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

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    israel1

    Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the Middle East today, the battle between Israel and Hamas raged on. Israeli airstrikes intensified on Gaza, pushing the Palestinian death toll to more than 50. Meanwhile, Hamas fired rockets aimed at Tel Aviv for a second straight day. The militant group even attempted to strike Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant.

    Towering plumes of black smoke rose all across Gaza today. The Israeli military said it has hit more than 550 Hamas targets in two days.

    MOHAMMED AL-NUASRAH (through interpreter): This is a crime against the Palestinian people, against children, against women, against our scholars. What was the fault of these children who were just sleeping in their beds, when these airstrikes shake and demolish the homes over their heads?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the casualties grew, hundreds of Palestinian mourners flooded the streets of Khan Yunis for the funerals of eight killed in airstrikes on Tuesday. Two children were among the dead.

    Looking on from the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas labeled the Gaza offensive a war crime.

    PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian Authority (through interpreter): This family lost seven and that family lost seven. One was 6 years old. One was 70. And all the ages in between got killed with airstrikes and rockets. So what is this crime called? What would we call it legally, he who kills an entire family? Isn’t this collective punishment? Genocide. This is called genocide.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Hamas, which rules Gaza, vowed retaliation is coming.

    MUSHIR AL-MASRI, Hamas Spokesman (through interpreter): By demolishing civilian homes because of the commitment to massacre from the Zionist enemy, they have crossed a line. The occupiers will pay a high price. The resistance will not stay silent.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the barrage of Hamas rocket fire on Israel continued, day and night, and deeper than ever into Israeli territory.

    A wedding in Holon was interrupted by incoming rockets, but the Iron Dome system managed to intercept them in the sky. On the streets of Tel Aviv, air raid sirens had people running for shelter as more rockets fell.

    SHANY CHAYAT (through interpreter): Yesterday, when I heard the sirens, I was upset, but you know there have already been several days of sirens. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tel Aviv or Southern Israel. It’s a whole country that is under rocket attack and no other country has spoken about it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Israeli tanks lined up at the border, and officials suggested a ground offensive may be coming soon.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): We will not tolerate fire on our towns and cities and our children. And Hamas will pay a heavy price. We are in the midst of a military operation. We need, as I have said and I’m saying again, patience, determination and resoluteness.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States again urged restraint, but there was every sign the fighting would continue for at least another day.

    The post Hamas sends rockets deeper into Israel as Gaza casualties grow from airstrikes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-CONFLICT

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A short time ago, I spoke again to Josef Federman, who is in Jerusalem covering the story for the Associated Press.

    Josef, hello again.

    The situation only seems to have deteriorated since you and I talked last night. Tell us first what you’re learning about casualties.

    JOSEF FEDERMAN, The Associated Press: Yes. The casualty count continues to grow day by day. Here we are at the end of second day of fighting.

    We now have over 50 Palestinians who have been killed in airstrikes by Israel. A fair number, probably about a quarter to a third of them, maybe 20 20 people so far, are confirmed as civilians. It includes women and some young children.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And casualties on the Israeli side?

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: The Israelis, so far, the casualties have been very light. There have been I believe just a handful of soldiers maybe lightly wounded by shrapnel, rocket explosions, that type of thing.

    But Israel has done a very good job. It’s developed a rocket defense system called Iron Dome, a U.S.-funded system, that seems to be doing a very good job at shooting down anything that seems to be headed towards populated areas. Most of the rockets, they tend to fall in open areas and not hit anything.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were describing for us last night how sophisticated the Israeli military is. I guess the question some people have is, if they are so more advanced than what the Palestinians have, why haven’t they been able to take out these batteries where the rockets are coming from?

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: That’s a great question.

    And it just seems that these rocket batteries are located everywhere, around every corner. Just yesterday, my colleagues in Gaza City in our office looked to the side off the balcony out of our building. Swoosh, two rockets just took off right — almost from outside the building. They had no idea that that was there.

    There are so many. The infrastructure just seems to be hidden and so widespread, it is almost impossible for Israel to stop it altogether.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, you and — again, you talked about this last night — but what about how people are dealing with it? Do they see this as something temporary? Are they worried that it continues?

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, I think people are stressed out on both sides.

    I think in Israel, there’s a sense — because they have been through this before, there’s a sense that it will blow over eventually. It may take a week, it may take two weeks. No one knows. In Gaza, I get the sense that there’s really a sense of dread just because these airstrikes, the amount of power is just so overwhelming, and they don’t know where they’re coming from.

    There’s very little advanced warning. In many cases, there’s no warning. And when an airstrike hits a building, it is flattened, flattened into rubble. So it can be a pretty terrifying experience.

    Like I told you yesterday, a lot of people have fled their homes, they’re moving to areas, moving to relatives where they think they are going to be safer. So there is really a sense of dread in Gaza.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, there are some reports, Josef, of diplomatic efforts to try to put a stop to this. The Egyptians — Egyptian leader has gotten involved. What have you learned about that?

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, it seems that — even on the second day, it seems like we are already reaching sort of a crossroads.

    On one hand, Israel is massing its troops along the border for a possible ground incursion. On the other hand, you see signs of diplomacy. So, the Egyptian president, Al-Sisi, put out an announcement today. He said he is in very intensive contacts with all the relevant sides.

    He was also in touch with the U.N. secretary-general. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also says he has been in touch with various parties, including John Kerry, the secretary of state, the German Chancellor Merkel and other officials.

    So, there does seem to be a little bit of — there’s diplomatic efforts that are just beginning. That said, the sense is that it’s going to take a little while to play out and I think this is going on at least for a few more days, a few more days of fighting.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, meantime, as you say, Israeli reservists have been called up. Some — tell us what you know about what they’re doing and what they would be expected to do.

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: Well, my impression is that the reservists are actually playing a support role, and that they are going into less critical areas, or areas that are not as tense, right now, the West Bank, or possibly the northern front along Syria, Lebanon.

    I get the sense that they’re being moved to areas like that, while the active troops, the people doing their active duty, are moving down south to the border, because the presumption is they would be better trained and ready to go.

    But, so far, we’re talking roughly about 10,000 reservists have been called up. So that allows that number of forces to make their way to the border. My understanding is, it takes times to mobilize. It could be a few days before they have what they need in place and before the government can make a decision on whether to go in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef Federman, we thank you very much, reporting again for us from Jerusalem. Thank you.

    JOSEF FEDERMAN: Thank you.

    The post Israel masses troops at border but signs of Mideast diplomacy emerge appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    immigration

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    GWEN IFILL: One day after President Obama requested almost 40 — $4 billion from Congress to cope with the influx of children at the southern U.S. border, the debate over what to do next moved to Capitol Hill.

    With Congress back at work, the politics of immigration dominated the day, starting at a Senate hearing.

    Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson:

    SEN. RON JOHNSON, R, Wis.: We have got to come to a decision in this country whether we’re going to have totally open borders or whether we’re going to have a legal immigration system, which I want to fix this.

    GWEN IFILL: The smoldering immigration issue has flared back to life with fresh debate over the rapid increase in the number of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border to Mexico.

    Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, conceded today the surge has outstripped efforts to stop it.

    CRAIG FUGATE, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency: The children continue to come across the border. It’s a very fluid situation. And although we have made progress, that progress is oftentimes disrupted when we see sudden influxes of kids coming in faster than we can discharge them, and we back up.

    GWEN IFILL: Since October, 57,000 juveniles have been detained, more than double the number from the same period last year.

    Thomas Winkowski of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told senators the agency is trying to change the perception that once migrants arrive, they will be allowed to remain.

    THOMAS S. WINKOWSKI, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: We’re already seeing people saying, I didn’t realize I was going to detention. I thought I was going to be released. That begins that process of sending the deterrent message. If we’re going to be successful that, in my view, that’s what we have to do.

    GWEN IFILL: But Republican John McCain of Arizona said the actual numbers speak louder than the administration’s words.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R, Ariz.: In fiscal year 2013, 20,805 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras were apprehended by the Border Patrol.

    In that same year, 2013, 1,669 of these unaccompanied children were repatriated to their home countries. If you were one of these children and you were there in one of these countries, wouldn’t you think your odds are pretty good?

    THOMAS S. WINKOWSKI: Yes, but there is a legal process. And that process takes time to make its way through the system.

    GWEN IFILL: The Justice Department used the hearing to announce it’s moving cases involving children to the top of immigration court dockets.

    Juan Osuna runs the department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review.

    JUAN OSUNA, Director, Executive office of Immigration Review: These cases will go to the front of the line for adjudication and immigration judges will be assigned to make sure that these cases are heard promptly and ahead of all others.

    This change has consequences for the broader immigration court caseload. Cases not considered a priority will take longer to adjudicate. However, given these seriousness of the situation along the border, it is the proper response by our agency.

    GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the crisis. The money would go to detention, caregiving, and court facilities, but Republicans sounded doubtful.

    House Speaker John Boehner said the request doesn’t address the main issue:

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: If we don’t secure the border, nothing’s going to change. And if you look at the president’s request, it’s all more about continuing to deal with the problem. We have got to do something about sealing the border and ending this problem, so that we can begin to move on with the bigger question of immigration reform.

    GWEN IFILL: The president traveled from Denver to Dallas today for a long-planned fund-raising trip now overshadowed by the immigration furor.

    Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said the president should go to the border as well.

    SEN. TED CRUZ, R, Texas: President Obama today is down in the state of Texas. But, sadly, he’s not visiting the border. He’s not visiting the children who are suffering as a result of the failures of the Obama policies. Instead, he’s doing fund-raisers. He’s visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there’s no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that’s being caused by his policies.

    GWEN IFILL: The White House dismissed the criticism.

    Instead, the president was meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry, as well as local officials and faith groups that work with detained children.

    As the border crisis heats up, we turn to two reporters who’ve been covering the politics driving the debate at the White House and on Capitol Hill, Carrie Budoff Brown, senior White House reporter for Politico, and Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for The Takeaway on Public Radio International.

    Carrie, you have been writing quite a bit about what’s been happening, I call it inside the Roosevelt Room at the White House, as the administration tries to find its balance on this, criticized by Democrats who don’t think the president is doing enough, criticized by Republicans who don’t think the president is doing enough, for different reasons.

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, Politico: Yes.

    There’s two separate tracks right now on immigration that are pretty key to White House, what’s happening on the border, this crisis with the influx of young people from Central America. And there is this bigger process going on, that because Congress didn’t pass an immigration reform bill, there is an effort under way by the president to act on his own to provide temporary legal status to millions of people, potentially.

    And there’s high hopes in the immigrant advocacy community, the Democratic base, lawmakers — Democratic lawmakers on the Hill, Hispanic and Asian lawmakers, who really want him through the stroke of his own pen to provide a legal status to potentially as many as 10 million people, 10 million undocumented immigrants.

    There’s a lot of pressure on him to do that. And this crisis on the southwest border clouds that whole process. And how he responds to this and how he manages this process will have an effect on public opinion potentially and his ability to make these bigger decisions that he’s hoping do in the next two months.

    GWEN IFILL: At least one of his supporters, advocates on behalf of his point of view, have called him the deporter in chief, something he didn’t take very well.

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: Yes.

    GWEN IFILL: And today he was talking — or yesterday — about right-sizing expectations. What does that mean?

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: That means that he has a very difficult relationship right now with a lot of Hispanic advocates, Asian advocates, who have been pushing for him to put all of his might possible behind the immigration reform bill.

    At the same time, he has deported almost as many people as George W. Bush did. They are now — now that he’s decided to take some action on his own, they really want him to go to the mat, to go to the legal limit possible. And there’s high expectations that he will do that.

    And he is telling them, listen, there is a legal limit to what can I do. Do not raise hopes so high that I can’t reach it. And that has ramifications on how the community views us and Democrats in general, and potentially puts some of our toughest races in peril this year and down the road.

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s go to the other end of Capitol — of Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, Todd.

    And $3.7 billion the president asked for to address this most recent very narrow problem of — not so narrow — of children crossing the border. How has that been received? 

    TODD ZWILLICH, The Takeaway, Public Radio International & WNYC: Well, push and pull is really what today was about, as you saw the rhetoric from both sides about how they are going to deal with this.

    I will say there is a hope on both sides of the aisle to do something about this, because this is about the children. You don’t cross the troops and vets, and you do it for the children in Washington. And…

    GWEN IFILL: So, there is a difference, a point of view or a different tone to the debate because of the children?

    TODD ZWILLICH: There is. And here is why I say push and pull.

    To Democrats on the Hill, this entire problem and the policy that they want out of this is about push from Central America. They say this is a refugee problem. This is children fleeing Honduras and Guatemala with enormously high murder rates, with assaults, with drug trafficking, with the highest murder rate in the world.

    They are fleeing a terrible situation. We cannot — we cannot as a compassionate country just have a policy that sends them back into this fire. For Republicans, it is all about pull. This is all about, they say, an American policy and an American president that advertises to the parents of these children that if they turn up on the border, they will be welcomed, they will granted asylum, they can stay, they will get amnesty.

    Now, the White House of course points out that’s not the law and border protection and judges and lawyers have to now point out that that’s not the law, and that’s why there’s so many thousands in many cases in detention, because they don’t get automatic amnesty. That’s not the law in this country.

    But people apparently don’t know that. And so for Republicans, this is about pull. They say, we have a billboard, we have amnesty. That’s why the parents of these children are subjecting them to these dangerous trips.

    GWEN IFILL: Jeff Flake, senator from Arizona and a proponent of broad-based immigration reform, was on the program last night, and he didn’t sound very optimistic that even when the discussion turns to children, that it’s going to change the trajectory of this debate, where things seem stuck in the House.

    TODD ZWILLICH: One of the things that Republicans want out of this is a very strong advertisement to these Central American countries that sending your kids to the border won’t work.

    Now, how would that advertisement work? This is one of the areas of policy debate that’s going to happen here. In some cases, it may actually be advertisement. It may be billboards and outreach by the State Department in these countries, working with the Hondurans and the Guatemalans to tell their own citizens that it’s not a good strategy to send your kids. As bad as things are at home, they won’t be able to stay.

    But Jeff Flake and others said on the Hill today — and he may have said it on the program — that the very best advertisement, to Republicans, is lots and lots of people returning home right after they left. There’s no better advertisement for folks in the neighborhood than to know that it didn’t work. It’s not useful to go to the U.S. border because you can’t stay.

    GWEN IFILL: What is the fate of the behind-the-scenes conversation now, Carrie? We saw president get off Air Force One, meet with Governor Perry, who has said he was going to meet him on the tarmac. They got on Marine One, the helicopter, and flew to their — and flew and drove to their next event together. There is some rapprochement there.

    Is there any here in Washington?

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: No, I don’t that.

    I think things are really in flux right now with the House Republicans trying to decide what to put forward on their end. You saw the speaker say that we do have to act. They do have to do something. There’s only three weeks until they take a break for a good part of August into September.

    It’s really still hard to see how they come to a meeting of the minds even on something like this. Immigration has been so difficult for these two parties. They talk past each other. One side says the border has been more secure than it ever has been, and now this issue comes up and say, what are you talking about?  Now this proves that you were not telling the truth about the border being secure.

    It’s very difficult, two sides to mesh. And that’s been the problem all along.

    TODD ZWILLICH: But there are signs — if I can say, there are signs of real effort on the Hill, taking into account this problem.

    Immigration reform has failed. The sides can’t agree. Republicans can’t agree among themselves. Democrats can’t agree with Republicans. We all know that. But there are signs of real effort on the Hill. If you notice, Republican leaders didn’t respond to this request from the president, this emergency supplemental, the way you would expect them to, by saying, has to be paid for, this all has to be offset with spending elsewhere.

    Now, conservatives hate that. They want it offset. But you didn’t see the speaker say that. He’s left the door open to a real discussion with the White House. On the Senate side, you showed a clip from the Senate floor when Senator Cruz and other Republican colleagues were having a colloquy.

    There was a moment that was very interesting in Cruz’s speech. He began sort of familiar refrain for Ted Cruz, railing against the White House for amnesty, for holding the border hostage to amnesty. And his colleagues, conservatives, John Cornyn, his colleague from Texas, sort of interrupted him and took the discussion back from Ted Cruz.

    John McCain participated to sort of sideline what they saw as inflammatory talk to try to keep this contained on one issue.

    GWEN IFILL: But isn’t this threat of executive action from the White House kind of an irritant? Doesn’t it work against cooperation?

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: Oh, absolutely it does.

    And I think that it’s going to this — both sides — both issue is clouded by the other, and they’re feeding into each other. And the executive actions, his promise to do big things with his own pen, it’s all tied into this because Republicans are blaming this crisis on the border now on the president’s executive action in 2012, allowing young undocumented children who were brought to the country by their parents to stay in the country.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: So all the issues are getting mixed up.

    GWEN IFILL: Including — Katrina has been thrown into the mix now.

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: Yes. I mean, yes.

    TODD ZWILLICH: The president’s Katrina, as Republicans say.

    And both there’s the rhetoric of how fractious immigration reform really on both sides, and particularly with conservatives. But there is an effort on the Hill. Look, right now, Republicans really, really want you to know, they pull you aside and say this is the president’s problem. It happened on the president’s watch.

    They want the president to go to the border. They want the president to be photographed dealing with his problem. But they’re also sensitive to the consequence of not being able to solve a problem that’s about the kids. If they can’t put something together and get an agreement with Democrats about a sensitive issue, then they’re going own it too.

    GWEN IFILL: And they’re a problem that could come back haunt them in the next elections.

    Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico, Todd Zwillich from PRI, thank you both very much.

    CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: Thank you.

    TODD ZWILLICH: Pleasure.

    The post Crisis centered on children affects tone of immigration debate on Capitol Hill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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  • 07/09/14--15:26: Caution! Students at play
  • Introducing games into the classroom can transform learning

    Getting students to move and "play" as part of classroom activities can have many benefits. Photo by Katie Gould

    Getting students to move and “play” as part of classroom activities can have many benefits. Photo by Katie Gould

    Welcome to the first installation of “The Teachers’ Lounge,” a forum where the often overlooked voice of teachers can be heard. Through our regular blog we will address trends, best practices and the real challenges educators, students and families face every day. In conjunction with the NewsHour’s American Graduate profile of a school that uses games as a tool for engagement, our blog further explores play in the classroom and research that suggests it can be a helpful strategy for teachers.

    Pirate Day!

    The Pirates of the Caribbean theme song was blasting, desks were arranged in groups and I was greeting all my high school freshmen who dared to come in with, “Ayeeeee ye smugglers be warned!” and, “ARRRRRGHHHH!”

    Once everyone was settled, I explained the rules. Each group had the same goal: produce five specific items using the resources in their envelope. You probably can see where this is going; the groups were all given different resources (for example, a ruler, glue paper clips, etc.) making some groups “wealthy” and other groups “poor.” Students were instructed to trade, beg, borrow and steal (if I caught them stealing they went to “jail,” a chair in the corner, for three minutes) in order to complete their task. The first team to successfully produce all five items won.

    teachersloungeIt started off calm. Students were too caught up in gloating or scowling as they reached into their envelopes and realized what was inside.

    As I’m sure you can imagine, the scene quickly devolved into chaos. The “wealthy” groups were working on making their products and trying to ward off those who would cheat them with a bad bargain or outright theft.

    Shouts of protest were coming from the “have nots,” who looked overwhelmed thinking about how they were going to win with a single paperclip and some students circled the desks of others like sharks, waiting for the right moment to steal a glue stick.

    At the end of the simulation there were winners and there were losers, but everyone who played had a lot to say about their experience as we reflected individually and as a class. The biggest win of the simulation came after I revealed to them that what we had just done was learn about economics and my students made me promise to teach economics again soon.

    It’s on like Donkey Kong

    As a teacher who now helps others bring current events into the classroom, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions about games in the classroom, since it has become such a hot topic lately.

    MythGames in the classrooms mean that kids are sitting around playing Oregon Trail all day.

    There are some great video games to enhance learning, but games in the classroom movement has more to do with a style of teaching than figuring out how you are going to get a class a set of Wii controllers.

    MythKids in these game style classrooms aren’t getting grades.

    I hear this all the time, particularly from non-teachers who tend to become very excited and or horrified about it. The absence of traditional letter grades A-F has a lot more to do with a school being non-traditional in general and so schools that focus on games often fall into this category. But not getting a letter grade doesn’t mean zero accountability. Teachers are usually giving more in-depth written feedback about a student’s level of achievement which will include artifacts from the student’s collection of work.

    MythGames in the classroom means you must have the latest technology and every kid needs a device.

    As someone who taught in a school that was not “wealthy” resource-wise, I am extremely sensitive about the digital divide and hesitate to endorse technology in the classroom that contributes to it. However, games in the classroom doesn’t necessarily mean every kid needs a tablet. In the conversation about bringing games into the classroom the terms “high-tech” and “low-tech” are used to describe the technology needed, and for me “low-tech” games, like the Pirate Day simulation, were super effective.

    MythGames in the classroom are an excuse for teachers to take a break from teaching.

    As any seasoned teacher knows, games and simulations take way more effort to prepare and execute than a regular old lecture or Power Point. The Pirate Day simulation took more than an hour to prepare the materials for each class. Further, managing controlled chaos can leave you exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, games are a great tool to have in your arsenal, but having the creative juices and energy to bring a full blown game to life every day might not be realistic.

    Myth ALL kids love games and ALL behavior problems will magically disappear!

    Not all students love games in the classrooms, in fact some downright detest them. A few of the usual suspects who might throw a wrench in a game are:

    • The super competitive kid who is so focused on winning that they forget to have fun.
    • The kid who needs to be the center of attention and isn’t a great team player
    • The kid with a terrible attitude who hates everything — You’d be surprised how quickly a “bad apple” can sour the game for everyone else.

    The good news is that teachers can usually give these kinds of kids a heads up and remind them about the real purpose of the game and they’ll fall in line. Or the group assignments can balance the strongest personalities.

    Dr. Mario

    I wish I could tell you that Pirate Day was all my idea, but it was not. My department chair gave me the idea and I ran with it because even with very little teaching experience I knew this simulation was golden. How? Before I became a teacher I spent three years doing neuroscience research and had a pretty good idea about how the brain worked. A lot of that research was for the purpose of developing new medications for folks with addiction disorders, so my understanding of the brain’s reward system is pretty solid. Here are a few neuroscience principles that explain why games are effective learning tools:

    If you want kids to focus and sustain attention you have a few options:

    • DopamineseratoninReward them — if you want to make your class addictive, teach like a video game. Video games are set up so there are constant opportunities to succeed (and fail), there is immediate feedback and it becomes more difficult over time, which builds up the feeling of gratification you get from winning. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, including addiction. When we are rewarded, levels of dopamine in the brain increase and we get that “I JUST WON THE LOTTERY!” feel-good high. You start including opportunities for intrinsic rewards to your students, and they just might get addicted to algebra. Want them to relax? See the explanation about serotonin in the next section.
    • Get them moving — our bodies were not designed for sitting in a class all day. Movement triggers the release of dopamine (which also plays a role in movement) in the brain which naturally makes us more focused and attentive. Dr. John Medina does a great job explaining this in his book “Brain Rules”.
    • Make it personal — when students are emotionally invested they tend to remember what they learned better. Our “memory center,” the hippocampus, is located in the same neighborhood of the brain that controls our feelings, so memories with strong emotions attached to them tend to stick better. Games naturally engage the student since their participation directly affects the outcome.

    If you want your students to excel in learning at their highest level:

    • Make goals and expectations clear — As much as teenagers say they want to be independent, everyone benefits from consistency and knowing the rules. In fact, research has shown that the most stressed out people within a social hierarchy are those with little control over their situation and who have no idea what they are aiming for. Our bodies are designed to handle short bouts of stress, not for long periods of time. During a crisis three hormones — adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol — are released into the body to get us into the “fight or flight” mode. After the crisis is over, our body naturally clears out the stress hormones, but constant stress doesn’t give our body ca chance to do that. The effects on the body under chronic stress are serious — heart problems, obesity, and depression to name a few. In a classroom with games everyone knows the rules, there is a specified amount of time for the game and the goal is clear — you win or you lose. In the video below, “Stress: Portrait of a Killer,” neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky explains the phenomena of the effects of chronic stress on the body.

    • Scaring the bejesus out of your students as a classroom management strategy hurts student learning over the long term — In addition to the physical harm that long term stress causes, students don’t preform as well in memory and recall tests. The neurotransmitter serotonin has been well studied and research indicates that it plays an important role in emotion and cognition. If dopamine feels like “I JUST WON THE LOTTERY!” serotonin feels like “Yum, sigh … I just had a big delicious meal and I am soooo relaxed.” When serotonin is working efficiently in the brain we learn better and feel better. When we don’t feel safe serotonin doesn’t function the way it should, so a classroom environment where students feel physically and emotionally safe is a must. Well structured games can be a fun way for students to be naturally engaged, which minimizes behavior problems.

    Game Over

    Like any trend in education that comes our way, my advice for teacher is, check it out, take what’s useful from it and don’t stress if it doesn’t work for you or your class. Games in the classroom worked and made sense for me, but that doesn’t really mean anything to the teacher in the classroom next to mine. If you’re interested in learning more about games in the classroom and even a school where it’s all games all day for one 6th grade class check out our American Graduate story on the PlayMaker School. Interested in trying out game based learning in your classroom? Try our NewsHour Extra active learning resources.

    The post Caution! Students at play appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: When it comes to school, keeping students engaged is a challenge virtually all teachers face at one time or another. Using technology as a tool is one of the new ways of doing it.

    But one school in California is taking game play to an entirely different level.

    The NewsHour’s April Brown has our latest report for American Graduate. It’s a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    APRIL BROWN: It’s not often you hear kids talk about school like this.

    STUDENT: I really like school now. Like, I’m actually psyched to come.

    STUDENT: It just makes me feel good.

    STUDENT: I wake up every morning and I’m just like, yes.

    APRIL BROWN: These students have been taking part in a new experiment in educational innovation known as the PlayMaker School. PlayMaker is, thus far, only for sixth graders who attend the private K-12 New Roads school in Santa Monica, California. You won’t find desks, seating charts or even a normal grading system in their classroom.

    Lessons often end up looking like this one, which, believe it or not, is an introduction to physics.

    Nolan Windham and his classmates are playing a video game called Aero, wearing homemade wings which use repurposed controllers from a Nintendo Wii.

    NOLAN WINDHAM, Student: It teaches you the basics about how birds move their wings to get lift. It teaches you in another stage about gravity, weight. It teaches you about drag. It teaches you about momentum. It teaches you about everything that has to do with flight.

    APRIL BROWN: Aero is one of the games designed by the Los Angeles nonprofit GameDesk, which created the PlayMaker concept.

    Lucien Vattel is the company’s founder and CEO. He says GameDesk’s mission is to keep kids curious and engaged, igniting passions that make students want to learn, rather than being forced to do so.

    LUCIEN VATTEL, GameDesk: A lot of the work we do here focuses on creating an authentic experience, something that creates intrinsic motivation.

    APRIL BROWN: GameDesk launched PlayMaker in the fall of 2012 with large investments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and AT&T, among others.

    With an idea that many may consider radical, they partnered with a private school willing to share resources and take on the risk of classes designed like a video game.

    LUCIEN VATTEL: A game designer’s role is to constantly scaffold those challenges over time, so that a person will always want to play, always want to engage. And I said, what if we replace game designer with teacher or school?

    APRIL BROWN: The PlayMaker School has been a work in progress since 2008, when the idea behind it was hatched here at the University of Southern California as part of a project in the school’s engineering department.

    At the time, Lucien Vattel was looking at how play could enhance learning at USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center, a lab that was started with a grant from the National Science Foundation, which, for the record, is also a NewsHour funder.

    Cyrus Shahabi is the center’s director and a professor in the school’s computer science and electrical engineering departments. He quickly realized the power of what was beginning to take shape.

    CYRUS SHAHABI, University of Southern California: When you teach math, basically, 90 percent of the kids just memorize stuff, right? They don’t try to understand the reasoning behind it. But if you have something like a game, where these things are grasped naturally, right? Nobody is telling you, but you realize, oh, if I do this, that’s going to happen. That’s why I need to do it this way.

    APRIL BROWN: Since then, the PlayMaker model has been evolving, with some of the games being piloted in several Los Angeles public schools and later taking over the sixth grade at New Roads.

    GameDesk has also been developing a variety of games, with varying levels of technology. They address everything from physical geography and the driving forces behind tectonic plates to emotional learning, with tools to cope with stressful situations.

    TEDD WAKEMAN, PlayMaker School: We have to think about, what is the reason that they come to school everyday?

    APRIL BROWN: The job of actually putting these ideas into practice in the classroom falls to educators Tedd Wakeman and A.J. Webster. Both have taught in more traditional schools, but they were drawn to the PlayMaker approach because they grew disillusioned with how students were forced to learn.

    TEDD WAKEMAN: When we talk about the area of the trapezoid or when King Tut died or the third stage of the frog cycle, might these things be important to a small sliver of the population? Sure. But data in the 21st century, I can look on my phone in 20 seconds and get the answer to pretty much anything that I want. So shouldn’t we be teaching broader skill sets, encouraging curiosity and creative thinking?

    APRIL BROWN: Creative thinking becomes apparent when the sixth graders are tasked with designing, coding and promoting their own video games.

    They essentially form mini-companies that are judged by market forces, mainly seventh and eighth graders at New Roads, who provide feedback as to why they like the games.

    STUDENT: This is a good game, though.

    APRIL BROWN: Or constructive criticism about what’s wrong and needs fixing.

    Nolan Windham was his team’s project manager. He believes the skills he’s learned from the experience will be useful, especially if he goes into engineering, a field he’s leaning towards at the moment.

    NOLAN WINDHAM: The purpose of all school is to get kids to know — have knowledge, be able to think, have facts about things, so then they can use it in their careers. That’s the whole point of school. This is just doing it in a better way.

    APRIL BROWN: At first glance, it might seem like PlayMaker students play video games and work on computers all day. But even though technology plays a big part, the program also relies on many low-tech or no-tech lessons, like this one on life in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.

    Students take on roles in the ancient civilization, playing parts of kings and commoners, scribes and slave owners. They are forced to settle everything from legal disputes.

    STUDENT: The sailor shall give the owner of the boat another boat as compensation.

    APRIL BROWN: To the best ways to gather and maintain food supplies.

    A.J. WEBSTER, PlayMaker School: When you read what businesspeople are looking for or college professors are looking for, by and large, they are looking for things like collaboration, the ability to communicate, the ability to think critically. Those are some of the top ones that come up again and again.

    So, taking that as a starting point, we said, OK, these kids have to be able to collaborate and communicate with each other.

    APRIL BROWN: Lucien Vattel admits these playful ideas may be a hard sell for districts with tight budgets or few technology resources. But a potentially larger issue will be converting those who believe education should continue in a more traditional fashion.

    Co-teacher Tedd Wakeman says a PlayMaker classroom requires constant flexibility from teachers and students, and that even some kids have a hard time committing to a concept that doesn’t focus on homework and tests.

    TEDD WAKEMAN: It’s amazing to watch how many of them actually kind of freak out and say, I just don’t know what to do with this freedom. I just want you to tell me what to do. Just give me some worksheets. Just give me a test.

    APRIL BROWN: Rather than with tests and quizzes, Wakeman and Webster say they assess what kids are learning with constant observations and discussions during and after activities. They also have students create projects to demonstrate their knowledge and say they are tracking how well the program works overall.

    Still, the PlayMaker model is relatively new and untested. And whether it can be implemented on a large scale remains an open question.

    Vattel says each PlayMaker would need to be different, depending on a school’s resources, culture and the needs of its students and teachers.

    LUCIEN VATTEL: PlayMaker Detroit would be very different than PlayMaker Austin, very different than PlayMaker New York or PlayMaker Dallas. And so the idea is that we want to grow this model and then see how it naturally expands in these different communities.

    APRIL BROWN: And, if nothing else, they have figured out how to make kids like Isaac Prevatt look forward to school.

    ISAAC PREVATT, Student: At my old school, I dreaded it every single day. I really just didn’t like it. You know, I would fake stomach aches. I have not faked any sicknesses this year.

    APRIL BROWN: GameDesk is now working to get PlayMaker into a public charter high school in Austin, Texas, this fall.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On our Web site, we have more on the student-run gaming businesses and the neuroscience link between play and learning.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    The post California school integrates play with learning appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pope Frances Celebrates Holy Mass for the "Evangelium Vitae" Day

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    GWEN IFILL: Pope Francis remains a hugely popular public figure. But, this week, he’s been trying to get the Catholic Church’s house in order by dealing with two major lingering problems.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Vatican officials announced today that the pope will replace top management of what’s often referred to as the Vatican Bank. It’s more formally known as the Institute for the Works of Religion and is reported to manage nearly $8 billion in assets.

    It’s been plagued for years by several scandals that include charges of corruption, money laundering and mismanagement. That change was one of several announced today that impact the Vatican’s financial and property units. It came two days after Pope Francis met in Vatican City with six victims of sexual abuse by clergy. He apologized and asked for forgiveness from them during a homily and private mass.

    The pope’s response to the sexual abuse scandals has been criticized by a number of victims.

    John Allen covers the Vatican and global Catholicism for The Boston Globe. He joins me from Denver.

    So, let’s talk a little bit about the shuffle at the bank. Why is this particular bank so significant?

    JOHN ALLEN, The Boston Globe: Well, first of all, we should say that shuffle announced today concerns far more than the Vatican Bank.

    The Vatican has a number of important financial centers and the reforms announced today concern all of them. But in terms of the bank, I think the most important thing is that, as you rightly indicated in the setup to our conversation, over the years, the Vatican Bank has been a recurrent source of scandal and embarrassment for the Vatican and the broader Catholic Church.

    And what is the idea of the reforms that the Vatican has announced is to bring it into compliance with 21st century standards of how business ought to be done. Now, to accomplish that, the pope has done a couple of things. One is, he has significantly internationalized the leader at the bank, appointing a Frenchman as its new president, appointing a lineup for a supervisory council that is tremendously international, trying to break what has been a kind of Italian monopoly over management at the Vatican.

    The other thing he has done is brought in a number of laypeople, that is nonclerics, to exercise leadership roles, not just for the bank, but for the Vatican’s other profit centers. That’s a departure with past practice, in which many of these decisions historically have been made by clergy, who may be experts in theology or church law, but quite often have no background at all in finance.

    And the idea here is to, in the words of Australian Cardinal George Pell, who is the pope’s finance czar, in an interview with The Boston Globe today, the idea is to get the Vatican off the gossip pages and to make it boringly successful.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what are some of the reasons why it is not as successful as it used to be? We have seen some of the profit margins decrease significantly.

    JOHN ALLEN: Well, I mean, the profit margins went down for the fiscal year 2013 largely because the Vatican did two things.

    One, it conducted an exhaustive review of all of its accounts, more than 19,000 accounts, to make sure that it had an adequate paper trail, that it knew who its clients were and where their money came from. That resulted in closing down about 3,000 of those accounts, which meant that about $60 million to $70 million of assets in the Vatican Bank left.

    The other thing is, they spent about $11 million in order to hire the U.S.-based regulatory compliance group Promontory Group to conduct that review. So, their point is that these losses were exceptional. Had it not been for those two things, profits in 2013 would have been in line with previous years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are some of the scandals that make this almost called the pariah of the European banking system?

    JOHN ALLEN: Well, look, we could go all the way back to the 1970s, the famous banking scandals of that era, in which there was an Italian financial institution by the name of Banco Ambrosiano that had close ties to the Vatican went belly up.

    That institution was led by an Italian financier named Roberto Calvi, known as God’s banker because he was so wired in the Vatican, who ended up hanging to death under Blackfriars Bridge in London.

    All of this has been the subject of a lot of potboiler novels. It figured prominently in “Godfather 3″ and so on. Now, more recently, those problems have not ended. In 2010, about $30 million in Vatican Bank assets were frozen over suspicions of suspect transactions.

    There are still about three or four former officials of the Vatican Bank who are facing criminal investigations in Italy for alleged money laundering. In 2012-2013, credit card services were frozen at the Vatican because there were accusations by the Bank of Italy that the Vatican Bank wasn’t providing an adequate paper trail for those transactions, and on and on.

    And all of that is precisely the sort of cleaning of the stables that I think Pope Francis and his team are attempting to accomplish.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s talk also a little bit about the meeting that happened earlier this week with victims of sexual abuse.

    We have seen apologies before. We have seen commitments to zero tolerance before, even by Pope Benedict. So, what is so new about this meeting?

    JOHN ALLEN: Well, you’re right. Pope Benedict met with victims six times during the course of his papacy. Repeatedly, he apologized for the scandals. Repeatedly, he pledged the church to zero tolerance.

    So, in effect, none of that was new about the meeting that Francis held with these six victims on Monday, although it was of course the first time he did it. But I think the novelty of this encounter was that Pope Francis publicly pledged himself to accountability, and not just accountability for clergy who abuse, but for bishops who cover it up.

    And that has long been a central bone of contention from victims advocacy groups and other victims of the way the Vatican has responded to these scandals, that is that it has imposed on zero tolerance on priests who commit abuse, but basically it has not imposed any discipline on bishops who dropped the ball and failed to make zero tolerance stick.

    The pope has now said, with no ifs ands or buts, that he intends that there will be accountability on his watch. And therefore I think the takeaway has to be, he set a new standard for what is going to count as his personal success or failure in leading the cleanup operation.

    If people see him publicly holding bishops to account, then I think he get credit for moving the ball. If that doesn’t happen, then I think he will get a lot of blame for not living up to his own promises.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s been some pushback that it took the pope a long time to get this meeting on the books.

    JOHN ALLEN: Well, that’s right.

    What many critics will say is, why did it take 16 months for this meeting to happen?  In the early stages of his papacy, Francis met with atheists and nonbelievers and the poor and so on. Now, what aides to the pope will say is that he wanted to make sure, first of all, that he was up to speed on this crisis.

    Remember, the crisis as we know it in the States, massive media attention, billion-dollar lawsuits and so on, really hasn’t yet hit Argentina. And the other thing is, he wanted to have substantive progress to report. He created a commission, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in December.

    He wanted to have some sense of its game plan before he held this meeting, so that it wouldn’t just be a photo op, but it would be a substantive conversation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Allen of the Boston Globe joining us from Denver, thanks so much.

    JOHN ALLEN: You’re welcome.

    The post Pope Francis reforms scandal-ridden Vatican Bank in hopes of making it ‘boringly successful’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now back to a story that has dominated international headlines for most of this year, the crisis in Ukraine. The country’s previously overwhelmed military has made significant gains recently, but separatists forces are consolidating and digging in.

    The NewsHour’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner reports.

    MARGARET WARNER: Dressed in military fatigues, a triumphant President Petro Poroshenko visited the eastern city of Slavyansk yesterday, lauding its return to government control.

    PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine(through interpreter): Slavyansk was a symbol of terror and violence before. Today, Slavyansk is a symbol of the liberated Donbass.

    MARGARET WARNER: Ukrainian forces recaptured Slavyansk over the weekend, and Kramatorsk on Monday, two strongholds of pro-separatist rebels in the country’s industrial Donbass region.

    For months, Ukrainian forces had appeared incapable of dealing with the Russian-backed insurgency. But last week, after Poroshenko lifted a unilateral cease-fire, they went on the march.

    In liberated Slavyansk, the military removed rebel barricades and handed out food and water to weary residents.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): The situation right now, it is hard to believe we have been rescued, that we are home now and we can be Ukrainians again.

    MARGARET WARNER: The rebels have fallen back to the regional capital, Donetsk, a city of one million, and still hold buildings in Luhansk, near the Russian border. A rebel commander in Donetsk says his forces will have the advantage in urban warfare if government forces try to move in.

    ALEXANDER KHODAKOVSKY, Secretary Chief, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpreter): Now they are approaching a scenario that is least beneficial to them and most beneficial to us, a war in the city.

    MARGARET WARNER: President Poroshenko dismissed that possibility yesterday, saying, there will be no street fighting in Donetsk. Still, the rebels say new separatist recruits are pouring in. On Sunday, thousands rallied in Donetsk.

    MAN (through interpreter): I would take up arms tomorrow. And better to die on a barricade than be under the Ukrainian hoof.

    MARGARET WARNER: But officials in Kiev claim the military now controls nearly two-thirds of the two regions where rebels had declared independence. They also say they have secured all road border crossings with Russia to try to prevent more Russian equipment and forces from entering.

    In Washington today, senators pressed for U.S. new sanctions against Russia. But Assistant Secretary of state Victoria Nuland repeated the administration’s preference to act in concert with the Europeans.

    VICTORIA NULAND, Assistant Secretary of State: We are continuing to prepare the next round of sanctions. As we have said repeatedly and as the president has said, these sanctions will be more effective, they will be stronger, if the U.S. and Europe work together.

    MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, as the battlefield balance seems to tips it’s way, the Kiev government is taking a harder line, declaring that any talks on a new cease-fire will begin only when the rebels disarm.

    The post Ukraine’s Poroshenko dismisses rebel hopes for Donetsk battle appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ukraine2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And Margaret joins me now.

    So, Margaret, you have been talking to people in both governments, the U.S. and Ukraine. You have been talking to people on the ground. Is the Ukrainian military finally on a roll?

    MARGARET WARNER: The picture, actually, privately, they admit both sides, that it’s not as rosy as portrayed.

    That is, yes, they finally after really months of laying siege to Slavyansk managed to provoke a panicked retreat by the rebels. And the national security adviser of Ukraine gave a briefing talking about that. They left behind a lot of heavy equipment and weapons. That was clearly a panicked escape.

    But even he admitted that the rebels had succeeded by using the locals as human shields for months. He said Donetsk is a whole ‘nother order with all of these people, and he said, it makes it very complicated for us. He also admitted that even though they have sealed the road crossings from Russia, there is all this unprotected — I have been out to that border.

    There is all this unprotected forest, he said, fields, rivers in which Russians are still trying to get men and material in.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So despite this sense that there could be, that they’re ready for an assault on Donetsk, you’re saying not yet.

    MARGARET WARNER: Not yet.

    And a chief adviser to the national security adviser said to me tonight, look, tens of thousands of civilians dead is not what the government wants here. We’re going to have to use a different method and it’s going to be a lot slower. Look how long it took in Slavyansk.

    And the U.S. government, which insists it’s not directing this in any way, says they are definitely telling the Ukrainians, do not mount a major assault. You cannot take Donetsk militarily. It will be a disaster and you will have to use other methods.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are the other methods? What are the other alternatives for the Ukrainians?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, two, Judy, really.

    There’s a military approach, which Parubiy, the national security adviser, laid out in this briefing today. And he said, what we will do is, we’re putting a chokehold around Donetsk, as we did around Slavyansk and Kramatorsk and a lot of these other places, that will prevent resupply for the rebels.

    At the same time, we will create civilian corridors, so a lot of civilians can leave if they choose, which is what happened in Slavyansk. About half the population actually left of the 100,000 in the interim, because it was — they had no food, no water. They were in terrible shape.

    And he said — and they are basically going to wait for the insurgents to really sabotage themselves, for example, blowing up roads and bridges and railways. Well, you got — I have been to factories with 10,000 workers that take iron ore and coal and produce pipes. If you cut the railway line, those 10,000 people lose their jobs. So…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And they have done some of that.

    MARGARET WARNER: And they have done some of that.

    And so in the short-term, it may create people who well, at least I will get paid by the separatists, but in the long term, they are — the Ukrainians are really counting on the locals essentially saying, we have had enough. Now, that’s a tall order.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is saying the only answer is through this dialogue. And as you may recall, there’s been this ongoing attempt by the Europeans and Americans to get a dialogue going. The separatists however are saying, well, yes, we’re interested in a dialogue, but only if it’s here in Donetsk or Belarus or Russia. So, in other words — and Putin is not pushing them to really make — get serious about the dialogue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, and speaking of Putin, you didn’t mention him until the very end now. What is his role, and what is he saying?

    MARGARET WARNER: His role continues to be absolutely huge.

    The tone has definitely diminished. And both in public statements and I’m told by people who actually understand Russian, on Russian TV, Russian the Russian-language TV that you see in Ukraine, they’re no longer saying, oh, the Ukrainian government is a bunch of fascists and neo-Nazis. They are talking about, don’t kill civilians and we need a dialogue.

    So, the question is why, and that remains a mystery to U.S. officials. Is it because of economic sanctions? Is it because a new Pew poll today showing Russian reputation worldwide sinking? Is it because Putin is just playing a clever game and he still wants to keep Ukraine in this sort of unsettled zone, so he will let the stalemate kind of continue in Donetsk?

    And nobody knows. Nobody in the U.S. government even pretends to know.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of sanctions, just very quickly, you mentioned that. What’s — back here, Capitol Hill, there are still members of Congress calling for that. Where does that stand?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, not very far, Judy, so far.

    Today, the E.U. slapped sanctions on 11 individuals. But those are just pinpricks. What the U.S. wants is broad sanctions against certain sectors, finance, high-tech, defense. But they want to wait for the Europeans. The big meeting is next week of the European Council July 16. Questions are two.

    One, will the Europeans go for it? They will pay a higher economic price, as you know, than the U.S. And, two, if they don’t, would President Obama go it alone?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And watching them act together is I think what people expect.

    MARGARET WARNER: Oh, they want.

    But if they don’t, you could hear the pressure on Capitol Hill today, with Senator Corker saying, we look like a paper tiger. This administration looks like — threatens and threatens and doesn’t do anything.

    So, I think next week, we will see if the president is prepared to act alone if he has to.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner on the story, thank you.

    The post Why has Russia toned down its rhetoric on Ukraine? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Fossil records have allowed scientists to unlock a 410 million-year-old secret: the way an ancient arachnid crawled around.

    Using fossils from London’s Natural History Museum that contain a cross section of the early spider, researchers from the University of Manchester and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin were able to determine the range of the arachnid’s limbs. Taking that data, as well as the strides of the modern-day spider, scientists were able to recreate, via animation, what they think was the ancient animal’s stride.

    “When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain,” said paleontologist Dr. Russell Garwood, one of the authors of the study. “They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders. Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved — all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs.”

    The post Walk this way: Scientists recreate 410 million-year-old spider crawl appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    North Korea has given Japan a list of some 30 missing Japanese victims still living in the country, Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday.

    The list includes victims of North Korean state-sponsored kidnappings in the 1970s and 80s, including the 12 victims previously recognized by Japan who have yet to return to the country.

    Reuters reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has put a spotlight on the abductees’ fate a focus of his political career. Japan eased some of its sanctions on North Korea last Friday after Pyongyang agreed to reopen investigations into the cases of the kidnap victims.

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    LOS ANGELES — At a time when election officials are struggling to convince more Americans to vote, advocates for the disabled say thousands of people with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and other intellectual or developmental disabilities have been systematically denied that basic right in the nation’s largest county.

    A Voting Rights Act complaint submitted Thursday to the U.S. Justice Department in Los Angeles goes to a politically delicate subject that states have grappled with over the years: Where is the line to disqualify someone from the voting booth because of a cognitive or developmental impairment?

    The complaint by the Disability and Abuse Project argues that intellectual and developmental disabilities, including conditions such as Down syndrome, are not automatic barriers to participating in elections. It seeks a sweeping review of voting eligibility in Los Angeles County in such cases, arguing that thousands of people with those disabilities have lost the right to vote during the last decade.

    “If somebody can articulate in whatever way … that they want to vote, that they have an interest in voting, that’s the only test that should be applied nationwide,” Thomas F. Coleman, the group’s legal director, said at a news conference outside the federal courthouse, echoing a recommendation from the American Bar Association.

    At issue in the California case is access to the ballot box for adults who enter so-called limited conservatorships, legal arrangements in which parents or guardians assume the right to make certain decisions for people who lack the ability to manage their financial and medical affairs. In the course of taking that step in court, voting rights are routinely voided, according to the advocacy group.

    California has over 40,000 such cases, and those covered by the arrangements usually live with their families or in group homes. A recent sample of 61 cases by the advocacy group in Los Angeles County found that 90 percent of the people covered by limited conservatorships had been disqualified from voting.

    The complaint says judges in Los Angeles Superior Court use literacy tests to determine if adults in limited conservatorships should have voting rights, a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. It also says that judges and court-appointed attorneys violate federal laws that allow people with disabilities to have assistance to complete voter-registration forms and cast ballots.

    “Autism is a broad spectrum, and there can be low skills and there can be high skills. But what I observed was that people tend to just dismiss it as though they have no skills,” Teresa Thompson, whose son has autism and whose case helped prompt the complaint, said in a videotaped statement.

    Los Angeles Superior Court spokeswoman Mary Eckhardt Hearn said Wednesday she had not seen the complaint and declined comment.

    The complaint could trigger an investigation by the Justice Department. It also asks Superior Court to rescind thousands of voter-disqualification notices it has issued in those cases over a decade.

    For years, advocates brought attention to the obstacles to voting faced by the physically disabled. More recently, the focus has shifted to the mentally or developmentally disabled, who advocates say have long been stigmatized in the voting process.

    In the past, advocates in Missouri sued to make it easier for people under guardianship for mental disabilities to vote, and New Jersey voters in 2007 stripped language from the state Constitution that held “no idiot or insane person shall enjoy the right of suffrage.”

    All but about a dozen states have some type of law limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence. But how those laws are enforced varies widely, advocates say.

    A 2007 Bar Association report concluded that “excluding the broad and indefinite category of persons with mental incapacities is not consistent with either the constitutional right to vote … or the current understanding of mental capacity.”

    The California complaint could create a testing ground for such cases. State election law says a person is considered mentally incompetent and disqualified from voting if he or she cannot complete a voter-registration form, which the complaint argues is an illegal literacy test.

    “There is this constant struggle to make sure everyone can vote privately and independently, regardless of disability,” said Curtis Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network.

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    Severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away in Juba Central Prison for years on end. The new nation of South Sudan faces a tremendous challenge to build a modern country capable of caring for all of its citizens. Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    In some of the most war-ravaged countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, severely mentally disabled men and women are shackled and locked away for years on end. This photograph of a young man chained to the floor of Juba Central Prison in Sudan (now South Sudan) is featured on the cover of Robin Hammond’s book, “Condemned.” January 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Robin Hammond has photographed strife in Africa for a dozen years, from life in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe to the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Congo. The Paris-based photographer doesn’t shy away from difficult stories.

    In January of 2011 he was on assignment to document the Sudanese referendum for independence, which led to the creation of South Sudan. While driving through the region’s future capital Juba, Hammond spotted a young mentally disabled girl on the side of the road that gave him pause. Hammond turned to his driver, a local journalist, and asked him what happens to mentally ill people in Sudan.

    “He very casually replied, ‘well, we put them in prisons,’” Hammond told Art Beat. “The story became about, yes, this is a very hopeful time for a potentially new country, but at what price had the people paid to reach this point?”

    This 14 year old boy has been tied up for six years. His mother refuses to have him admitted to Gulu Hospital which is only two kilometers away. Gulu, Northern Uganda. April 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    This 14-year-old boy had been tied up for six years in Gulu, Northern Uganda. His mother refused to have him admitted to Gulu Hospital, only two kilometers away. April 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    That’s when the photographer realized that he had stumbled upon an important story to tell. The project became his new mission and is now collected in a book titled “Condemned,” published this past year.

    “After all these many years of war and all these deaths, with the government spending money on bullets and bombs rather than social welfare and development, the people who are most vulnerable in society, there’s nothing for them other than to put them in prison and shackle them to the floor.”

    Reverend Apostle S.B.Esanwi, Doctor of Divinity, treats people with mental illness with prayer and traditional medicines which usually consist of roots and leaves crushed in water. He claims to have cured hundreds of patients. Many stay for months in his compound. Some are chained throughout their time there. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    S.B. Esanwi treats people with mental illness with prayer and traditional medicines which usually consist of roots and leaves crushed in water. He claims to have cured hundreds of patients. Many stay for months in his compound. Some are chained throughout their time there in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Hammond had never considered the long-term mental health effects on the Africans whose stories of war, famine, and conflict he had previous covered. But this story — the story of the mentally disabled girl on the side of the road — made the photographer realize there was much more to be told.

    “We (as journalists) go, we cover famine or conflict or massive displacement and then when the flood waters recede or when the peace treaty is signed or when the people settle down in their refugee camps, we leave as if it’s over.”

    Abdi Rahman Shukri Ali, 26, has lived in a locked tin shack for two years. He stays with his family in Dadaab in Eastern Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, where Somalis fleeing conflict and famine have sought safety. Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. June, 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Abdi Rahman Shukri Ali, 26, has lived in a locked tin shack for two years. He stays with his family in Dadaab in Eastern Kenya, the world’s largest refugee camp, where Somalis fleeing conflict and famine have sought safety. June 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    But, Hammond explained, it’s not over for the people who live through the disaster.

    “What is the mental health impact of living through conflict, living through famine, living through disaster?” said Hammond.

    “When soldiers from our countries go and fight in wars, they come back and we know post-traumatic stress disorder is a common impact of being involved in those conflicts … People in Africa don’t suffer any less because they are African, but we don’t often think about the psychological impacts of the issues that they’re living through.”

    Due to insufficient staff numbers, family members are encouraged to stay with patients at Brothers of Charity Sante Mental. This relative would often beat, tie up and drag the patient when she did not obey his instructions. Goma, The Democratic Republic of Congo. June 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Due to insufficient staff, family members are encouraged to stay with patients at Brothers of Charity Sante Mental, in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. This relative would often beat, tie up and drag the patient when she did not obey his instructions. June 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    But the New Zealand-born photographer didn’t only focus on the impact of crises on mental health, he also looked at those impacts on the structures set up to care for the mentally disabled.

    “What happens to that infrastructure of care when there’s a war or when there’s massive poverty or in a refugee camp? Where are the staff? Where are the facilities?”

    So Hammond went back to countries where he had often been to document famine and conflict and focused on the mental health impacts of the stories in which he was already versed. Aside from South Sudan, he documented the care for mentally disabled people in Uganda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also photographed in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where most of Nigeria’s oil comes from, and in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

    The mentally ill men and women in Juba Central Prison are held in separate cells at night but during the day will mingle with the general prison population. Juba, Sudan. January 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    The mentally ill men and women in Juba Central Prison in Sudan (now South Sudan) are held in separate cells at night but during the day will mingle with the general prison population. January 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    He found that mental health services don’t exist. Some have been destroyed. Oftentimes the experts — doctors and nurses — leave their native countries because they have better access to do so.

    Instead, Hammond found that most people with mental illness are sent to prisons and, in almost every country he visited, the photographer saw people chained to the floor.

    “That’s why the project is called ‘Condemned,’ because, for a lot of these people in these societies, that is what they are.”

    Native Doctor Lekwe Deezia claims to heal mental illness through the power of prayer and traditional herbal medicines. While receiving treatment, which can sometimes take months, his patients are chained to trees in his courtyard. They are not given shelter or protection from the elements. They are visibly terrified of the doctor. Away from the doctor the patients beg the photographer for food. They say they are only fed once a day, sometimes only once every 3 days. One cries and says how cold he gets and that he is attacked by mosquitoes every night. His body is covered in bites. He says they are sometimes beaten for no reason and if a piece of fruit falls from the tree and they try to eat it they are beaten. In a society that cannot trust corrupt Government organizations, churches have become a sanctuary from the perceived wickedness and greed of the modern culture. In regions where both fortune and sickness are attributed to the spirit world, mental illness is considered a curse. Spiritual remedies are often sought, and chains regularly used as restraints. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Native Doctor Lekwe Deezia claims to heal mental illness through the power of prayer and traditional herbal medicines. While receiving treatment, which can sometimes take months, his patients are chained to trees in his courtyard in Niger Delta, Nigeria. They are not given shelter or protection from the elements. They are visibly terrified of the doctor. Away from the doctor the patients beg the photographer for food. They say they are only fed once a day, sometimes only once every 3 days. In a society that cannot trust corrupt government organizations, churches have become a sanctuary from the perceived wickedness and greed of the modern culture. In regions where both fortune and sickness are attributed to the spirit world, mental illness is considered a curse. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    The cover of his book makes that evident. It pictures a young man, about 18 or 19 years old, whom he met in the prison in Juba.

    “He was shackled to the floor in this big thick iron that looked like pre-colonial slave trade shackles. The chain is only about 10 inches long so he can’t move around. He eats and sleeps and defecates all in the same place.”

    Many Somalis will take their mentally ill relative to traditional or Khoranic healers for treatment. Mogadishu, Somalia. May 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Many Somalis will take their mentally ill relative to traditional healers or imams for treatment in facilities such as this one in Mogadishu, Somalia. May 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Hammond saw the same kind of abuse everywhere he went, but for some reason this man stuck with him. Hammond thinks it might be because this was the photographer’s first time seeing a mentally ill man shackled to the floor with no place to move.

    Two years later, Hammond ran into a field worker from Handicap International who had just been to the prison and had recognized the man in the photo. For the photographer, that is the hardest part.

    “That guy that I photographed in that prison in Sudan, he is likely still there. And that little kid that I met in Somalia in the refugee camp who has been tied to a stick for the last 10 years, I’m sure he is still there. The young former child soldiers are still self-medicating with drugs because they’re still waking up in the middle of the night screaming,” said Hammond.

    “It’s an ongoing thing. In a way, I feel like if my job is to raise awareness, if my job is to make a difference with this, then I feel like I’ve completely failed because these guys are in exactly the same place. If they haven’t died yet, they haven’t moved.”

    But the photographer hasn’t given up on helping the subjects of his images.

    Former child soldier Mamie Denis, 33, in the informal settlement known as Trench Town in Liberia’s capital Monrovia “We use to kill people who we were not suppose to kill and did a lot of wicked things which is a bad experience for me... In the war when we were fighting, whenever we go and attack, we use to get a lot of things to enjoy ourselves. But since the war is over, we are just suffering. We are not doing anything. Therefore, we have to go on the street…” Thousands of Liberia’s children were conscripted to fight in the country’s bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003. Emboldened by drugs and sadistic commanders, they killed and mutilated their fellow citizens in conflicts that left 250,000 dead. At the end of the war, thousands were left leaderless and homeless in the country’s capital Monrovia. Shunned by the civilian population around them they formed their own communities. They continue to call each other by their war names, and respect ranks held in a war everyone else is trying to forget. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is rife in these former child soldier ghettos. Time has not healed the deep psychological scars that the violence has left. The impacts of trauma can be especially severe when inflicted as a child. PTSD can cause, amongst other symptoms, aggression, depression, sleeplessness, and flashbacks of the traumatic events experienced. Drugs helped these former child soldiers commit atrocities. Without the intensive mental health assistance they require, many of them now take drugs to help them forget. The marijuana and heroin they smoke numbs the pain, and allows a deep dreamless sleep where the faces of those they have mutilated are blurred and their screams silenced. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos. Liberia, January/February 2013.

    Former child soldier Mamie Denis, 33, in the informal settlement known as Trench Town in Liberia’s capital Monrovia “We used to kill people who we were not suppose to kill and did a lot of wicked things which is a bad experience for me… In the war when we were fighting, whenever we go and attack, we use to get a lot of things to enjoy ourselves. But since the war is over, we are just suffering. …” January/February 2013 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    “I have a real deep belief in the power of art and media to shape how we see and regard the world and treat the people in it … the whole point of the work — of any real art of photography — is to somehow make a connection with the viewer.”

    Hammond doesn’t want this project to simply be a piece of journalism; he wants it to be a piece of activism and he hopes that his photographs will spur action. He receives weekly emails from people asking how they can help and he has a laundry list of ways that he is expanding the scope and reach of the project.

    Last year, he received the W. Eugene Smith award, which will help fund continued work in the region. He plans to use that money to revisit the same countries and go deeper into the project, including telling the stories of the people on the ground who are fighting for the dignity of the mentally ill.

    “While there aren’t that many of them and while there are little-to-no resources, there are some people who are working very hard under very difficult circumstances to make a difference on this … It would provide a little bit of hope, which to be honest, is really hard to find with this issue.”

    The gutted Euro Bank building in Liberia’s capital Monrovia has become a home to ex-combatants of Liberia’s civil wars. Thousands of Liberia’s children were conscripted to fight in the country’s bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003. Emboldened by drugs and sadistic commanders, they killed and mutilated their fellow citizens in conflicts that left 250,000 dead. At the end of the war, thousands were left leaderless and homeless in the country’s capital Monrovia. Shunned by the civilian population around them they formed their own communities. They continue to call each other by their war names, and respect ranks held in a war everyone else is trying to forget. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is rife in these former child soldier ghettos. Time has not healed the deep psychological scars that the violence has left. The impacts of trauma can be especially severe when inflicted as a child. PTSD can cause, amongst other symptoms, aggression, depression, sleeplessness, and flashbacks of the traumatic events experienced. Drugs helped these former child soldiers commit atrocities. Without the intensive mental health assistance they require, many of them now take drugs to help them forget. The marijuana and heroin they smoke numbs the pain, and allows a deep dreamless sleep where the faces of those they have mutilated are blurred and their screams silenced. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos. Liberia, January/February 2013.

    The gutted Euro Bank building in Liberia’s capital Monrovia has become a home to ex-combatants of Liberia’s civil wars. January/February 2013 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Hammond is also hoping to raise money for an anti-stigma campaign in Africa. He believes that it’s important to raise awareness not just in the western work, but in the places where these issues are taking place.

    In the end, Hammond wants his viewers to know that most of the mentally disabled people he interacted with were coherent and aware of both their condition and their often cruel treatment.

    “For some of them, it was the first time they were able to express what was going on and they had someone to listen to them,” said Hammond.

    This so called Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt holds over 170 people with mental illness or mental disability. Run by the government, it was originally designed as a facility to assist widows, but in 1999 it was turned into a place of incarceration for homeless people with mental illness that were cleared off the streets in a ‘clean up’ in anticipation of the FIFA World Youth Soccer Championship. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    This so called Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, holds more than 170 people with mental illness or mental disability. Run by the government, it was originally designed as a facility to assist widows, but in 1999 it was turned into a place of incarceration for homeless people with mental illness that were cleared off the streets in a “clean up” in anticipation of the FIFA World Youth Soccer Championship. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    “Mental health is an incredibly neglected issue everywhere, but especially in countries like this, where there are so many competing priorities.”

    Hammond just returned from another trip to Africa, this time in the hope of combating Western conceptions of the continent. He flew to Lagos — a mega-city with growing wealth and prosperity — to provide an alternative to the “death and misery” often displayed in his work.

    “I really hope that if we, as in the West, can see Africans having the same hopes and aspirations as us, that hopefully we can connect with them a bit more,” said Hammond. “And, when the bad stuff does happen, we can have the same empathy for them as we would if it happened in any European or American community.”

    See more photographs from “Condemned” below:

    While the staff at this Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt denied that they house children, the photographer found, one mentally impaired child (around 8 years old) sleeping on the floor in the room for the “high risk” male inmates. The child had been there for 3 months. Another, around 14 years old was also sleeping on the floor in the same room. In another room the photographer found a young man who had one leg amputated. His other leg looked to be rotting. The smell was confirmation. He had a catheter leading to a urine bag but he was sleeping in soaked trousers. He lay on car floor mats - an attempt to keep the urine he lay in and the liquid oozing from his leg from soaking the dirty mattress below him. When the photographer arrived staff hurried to the back of the main building. A car then went to join them. They were removing a dead body. The staff claimed another of the patients that was lying on the concrete floor of the cell was dying. Many patients were in chains and one in handcuffs that were so tight his wrist either side of the cuff was severely swollen. A human rights activist said that it wasn’t that the facility lacked funds but that those funds were being shared out amongst the staff rather than being spent on the care of the vulnerable people staying at the institution. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the region ever since the discovery of the resource. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    While the staff at this Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, denied that they house children, the photographer found, one mentally impaired child (around 8 years old) sleeping on the floor in the room for the “high risk” male inmates. The child had been there for 3 months. Another, around 14 years old was also sleeping on the floor in the same room. In another room the photographer found a young man who had one leg amputated (below). His other leg looked to be rotting. The smell was confirmation. He had a catheter leading to a urine bag but he was sleeping in soaked trousers. Many patients were in chains and one in handcuffs that were so tight his wrist either side of the cuff was severely swollen. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the region ever since the discovery of the resource. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    This so called Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt holds over 170 people with mental illness or mental disability. Run by the government, it was originally designed as a facility to assist widows, but in 1999 it was turned into a place of incarceration for homeless people with mental illness that were cleared off the streets in a ‘clean up’ in anticipation of the FIFA World Youth Soccer Championship.  The photographer found a young man who had one leg amputated. His other leg was rotting. He had a catheter leading to a urine bag but he was sleeping in soaked trousers. He lay on car floor mats - an attempt to keep the urine he lay in and the liquid oozing from his leg from soaking the dirty mattress below him. When the photographer arrived staff hurried to the back of the main building. A car then went to join them. They were removing a dead body. The staff claimed another of the patients that was lying on the concrete floor of the cell was dying. Many patients were in chains. A human rights activist said that it wasn’t that the facility lacked funds but that those funds were being shared out amongst the staff rather than being spent on the care of the vulnerable people staying at the institution. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    A young man who had one leg amputated, lays on a mat while his other leg appears to be rotting at a rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, the same place as is pictured above. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    This Government run facility in the Niger Delta town of Eket is meant to be a Psychiatric hospital. In reality it is a merely a place of incarceration for people with mental disability. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the region ever since the discovery of the resource. The Niger Delta, Nigeria. October 2012. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    This government-run facility in the Niger Delta town of Eket, Nigeria, is meant to be a psychiatric hospital. In reality it is a merely a place of incarceration for people with mental disability. October 2012 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    A female patient at Galkayo Mental Health Centre in Puntland, Somalia tries to escape the hospital. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 1 in 3 Somali’s suffer from some kind of mental illness. From the camps for Internally Displaced People dotted around the region to the bombed out streets of Mogadishu is a generation of Somalis who’ve only known war, famine, displacement, and loss. The most common response though is forcible restraint. The use of chains in homes – or as is more common in huts or under trees outside the home - to restrain a family member with a mental illness is widespread. WHO says that in the last decade 90% of the treated patients it surveyed were subjected at least once in their lifetime to chaining. Chaining patients is seen as an alternative medication, which not only leaves the patients stigmatized but also causes physical injuries on hands and legs. Some of the chained patients end up committing suicide. The person is usually chained not only during the ‘acute crisis’ but throughout his or her life. To say there is a skills shortage in mental health practitioners in Somalia would be an understatement. WHO say there are only 3 psychiatrists in the whole region and that their skill levels are insufficient. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos. May, June 2011, Somalia.

    A female patient at Galkayo Mental Health Centre in Puntland, Somalia, tries to escape the hospital. The World Health Organisation says one in three Somalis suffer from some kind of mental illness. May, June 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Pastor Richard Mika of Eglise Evangelique Au Service de L’Eternal travels door to door praying over mentally ill/disabled children. Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. June 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Pastor Richard Mika of Eglise Evangelique Au Service de L’Eternal travels door to door praying over mentally ill/disabled children in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. June 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    A chained patient awaits treatment at the clinic of traditional healer Dr Serwadda Hassan. April 2011. Kampala, Uganda. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    A chained patient awaits treatment at the clinic of traditional healer Dr Serwadda Hassan in Kampala, Uganda. April 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

    Mineyro Jean-Marie describes to Médécines Sans Frontières Psychologist Serge Nzuya Mbwibwi how he felt when The Lord’s Resistance Army attacked his family and attempted to kidnap his daughter. Niangara, Democratic Republic of Congo. June 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    Mineyro Jean-Marie describes to Médécines Sans Frontières Psychologist Serge Nzuya Mbwibwi in Niangara, Democratic Republic of Congo, how he felt when The Lord’s Resistance Army attacked his family and attempted to kidnap his daughter. June 2011 photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    A Witch Doctor diagnoses a patient with mental illness by reading the way pieces of bone and shell fall on a goats skin. Northern Uganda. March 2011. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

    A witch doctor in Northern Uganda diagnoses a patient with mental illness by reading the way pieces of bone and shell fall on a goats skin. March 2011 photo by Robin Hammond/Panos

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    Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., run into each other in the green room of  weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center's Studio A, July 10, 2014. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., run into each other in the green room of weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Studio A, July 10, 2014. Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    WASHINGTON — Outlines of a possible compromise that would more quickly deport minors arriving from Central America emerged Thursday as part of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency request to address the immigration crisis on the southern border.

    Republicans demanded speedier deportations, which the White House initially had supported but left out of its proposal after complaints from immigrant advocates and some Democrats. The top House and Senate Democrats pointedly left the door open to them.

    “It’s not a deal-breaker,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Let them have their face-saver. But let us have the resources to do what we have to do.”

    In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: “I’m not going to block anything. Let’s see what comes to the floor.”

    Reid and Pelosi made their comments as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both said they didn’t want to give Obama a “blank check” to deal with the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the Texas border, many fleeing gang violence and drawn by rumors they would be able to stay in the U.S. Boehner and McConnell indicated policy changes would be necessary to win their support.

    “We want to make sure we actually get the right tools to help fix the problem,” McConnell said. Obama “needs to work with us to get the right policy into effect.”

    The developments came as Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, defended the emergency spending request at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said in written testimony that without the funds, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would run out of money in August and the Homeland Security Department “would need to divert significant funds from other critical programs just to maintain operations.”

    At issue is a law approved in 2008. Passed to give protection to sex trafficking victims, it requires court hearings for migrant young people who arrive in this country from “noncontiguous” countries — anywhere other than Mexico or Canada.

    Because of enormous backlogs in the immigration court system, the result in the current crisis is that kids streaming in from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are released to relatives or others in the U.S. with notices to appear at long-distant court hearings that many of them never will attend.

    Republicans want the government to have the authority to treat Central American kids the same way as kids from Mexico, who can be removed quickly unless they convince Border Patrol that they have a fear of return that merits additional screening.

    “I think clearly we would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico,” Boehner said.

    White House officials have said they support such changes and indicated last week that they would be proposing them along with the emergency spending request. But advocates objected strongly, saying kids would be denied legal protections, and now the White House position is less clear.

    Asked Thursday about whether the White House would consider proposals to revise the law, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is open to discussions about ways to better enforce it.

    “That is to say, how can this law be enforced in a more efficient way?” Earnest told reporters traveling with Obama in Texas. He added that if there are others who have ideas about how to make the process more efficient, “we’re certainly open to those discussions.”

    Advocates said they remained strongly opposed and expressed anger that after comprehensive immigration reform failed to advance in Congress this year, lawmakers may be headed toward a vote on deporting minors more quickly.

    “They weren’t able to get immigration reform done in this Congress and this is going to be the only piece of immigration that gets done, a bill that says we’re going to deport children fleeing violence faster,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “If Democrats can’t stand up to this and be the party that’s protecting children and refugees, it’s a really sad day for the country.”

    More than 57,000 unaccompanied children have arrived since October even as tens of thousands more have arrived traveling as families, mostly mothers with their children.

    Many are trying to reunite with family members and to escape a spike in violence in their countries, but they also report hearing rumors that once here, they would be allowed to stay. Republicans blame Obama policies aimed at curbing deportations of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children for contributing to those rumors, something Obama administration officials have largely rejected.

    The situation has complicated the already rancorous debate over remaking the nation’s immigration laws at a moment when Obama has declared legislative efforts to do so dead and announced plans to proceed on his own executive authority to change the flawed system where he can.

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    Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Flickr user Carlos Pereria

    Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Flickr user Carlos Pereria

    The world’s urban population has ballooned to 3.9 billion — 54 percent of the total population — in 2014, the United Nations reported Thursday. By 2050, this proportion is expected to grow to 66 percent.

    According to the 2014 revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, the largest urban growth will take place in India, China and Nigeria — the three of which account for 37 percent of the projected growth between 2014 and 2050. Countries in developing regions, especially Africa, are expected to see the most urban growth.

    The report stressed the importance of accommodating these urban populations with housing, infrastructure, education, health care and more.

    “Managing urban areas has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. Our success or failure in building sustainable cities will be a major factor in the success of the post-2015 UN development agenda,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

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    WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday ordered the IRS to explain under oath how it lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency’s tea party controversy.

    U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan gave the tax agency a month to submit the explanation in writing. Sullivan said he is also appointing a federal magistrate to see whether the lost emails can be obtained from other sources.

    Sullivan issued the order as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group. He said the IRS declaration must be signed, under oath, by the appropriate IRS official.

    “I’m going to hold tight to that Aug. 10 declaration,” Sullivan said.

    The IRS says it lost the emails in 2011 when Lois Lerner’s computer crashed. At the time, Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. She has since retired.

    Lerner, who refused to answer questions at two House committee hearings, has become a central figure in several congressional investigations over the handling of tea party applications. At both hearings, Lerner cited her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

    IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has testified on the lost emails before Congress at least three times. Each time he was under oath.

    Koskinen said he first learned there was a problem with Lerner’s computer in February but didn’t learn that emails were lost until April. The IRS notified Congress June 13.

    Judicial Watch lawyer Ramona Cotca complained that the IRS never informed her group or the court about the lost emails, even though Sullivan had ordered the IRS to produce documents related to the information request on a monthly basis.

    Geoffrey Klimas, a Justice Department lawyer representing the IRS, said the agency had no legal obligation to tell Judicial Watch about emails that may have been destroyed two years before the group filed its request for information.

    Judicial Watch filed a series of requests with the IRS shortly after the tea party controversy erupted in May 2013. Among its requests, the watchdog group wanted communications Lerner had with others concerning the handling of applications for tax-exempt status since Jan. 1, 2010.

    Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the IRS in October, saying the agency didn’t produce any documents. Since then, the IRS started to produce some documents in February, Cotca said.

    On Thursday, Cotca asked Sullivan to conduct a limited discovery to determine what happened to the emails, perhaps compelling testimony from IRS officials. But Sullivan said that would be premature.

    Klimas noted that the tax agency’s inspector general is conducting an investigation into the lost emails. Klimas said the inspector general has asked the IRS not to question witnesses that may have information about the lost emails to avoid interfering with its investigation.

    Sullivan said the sworn IRS statement should include information about the inspector general’s concerns.

    Sullivan said he would assign federal magistrate John Facciola to look into ways of obtaining the IRS records from other sources, though it is unclear how much information could be recovered.

    In 2011, the IRS had a policy of backing up emails on computer tapes, but the tapes were recycled every six months, Koskinen told Congress. He said Lerner’s hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed, after technicians in the agency’s criminal investigations unit tried unsuccessfully to restore it.

    The IRS was able to generate 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 period because she had copied in other IRS employees, Koskinen said. As part of the congressional investigations, the IRS said it is producing a total of 67,000 emails to and from Lerner, covering the period from 2009 to 2013.

    IRS lawyers are due back in federal court Friday before a different judge for a hearing on the lost emails in a separate lawsuit filed by a group called True the Vote. The group, which says it advocates for the integrity of elections, sued the IRS over delays in its application for tax-exempt status.

    The post Federal judge orders IRS to explain lost emails appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Teenagers in Shanghai, China, performed the best on the largest ever youth financial literacy exam, far above American 15-year-olds. Photo by Flickr user Newston Free Library.

    Teenagers in Shanghai performed the best on the largest ever youth financial literacy exam, far above American 15-year-olds. Photo by Flickr user Newston Free Library.

    American teens fall below half of their peers in a handful of other developed economies when it comes to financial literacy. Shanghai’s 15-year-olds perform the best, according to results of an international financial literacy test released Wednesday.

    The mean score for American test-takers sandwiches the United States between Latvia, on the upper end, and Russia, on the lower end.

    PISA- avg. scores (cropped)

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administered the two-hour written test through their Programme for International Student Assessment to 29,000 15-year-olds in 18 OECD countries or partner economies in 2012. (The financial hub of Shanghai is singled out because China’s and India’s participation in PISA is broken up regionally.)

    Teens were quizzed on math, reading, science and problem solving (see sample questions). Parents and school principals were asked for contextual information about school and socioeconomic factors. This is the first international assessment of young people’s financial literacy of this scale. There’s a second study planned for 2015 to assess progress.

    What explains the differential performance across economies? Not Gross Domestic Product, according to the OECD, which they report only accounts for 16 percent of the performance variance. Indeed, while the United States has the highest per capita GDP, financial literacy is just mediocre compared to countries with lower economic growth. As Making Sen$e has explored in depth, GDP is often a poor indicator of the economic health of individual citizens, which would seem to make more of a difference for student performance than would a figure like GDP, which measures the total value of all goods and services produced in a country.

    Of course, country-level results are averages, and they’re based on a sample of students, not on a comprehensive census of all students in that country.

    PISA. differences by GDP

    Student-by-student differences within country depend both on skill level in math and reading, but also on institutional factors like socioeconomic status, immigrant status and potentially, exposure to financial experiences, like managing a bank account. The OECD surveyed a wide swath of students from all types of schools — public and private, academic and vocational.

    When it comes to education, policymakers talk a lot about “gaps” — specifically achievement gaps between students at different skill levels and from different backgrounds. On average, across the OECD economies surveyed, there’s about a 250 point spread between the 90th and 10th percentiles of performance on financial literacy. The United States is the only economy where the difference between the very top-performing students and the median is larger than the gap between the median and the lowest-performing students. In other words, the achievement of a few American students is much higher than the median in the U.S.

    High financial literacy is positively associated with strong math and reading skills, but conversely, just being good at math or reading does not guarantee that students are well equipped to make good financial decisions (as much as can be judged by a test, that is). In France, Italy and Slovenia, for example, students who scored just as well in math and reading as students in other countries showed much lower proficiency in financial literacy than their aptitude in those related subjects would have predicted.

    In the United States, socioeconomic status often influences the quality of school districts, which could affect how well students are prepared in the skills needed for financial literacy. Socioeconomic status explains about 17 percent of the variation among American students — slightly higher than the OECD average. That could say something about educational disparities, or it could reflect families’ experience with money. Across all economies, students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds get an average boost of 41 points on the test.

    Globally, those who are not first or second generation immigrants (when controlled for socioeconomic level) tended to do slightly better, as did students from urban, as compared to rural, schools. But the United States has one of the narrowest gaps between rural and urban performance and a statistically insignificant gap based on immigrant status. The biggest gap between students from first or second generation immigrant families and those whose families have been in country longer is in France and neighboring Belgium (specifically, its Flemish community).

    This time of year, whether it’s scooping ice cream, blowing poolside whistles or sorting mail for the family business, another crop of American teenagers is entering the ranks of the employed. About 70 percent of American students earn money from some kind of work outside of school — either during vacation or over the summer. How much does that experience teach them about financial literacy? Looking at the most financially literate students (according to the exam) — in Shanghai — suggests that outside work is not indicative of this kind of literacy. Shanghai has the lowest percentage of 15-year-olds working jobs outside of school.

    So once students earn money, does putting it in a bank account help them develop financial literacy? For nine of the 13 OECD economies, when adjusted for socioeconomic status, having a bank account didn’t make much of a difference for student performance on the test. But in those economies where rates of teens having bank accounts are the highest, like New Zealand and Slovenia, having a bank did give students a significant boost.

    But for all the talk of “gaps,” anyone who’s tried to learn a new concept, or taken a standardized test, for that matter, knows that attitude makes a difference. And interestingly, PISA’s definition of financial literacy hinges on students having a knowledge and understanding of financial literacy and the motivation and confidence to apply that competency. Nowhere does that “confidence gap” affect scores more than in the United States. In other words, the score point difference between those students who said they disagreed with the statement “When confronted with a problem I give up easily” and those who agreed is close to 80 points.

    Likewise, students who agreed with the statement “I like to solve complex problems” earned, on average, scores that were nearly half a proficiency level higher than those who disagreed, the OECD reports.

    But unlike in the adult OECD population, where men tend to be more proficient in financial literacy than women, there was no recognizable gender difference among 15-year-olds, except in Italy. But it’s not all good news on the gender front. The data on girls’ and boys’ attitudes toward mathematics is more concerning. Even when they perform the same, girls express less confidence and report more anxiety about their mathematical ability, according to the test results.

    Overall, teenagers in every country could have done better. Only one in 10 of all the test-takers could answer the hardest questions, which tested, for example, an understanding of transaction fees, tax brackets and tasks like balancing a checkbook with transfer fees.

    Speaking to reporters after the release of Wednesday’s results, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that America’s average performance wasn’t good enough, particularly for today’s economic landscape, where lifelong jobs with guaranteed pensions are hard to come by. Young adults need a “level of financial literacy that 20 or 30, 40 years ago, maybe wasn’t applied. But today it’s an absolute necessity,’’ he said.

    The OECD underscores the essentiality of financial literacy, noting in their report that financial decisions are harder to make than they were for earlier generations because financial services and systems are now more complex. They also point to the increased financial burden awaiting young people who will live longer — and likely with less welfare and fewer retirement benefits. Furthermore, because of the prevalence of online banking, today’s youth are already making more financial decisions, and at a younger age, than perhaps was previously the case.

    Nan Morrison, CEO and president of the Council for Economic Education, which advocates for financial literacy standards in the United States, echoed Duncan’s disappointment with the American results, but said it wasn’t surprising. Only 19 states currently require a personal finance course, according to CEE, and perhaps a more significant obstacle to cultivating these lifelong skills is that most parents don’t feel equipped to pass financial knowledge to their children.

    The post U.S. teens rank between Latvia and Russia on financial literacy, far below Shanghai appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Tesla broadcast tower. Courtesy of Wikipedia

    Tesla broadcast tower. Courtesy of Wikipedia


    Nikola Tesla was born in the middle of a lightning storm 158 years ago today. The 20th century visionary competed with Thomas Edison and had a long list of inventions to his name: the Tesla coil, alternating current electricity, an electric motor, radio, X-rays and envisioning of the first smartphone technology in 1901.

    One of Tesla’s most ambitious projects was Wardenclyffe Tower on Long Island, New York. Tesla envisioned a 187-foot tall tower that would transmit free electricity across the Atlantic, with no wires.

    But J.P. Morgan, Tesla’s then-business partner, cut off funding for the project before it could be completed and tested. Tesla sought European funders, but the Wardenclyffe Tower was never fully operational. It was demolished in 1917.

    Today, two Russian physicists — brothers Leonid and Sergey Plekhanov — are raising money to resurrect Tesla’s ambitious project, Reuters reports. After scrutinizing Tesla’s diaries and plans, the Plekhanovs believe that with modern solar panels, lighter building materials and $800,000, they can rebuild Wardenclyffe Tower.

    “We’ve conducted the fundamental research studies, implemented the computational models and designed all the parts of the experiment. We will be able to perform energy transmission and measure the results. Will it be ‘global’ as Tesla suggested? Based on the research that we’ve already done – we believe it will be, and we going to prove it experimentally,” the scientists wrote.

    The Plekhanovs’ research estimates that an approximately 38,000 square mile installation of solar panels in a desert near the equator could generate enough power to serve the world’s electricity needs. Tesla’s tower could deliver that energy to consumers, but the only way to test the concept is to build it and find out, they say.

    The brothers are raising funds for the project via an IndieGogo kickstarter campaign. As of this publication, they have raised over $33,000, or about 4 percent of their goal. (For a donation of $750, you can have your name engraved on the tower when it is finished.)

    Critics say there are numerous engineering flaws to the brothers’ plan. Solar panels are still costly, and some estimate that the proposed solar panel field would cost $20 trillion — and that’s without the transmitting tower.

    The post Russian physicist brothers plan to resurrect Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: New allegations emerged today of Chinese cyber-hacking into U.S. government personnel files. The New York Times reported hackers accessed the Office of Personnel Management’s online system, focusing on applications for top-secret clearances.

    In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman called the reports irresponsible.

    HONG LEI, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): We have consistently stressed that China resolutely opposes Internet hacking. On this issue, China does what it says. Some of the American media and cyber-security firms are making constant efforts to smear China and create the so-called China cyber-threat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The allegations came as Secretary of State John Kerry was visiting China. He said there’s no indication the hackers obtained any sensitive material. From China, Kerry flew on to Afghanistan to try to resolve that country’s disputed presidential election.

    GWEN IFILL: The Federal Trade Commission sued Web retailer Amazon today for letting kids run up millions of dollars in charges without their parents’ permission. The charges usually involve mobile apps, like games. The FTC wants Amazon to refund any money spent without parental approval on its Kindle devices.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A 4-year-old Mississippi girl who once appeared to be cured of the AIDS virus is no longer in remission. Her case had initially raised hopes for babies born to mothers with HIV. But federal health officials said today that new tests found signs of the virus in the child last week, after two years of clean results.

    GWEN IFILL: In Iraq, the rift between Kurds and Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki deepened today. Kurdish ministers announced they will boycott weekly cabinet meetings after Maliki accused them of harboring Sunni militants who’ve captured Iraqi territory.

    ROZ NOURI SHAWEZ, Deputy Prime Minister, Iraq (through interpreter): We declare that we will not take part in the upcoming cabinet sessions to show our protest, and we cannot endure any more such behavior, statements and stances.

    GWEN IFILL: The Kurds have infuriated Maliki by seizing Kirkuk and its oil reserves and moving toward a referendum on independence from Iraq.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Pakistani military claimed major progress today in a bid to drive militant fighters out of a longtime stronghold. Army leaders said their forces now control 80 percent of Miranshah, the largest town in North Waziristan. The news came as Pakistani intelligence reported that a U.S. drone strike killed six militants in the same region.

    GWEN IFILL: A financial scare at a major bank in Portugal sent European markets down today, and Wall Street followed. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 70 points to close at 16,915; the Nasdaq fell more than 22 points to close at 4,396; and the S&P 500 dropped eight to 1,964.

    The post News Wrap: Allegations emerge of Chinese hacking into U.S. government files appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Israeli air strikes on Gaza

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House announced late today that President Obama has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. is willing to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

    On the ground, the death toll and damage continued to mount in Gaza today, as Israel sharply stepped up its air assault on the Palestinian territory. Palestinians reported at least 85 people have been killed this week. The Israeli military said it hit 500 targets throughout the day and 860 since the offensive began. Meanwhile, Hamas continued to target Israel’s two largest cities with missile strikes.

    Palestinians picked through the rubble of still smoldering homes in Gaza, even as other buildings burned from fresh Israeli airstrikes. In Israel, streets were filled with more people running for cover, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Hamas militants shot off more rockets. Most have been intercepted by Israeli air defense.

    ARIEL YISHAH MOSHE (through interpreter): We were just passing by the bridge at the entrance of Jerusalem, and we heard the sirens, so we went into the supermarket straight away. Yes, in the beginning, it’s scary. It is bizarre that it is getting all the way to Jerusalem.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The crisis forced an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York, where the Israeli ambassador used a smartphone to help make his point.

    (SIREN BLARING)

    RON PROSOR, UN Ambassador, Israel: Fifteen seconds, that’s how much time you have to run for your life. Imagine having only 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter. Now imagine doing it with small children, or elderly parents, or an ailing friend. A generation of Israeli children is growing up under the shadow of this threat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Outside the meeting, the Palestinian ambassador said his people have even less time to escape danger.

    RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN: If 15 seconds it takes to react to an incoming rocket, how many seconds does it take to react to a raiding aircraft over the heads of our people in the Gaza Strip? I can assure you, it doesn’t take more than one or two seconds. It is death for sure, as we have noticed today, a death of total family, composed of eight individuals, five of them children.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: That family died in a predawn Israeli airstrike that destroyed their home.

    IYAD HAMAD (through interpreter): Children, women and old people. There can’t be more oppression than this in the world. Can’t they see what is happening to the people here?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Their funerals were held later in the day, and mourners carried their bodies through the streets of Khan Yunis wrapped in Hamas flags. A spokesman for the militant group called it genocide.

    SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas spokesman (through interpreter): We confirm that what is happening in Gaza are real war crimes that take place while the world is standing in silence and the Arab world is weak. We ask the international community to carry out its responsibilities against the war crimes committed by the occupation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But last night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for putting Palestinians in harm’s way.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: It embeds its terrorists in hospitals and schools, and mosques, apartment buildings throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas is thus committing a double war crime. It targets Israeli civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the airstrikes continued, there were also more signs that a ground assault may be coming. Israeli troops trained, as tanks moved into strategic positions all along the border with Gaza.

    The post Israel ramps up airstrikes; Palestinians fear possible ground assault appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Merkel Meets With Moldavian Prime Minister Leanca

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    GWEN IFILL: Germany announced today that it is kicking America’s top spy out of the country after new allegations of U.S. espionage. Local media there have reported that a German Defense Ministry worker who dealt with international security issues was also being investigated because of his close contacts to U.S. spies.

    And last week, a 31-year-old intelligence employee was arrested on suspicion of spying for foreign powers, reportedly the CIA, since 2012. The allegations come on the heels of last fall’s revelation that the U.S. was intercepting the Internet traffic of millions of German citizens, and tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

    Before the expulsion request was made public today, the chancellor told reporters that Germany and the U.S. have — quote — “very different approaches to intelligence.”

    CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter): Spying on allies is a waste of energy in the end. We have so many problems, and I think we should focus on the important things. Just look at the challenges posed in Syria regarding ISIS. If you look at the fight against terrorism, there are huge problems. That is of the highest priority, from my point of view, and not spying among allies.

    GWEN IFILL: The White House and State Department didn’t respond directly to questions about the expulsion request.

    Joining me now to discuss whether the U.S. should or shouldn’t be spying on allies, Annette Heuser, the executive director of the Washington office of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote transatlantic cooperation, and Mark Lowenthal, a former vice chairman at the National Intelligence Council, a government agency that advises the intelligence community.

    Annette Heuser, is Angela Merkel’s response to this latest breach, is it overreaction on one hand or is it her responding to what she sees as a betrayal?

    ANNETTE HEUSER, Bertelsmann Foundation, I think there is no doubt right now that not only Angela Merkel is angry and outraged and disappointed, but the entire political cast in Berlin and what has happened today, sending a high-level U.S. citizen who is the head of the surveillance services in Germany home back to the U.S. is a very unusual step that tells you how serious these latest spy incidents are taken by the German government.

    GWEN IFILL: Mark Lowenthal, how unusual is it to expel someone that high-ranking?

    MARK LOWENTHAL, Former Vice Chairman, National Intelligence Council: It’s unusual among the allies. It’s not unusual between hostile powers. We and the Russians, we have done this.

    Clearly, Ms. Merkel is sending a message. I think she’s overreacting.

    GWEN IFILL: Why?

    MARK LOWENTHAL: Because she’s a little disingenuous, first of all. Countries spy on each other, including allies.

    And she’s not going to tamp this down by sending a senior intelligence officer home. She is going to make it worse. But this has a lot to do with her domestic problems, domestic politics.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s get back to that.

    Annette Heuser, you hear that, that Mr. Lowenthal says this is an overreaction, this happens all the time.

    ANNETTE HEUSER: It’s a very unusual reaction among allies to take such a step as the chancellor has taken today.

    And to respond to the latest allegations by saying everyone is spying on everybody is a very easy answer to a very complex political problem here. And don’t forget, Berlin was waiting for a very solid response from the White House for days right now. And so far, Berlin has nothing received but radio silence.

    So what else should you do, other than taking these steps, sending someone home who is a high-level official in order to signal to your allies, in this case to the White House and Washington, that the government has definitely crossed a line here and that Germany, in this case Berlin, is expecting a solid answer.

    GWEN IFILL: How deep a split is this, really, do you think?

    MARK LOWENTHAL: We will get over it. The Germans will get over it. We will get over it.

    But I would contrast Merkel’s response to President Hollande’s response in France when the Snowden story broke. He said, this is absolutely unacceptable, and that was the end of it. That was the response of a more mature power, if I can put it that way.

    I think this will not be the be-all and end-all of German-U.S. relations. But it’s a domestic problem for the chancellor, and so that is why she has taken this action.

    GWEN IFILL: What about that, Annette Heuser, about the domestic problems? You said it was a complex political problem. Is that an international problem you’re talking about or a domestic concern?

    ANNETTE HEUSER: It’s both.

    And the United States has to understand that the U.S. position and perception on its intelligence services is not shared by everyone in the world, in particular not by its close allies and certainly not by Germany. The Germans are much more sensitive when it comes to the activities of their own intelligence services and even more so when it comes to the activities of other intelligence services, as we have seen right now.

    And, therefore, it’s first and foremost a perception problem between Berlin and Washington right now. And I feel right now that Washington didn’t get the memo that this is a very serious incident for the German government and that the cracks that the NSA scandal has caused in the transatlantic relationship are on the way to even getting worse right now.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about what’s on the table that we need — the U.S. needs Germany for, be an interlocutor involving Ukraine or even Syria or Iran? Germany is always at the table.

    MARK LOWENTHAL: They are.

    But there’s a German word, (SPEAKING GERMAN), alliance worthiness, and in the view of a lot of senior American officials, they are not alliance worthy. You may remember Secretary of Defense Gates in his last meeting at NATO basically read them the riot act and said we can’t have an alliance where some members opt in and opt out.

    When we took the Libya case to the U.N., it wasn’t that the Germans support — wouldn’t put in military force. They wouldn’t vote for us. So allies come and go. They pick and choose. So to say that you can’t do this to an ally, there are issues that we have with the Germans where we are uncertain about their policy. And that will sometimes necessitate getting information through other means.

    GWEN IFILL: Annette Heuser, what about that? Is Germany alliance worthy? Is it an unreliable ally on these issues?

    ANNETTE HEUSER: I think there can be no doubt at all that Germany is a very, very serious and solid partner of the transatlantic alliance and a friend of the United States still.

    And the fact that, in some cases, Germany has a different position in foreign politics than the United States doesn’t mean it’s not a solid ally. And for decades right now, the U.S. has forced us and supported us and developed German and European foreign and security policy. But the moment we have nuanced and different perceptions regarding Ukraine and how to deal with Vladimir Putin, for instance, we are not seen as a solid ally anymore.

    GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you both this question. Is it worse if the president did know about some of these latest incidents or that he may not have known about them?

    MARK LOWENTHAL: Either is not good. It’s not clear. There have been press stories that he didn’t know.

    I don’t think you typically tell the president every time you’re running a human operation, if in fact there was a human operation. There are certain human operations you will say is the risk worth the gain in a sensitive area? It really depends. It also depends how long this was going on.

    It is interesting that these both were revealed in the same week. It’s not accidental. The Germans didn’t just trip over this last night and expose it. I think they have been sitting on this for a while and they played this like a trump card because they have not been getting satisfaction out of the Snowden investigation.

    GWEN IFILL: Annette Heuser, timing and knowledge, what do you say to that?

    ANNETTE HEUSER: We can only speculate at this point, but the fact is that the damage has been done to the transatlantic relationship right now.

    And I would say the ball is in the field of the White House to respond and so far there hasn’t been a solid and sufficient response from the administration in Washington.

    GWEN IFILL: And, in any case, Germany is not going to get its fondest wish immediately that it gets this no-spying agreement?

    MARK LOWENTHAL: No, that’s not going to happen.

    GWEN IFILL: You agree with that, Annette Heuser?

    ANNETTE HEUSER: Yes, absolutely.

    The Germans have swallowed two big pills, first no-spy agreement after the NSA scandal, and the second Germany big pill to swallow was that Germany will be not a part of the “Five Eyes” Club, and therefore have started a cyber-dialogue with the United States that just took place a couple of weeks ago.

    And immediately after, there were new spy allegations from the U.S. side in Germany, and this was really, really bad timing. And I would say, right now, we can’t afford this in the transatlantic relationship.

    GWEN IFILL: Annette Heuser of the Bertelsmann Foundation, and Mark Lowenthal, former counselor to the DCI, among other things, thank you both very much.

    MARK LOWENTHAL: Thank you.

    The post Is Germany overreacting to allegations of U.S. espionage? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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