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

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    GWEN IFILL: And, finally tonight, an extraordinary honor for an extraordinary deed.

    Jeffrey Brown has our story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: By November 2010, U.S. Marines were nine months into the first big push of President Obama’s Afghan surge to retake Marjah, a Taliban- held district of Southern Helmand Province.

    Lance Corporal Kyle Carpenter was 21, part of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.), Medal of Honor Recipient: We were tasked with pushing south into an enemy stronghold territory. And it was pretty simple. I mean, we were just tasked with taking over a new compound.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But things didn’t quite go that easily, right? The enemy was getting closer and closer?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): They were. We knew it was going to be bad. We knew we were probably going to take casualties. We didn’t know how bad, but, when we got down there and, very shortly after moving in, got our first grenade attack, it became even more real than what we had anticipated.

    JEFFREY BROWN: More real. Tell me, what does that mean?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Well, I mean, up until that point, for months and months, our worries were IEDs, stepping on IEDs, and pretty much from sun up to sundown on most days, we were in firefights.

    Usually, it was very uncommon to see hand grenades, because those are very — more of a hand-to-hand, you know, very short-range-type weapon. So for them to get that close, really no fault of our own…

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that tells you how close they were.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Very — yes, sir.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Marines knew it was a question of when, not if, grenades would be thrown on their position. On November 21, it happened.

    Carpenter was stationed on a rooftop with a fellow Marine when the grenade landed. He dove on it to save the life of Lance Corporal Nick Eufrazio.

    So, how much do you remember about what happened on that day when you were wounded?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Well, it’s kind of opposite what most people think. I don’t really remember anything of the entire day, and especially the moments leading up to being injured by the grenade.

    All I remember is a few brief seconds before I went unconscious after I was injured.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Carpenter had absorbed much of the blast. His arms were mangled, his jaw and mouth nearly destroyed. His skull was fractured. He lost his right eye, and had a collapsed lung. He was losing massive amounts of blood.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): I couldn’t really hear anything, and my vision was if you were looking at a TV and it didn’t have cable hooked up to it, and it was just that white and gray static look. The next thing I remembered is feeling like warm water was being poured all over me from the blood that had started to come out.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And that was your blood?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Yes, sir.

    And then, after — after that, I thought about my family and how devastated and upset they were going to be that I was killed in Afghanistan.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You were realizing at that moment that you might well die?  CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Very much.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Carpenter flatlined in the medevac chopper. When he arrived at the field hospital, he was labeled PEA, patient expired on arrival, so grievous were his wounds.

    What lay ahead was another grueling campaign for Carpenter, two-and-a-half years in hospitals and rehabilitation, dozens of surgeries, painful reconstructions and skin grafts. He says it got him down.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): But that was just a few times, going into the pre-op, something I had done so many times, and getting stuck here and getting stuck there and knowing you’re going to be all cut up and bandaged up and hurting when you get out.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You had to learn to do a lot of things again, right, normal everyday things, from walking to brushing your teeth.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Well, starting out, my mom brushed my teeth for a long time. And then, kind of when I got to be able to do it, I would.

    And then months and months down the road, I finally learned how to put my socks on, so I started doing that. So it’s still definitely a learning process, I mean, just this past week, you know, doing things that you learn how to make it happen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really, even up to today? What about the physical scars? Was that hard to get used to changes in the way you looked or maybe even the way that people looked at you?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): No, one, because my time at Walter Reed really helped me, being with all the other injured military service members that I was.

    And it’s never really been hard. I look at it more as, if I have to have these scars, I got them in defense of our nation and raising my right hand and volunteering to go into harm’s way for people back here at home, just like everybody else in the military does. So I would say I’m more proud of them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really?

    His extraordinary courage and sacrifice had not gone unnoticed, Carpenter’s name was put forward by his commanders for the Medal of Honor. And this past February, he received a phone call from the president.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Based on the recommendation of the secretary of Navy and secretary of defense, I have approved the award of the Medal of Honor to you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: When you first learned you would be receiving it, you struggled a bit with it. Why?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): I’m supposed to wear this medal when, every day, I would go down to the cafeteria in the building I lived at, at Walter Reed, and me and all my Marine buddies would be there, and you look around and you see one or two quadruple amputees, guys that have no limbs.

    And I’m sitting here getting ready to be honored in front of the entire nation. But…

    JEFFREY BROWN: That can be hard.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): I did struggle at first, but now I have the mind-set of, I can wear it for them, and I can try to do good things for them, and, really, I guess my honor is their honor.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And earlier this afternoon at the White House, Carpenter became the third Marine and 15th overall recipient since 9/11 of the nation’s highest military honor for conspicuous gallantry.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The man you see before you today, Corporal William Kyle Carpenter, should not be alive today.

    But we are here because this man, this United States Marine, faced down that terrible explosive power.

    You’ll notice that Kyle doesn’t hide his scars; he’s proud of them, and the service that they represent. And, now, he tells me this, and so I’m just quoting him — he says, the girls definitely like them.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So he’s kind of — he’s working an angle on this thing.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to say that in front of mom.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But there’s a quote there.

    Anybody who has had a chance to get to know this young man knows you’re not going to get a better example of what you want in an American or a Marine.

    Keep in mind, at the time, Kyle was just 21 years old. But in that instant, he fulfilled those words of Scripture: Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A number of Carpenter’s family members, friends, and comrades looked on. One not there was the man he saved. Nick Eufrazio suffered brain damage in the grenade attack and remains disabled.

    These days, 24-year-old Kyle Carpenter speaks to young audiences about his experiences. And he’s in school himself, a psychology major at the University of South Carolina.

    This all happened to you when you were so young. You’re still so young. Does it make you feel like you have a — I don’t know, a second lease on life or a mission for the rest of your life?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): It has made me really want to experience and I guess feel life every single day.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Feel life?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Mm-hmm. I mean, just things like driving around with the windows down in my car, or the doors off, which drives my mom crazy, but just simple things like…

    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re still her young son, right?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

    Just simple things like that, if it’s something new or something that, you know, is going to get me excited or get the adrenaline going or whatever it is to make me really feel like I am really making this second chance that I have been blessed with worth it, I absolutely do that, and I try to do everything I can.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I understand you’re even skydiving now.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): I have once. I’m still letting mom recover from the first time. And then I will do the second one.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you’re being honored as a hero. Do you feel like a hero?

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): No, sir.

    I feel like I’m on an even playing field and an even platform with everybody else, awards or not, with everybody else that raised their right hand and said, you know, I will going into harm’s way.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Corporal Kyle Carpenter, thanks so much for talking to us.

    And on behalf of all of us at the NewsHour, we wish you the very best.

    CPL. KYLE CARPENTER (RET.): Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They don’t come any finer.

    GWEN IFILL: That’s why they call it conspicuous gallantry.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.

    And we have an extended interview with Corporal Carpenter. You can watch that on our Rundown.

    The post Courage and sacrifice of marine who absorbed grenade blast hailed with Medal of Honor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    State prosecutors say the 2011 and 2012 campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, seen here in March 2011, broke election laws. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    State prosecutors say the 2011 and 2012 campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, seen here in March 2011, broke election laws. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

    Prosecutors are accusing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of participating in a “criminal scheme” to get around a state law banning coordination “in an effort to illegally coordinate fundraising among conservative groups to help his campaign and those of Republican state senators fend off recall elections during 2011 and ’12,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. There was even an email from Walker to Karl Rove indicating that one of his top deputies, R.J. Johnson, would lead the coordination.

    “Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin,” Walker wrote. “We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”

    The documents came out as a federal appeals judge weighs a lawsuit from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is trying to stop the investigation because the group believes it violates the club’s First Amendment rights. A U.S. District court judge temporarily halted it. The state bars campaigns from coordinating with outside groups, but the Wisconsin Club for Growth maintains the ban does not apply to it because in the club’s ads — supportive of Walker and hitting his opponent — never explicitly said to “vote for” or “vote against” anyone.

    On Thursday Walker called the allegations “categorically false” and said the effort by prosecutors “is nothing more than a partisan investigation with no basis in state law.”

    He pushed back again Friday in an appearance on Fox News, noting that two judges had already ruled against the prosecutors and “actually shut the case down.”

    Walker, who is facing a close re-election fight against Democrat Mary Burke this fall, said the investigation is a result of his push in 2011 to curb collective bargaining rights for state employees. “This is a prime example of what happens when you take on the big special interests.” The Democratic National Committee said the alleged coordination by Walker “is not only troubling and potentially illegal — it is a clear violation of the public’s trust.”

    What’s next for Walker? He and his team have been the subject of scrutiny for alleged coordination as well as doing campaign work on the public’s dime for two years. Democrat Tom Barrett focused on the investigation of Walker aides during the June 2012 recall fight, but failed to unseat the Republican governor.

    Following the release earlier this year of a fresh wave of emails from Walker’s staff during his 2010 run for governor (while he was Milwaukee County Executive), a Marquette Law School poll found the episode had a limited impact. Two-thirds of people surveyed said they had read or heard about the release of documents, but 53 percent of those respondents said the emails made no difference in their opinion of Walker. Forty-three percent said it gave them a less favorable view of the governor. How much the latest round of headlines resonates with voters will not only affect Walker’s chances this fall, but a potential run for the GOP nomination in 2016.

    Editor’s note: This text was excerpted from Friday’s Morning Line.

    The post What allegations of ‘criminal scheme’ could mean for Wisconsin governor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    With the surge of migrants, and especially those under 18, detention facilities near the border are being overwhelmed with children. Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    With the surge of migrants, and especially those under 18, detention facilities near the border are being overwhelmed with children. Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday it will open new detention facilities to house immigrant families caught crossing the border illegally, amid a surge from Central America.

    The administration did not immediately say how many people the new family detention centers will house or where they will be located. The government currently operates only one such facility, in York County, Pennsylvania, with space for fewer than 100 people.

    Tens of thousands of families, mostly mothers traveling with young children, have been apprehended at the border since the start of the budget year in October. The administration has released an unspecified number of them into the U.S. in recent months with instructions to report later to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices, but it won’t say how many have been released or subsequently appeared as ordered.

    Immigrants crossing the border illegally have overwhelmed U.S. immigration agencies. More than 174,000 people, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been arrested in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley this year.

    The spike in border crossers — southern Texas is now the busiest border crossing in the country — prompted the Homeland Security Department earlier this year to start sending families to other parts of Texas and Arizona for processing before releasing them at local bus stops.

    Family detention has long been a contentious issue for Homeland Security. In 2009 the department was forced to shutter a large family detention center in Texas after legal challenges about the conditions of the facility. And in 2012, ICE abandoned plans to accept bids for a new family detention center in Texas amid complaints from advocates about the possibility of housing immigrant families in jails.

    Also Friday, House Speaker John Boehner urged President Barack Obama to send National Guard troops to the southern border to help deal with the surge of children and other immigrants.

    Former President George W. Bush deployed thousands of troops to the border during his second term to augment the Border Patrol as it bolstered its ranks. Since then, the agency has nearly doubled to more than 20,000 agents and the number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally has declined overall.

    PBS NewsHour will have more on the influx of migrants and what it means for children who cross the border unaccompanied by a parent on Friday night’s show.

    The post Administration to open detention centers for families caught crossing the border appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Drones in national parks are a safety hazard and nuisance to visitors and wildlife, said Jonathan Jarvis, the park service's director. Photo by Flickr user Frank D'Amato

    Drones in national parks are a safety hazard and nuisance to visitors and wildlife, said Jonathan Jarvis, the park service’s director. Photo by Flickr user Frank D’Amato

    WASHINGTON — The National Park Service is taking steps to ban drones from 84 million acres of public lands and waterways, saying the unmanned aircraft annoy visitors, harass wildlife and threaten safety.

    Jonathan Jarvis, the park service’s director, told The Associated Press he doesn’t want drones flushing birds from their nests, hovering over rock climbers as they cling to the sides of cliffs or buzzing across the face of Mount Rushmore.

    Jarvis said he would sign a policy memorandum on Friday directing superintendents of the service’s 401 parks to write rules prohibiting the launching, landing or operation of unmanned aircraft in their parks.

    Two large national parks, Grand Canyon in Arizona and Zion in Utah, have already changed their rules to ban drones. Some other parks have interpreted existing regulations to permit them to ban drone flights, but Jarvis said each park must change its “compendium” — a set of regulations unique to that park — if a ban is to be enforceable.

    At Yosemite National Park in California, where officials announced last month they would adopt a policy prohibiting drone flights, hobbyists have been using unmanned aircraft to film the park’s famous waterfalls and capture close-up shots of climbers on its granite cliffs. Zion officials were spurred to take action after an incident in which an unmanned aircraft was seen harassing bighorn sheep and causing youngsters to become separated from their herd.

    At Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, park rangers last September confiscated an unmanned aircraft after it flew above 1,500 visitors seated in an amphitheater and then over the heads of the four presidents carved into the mountain.

    “Imagine you’re a big wall climber in Yosemite working on a four-day climb up El Capitan, and you’re hanging off a bulb ready to make a (difficult) move, and an unmanned aircraft flies up beside you and is hovering a few feet from your head with its GoPro camera running,” Jarvis said in an interview. “Think about what that does to your experience and your safety,”

    Some drone operators have complained that a ban favors some park users over others. They also say many unmanned aircraft flights are made without incident and with respect for other park users and wildlife.

    Unmanned aircraft range from no bigger than a hummingbird to the size of an airliner, and their capabilities are improving rapidly. Use is growing as their price tags decline. The park service wants to get out in front of that by putting in rules place now, Jarvis said.

    “This is a different kind of aircraft, and it is being used in different ways than what we have seen from the (model aircraft) hobbyists,” he said. “We want to have some control over it now before it proliferates.”

    The memorandum directs superintendents to continue to allow model aircraft hobbyists and clubs that already have approval to operate in some parks to continue to do so. Also, parks can continue to grant permits for drone flights for other purposes like research, search and rescue, and firefighting, he said. Commercial operators like moviemakers can also apply for a permit to operate a drone, he said.

    “We would have to hear why they would necessarily need this type of equipment in order to accomplish their goals,” Jarvis said.

    While parks are changing their individual rules, the park service will be drafting its own rule to ban drone flights in parks nationwide, he said. Jarvis said he hopes to have a proposal ready in about 18 months.

    The ban only affects what Jarvis described as “operations inside parks,” and not high altitude flights over parks.

    The park service has been working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration, although the service’s action is separate from the FAA’s ban on commercial drone flights, he said.

    The FAA ban is being challenged by commercial drone operators.

    Two years ago, Congress directed the FAA to put regulations in place provide for the safe integration of commercial drones into the national airspace. The regulations were supposed be finished by September 2015, but the agency isn’t expected to make that deadline.

    The post National Park Service moves to ban drones appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Fans have come under fire for using racial and homophobic slurs at the World Cup in Brazil. Mexico fans, seen here at the Estadio Castelao on Thursday in Fortaleza, are being investigated for the use of the chant, "puto," which means male prostitute. Photo by Alex LiveseyFIFA via Getty Images

    Fans have come under fire for using racial and homophobic slurs at the World Cup in Brazil. Mexico fans, seen here at the Estadio Castelao on Thursday in Fortaleza, are being investigated for the use of the chant, “puto,” which means male prostitute. Photo by Alex LiveseyFIFA via Getty Images

    Mexico coach Miguel Herrera has defended his country’s World Cup fans for what FIFA officials have called “improper conduct” for the use of a homophobic chant.

    Herrera defends the chant, “puto,” which translates from Spanish to “male prostitute.”

    “We’re with our fans. It’s something they do to pressure the opposing goalkeeper,” Herrera was quoted by the Associated Press on Friday.

    The Fare network, a U.K. group that monitors inequality and discrimination in soccer, reported the offensive slurs to FIFA after Mexico’s 1-0 win over Cameroon in Natal, Brazil, on June 13. The Telegraph reports that Fare has also cited Brazil’s fans for using the same chant.

    FIFA has since opened disciplinary proceedings against Mexico.

    Russia and Croatia fans similarly face action for waving “neo-Nazi” banners during their teams’ World Cup games.

    The post Mexico coach defends World Cup fans’ gay slurs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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  • 06/20/14--11:18: No country for lost kids
  • A record number of children from Central America are crossing the Mexico-U.S. border unaccompanied by a parent. Many of them are fleeing drug violence at home, but here in the United States, they’re faced with a new set of challenges –- a border patrol system unequipped to handle them and a future filled with uncertainty.

    Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz. have been central to processing  thousands of unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since 2012.  Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz. have been central to processing thousands of unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since 2012. Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    Every year, dozens of mothers converge on the central Mexican town of Tequisquiapan, where they lay pink paper flowers on a lonely stretch of train tracks to mourn their lost children. As the train passes, crushing the flowers, the mothers stand on the hot gravel siding and watch. They come from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Their children, among the tens of thousands who ride atop these trains each year attempting to cross the U.S. border, were the ones who didn’t make it.

    Then there are the children who do. The numbers of child migrants who survive the journey across the U.S. border have surged in the past two years, overwhelming every system designed to process them, from the border patrol to the courts.


    More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were caught trying to cross the southern U.S. border in the first five months of this year. Between 60,000 to 90,000 such children are expected to have crossed by the end of 2014, and more than 140,000 are expected next year, according to the White House. That’s more than double the 24,668 that flowed across last year and triple the 13,625 children that came in 2012, according to a recent report by the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group for unaccompanied immigrant children.

    And for the first time this year, most of these children are coming from three Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. U.S. government officials said that compared to previous years, a larger percentage of these children are girls and under the age of 13.

    Vice President Joe Biden arrives today in Guatemala, where he is expected to announce stepped-up efforts to speed immigration proceedings in order to “return unlawful migrants from Central America to their home countries more quickly,” according to a White House statement. This comes the same day that the U.S. government announced hundreds of millions of dollars for new programs aimed at the root causes of the exodus, among them gang violence and poverty.

    Here’s a look at why these children flee their homes, the dangerous trip to the border and the challenges they face on the other side.

    Childhood under threat at home

    Countries in what’s known as the isthmus, the region that stretches from Nicaragua to Guatemala, have the highest murder rates in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Data from that office shows Honduras is home to the deadliest city in the world, San Pedro Sula, where 169 out of every 100,000 people are murdered. The murder rate in Guatemala is nearly as bad and getting worse. And while El Salvador has seen a slight decrease in murders, it is still ranked fifth globally, according to the latest figures available.

    “The gangs buy congressmen and political support” said Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and Ambassador to the Organization of American States. “In Honduras, the president is actually involved in narco-trafficking. He’s certainly not going to put up a fight against these gangs.”

    Honduran policemen frisk a young man belonging to the Olympia club's Ultrafiel fans group, notoriously infiltrated by the "maras" (juvenile gangs), in Tegucigalpa, on February 10, 2013. Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

    Honduran policemen frisk a young man belonging to the Olympia club’s Ultrafiel fans group, notoriously infiltrated by the “maras” (juvenile gangs), in Tegucigalpa, on February 10, 2013. Photo by Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

    Gang violence in Central America escalated in 2006, when the Mexican army went to war with the cartels there, setting off a years-long street fight with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire. The war squeezed out the weaker gangs and “the smaller ones were displaced to Central America” said Noriega, where they were able to take root and in some instances displace local governments and police entirely.

    The MS-13 gang in El Salvador, is a violent exception to this trend. It started as a powerful criminal organization with a national reach in the United States but moved to Central America when many of its top leaders were deported.

    In El Salvador “you have the current president admitting that he elicited the support of MS-13 for his get-out-the-vote effort,” Noriega said.

    When Children Become Narco Targets

    Children are among those targeted by narco gangs, along with women and the very poor, and they’re often pressured into service as drug-mules and even assassins, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Sexual violence against them is common.

    Aura Perez was 16-years-old when she was kidnapped by a local drug lord in her small Honduran hometown. He repeatedly beat and raped her over a period of weeks, she told the NewsHour in a recent interview.

    “The big people force the children to take their clothes off and also make them sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them.”

    “He ran a cartel in the area that I’m from,” she said. “That’s how he met me, he was from my neighborhood.”

    Nodwin (last name withheld), an 11-year-old boy, traveled unaccompanied to the U.S. from Honduras last year. While in Honduras, he recalls watching gang members approach a boy his age while playing in the park, strip the boy naked and rape him.

    “The big people force the children to take their clothes off and also make them sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them,” Nodwin said.

    Jennifer Podkul is an attorney and senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission in Washington. She said that the cartels are “recruiting at schools, they’re recruiting at youth centers, they’re recruiting and going after children who are participating in youth groups and churches. So they’re really targeting a particular age group… It’s very similar to the child-soldier phenomenon in certain countries in Africa. It’s often easier to mold younger people.”

    In 2012, Podkul co-authored a report on child migrants. In her interviews with hundreds of children who made it to the U.S., violence or threats of violence was the main reason they gave for fleeing Central America. Similar and more recent investigations from the UN and others echo this.

    Refugee experts and the White House refer to this violence as a “push factor,” driving Central American children across the U.S. border. There are also “pull factors,” that is, reasons why children would choose to come to the U.S. once they leave their home counties.

    The source of these pull factors and the role they play in a child’s decision to come to the U.S. is hotly disputed by lawmakers and experts. But most children who come to the U.S. have family here.

    “if you’re going to leave your home, you’re going to try to go somewhere where you know somebody,” Podkul says.

    She notes that outward migration to more stable Panama and Costa Rica is also on the rise. Most children travelling alone to the U.S., do so because their families are here illegally, and if they leave the country, they may not be able to re-enter.

    Conservative lawmakers argue that the Obama administration is not tough enough in securing the southern border and that has enticed children to make the dangerous journey.

    At a June 11 hearing on the issue of child migrants on Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Jeff Sessions told Department of Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson that he held him and the president personally responsible for the rising numbers.

    “Your leadership and the president’s leadership has failed to send a clear message throughout the world that you can only come to the United States lawfully” Sessions said. “In fact, you’ve sent a message that conveys just the opposite.”

    His colleague, Texas Republican John Cornyn concurred, saying “the perception is that there are no consequences to illegally entering the United States.” Cornyn and others argue that policies like the DREAM act and others give the impression that amnesty for undocumented immigrants is just around the corner.

    Mark Krikorian is the Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think-tank in Washington that advocates for a more restrictive immigration policy. He says that the problem runs even deeper.

    “The perception is that there are no consequences to illegally entering the United States.”

    “The administration doesn’t really oppose illegal immigration,” he said. “I mean, the people in charge of immigration policy-making in this administration don’t really, in their heart of hearts, believe that we have a right to keep people out of the country who aren’t murderers or drug dealers — in other words, sort of regular illegal aliens who just want a job.”

    On June 20, House Speaker John Boehner wrote a letter to President Obama, calling for mobilization of the National Guard to the U.S. southern border.

    “The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond to such humanitarian crisis,” he wrote. “They are able to help deal with both the needs of these children and families as well as relieve the border patrol to focus on their primary duty of securing our border.”

    The terrifying journey across the desert and the Rio Grande

    It is a nearly 3,000-mile journey from Nicaragua to the southernmost tip of Texas, a region called the Rio Grande Valley, where most child migrants from Central America enter the United States.

    Most children begin their journey by bus, often accompanied by a coyote, or human trafficker, which costs a few thousand dollars. They stop at safe houses along the way that are usually crowded.

    Central American immigrants ride north atop a freight train known as "La Bestia,"  or "The Beast," near Juchitan, Mexico. It is part of a long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    Central American immigrants ride north atop a freight train known as “La Bestia,” or “The Beast,” near Juchitan, Mexico. It is part of a long and perilous journey through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

    Hamilton (real name withheld) was 16 when he fled El Salvador two years ago. He was too afraid of neighborhood gangs to walk to school alone, he said. His family raised money for a coyote who shepherded him and about 20 others to the border.

    He remembers one safe house near Tamaulipas, Mexico, owned by a kind older woman.

    “We spent a full week in that house,” he said. The owner “treated us like her sons. (She would ask) do you want to eat something? Are you hungry? So i didn’t feel so bad in that house.”

    But the next house, closer to the U.S. border, was smaller and run by a man who disappeared shortly into Hamilton’s two-week stay there.

    “This new house was horrible,” he recalled. He said that he and 20 others slept in a room not much bigger than ten square feet and there was little to eat. “It was unhealthy.”

    Along this journey, children can be targeted by criminal organizations, who kidnap and hold them for ransom. Those too poor to hire a coyote to arrange transport are forced to walk and hitchhike much of the way. In Mexico they ride atop trains.

    The Central American children traveling across the border ride atop a train called "La bestia."

    The Central American children traveling across the border ride atop a train called “La bestia.”

    “The train is called La Bestia, the beast that travels through Mexico,” Podkul said. “A lot of people fall off the train. There have been accidents. Children have talked to me about seeing people fall asleep, and then they fall off the train.”

    Many others are maimed and killed while riding The Beast.

    The Mexican border patrol is increasingly vigilant about catching migrants on its southern border. Nodwin, for example, was captured by the Mexican border patrol and returned to Honduras. It often takes two or three attempts to successfully make it to the U.S.

    Crossing the Rio Grande river is also dangerous, especially for a child. Nodwin forded the river in an inflatable raft that sunk when it was punctured on a sharp rock. “I went under the water,” he recalls, “but I managed to grab onto a piece of wood, and that’s how I saved myself.

    Nodwin was clinging to that piece of wood when he finally entered the United States.

    Children spend weeks in windowless “hold rooms”

    After crossing the border, most children enter the custody of the Customs and Border Protection. Many are captured at the border by patrols; many others turn themselves in.

    Two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Brownsville, Texas, where hundreds of children, most from Central America, are being held after crossing the border. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    Two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Brownsville, Texas, where hundreds of children, most from Central America, are being held after crossing the border. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    Because these children are from non-contiguous countries (not Canada or Mexico), they cannot be immediately deported, but must first go before a judge. This is according to U.S. law, as well as international refugee treaties to which the U.S. is party.

    In the meantime, they continue through a system created to process minor migrants, which begins with a stay in U.S. Border Patrol custody.

    By law, children must remain in Border Patrol custody for no more than 72 hours. But because of the massive increase in child migrants, children often spend weeks in what are essentially jail cells, Podkul said.

     A young boy bows his head in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the border. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    A young boy bows his head in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection after crossing the border. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    She describes these “short-term hold rooms”: “It’s a very small room, it’s just concrete, it has no window to the outside and there’s no bed. There might be a toilet but it’s in a public area.”

    She adds that some children have no access to blankets or hot meals during this time.

    Reuniting families comes under scrutiny

    Once space is found in a more child-appropriate facility, children are transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the department of Health and Human Services. Some of these facilities, like the temporary one at Lackland Air Force Base outside of San Antonio, are run by private non-profits.

    The facilities are akin to a daycare, with activities and trained childcare professionals.

    “They looked after me,” said Nodwin of his time in ORR custody. It was “like having a nanny. We would call her ‘auntie’ and we had everything we needed to play, and if we were good she would take us (on field trips).”

    But in the last few months, these facilities too have become overwhelmed. The government quickly arranged temporary facilities, and some volunteer groups have provided sanitary products and other needed items. In addition to the Lackland facility, HHS has leased in Oklahoma and California.

    While in these child-specific facilities, agency officials track down any family or potential guardians who could take custody of the children. If a relative or guardian can be found, the child is transported (by plane if necessary), to that person’s custody, at the government’s expense.

    In January 2013, Nodwin was flown to Northern Virginia, where his parents were living and his father had found a job in construction. He was raised by his grandmother and had no memory of his parents. They left Honduras when he was 5.5 months old.

    The 11-year-old describes the moment he first saw his parents, ran to them and hugged them. “Welcome to your parents’ home,” they told him. “Then I went to see my aunt who I had never seen before, and on my first day at school I made a lot of friends and from that day forth I made even more friends,” he said.

    The idea of reuniting these children with their families has come under scrutiny though. Last December, a federal judge in Texas issued an order in the case of a 10-year-old girl whose mother paid a coyote $8,500 to bring her to the U.S. from El Salvador. She was reunited with her mother through ORR, and the judge charged the Department of Homeland Security with “completing the criminal mission” of human traffickers. “The DHS, instead of enforcing our border security laws, actually assisted the criminal conspiracy in achieving its illegal goals,” he wrote.

    The Obama administration insists that all children, with few exceptions, will eventually be deported.

    “When we got off the plane, the person traveling with me asked me, ‘If you see your mom, do you think you will recognize her?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s my mom!’”

    Cecilia Munoz is the director of the domestic policy council at the White House. “The end result of this process,” she told NewsHour in an interview, “is likely to be that the vast majority of those kids end up going back. There may be some isolated cases where there is some basis for them to be able to stay, but the borders of the United States are not open, not even for children who come on their own, and the deportation process starts when they get here, and we expect that it will continue for the vast majority of these kids.”

    But it is unclear how many children are actually deported each year. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deporting children and adults, declined a NewsHour request for these numbers.

    Courts overwhelmed

    Once children are placed in the custody of a guardian, they receive a court date.

    At a press conference last week, HHS official Mark Greenberg made clear that deportation was the end goal of this process. “Our focus is moving the children out of the facilities and to a sponsor for this period,” he said. “While they are with the sponsor, they are still fully subject to the removal proceedings.”

    The immigration court system is complicated, and many children do not have the benefit of an attorney. The government is not required to provide legal representation, as in criminal cases, because immigration is a civil matter.

    According to immigration lawyers, if a child is picked up by Border Patrol in Texas, the venue for the first court appearance would likely be in the Lone Star State, even if the child has since been reunited with her family in Iowa. As a result, many children miss court deadlines and are automatically placed in deportation proceedings.

    Placement centers that hold migrants, like this in in Nogales, Arizona, have been overflowing with the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    Placement centers that hold migrants, like this in in Nogales, Arizona, have been overflowing with the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since Oct. 1. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

    “It’s a very small room, it’s just concrete, it has no window to the outside and there’s no bed.”

    These children may be eligible for a number of visas or asylum claims, though applying for them takes lots of paperwork that must be prepared in English. Further complicating the situation, the parents of most of these children are in the U.S. illegally and fear visiting a courthouse.

    “If they had an uncle who went to court and was never seen again,” said one attorney, “there is going to be a fear of the whole system.”

    Even if a child does have an attorney and can file for a visa or asylum claim, the process will take years. The average wait time for an immigration case to make it’s way through the system is 516 days from beginning to end, according to TRAC Immigration, a non-partisan, non-profit website based at Syracuse University that analyzes immigration data. In places with large concentrations of immigrants, it can be much longer. Phoenix, Los Angeles and New York City have the longest average times, at 1,022, 890 and 861 days, respectively.

    No Status, Uncertain Future

    At an immigration court in Arlington, Virginia, last month, some two dozen children went before an immigration judge one at a time. Their ages ranged from a one-year-old who came to the U.S. in the arms of his 17-year-old mother to 18-year-old teenagers. The judge gave those without an attorney a new court date and a list of pro-bono lawyers, ordering them to secure representation.

    Juvenile immigration court is a traditionally adversarial process, with a prosecutor who usually makes the case that a child should be deported and, in the best case, a lawyer representing the child.

    But if the child has no lawyer, there is little chance that she or he will be able to stay, even if they have a valid asylum claim.

    Detainees, with the shoe strings removed, wait at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    Detainees, with the shoe strings removed, wait at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville,Texas. Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images

    In 2012 the VERA Institute of Justice published a report on unaccompanied minors in the legal system that found that as many as 40 percent are “eligible for a form of
    legal relief from removal such as asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, or visas for victims of crime or trafficking.”

    “But without an attorney,” says Meghan McKenna of Kids in Need of Defense, “there’s no way they can make a case for themselves.”

    It is a Faustian bargain these children make to stay in the U.S. If they don’t go to court and instead opt to stay in the U.S. illegally, they will live in limbo. They can go to school but in most states will not qualify for in-state college tuition. In most places, a driver’s license is out of the question and any arrest or even police run-in could result in immediate deportation.

    But for a child like Nodwin, who is lucky enough to have an attorney making an asylum claim on his behalf, all of this uncertainty is better than returning to the violence he left behind.

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    Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    Brian Schweitzer, a former governor of Montana, has made his fair share of political blunders lately. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    I believe it has been well established in this space that I like politics and generally respect politicians.

    Sometimes, however, it is a challenge.

    Take Brian Schweitzer. Please.

    In a crazily detailed National Journal profile, Schweitzer (a Montana Democrat, former governor, current MSNBC contributor and pondering presidential hopeful) compared Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein to a prostitute, suggested outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor might be gay and said that southern men in general are effeminate.

    I know. That paragraph is crazy, right? Here is the exact passage from Marin Cogan’s story:

    Schweitzer is incredulous that Feinstein—considered by her critics to be too close to the intelligence community—was now criticizing the [CIA]. ‘”She was the woman who was standing under the streetlight with her dress pulled all the way up over her knees, and now she says, ‘I’m a nun,’ when it comes to this spying!” he says. Then, he adds, quickly, “I mean, maybe that’s the wrong metaphor—but she was all in!”

    (It wasn’t the only time Schweitzer was unable to hold his tongue. Last week, I called him on the night Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated in his GOP primary. “Don’t hold this against me, but I’m going to blurt it out. How do I say this … men in the South, they are a little effeminate,” he offered when I mentioned the stunning news. When I asked him what he meant, he added, “They just have effeminate mannerisms. If you were just a regular person, you turned on the TV, and you saw Eric Cantor talking, I would say—and I’m fine with gay people, that’s all right—but my gaydar is 60-70 percent. But he’s not, I think, so I don’t know. Again, I couldn’t care less. I’m accepting.”)

    Once I snapped my jaw shut, I started to think about how often seasoned, reasonably experienced politicians step in it.

    There was Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who, while being interviewed by Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour, assailed Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine (who had preceded him in a conversation about Iraq), essentially calling him a liar.

    Kaine argued that the Iraqi leadership resisted U.S. offers to leave a residual force on the ground to help with the transition after the war ended. “When the foreign minister of Iraq says, we know you wanted to stay, but we stiff-armed you and told you to get out,” Kaine said, “I actually think that that’s probably the state of affairs; they didn’t want us.”

    It was already on the record that McCain sees that history differently. But when Judy asked him to respond to Kaine’s comment, he did not merely disagree in that cordial way we have come to expect from United States senators.

    “What Senator Kaine is saying is just totally false,” McCain said. “In fact, it’s a lie, because Lindsey Graham and I were there. And we know what happened, because we were there face to face.”

    According to McCain, the Obama administration dropped the ball by failing to provide a serious troop strength number.

    “Those are very strong words, accusing Senator Kaine of lying,” Judy interjected.

    “No,” McCain replied. “I’m saying it is a lie to say …that the Iraqis rejected. It was President Obama’s commitment to get everybody out of Iraq. That’s the overriding fact here.”

    So, the reasoning went, Kaine lied, but wasn’t a liar?

    No matter which man has his facts correct, this was not a shining moment in senatorial comity.

    There are plenty of examples of this, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Part of the reason I admire public servants is because the good ones are effective conveyor belts for our citizenship. You may not agree with Sarah Palin or Harry Reid, but they represent something real and visceral in our national public debate.

    That’s until they veer off course, forsaking debate for invective and elucidation for evasion. Seems there is a better way, especially among people who aspire to lead.

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    resident Barack Obama speaks about Iraq in the Brady Briefing room of the White House on June 19, 2014. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    resident Barack Obama speaks about Iraq in the Brady Briefing room of the White House on June 19, 2014. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    It has been a rough week for President Barack Obama.

    The prospect of the United States being dragged back into Iraq, a war the president thought he had ended, has spurred criticism on both sides and presents yet another foreign-policy complication that threatens his presidency.

    Foreign hotspots – from Iraq to Syria to Ukraine — have tested Mr. Obama and taken a toll on his standing. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.pdf) this week found him with the lowest foreign policy approval of his presidency — just 37 percent. His approval is down from 52 percent in Dec. 2012 right after he was re-elected.

    The president finds himself in a difficult spot. He’ll get blamed for problems around the world, even ones with no tidy solutions. But there’s little indication war-weary Americans want the U.S., and specifically American troops, to do much about them.

    But even bigger than just foreign policy, the NBC/WSJ poll also found Obama’s presidency on the edge–if not worse.

    His approval rating of 41 percent is an all-time low for the president in the poll. What’s worse, Americans say they don’t have confidence in his ability to lead — 54 percent say he can’t lead and get the job done, including 61 percent of independents. And they even find him and his administration LESS competent than George W. Bush’s after Hurricane Katrina — 50 percent say Obama and his administration are not very competent, four percentage points worse the Bush administration in March 2006.

    Those numbers and more led political watcher Charlie Cook to conclude that voters may have simply tuned out Mr. Obama.

    “There was a point when voters hit the mute button and stopped listening to George H.W. Bush and then to his son George W. Bush,” Cook writes. “We now seem to have reached that point with Obama. Voters have thrown up their hands and lost hope that things will get any better.”

    So what might it mean or not mean for the midterm elections, in which Republicans appear close to retaking control of the Senate? The NBC/WSJ poll, for one, presents a cloudy picture. No one came out looking very good in the poll.

    Just 29 percent view the Republican Party favorably. Democrats are marginally better at 36 percent. And after Virginia congressman Eric Cantor’s loss to a tea party opponent and ahead of Tuesday’s Mississippi primary, in which incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran is in a fight for his political life against his own tea party opponent, a record 40 percent of Americans think the tea party has too much influence on the GOP.

    Obama’s approval certainly doesn’t help Democrats, especially in the red states where much of this election is being fought. An NPR poll finds Obama’s approval at just 38 percent in 12 states with competitive Senate races.

    But if views of the president are already baked in, and Democrats are still leading in some key places, Obama’s coattails might not be as bad as history shows. As FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote Wednesday, “What we’re left with is two unpopular entities — Obama and Congress — somewhat offsetting each other, leading to a national environment…in which neither party has that great of an edge.”

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    At least 12 people were killed and an unknown number still missing, officials said, after heavy flooding and torrential rains paralyzed parts of Bulgaria Thursday and Friday.

    In the worst-hit Black Sea resort town of Varna, floodwaters rose up to 3.2 ft., cars were swept on top of one another, and thick mud blanketed the streets.

    The regions of Varna and Burgas have seen roughly the equivalent of a month’s rain over the past 24 hours, according to forecasters.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of Ukraine announced a one-week unilateral cease-fire today. Petro Poroshenko ordered government forces to put down their weapons against pro-Russian separatists, but he said, if fired upon, troops could fire back. Rebel leaders immediately dismissed the cease-fire, and so did Russia.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said it has information Russia is accumulating tanks and artillery near the border with Ukraine and has redeployed forces there.

    The number of people in the world who are living as refugees has passed 50 million, for the first time since World War II. A U.N. report found by the end of last year the number of refugees had jumped by six million over the previous year to 51.2 million. The massive increase was driven largely by the civil war in Syria.

    But the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says conflicts are multiplying around the world, with few solutions in sight.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES, UN High Commissioner for Refugees: There is a general sense of impunity. Conflicts emerge, dramatic violations of human rights appear, and the international community has lost much of its capacity to prevent conflict situations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Afghanistan still accounts for the highest number of refugees in the world, and neighboring Pakistan hosts more refugees than any other country.

    Three U.S. troops were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan today. A U.S. defense official said the bomb went off in Southern Afghanistan, and the troops’ military dog was also killed.

    In Syria today, a truck loaded with about three tons of explosives killed at least 34 civilians. More than 50 others were wounded. The Islamic Front claimed responsibility. The rebel group posted a video online showing a ball of fire rising into the sky overnight near the city of Hama. Daylight revealed a large crater in the ground and damaged buildings.

    The latest round of nuclear talks with Iran ended in Vienna today with uncertainty. The leader of the U.S. negotiation team, Wendy Sherman, said there’s a working document, but it’s heavily bracketed because of outstanding disagreements. Iran’s representative, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters the demands were excessive.

    Foreign Minister, Iran: We have started putting everything on paper, not agreeing on anything, but at least having in rather black-and-white form what each side believes should be done.

    From our perspective, what we have put forward is a resolution, not a repetition of our position. We believe that if other side does the same, we will reach a common position and hopefully resolve this issue by July 20.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: July 20 is when an interim agreement with the six world powers expires. Under that deal, Iran scaled back parts of its nuclear program in exchange for fewer economic sanctions.

    Heavy flooding and torrential rains paralyzed parts of Bulgaria today. At least 12 people were killed, and an unknown number of others are still missing. In the Black Sea resort town of Varna, cars sat on top of each other and the streets were blanketed with thick mud. The amount of rain that fell in the last 24 hours was roughly what they’d see in a month.

    The medical group Doctors Without Borders warned today that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now — quote — “totally out of control.”  The epidemic has already claimed more than 300 lives across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. There is no cure for the deadly virus. Medical officials say they’re struggling to meet the high demand for treatment, especially now that the disease has spread to densely populated areas.

    Two hundred and nineteen Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing more than two months after being kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The brigadier general who heads the Nigerian government’s investigation gave that update today. The girls were taken from their secondary school in the village of Chibok back in mid-April; 57 others who were taken have been reunited with their families.

    In Washington, a congressional hearing with IRS commissioner John Koskinen turned into a shouting match over the issue of thousands of lost e-mails. Last week, the IRS acknowledged that an unknown number were permanently lost due to a series of hard drive crashes. Some were from former IRS executive Lois Lerner, who has been accused of holding up applications from Tea Party and other conservative groups for tax-exempt status.

    Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin accused Koskinen of lying in the probe.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, Chair, House Budget Committee: Hard drives crashed. You learned about this months ago. You just told us. And we had to ask you on Monday. This is not being forthcoming. This is being misleading again. This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial.

    JOHN KOSKINEN, IRS Commissioner: I have a long career. That’s the first time anybody has said they do not believe me. I am…

    REP. PAUL RYAN: I don’t believe you.

    JOHN KOSKINEN: That’s fine. We can have a disagreement. I am willing to stand on our record.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrats at the hearing repeatedly objected to Republicans who interrupted the commissioner before he could answer. Some of them gave up their own question time to give Koskinen a chance to respond to the Republicans’ accusations.

    The Obama administration expanded a range of federal marriage rights to same-sex couples today. The Labor Department announced a new rule that allows eligible employees to take off work to care for their spouses, even in states where their marriages are not recognized. It’s the latest in a series of changes since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today raised the number of workers who may have been exposed to anthrax. The agency now believes that 84 scientists and staff members in Atlanta could have come in contact with the live anthrax bacteria after it was improperly handled. So far, no illnesses have been reported and more than 50 workers are taking precautionary antibiotics.

    There were more milestones for stocks on Wall Street today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 25 points to close at 16,947. The Nasdaq rose more than eight points to close at 4,368. The S&P 500 added three points to close above 1,962. For the week, the Dow gained about a percent. The Nasdaq and S&P rose more than a percent as well.

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    Note: This video has been edited due to web restrictions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Iraq today, government troops were poised to take the fight north to Sunni extremists, while the spiritual leader of the country’s Shiite majority called for a new working government.

    Sectarian division has so far prevented the political party of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from claiming its seats in parliament. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, urged the newly elected body to convene quickly and choose a speaker and president.

    A representative read Sistani’s sermon in Karbala.

    AHMED AL-SAFI, Representative for Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (through interpreter): It is also important that winning blocs open dialogue to help form an effective government largely acceptable to all, in order to surmount past mistakes and open new horizons for a better future to all Iraqis.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in the United States, the Pentagon said it expects Iraq to agree to legal protections for the incoming group of U.S. military advisers. American forces left the country in 2011 after the Iraqi government refused to grant U.S. service members legal immunity.

    Hundreds of miles north of Baghdad in the ISIL-controlled city of Mosul, there are signs that once-fearful residents are beginning to return home to try life under the militant group’s rule.

    We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News, who is just outside the city.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: It is perched precariously and it is precarious in more ways than one, the Monastery of St. Matthew, 1,600 years old, its cloisters still echoing with Aramaic, the language of Christ himself, but a sanctuary for months now shelters 50 Christian families after their city, Mosul, was conquered by Islamic extremists last week.

    “They tell us to trust us,” this woman told me. “They tell us they won’t hurt us, but we’re not going back because we don’t trust them.”

    Her husband was killed by jihadists in Mosul two years ago. Now ISIS is in charge, they fear they will be branded as heretics and executed.

    FATHER YOUSID BANNA, Mosul Priest: So what you hear that if you stay in Mosul, you will have a lot of problems, your churches will be destroyed, so they are afraid and they left Mosul. Most of the families, especially the Christian, left Mosul.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: This was as close to Iraq’s second city as we dared go, a checkpoint manned by Kurdish fighters patrolling the border of a vast new self-declared Islamic state.

    And to our surprise, a queue to get in — Iraq’s government is apparently so hated by so many here that even some Christians are giving the ISIS alternative a chance.

    MAN: We don’t think worse happened to the church, our homes. As a Christian, there is nothing, you know?

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: So you as a Christian are not worried about these…

    MAN: No.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: You’re not?

    MAN: I think it’s OK.

    “We’re not afraid. They’re doing nothing to civilians,” said this man.

    “If you leave your car somewhere, it will be safe and nobody will steal it,” says another.

    ISIS seems to be trying to win hearts and minds in Mosul, and here, we’re just a few hundred meters from the ISIS front line. But nobody knows how long the group’s restraint will last, given that it has boasted about executing prisoners south of here.

    But these are the scarred remains of the army, which beat a rapid retreat from Mosul last week. Many soldiers deserted. This dejected handful didn’t, though one admitted to us there wasn’t much hope of getting the city back.

    And that forces the two million people of Mosul to choose whether to stay or to go. Hundreds of thousands have fled from ISIS, those without money or relatives living in camps in unbearable heat, a dwindling number of Christians either clinging on in their ancient homeland or heading for the hills to pray.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the future of Iraq’s government, its leader, and the reaction on the ground to President Obama’s decision to send hundreds of military advisers to the country.

    The New York Times’ Rod Nordland has been reporting on all these fronts from Baghdad. I spoke to him earlier this afternoon.

    Rod Nordland, welcome to the program.

    A lot going on there, in particular this statement by the cleric, the grand ayatollah, calling on the country’s political parties to quickly come together to form a government.

    ROD NORDLAND, The New York Times: I think people are reading more into that statement than is actually there, but that certainly is the sentiment among a lot of political leaders here, even people that were allies of Mr. Maliki, say, a year ago or even less.

    And there are quite a few other politicians who think there is actually a chance of putting together a coalition that could unseat him. And they feel emboldened now, because they see support from a lot of quarters, including particularly the Americans and President Obama with his remarks last night, which were hardly very supportive of the current prime minister.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just how much support is there right now for making a change in government?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, Maliki does have his supporters. He was the single biggest vote-getter. Something like 750,000 people voted for him, and he has more seats than any other single bloc or party.

    But he doesn’t have enough seats to make government on his own. And he has almost zero support from Sunnis and from Kurds. Probably, zero is a better figure. And, without that, without some support from other groups in the country, he’s not going to be able to effectively fight this insurgency.

    And I think people increasingly are coming to that conclusion, that either he has to do something dramatic to show that he’s willing to include Sunnis and Kurds in his government, or he has to stand aside.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Has Maliki indicated any willingness to step aside?

    ROD NORDLAND: Not at all.

    And, in fact, he’s shown very little willingness to even recognize that he has a problem. We saw his reconciliation minister the other day, who flatly said there can be no reconciliation during the war. And, you know, that’s the kind of remark that just, you know, convinces the Sunnis, who are, after all, the breeding ground for these militants advancing toward Baghdad, that they just have no hope of working with this government.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what will the process be for making changes, for making a change at the top?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, there will be two weeks of deliberations among the parties, and if enough of them can get together to oppose Maliki, you know, they could be the ones who ultimately choose the new prime minister.

    The first step is forming the parliament, and then the parliament would choose the president, prime minister, speaker of the house, and other officials. But, generally, what happens is, it’s kind of a package deal. And once parliament convenes, they have it all worked out. And those other parties, if enough of them get together, then they do have — among them, they have a pretty sound majority.

    On the other hand, Maliki has a lot of the cards. He controls the government. He has the biggest single bloc, and he has a lot of support among his core constituency, the Shia.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Rod Nordland, how much of a factor is Iran in all of this?  What are they saying to Maliki about what he should do?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, publicly, you know, the president of Iran, Rouhani, even said that he thinks Maliki needs to do more. He’s basically on the same — the same page as the Americans on that score.

    And they have also said that they would be willing to work with the Americans. But it’s also clear to everybody, if insurgents got as far as Baghdad and even further south and threatened the Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, the Iranians would probably be compelled — or feel compelled to step in.

    And if they did that, that risks provoking other neighbors in the region, and even leading to a much wider regional war, which, at the end of the day, is what ISIS is all about. They want to see — the bigger the war, the better.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Rod, finally, what is the reaction you’re hearing there to President Obama’s announcement that he’s sending 300 American military advisers to Iraq?

    ROD NORDLAND: Well, I think, generally speaking, most Iraqis are pleased to hear that. They think that the United States does have to get involved again. And, certainly, people on Maliki’s side have wanted to see that for some time.

    I think the Sunnis are a little bit more nervous about it. And they certainly — nobody wants to see another big American involvement. And I think they’re a bit suspicious of that. And then, on the radical Shia side, people like Muqtada al-Sadr’s followers have actually — some of them have actually said they would like to attack any American advisers who arrive.

    So it’s kind of a mixed picture, as it always has been in this country when it comes to American involvement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very, very tough situation.

    Rod Nordland with The New York Times, we thank you.

    ROD NORDLAND: Pleasure.

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    Two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Brownsville, Texas, where hundreds of children, most from Central America, are being held after crossing the border. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Joe Biden is in Guatemala today meeting with Central American leaders. He’s hoping to get their help in stopping the surge of unaccompanied minors arriving in the U.S. The flood of children has become a crisis for the government as it scrambles for solutions.

    NewsHour reporter P.J. Tobia prepared this report on why these children are coming and what’s happening to them once they arrive.

    P.J. TOBIA: Last year, 11-year-old Nodwin survived a journey that has killed many adults. He traveled from Honduras to the U.S. border over land almost entirely by himself. He almost drowned crossing the Rio Grande River near Texas in an inflatable raft.

    NODWIN, Child Migrant (through interpreter): The boat suffered a puncture, and I went under the water, but I managed to grab onto a piece of wood, and that’s how I saved myself.

    P.J. TOBIA: He says he made this dangerous journey because his hometown in Honduras has been overrun by criminal gangs.

    NODWIN (through interpreter): Big people force the children to sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them.

    P.J. TOBIA: Nodwin once witnessed a boy his own age gang-raped in a neighborhood park after the child refused to join a local drug gang.

    NODWIN (through interpreter): They were stripping a kid naked, and I went to tell the kid’s mom. Later, I went home, but I didn’t want to leave my house, because they could have done the same thing to me.

    P.J. TOBIA: He was living with his grandmother at the time and his parents, undocumented immigrants who live here in Northern Virginia, quickly hired a coyote, or human trafficker, to bring their son through Mexico to the U.S. border.

    His story is not unique. The government says that by May of this year, more than 47,000 unaccompanied children were caught crossing the U.S. border. Between 60,000 and 90,000 are expected to come in 2014, according to the White House. That’s more than twice as many as last year, three times as many as in 2012.

    They come alone, because many have parents here in the U.S. who are undocumented and can’t easily leave and return to the country. The majority come from the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They enter through the Rio Grande Valley section of the Texas border.

    JENNIFER PODKUL, Women’s Refugee Commission: There have been an increase in gang activities in those countries and there is also not very strong rule of law in those areas, in those countries.

    P.J. TOBIA: Jennifer Podkul is senior program officer at the Women’s Refugee Commission. She’s interviewed hundreds of children who’ve made the journey from Central America.

    JENNIFER PODKUL: They’re seeking children of this age, and they’re recruiting at schools, they’re recruiting at youth centers, they’re recruiting and going after children who are participating in youth groups and churches.

    So they’re really targeting a particular age group.

    P.J. TOBIA: The government says that, compared to previous years, more of the children are under the age of 13.

    Roger Noriega is a former assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. He says the worsening violence in Central American countries is drug-related.

    ROGER NORIEGA, Former Assistant Secretary of State: They sit in this corridor of cocaine trafficking northward to the U.S. market. Weak institutions in most of these countries. They don’t have the capacity to resist the criminality and violence that’s associated with drug trafficking.

    P.J. TOBIA: For children trying to escape the violence, the journey can be deadly.

    JENNIFER PODKUL: Many of them, particularity if they don’t have a lot of money, they will ride on top of a train. They refer to train as la bestia, the beast, that travels through Mexico.

    A lot of people fall off the train. And there have been accidents. Children have talked to me about seeing people fall asleep and then they fall off the train or limbs getting cut off when somebody falls off of it.

    P.J. TOBIA: After crossing the border, most children are caught by Customs and Border Patrol Agency. Many just turn themselves in. So many are now coming that temporary shelters are being used. These images are from a Border Patrol facilities in Brownsville, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona.

    JENNIFER PODKUL: These stations are designed as short-term hold rooms. It’s a very small room. It’s just concrete. It has no windows to the outside. There’s no bed. There might be a toilet, but it’s in a public area. And the children are just sitting there. Some are not given blankets. Some are not given any hot meals. They’re only given cookies or juice. And they’re up — they’re there for up to 10 days, even two weeks.

    P.J. TOBIA: By law, 72 hours is the longest children can be kept in CBP custody. After, the children are turned over to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which tries to reunite them with family. If they have no family, they remain in HHS custody.

    MAN: Our focus is moving the children out of the facilities and to a sponsor for this period. While they are with the sponsor, they are still fully subject to removal proceedings.

    P.J. TOBIA: After these kids arrive in the U.S. and are reunited with a parent or guardian, they usually end up in a juvenile immigration courtroom, like this one, to see if they qualify for asylum or a visa. If they don’t, they’re supposed to be deported.

    Last month, Nodwin sat right here. His attorney is preparing an asylum claim. But because of the number of children and adults coming to the U.S. every day, getting a hearing can take years.

    Meanwhile, Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas say the Obama administration has enticed children to make the journey. Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified before Congress about the surge of child migrants.

    SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R, Tex.: There is this perception that the executive branch of the federal government is not enforcing the law because of talks about easing deportations.

    JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security: I’m not sure I agree that that is the motivator for people coming in, for the children coming into South Texas. I think it is primarily the conditions in the countries that they are leaving from.

    P.J. TOBIA: Conservatives argue that White House policies, like deferred action for childhood arrivals, which allows some younger undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, have sent the message that now is the time to come to the U.S. illegally.

    Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for a tougher immigration policy.

    MARK KRIKORIAN, Center for Immigration Studies: The administration doesn’t really oppose illegal immigration. I mean, the people in charge of immigration policy-making in this administration don’t really, in their heart of hearts, believe that we have a right to keep people out of the country who aren’t murderers or drug dealers, in other words, sort of regular illegal aliens who just want a job.

    P.J. TOBIA: As a senior adviser to President Obama for domestic policy, Cecilia Munoz is one of the people in the administration Krikorian is talking about. She denies White House policy is encouraging kids to come.

    CECILIA MUNOZ, White House Domestic Policy Council: That argument would have you believe that these folks are leaving their countries, crossing all of Mexico, alone, and entering into the United States in order to benefit from programs that they’re not even eligible for.

    P.J. TOBIA: She concedes there’s a perception in Central America partly responsible for pushing families to make risky decisions.

    CECILIA MUNOZ: There are false rumors that if you can get to the United States, maybe you can stay. Those are false, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that people in those countries understand that there are no provisions in the law to provide for these children to stay, that the border is not open for children.

    P.J. TOBIA: According to a 2012 study by the VERA Institute, a nonprofit that researches court systems, many children are not granted relief from removal, despite having legitimate claims to a visa or asylum. Immigration attorneys and experts say that most children are placed in removal proceedings within one year of arrival. Some of those who have been released can be difficult to track down and physically deport. Those with attorneys continue to fight.

    CECILIA MUNOZ: The borders of the United States are not open, not even for children who come on their own, and the deportation process starts when they get here, and we expect that it will continue for the vast majority of these kids.

    P.J. TOBIA: Back in Northern Virginia, Nodwin is getting to know his parents, who left Honduras when he was just five-and-a-half months old. They didn’t want their faces shown in this report.

    NODWIN (through interpreter): When I saw them, I ran towards them and hugged them, and they told me, “Welcome to your parents’ home.”

    P.J. TOBIA: He’s allowed to stay in the U.S. while his asylum claim makes its way through the courts. He’s also just finished his first full year of American school.

    NODWIN (through interpreter): On my first day at school, I made a lot of friends. And from that day forth, I made even more friends.

    P.J. TOBIA: His father told me he wants Nodwin to one day play in the World Cup, but not for Honduras, for team USA.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This afternoon, the White House announced tens of millions of dollars of additional funding for security, economic and repatriation programs in Central America.

    Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner urged the president in a letter to immediately send the National Guard to help deal with what he calls the national security and humanitarian crisis along our Southern border.

    You can read more about the challenges facing these young migrants on our home page.

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    central park 5 MONITOR

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: New York City has reportedly agreed to its largest settlement ever in a civil rights case, a story that captured the country’s attention in the late 1980s, following a heinous attack on a woman in Central Park, and one that inflamed racial tensions in the city and added to a perception of lawlessness.

    New York will make the payments to five men who were wrongly convicted and came to be known as the Central Park Five.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story, beginning with more background.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The $40 million settlement comes 25 years after one of the most sensationalized crimes in New York City’s history.

    In 1989, passersby found the nearly lifeless body of a white 28-year-old woman, much later identified as Trisha Meili, in a wooded area of Central Park. She had been raped, beaten, and left for dead while jogging. She was in a coma for 12 days.

    Five black and Latino defendants, all between 14 and 16, were arrested and portrayed by police and in the media as part a marauding and wilding pack of youths who rampaged through the park that night. The five were convicted on a series of charges related to the assault, and served sentences ranging from seven to 13 years.

    But lawyers argued there was a lack of physical evidence linking the five to the crime, and that the convictions were based almost entirely on coerced written and videotaped confessions like this one.

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened when you charged her?

    ANTRON MCCRAY: We charged her. And, like, we got her on the ground. And everybody started hitting her and stuff.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Then, in 2002, convicted murderer and serial rapist Matias Reyes told police he had been the rapist. DNA evidence confirmed his claim.

    MAN: The motion is granted.

    Everyone, have a very merry Christmas, happy new year.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Later that year, a New York State Supreme Court judge vacated the earlier convictions.

    Today’s agreement could close the book on the decade-long civil rights lawsuit brought against the police and prosecutors for wrongful arrest amid a racially motivated conspiracy. The city, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fought the suit for years. But new Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to — quote — “right this injustice.”

    In 2012, filmmaker Ken Burns, with his daughter Sarah and her husband, David McMahon, released a documentary chronicling the crime and its aftermath.

    In this excerpt, two of those convicted, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson, described how police turned them against one another.

    RAYMOND SANTANA: And I’m like, “I didn’t do anything.” And he’s like, “Well, this is why I’m here to help you, because I know you didn’t do anything. You’re a good kid. You know, this isn’t you.”

    He pulls out this picture of Kevin Richardson, and he goes, “You know this kid?” And I’m like, “No, I don’t know him.”  And he goes, “You see the scratch under his eye? That came from the woman. We know he did it. He’s going down.”

    KEVIN RICHARDSON: At this point, I’m like, you know, like, I don’t know these guys that’s there, so I’m just going to make up something and include these guys’ names.

    RAYMOND SANTANA: OK, if you know, if you’re going to do it to me, then I’m going to do it to you.

    KEVIN RICHARDSON: They was coaching me, and I was writing it down.

    RAYMOND SANTANA: He just fed it to me. “Well, what did he do? What did Antron McCray do?” He gave me the names. I put them in. I couldn’t tell you who they were, who they looked like. If he would have gave me 100 names, I would have put 100 people at the crime scene.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And we’re joined now by Craig Steven Wilder, a professor of urban American history at MIT who followed the kids closely and was featured in the documentary.

    Well, welcome to you.

    Can you take us back, first, take us back in time? How and why did this become such a huge event in the history of the city?

    CRAIG STEVEN WILDER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: I think there are multiple factors that informed why this became such an important event, both in New York City nationally.

    I think New Yorkers white and back had by the 1980s certainly come to fear that the police and the prosecutors were unable to protect them. In a three-month period in 1984, there was a horrific police brutality case. Eleanor Bumpurs, an elderly black woman, was shot to death by the police department.

    And three months later, Bernie Goetz, actually the vigilante subway shooter, emerged on the scene, and both of those events in that roughly three-month period actually captured the extent to which New Yorkers feared both crime and also doubted the capacity of the police and the prosecutors to protect them in that moment.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. So, that was followed by many, many years of a long legal battle, first over what happened that night in the park, and that case was overturned, and then this long legal battle over what to do, the restitution process.

    CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Right. Right.

    And you have, you know, a young white woman, well-educated, investment banker, Trisha Meili, perfectly innocent, jogging in Central Park, brutally assaulted and left for dead. The police round up multiple, in fact, dozens of black and brown young men began to in fact release the story that they had the culprit.

    And from that point on, they were on a track, they resisted in fact the facts. They had created blinders to the facts and they had presented the public with an — there was just tremendous pressure for the police to actually be able to resolve this case.

    There was tremendous pressure for the prosecutors to bring it to closure. And once they actually announced that they had the culprits, it was difficult to backtrack from that point on. And so we end up in a situation in which basically a group of young men, a group of children were actually turned into — turned over to the prosecution, tried as adults, and eventually tossed into adult men’s prisons.

    JEFFREY BROWN: After the case was overturned, then was the second legal struggle that culminates today.

    The city resisted that as well for a long time as well. And I think the argument — and, tell me — the argument was that, yes, it was a wrongful conviction, but, no, it wasn’t done purposefully.


    I think the city’s position has been that they couldn’t find evidence of an intentional, willful violation of the rights of the five boys, now young men, who were prosecuted at that time. And we also have to remember that when this case unfolded, when it began to unravel in 2002, the police department was allowed to investigate itself at that point and to declare itself innocent.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What has happened to the five men?

    CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: You know, I have met four of the five.

    I spent time with them and their families. And the one thing I’m really quite pleased with today is, I hope that this settlement actually starts to bring them and their families, their parents, their children, their spouses some sense of resolution and vindication.

    I think it’s also an important moment in the history of New York City, because we also need to look back at that moment. We need to look back at the Central Park case and its aftermath and really hold ourselves accountable and our public institutions accountable. And I hope this is the beginning of that process.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, one wonders, does this end the case? Or in what ways are any of these issues still with us today?

    CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Oh, I don’t think it ends the case that all. The reality is that, in the aftermath of the Central Park case, almost every state in the United States passed laws making it easier to try children as adults.

    We moved thousands and thousands of children into the adult criminal system. By the mid-1990s, we had reached a peak in the number of children being tried as adults. And much of that was actually flamed by the furor over the Central Park case. That lives with us today. That legacy lives with us today.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But the city — the city, at least, has resolved it, it’s part of it?

    CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: The city’s resolved its part with the five young men who were wrongfully convicted.

    But, in fact, there’s a lot of work left to do. You know, I think the era of aggressive policing, extensive incarceration periods, et cetera, is not over. Mass incarceration is actually continuing to destroy families and communities. And that actually still has to be addressed. We actually have a lot of work to do in our criminal justice system today.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Craig Steven Wilder, thank you so much.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Over the last two days, 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have courted religious conservatives here in Washington.

    The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference brought together a key part of the GOP’s base, and provided an opportunity for possible candidates to try out their messages.


    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R, N.J.: Thank you for the warm welcome. I appreciate it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and a host of other Republicans thinking about running for president in two years made appeals to religious conservatives. It was Christie’s first major address at a conference of its kind.

    In fact, last year, he landed in controversy, when he passed up an invitation to speak, instead attending an event with former President Bill Clinton.

    But, today, a day before he heads to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, he stirred the crowd.

    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Theirs is the party that is intolerant. Theirs is the party that exclude other ideas.


    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: And we should no longer sit around and allow ourselves to be punching bags.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Pennsylvania Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum said the party needs to show it’s for the working people:

    FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R, Penn.: The vast majority of our supporters are the folks who hold traditional values like you, and they’re not businesspeople; they’re workers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Others highlighted what they see as attacks on religious freedom, among them Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

    SEN. TED CRUZ, R, Tex.: At no time in our nation’s history have we seen threats to liberty, religious liberty, and every one of the Bill of Rights, more dire than they are right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

    SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R, Fla.: And we have an obligation to our country and to our fellow man to use our positions of influence to highlight those values.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul:

    SEN. RAND PAUL, R, Ky.: America’s not just experiencing growing pains. America is in a full-blown spiritual crisis.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Newly-minted House Majority Leader California Congressman Kevin McCarthy laid out his vision.

    REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, R, Calif.: I know we’re frustrated. I hear the message. And I want to pledge this one item to you, the same thing I pledged inside conference. We will unite, we will have the courage to lead and the wisdom to listen, and we will turn this country back around.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This comes one day after replacing Virginia’s Eric Cantor as the number two ranking Republican in the House.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Welcome, gentlemen.

    So the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Mark, what is both what — the fact that they held this, they heard from these potential candidates in 2016, what is — what should we think about the place of religious conservatives in the Republican Party today?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s somewhat diminished, and not certainly represented by the turnout, because candidates show up wanting, if not to be the first choice, to be, as John Weaver, the Republican strategist, said, second or third choice, for example.

    Chris Christie is not going to be the first choice of religious conservatives, but he wants to be on good terms with them in case he does run and is in the — in the finals.

    I would say this, Judy. The economic conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, certainly represented by the Tea Party and its energy, has eclipsed them. And, plus, America has changed. And just think about it; 10 years ago, George W. Bush’s campaign for reelection was based in large part, as a strategic force, by putting on the ballot same-sex marriage initiatives, all of which were defeated overwhelmingly, and helped him carry the state of Ohio, the crucial state of Ohio against John Kerry.

    That has changed in America. And so part of that — the religious Faith and Freedom group is kind of looking for its issue and its traction, as well as its agenda.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Eclipsed by the Tea Party?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think only a little, clearly, on some of the budget issues — the social issues have not been as prominent — and clearly in the Washington debate we have had over the last three or four years.

    Nonetheless, first of all, out in the country and especially among the electorate and primary voters, I think religious conservatives are as powerful or nearly as powerful as they always have been. Rick Santorum did fantastically well last time, winning double-digit states on the backs of these voters. And if you can double-digit states being Rick Santorum, a guy who got crushed in Pennsylvania, if you’re a more plausible candidate, you can do really well.

    The donors of the party often say, oh, we should get off the abortion issue. Whatever you think of substance, politically, that would be insane for the Republican Party. They need to be a pro-life party. And then finally I do think there are issues that are still salient that they are the champions of.

    The first is family formation, which they talk about very well and very comfortably, and second is religious liberty issues, especially abroad. There’s a lot of talk about it in the conference this year, other religious issues abroad, the Christian in Sudan who is possibly going to be executed, but then religious liberties at home, some of the groups that are going to be called hate groups because of their religious beliefs.

    So I think that religious liberty issue is a sleeper issue which will power and repower this movement.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Mark?

    MARK SHIELDS: I would just say Rick Santorum’s message was essentially — I agree with you he’s a cultural conservative, always has been, staunch, but he was a blue-collar candidate.

    He’s called his party to task for being the party of the 1 percent. And he said he wants to represent the Americans who get up every morning and punch a time clock, who pack a lunch. And the Republican Party certainly, as it met, it convention, in 2012 didn’t speak to those people; they spoke only the entrepreneurs and people founding their own business.

    DAVID BROOKS: I was going to say, the religious conservatives, it’s true, have moved. They have moved, as Mark just described, in a more blue-collar direction.

    They have also moved to the right in other issues. There used to be a strong evangelical immigration reform constituency.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

    DAVID BROOKS: That has diminished. A strong evangelical environmental constituency, that has diminished. So they moved down-market, if you want to put it that way, and also rightward on certain issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But does that say the candidate — the Republican candidates in 2016 not only can’t ignore these Detroit this group of conservatives, that they have to continue to cater to them, to talk about the issues that they care about?

    MARK SHIELDS: To appeal to them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To appeal to them.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a better term. Thank you.

    MARK SHIELDS: No, I mean, they’re important. They provide energy, they provide passion, they provide foot soldiers, they provide votes.

    And I would just say the evangelical conservatives on the environment and on immigration are still out there and are still active and still energized. They just aren’t as active — as welcome in the Republican coalition right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the — one of the — we just heard from the House — newly elected, David, House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy. Have you seen enough of him to get any impression yet about how the House is going to change, how’s Congress going to change?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. No, I have dined with him a few times.

    Listen, kids, it pays to be nice. He’s just a good guy. And I don’t think he represents anything particularly ideological one way or the other. He’s not a particularly ideological guy. His expertise is in knowing congressional districts. He’s a political guy, a campaign guy.

    And as whip, he had moderate success in a very difficult job. But the thing about McCarthy is, he’s unpretentious, he’s outgoing, he’s just friendly. He just likes people. And so that plays well in politics, especially in the leadership race.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what’s going to change? Is anything going to change?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, it’s what politicians used to be, instead of these ideological lightning rods.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: They all used to be nice?

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, well, they used to — well, they used to be engaging and try and figure out ways to build bridges to other people.

    And David has described Kevin McCarthy very well. Kevin McCarthy makes John Boehner’s life a lot easier. Eric Cantor, there was always a sense lurking over his shoulder. The ambition was there. And he certainly — his fingerprints were all over the sabotaging of the great bargain with President Obama on the budget, his being Eric Cantor’s.

    Kevin McCarthy is not that. He’s very good. He recruited the candidates who won in 2010. He’s very good at his business. And bringing California, Bakersfield, perspective to it, he’s already on record as saying he believes there has to be a path for legal status for undocumented workers.

    So, there is a — that’s daylight. He may have to reassure those on the right that he isn’t some sort of a one-worlder, but that is Kevin McCarthy and that’s what California…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You sure you don’t like just him because his Irish heritage?


    MARK SHIELDS: Kevin and his daughters are, what, Reagan and Meghan.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he does…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But nothing — but neither one of you sees things changing in terms of the House, the Republicans?

    DAVID BROOKS: Just, as Mark said, a more unified leadership.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The way the House operates.

    DAVID BROOKS: A friendlier and more unified leadership. John Boehner’s life will be better.


    DAVID BROOKS: It will be happier. He will be happier.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what does that mean for the president, who — let’s talk about the poll numbers that came out. NBC/Wall Street Journal shows — and we have got some of these to share with our audience — overall, the president’s approval rating, 41 percent on foreign policy; 37 percent of those polled, David, said they approve of the way the president is handling foreign policy.

    From the middle of Iraq, it’s come off of Syria. What can the president do? Is he just in a box for the rest of his presidency on this?

    DAVID BROOKS: He might be.

    There are sort of two tracks that second termers have. There’s the Clinton track, where they go up at the end, and then there’s the George W. track, where they go down at the end. And he’s sort of trailing the George W. track, maybe not quite as deep.

    I guess two things. At some point, it’s hard for him just because people are interested in other things. Just fatigue. And a lot of people have a sense — you just hear from people — and I don’t think this is true in the White House — but you hear from people around Washington, but certainly around the country, oh, that guy just wants to get out. He’s just done.

    And I don’t think they feel that, but there’s a sense they’re not doing much. They seem fatigued. And so there’s a perception out there that Obama is not, you know, charging into the office every morning and wants to take charge of the country.

    And I do think the reason the polls are sliding is a sense of a lack of energy in the White House, that we’re proposing big things, that we have big visions. And if I were him, I would say let’s try some big things. Let’s counteract this image.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, but I understand you to say you don’t think that’s what the White House is thinking, that they just…

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, if you ask them, if you say, are you guys just exhausted and are you guys just checked out, they deny it fervently.

    MARK SHIELDS: Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who did the poll that we just showed, along with Republican Bill McInturff, made the point that the president seems to be the captor of events, rather than — we like to think of our presidents as dominating events.

    Obviously, not everybody can dominate all events, but he’s been reacting to Ukraine, to Syria, to…


    MARK SHIELDS: … to Iraq, to the VA, Veterans Administration, just seems constantly on the defensive.

    And I think, Judy, the most devastating number was thinking about the rest of Barack Obama’s term as president, do you think he can lead the country and get the job done?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And let’s show that poll. We have got that here.


    Do you no longer feel that’s he’s able to lead the country and get the job done?


    MARK SHIELDS: Judy, this is a president, remember, since Dwight Eisenhower, only one American has won 51 percent, more than 51 percent of the vote in successive elections.

    That’s Barack Obama. And here he is with 54 percent of the American…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a year-and-a-half later.

    MARK SHIELDS: Year-and-a-half later saying it’s — nothing is over, but we just don’t think you’re up to it. That’s devastating, and it’s devastating for Democrats going into — the poll is not good for Republicans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right, and we have the numbers to show there. If you think the president’s doing poorly, look at this. He’s 41, the Democrats overall 38, the Republican Party 29 and the Tea Party 22.

    But this sense, Mark — David, the point that Mark just made about this sense that the president is reacting, does a president do? Historically, what do presidents do in that…

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, they sometimes shake things up and fire people.

    That sometimes does happen. And it creates a sense of a new beginning. And then the second thing they do is they have a burst of energy on some initiative. And I think a foreign policy vision, the president’s vision on foreign policy has been what we won’t do, and I think that’s had a slow corrosive effect on people’s sense of his energy.

    On domestic policy, they have decided to be content with signing statements and things they can do administratively, rather than legislation. I might — I have thought — and they have thought about this, putting down some big proposals, knowing they probably won’t get passed, but make life a little easier for your successor, and so some big inequality proposals, just to throw them out there and get the debate started.

    I do not think that would be a dumb idea. At least that would be some big movements, some big things coming out of the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But Iraq — Mark, you’re right. That’s something they have had to react to. The president did announce two days ago 300 — or yesterday, I guess — military advisers going to Iraq. I mean, that’s an active step, isn’t it?

    MARK SHIELDS: Not really.

    I mean, Judy, for those of us of a certain age, that has echoes of Saigon and American advisers, 300 advisers. You know, American — we just sent 275 Marines to protect the American Embassy, which is larger — in Baghdad — which is larger than the Vatican City, larger — it’s the most expensive embassy, 10 times larger than any other American Embassy — there to defend it; 300 are there.

    We know why they’re there, to provide the intelligence.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But does that suggest he would need to send the Air Force to bomb Iraq in order to get a higher approval rating?

    MARK SHIELDS: I assume, from everything I know and have learned, that those American special forces are being sent in primarily to provide the information, the intelligence, the reconnaissance, so that if drone attacks are called in, they know precisely, and there won’t be collateral damage and civilian casualties all over the place.

    But, Judy, what is the objective, what is the exit strategy? How will we know when we have succeeded? What is the mission? Are we back in where we were 40 years ago?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying the president hasn’t provided…

    MARK SHIELDS: There’s no — and there’s no sense of national commitment to it. There’s no sense of collective national will to it. There’s popular reflection in the Congress to it.

    I don’t know what we’re trying to achieve there and how we will know we have achieved it.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do agree with Mark on that he last point.

    The president said, we’re sending in 300, there will be no combat operations. That’s defining the mission by the means, by the process, but What exactly is the mission supposed to do? I think you could very clear say what it’s supposed to do. We will not allow an ISIL state in Sunni land.

    And, two, we will get an international coalition to make sure there’s a united — at least some cross-sectarian government in Baghdad.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen, David Brooks, Mark Shields.

    The post Shields and Brooks on U.S. intervention in Iraq, presidential poll numbers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    STEPHEN FEE: In early 2013, Kristina Brogan was pregnant with her fifth child when she began experiencing excruciating pain — and her obstetrician didn’t know why.

    KRISTINA BROGAN: Finally my mom went with me to an appointment and said you got to find out why she’s hurting so bad. So they did a level two ultrasound at St. Luke’s and admitted me immediately.

    STEPHEN FEE: Why? What did they find?

    KRISTINA BROGAN: They found the tumor. And they’d found it had gone up into my liver.

    STEPHEN FEE: Kristina, at the age of 39, was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.

    STEPHEN FEE: What was that like?


    STEPHEN FEE: What was running through your head?

    KRISTINA BROGAN: I can’t say I had a – a normal thought in my head. I was just scared. Scared for my baby. Scared for me. Scared for my family.

    STEPHEN FEE: Her doctors needed to take aggressive measures to fight the disease and chose to perform a C-section, just 28 weeks into Kristina’s pregnancy. Today, her son Evan is a happy and healthy one-year old. Kristina however is battling a disease with dispiriting odds even with regular chemotherapy treatment.

    STEPHEN FEE: What did they tell you your future looked like?

    KRISTINA BROGAN: They didn’t. And I don’t want them to. I will do what the doctors say. Do my best to get better.

    STEPHEN FEE: While her four other boys and husband Jeff live in Gallatin, Missouri, Kristina has moved about 30 minutes away to the town of Cameron, where her mother, sister, and stepfather can help care for her. Her stepfather Jim Neely is a practicing physician at the local hospital.

    JIM NEELY: I think as you age you tend to recognize the sanctity of life. But you also through the process of living you, you have been able to – deal with a lot of heartache in your activities.

    STEPHEN FEE: Neely has decided to make public this very private, family matter. See, in addition to being a doctor, he just finished his first term as a Republican lawmaker in the Missouri House of Representatives. And this year, he introduced a bill that would allow terminally ill people to take unapproved, experimental medications outside of clinical trials — and without the federal government’s go-ahead. It’s called ‘the right to try.’

    JIM NEELY, (R) MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Let’s try, let’s let a person be in charge of their life, and I’m not saying that this is the answer for everybody. But it’s an answer out there that if we can move forward and we’re gonna gain access to care. We want – we want options in life. And that’s what this bill’s trying to accomplish.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Patients and their doctors can already petition a drug company to try an investigational medicine, even outside a trial. But they need approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration. ‘Right to try’ bills are state laws that would bypass that federal approval step — and similar measures are gaining ground nationwide.

    Here in Missouri the ‘right to try’ law passed with unanimous support in the state legislature, as it did in Colorado and Louisiana. And this fall Arizona voters will have their own version of right to try on the ballot.

    This May, Colorado’s Democratic governor signed the nation’s first ‘right to try’ bill. Like Missouri’s law — passed by a
    Republican legislature — it cuts the feds out of the picture.

    GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER, (D) COLORADO: Patients should be able to try a treatment even though it hasn’t been approved if it’s an attempt to save their life.

    STEPHEN FEE: Lawmakers in that state began calling the measure the Dallas Buyers Club bill — after the 2013 Oscar-winning film about AIDS patients seeking unapproved medications, and one man’s efforts to sidestep federal rules.

    MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: They’re not illegal. They’re merely unapproved.

    STEPHEN FEE: Adding to the Colorado bill’s momentum, the story of 41 year old Denver dad Nick Auden. Though he would later succumb to stage four melanoma, Auden’s family made an emotional online appeal for an experimental drug. Auden was on a trial for the promising pharmaceutical but was disqualified after a complication.

    NICK AUDEN: If there’s a chance, we’re taking it. If there’s a possibility, then we’re gonna be part of that possibility. What’s more, a conservative think tank in Arizona — the Goldwater Institute — has lent its support to the ‘right to try’ movement, even helping lawmakers like Jim Neely draft legislation.

    GOLDWATER VIDEO NARRATOR: …shifting the decision to use safe, new medications out of the hands of bureaucrats…

    STEPHEN FEE: While the FDA doesn’t take a position on ‘right to try’ laws, the agency says it already has at least three pathways to allow patients access to experimentals. There are clinical trials, of course — those are run by drug companies and overseen by federal regulators. But if a patient doesn’t qualify, the FDA allows individuals and even groups of patients to apply for access to experimental meds outside of a trial. Since 2009, the FDA says it has greenlit 99 percent of those individual and group applications.

    RICHARD KLEIN, FDA PATIENT LIAISON PROGRAM: The agency has a pathway. It seems to work quite well, and I’m not sure what the state right to try bills really add to that — and in fact I think might take away some of the safety advantages people have by going through the FDA process where you’ve got institutional review boards, you’ve got somebody checking the informed consent, make sure the patients are fully aware of what they’re getting into, and what’s the balance that we know so far about this particular product.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan believes ‘right to try’ laws are well-intentioned…especially with the time it takes to get new drugs to market.

    ARTHUR CAPLAN, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: That process can take years. And for many people who are terminally ill they don’t have years. So the laws basically say, you know what? We’re tired of all these bureaucratic obstacles; we’re going to pass a law in our state that says, if you’re terminally ill, once it’s passed phase one — that tiny safety testing on a small number of people — you can get anything you want.

    STEPHEN FEE: But Caplan says some federal regulation is still
    necessary to ensure patients are aware of risks.

    ARTHUR CAPLAN, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: Because many new drugs can make you die faster. And I’ve personally given access through sitting on research ethics committees and working with the FDA to many new drugs. A number of them killed the person who got them more quickly than they would’ve died from their disease. They just had horrible side effects. You can also die more miserably from access to a new drug.

    STEPHEN FEE: So if the FDA has such a high approval rate when it comes to experimental access, why have so many taken to the web to plead their cases? Well sometimes, the drug companies say no. And ‘right to try’ bills wouldn’t change that. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – an industry group — told us their members have to evaluate the potential ‘harm or pain’ their investigational meds might cause. And they consider all applications on a ‘case-by-case basis.’ Back in Missouri, lawmaker Jim Neely concedes the federal government
    isn’t the only hurdle to accessing investigational drugs.

    JIM NEELY, (R) MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: But this is a step in the right direction. We need the FDA in our world, but we need access to care, and I firmly believe that we’re going to see a boatload of new medicines that are out there in the investigational world, and we need to gain access to those at a faster pace.

    STEPHEN FEE: And for Kristina, his step-daughter struggling with a dire prognosis, government regulators have no place in her medical care.

    KRISTINA BROGAN: They’re not sitting there counseling me on these medications and what I should do, what I shouldn’t do. How to take care of myself to keep myself healthy. And my doctor is, and if my doctor thinks this medication would help me in some way, then that’s up to my doctor. That shouldn’t be up to somebody that has no involvement in my care.

    STEPHEN FEE: Between you and your doctor.


    STEPHEN FEE: Kristina isn’t taking any investigational drugs, and at this point her doctors are not seeking access to one of the 40 clinical trials for her type of cancer. But at a later stage, if she opts to try an investigational drug as a last resort outside of a trial, she wants that choice to be hers alone.

    The post ‘Right to try’ law gives terminal patients access to drugs not approved by FDA appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HANNAH YI: It’s 15 minutes before a concert in New York City and violist David Aaron Carpenter is warming up. The performance is special. He’s using a viola that’s nearly 300 years old.

    DAVID AARON CARPENTER: I mean this instrument was, you know, probably heard by you know Bach and Handel and all these, you know, great composers Mozart, Paganini. So just to see, you know, where the timeline of this instrument in our world history is, you know, is quite something.

    HANNAH YI: Eight of the musicians along with Carpenter are also using instruments just as old. Stradivariuses, named after the famed 18th century Italian.

    DAVID AARON CARPENTER: Antonio Stradivarius was the Da Vinci of his time. He was the master craftsman, absolute musical genius in what he did because these instruments have survived 300 years and still sound absolutely glorious.

    HANNAH YI: On this night, Carpenter is playing the Stradivarius viola at an event organized by Sotheby’s. The auction house is accepting bids for the instrument and expects to sell it for more than 45 million dollars. To Carpenter, it’s worth it.

    DAVID AARON CARPENTER: There are people out there who are willing to spend over $100 million for Edvard Munch’s, you know, The Scream, or, you know, a great Da Vinci painting. I actually put this in the same category as those master works, and I think these instruments have kind of shaped our civilization and culture, without them, I mean, we probably wouldn’t have the same kinds of instruments today.

    HANNAH YI: But to others like violin maker Sam Zygmuntowicz, who’s been making high-end violins for nearly 30 years, that price is too high. Especially when the best stringed instruments used by professionals today typically cost around 50 thousand dollars – a miniscule fraction of what the Stradivarius is expected to fetch.

    SAM ZYGMUNTOWICZ: People often say, “Well, what makes a Strad great?” And I always find that an off-putting question because it assumes that all Strads are great.

    HANNAH YI: Zygmuntowicz makes his violins by hand using the same 18th century tools as Stradivari. But he also incorporates 21st century technology like CT scans and 3D lasers to analyze everything from how the wood vibrates to the shape of the sound holes. He thinks the sound quality produced by his violins are as good as Strads.

    SAM ZYGMUNTOWICZ: I really couldn’t tell the difference at first. And then at some point, I had to admit to myself that I actually preferred my own violins at points. And then some of my clients were telling me the same thing.

    HANNAH YI: Could his instruments possibly sound as good as Strads? French researcher Claudia Fritz wanted to find out. So two years ago just outside of Paris, she blindfolded ten top international soloists. They played both modern violins and Strads. The musicians tested the violins in a hotel room, and then with a full orchestra at a concert hall. Fritz told us in a Skype interview that many of the soloists couldn’t even tell the difference between the new and the old violins. In fact, many picked the modern violins as their favorites.

    CLAUDIA FRITZ: Stradivari violins have probably amazing tone qualities, but they are not unique. We can find these qualities in new instruments. Otherwise if this were not the case, then people would have been able to tell them apart more systematically.

    HANNAH YI: But maybe this entire debate about the quality of sound misses a bigger point – that music lovers or investors bidding on the Stradivarius are more interested in owning a piece of history.

    DAVID AARON CARPENTER: When you’re kind of putting one against the other and saying one sounds better than the other, it’s almost disrespectful to Stradivarius because, I mean, at the end of the day, those modern instruments are pretty much copies of Stradivarius. To say that one is better than the other, you have to take in account the history as well.

    HANNAH YI: And in the case of this Stradivarius, history will come at a price starting at 45 million dollars.

    The post Auction for 18th century viola starts at $45 million appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Adam Gault/Getty Images

    A new measure would make Missouri the third state in the country to enact a so-called “Right to Try” law, which aims to get experimental drugs into the hands of terminally ill patients as quickly as possible. Credit: Adam Gault/Getty Images

    If you were dying and had exhausted all conventional treatment options, wouldn’t you want immediate access to a drug that might prove to be a miracle cure?

    That’s the promise of legislation that, if signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, would make Missouri the third state in the country — after Colorado and Louisiana — to enact a so-called “Right to Try” law, which aims to get experimental drugs into the hands of terminally ill patients as quickly as possible.

    “If there is something out there, particularly if there are medications that are being used in India or Europe, why do we in the United States have to wait for the [Food and Drug Administration] to give the blessing?” said State Representative Jim Neely, the Cameron Republican who sponsored the bill.

    Neely is a longtime family physician with a daughter who is battling advanced colon cancer.

    Working with the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a free market oriented think tank seeking to enact similar laws in states across the country, Neely is also backed by patients and families who have lost relatives.

    The FDA is neutral on the initiative, according to a spokeswoman, but the institute’s efforts are opposed by a leading drug industry interest group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

    Other skeptics include Russell Melchert, dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy, and Melissa Gilmore, a Washington, D.C., attorney who leads the FDA practice at the Polsinelli law firm, which is based in Kansas City.

    “In my opinion,” Gilmore said, “the legislation is basically pointless.”

    In general, the legislation would allow patients and their physicians to work directly with drug companies to obtain investigational drugs outside the process established by the FDA.

    A Nixon spokesman said the governor is reviewing the measure and has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.

    The long, costly path to drug approval

    It can take as long as 15 years and $1.8 billion to bring a drug to market, according to research cited by PhRMA.

    In its 2013 industry profile, the group said the 44 new medicines blessed by the FDA in 2012 were the largest number of approvals in 15 years.

    Once laboratory studies show promise, drug developers can get approval from the FDA to begin clinical trials, which use human subjects to determine if a compound is safe and effective.

    The trials run through four phases, with Phase 1 involving a small group of people who evaluate a drug’s safety, dosage range and side effects.

    Recognizing the dire straits faced by dying patients who cannot get into clinical trials, the FDA makes unapproved drugs available through its Expanded Access, or “compassionate use,” program.

    The requests typically come from patients’ physicians, agency spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in an e-mail. But a company can also request participation for an intermediate-sized group of two to 99 patients or under a treatment protocol for a larger group if the patients do not meet the criteria for a clinical trial.

    An FDA official is authorized to give emergency approval over the telephone.

    In petitions from individuals, the FDA cannot compel a drug company to provide the investigational drug.

    In the last four reporting periods, covering October 2009 through September 2013, the FDA received an average of 391 emergency requests from patients and approved all but five.

    Both sides debate the effectiveness of the FDA’s expanded access program

    Much of the disagreement about the Right to Try legislation stems from differing views about the effectiveness of the FDA’s expanded access program.

    Right to Try proponents argue expanded access takes too long to help patients who are in desperate shape.

    Goldwater Institute’s vice president Victor Riches said the process can take as long as six months and involve dozens of hours of paperwork for the physician.

    “While the expanded access program is a great program for a lot of folks,” he said. “It is not always beneficial and usually is not applicable for these patients that have gone through every other effort to try and save their life, and this is really their last opportunity.”

    Under Right to Try, Riches said, the patient could get the drug in days as opposed to months.

    As with the expanded access program, Neely’s bill would not require a manufacturer to fulfill the request. The bill also stipulates that the manufacturer can require payment for the drug.

    Additionally, health insurers are not required to cover the service and the state licensing board cannot take action against a physician based solely on their recommendation that a patient try an investigational drug.

    Riches acknowledged the effectiveness of Right to Try depends on the willingness of drug manufacturers to participate. He says most are waiting to see how the FDA will react to these bills.

    “There is no question that for these laws to be maximally effective, there needs to be a positive balance between doctors, the pharmaceutical companies, the FDA. Everyone needs to be working together to really make these things work,” Riches said.

    Are drug makers putting up a barrier to experimental drug access?

    Gilmore, the Polsinelli attorney, said the real problem is not the FDA or its administration of the expanded access program.

    Rather, she said, it is drug companies’ refusal to make the investigational drugs available even after the FDA has given them the go-ahead.

    Gilmore said that, as part of her pro bono work, she has gained about a dozen FDA approvals through the expanded access program. All have foundered, she said, because drug companies declined to participate.

    Gilmore suspects they feared bad publicity or had concerns a negative outcome could affect final approval of the drug.

    Officials with PhRMA declined to respond to Gilmore’s comments on the record.

    Instead, they cited a June 14 post on their website by Sascha Haverfield, the organization’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

    “Expanded access programs are part of many biopharmaceutical companies’ commitment to patients,” he wrote.

    He added that, while the Right to Try bills may be well-intentioned, “they seek to bypass FDA oversight and the clinical trial process, which is not in the best interest of patients and public health, and is unlikely to achieve our shared goal of bringing innovative, safe, and effective medicines to patients as quickly as possible.”

    Likewise, Melchert, the UMKC dean, said he does not see how Right to Try legislation would be of any benefit.

    He says the FDA’s expanded access program is straightforward and information is available to help patients understand the process.

    “It is all in place,” he says. “I really don’t see why we would need anything else.”

    And even that process is not without risk, Melchert adds, given that a drug that has cleared a Phase I trial could lead to the immediate death of someone who still might have six to nine months to live.

    Melchert said he would like to see the energy around the Right to Try effort channeled into the more important issue of directing additional money to research for new cures and to wellness campaigns to prevent disease.

    ‘Right to Try’ bill hits home for many of its supporters

    As word of Neely’s bill circulated in Jefferson City, the effort hit home with a couple of lobbyists.

    One is Ross Nichols, who works for the Missouri Trucking Association. The other is Richard McCullough, who represents several clients in the capitol.

    Nichols, a 41-year-old father of two boys, has a brain tumor that was diagnosed nearly three years ago. He has had two operations but a recent check-up revealed another growth.

    He is changing treatments, but he said it would be comforting to know that, if Missouri enacts the Right to Try law, he and his family would have access to a last-resort treatment.

    McCullough’s support for the measure comes from his son, Nick, who died in December 2011 at the age of 27. He had battled a head-and-neck cancer for three years before his death, but had been an unsuitable candidate for a couple of clinical trials, McCullough said.

    Neither man knew of the FDA’s expanded access program, but both are enthusiastic about Neely’s bill.

    Nichols said he prefers solutions that involve less government. McCullough favors state-level solutions.

    Referring to his son’s experience, McCullough said, “the name Right to Try is very appropriate because he never had a chance to try.”

    Major Funding for Health coverage on KCPT provided by Assurant Employee Benefits and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. This story was first published on KCPT’s website on June 20.

    The post Missouri measure would enact drug program for dying patients appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says child care, family leave and workplace flexibility aren’t frills, they’re basic needs.

    In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama is lamenting workplace policies that he says are outdated. He says the U.S. is one of just three countries that don’t require paid maternity leave.

    Obama says some businesses are pursuing family friendly policies. But he says the U.S. must make it easier for parents and those with sick relatives to stay in the workplace. He says something’s wrong when hard workers must choose between work and family.

    Obama plans to hold a summit on working families on Monday.

    In the Republican address, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan says Obama’s record on energy development is abysmal. He says the U.S. must build an infrastructure that will lead to energy abundance.

    The post In weekly address, Obama puts out call for workplace flexibility appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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