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

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    White House aerial shot

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As the humanitarian situation grows dimmer by the hour for some in Northern Iraq, the White House is now considering taking military action against Sunni extremists inside the country.

    Hari Sreenivasan reports.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: Any sort of military action that would be taken in Iraq would be very limited in scope.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That was the official word at the White House, amid reports that President Obama is considering airstrikes against the Islamic State group. Later, the Pentagon quickly denied Kurdish reports that U.S. planes had bombed at least two Islamic State targets after nightfall.

    The Sunni extremists have renewed their surge across Northern Iraq, capturing more villages and seizing the country’s largest dam today. Their advance has sent thousands of Christians and Yazidis fleeing in the face of ultimatums to convert to Islam, pay heavy fines or face death.

    The Yazidis, who adhere to their own ancient religion, left their town of Sinjar, and many have been trapped in nearby mountains without food.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the situation is nearing a catastrophe.

    JOSH EARNEST: The humanitarian situation is deeply disturbing there, and it’s one that we are following closely. That said, it’s important for everyone to understand — and the president’s made this clear — that there are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq. We can’t solve these problems for them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the U.N. has begun sheltering hundreds of Yazidis and others have streamed across the Turkish border. But at least 40 children have already died from dehydration.

    ABU SHAKER, Displaced Iraqi Yazidi (through interpreter): What we want is just to rescue these people from the danger zone. We don’t want anything else. We don’t want money, we don’t want cars, we don’t want donations. If they don’t get water and food to those trapped or get them out, it will be a disaster.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The new crisis comes as Iraqi leaders are still deadlocked over who will form a new government.

    The post Obama considering air support operation for Iraqi refugees appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Iraqi Yazidis flee from Sinjar to Dohuk's Lalesh

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Just as we went on the air, there were reports that the U.S. had begun airdrops of humanitarian aid into Northern Iraq.

    I’m joined by Karen DeYoung, who has been covering this story for The Washington Post.

    So, what’s the latest you’re hearing from the White House?

    KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post: I’m hearing that that’s not true.

    I think that they — the Pentagon and the CENTCOM, the Central Command that will be running this operation if and when it’s approved, is still waiting for the president to sign off on any activity at all, either humanitarian or any airstrikes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We also had heard the administration say today that any military action would only be if it was in line with core American objectives. What is that rationale now?

    KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, I think that they would say that humanitarian assistance and preventing the actual fall of Iraq or further gains by the Islamists certainly toward Baghdad or toward Irbil wouldn’t be in American interests.

    And so that would be a pretty broadly-defined definition of American interests. I think that these encroachments into Kurdish territory have sort of changed the equation very quickly, literally overnight for the United States. They were prepared to allow the situation to stand as it has been for the past couple of weeks while the Iraqi government tried to form a new administration that could reach out to minorities there.

    But having the Islamist forces move into Kurdistan, which has been relatively peaceful throughout this crisis, I think has changed the situation considerably.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But was there a tipping-point event that they describe, considering that the Islamic State group has been on a fairly aggressive march for the past month?

    KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, again, I think they were fairly confident that the Peshmerga — those are the Kurdish military forces — could hold the line in Kurdistan.

    And they also didn’t think or the Islamist forces really hadn’t indicated that they were interested at this point in moving into Kurdistan, but the fact that literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from places that have already been taken over by the militants have poured into Kurdistan, and the fact that the — all of a sudden this week, the Islamists have actually started attacking Kurdish towns and cities, I think, again, has made them sit up and say, whoa, this you know, this cannot stand.

    Again, you have to remember that, in the Kurdish capital, or Irbil, that is one of the two American fusion centers, the communication centers that the U.S. forces that President Obama has sent there to assist the Iraqis is located. The other one is in Baghdad. Forces — Islamist forces are now about 40 miles away from Irbil.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the debate in the White House now? What’s being considered?

    KAREN DEYOUNG: I don’t know that there is a very strong debate at this point.

    I think that the question is certainly whether or not airstrikes could help or harm the situation and if this is the moment that this action that’s been so strongly resisted by the administration up until now can actually make a difference without making the situation worse.

    I think the decision has pretty much been made on the humanitarian airdrops, which is a separate — a separate operation. There was some effort today to open a corridor to evacuate these people who, as you described, are on the mountaintop. As far as I know, that has not worked, because the Islamists have been shelling that evacuation route. And these people are stuck there with no food, no water and no shelter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, would this humanitarian aid be limited to this specific zone?

    KAREN DEYOUNG: That’s not clear to me, although that would certainly be the initial place.

    You know, the Iraqi government has tried to drop some assistance to these people. It didn’t work out too well. They had crates of water which cracked apart when they hit the ground. You know, the United States has a lot of experience doing this, and experience in this particular area doing it.

    You remember, in 1991, there were similar airdrops by U.S. forces. This of course was when the rest of Iraq was controlled by Saddam Hussein. But at that time, the United States actually sent ground troops into Kurdistan to wall off that area from Saddam Hussein’s forces. I don’t think that’s being contemplated now.

    But I do think that the humanitarian assistance is something that it’s very, very likely they’re going to ahead and do and do it fairly soon. And it would start in this area.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

    KAREN DEYOUNG: You’re welcome.

    The post Islamic State movement into Kurdish territory changes equation for U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Russia formally banned imports of agricultural products from the U.S. and Europe today, even as NATO sounded new warnings about Moscow’s military moves.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

    MARGARET WARNER: Foreign foods that have lined the shelves of Russia’s grocery stores will be disappearing. For a year, effective immediately, imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and dairy are banned from the U.S., European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway.

    All those countries have imposed sanctions penalizing Russia for backing rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

    Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said today that Moscow is answering in kind.

    DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Prime Minister, Russia (through interpreter ): All the measures have a solely retaliatory character. We didn’t want such a development of events. We sincerely hope that our partners’ economic pragmatism will prevail over petty political reasons, and they will think, and not try to frighten and limit Russia.

    MARGARET WARNER: Notwithstanding the Kremlin’s defiance, President Obama argues, Russia is hurting. He spoke at a Washington news conference last night.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy. The economy has ground to a halt. Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place.

    MARGARET WARNER: What’s more, U.S. officials said today, Russia is, in effect, imposing sanctions on its own people, by banning the main sources of imports that account for one-quarter of food consumption in Russia and a much higher percentage in the major cities.

    Today, a top U.S. Treasury official left open the possibility of more U.S. sanctions if Russia doesn’t rethink its actions toward Ukraine. But there’s little sign of that. Instead, NATO now estimates 20,000 Russian troops have massed near the border and says they could be getting ready to invade, under the guise of a humanitarian mission.

    Just this week, in fact, Russia called a session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a new warning today, as he met with Ukrainian leaders in Kiev.

    ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, Secretary-General, NATO: I call on Russia to step back from the brink, step back from the border. Do not use peacekeeping as an excuse for war-making.

    MARGARET WARNER: Poland’s prime minister issued a similar warning yesterday, saying the threat of direct Russian intervention in Ukraine is certainly greater than it was a few days ago.

    Meanwhile, inside Ukraine, government forces have stepped up pressure on the rebels, with intensive new shelling in their stronghold city of Donetsk. Amid the fighting, an Eastern Ukrainian native replaced a Russian national, Alexander Borodai, as leader of the separatists there.

    The post Moscow answers U.S., European sanctions with ban on food imports for a year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Inside An OAO Magnit Supermarket As Russia Bans Array Of U.S., EU Foods In Response To Sanctions

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    GWEN IFILL: And Margaret joins me now.

    So, what was the official response of the administration to this new sanction?

    MARGARET WARNER: Interestingly, they didn’t seem terribly fazed by this.

    They expected some retaliatory action. The U.S., on an economic level, they didn’t consider this particularly damaging to U.S. companies. They do take it as a sign that Putin is not backing down, however, politically. But, mostly, officials I talked to said they thought it was really misguided and self-defeated.

    Now, they may be whistling past the graveyard, as we say, but that one of the things that Russian citizens got at the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, was the freedom, one, to travel and, two, to have all these Western domestic goods. And they have really come to enjoy it.

    And one official said to me he could have some cranky domestic constituencies.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, they’re getting the Western goods. But how much do their goods — do our goods there constitute our trade?

    MARGARET WARNER: Not much.

    Looking — looking this figure up, first of all, U.S.-Russia trade last year was only, like, $38 billion total, of which it was only $11 billion of exports, of which only $1.2 billion of that is food.

    Now, there is a funny story. The biggest item is poultry, and they’re called Bush legs. These are dark meat…

    GWEN IFILL: Bush legs?

    MARGARET WARNER: Bush legs, named for George H.W. Bush, who negotiated a deal with Gorbachev back in the early ’90s, to supposedly, in the form of aid, give them all these chicken legs that — apparently, American consumers don’t like dark meat as much anymore as they do chicken breasts — so the — it’s grown into this multimillion-dollar business.

    But talked to — or actually reading about the quote from like the Georgia Poultry Export Association, they said, well, we got so tired of the Russians jerking us around, that it used to be 40 percent of our poultry exports went to Russia. Now it’s only 7 percent last year.

    So, and his point was, U.S. exporters have diversified, so it’s not a huge hit.

    GWEN IFILL: All along in this whole sanction debate, there has been some question about the different interests of the U.S. and Europe.


    GWEN IFILL: And so Europe watched this today. And did they think, oh, no, we’re next?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, the E.U. put out a tough statement, but they are much more exposed.

    For instance, like, it’s $15 billion worth of exports last year into Russia. I did talk to a senior German official who — however, who said, you know, even in the last couple of years, the percentage of our trade with Russia has been going down, in part because Russia economically has been hurting. So German exports were down 5 percent, and then 10 percent.

    And they are mostly — what they are, are mostly in things like autos that aren’t affected by this. But other European countries who are heavily dependent on agricultural exports, it will hurt.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, they were slow, some of them, some European countries were slow to get on the sanctions bandwagon. Does this sort of thing shake them at all?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, that’s what they — that’s why I talked particularly to the Germans.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: Because Merkel was seemingly reluctant, or certainly she’s the one who then finally brought people along.

    And he said, to the contrary, and that, in fact, you know, the downing of that airliner, as I think I said last time we discussed this, was really a game-changer in the minds of Europeans, the downing of the airliner and the way the bodies were treated.

    And U.S. officials say the same thing, that they have gotten no indication of any of weakening E.U. resolve.

    GWEN IFILL: But we are watching very carefully every step. It feels like a very elaborate chess game at this point with Russia.

    And we saw today that they decided to extend Edward Snowden’s stay for three more years.


    GWEN IFILL: There are all these little digs along the way. Is this another one of them?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, both the sanctions or the bans and the Snowden.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: I asked one official — one U.S. official, is the Snowden matter related? And he said, well, everything is related.

    Russia also signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran this week to buy Iranian crude. Now, whether they go through with that or not, no one knows. But it was another little — another little tweak.

    Obama and — President Obama and President Putin talked by phone last Friday and they agreed that sanctions were counterproductive and they needed some sort of a political solution. But there is absolutely no sign, I’m told, of any back-channel negotiations on either side.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, speaking of back-channel negotiations, we’re also watching those Russian troops along the border with Ukraine.


    GWEN IFILL: And, as you reported in your piece, they’re still there. They don’t seem like they’re going anywhere. Is it getting any more tense?

    MARGARET WARNER: It is getting more tense, even more tense along the border.

    Now, Ukrainian officials I talked to today, who always believed Putin may well invade, said, look, even the troop levels don’t matter so much as they have built this incredible infrastructure. So they have got military hospitals now all set up. They have got the depots. They have got the weapons.

    So, he said they could move in 10,000, 20,000 more troops virtually overnight, certainly within a matter of days. And this official also was very concerned that the Ukrainian forces are not making the gains that we’re all reading they are, that he said, a week ago, we were still taking one, two, or three towns a day.

    By now, there’s this stalemate. And, as we reported, the separatists are kind of localized in Donetsk and Luhansk. But then the question is, how do they actually — how does Ukraine actually retake these cities?  And American officials are worried that they’re going to set up a kind of Israel-Gaza scenario, as one described to me, where it looks like the Ukrainians that are killing civilians.

    GWEN IFILL: And, as with Israel-Gaza, not much hope for negotiated settlement?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, it’s looking a little — as I said, it’s looking bleak.

    U.S. officials say that in public or in private it’s — they get the same kind of reaction from the Russians. He said, it’s like Cold War days. And the Ukrainian official told me that now there are splits in the Ukrainian government, which are also getting in the way of this.

    GWEN IFILL: OK. Margaret Warner, thank you very much.

    MARGARET WARNER: My pleasure, Gwen.

    The post Russian food import ban doesn’t shake E.U. resolve on sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Thousands of Yazidi and Christian people flee Hamdaniyah town of Mosul to Erbil after the latest wave of Islamic State Group advances that began on Sunday has seen a number of towns near Iraq's second largest city Mosul fall to the militants on August 6, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Kerim/Getty Images

    Thousands of Yazidi and Christian people flee Hamdaniyah town of Mosul to Erbil after the latest wave of Islamic State Group advances that began on Sunday has seen a number of towns near Iraq’s second largest city Mosul fall to the militants on August 6, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Kerim/Getty Images

    There was confusion about possible U.S. actions against Islamic State Group forces in Iraq Thursday night, as news organizations published differing and contradictory reports about possible air strikes or humanitarian drops. The Pentagon denied that the U.S. dropped bombs or humanitarian supplies for Kurdish Iraqis stranded by ISIS forces.

    The New York Times relayed reports by Kurdish television that at least two Islamic State Group targets had been hit by U.S. bombs in an effort to weaken their position. Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby denied that the U.S. had executed any airstrikes in Iraq through his Twitter account, calling the story “completely false.”

    ABC News reported the U.S. has begun humanitarian air drops to Kurds trapped by Islamic State Group forces in the mountain regions of northern Iraq based on information provided to Martha Radditz from an unnamed official. Responding to ABC’s report, CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported that the Pentagon’s spokeperson told him no air drops or air strikes are underway by U.S. forces.

    Regardless of the current status of airstrikes or humanitarian drops, the Associated Press reports that the Obama administration is seriously considering both options, and that either could be underway in the next few hours.

    The post Is the U.S. bombing Islamic State Group in Iraq? The news is unclear appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now a look at how we punish people who commit crimes in the United States and how that might be changing.

    Jeffrey Brown has that story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Across the U.S., as inmate populations keep growing, calls to address prison crowding, conditions and other problems continue to be heard.

    Just this week, the Justice Department issued a scathing report on abuse of teenage inmates at New York’s Riker’s Island. It spoke of a — quote — “culture of violence that encouraged beatings and excessive use of solitary confinement.”

    In California, state officials are under federal court orders aimed at reducing severe overcrowding of prisons. And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing to shorten prison terms for many nonviolent offenders.

    On the NewsHour recently, he cited a fundamental unfairness in drug sentencing.

    ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General: If you are basing a sentence on something other than the conduct of the person who was involved, and the person’s record, if you’re looking, for instance, at factors of what educational level the person has received, what neighborhood the person comes from…

    GWEN IFILL: Which, to be clear, some states are doing already.

    ERIC HOLDER: They are, right. And using that as a predictor, though, of what — how likely this person, this individual, is going to be a recidivist, I’m not at all certain that I’m comfortable with that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The concerns have sparked bipartisan efforts.

    In the Senate, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey are focused on several issues, including drugs and racial disparities in prison.

    SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: 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.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Still, it’s unclear if or when Congress might take action.

    So is the ground shifting on criminal justice issues?

    We look across the spectrum at problems and solutions with Bryan Stevenson, a longtime public interest lawyer and founder the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit focused on social justice and human rights. Pat Nolan is the former Republican leader of the California state assembly. He’s now the director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation. And Bill McCollum is the former attorney general of Florida, now a lawyer in private practice.

    Welcome to all three of you.

    Bryan Stevenson, let me start with you.

    As someone working with inmates and looking at the criminal justice system, how would you define the problem that most needs addressing?

    BRYAN STEVENSON, Equal Justice Initiative: Well, I think it’s over-incarceration.

    We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Our prison population has grown from 300,000 in the 1970s to 2.4 million today. And we have been locked into what I call the politics of fear and anger, and not made good decisions about criminal justice, sentencing, prisons. And I think getting out of that is the real challenge.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Pat Nolan, you’re coming from a conservative, libertarian perspective. How do you identify the problem?

    PAT NOLAN, American Conservative Union Foundation: I think we have overincarcerated.

    We need prisons. There are people that are very dangerous and need to be separated from the population. But you can overuse a good thing. And I think we have incarcerated a lot of people that we’re not afraid of, we’re just mad at, and other ways to punish them.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We’re not afraid of, we’re just mad at, meaning the wrong people are in jail?

    PAT NOLAN: Some of them don’t belong — they need sanctions for what they did, but they don’t need to be locked up. They don’t pose a physical threat to the public.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will come back to that.

    Bill McCollum, what — what doesn’t work, from your perspective, and what do you want to keep?

    BILL MCCOLLUM, Former Attorney General, Fla.: Well, there are problems, of course, with overcrowding and there are definitely some problems with sentences that are too mandatory in a few cases for minor offenses.

    But I think the biggest problem is the failure to address the recidivism rate, the fact we return a lot of these folks to prison again and again. We don’t have good rehabilitation in those prisons. We don’t profile them when they first come in as a prisoner in a state prison who have been conflicted as a felony, and then when they go back out on the street, we don’t do anything to follow them or place them in jobs that they can they can

    So I think that we need to address all of these problems. It’s not one problem, only overcrowding or sentencing. It’s a whole combination of things in our prison system.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so try to make this a little bit more concrete.

    Let me start with you, Bryan Stevenson. What — give us an example for — of a reform, an experiment, something you have seen happening around the country or that you want to see that would address some of the problems you see.

    BRYAN STEVENSON: Well, I just want to pick up with what Mr. McCollum said.

    I totally agree with that. Most of the people that have been sent to prison have been sent to prison for low-level, nonviolent offenses. New entrants to prison are mostly people who have been sent back because we don’t provide good support, management or services when we have people in custody.

    So, one of things that we have seen states do is to eliminate sending people back to prison for technical violations of probation or parole. And that’s the kind of reform that has really reduced overcrowding in some places.

    I think ending some of these mandatory sentences for drug crimes and low-level nonviolent crimes can have a huge impact. And then shifting the funding — we went from $6 billion in prison spending in 1980 to $80 billion today. If we spend more of that money on services, rehabilitation, support, we can keep people out of prison for a longer period of time.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Pat Nolan, you want to pick up on that?

    PAT NOLAN: Yes.

    In fact, I agree with both Bryan and Mr. McCollum. The — there are 2,900 people in federal prison for simple possession, drug possession, not sales, possession. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    On the other hand, for anybody that is in prison, if they aren’t prepared to be productive when they get out, to hold a job, to support themselves and their family, we’re risking more problems.

    A great program Hawaii has started called the HOPE program, the folks, they’re before Judge Alm, started — a former federal prosecutor. And he says, we take our rules very seriously. And when you break them, we are going to hold you accountable. We are not going to send you to prison for six years — 48 hours. You get a chance to think over what you have done and then come back and then come before him.

    You get a chance to get back in drug treatment, stay clean. It has resulted in 50 percent lower crime rate among those going through his court, 68 percent fewer missed appointments with the probation officer, and I think 66 percent fewer dirty drug tests.

    So it’s saving money. They aren’t having to take up beds in prison. But it’s holding them accountable. And I think that’s what Mr. McCollum said. We need to follow these guys and make sure they’re staying on the straight and narrow, not doing something bad again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Bill McCollum, do you have an example that you want to give us to show — that addresses the problem you mentioned?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, let me say that I served as attorney general on the clemency board in Florida.

    And I saw our cases that came up regularly. And despite the fact that I agree that if you have got simple possession, you shouldn’t be incarcerated for long periods of time in state prison or federal prison, either one, most of the prisoners, by far the overwhelming majority of them, were not simple possession of drugs. They were other crimes, not always violent.

    But if you have a large enough quantity and you’re dealing in drugs, you ought to have a minimum mandatory sentence, in my opinion. If you have committed a financial crime, a big enough, bad enough one, you’re going to get a felony conviction and spend a couple years in prison.

    Maybe these sentences sometimes are too long, but we need to deal — and I think it’s is a serious problem — with the criminals that are going to be there even after we address the — quote — “overcrowding” for the minor possession issue and change some of the laws maybe on diverting a few people.

    But because the majority at least I think in the states are not there for these simple crimes that we’re talking about, they’re there for more serious matters, and we need to address the rehab and what we do with these prisoners, these return prisoners, repeat offenders.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, just listening to you, Mr. McCollum, I wonder, are you worried that the idea of reform can go too far?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Yes, I am.


    BILL MCCOLLUM: I’m worried because when I was on the Crime Subcommittee and chaired it in Congress for a while, I know judges, generally speaking, were opposed to the idea of any kind of sentencing guidelines that kept their hands tied, especially minimum mandatory sentences.

    And they have gone — we have gone too far with minimum mandatories. But there’s a place for them. There’s a place for Jeb Bush’s 10, 20, life when you have repeat offenders and they commit certain types of felonies again and again. And so I’m worried that the movement to release prisoners and to reduce sentences, to do away with minimum mandatories will take the pendulum the opposite direction and go too far.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Bryan Stevenson, you want to respond?

    BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes, I’m not so worried about that.

    Like I said, we had 300,000 people in jails and prisons in the early 1970s. The violent crime rate today in most places is about where it was in the 1960s, when we had a dramatically smaller prison population.

    I agree that we have to focus on people who are threats to public safety. We have to get them out of the society and protect the public, but we have got tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who are not in that category.

    If we treat drug addiction and drug dependency as a health care problem, rather than a criminal justice problem, I think we can actually do what Mr. McCollum is suggesting and better — provide better services for people, keep people out of jails or prisons, and not in any way undermine public safety.

    We have got a lot of space to operate, unfortunately, to reduce our prison population without increasing threats to public safety.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Pat Nolan, where is this as a political matter? That question I asked at the top, has the ground shifted?

    PAT NOLAN: Yes, it’s been very interesting.

    In the last several years, many conservative leaders across the country have formed a group called Right on Crime. And they are working to implement policies that frankly get the most public safety for the public dollar. We have been stingy with other parts of government, but frankly turned a blind eye in some ways to corrections.

    And, instead, they’re looking and saying, are we getting enough public safety? And so Texas led the way and by changing their laws so they didn’t incarcerate those at the low level of the spectrum. They lowered the amount spent, but they didn’t just put it back in the budget. They put it into programs like Mr. McCollum talked about, job training, drug treatment, mental health care.

    So, it saved the money and the lives of the low-level offenders, and put it into things that — or into rehabilitation. The key thing is they have saved over $3 billion, and the crime rate is the lowest it’s been since 1968.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Mr. McCollum, just in our last minute here, do you see the political ground shifting, and where is the public in all of this?

    BILL MCCOLLUM: Well, I think the public sees the crime rate down right now. And like any pendulum, it’s swinging more towards a little looseness and letting more people out and doing more diversion and drug treatment.

    And that’s not all bad. I’m just worried that it not go too far. Determinant sentencing or swiftness and certainty of punishment is all part of the sentencing system we have of deterrence. That’s how you deter crime.

    So even if you don’t have a violent crime, there are crimes out there that need to get certainty in the punishment. And we need to have them in prison. I just think we have to be careful when we talk about them not to put too many in that category. Small drug offenders, possession, yes, that could be diverted. Major crimes in theft and criminal behavior and other cases and major drug traffickers, no.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right. OK. Big subject, to be continued.

    Bill McCollum, Bryan Stevenson, Pat Nolan, thank you, three, all very much.

    PAT NOLAN: Thank you.

    BRYAN STEVENSON: You’re welcome.

    The post Debating criminal justice reforms to improve rehabilitation and lower recidivism appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    In space, no one can hear you snore. Astronaut Mike Hopkins takes a spacewalk outside the ISS in December, 2013. Photo by NASA

    In space, no one can hear you snore. Astronaut Mike Hopkins takes a spacewalk outside the ISS in December, 2013. Photo by NASA

    According to the longest sleep study ever conducted in space, astronauts’ use of sleeping pills, such as Ambien, is extremely high. The decade-long study also revealed space-farers are chronically sleep deficient while in orbit, and during the period leading up to blastoff. The study was published in the August issue of The Lancet Neurology.

    Researchers from Harvard Medical School, University of Colorado, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital tracked 85 astronauts over 4,000 nights of sleep on Earth and 4,200 nights in space. 64 of the study’s subjects were on 80 different shuttle missions, and 21 were aboard the International Space Station or ISS.

    78 percent of the shuttle crew reported taking Ambien (zolpidem) and zaleplon, both powerful sleep drugs, on more than half the nights they spent in space. Similarly, 75 percent of subjects on the ISS claimed they took the medication at some point.The study concludes that more effective measures are needed to encourage rest during space flight. Although NASA schedules personnel for 8.5 hours of downtown per night, it was found that the average length of sleep was around 6 hours.

    The lead author, Laura K. Barger, PhD, from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, cites the findings as concerning given that lack of sleep puts astronaut daily performance and safety in jeopardy. She explains that the U.S. Federal Drug Administration cautions patients “against engaging in hazardous occupations requiring complete mental alertness or motor coordination,” given performance impairment “that may occur the day following ingestion of sedative/hypnotics.”

    The post Ten year astronaut sleep study reveals widespread use of sleeping pills in space appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency, an occasion to look back at a man, and a moment, that changed the country.

    FMR. PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On the evening of August 8, 1974, from the Oval Office, President Richard Nixon announced his resignation, this after a two-year-long saga that became known as the Watergate scandal.

    On June 17, 1972, five men who had been hired by the Committee to Reelect the President were arrested trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex. It was one part of a large clandestine effort to ensure Nixon’s reelection.

    That fall, he won by a landslide, beating Senator George McGovern by nearly 18 million votes. But investigations into the Watergate break-in continued, eventually tying the White House to the burglary. In February 1973, a Senate committee began to look into the president’s connection to the Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover-up.

    That May, the special panel began hearings which lasted nine months. Some members of President Nixon’s own administration testified against him, including former White House counsel John Dean, who said there had been a cover-up, one he had discussed with the president.

    JOHN DEAN, Former Counsel to President Nixon: I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency, and if the cancer wasn’t removed, the president himself would be killed by it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And former White House aide Alexander Butterfield confirmed the existence of audiotapes on which the president had recorded all telephone calls and conversations in the Oval Office since 1971.

    FRED. D. THOMPSON, Minority Counsel: Were you aware of any devices installed in the executive office building office of the president?

    ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, Former White House Aide: Yes, sir.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: After the hearings, Democrats, commentators and even members of his own party called for the president to resign. But he resisted, with comments like this at a news conference in March of ’74.

    RICHARD NIXON: It perhaps would be an act of courage to resign. It also takes courage to stand and fight for what you believe is right, and that is what intend to do.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president also refused to turn over the Oval Office tapes, until, on July 24, the Supreme Court ordered their release. Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee voted along bipartisan lines to approve articles of impeachment, charging the president with obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

    He continued to proclaim his innocence, until a group of Republican congressional leaders told him he could not survive votes in either house, at which time he finally decided to step down.

    RICHARD NIXON: Sometimes, I have succeeded, and, sometimes, I have failed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The next day, Richard Nixon departed the White House, becoming the only American president to resign the office.

    And we take this moment to look back at someone who had a profound effect on our nation.

    And joining us for that is Beverly Gage. She’s professor of 20th century American history at Yale University. Presidential historian Timothy Naftali, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, he’s now head of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University. Pat Buchanan, who served as a senior adviser in the Nixon White House, and he’s author of the book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.” And Luke Nichter, co-author, with Douglas Brinkley, of the book “The Nixon Tapes,” a compilation of key conversations recorded by the president’s secret White House taping system.

    And we welcome you all to the NewsHour.

    Pat Buchanan, as someone who knew Richard Nixon very well, why do you think it’s important that we look back at him and look back at his presidency?

    PAT BUCHANAN, Author, “The Greatest Comeback “: Well, I think, certainly, when you mention the Watergate scandal, it was the greatest scandal in American political history.

    It brought down his presidency. Bill Clinton was impeached, but he survived that. But Nixon’s presidency, I think, is an extraordinary thing, because if you look at his first term and not the Watergate second term, I think you would find him one of the most consequential of presidents.

    He had opened up China. He had negotiated arms control with the Soviet Union. He had ended the draft. He had desegregated the South. He had enacted 18-year-old vote, built EPA, and OSHA, and the Cancer Institute. So he was an enormously consequential president.

    And it’s my view and some others’ view that, had he sort of stood down, say, before — right at his second term, I think he would have been a near-great president. But there’s no question that the second term was a failure. And what people remember are two things, Nixon the China and Watergate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Luke Nichter, Pat Buchanan raises the fact that there are many aspects to this man. It wasn’t just Watergate.

    You told us this week — you said, we’re still trying to digest this man 40 years later. Why is that?

    LUKE NICHTER, Author, “The Nixon Tapes”: Yes. Pat sounds like a spokesperson for the book, in some ways.


    LUKE NICHTER: I think — I didn’t know this 10 years ago, when I started working on the tapes, but I know it now, that when you add up all of the Watergate and abuses of government power we now call it material on tapes, it’s only about 5 to 7 percent of the total tapes.

    Yet these 5 to 7 percent have created almost 100 percent of our impression of the man and his presidency.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But when you look at this, there’s still a fascination with Richard Nixon. Why is that?

    LUKE NICHTER: We still have 700 to 800 hours of tapes that have not been released.

    And so we’re already drowning in tapes. And yet we still have a lot more to learn. I teach 18-to-20-year-olds who, for them, Richard Nixon is an ancient as the American Civil War. They don’t even have a great living memory of 9/11. They want to learn something other than Watergate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Beverly Gage, you talked to us about he really was a part of a series of things that happened in this country in the late ’60s and ’70s. Expand on that.

    BEVERLY GAGE, Yale University: Right.

    Well, I think we have to see Watergate really in the context of a whole series of crises in the American government. And in many ways, Watergate is the most dramatic of them, but it comes in the context of a huge struggle over Vietnam, over secrecy over Vietnam, over the ways that the intelligence establishment had been treating anti-war protesters at home.

    It comes in the midst of real turmoil certainly over civil rights in the United States, but the breakdown in some ways of democracy at the Democratic National Convention. And so Watergate became sort of a place where all of these contests came together and were I think played out in Watergate, in addition to playing out people’s views of Richard Nixon himself.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, Tim Naftali, is that one reason why we remain so fascinated by him?

    TIMOTHY NAFTALI, New York University: Well, we remain fascinated by him because, on the one hand, he was brilliant.

    He was also a political icon in this country for 50 years. And at the same time, he remains the only president to resign. Those two years, from the moment that the break-in occurred at the Watergate until the time he resigned, Richard Nixon fought with the truth.

    And, ultimately, the American people and all three branches of government learned that he had been lying all along. By overstepping his bounds, Richard Nixon tested our constitutional structure. What happened 40 years ago this week was that the U.S. constitutional structure showed that it could last, it was flexible enough to deal with a president who had exceeded his constitutional bounds.

    As Beverly intimated, this really was the high point of the imperial presidency. From this point on, Congress and the Supreme Court would be taking measures, putting them in place to reduce to some extent executive authority.

    Richard Nixon is Shakespearian because he was so full of power, so full of darkness, so full of ambition that he tested our constitutional structure, and reshaped it in a way that I’m sure he regretted, but in a way that’s been helpful to all Americans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Shakespearian, Pat Buchanan? You worked with him. You started working with him well before he was president.

    PAT BUCHANAN: He followed the saintly Lyndon Johnson, who was wiretapping Dr. Martin Luther King, and they’re taking the products of the wiretap and delivering them to the press corps. All that was covered up.

    But I will say, your question is excellent. Why is there such a fascination? Look, Richard Nixon was a national figure in 1947. I don’t know what grade I was in. He nailed Alger Hiss.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: With Alger Hiss.

    PAT BUCHANAN: He was in the — the whole McCarthy-Truman era, he was at the center of that, the second youngest vice president. Loses to the legendary JFK, loses in California, says goodbye and good luck, I’m out of politics, manages what I call the greatest comeback in American political history, vaults to a 49-state victory, on top of the world, and because of the mendacity and because of the — frankly, the indecisiveness in Watergate not to step up and say, look, our guys did it, I didn’t know about it, and we got to cut them dead.

    And that’s what he…

    TIMOTHY NAFTALI: Pat, wait.

    PAT BUCHANAN: Hold it. Hold it.

    Nixon used to say, asked what the prime minister said, a prime minister has got to be a good butcher. He wasn’t a good butcher.

    TIMOTHY NAFTALI: Well, wait.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tim Naftali.


    If I may — well, if I may, Pat, you have reduced Watergate to just a break-in and the cover-up of the break-in. Watergate turned out to be a pattern of abuses of power which are well-documented by the case.

    I will grant Luke — it’s true. It’s only about 202 hours, but those are startling, dramatic and very, very troubling 202 hours. The president applied to the domestic realm the kinds of activities that we associate with foreign covert action. He didn’t mind doing whatever was necessary to hurt his political enemies. He ordered things that, fortunately, things people didn’t follow up on.

    PAT BUCHANAN: Well, look, who was Deep Throat, a Washington Post hero?  Mark Felt, in charge of black bag jobs for J. Edgar Hoover.

    Here he was, a corrupt FBI agent stealing secrets out of the grand jury, turning them over to reporters, who were getting the fruits of his crimes, in order to bring down a president.

    Now, look, this was a very tough era. There were things done in Watergate also. I was offered the headship of the plumbers. And I went over and looked at these cowboys and I said, I don’t think I want to do this job. But some stupid idiot went into Ellsberg psychiatrist’s office. For what purpose, I don’t know. But Nixon didn’t know it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we’re not going to resolve so much of this 40 years later, but we will keep on trying.

    But I am interested, Luke Nichter, in after listening to more than 3,000 hours of those tapes, what more did you learn about this man?  We think we know everything about him, but you learned more.

    LUKE NICHTER: And we still have plenty more to learn.

    I think what I have come away with, I think, a deeper appreciation for both his — I think his good traits and for his faults. I say let’s give Nixon credit where credit is due, and let’s continue to criticize where we think criticism is due.

    I think what is clear with this discussion is that Nixon does occupy this sort of unique place in our public consciousness. We like to put presidents in boxes. We have the top third, the bottom third, we have average, we have below average. Where does Nixon fall?  What box do we put him in? Who else is in the box? Can a box even contain Richard Nixon?


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Beverly Gage, that’s a good question for you. As someone who looks at contemporary American history, what box does he fit into?

    BEVERLY GAGE: Right.

    Well, the interesting thing about Nixon, as Luke says, is that he fits into a lot of boxes. So if you’re going to do your pure numerical rankings of how successful a president was, certainly, the only president to resign ends up pretty close to the bottom.

    But there’s a whole series of kind of revisionist discussions about Nixon. Was Nixon actually a liberal, right?  By today’s political standards, the man who founded the EPA, should we think of him…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A Republican who founded the EPA, advanced women’s equal employment, started the war on cancer, you could go on.

    BEVERLY GAGE: Exactly. Exactly.

    And many people are now actually looking back to Nixon with this sort of romantic lens, a moderate Republican.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Pat Buchanan, help us understand this, because today we think of Republicans in one way. He was a different kind of Republican.

    PAT BUCHANAN: He was indeed.

    See, he was an Eisenhower era Republican. The conservative movement to which I belonged began really in the late ’50s. Nixon was already an international figure then. And so I looked upon him as an eclectic, a pragmatist who wasn’t anti-government. He came out of poverty.

    I’m sure he didn’t think the New Deal was going down the road to socialism. I think all of those things. But I saw the tapes the other night, listened to them. And he had these scurrilous comments about Jewish folks when someone did something and he cut into it.

    And then you realize — I was with him when he ordered the airlift that saved Israel in the Yom Kippur War. And Golda Meir said he was the best friend Israel ever had. So, when you said you have got put it together, put it all together, and I think you get a complex picture of someone who was a powerful national figure for 30 years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Tim Naftali, you have already talked about how you think he changed the constitutional makeup of the country. How did he change this country?

    I mean, it can be argued that the way we view government, government itself changed as a result of Richard Nixon.

    TIMOTHY NAFTALI: Well, one thing is that no president tapes anymore.


    TIMOTHY NAFTALI: The other thing that’s quite different is that, up until Richard Nixon, presidents owned their papers.

    So the actual documentation of the presidency has changed dramatically because of the Nixon era. But I also think that Richard Nixon forced a lot of Americans to think about what they want their president to do.

    You know, the reason why Richard Nixon, I believe, wouldn’t have resigned had it not been for the tapes is that we Americans prefer our presidents to be right. We will disagree with them, but at a certain point, the president is our bald eagle. We need presidents that are better than average.

    And Richard Nixon tested that, and made a lot of people in Congress, in the Supreme Court, in the press, and in the public think about, what should the limits be on any man who occupies — and someday I hope a woman — who occupies the White House?

    For that, Richard Nixon will be forever remembered.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Luke Nichter, what would you add to that?

    LUKE NICHTER: I would add to that not just the Nixon presidency, but really it’s kind of the long 1960s had kind of fundamentally reordered the relationship between the government and the governed.

    I think we have become less idealistic about presidents. I think we — you know, we launched a field of investigative journalism. Journalists became heroes as a result…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Woodward and Bernstein.

    LUKE NICHTER: Young people wanted to go to journalism school as a result. I think people have become more cynical of their political leaders.

    And that — in some ways, that’s better. I think it’s created a degree of greater transparency. But I think ultimately it changed the country in so many ways.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Did we…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a minute. I want to turn to Beverly Gage first.

    Did we permanently become more cynical, Beverly Gage, as a result of Watergate and the Nixon presidency? Do we give him the credit or discredit for that?

    BEVERLY GAGE: I think we did.

    I think that — so, I would add two things to what’s already been said. One is that we also have the look at Watergate not really as ending with the resignation but having a series of consequences afterwards, particularly for the intelligence community, began to have a whole series of studies of government secrecy.

    And those really fundamentally changed in the ’70s. And the second thing that I would add is that I do think it changed Americans’ attitudes toward government and toward their expectations of government in a funny way.

    If you had been here in 1974 on this day and said, what’s going to happen to the Republican Party, you would have said, they’re finished, right?  They’re never coming — but in a funny way, this suspicion of government actually, I think, benefited people like Reagan.

    PAT BUCHANAN: I put Ike and JFK together. And I think that was an era of good feeling in America.

    And then you had Lyndon Johnson and Nixon. And Johnson was broken by the same cultural, political, moral revolution, civil rights, anti-war, all the rest of it, urban riots, all the things that came out of the ’60s that permanently — that brought down Nixon, brought down Johnson, permanently divided America.

    Not only that. That division has grown. And the counterculture, I think, is dominant now. But this is — these are the seeds of the wars we’re fighting today. You can see the Goldwater — Goldwater-Rockefeller battle inside the Republican Party and the McGovern-Muskie battle inside the Democratic parties today. The Democratic Party is more united.

    I don’t know that the Republican Party can really come back, though, because it has permanently lost, I think, a significant slice of the country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We are raising subjects that we could go on about, and we will have other opportunities to come back.

    But we want to thank you all very much. Tim Naftali, Luke Nichter, Pat Buchanan, Beverly Gage, we thank you.

    PAT BUCHANAN: Thank you.

    LUKE NICHTER: Thank you.

    The post How Nixon tested the U.S. government and changed its relationship to the American people appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A 2.6 million lightyear bridge of hydrogen gas -- the largest known -- stretches from a large galaxy located at the bottom left to the galaxy at the top. Image by Rhys Taylor/Arecibo Galaxy Environment Survey/The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration

    A 2.6 million lightyear bridge of hydrogen gas — the largest known — stretches from a large galaxy located at the bottom left to the galaxy at the top. Image by Rhys Taylor/Arecibo Galaxy Environment Survey/The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration

    A team of astronomers and students have discovered a stream of hydrogen gas in space that is the largest known to date — and dwarfs our own galaxy in comparison.

    The find of atomic hydrogen gas stretches 2.6 million light-years, acting as a bridge between two galaxies located 500 million light-years from Earth. The length is not the only impressive stat, however: the stream itself encompasses more gas than the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies combined.

    “This was totally unexpected,” Dr. Rhys Taylor, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “We frequently see gas streams in galaxy clusters, where there are lots of galaxies close together, but to find something this long and not in a cluster is unprecedented.”

    The team is still uncertain what could’ve caused such a massive bridge to form, but plan to simulate theories using computer simulations.

    The post Astronomers discover 2.6 million light-year bridge between galaxies appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq Thursday night, warning they would be launched if needed to defend Americans from advancing Islamic militants and protect civilians under siege. His announcement threated a renewal of U.S. military involvement in the country’s long sectarian war.

    In a televised late-night statement from the White House, Obama said American military planes already had carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Iraqi religious minorities surrounded by militants and desperately in need of food and water.

    “Today America is coming to help,” he declared.

    The announcements reflected the deepest American engagement in Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Obama, who made his remarks in a steady and somber tone, has staked much of his legacy as president on ending what he has called the “dumb war” in Iraq.

    Obama said the humanitarian airdrops were made at the request of the Iraqi government. The food and water supplies were delivered to the tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a mountain without food and water. The Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism, fled their homes after the Islamic State group issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, flee their homes or face death.

    Mindful of the public’s aversion to another lengthy war, Obama acknowledged that the prospect of a new round of U.S. military action would be a cause for concern among many Americans. He vowed anew not to put American combat troops back on the ground in Iraq and said there was no U.S. military solution to the crisis.

    “As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be drawn into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said.

    Even so, he outlined a rationale for airstrikes if the Islamic State militants advance on American troops in the northern city of Irbil and the U.S. consulate there. The troops were sent to Iraq earlier this year as part of the White House response to the extremist group’s swift movement across the border with Syria and into Iraq.

    “When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action,” Obama said. “That’s my responsibility as commander in chief.”

    He said he had also authorized the use of targeted military strikes if necessary to help the Iraqi security forces protect civilians.

    Obama spoke following a day of urgent discussions with his national security team. He addressed the nation only after the American military aircraft delivering food and water to the Iraqis had safely left the drop site in northern Iraq.

    The Pentagon said the airdrops were performed by one C-17 and two C-130 cargo aircraft that together delivered a total of 72 bundles of food and water. They were escorted by two F/A-18 fighters from an undisclosed air base in the region.

    The planes delivered 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 pre-packaged meals and were over the drop area for less than 15 minutes at a low altitude.

    The president cast the mission to assist the Yazidis as part of the American mandate to assist around the world when the U.S. has the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre.

    In those cases, Obama said, “we can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide.”

    Officials said the U.S. was prepared to undertake additional humanitarian airdrops if necessary.

    The White House has been warily watching the Islamic State’s lightning gains in recent months but has been loath to use direct military action to stop the militants’ progress. He did dispatch about 800 U.S. forces to the country earlier this year, with those troops largely split between joint operation centers in Baghdad and Irbil.

    More than half are providing security for the embassy and U.S. personnel. American service members also are involved in improving U.S. intelligence, providing security cooperation and conducting assessments of Iraqi capabilities.

    If the president were to order actual airstrikes in Iraq, it’s all but certain he would proceed without formal congressional approval. Lawmakers left town last week for a five-week recess, and there was no sign that Congress was being called back.

    However, officials said the White House was in contact throughout Thursday with some lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

    Some Republicans have expressly called for the president to take action and have said he doesn’t need the approval of lawmakers.

    Earlier on the PBS NewsHour, Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post joined Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how the rationale for U.S. military assistance has shifted, and the events that have pushed the U.S. to its tipping point.

    Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

    The post President Obama authorizes airstrikes on militants in Iraq appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Barack Obama speaks about the US airstrikes and relief supply drops in Iraq on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.)

    President Barack Obama speaks about the U.S. airstrikes and relief supply drops in Iraq from the White House on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.)

    Before leaving on a two-week vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, President Barack Obama gave an update on the U.S. airstrikes against the Sunni insurgent group, the Islamic State in Iraq and stressed that the U.S would maintain vigilance for as long as it takes.

    “Wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as commander-in-chief to make sure they’re protected,” President Obama said. “We’re not moving our embassy any time soon, we’re not moving our consulate any time soon, and that means that given the challenging security environment, we’re going to maintain vigilance and make sure that our people are safe.”

    The goal of the strikes, which began on Thursday, is two-fold: to protect Americans diplomats and personnel in the area, as well as address the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, as militants threaten the lives and displace members of the Yazidi religious minority community.

    Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled when the Islamic State group earlier this month captured the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, the Associated Press reported. Most recently, the group kidnapped hundreds of Yazidi women.

    5 things you didn’t know about the Yazidi

    The U.S. airdropped food and water to Yazidis in the area. President Obama said that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande both support these efforts.

    Targeted U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State have been conducted outside the city of Irbil, the capital city of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. So far, the strikes have destroyed arms and equipment, which the terrorist group could have used against the city.

    President Obama reiterated that U.S. troops would not be sent to Iraq, citing lessons learned from a costly and long invasion in Iraq in the past.

    “So it would be a big mistake for us to thinking that we can, on the cheap, simply go in, tamp everything down again, restart without some fundamental shift in attitudes among the various Iraqi factions,” he said.

    Instead, continued military assistance and advice will be provided by the U.S. to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces, in addition to the strikes.

    “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” President Obama said. “I think this is going to take some time.”

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    Learning to sing or play a musical instrument can improve language and reading skills of disadvantaged children, according to a new study released Friday.

    Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, found that musical training has an impact in strengthening neural functions as well as a connection with sound and reading of children in impoverished areas.

    Her previous research focused on the impact of music lessons on children of the middle or upper class. This study, which is being presented to the American Psychological Association, included hundreds of students in Los Angeles and Chicago public schools with about 50 percent dropout rates.

    “Research has shown that there are differences in the brains of children raised in impoverished environments that affect their ability to learn,” Kraus said in a press release from the APA. “While more affluent students do better in school than children from lower income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap.”

    In the study, half the subjects received regular group music lessons for five or more hours a week, while the other half had no musical training.

    According to researchers, the reading skills of children with formal music training remained the same over a year long period, while the other students’ reading scores declined.

    Another group of students, part of the Harmony Project, a music program for inner city kids, took part in band or choir practice every day after schools.

    After two years, researchers found that students with musical training were faster and more precise in hearing speech in background noise, which Kraus connects to students having the ability to concentrate on a teacher’s voice in a noisy classroom.

    Children in both groups had comparable IQs and reading ability at the start of the study.

    Kraus conducted the study with Margaret Martin, founder of The Harmony Project, who was featured on the PBS NewsHour earlier this year talking about the benefits of musical training on young brains.

    “We’re spending millions of dollars on drugs to help kids focus and here we have a non-pharmacologic intervention that thousands of disadvantaged kids devote themselves to in their non-school hours — that works,” Martin said.

    The post Study: Learning a musical instrument boosts language, reading skills appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Malaysian government announced its plans to take financial control over Malaysia Airlines on Friday, in an effort to reinvigorate a company that had been struggling even before it faced two major crises–the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and disappearance of flight MH370–this year.

    The government currently controls about 70 percent of the company and hopes to buy out private shareholders, who own the rest of it, with $430 million.

    Malaysia Airlines hasn’t profited for the past three years and in the past decade, the government has had to pour over $1.5 billion into the company to keep it flying.

    Competition with other low-cost airlines including AirAsia has made it harder for the airline to fill seats on what are often airbus flights that can fit up to 500 passengers.

    Even before the crises the airline faced this year, it was losing about 5 million ringgit ($1.5 million) per day according Mohshin Aziz, an analyst with Maybank Investment Bank told The Wall Street Journal.

    “At the rate at which they’re burning cash, they can’t survive beyond the second quarter of next year,” he said.

    The crash that killed 298 after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine last month and the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 in March have only worsened the company’s economic woes.

    But the Malaysian government views the airline as a national asset, and their plans to restructure the company may include laying off some of their workforce of 20,000 people, and restructuring its leadership to minimize losses.

    “Only through a complete overhaul of the company can we deliver a genuinely strong and sustainable national carrier,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Friday. “Piecemeal changes will not work.”

    Unions representing Malaysia Airlines have agreed that the company’s management should be replaced, but are also concerned about job cuts.

    “We have no objection to taking the airline private, but we want to see a good business plan before we support it,” Mohd Jabbarullah Abd Kadir, executive secretary at Malaysian Airline System Employees Union told the Wall Street Journal.

    Others are skeptical that restructuring the company will be successful whatsoever.

    “The problem is that rebranding does nothing to stop customers from staying away from a tainted entity,” Saj Ahmad, an analyst with StrategicAero Research, told The New York Times.

    Even if the government’s reconstruction plans move forward, the airline still faces investigations and insurance complications from its recent accidents.

    The post Malaysia Airlines to be bought out by government appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: For more about the situation on the ground in Iraq we’re joined once again tonight by Nour Malas of the Wall Street Journal. She joins us via Skype from Erbil.

    So in the past week we saw this massive assault by the Islamic State Group, they took over three towns and just in the last 24-48 hours, they took over another. What’s the latest that we know about how they’re advancing?

    NOUR MALAS: They’ve moved even closer over the past few days to Erbil, which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and that’s really what sent officials here, residents of the Kurdish region into a panic and prompted, ultimately, U.S. intervention.

    There’s a large American consulate presence here, there’s thousands of U.S. citizens and on the Iraqi side there are thousands of Yazidis from a religious minority stranded on a mountainside that maybe the Iraqi government hasn’t been able to help with, so this has pulled some U.S. involvement into Iraq.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You got there right before the U.S. airstrikes happened. What was the aftermath? What were the consequences?

    NOUR MALAS: When I got here people were in a panic, booking flights out, afraid of an Islamic state encroachment on the capital. It’s not clear that these are actually the goals of these militants.

    They’re definitely making a push all the way across the Iraqi-Kurdish border which is some 620 miles. They’re trying to consolidate the areas and the towns that they’ve taken moving up to the border. But just getting close enough to Erbil has sent so many people into a panic already.

    U.S. airstrikes that started on Thursday appear to have calmed things down. People feel more comfortable that there’s precision and targeted strikes to try to push back some of these insurgent positions though it’s not clear yet exactly what effect they’ve had.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what’s life like in the capital? What are you seeing today?

    NOUR MALAS: Erbil is relatively normal and calm, it’s tense. The Peshmerga which are Kurdish forces have spread out on roads leading in and out of Erbil. There’s heavy police and security presence.

    There’s a bit of suspicion with non- Kurds, so Kurdish officials and Peshmerga officials are tense about the thousands of Sunni, non-Kurdish Iraqis flooding into their territory from elsewhere. Some people fear that you know this could be infiltrated by the Islamic state.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And lets shift gears to what’s happening on that mountain mountain in Sinjar what’s the latest on the humanitarian airdrops?

    NOUR MALAS: There was a small breakthrough with an evacuation, actually. The U.S. has now conducted two airdrops the last one was early this morning. They’ve been able to reach I think something like 10,000 or maybe a little bit more than that (people). There’s about 40,000 Yazidis stranded on the mountainside so many more are in need.

    The U.N. is talking about trying to help carve a humanitarian corridor as well but all this speaks to how truly stranded they are and how terrible their conditions are. I was able to meet with a dozen families up in Dohuk Province, who had fled Sinjar and all of them really recounted the same tales of fleeing in the middle of the night, grabbing whatever in most cases that’s just their kids.

    A lot of them didn’t have cars or the roads were too jammed with cars and they had to just walk for hours, sometimes days to get to relative safety, and even here in Iraqi Kurdistan they’re just consumed with worry and news from hundreds of their relatives stranded on the mountainside.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what’s travel like inside Iraq now? Last time we spoke with you you were in a different city did you have to take extra precautions?

    NOUR MALAS: I actually took a flight over here right in time before a bunch of international airlines canceled flights to Erbil. Some of them since them have reinstated them.

    It’s a move basically to gauge what airspace security is going to be like and also just figure things out until it becomes clear how long U.S. airstrike operations are going to be.

    The roads are not safe, although the highways leading to major cities are. Anything leading to Mosul or offshoots, you’re bound to run the risk of running into some sort of insurgent presence. So there’s a fear that the road travel option is not going to be safe for much longer.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Nour Malas of the Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype from Erbil, thanks so much.

    NOUR MALAS: Thank you.

    The post Residents of Iraqi Kurdistan flee for safety as panic consumes region appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Barack Obama speaks about the US airstrikes and relief supply drops in Iraq on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images.)

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Returning now to the day’s top story American efforts to slow advances by Islamic State jihadists in northern Iraq and to rescue thousands of civilians who have fled from them. For more, we are joined now from Washington by Douglas Ollivant, he is a senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation and a partner at Mantid International.

    So this morning we heard the president say that this is about two things the protection of Americans and about humanitarian aid, this wasn’t so much about dislodging the Islamic State group from the power that they’re already yielding in large portions of Iraq.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: I think that’s exactly right. The president wants to use air power and not U.S. boots on the ground in any engagement with the Islamic State. What he’s done is he’s set a condition where he can fulfill this promise.

    Air power is very very good at dealing with attacking troops, you know you’re moving, you’re shooting, you’re creating a signature that can be seen from the air and therefore pretty easy for air power to engage targets like that that’s their element that’s what they do best.

    When you start talking about pushing them out of cities, where they’re dug in or hidden in buildings air power has some real limitations and that would take ground troops and I don’t think the president is going to go there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright so the administration also said that so much of this is dependent on Iraq forming a government, so let’s say for example the best case scenario, Iraq forms a government, are they strong enough to combat this on their own?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: It really depends on the type of government that comes together and whether they can really get all three sides. All three sides have something to give here. The Kurds have some very very dedicated fighters in the north, they have a secure base there in the mountains that they could really push out of and we have you know we have assets working at the American consulate there.

    The south has the bulk of the American equipment that remains, the artillery pieces, the tanks, the armored personnel carriers and a large manpower pool from the south that they could use to push north and then of course the Sunni groups are in the midst of this and they could really become a fifth column for ISIS internally, so you can get all three of these groups working together that would be the key, but the Iraqis need to move quickly to take the next steps to form their government.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today the president said this could be something that’s certainly not solved in weeks, it could be a long-term situation. What kind of timeline is likely, and in the meantime does the Islamic State group just strengthen its hold on the places it already had?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Lamentably that may be the case. The Iraqi president, who’s been elected, there’s a new president and should be appointing a, or designating someone to form a government here in the near future.

    They’re still wrangling over that, but he has taken every day of the 15 days of the constitutional laws depending on how you count holidays and Sundays, he’s either just under or just over that deadline. Hopefully we’ll see some announcement in the next day or two.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And on the humanitarian front, how complicated is it to create that corridor of safety if all we’re protecting it is from the skies? How do we get those people off the mountain and into a safe area?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: I think it’s going to be a stretch to call it a safe corridor, it may be a safer corridor when protected from the air, but air power can only do so much and to say that they’ll have total safety moving from the mountain into evidently the Kurdish area of Syria is not something I think we can guarantee; safer, but not safe.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On the humanitarian front we’ve had some partners from Europe say they’re willing to help, on the military front is that unlikely or the same?

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: I think very unlikely, certainly on the humanitarian front we’ll get assistance but I don’t see anyone willing to step up and help with the justification that we have right now. Our justification for the airstrikes is protecting American forces in Baghdad and Irbil other governments may not have that excuse.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Doug Ollivant, thanks so much.

    DOUGLAS OLLIVANT: Thank you.

    The post Why Obama wants to use air power against the Islamic State appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — A leading Republican says he worries an American city could soon be a terrorist target if the U.S. military fails to turn back Islamic militants on the march in Iraq and Syria.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “Fox News Sunday” that the extremist Islamic State group poses a real threat and urged President Barack Obama to expand limited airstrikes that began last week in Iraq.

    A close Obama ally, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, agrees Islamic militants are a growing threat to the United States. But he tells NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Americans don’t have an interest in ramping up current military actions.

    The United States last week launched airstrikes against Islamic fighters who have rampaged across northern and western Iraq.


    The post Graham to Obama: Expand Iraq airstrikes or risk terrorist attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JAMIE WYETH: I had no idea what, sort of, inspires me. The things that I paint are things that I know very well.

    JARED BOWEN: And Jamie Wyeth will tell you, it’s all he’s ever known. Sixty years of the prolific painter’s work are now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in his first major retrospective. It takes us from Wyeth’s boyhood promise to late-in-life reflections.

    Seeing all of your work from very early on to the most recent pieces, what is it like to see it in one space?

    JAMIE WYETH: The emotion is sheer terror on my part. I mean, I’m really — and I’m not being cute about it — I find, you know, I try to tell writer friends of mine, it’s as if you’re in a room, and everybody’s reading your new novel or your new poem. You know, all the inadequacies stare out at me. You cringe and say, ‘What was I thinking? Why did I get obsessed with that?’. So it’s not a pleasant experience. I’m obviously incredibly honored.

    JARED BOWEN: In truth, he’s always been in the spotlight as the third generation of the famed Wyeth family; the son of Andrew; the grandson of N.C.

    Were you conscious of who came before you in terms of your father and grandfather and what they depicted?

    JAMIE WYETH: Well, I love their work. I mean, I, as a very young child, of course, my grandfather — he would die before I was born — but here was this physically huge studio up the hill from our house, full of costumes and cutlesses and flintlock rifles all from his props from his illustrations, so it was magical to me. And I always say, then I’d go back to our house, and there would be my father painting a dead crow or something; that was kind of boring.

    JARED BOWEN: Wyeth’s earliest pieces,  saved and annotated by his mother, reveal a child’s fascination with adventure. More significantly, though, they show his early mastery of the line. He was an artist to the canvas born.

    Is it something you could ever even conceive of not have being central to your life?

    JAMIE WYETH: Well, actually, I have a brother, Nicky, who — an older brother — who at the same bacon and eggs and he had no interest in painting. So it wasn’t forced upon us, but, you know, the tools were there. I mean, we lived in my father’s studio, so there were the brushes and the pencils and the paint. So it would, it was very natural for me to want to paint, I think, and it was never a question.

    JARED BOWEN: By age 17 in his Portrait of Shorty, Wyeth’s skill was already long-cemented and consuming.

    JAMIE WYETH: I would get up in the morning and just want to paint. I’m a very boring person and all I do is want to paint and to record what I feel moves me or what interests me, and that can be in the form of a pig or in the form of President Kennedy.

    JARED BOWEN: His portrait of John F. Kennedy, recently acquired by the MFA, was painted after the president’s death at the request of his grieving family.

    JAMIE WYETH: I was taken up with Kennedy as much as everybody was at that time. And then I realized, I started doing this very, sort of, glorified portrait President Kennedy, and then I felt the need to have life, so I did a lot of drawings of the two brothers, of Bob and Ted. His widow, Jackie, showed, gave me all her films of him, and so forth. So I always say it added up to maybe if I sat with him for 10 minutes — the least to create a memory of a living person. I didn’t want to just work from photographs, you know.

    And actually, there’s a portrait of Ted under the actual painting.

    JARED BOWEN: Really, in what way?

    JAMIE WYETH: I literally did him and then changed it into his brother, just to have, I was so desperate, I didn’t want it to look like a posthumous portrait.

    JARED BOWEN: Dancer Rudolf  Nureyev, though, was someone Wyeth knew incredibly well, having studied the Russian ballet star intensely for a year and a half.

    JAMIE WYETH: On stage, he was extraordinary, of course. But then offstage, he was as fascinating. I mean, he would come and stay at our house and it was like having a panther in the house. You know, he had this amazing presence and this remarkable look so that just drew me. He was just beyond dance and beyond, he just was this amazing figure.

    JARED BOWEN: Wyeth met Nureyev during his days at Andy Warhol’s factory — that 1970s New York hotbed of the avant-garde, exploration and sexuality. It was a most unlikely combo.

    JAMIE WYETH: Sometimes, opposites attract. And I always, I was intrigued with his work. And the resonance he has today, I think, is remarkable with young people still, I mean. And the quality I most loved in Warhol — it was his sense of wonder. I mean, he was, absolutely everything was, ‘Oh my god, isn’t that wonderful!’. You know, and so it wasn’t that he was cool and kind of calculated at all. He was very childlike.

    JARED BOWEN: Personalities aside, much of Wyeth’s work has been about painting place — specifically, where he grew up. The rugged coast of Maine and the bucolic Brandywine River Valley, stretching between Pennsylvania and Delaware.

    JAMIE WYETH: I’m not interested in traveling. I never travel, and painting the Himalayas, or, I don’t care about scenes. I don’t care about interesting-looking trees. What I do care about are trees that I know, that I’ve grown up with and touched, and so forth. I just think it makes the work more meaningful. The more you’re familiar with something and comfortable and have a love for it or a hate for it even, the better the result.

    JARED BOWEN: For Jamie Wyeth, his life’s work is life story.

    The post From JFK to Warhol, contemporary artist Jamie Wyeth paints what he knows appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Doug88888

    Photo by Flickr user Doug88888

    Drinking coffee may prevent tinnitus, or chronic ringing of the ears, according to new research from Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston.

    Doctors previously thought that people with tinnitus should give up drinking coffee, in fear that caffeine may increase symptoms. But researchers discovered the opposite.

    The study, published in the August edition of the American Journal of Medicine, tracked 65,000 women over a period of 18 years and found that those who drank more coffee reduced their odds of developing the condition.

    Compared to women who drank one and a half cups of coffee every day, the incidence of reported tinnitus was 15% lower in women who drank five cups per day. Over the 18-year study, 5,289 total cases of tinnitus were reported.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports on the science behind tinnitus and the search for a cure. This report was originally broadcast on Dec. 17, 2013. 

    Researchers are still unclear as to exactly how increased caffeine levels affect the condition.

    “We know that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and previous research has demonstrated that caffeine has a direct effect on the inner ear,” the study’s senior author, Dr. Gary Curhan, said in a press release.

    Researchers say that more evidence is needed before they can recommend whether or not tinnitus patients should increase their caffeine intake to improve symptoms.

    Tinnitus affects 50 million people throughout the U.S.

    Read more about the powerful evidence neuroscientists have discovered between certain regions of the brain and tinnitus.

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    The New York State Department of Education earlier this week released 50 percent of the Common Core-based English and math questions from exams taken by students in the third through eighth grades last spring, in response to requests from educators and parent-teacher associations. 

    “We’ve listened to New York State educators make the case that having more test questions available would benefit our kids so we’ve doubled the number and provided a thorough explanation for every student response,” said Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. in a statement.

    The release, accompanied by a letter from the commissioner, comes after a growing “Release the Tests” campaign by parent-teacher associations, reports the Poughkeepsie Journal.

    In 2013, New York State released 25 percent of the exam questions and the 2013 results showed that only one-third of students in the state were deemed ‘proficient’. The results of the 2014 tests will be released later in August.

    The tests, created by Pearson, have been criticized for being too long, above grade-level and not properly aligned with the new curriculum standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia since their debut in 2010.

    Four states, including Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, have repealed adoption of the Common Core standards.

    Next week, lawsuits surrounding Louisiana’s public school participation in the standards go to court, reports the Associated Press.

    A week before the questions were released, New York State supplied districts with instructional reports. The reports gave the percentage of students’ correct answers, as well as the topics and standards matching the questions, with the hope that this information would help educators better plan for the upcoming school year.

    “We heard from teachers, principals and superintendents who asked us to put these reports out as early as possible,” King said. “We listened, and we acted.”

    The post Amid pressure, New York releases half of Common Core test questions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    History has a way of surprising us – even 100 years later.

    In author Eugene Rogan’s forthcoming book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, Rogan writes about a small and relatively unknown prisoner-of-war camp called Halbmondlager, or ‘Half Moon Camp’ that was specifically designed for Muslim captives.

    Kaiser Wilhelm II reportedly had a secret mission of turning British and French military prisoners of Muslim faith into jihadist loyal to Germany. While held captive, the prisoners lived in relatively opulent surroundings (for POWs) and were given everything necessary to practice their faith.

    This jihad-plan was the brainchild of German aristocrat and diplomat, Max von Oppenheim, who had traveled extensively and studied the east. Oppenheim believed that it was possible to coordinate a propaganda plan to rally a mass-Muslim uprising against the allies.

    Oppenheim convinced the Kaiser that the Islam faith could be a secret weapon and Wilhelm vowed to “inflame the whole Mohammedan world” against the French and British, The Telegraph reported.

    To cement his plan, the Kaiser signed a secret treaty on August 2, 1914 with Sultan Mehmed V to establish a political alliance between Germany and the Ottoman Empire.

    The post Islam a German secret weapon? New book uncovers forgotten POW camp appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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