Ramadi area of al-Anbar and what appears to be quite a large component of fighters who have come directly from Anbar province.

    So this isn’t just a foreign external problem. This is a domestic problem as well. And it’s one that the Iraqi government has been dealing with, although not in this dramatic a form, for many, many months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, talking to people in the government, is it your sense that they believe they can hold this off without U.S. military help?

    JANE ARRAF: They’re pretty much desperate for U.S. military help.

    The problem is that that U.S. military help, whether more Hellfire missiles or drone strikes, isn’t really going to solve this. At the heart of this is a country that’s being torn apart and it’s being torn apart largely because large parts of this country don’t feel that they have a say in their own future.

    They don’t feel that they can walk in the streets without being discriminated against by Iraqi security forces. One of the things that has really become clear in the past few days, again, as people flood from Mosul — and half-a-million Iraqis have left Mosul — is that there is a large residual anger against the Iraqi security forces in many parts of these cities.

    That’s going to make this even harder to solve. It’s not just a military security problem. It’s a political crisis as well, and one that really is — it’s really hard to see where this will end.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane, finally, we know the Obama administration has been urging Prime Minister Maliki for some time to reach out to the Sunni leadership, the Sunni population in Iraq. Is there any sense on the part of his administration that they’re now prepared to do that or that they acknowledge it’s been a mistake not to?

    JANE ARRAF: Well, Judy, there are a few problems there.

    One is that it’s not just a monolithic Sunni community. Who does he reach out to? It’s a very divided Sunni political class. And we’re seeing that in the problems of forming a new government. The Iraqi government seems to feel like it’s fighting for its life.

    This is a fight purely against al-Qaida and the latest incarnation of al-Qaida. There isn’t a huge sense there when you talk to Iraqi government officials that they feel that they need to make concessions. In fact, the instinct here, as we have seen, is really pretty much always first to use force and then to talk later.

    As for what is happening in Mosul, and not just Mosul, but Tikrit, Samarra, and other cities, is it continuing to grow, and again not just a security problem, but essentially what many people fear is the disintegration of this country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jane Arraf on the ground in Irbil, Iraq, Jane, we thank you.

    JANE ARRAF: Thank you so much.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the United States’ options.

    We turn to two men with extensive experience dealing with Iraq.

    James Jeffrey was U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2012. He’s now a distinguished visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Feisal Istrabadi was Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations from 2004 to 2007. He’s now a professor of the practice of international law and diplomacy at Indiana University, Bloomington.

    And we welcome you both.

    Ambassador Istrabadi, let me start with you.

    Do you share what we just — I guess the perception we just got from Jane Arraf, that this is a country that may be disintegrating and that this is every bit as much as a political as it is a military crisis?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI, Indiana University: I do.

    I think much of — I agree with much of what Jane said now. Iraq is facing an existential crisis, a moment when the Iraqi political class and the broader polity of Iraq have to answer the questions, do we as Iraqis want to live together in one country, or do we not? And what are the ramifications of answering the question one way or another?

    The root of the solution of this problem has been for years — and not just in the last four or five days — a political solution, and the current government in Iraq has simply failed to live up to the expectation that it could find a political solution, because, as Jane has just said, it seeks a military solution first.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So Ambassador Jeffrey, if that’s the case, does it really matter about this conversation back and forth about military help or not from the U.S.?

    JAMES JEFFREY, The Washington Institute: Absolutely.

    I agree with everything the ambassador and Jane have said, but the point is right now we’re not facing some kind of long-term campaign of reconciliation or even stability, as we did for years in Iraq. We’re facing a military challenge.

    As the ISIL forces seize all of Sunni Iraq, Sunni Arab Iraq, which is one-third of the country in the west, they’re in a position to encircle Baghdad with its six or seven million people, mainly Shia Arabs, and cut it off from electricity, oil, water, everything it needs.

    And that is an extraordinary threat. That can pull in the Iranians, that can cause the Kurds to leave. That’s a military threat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what do you think needs to be done?

    JAMES JEFFREY: In order to avoid Iranians coming in, Kurds going out and possibly extraordinary disaster, the U.S. needs to put, as the president seems to be suggesting he’s considering, airpower in, as he did in Libya, effective against mobile columns, as we have seen in your film clips.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ambassador Istrabadi, if that’s what happens, if there is airpower, does that change the balance of what’s going on there?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: I don’t think so.

    The fact of the matter is the United States, commencing in 2003, was never able to get ahold of an increasing insurgency as it was building up in 2006 — 2005, 2006, and 2007. The way that General Petraeus was able to make a — the violence decrease in Iraq was by negotiating a series of political deals with Sunni tribal sheiks and other respect figures in the Sunni community.

    The current government of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq reneged on all of those promises. Without these political deals, there is, in my opinion, no military solution to the problem. If the United States, in Iraq for 10 years, with all the weaponry and all the intelligence assets that it has, was unable to defeat the insurgency without political resolution — or political deals, the Iraqis will not be able to do it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you heard Ambassador Jeffrey say, if nothing is done, we’re looking at a dire change of circumstances.

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: I understand that.

    And, once again, I say that the Iraqis, I think, are going to have to decide the existential question of, to be or not to be? The Iraqi army does indeed have to make a stand. It has to stanch the bleeding. I understand that need to make some military progress.

    But what is airpower going to do? Are you going to bomb the cities? Are you going to bomb Tikrit? Are you going to bomb Mosul? Whole cities have fallen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me — well, let’s put that question…

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: I don’t see that there’s a military solution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me put that question then to Ambassador Jeffrey.

    JAMES JEFFREY: Well, first of all, I disagree.

    The ambassador is right. The United States, with some help from the Iraqis, was able to reach out to Sunnis in ’06-’07, and that’s the kind of solution that the ambassador is recommending and I agree with. But that is not what is going to happen in the next week or so.

    The Americans up until that time may not have succeeded in curbing or ending the Sunni insurgency or the Shia, Muqtada al-Sadr insurgency, but what we did do was keep major cities out of the hands of these people with American firepower, and that’s what’s lacking now. Without American firepower on the ground, city after city is going to fall, and you’re going to have a catastrophe the likes of which the Middle East has not seen in a long time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m assuming a debate, something like this, is going on inside the Obama administration right now.

    Ambassador Istrabadi, if — you’re saying you believe there is the political will on the part of Prime Minister Maliki to do what you’re saying, what you’re suggesting?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: I do not.

    He’s been the prime minister for eight years. I have seen no evidence that he is prepared to engage in any process of — any meaningful process of reconciliation. Having meetings, which he is perfectly willing to do, is not reconciliation. He is unwilling to share power.

    He has become, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what has to happen?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: We need new leadership in Iraq.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And who? Who?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: Let the Iraqis decide.

    Look, this is a moment for the Iraqi political to — the Iraq political elites, who have just been reelected, this is a moment for them to grow up. This is a moment for them to realize that the stakes aren’t personal. This isn’t some personal dispute. The country is at stake. They need to rise to the challenge, and they need to do so now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Jeffrey.

    JAMES JEFFREY: He’s absolutely right.

    Over the longer term, that’s exactly the problem. And Ambassador Istrabadi has got a good solution to it, whether that is with an alternative to Maliki, or, frankly, a new Maliki, because the old one wasn’t all that helpful, remains to be seen.

    But that’s weeks or months ahead. Right now, we have a military situation. And if we don’t stop these people moving ahead, there will be no parliament, there will be no government. There will be catastrophe all up and down Iraq.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we hear you both. And, clearly, this is the kind of urgent situation we are watching constantly.

    Ambassador Jeffrey, Ambassador Istrabadi, we thank you.

    JAMES JEFFREY: Thank you.

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: Thank you.

    The post Iraq faces existential crisis as Sunni insurgency gains ground appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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