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- 07/29/14--15:14: _Russia’s response t...
- 07/29/14--15:21: _How will new NCAA h...
- 07/29/14--15:28: _Can after-school pr...
- 07/29/14--15:35: _Report examines eff...
- 07/29/14--15:45: _Rand Paul, Cory Boo...
- 07/29/14--15:53: _$1,000 Sovaldi now ...
- 07/30/14--12:56: _The changing face o...
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- 07/30/14--14:28: _Watch asteroids pum...
- 07/30/14--15:02: _News Wrap: Palestin...
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- 07/30/14--15:18: _In Kansas City, Oba...
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- 07/29/14--15:14: Russia’s response to MH17 crash shifts EU attitudes on sanctions
- 07/29/14--15:21: How will new NCAA head injury guidelines affect college athletes?
- 07/29/14--15:35: Report examines effects of surveillance on reporters’ sources
- 07/29/14--15:53: $1,000 Sovaldi now hepatitis treatment of choice
- 07/30/14--12:56: The changing face of California’s water war
- 07/30/14--13:41: U.S. economy grows at 4 percent rate
- 07/30/14--14:28: Watch asteroids pummel the Earth in its first 500 million years
- 07/30/14--15:11: What the economic rebound looks like around the country
- 07/30/14--15:21: Senators propose improvements to how colleges handle sexual assault
- 07/30/14--15:32: Spoils of kidnapping are financing al-Qaida, reveals New York Times
- 07/30/14--15:39: Tiny plastic microbeads pile up into problems for the Great Lakes
- 07/30/14--15:46: House approves lawsuit against Obama
- 07/30/14--16:13: Historically, House GOP lawsuit is ‘unprecedented’
JUDY WOODRUFF: To help make sense of today’s developments, our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, joins us.
So, Margaret, tell us more about what these sanctions do.
MARGARET WARNER: Broadly, Judy, what they try to do is hobble the Russians’ access to both capital and technology in these three key areas, arms, energy and finance.
So, for instance, let’s just take finance. Now — by now, five of the six state-owned Russian banks basically will have no access to medium- and long-term capital or debt, and since they get almost 100 percent of it from U.S. and Western sources, as one U.S. official said today, they’re essentially going to have to shut down.
Private banks aren’t being touched. If you take the arms area, again, they’re going to use export license restrictions to prevent future sales of arms to Russia. And in the energy sector, they’re going to use export license restrictions to prevent Western companies from giving the Russians access to future technologies, particularly in deep water and in shale gas, because the key thing here is, Judy, nothing will interfere here with current projects, whether it’s BP or ExxonMobil in the energy field, the French selling its warships.
What they’re trying to do as much as possible is not hit Western businesses too hard, but make it clear to the Russians that future investments is really going to be crippled.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we know, until now, Margaret, the Europeans have been reluctant to impose critical sanctions like these on critical sectors.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What caused them to change their mind?
MARGARET WARNER: Talking both to Europeans and to U.S. officials, Judy, what’s clear is, it really was a shift of attitudes to one of deep anger, not only in the public, but among officials, about the downing of the plane and then the Russians’ reaction to it, which is, as the president said, rather than stepping back, they doubled down in what they’re doing in Ukraine.
And apparently the publics’ reactions in these Northern European countries in particular, mostly European victims, seeing their bodies left rotting in the field, people rifling through their possessions, I mean, it really changed public attitudes. And key to this was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, one, was responding to public sentiment, and also even the German business federation came together and said, well, we recognize we’re going to have to have sanctions.
The other thing was that the E.U. felt in a way Putin had called their bluff. When they met in the middle of the month, they said to Putin, unless you stop grant access to the crash site, unless you stop shifting men and materiel and weapons across the border, we’re going to do this.
Well, he didn’t, and so they did.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Kiev, the leaders of Ukraine’s government, they’re now watching their European neighbors do this. What’s the reaction?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, publicly, the Ukrainian foreign minister was here today and he said of course this is terrific.
But I talked to a well-placed official in the government in Kiev late this afternoon and he said, well, you know, it’s good, but he said, sometimes in an illness the medicine depends on being administered at the right stage. If this had been done in May, it might have helped. He said, and maybe it will persuade the Russian elite that this is a dangerous path to go down.
But this officials said, many of us believe Putin has already made the decision to a full-scale invasion. Now, U.S. officials don’t share that sentiment, though they are also of course preparing for it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There has been talk whether the U.S. is going to be prepared at some point to provide lethal assistance to Ukraine. Where does that stand?
MARGARET WARNER: That — there’s still a reluctance, Judy, to provide sophisticated weapons. The line is, they have got plenty of ordinary weapons.
As you saw, there was even a charge today that the Ukrainian military has used ballistic missiles, short-range ballistic missiles against rebel positions. So, don’t they lack for that. The U.S. is still reluctant to provide more sophisticated weaponry, given what happened when Russia provided sophisticated weaponry to the separatists.
What they are now willing to do, I’m told, more, we, the United States, is, is deeper intelligence sharing. The Ukrainians say, we really can’t keep our eye on where the Russian forces and the separatists are deployed. They need more high-resolution and more real-time intelligence.
And, in fact, senior defense and intelligence officials are in Kiev now. The fear has been that the intelligence and military in Ukraine are too penetrated by Russian intelligence and military. But I’m told that the belief is they have identified at least a couple of units and individuals they feel they can trust.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, separate thing that happened today, the Obama administration accusing Russia of violating a nuclear treaty. Tell us, what are the Russians — what do they believe the Russians have done, when did they do it, and how serious is this?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, they think it’s very serious.
I talked to another separate top U.S. official today who has been very involved in this, who said, we consider this a serious violation. It’s been an extensive program over a number of years. What they’re talking about is simply testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but within the prohibited range of 500 to 5,000 kilometers.
You recall that the reason the U.S. and then Soviet Union, Gorbachev and Reagan, agreed was that…
JUDY WOODRUFF: It goes back to the 1980s.
MARGARET WARNER: 1987, exactly, and it was negotiated all through the ’80s. And it really had put Europe in the crosshairs.
Remember, America had short-range missiles over there. So all the stockpiles were destroyed. What the U.S. is saying now is that, for several years, in fact, Russia has been testing a ground-launched cruise missile.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And so — and they have proof? Are they sharing the proof?
MARGARET WARNER: Well, certainly with NATO, there have been consultations. There were people on the Hill who have already known about this.
I don’t know what kind of evidence they have demonstrated, but they have been talking to the Russians about this. Now, the Russians’ answer apparently is, well, you’re violating it, too, because the dummy missiles you used to test your anti-missile systems could constitute — even though they’re dummy missiles, they’re not armed, but they’re dummy missiles — so basically they haven’t engaged.
And that’s why President Obama wrote this letter to President Putin Monday saying, look, sit down, let’s talk about it. Let’s not move to the next stage of deployment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you can’t ignore the timing.
MARGARET WARNER: No.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This comes as there are these huge tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there any connection between the two?
MARGARET WARNER: You know, Judy, I asked everybody I talked to today. And each person said, hard as it is to believe, really, there isn’t. This was on its own track.
And that is that they had a report due on the Hill — actually it’s about two months’ overdue — called the compliance report. It actually concerns 2013. And for the first time, the U.S. side says they really had the goods. I mean, in their view, they really had done the investigatory work. They had to declare it. And, in fact, apparently, it’s going to be — if it hasn’t been posted on the Web site yet, State Department Web site, it will be today.
So that’s how it became public.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of great reporting, Margaret. Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Thanks.
The post Russia’s response to MH17 crash shifts EU attitudes on sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: And now we will turn to some big changes in the way college sports plans to deal with head injuries, all part of a significant settlement announced earlier today.The debate over football-related head concussions has focused primarily at the professional level in recent years, as former players sued and then settled with the NFL over their injuries. Now collegiate-level players are also having their day in and out of court, as the NCAA agreed today to settle a number of cases brought in a class-action head injury lawsuit.
Lead plaintiff Adrian Arrington suffered five concussions as a football player at Eastern Illinois University. He said the effects were so severe, he sometimes couldn’t recognize his parents. The proposed settlement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, would create a $70 million fund for concussion testing and diagnosis of current and former student athletes; $5 million more would go toward concussion research.
NCAA member schools would be required to change their concussion management policies. The settlement goes beyond football, to include athletes engaged in other contact sports, including soccer, lacrosse and ice hockey. Unlike the NFL settlement, this agreement one doesn’t pay for medical expenses.
Rachel Axon is an investigative reporter for USA Today Sports covering the NCAA story. She joins me now.
Rachel, how significant is the settlement for college sports?
RACHEL AXON, USA Today Sports: Well, this is certainly bringing some changes, although there are some concerns about whether that is enough.
The settlement proposes $70 million for a medical monitoring class, $5 million for research, as well as some changes to NCAA guidelines. But, right now, those wouldn’t be rules, and there are questions about what would happen at schools if they didn’t follow those, so a step forward in the eyes of some, but definitely questions in other corners.
GWEN IFILL: We know that you have talked to, interviewed Adrian Arrington, who is central to this case. His case and others really exposed the vulnerabilities in the NCAA’s plans which kind of led to the settlement.
RACHEL AXON: That’s correct.
The Arrington plaintiffs filed for class-action certification a year ago in July. And included in that was a proffer of facts that included e-mails that could be seen as damaging to the NCAA, acknowledging that they didn’t really have guidelines regarding concussions.
The rules on the books only require that schools have concussion management plans, but they don’t outline what should be in those. So once the class-action certification, that motion was filed, we saw a rash of copycat lawsuits because they saw kind of potential there.
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned guidelines. Are these guidelines or are they enforceable rules?
RACHEL AXON: Right now, they’re guidelines.
In the settlement, it says the NCAA will present this to the executive committee and to be kind of followed through the normal process. But that means the schools must approve these as rules. And right now that’s not there. That’s one of the issues that people are having with the settlement.
GWEN IFILL: One of the guidelines in the settlement empowers medical professionals to make the decision, for instance, about whether a player can return to the field. And that is not what the case was before?
RACHEL AXON: Well, this is something that they’re putting in writing. This is kind of a best practice that they were a little bit behind the times on it.
There have been instances — and NCAA’s own survey found that at several schools, players were returned to play the same day as being diagnosed with a concussion, which we know from medical research is where a lot of the damage can be done.
GWEN IFILL: So, what happens in individual lawsuits now?
RACHEL AXON: This — what this does, it means that there will be no class-action suit for damages. So the players will not get money as a result of this for any long-term injuries they might have suffered.
It does preserve their right to pursue personal injury claims individually. As we know, that can be very difficult, an expensive process, and many players might not be able to do it for that reason.
GWEN IFILL: There are 1.5 million athletes in contact sports at the college level, $70 million in this settlement. Any sense about how far that money would actually go?
RACHEL AXON: Well, the plaintiffs and the NCAA said they done an — had an economic analysis done. They expect it will last the 50-year period. It should be noted that could be as low as $55 million once attorneys’ fees are removed.
But that’s a question that some of the critics of this settlement have, is, is that enough? And we saw that with the NFL concussion settlement, where the U.S. district court judge didn’t approve it because she didn’t think the funding was there.
GWEN IFILL: So if this judge — the judge, Lee, approves this settlement, what do schools have to do? What do the member schools have to do next?
RACHEL AXON: Well, there are certain guidelines in here that they would have to follow, but the NCAA would have to take that to its membership and have a vote on that before that would be considered a rule.
That could mean things like doing baseline testing, if they’re not already doing that, education for coaches, education for faculty about concessions they may need to make for athletes who have concussions. So, there are things that will be done, but right now nothing is a requirement. It’s still a guideline until the NCAA votes on it.
GWEN IFILL: Part of the disagreement all along in these cases had been that the NCAA didn’t concede that it had a legal duty to protect these athletes. Does this change that?
RACHEL AXON: I don’t think it changes that. And the plaintiffs in this case would argue that’s just completely false. The NCAA was created over 100 years ago in response to a number of deaths in football, under threat of the federal government intervening because of that.
So the plaintiffs would argue the NCAA has always had that obligation, has said that repeatedly, and this doesn’t change that.
GWEN IFILL: Is this something that future athletes would be affected by, as well as current ones?
RACHEL AXON: The medical monitoring, no. That applies to current and former athletes.
The hope would be that the guidelines in place, and should those become rules, would help prevent current athletes who are still playing and future athletes from having these types of injuries with these long-term consequences.
GWEN IFILL: Rachel Axon of USA Today, thank you so much.
RACHEL AXON: Thanks, Gwen.
The post How will new NCAA head injury guidelines affect college athletes? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Most students in the U.S. spend far less time in school than their counterparts in other industrialized countries, and it’s been that way for a long time.But now, as academic expectations are rising, one idea for improving student achievement that is gaining more attention is extending the school day.
John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television has our report.
JOHN TULENKO: When the school day ends at Middle School 223 in the Bronx, New York, the fun begins. Each day from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., the school offers all six graders a healthy dose of extracurriculars. There’s African drumming, Latin dance, chess, technology, and more.
PUJA RAO, Executive Director, Arete Education Inc.: I think every student should have the opportunity to have all these experiences available to them.
JOHN TULENKO: Puja Rao is the executive director Arete, a nonprofit that runs the extended day program in Middle School 223, where the majority of students qualify as low-income.
She used to teach math here, but says she recognized the need for a program like this long before that.
PUJA RAO: I came from a low-income family. And it was very much so, if my school wasn’t offering it, I wasn’t getting it. So I wanted to be able to give my students the experiences that I wish I could have had.
JOHN TULENKO: The after-school program isn’t just fun and games. About half the students are also getting personalized help in reading and math.
PUJA RAO: Different kids get what they need for their needs. So, if a kid is struggling and needs more help in math, they can go to math buddies and get that one-on-one help.
JOHN TULENKO: But it’s the fun stuff that get the kids’ attention.
Principal Ramon Gonzalez:
You have been doing this intensive model with sixth grade for a year. What’s been the effect?
RAMON GONZALEZ, Principal, M.S. 223: Kids want to be here. Kids are willing to stay here until 5:00 every day, when they can hang out in the street if they want. They are choosing to stay here. I think it’s because we have these different choices that they can make. And they feel like they’re getting smarter.
JOHN TULENKO: Interest in a longer school day is growing. About 1,000 schools across the country share $1 billion in federal funds earmarked for extended day programs. This program costs about $2,000 per child per year, about half of which comes from private donations.
In the year that it’s been running, principal Gonzalez says school attendance has increased. Proponents cite a long list of other benefits. Kids are safe, they exercise, they’re fit, they’re learning valuable social and emotional lessons, and they like it.
LUCY N. FRIEDMAN, President, The After-School Corporation: After school, you walk into a classroom and the kids are excited about what they’re doing, and it’s 4:00 on a Friday and they’re all raising their hands, that, to me, is success.
JOHN TULENKO: Lucy Friedman is president of the After-School Corporation, which provides financial support and guidance to schools that ant to start extended day programs, including Middle School 223. The students her students serve, Friedman argues, face more than an achievement gap.
Lucy, you have written about something you call the opportunity gap. What are you talking about?
LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: By sixth grade, disadvantaged kids have had 6,000 less hours of learning, learning, you know, what happens in preschool, but also what happens when your families take you to the beach or the zoo, summer camps, after-school programs.
And so, really, that’s what we want to do is open kids’ eyes, expose them to new kinds of activities and to new parts of themselves.
JOHN TULENKO: But at many public schools, closing the opportunity gap is a new mission. For more than a decade, schools have been cramming on academics in an effort to raise scores, especially in low-income schools.
RAMON GONZALEZ: I think what we have seen in our poorest neighborhood, that’s what it has become. It’s become test prep academies and we have taken out the arts and we have taken out the sports, with the idea that, if we just focus on academics, somehow, miraculously, these kids will be at the same level in three years.
And what we found is, that has worked for some kids, but for the majority of kids, it has not worked. The gap still remains.
JOHN TULENKO: But even here, extracurricular activities can feel like an afterthought.
What do they get in the way of art, music, dance, drama during the regular school day?
ALISSA ROGANOVIC, Math Teacher, M.S. 223: There isn’t much.
JOHN TULENKO: Many of Alissa Roganovic’s students find it hard not to drift off in a schedule dominated by academics.
ALISSA ROGANOVIC: They have 40 periods a week of instruction. Five of them are lunch. And then you take eight for math, 10 for ELA, five for science, five for social studies, five for technology, and you’re left with — and you’re left with two periods for gym. Unfortunately, a lot of that has to do with the tests that we’re required to prepare the students for.
JOHN TULENKO: Even with the focus on academics, math and reading scores here, while slightly better than in most New York City schools, are low; 75 percent of the students at Middle School 223 scored below proficient. That’s where the after-school tutoring comes in.
WOMAN: So now what is the formula?
JOHN TULENKO: Are they getting better at math?
ALISSA ROGANOVIC: They are. They’re getting better because their attitude is changing, because they’re getting some of the questions answered that are — in a class of 30 or when they’re at home they aren’t necessarily getting answered.
JOHN TULENKO: Although quality varies, research shows most after-school programs have a positive effect on student performance. But is waiting until the end of the day to catch kids up and give them fun activities they look forward to overlooking the real problem?
We asked Lucy Friedman of the After-School Corporation.
I would like to play around and give you an analogy, if I may.
LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: OK.
LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: OK.
JOHN TULENKO: Imagine schools as restaurants, there to serve nutrition food. The way we do it now, only about half of the kids get a nutritious meal. You all come in at the end of the day and you provide that nutrition, which is important. But someone could argue that you really ought to be more focused on the menu during the regular school day.
LUCY N. FRIEDMAN: Why aren’t we? Because — because we think this is a way. I mean, partly, it’s who we are, right? We — I mean, there are a lot of people who are putting a lot of effort into the front end.
RAMON GONZALEZ: I think with the ingredients we have, we are working on serving the best meal. We are reaching that point. But the reality is that, even as we’re crafting this menu of these great things, it’s still not enough, because our kids have not eaten for years. And so we’re trying to make up some of those nutrients, using your analogy, that they have lost along the way.
JOHN TULENKO: With the focus on tests, it’s unlikely the menu for the regular school day will change, but the dessert will get richer. New York State recently handed over $7.6 million to create more after-school programs like the one at Middle School 223. That’s on top of $145 million already pledged by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The post Can after-school programs help shrink the ‘opportunity gap’ for low-income students? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
GWEN IFILL: The relationship between government and investigative journalists has often been fraught, one wanting to hold onto classified intelligence, the other seeking to pry open secrets, each believing it’s serving the public interest.
But a new report makes the claim that in the post-9/11 era, the government has gone too far in clamping down on the work of reporters and their sources.
Jeffrey Brown has our look.
JEFFREY BROWN: The report comes from the advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and is titled “With Liberty To Monitor All: How Large-Scale U.S. Surveillance Is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy.”
It was produced after talking with dozens of public officials, lawyers, and most of all, journalists.
One of the latter is with us now, Dana Priest, an investigative reporter for The Washington Post and a professor at the University of Maryland. With another view of the situation, we’re joined by Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration. He’s also a former general counsel at the NSA in the 1990s.
And welcome to both of you.
DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Dana Priest, first, in general terms, state the problem so people understand that — for someone like yourself in doing this kind of reporting.
DANA PRIEST: Well, the report focuses on a trend that has — you can’t escape.
One is all the information that’s come out on surveillance and what is the impact of that on reporters’ ability to do their job, in other words, to cultivate and guard confidential sources usually within the government who don’t want to be named?
Next to that is a record number of prosecutions of reporters by the Obama administration for their involvement in writing stories. And third would be the just increase in what they perceive as leaks from these large caches of information, the WikiLeaks and — that came a couple of years ago and then Edward Snowden’s documents that he released to a couple of journalists.
And so that together has made the government very fearful. It has instituted an insider threat program that is very restrictive that asks people to not to talk to reporters, not even if they’re not discussing unclassified information, unless it’s OKed in a sort of centralized way.
And what impact has that had on reporting? And you won’t be surprised that it’s had a big chill on national security reporting.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK. We will go through some specifics.
But, Stewart, by the way, you had a look at this, too.
STEWART BAKER, Former Senior Official, Department of Homeland Security: I did.
JEFFREY BROWN: What is your general take? Do you see a large-scale problem?
STEWART BAKER: I think there’s a complete disconnect between what they blame for the problem, which is the trendy discussions of national security surveillance, and the observation that it is easier to find the people who are leaking in most cases.
Those two things are not connected at all in the report and probably not in reality. There are almost no leaks — in fact, no leaks I have seen the were — where the leaker was identified by the 215 program we have heard so much about or overseas collection of…
JEFFREY BROWN: These large-scale surveillance programs.
STEWART BAKER: What’s going on and what is making it easier to make these cases is, we are surrounded by more digital information and we are dropping those digits everywhere.
And so when investigators see classified information in the newspaper, when they’re trying to figure out who leaked, it’s easy to figure out about social connections, the who spoke to whom, who sent e-mail to whom, and to start narrowing the circle until you’re pretty sure who — you know who did it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, can you give us a specific — make the connection that he’s not seeing between the surveillance program and the impact on you…
DANA PRIEST: Yes, I don’t think they’re trying to make the connections between the prosecutions and the surveillance necessarily, but between the surveillance, possible surveillance, and the ability of the media to do its traditional watchdog role in the national security arena.
And, in that regard, when you look at the information that has been revealed from the Snowden documents, it’s clear that their capabilities are endless, and that they have — they work in the domestic realm as well. And that has not only meant that reporters feel that they’re potentially more targeted — and some of them absolutely do feel — you will find a range on that — but also, more importantly, that the sources worry about that. And so…
JEFFREY BROWN: And they say that to you or you’re aware of it in your relationship?
DANA PRIEST: Oh, yes.
And all the reporters they talk to, which I think there are 46 national security reporters, all experienced people who have been doing this for years, and all say it is worse than it has ever been, including after 9/11, when this really started in earnest, during the Bush administration.
And one of the reasons is this defensive crouch, I would call it, by administration to get a handle, as you were saying, on the digital information that is out there that used to not be out there, and the vulnerability in their own system, which they have not corrected.
And I think that this, in a way, is swatting the fly with a hammer or going after the wrong target. They do need to look at — insider threat is serious. We don’t want to damage national security in whatever we do, but look at how — how do you be most effective? It is really to make it difficult for us to have exchanges with legitimate sources on even nonclassified information?
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that sounds like more than a vague sense of disconnection.
STEWART BAKER: Well, it is not the case that any of these surveillance programs were used to find the leakers.
And I don’t think you disagree. What you’re saying is, people are afraid of the programs, and that has made them less willing to talk to me.
I think part of that is the press, which has hyped these stories by saying, is NSA spying on you this morning or this afternoon, when NSA is, in fact, not spying on Americans as a routine matter at all. And, so, to the extent that the press has scared people about these programs, they are reaping what they sowed.
But I think, more important, people have simply realized, they have woken up to the fact that if they talk to reporters and they release classified information, they are at risk of having the fact that they are the source of the leak found by ordinary criminal investigative means.
It is not super spooky stuff that is catching these guys. And if the complaint is, they didn’t used to know that and they talked to me, and now they know it and they don’t talk to me, I think it’s just a matter of what reporters were getting away with in suckering their sources before.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that would be the counterargument to reporters, right, is that you’re getting people to in some ways break the law if it means giving you classified information.
DANA PRIEST: You know, this is not at all new.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
DANA PRIEST: We have been — and, in fact, if you look back through the Cold War, the — all the failures and the vulnerabilities of the U.S. government have been outed by the media.
And that’s what we see part of our most important role being, you know, policy failures, failure of the government to do what it says it’s going to do, including reining itself in when it comes to intelligence work and particularly in the domestic arena. So this is — this idea that we’re duping people or, you know, tricking them, we’re doing our job.
And the people inside government, they know that. And what is different now, is this administration is more defensive, it is more controlling of how it wants information to be let out, in an unprecedented way.
STEWART BAKER: Oh, really?
DANA PRIEST: No, really.
STEWART BAKER: I think — I think the press has said that about every president since Nixon.
DANA PRIEST: Right — right after 9/11, it was true of the Bush administration.
But, in a way, you could understand that. We all thought we might be attacked again. But what the Obama administration is doing is, it’s requiring very simple explanations that reporters are asking for to be vetted all the way up to a central White House press office, which is crazy.
It slows it down. It makes it all about talking points. And that forces reporters to work harder to go around any kind of apparatus that might actually choose to be helpful to reporters.
JEFFREY BROWN: You don’t see a movement towards more control of information and national security?
STEWART BAKER: It is all — it is an understandable goal, if you’re trying to protect national security, not to have decisions about what secrets should be kept in the hands of reporters, who have a strong interest in disclosing even national security secrets.
So, yes, of course, the government has always wanted to keep classified information out of the hands of reporters. What they’re doing now is using tools that have been used in organized crime investigations for 30 years to find information about who’s talking to whom.
And that has turned out to be a very productive way of not going after the journalists, but going after the sources who are violating their oath.
JEFFREY BROWN: Give me a brief sense of how it’s changed your life. I mean, what — what kinds of things do you do differently?
DANA PRIEST: Well, this is the tricky parts of the sources and methods. We all have them.
But, in essence, it’s slowed things down. We have to use — we have to be more circuitous. We have to use the technology that we can, encryption and air gap technology on computers or just more face-to-face encounters. And it just does slow it down, not only for national security, though. It can slow it down in even policy discussions, where we really need the government’s help.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. I’m afraid we are going to have to leave it there.
Dana Priest and Stewart Baker, thank you so much.
STEWART BAKER: It was a pleasure.
DANA PRIEST: Thank you.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to try to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.
Two freshman senators, a political odd couple, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, have introduced legislation called the REDEEM Act that would make it easier for juveniles who commit nonviolent crimes to expunge or seal those convictions from their records, lift the federal ban on food stamps and welfare benefits for low-level drug offenders, offer incentives to states that currently try juveniles as adults to encourage them to raise the age to 18, and ban solitary confinement for children, except in the most dangerous cases.Senators Paul and Booker join me now.
We welcome you both to the NewsHour.
Senator Booker, what is it that you most want to change about the criminal justice system?
SEN. CORY BOOKER, D, N.J.: Well, overall, we have a system that costs taxpayers a quarter trillion dollars a year. We’re 4 to 5 percent of the globe’s population. We lock up 25 percent of the globe’s prison population.
And so what we really need is a broad-based transformation of criminal justice that actually saves taxpayer dollars, empowers people to succeed and keep our streets safe. And I have seen firsthand how a broken criminal justice system actually adds to criminality by making people who otherwise want to be able to do the right thing by shutting doors in their face and not giving them a chance to redeem themselves in society.
So, this is a large stretch. I joined the Senate at a time that Senator Rand Paul, Senator Leahy, Senator Durbin, Senator Mike Lee were doing a lot of things to try to change this system, and I am happy to join this broad-based effort on this urgent need in America.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Paul, you come from a very different political world view than Senator Booker, but you see this the same way he does?
SEN. RAND PAUL, R, Ky.: Well, I think the interesting is, I don’t think it’s a right or a left issue.
I think it’s an issue that we both believe strongly in. I think it’s the number one impediment or one of the chief impediments to unemployment. People can’t get a job because they have to check off a box saying they’re a felon. There are five million people who have lost the right to vote. There’s also five million people who are out of jail who have been convicted of felonies that I think it’s denying them an opportunity to get a job.
So, I want people to work. I want people to get back to work. I want them to get back to voting. And all of these things, I think, are wrapped up in what stuff that really both parties can believe and at least some people from both parties do believe in.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Booker, how do you answer the argument — I guess this especially comes from conservatives — that this is something that should be handled at the state level and not by the federal government?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Well, we have federal laws that deal with these kinds of crimes. We have got to reform them.
And it’s the federal prison population as well as states that’s mushrooming. Look, the overall number of prisoners in the United States has gone up 10-fold since 1980 alone. So this is something we have to do at every level of government.
And in a lot of areas, I believe — in fact, Senator Rand Paul and I partnered on an amendment first to deal with pulling the federal government back in terms of the enforcement of marijuana laws in terms of medical marijuana. So, this is something we all have to work on.
And in terms of what I have seen on the federal government, this waste, this gross waste of billions of dollars on nonviolent drug offenders — remember, the majority of our criminals that we lock up are nonviolent offenders. And we have got to start figuring out ways to empower them to succeed.
And a lot of states actually, to give them credit, a lot of red states, in fact, are leading the way in lowering prison populations at the same time as lowering crime. The federal government has to lead, has to follow suit.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Paul, based on what I’m reading, this is not given a serious chance of passage this year. What argument are you making to your colleagues? You know, I gather especially Republicans are not exactly excited about this idea.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Well, you know, I think there is a chance it could pass.
I have been talking with not only Senator Reid, but Senator Leahy and I are together on a mandatory minimum bill. Senator Durbin and Lee are together on a reform of mandatory minimums. We see the Smart Sentencing Act, which reduces mandatory minimums, give judges more discretion in these cases, as a base bill that maybe Senator Booker and I, our bill could be attached to it as an amendment.
But I think there are 60, maybe 70 votes in the Senate for this on both sides of the aisle. There are still some naysayers, but I think the public at large is saying, well, you know, we’re not so sure drugs are right for people, but we are thinking that maybe we should rehabilitate people, that people, particularly kids, deserve a second chance. When they make mistakes, let’s get them back into society and working, which makes them less likely to go back into drugs.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Paul, staying with you, I was reading that you campaigned for Senator Booker’s opponent when he ran.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Well, we’re hoping he forgets that. We hope he forgets that.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So was it difficult for the two of you to initiate conversations about this?
SEN. RAND PAUL: From my point of view, no.
And I kind of look at campaigns differently. I may well campaign for a Republican again in New Jersey. But when we’re up here, we’re elected officials. And I try to be civil and peace and commerce with all. And really we have a lot of similarities. This is not us splitting the difference on an issue. It’s actually that we both do agree on this.
And there are some we all — that we won’t agree on, and we will be polite and we will vote the other ways. At least, that’s the way I see it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Booker, I guess this is the second day in a row we have been talking to two senators who are from across the aisle working together. Yesterday, it was funding for veterans health care.
Is this something that helps you, to be working with senators on the other side, in the other party?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Well, this is what I promised New Jersey voters that I would do.
We’re all tired of a Washington that has these partisan camps where nothing gets done. And so the — one of the main purposes I had coming down here was to solve New Jersey problems, not in a Democratic camp, but by reaching across the aisle, creating uncommon coalitions, as I said on a — last time I appeared on your show — creating those uncommon coalitions necessary to solve complicated problems, immigration reform, drug policy reform, supporting our veterans, corporate tax reform.
Neither of these — none of these problems are going to be solved in a Democratic way or a Republican way. They’re going to solved in an American way by the people we elect coming together, finding compromise and moving our nation not left or right, but moving it forward.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Paul, your name very much out there as a potential candidate in 2016.
Is this — again, is this something — when you work with senators from the other side of the aisle in the Senate, is that seen as helping you in Iowa and New Hampshire?
SEN. RAND PAUL: Well, I think it helps both parties.
Congress in general has about a 10 percent approval rating. So any time we work together, it does help both parties. But I don’t do it simply because I think it’s something that will help me or help Senator Booker. I do — it really — I passionately believe in this.
I think the war on drugs has a racial outcome, and we ought to try to fix that as well. There’s a host of issues. I have introduced five different criminal justice issues in the last two months. And is it good politically? Yes, I’m obviously a politician and I like to get more votes.
But it’s also the right thing to do, and that is really what motivates me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I know the two of you worked on at least one other piece of legislation last year. And that was to prevent — forbid the federal government from spending money to interfere with state marijuana laws.
Are there other issues where the two of you are working together or are in agreement?
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Yes, there’s a lot of things that we have been discussing, from the disparity between crack and powder cocaine, making that one to one.
There’s areas within the world of drug policy reform. So the great thing about Senator Paul and our conversations — and he came up to me literally moments after I was sworn in — is that there is a large recognition that he and I have that we have a criminal justice that has gone awry, costing taxpayers too much money.
And I want to add some credence to what he’s saying. And us Democrats — whether it’s Paul Ryan, whether you agree with what he’s saying or not, he’s talking about poverty. You just heard Rand Paul talking about the racial disparities. Please understand, we have more African-Americans in this country under criminal supervision right now than all of the slaves in 1850.
These are urgencies that, no matter what your party, should weigh upon your consciousness. They belie the truth of who we are as Americans. And we need to address them.
And so I’m glad that I have a partner in Rand Paul. Both of us could write a dissertation on our disagreements, but we find — we’re finding common ground and having the common sense to say, you know what, if we both agree on something, let’s see if we can advance the ball by joining with our colleagues.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you both. And we thank you for joining us, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Rand Paul. Thank you.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Thank you.
SEN. CORY BOOKER: Thank you very much.
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WASHINGTON — The price is sky-high, but so is demand. A new $1,000-per-pill drug has become the treatment of choice for Americans with hepatitis C, a liver-wasting disease that affects more than 3 million.
Even with insurers reluctant to pay, Sovaldi prescriptions have eclipsed those for all other hepatitis C pills combined in a matter of months, new data from IMS Health indicate. The promise of a real cure, with fewer nasty side effects, has prompted thousands to get treated.
But clinical and commercial successes are also triggering scrutiny for the drug’s manufacturer, California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., which just reported second-quarter profits of $3.66 billion, or a net margin of 56 percent.
Two senators have unearthed documents that suggest the initial developers of Sovaldi considered pricing it at less than half as much. The health insurance industry is publicly scolding Gilead, and state Medicaid programs are pushing back.
The repercussions go beyond one drug and one disease. A number of promising cancer medications near approval could be drawn into the storm over costs.
“You can’t put too fine a point on the sort of moral dilemma that we have here,” said Michael Kleinrock, director of the IMS Institute, which studies prescription drug trends. “This is something that the research-based pharmaceutical industry reaches for all the time: a cure. But when they achieve one, can we afford it?”
New data from IMS Health, the parent company of the institute, illustrate Sovaldi’s impact since its December debut:
—The number of pharmacy prescriptions for all hepatitis C pills has soared, highlighting demand. In May, more than 48,000 prescriptions were filled for four such medications, with Sovaldi accounting for three-fourths of the total. Compare that to prescriptions for May 2013, before Sovaldi became available, which totaled about 6,200.
—In Sovaldi’s first 30 weeks on the market, 62,000 new patients tried the drug, nearly three times as many as had tried an earlier medication that showed promise. That makes Sovaldi the most successful launch for any hepatitis C drug. Gilead expects to have a successor soon that will make treatment easier to tolerate, because it won’t require patients to take companion medications with strong side effects.
—The weekly number of new patients going on Sovaldi has been gradually slowing, from more than 2,900 in February and March to about 1,600-1,800 in late June and early July. Kleinrock said that could indicate that pent-up initial demand is giving way to steadier levels, or it could mean that insurers are limiting access to protect their budgets.
Hepatitis C surpassed AIDS as a cause of death in the U.S. in 2007, claiming an estimated 15,000 lives that year. The illness is complex, with distinct virus types requiring different treatments. While it advances gradually, it can ultimately destroy the liver, and transplants average $577,000.
The cost of a 12-week regimen of Sovaldi along with two companion medications that patients must also take is around $100,000. Competing regimens with other drugs cost in the mid- to high five figures, and some are far less effective and harder to tolerate.
Hepatitis C is a public health concern, since the disease can be transmitted by contact with infected blood, by drug users sharing needles, and sometimes through sexual activity. Many people are unaware that they carry the virus. Health officials advise all baby boomers to get tested.
At Mount Sinai Health System’s liver clinic in New York City, patient advocate Angela Woody said Sovaldi has brightened the outlook for patients. But it takes effort to get insurance approval.
“We have had to jump through a great deal of hoops,” Woody said. “We have two patients who applied in January and did not actually go on the medication until April.”
Sovaldi’s implications for Medicare and Medicaid costs have prompted rare bipartisan cooperation in Congress on a health care issue.
Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, are asking Gilead for a detailed explanation of its pricing. Wyden chairs the Finance Committee, which oversees health insurance programs, and Grassley is a veteran of drug safety investigations.
The senators say their staffs found public documents that call into question Gilead’s $84,000 price for a full course of Sovaldi treatment, for the most common type of hepatitis C.
In 2011 filings with federal regulators, the company that originally developed Sovaldi estimated a treatment price of $36,000. That figure was developed during Gilead’s negotiations to buy the original developer, Pharmasset.
Gilead spokeswoman Amy Flood said the company has no comment.
But Gilead vice president Gregg Alton recently addressed the issue at a public forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute.
“To suggest that a cure for a disease like hepatitis C should be priced at $36,000 … would put a huge disincentive on investing in cures for our industry,” he said.
Gilead took on most of the challenge — and risk — of getting government approval for Sovaldi, Alton added.
He suggested another standard for measuring the value of Sovaldi, something called “cost-per-cure,” that makes Sovaldi look like a bargain.
The older hepatitis C treatments take longer and are less effective, and Alton estimated their cost-per-cure at somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. Included are companion drugs that patients must also take.
Sovaldi gets that down to $115,000 per cure, said Alton. “So it is actually, on a per-cure basis, much less costly.”
As California suffers through an historic drought, with penalties for wasting water going into effect this week, something unusual is going on: the state and the farmers seem to be agreeing on how to manage groundwater. Or how not to manage it.
It may be political, it may be practical, but it is somewhat of a first in a state that has fought over water since the days of the Gold Rush. This year the snowpack (that usually provides water well into the summer) is small, and the amount of water in the state’s rivers is down about a third. That means less water for farmers who depend on the state’s vast network of canals, dams and reservoirs to keep their crops growing. So many of them have turned to groundwater, the water under the surface of the land, that is pumped to the surface from the aquifers that exist below the ground.
The odd thing is that while surface water is regulated and allocated and channeled and paid for, groundwater in California is hardly regulated at all. Other states have stringent rules. But in California, a farmer can drill a well (as a lot of them are doing right now) and pump to his heart’s content. Of course that depletes the aquifer, or takes water away from a neighbor, and in fact throughout the state groundwater levels are sinking. Wells must be drilled deeper and deeper, and some producing wells are coming up dry. The water that usually recharges the aquifer is absent this year, and that creates fear among scientists that there won’t be enough groundwater to meet the demand.
So you would think a solution is for the state to regulate groundwater — make some rules that would allow for equitable distribution of that water or have penalties for taking too much water or wasting it. Hardly anybody argues with that concept. But the big question is who should make the rules and enforce them. The state legislature is trying to come up with regulations. But there is widespread skepticism about regulating groundwater from Sacramento.
Farmers react viscerally to the concept of regulating their well water. They claim that it’s theirs, and they don’t’ want anyone telling them what crops they can grow and how much water they can use. They are pressuring the state to go easy; if regulations are to be made, better they should come from small irrigation districts that know the farmers and their needs.
And oddly enough state government seems to be listening. Without saying so, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown is soft pedaling the idea of regulating groundwater. Felicia Marcus, the chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, says “the issue with groundwater is an interesting one. It has to do with a community resource that should be managed at a community level.” She admits there is an “ongoing dialogue … calling for some state action to help encourage locals to actually manage this resource in a fair and equitable way.” That’s a pretty diplomatic statement for a state that has built dams and canals you can see from outer space, and is planning on building more to move water from the north to the south, invoking all sorts of fights between urban and agricultural water users and environmentalists.
Of course Marcus and the state have some science on their side. “I don’t think there needs to be one way of doing it,” she says. “Because every community is different, every groundwater basin is different.”
Bottom line: the administration doesn’t want to antagonize the farmers by imposing statewide rules that agriculture will fight with all they’ve got. And with Jerry Brown hoping to get a large water transfer program, including huge tunnels, built, it’s not a good time to antagonize the agricultural community.
So farmers and municipalities continue to pump, while they debate how to “manage” (that’s the term they use, rather than regulate) a valuable but endangered resource.
A full report will air soon on PBS NewsHour.
The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4 percent this spring, rebounding strongly from the disappointing numbers in winter.
Increased personal consumption, advances in the inventories of private industries, along with more government spending both locally and federally, were cited to be the key components in the spurred growth in the initial report on the second quarter. The GDP’s growth out-performed expectations from economists that the economy would grow at a rate of 3 percent in the April-June quarter.
Economists concluded that the unusual stormy weather was a major factor in the decline in the first quarter when the economy shrank by 2.1 percent. Even though that was an improvement from the 2.9 percent contraction the government had initially announced, it was still the most troubling reduction since 2009 when the economy was in the throes of the ‘great recession.’ This has led to some concern that the unexpectedly strong numbers in the second quarter only represent an overcorrection from the unexpected first quarter problems.
On Wednesday, the government released even more revised data, showing that the second half of 2013 saw the fastest growth in a decade — more than initially estimated — but 2011 and 2012 also showed less growth than expected.
It is still unclear whether the more robust numbers will prod the Fed to increase interest rates sooner than expected. Most observers predict the Federal Reserve will wait to increase interest rates until early 2015 to avoid offsetting the current growth. The Fed is expected to release a statement later Wednesday.
Economists are largely taking the numbers as a positive sign that the economy is pulling even further out of the recession and will continue its strong growth heading into 2015. The rest of the year is forecasted to provide a 3 percent annual increase.
Veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolling at for-profit colleges and some of those companies operating on campus “appear to be taking advantage of a loophole.” That loophole lets the companies count GI Bill benefits as non-federal (non-taxpayer) money, according to a report released earlier today from Senator Tom Harkin, chairmen of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Pensions (HELP) Committee.
The report shows for-profit college companies received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-2013 school year. That’s nearly a quarter of the benefits paid under the program the companies are pocketing. While overall enrollment in these institutions fell between 2009 and 2013, the report indicates the enrollment of veterans has “dramatically increased,” allowing those companies to cash in on the loophole Harkin identifies.
Also according to the report, “veterans are unusually attractive students for for-profit colleges [because] those eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits offer [them] a guaranteed stream of federal revenue.” Additionally, unlike students with federal student loans, veterans attending are not at risk of default because the U.S. government foots the bill.
Furthermore, while the Higher Education Act requires that at least ten percent of the revenue comes “from sources other than federal financial aid funds,” the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not count as federal financial aid under Title IV.
In the 2008-2009 academic school year, the report notes “as many as 60 percent of the total number of students who enrolled in some of the companies receiving the largest amounts of GI Bill benefits left school within a year of enrollment,” without a degree or a diploma. This means taxpayers are paying twice as much for veterans to go to these institutions than public schools, for an education they never complete.
One of the schools which has received the most Post-9/11 GI Benefits, Corinthian Colleges Inc., is planning to sell or close its 100 campuses over the next six months. Corinthian reached a deal with the Department of Education in June following accusations employees changed grades, falsified attendance and job placement reports and inappropriately marketed its programs.
Seven other for-profit college companies are facing similar investigations by states attorneys general or federal agencies for “deceptive and misleading recruiting,” according to the report.
According to this Center for Investigative Reporting/PBS NewsHour collaborative report, University of Phoenix Vice President, Garland Williams said veterans choose those schools because of the programs they offer.
“We have over a hundred programs that we offer… and those programs lead to careers that they want to aspire to,” said Williams.
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A 500-million-year long storm of asteroids pummeled the infant Earth soon after it was formed, scientists believe. The smaller asteroids were the length of 15 football fields. The big ones were the size of Maine.
These collisions, which occurred during the Hadean eon, 4 to 4.5 billion years ago, were crucial to the planet’s evolution and may have paved the way for life. Those 500 million years of intense asteroid activity make up approximately 10 percent of the Earth’s history, said Simone Marchi, a research fellow at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
“It’s not a negligible amount of time,” Marchi said. “It’s really a critical time for understanding the evolution of the Earth. Much of what we see today, including ourselves — that is, life — is due to that early evolution. It’s very important to understand what the conditions of the Earth were during that time.”
Marchi and his colleagues have just released a new model to show how those collisions shaped the planet during its first 500 million years. Their study appears in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.
Their model shows where and when thousands of asteroids struck the Earth, churning up hot magma under the newly-formed surface. That mixing and melting destroyed rocks from Earth’s infancy, Marchi said. The oldest rocks recovered on Earth are 3.8 billion years old, too young to answer questions on the timing or magnitude of the asteroid strikes. An ancient mineral called zircon is the only material on Earth that appears to have survived the asteroid storm, but it is scattered throughout younger rocks, Marchi said, leaving few answers on its own.
The model simulates all of those collisions over millennia, and shows scientists how the asteroids may have shaped the Earth’s crust.
“When you have a large collision, you basically dig a large hole in the ground, and that means mixing and melting of the rocks. The heat from the impact can melt rocks in the proximity of collision,” Marchi said. “Mixing, melting and burial of rocks must have been extremely important back then, and we need to understand how the crust formed.”
The young solar system was full of debris during the Hadean eon. To figure out when and how often asteroids hit Hadean Earth, Marchi and his colleagues studied the moon’s craters and rock composition. The moon preserved a better record of ancient collisions, but it still takes detective work, he said.
“You have craters on top of craters on the moon, so you have to decode the information written in there.”
This animation shows where asteroids likely struck Earth over time.
Our planet was hit thousands of times by “small” space debris, approximately 9 miles wide, Marchi’s team found. But occasionally, supersized asteroids — asteroids larger than 300 miles wide — struck the Earth’s surface. Those large impacts would have vaporized the Earth’s oceans, filling the atmosphere with steam.
Compared to the Hadean eon, we live in a quiet time, Marchi said. He thinks the plethora of asteroid strikes helped create the conditions for life. But how they did it is still a mystery, he said.
“The oldest traces for life on Earth have been found in old rocks — isotopic traces of life. Those rocks date to 3.9 billion years old,” Marchi said, not long after the Hadean asteroid activity. “Is that just a coincidence or is there a more profound link to what’s going on in the Hadean and the present? It’s a very difficult problem to address, and there’s a lot of work to be done in that regard. This paper is just a step toward that goal.”
The post Watch asteroids pummel the Earth in its first 500 million years appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The war between Israel and Hamas raged on today, with strikes on a United Nations school and a busy market in Gaza.
After more than three weeks of fighting, the Palestinian death toll reached 1,359. And, in Israel, 56 soldiers have been killed, along with three civilians.
Bodies were carried one-by-one out of a crowded shopping area in the eastern Gaza Strip today. The Israeli airstrike hit when people were taking advantage of a four-hour cease-fire, but it applied only to certain areas. Hamas also broke it by firing at least 20 rockets during that time period.
The attack followed one of the Israeli military’s most active days since the four-week conflict began. Earlier in the day, it was a U.N. school that came under fire. At least 16 people were killed and more than 100 injured. The school was one of dozens in Gaza giving shelter to 200,000 displaced Palestinians.
AMANI AL ATTAR, (through interpreter): Children, men, everyone was dismembered. Why were they killed? What did they do?
JUDY WOODRUFF: A U.N. spokesman on the ground said the light of day revealed the assault came from Israeli tanks.
CHRISTOPHER GUNNESS, Spokesman, United Nations Relief and Works Agency: We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analyzed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school in which 3,300 people had sought refuge.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Israeli Defense Force spokesman Peter Lerner said his country’s forces acted only in response to a mortar shell launched at them from near the school.
LT. COL. PETER LERNER: Spokesman, Israel Defense Forces: There is a challenge on the ground where this terrorist organization is exploiting the reality on the ground, exploiting the civilian environment and exploiting the people of Gaza themselves. We’re up against a huge challenge, and clearly there can be tragic results that we have seen.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Still, the shelling of the U.N. school drew widespread condemnation, including from the White House. And, in New York, the U.N. deputy secretary-general expressed shock.
JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations: For me, this is a moment where you really have to say enough is enough and where you have to search for the right words to convince those who have the power to stop this.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mosques were again an Israeli target and five were reduced to rubble. In daylight, the destruction was clear. Korans littered the ground. The building’s minaret was resting on a nearby apartment building.
MOHAMMAD AL-SUSI (through interpreter): People come here to pray and do their duty five times a day. Now we have been deprived from praying dawn, morning, noon, evening. Where will people pray now?
JUDY WOODRUFF: But Israeli officials said the mosques are being used by militant fighters. The Israeli military dropped warning leaflets in Gaza, urging residents to keep away from terrorists and to report rocket launchers, tunnels and ammunition arsenals.
Meanwhile, Hamas carried out its own campaign to boost morale. Last night, it broadcast video purportedly showing its fighters using a tunnel to carry out an attack on an Israeli outpost near Gaza’s border.
In Washington today, the State Department reacted to more criticism levied at Secretary John Kerry by Israeli news media. He’s come under fire for his failed attempt to broker a cease-fire.
His spokeswoman, Marie Harf, called the criticism shocking and disappointing.
MARIE HARF, State Department Spokeswoman: The hours all of us have spent with the secretary in Jerusalem and trying to get Middle East peace, trying to work to protect Israel’s security, I think that’s why it’s so disappointing, that it’s just so at odds with reality and, quite frankly, just flies in the face of everything we have been trying to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: During cease-fire negotiations, Kerry had suggested that Hamas’ demand to end the blockade of Gaza be on the table, which set off the Israeli criticism.
GWEN IFILL: At least 19 people were killed today in Eastern Ukraine, as new clashes flared between government forces and pro-Russian separatists. Much of the violence targeted areas in and around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
The fighting stopped international experts from reaching the Malaysia Airlines crash site for a fourth day. It’s been two weeks since the plane went down. A Ukrainian government spokesman warned the area is becoming more unsafe.
ANDRIY LYSENKO, Spokesman, Ukraine National Security Council (through interpreter): At the crash site, terrorists set up new firing positions. They moved a lot of heavy artillery there and mined entrances to this territory. It prevents international experts from carrying out their work while they are trying to start fulfilling their duties and find causes of the downing of Boeing 777.
GWEN IFILL: Ukraine’s border with Russia is also the scene of Russian troop movement. Today, NATO’s military commander reported their numbers have risen sharply to over 12,000.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia had harsh words today about the new round of U.S. sanctions President Obama imposed yesterday. A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry read: “The de facto losses from this destructive and short-sighted policy will be quite tangible for Washington.”
Both the U.S. and the European Union imposed new sanctions against Russian banks, energy and defense firms for Russia’s role in the separatist uprising in Ukraine.
GWEN IFILL: Officials in Liberia shut all the country’s schools and quarantined more communities to try to stop the rapid spread of the worst outbreak of Ebola on record. The World Health Organization estimates the highly infectious disease has killed at least 129 people across the West African country. It has no known cure.
The U.S. Peace Corps announced today it’s withdrawing all of its volunteers, about 350 people, from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea after two volunteers came in contact with someone who died of the virus.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. House of Representatives moved toward passing a bill to sue President Obama for overstepping his executive powers. The lawsuit sponsored by Speaker John Boehner claims the president failed to uphold the Constitution during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Debate on the House floor was heated and completely along party lines.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, Minority Leader: Once again, Republicans are putting special interest and the howls of impeachment-hungry extremists before the needs of the nation. The lawsuit is only the latest proof of House Republicans’ contempt and disregard for the priorities of the American people.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold and acting decisively when it may be compromised.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On the road in Kansas City today, President Obama weighed in on the lawsuit, calling it a political stunt and saying it was keeping lawmakers from doing real work.
PRESIDNENT BARACK OBAMA: Every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you.
PRESIDNENT BARACK OBAMA: When they have taken 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: The House also overwhelmingly approved a compromise bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve veterans’ access to health care. The $17 billion overhaul now heads to the Senate, which is expected to act it soon, before heading home for the August recess.
GWEN IFILL: A massive cleanup effort was under way today in Los Angeles after a major water main break inundated the campus of UCLA. A nearly century-old pipe ruptured yesterday and for three hours spewed nearly eight million gallons of water.
Crews began cleaning up six damaged facilities, including the recently renovated basketball arena. An official from the city’s Department of Water and Power warned repairing the pipe could take several days.
JEFF BRAY, Los Angeles Department of Water & Power: We found that we have got a number of valves leaking through that has complicated getting access to the repair. We are currently assessing all options to get the leak — get the leakage down and what repairs that we can make. We cannot begin any of the repairs until we get the water completely down. And we’re working on that.
GWEN IFILL: City officials have yet to determine what caused the pipe to burst. More than 700 cars parked in flooded underground garages remain submerged.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Stocks were mixed on Wall Street today after a better-than-expected report on economic growth. The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 31 points to close at 16,880. The Nasdaq rose 20 points to close at nearly 4,463. And the S&P added a fraction of a point to close at 1,970. We will take a closer look at the state of the economy right after this news summary.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. economy rebounded strongly in the second quarter of this year, better, in fact, than most predicted. New numbers out today showed the gross domestic product grew at a 4 percent annual rate. That’s far better than this winter, when the economy seemed to slump and shrank by about 2 percent. Still, those numbers don’t quite tell you what it feels like in different parts of the country.
Jeffrey Brown gets some regional views.
JEFFREY BROWN: In addition to today’s numbers, the overall jobs picture has improved of late, averaging a more than 200,000 increase for five straight months. But again, questions: What kinds of jobs? And how long-lasting is the upward swing?
We get a snapshot of three parts of the country, from: Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Shirley Leung, a business editor at The Boston Globe.
And, Shirley, start us off here. Do the numbers showing an upswing jibe with what you see in the Northeast? What sectors are better? What is still lagging?
SHIRLEY LEUNG, The Boston Globe: Yes.
In Massachusetts, the economy has been going very strongly, and today’s numbers, you know, look like the kind of same upward growth. And — but one of the things that we’re seeing here and we continue to see is that the growth is very uneven. You know, greater Boston folks who work at tech or hospitals do very well. If you’re out beyond kind of the greater Boston, into the western part of Massachusetts or southern parts of Massachusetts, where you don’t have those kind of sectors, the unemployment rate is quite high.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Vitner, I know you look widely around the country, but start with the Southeast, where you are. What do you see?
MARK VITNER, Wells Fargo: Well, the Southeast really gained momentum over the last year. And I think it’s pretty typical of what we have seen in the country.
The first four years of the recovery, we were barely making 2 percent growth. The last year, it’s been about 2.5 percent. And we have really seen job growth pick up in North Carolina, in Georgia, in Florida, parts of Tennessee, but it is more urban-oriented.
The big areas, Charlotte and Raleigh, Atlanta, Nashville, all the big Florida metro areas, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, are all doing exceptionally well, but the rural areas are mostly lagging. And a few of the big cities that are more closely tied to the government are still pretty sluggish because of the effects of sequestration.
JEFFREY BROWN: And Tom Binnings, Colorado, the larger Mountain region, what’s driving the growth there and where is it heading?
TOM BINNINGS, Summit Economics: Well, I would just echo what everyone else has said. The Denver metro area, Salt Lake City metro area, they’re doing well and have been doing well for several years now, robust growth, employment growth.
And then you get into the outlying areas or the second- and third-tier communities and cities, and the growth is lagging.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Tom, what about jobs? Is that the same picture? Does that fit into what you’re talking about?
TOM BINNINGS: Oh, absolutely.
The job growth is really very strong in Colorado as a whole, but that’s because of the Denver metro all the way to the Wyoming border, a lot of it in professional services, professional technical services. We do have a vibrant construction industry, a lot of growth there in the last couple of years, accommodations and food service.
So our growth is pretty broad-based through – throughout the different economic sectors.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mark Vitner, when you look around the country, do you see other large regions that are a little slower than yours, or is it uneven regionally?
MARK VITNER: It is uneven regionally.
I think that there are large parts of the Northeast that are still growing at a very sluggish pace. When you get away from Boston and New York City, growth is really, really sluggish. Atlantic City is really having a tough time right now, as is a good part of New Jersey.
Detroit is doing better in the auto sector, but you get away from that and things haven’t picked up all that much. There’s a real contrast between the areas that have vibrant energy and technology sectors and the areas that don’t. Seattle, San Francisco, Austin are some of the fastest growing metro areas in the country.
JEFFREY BROWN: Shirley, I gather The Globe did a poll recently looking at people’s attitudes about the economy. And you found some disconnect, right, between the growth and whether people really are experiencing it.
SHIRLEY LEUNG: Yes, I mean, absolutely. The job — unemployment rate is 5.5 percent here. And, you know, the housing market here is — a lot of parts of it in greater Boston have recovered, more than recovered. They have actually surpassed the peak from 2005.
But in a recent survey, eight out of 10 voters say that they feel that their personal financial situation is worse or the same compared to last year. I think half the respondents in our survey said that they’re cutting back on basic necessities. I think also people are dining out less, and they’re really cutting back on discretionary spending.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is there any sense, Shirley, of why, I mean, what’s causing that disconnect?
SHIRLEY LEUNG: I think they’re just nervous about what — I think they’re a little nervous about their job still. I think they’re nervous about what’s happening in Washington and kind of the — really the political future of the country.
And just I think the stock market is reaching some, you know, new highs, and they’re not sure why, and they’re not sure they’re — why — they’re going along with it, so I think there is just a lot of uncertainty.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tom Binnings, do you have a sense of public sentiment out there in that region vis-a-vis the economy?
TOM BINNINGS: Well, yes, I do.
I think it’s more positive, but there’s still caution. A lot of it has to do with the I think aging baby boomers, with retirement looming ahead, and just sort of trying to forecast their own futures. And then we get a lot of young people moving into Colorado, and they’re generally optimistic.
But, on the other hand a lot of them are bringing with them a lot of student debt, so they’re challenged in that regard.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Vitner, what about housing? That’s come up in this discussion, but it’s such an important sector for so many people.
MARK VITNER: Well, it is really stuck in a hard place right now. I think that it fits in with your previous question when you’re asking about the uncertainty and uneasiness that people are feeling.
Older households are staying in place. Maybe they had an interruption in their employment, and that’s hit their savings, and they’re worried about how they’re positioned for retirement, so they’re not selling their home and relocating or downsizing. And at the other end, the younger households are having a tough time getting started.
They graduated into a very weak job market. Many are working part-time jobs or are working outside their chosen field. They have huge student loan debts. And they’re just — they’re choosing to rent, rather than buy.
And so — so we’re really having a tough time getting any forward momentum in housing. It’s true in the South and it’s true in most parts of the country. There are some exceptions. There are a few markets where housing is doing very well. We Salt Lake City is one, parts of the coastal region of California, Orange County in particular. San Diego is beginning to see things pick up, but it’s very spotty.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, Tom Binnings, of course an important sector where you are is the energy industry.
TOM BINNINGS: Well, the energy sector, it’s not as important as sometimes we think in Colorado, but it’s concentrated north of Denver in Weld County. And of course that’s doing well, but it’s not what’s driving the economic growth in the Colorado region, in the Mountain region.
So housing — the housing is actually booming in Denver right now, but it’s more higher-density housing vs. traditional, and a lot more rental housing, as was mentioned, difficulty in people qualifying to buy, and developers having a difficult time developing for purchase.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Shirley Leung, just as we get in our last couple of minutes here, I just wonder, is there a sector or maybe even a local business that you like to watch as your bellwether to tell you how things are going?
SHIRLEY LEUNG: Oh, that’s a really good question.
I guess I like to — you know, one thing we — one thing I have been watching closely is restaurants and just hospitality, because that’s about discretionary spending. And we actually have had a lot of new restaurant openings. And you didn’t see that a lot. You saw more restaurants closing during the recession. And so I feel like, even though people are cautious about eating out here in our survey, I think restaurants feel comfortable enough that I feel like a lot of new restaurants are opening all over the city now.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Vitner, I know you take a real wide look at the country, but is there one store or a company that you like to look at?
MARK VITNER: Well, there’s not so much one store or company. I look at sectors.
And I watch retailing very closely and look at what’s happening with different retailers, looking at what’s happening with the furniture stores. Their business has been very, very good. And you look at what’s happening with the discounters, and they’re struggling. And I think that’s where the split is really occurring among consumers. Lower-income and lower-middle-income households are really having a tough time, because while inflation is relatively low, food and energy prices are up a little bit more than the overall inflation rate, and wages aren’t rising anywhere near as rapidly.
So, they are really getting squeezed.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well, that’s a little downer to end on, but we do have to leave it there.
JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Vitner, Tom Binnings, and Shirley Leung, thank you, all three, very much.
MARK VITNER: Thank you.
SHIRLEY LEUNG: Thanks.
TOM BINNINGS: Thank you.
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On Wednesday, President Obama spoke in Kansas City and called on Republican lawmakers to get some work done and “stop just hating all the time.”
“I know they’re not that happy that I’m president,” Obama said. “I’ve only got a couple of years left. Come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president.”
Kimberly Chexnayder, a reporter with the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program, interviewed two local youths about the economy and whether or not they felt optimistic about the future.
Name: Corrinne Smith (Overland, Kansas)
School: Tufts University
Why did you decide to attend President Obama’s address at the Uptown Theatre?
I saw (President Obama) on his campaign tour in 2008, and I really wanted to jump at the chance to see him again. I think it’s really important that young people get involved in politics and are informed citizens.
Why do you think it’s so important for young people to get involved in politics?
A big part of being an American is being informed, voting and being involved in the choices our country makes, so I think it’s important to start practicing that at a young age.
How do you think the economy affects our generation?
I think we’re going to be the ones to help our economy recover. We need to focus on student loan debt, universal healthcare…fixing the economy in general. I think being informed is a huge part of that.
What is your take on the Affordable Health Care Act, minimum wage and student loan debt?
I am a huge proponent of universal heath care, and I think the minimum wage needs to be increased. I think that what Obama said about helping the middle class by raising the minimum wage will ultimately help everyone. I think minimum wage should be raised and that women should get equal pay.
Name: TJ Blake (Hutchinson, Kansas)
School: The University of Kansas
As a young adult, do you think its important to hear a president speak about the country’s current economy?
Its really interesting to hear (President Obama) speak and hear his views on what’s going on. I think its important for all the people who are young and in our generation to be engaged in politics and be engaged in what’s going on in our economy. I think that hearing the president speak is a great way to get involved and hear the message.
Do you think it’s important to have young adults involved?
We are the next generation of what is going to happen in politics. We have a generation of people who are disengaged and don’t care about what’s happening and its only going to get worse. We are the future of what’s going to happen.
With political biases aside, do you think our current government has helped our country with our economic crisis?
I think that while the government as a whole hasn’t done a very good job, Obama has done a great job so that we can go towards progress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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GWEN IFILL: Now to a serious problem increasingly plaguing the nation’s college campuses: the crime of sexual assault.
The White House says one in five female students has been affected, and now a bipartisan group of senators is calling for universities to act.
WOMAN: It is time to protect those who were wronged. The time is now.
GWEN IFILL: Anna wasn’t yet ready to reveal her last name today, but she was prepared to tell her story of surviving sexual assault.
WOMAN: What happened to me and to too many other women and men is wrong. It shouldn’t matter what you drink or what you wear. That doesn’t help — that doesn’t give anyone the right to sexually assault you.
GWEN IFILL: The Hobart and William Smith student joined other sexual assault survivors and a bipartisan collection of eight U.S. senators in supporting a proposal to improve the way colleges deal with crime on campus.
Annie Clark spoke on behalf of an advocacy group called End Rape on Campus.
ANNIE CLARK, End Rape on Campus: The institutional betrayal that these students face is sometimes worse than the assault itself. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when I reported that I was sexually assaulted, someone told me that rape was like a football game, and that I should look back on that game to figure out what I would do differently in that situation.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y.: Our students deserve better than this.
GWEN IFILL: New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand said the numbers show women in college are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than women who are not.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: With this bill, we are flipping the incentives. Currently, accurate reporting makes a school an outlier, because no school wants to be alone in admitting such a serious problem. With this bill, underreporting will have stiff fines and real teeth.
GWEN IFILL: Florida Republican Marco Rubio noted that some campus investigations have favored student athletes.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-Fla.: I do think it does a tremendous job of advancing the cause forward by creating a uniform system where every single victim in every single instance is treated the same, where there is no special preference because someone can dunk a basketball or throw a ball 80 yards down the field.
GWEN IFILL: Gillibrand and co-sponsor Claire McCaskill said they hope to get the bill passed this year.
Joining me now are two of the sponsors of this new legislation, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire.
Thank you both for joining us.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, R-N.H.: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: One of the most interesting numbers which came out of the White House report and then again today was that one of five women in college campuses are subject to sexual assault or victims of sexual assault. How pervasive is that? And what do — does you legislation propose that colleges do about that?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, D-Mo.: Well, what we’re trying to do is make very clear that there has to be a system and process in place that will allow confidential space for victims to come forward and make sure these investigations are done in a competent way.
Frankly, the more startling statistic is that 40 percent of the college campuses in the country have not investigated a single case of sexual assault in five years. And we know that this is a silent epidemic on our college campuses.
So we have got a lot of work to do. This bill covers a lot of ground, and it’s a great bipartisan effort.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Ayotte, how do you define sexual assault in these cases? There are some people who would say that lots of things happen on college campuses involving people of opposite sexes or of same sex, and it’s not necessarily assault.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE: Well, Gwen, the bottom line is, is that every allegation of sexual assault needs to be fully investigated.
And that’s what we’re trying to ensure here, because there has been great inconsistency. On some campuses, these allegations are not being investigated, as Senator McCaskill mentioned. It’s being investigated inconsistently.
We also found that, in some instances, athletic departments were investigating them, which is totally inappropriate. There needs to be the best practices, full investigation. And obviously victims need to be supported, which is not happening.
And our young people in this country deserve to be able to have a safe environment on campus. And both of us are former prosecutors. We understand that victims are not going to come forward if they feel like their allegations aren’t investigated, they aren’t being taken seriously and that they won’t receive the support that they deserve.
GWEN IFILL: Senator McCaskill, are colleges ignoring this problem or have they been covering it up?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think a little of both.
I think it’s better to hope it’s not really happening. And what this bill is going to do is force them to be more transparent, to do climate surveys, so that we have an apples-to-apples comparison on all these campuses. How do kids feel on these campuses? Are they safe? Are there — is there a lot of this going on that is not reported?
And, ultimately, building bridges between campuses and law enforcement, so that when a victim is confident and can come forward, we get a good prosecution out of it, because very few people rape someone once. These are repeat offenders, even on these college campuses.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Ayotte, some educators have said that you’re pointing the finger in wrong direction. They’re having a hard enough time educating without also having to be the cops on their campuses. What do you say to them?
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE: We’re saying to them, first of all, we want to work with the higher education institutions so that they can have best practices in place on their campuses.
And we actually don’t want them to feel like they have to be the law enforcement. That’s the point of this bill, is to ensure that there is an understanding between each college and their local law enforcement agencies, so that they know that the law enforcement investigate these crimes, but the institution has a responsibility to have a safe climate on campus, for victims, when they come forward, to know that they will be supported by the institution.
We have in this bill that victims will have a confidential adviser to help them through this process. So this is part of the responsibility of these institutions, to ensure that it’s safe on campus for the young people who attend these colleges and are looking for a better life and more opportunity.
GWEN IFILL: Senator McCaskill, there are a lot of women who never get to college. What of them? This seems to be taking special attention — paying special attention to women who have a lot of advantages already. What about women who don’t?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Well, believe it or not, Gwen, the statistics show that incident of rape is actually higher among this population than the non-college population.
So, this is — this is about the requirements of a safe campus and about the conduct of students on campus. But, obviously, both Kelly and I have worked for a lot of our lives in this area of sexual assault. And we have been very active in the Violence Against Women Act and other pieces of legislation that provide support and counseling and those same services that we were talking about on college campuses to every woman who finds herself in one of these situations.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Ayotte, what difference will assessing penalties for noncompliance make in making these colleges and universities pay better attention to this problem?
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE: Well, the difference I think it will make is that colleges receive a substantial amount of federal support in many ways. And this will just ensure more accountability that there is the uniformity on campus as to how these cases are being handled, that they’re reaching out to their student bodies to better educate them on how to support victims of sexual assault and also prevention efforts.
So, really, I think that’s the accountability, the teeth in this. And, as you know, our higher ed institutions receive federal dollars already under the Clery Act in Title IX. This is just putting more teeth into efforts that are already in place to ensure that institutions will — we can work with institutions for them to do the right thing and to have the right and safe climate on campus.
GWEN IFILL: Senator McCaskill, do you run the risk of shifting responsibility here from campus law enforcement — actually from local law enforcement to campus police, who may not be as skilled or prepared to deal with this?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: No. In fact, we’re hoping for the opposite.
In fact, what we’re hoping is that, with this confidential adviser, where a victim can go and get good information and the right kind of forensic interview, then she will have the confidence and the right information that will allow her to go to law enforcement and have law enforcement do what they should be doing, and that is investigating this crime.
But, in that regard, we have got to make everyone is trained. We have to make sure that not just law enforcement is trained on these crimes, but campus law enforcement is trained, and the people who are adjudicating these administrative procedures where a student could be punished by suspension or expulsion from the school, that they understand this crime.
And, right now, it is a hodgepodge of misfits that are trying to do this. As Kelly mentioned, we even have athletic departments doing it for their athletes, which is a terrible conflict of interests. I mean, it’s hard enough for a victim to come forward when she senses there might be a level playing field. They will never come forward if they sense an unlevel playing field.
GWEN IFILL: OK. Well, we have had the fortune this week of talking about bipartisanship involving Veterans Affairs agreements and sentencing reform.
And now we’re talking to two of you from opposite sides of the aisle. So, I want to find out what you think about the possibility that you will actually be able to get this passed this year.
Senator Ayotte, you first.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE: I think that you saw a great group of bipartisan work today, four of us on both sides of the aisle.
I have worked with Claire on other issues. And I really think you’re going to find a lot of bipartisan support for this legislation because every state in this nation has a college or a higher ed institution. And we want to ensure — I know that all my colleagues do — that those campuses are safe for our young men and young women to go to.
GWEN IFILL: Senator McCaskill?
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: If we can’t set aside partisan politics for this issue, then we are really without hope.
I really do think that we have a whole lot of people on both sides of the aisle that want us to get this right, that want to make it simpler for universities, but also more supportive of victims. And I’m very optimistic that we will get this done.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, thank you both very much.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE: Thank you, Gwen.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: Thank you.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report today documents how al-Qaida is bringing in money to finance its operations. An investigation by The New York Times reveals that European and Gulf state governments have routinely paid millions of dollars in ransom to win the release of their citizens kidnapped by al-Qaida.
In all, since 2008, $125 million has been paid out by France, Switzerland, Spain, and Austria, as well as Qatar and Oman. The report also says that three different al-Qaida affiliates coordinate their efforts and abide by a common kidnapping protocol.
Here to tell us more is reporter Rukmini Callimachi, who wrote the story.
We welcome you to the program.
Tell us first of all about how these groups operate. It turns out, as we just said, that it seems more coordinated than I think most people would expect.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, The New York Times: Yes, exactly.
It’s much more coordinated than I think — than I think we realized. There’s a letter that I was able to recover in Mali last year when I was on assignment there for the AP. And it was a letter from a leading cell in North Africa under al-Qaida’s tutelage to a commander who had botched the ransom negotiations for a hostage that he had.
And in the letter, one of the things that they say to him is that he had gotten a much lower ransom figure because he had decided to negotiate the ransom himself, rather than — rather than letting their leaders in Pakistan, a reference to al-Qaida central, carry out the negotiations.
So what is clear is that these kidnappings are not just by individual units in far-flung places in the world. They’re actually being coordinated by al-Qaida core.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And has this become the principal source of funding for al-Qaida? Because we — I know we talked to some other terror — terrorist experts today who said it is a central source of funding for al-Qaida on the African continent, maybe less so for other branches.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Well, we just — one of the other documents that we were able to find in Mali last year was a letter from the number two of al-Qaida, who is the head of al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen.
And in that letter, he advises other jihadists to begin kidnapping. And says that the spoils of kidnapping now represent 50 percent of his operating revenue. So, in their own words, they’re saying that ransoms have become very important. The U.S. Department of Treasury has said as much, that ransoms have now become the main source of financing for the terror network.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How are the hostages treated? Because, on the one hand, they are threatened with their lives every moment they’re held captive. On the other hand, the captors want to keep them healthy in order to get the ransom.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: That’s exactly it.
A decade ago, when Westerners were taken by al-Qaida, it was specifically to kill them in the most gruesome possible way to make a political statement. Now, when hostages are taken, the goal is to keep them alive and to trade them for either money or for a prisoner exchange.
So I was able to speak to numerous hostages who were held both in Africa and in Yemen. And several people told me that, when they fell ill, that there was a very — there was a logistics in place to deal with whatever their illness was.
One woman had breast cancer. They were able to bring in breast cancer medication. One person had a kidney ailment. They were able to truck in specialized kidney medicine. And, in general, this is a business for them. They see the hostages as a commodity. And having them die on you is not useful.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Rukmini Callimachi, talk about how the different governments in Europe that we mentioned deal with this, because you point out the United States and Great Britain don’t pay typically a ransom for hostages, but these other governments do. How do they arrive at that philosophy? And we have to say that they publicly deny they’re doing this.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Exactly.
So all of the governments deny that they pay ransoms. I was able, through a lot of footwork, to finally track down several of the main negotiators, both on the European side and on the African and the Yemen side, who are the ones who made the bridge with the al-Qaida groups.
And what they’re doing is, the European governments are often paying these ransoms, but they’re hiding them by calling it an aid payment to the country where the hostages are being kept. For instance, the very — one of the very first ransoms was in 2003. It was paid by Germany.
And I was able to speak to six officials who confirmed that Germany sent a high-level emissary with three suitcases of cash. He arrived in the capital of Mali, in Bamako. He handed them over to the president of Mali. And in the budget for that year, they wrote it off as humanitarian aid to Mali.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, al-Qaida has seen this as a systematically — as a successful thing for them to do? Because one assumes that there are operations that don’t work out for them.
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Yes.
There have for sure been rescue attempts by France, also by the United States when their people have been taken, so there is some risk to it. But what struck me when I was speaking to these various former hostages is, in general, just how easy it is to take foreigners like us.
When you point a gun at an unarmed civilian, what are they going to do? Very few people run. The majority just put up their hands and go with their captors. And once they’re being held in North Africa or in Yemen, they’re in the desert. And they’re hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from anywhere.
And so the hostages say that, even though they obsessively think about running away, even though they’re not chained up, they find themselves in an open-air prison. And so they’re able to hold them for the requisite amount of time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, a question about, Are governments coming up with strategies to deal with this? Are they telling tourists? Because, so often — I was struck by how many people who were taken hostage were simply tourists in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Are governments saying to people, don’t go to certain countries or parts of countries? How are governments reacting?
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI: Yes, for sure.
And the arc of this is that, in the early years, starting in 2003…
JUDY WOODRUFF: My apology. We apparently have — we have lost the signal from New York City.
Rukmini Callimachi with The New York Times, we apologize. Sometimes, that happens. We will be back.
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GWEN IFILL: Scientists are looking into a surprising new pollutant in the country’s waterways: those tiny plastic beads found in common cosmetic products.
The state of Illinois is the first to ban what they call microbeads.
Brandis Friedman of WTTW Chicago reports.
ACTRESS: What if you could shrink your pores?
ACTRESS: Just by washing your face?
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN, WTTW Chicago: Microbeads have been all the rage in hand sanitizers, body wash and facial scrub, even toothpaste. They’re supposed to help remove dead cells or tighten pores, as the product in this commercial claims.
But they worry Olga Lyandres.
OLGA LYANDRES, Alliance for the Great Lakes: When you think about how many of these are being used daily and washed down the drain, it’s quite staggering.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Lyandres is the research manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes.
OLGA LYANDRES: This is something that impacts the ecosystem, the wildlife by entangling fish. And birds ingest these particles, and it impacts their health. But also it’s a sort of a cultural issue, because people who grew up around Great Lakes and go to the beach don’t want to go to beach that’s dirty and littered by plastic items.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Scientists are also seeing evidence that the microbeads are reaching the water. At Loyola University Chicago, Professor Timothy Hoellein and his student researchers are looking for the plastic beads in samples of water taken from rivers in and around Chicago, as well as Lake Michigan.
Last year, Sherri Mason at the State University of New York in Fredonia found anywhere from 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads per square mile in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater.
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN, Loyola University Chicago: What we’re interested in doing is determining the concentration of microplastic that’s in the rivers, determining the source of microplastic, and also the different types of these small plastic pieces that we find in the river.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: So far, Hoellein says his research shows that the synthetic microbeads are coming from treated wastewater that flows into sanitary canals and rivers, which feed into larger bodies of water.
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN: Our initial findings from the North Shore channel showed very high concentrations of microplastic downstream of a wastewater effluent source, and in fact our concentrations were higher than what had been found in ocean. So, not only did we find it, but we found a lot of the material.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: In June, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law legislation making Illinois the first state in the union to ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads.
The new law requires that the beads be removed from manufacturing by the end of 2018 and the products can no longer be sold starting at the end of 2019. And since major manufacturers make products for the entire country, other states will begin to notice the change on their store shelves as well, whether or not they have passed their own ban.
Lyandres, whose organization was pushing for the ban in Illinois, wanted the products gone sooner.
OLGA LYANDRES: We would’ve liked to have seen a more compressed timeline for phase-out. The sooner you can get these companies to make products available with alternatives, the better and less of it ends up in the waterways.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Two organizations representing the personal care product industry worked with environmental advocates and lawmakers to craft the Illinois bill.
Representatives from the Personal Care Products Council declined an on-camera interview, but in a statement said — quote — “Our industry takes concerns regarding the presence of plastic microbeads in the environment very seriously. Many personal care products companies have voluntarily committed to discontinue formulating with plastic microbeads in cleansing products in favor of other viable alternatives despite the uncertainty associated with the science.”
It is true that the long-term impact of the microbeads on the environment is unknown. And scientists are looking into how they might carry other organisms and chemicals.
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN: One of the concerns is that microbes on that plastic could be pathogenic. They might be disease-causing. And they may be kind of dispersed further in the environment on a plastic surface than they would on a natural surface.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: And because the beads float on the water’s surface, fish mistake them for food. The plastic alone is bad for fish health, but so are the microbes that the beads can carry.
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN: Once the plastic is inside their guts, it can actually come off. So, it may represent a kind of delivery mechanism for these harmful chemicals that just didn’t exist previously.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Among other unanswered questions: Do humans end up unknowingly eating the plastic after it’s been consumed by fish?
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN: There’s really no research on the long-term impact of microbeads or other forms of microplastic because we have only just recently started looking for them.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Microbeads end up in the waterways because water treatment plants simply can’t catch them. They’re too small.
DAVID ST. PIERRE, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago: So small that even if there’s a sand filter in a plant, it doesn’t stop them from passing through the plant and into the water environment.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: This is the third step in the water treatment process, where water is aerated, so lighter material rises to the top and heavier waste sinks to the bottom. But somewhere in the mix are still the microbeads, which make it through this entire multistep process and are sent out to the sanitary and ship canal along with fully treated water.
Pretty much nothing that you all can do about that?
DAVID ST. PIERRE: Not without a significant investment.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: David St. Pierre is the executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. He argues we should focus on prevention.
DAVID ST. PIERRE: If we were to adapt our plants to deal with microbeads, it would be a very expensive process. If we deal with it on front end, we take care of it before it’s a problem by eliminating it as a pollutant source, very inexpensive way to deal with the problem.
TIMOTHY HOELLEIN: Finding a new problem in our freshwater ecosystems is alarming and concerning, and we should all be worried, but I think what the Illinois ban on microbeads has shown is that, once we become aware of the problem and the scale and the context and the sources, we can really start to take some real action towards some meaningful solutions.
BRANDIS FRIEDMAN: Legislatures in New York, California and Ohio are considering bans similar to Illinois. Instead of plastics, some manufacturers are already planning to use natural ingredients, like apricot seeds, sand or oatmeal to achieve the same goals.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: an increasingly successful comedian who talks about race and ethnicity, as the country’s demographic picture continues to change substantially.
Hari Sreenivasan has our conversation.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Comedian Hari Kondabolu has made a name for himself for the brand of humor that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to race.
HARI KONDABOLU, Comedian: When you ask your white friends what their cultural heritage is, they never just say just white. They give you a math equation.
HARI KONDABOLU: I’m a third German. I’m a fourth Irish. I’m one-sixteenth Welsh and one-fortieth Native American for college applications.
HARI KONDABOLU: Damn, Steve. All these years, I thought you were just white.
HARI KONDABOLU: Thank you very much.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And he hasn’t been afraid to bring his incisive jokes to national audiences on “David Letterman,” “Conan,” and “Jimmy Kimmel.”
His new album is called “Waiting for 2042,” a reference to the year when whites will become a minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
I recently caught up with him at the Aspen Ideas Festivals, and learned why colonialism, of all things, can be a ripe subject for humor and why comics can say the things that the rest of us can’t.
I have never interviewed — a Hari interviewing a Hari, this is a brand-new thing for PBS.
HARI KONDABOLU: Oh, this is fascinating.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.
Your comedy has a little bit more headiness to it than a lot of the stuff that we see today. You talk about — you try to make fun of sort of colonialism and some of the repercussions that we’re living with today.
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How is colonialism funny? And how is how we’re living today in the context of colonialism funny?
HARI KONDABOLU: Well, it’s — well, I think about it in terms of how people make fun of my parents for their accent and all that.
And I’m like, you realize it’s absurd they’re speaking English? Like, they’re not supposed to be speaking English. They have to speak English because they grew up in a colonized country that England colonized, and also they’re here for greater economic opportunities.
So it’s funny — that’s funny to me.
So, before we begin, I would like you to all know that the theme of my set tonight will be colonialism.
HARI KONDABOLU: Which is why I am speaking only in English.
HARI KONDABOLU: This is — no, this is absurd. This is all absurd. This isn’t their fault.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And your comedy has evolved over the years.
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: When you first started out, you were able to make fun of Indian accents that you grew up around, that you heard.
HARI KONDABOLU: Sure.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How did that change? And why did you choose to get away from that?
HARI KONDABOLU: I mean, I started doing that because it was easy. And I think a comedian wants to make the audience laugh. That’s standard for any comic.
But when you’re starting, that’s all you’re thinking about. There isn’t the possibility of, what do I want to say and do I know what I want to say and what’s my point of view? That all comes later, so initially that’s all I wanted to do. And accents did it. Like, if I did a funny voice — we saw with Apu it on “The Simpsons.” Like…
HARI SREENIVASAN: He was the most famous South Asian growing up for both of us.
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes. Yes, and Gandhi. Apu and — Gandhi and a cartoon were the two options that we had.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. There is a significant gap. Right.
HARI KONDABOLU: And so I knew that would work. There was precedent for it. And so I did impressions of my father.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Over time, did you get to realize that that’s the low bar?
HARI KONDABOLU: Oh, yes. It felt low even then. Even when I was 17, 18, I knew this was easy. But when you’re trying to make people laugh, that’s what you did.
And I think, thinking about my parents and thinking about how hard it was for them to have accents and communicate in this country, and the fact that, OK, I’m making a joke with an accent, people are laughing at the accent, I think, not at the joke or the cleverness of the joke, but at the accent.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are they laughing at me or with me?
HARI KONDABOLU: And it was clear they were laughing at me, and more specifically at my parents.
And when my parents talk to people, do people laugh behind their backs and do impressions of them? I started to think about it. And, post-9/11, just there was — everything felt more complicated. It was that interesting thing of, like, what am I talking about, really? What — this is the most base level experience. And I’m talking about that, vs. what’s really happening in America.
And, at that point, a 19-, 20-, 21-year old, I was making other college students laugh on campus at Bowdoin College. But I wasn’t doing anything of substance. And I knew there must be a way to say something funny, but that I meant.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes. Your album is titled “Waiting for 2042.”
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What happens in 2042?
HARI KONDABOLU: 2042, according to the census figure and the news media that is reporting it, is the year when white people will be the minority in America.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Why does that matter?
HARI KONDABOLU: I don’t know why it matters, to be perfectly honest.
But the news media keeps reporting this number. And the census is counting it. So clearly people are freaked out about it. And I think there are groups of white people that are very afraid of being the minority and what that would mean.
And my whole point is, first of all, 49 percent, which is the number, doesn’t make you the minority, obviously, because that is assuming the other 51 percent is exactly the same, which it isn’t, and also that all white people are the same, and also that white and all race is a thing. It’s made up. It’s a construct.
There was a time that the Irish were not white, like, then where the Irish — the Italians weren’t white. The Polish, weren’t white. Jews weren’t white. There’s all these interesting kinds of questions we have to ask ourselves about what race is. And instead of doing that and asking those questions, we’re giving ourselves numbers.
HARI SREENIVASAN: On the album cover is a picture that is worth 1,000 words for any South Asian, but why that picture?
HARI KONDABOLU: The picture is me on the back of a bicycle rickshaw being driven by an old white man wearing a suit.
And it’s me pointing into the distance like some kind of colonial hero, you know, wearing a crown. I know it bothers some people, and other people love it. And I want it etched on my gravestone, because I’m sure it’s what’s going to get me killed.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Have you gotten pushback for that picture?
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes. I have gotten pushback for the picture, but mostly for the content on the album, or not even just really — I don’t think the people who are the angriest have even heard the record.
I think it’s folks who don’t like the idea of me talking about race in this way and accuse me of being obsessed with race, even though it’s — I’m not the one that is talking about 2042, really. I’m commenting on people being obsessed with these demographics.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is it about comedy that allows us to have difficult conversations about race?
HARI KONDABOLU: Right.
HARI SREENIVASAN: You have seen African-Americans for decades go through and say things on stage that they would never say at a dinner party.
HARI KONDABOLU: Right. Or maybe they would say it.
HARI KONDABOLU: I think comedians also have that ability to be kind of uncomfortable or inappropriate.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.
HARI KONDABOLU: But then they’re on stage and it’s appropriate.
If you can make people laugh, you can get away with a lot. And, sometimes, that’s terrible. But, sometimes, I also think — you know, I remember being a kid. And I didn’t read lots of academic journals. And I didn’t follow the news as much as I probably should have.
But the people that conveyed the news to me and taught me about the world were comedians, because they traveled and they saw the world and they met many different types of people. And they were outside of whatever bubble I was in as a young person.
And so comedians really can convey messages to the masses. Like, not everyone is going to be watching NewsHour, right, but they will listen to comics, and they will watch comics, and they will go see them perform. And that’s incredible.
And I want to make people laugh, but I do see some responsibility in, like, I might be somebody who is exposing you to a new point of view, and I might be the only person who is doing that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this has been your first time interviewed by a Hari.
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: How did it go?
HARI KONDABOLU: It’s great. It’s like talking to myself. It’s very comfortable.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Good. That’s good.
HARI KONDABOLU: Yes. Yes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Hari Kondabolu, thanks so much.
HARI KONDABOLU: So nice to do this, Hari.
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A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The vote to sue Obama was 225 to 201. Five Republicans voted with the Democrats in opposing the lawsuit. No Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the legal action, focusing on Obama’s implementation of his prized health care overhaul, was designed to prevent a further presidential power grab and his deciding unilaterally how to enforce laws.
“No member needs to be reminded about the bonds of trust that have been frayed or the damage that’s already been done to our economy and to our people,” declared House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?”
Republicans also scoffed at Democratic claims that the lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“What price do you place on the continuation of our system of checks and balances? What price do you put on the Constitution of the United States?” said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich. “My answer to each is ‘priceless.’”
Democrats said the lawsuit would go nowhere and was designed only to encourage conservatives to vote in this November’s congressional elections. They also warned repeatedly that it could be a precursor of a more drastic GOP effort. Said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.: “The lawsuit is a drumbeat pushing members of the Republican Party to impeachment.”
In fact, Democrats already are using that argument to mine campaign contributions. In their latest appeal, House Democrats emailed a fundraising solicitation even as debate was underway, saying, “Republicans have said this lawsuit has ‘opened the door’ to impeachment.” The appeal asked for support for Democrats who “will finally put a stop to the Tea Party crazies and get President Obama’s back.”
Some prominent conservatives including former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for Obama’s impeachment, and some House GOP lawmakers have not ruled it out. Boehner has said he has no such plans and has called Democratic impeachment talk a “scam” to raise money.
“Impeachment is off the table. Why hasn’t the speaker said that,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
On the road in Kansas City, Missouri, Obama cast the lawsuit as a “political stunt” and a distraction from the public’s priorities.
“Every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you,” he told his audience. He urged Republicans to “stop just hating all the time.”
By suing Obama to demand that he carry out specific provisions of the 2010 health care overhaul, House Republicans would be asking the courts to hold him to the letter of a law that they all opposed and that the House has voted over 50 times to dismantle.
Republicans have accused Obama of exceeding his powers in a range of areas, saying he has enforced provisions he likes and ignored others.
These include not notifying Congress before releasing five Taliban members from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for captive Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, blocking the deportation of some children who are in the U.S. illegally and waiving some provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law.
Democrats say Obama has acted legally and has simply used the authority he has as chief executive.
Republicans have not laid out a timetable for actually filing the suit.
As for its chances of legal success, federal courts are often reluctant to intervene in disputes between the executive and legislative branches. For the suit to survive, the GOP would first have to prove that the House had been injured by Obama’s actions. And even if the lawsuit was heard, it is unclear whether it could be decided while Obama was still in office.
Timothy K. Lewis, a former judge in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush, said that with appeals, it would take at least one-and-a-half to two years for the suit to wind through the federal judicial system.
Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Republicans have particularly objected that Obama has twice delayed the law’s so-called employer mandate. The provision requires companies with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours weekly to offer health care coverage or pay fines, while businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt.
The requirement was initially to take effect this year. Now, companies with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016 to comply while bigger companies have until next year.
Democrats warned that the lawsuit could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Republicans provided no specifics about the potential price tag, but the measure would allow House attorneys to hire outside lawyers and require quarterly public reports on expenditures.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Michelle Obama called on young African leaders to change traditional attitudes and beliefs that harm girls and women, adding that educating and making women financially literate is not enough.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens,” Mrs. Obama said.
The first lady spoke Wednesday to the inaugural class of young African fellows who are getting six weeks of leadership training in the United States as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship.
“Leadership is about creating new traditions that honor the dignity and humanity of every individual. Leadership is about empowering all of our people— men, women, boys and girls,” she said. “When we commit to that kind of leadership across the globe, that is when we truly start making progress on girls’ education.”
Mrs. Obama said Africa has made great strides such as more girls attending school, women starting businesses and more women serving in parliaments. But she said serious work remains when female genital mutilation, forced child marriage and domestic violence against women continue in some countries.
She said these “are not legitimate cultural practices,” but “serious human rights violations.”
The first lady said women in the U. S. have also overcome obstacles, such as voting rights, but they still face challenges with employment discrimination and domestic violence, and are still fighting for equal pay and higher ranks in government and corporate workplaces.
Mrs. Obama said her own life was influenced by the support and encouragement of her family— including men like her father, brother, uncle and grandfather.
“The men who raised me set a high bar for the type of men I’d allow into my life, which is why I went on to marry a man who had the good sense to fall in love with a woman who was his equal, and to treat me as such,” she said, about President Barack Obama.
The first lady called on men to do the same and to tell peers who disagree that “any man who uses his strength to oppress women is a coward, and he is holding back the progress of his family and his country.”
After Mrs. Obama’s remarks and meeting with participants in the crowd, she held a round table discussion with more than 30 African leaders to discuss girls’ education.
Stay tuned for the video of her speech.
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The House made history Wednesday. But not in a positive way.
For the first time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives has authorized institutionally suing a president. Neither the House nor Senate has ever done that.
“The founders probably didn’t intend this,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in an interview. “They intended that if you wanted to sanction a president, you impeach him and remove him from office.”
President Barack Obama on the road in Kansas City Wednesday mocked the GOP and dismissed the resolution as “a political stunt.”
Beschloss called the lawsuit “unprecedented” and said it could create a means for any party that does not control the White House to discipline a president by bombarding him with these lawsuits.
The fear is that attempts to sue presidents could become a means for a hostile Congress to tie up a president when the members decide they want to hinder the ability of any White House to act.
Democrats and Republicans have sparred over the intent of the lawsuit, introduced by House Speaker John Boehner. Some conservatives have gone so far as to call for the impeachment of the president over the last several years, including former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin just last week.
Democrats glommed onto that, raising millions off the potential for impeachment, something Boehner says there is no chance of happening and called talk of impeachment Tuesday a “scam” started by the White House.
In fact, many observers believe Beohner’s lawsuit is one way of taking pressure off those calls from more activist members of his party.
At the heart of Boehner’s lawsuit is President Obama’s use of executive action.
“The only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything,” Obama said deriding House Republicans and defending his use of executive action.
The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly list any means other than impeachment to punish a sitting president, Beschloss noted.
When then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was brought up on bribery charges in 1973, in fact, his lawyers argued that a sitting president or vice president could be impeached, but not indicted under the Constitution.
The Solicitor general rejected that argument in a brief, stating that the president was immune from indictment but not the vice president, because he was not essential to the function of the federal government.
When the Republican-controlled Congress brought up former President Bill Clinton on impeachment charges in 1998, former President Gerald Ford wrote an op-ed asking Congress to censure Clinton, rather than attempt to impeach him.
The Republican members of Congress at the time rejected the notion on the basis that Congress only had the Constitutional power to impeach the president for his actions, according to Beschloss.
“Ultimately, impeachment is a totally political judgment,” Beschloss said. “The Constitution says high crimes and misdemeanors are the grounds for impeachment, but it is Congress that decides what that means.”
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