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

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    FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, is experiencing its fourth day of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 13 in Ferguson, Missouri. After a decade of sending military gear to civilian police departments across the nation, federal officials are rethinking the idea. Credit: by Scott Olson/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — After a decade of sending military equipment to civilian police departments across the country, federal officials are reconsidering the idea in light of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri.

    The public has absorbed images of heavily armed police, snipers trained on protesters and tear gas plumes. Against that backdrop, Attorney General Eric Holder said that when police and citizens need to restore calm, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.”

    Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said police responses like that in Ferguson have “become the problem instead of the solution.” Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said he will introduce legislation to reverse police militarization.

    Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his committee will review the program to determine if the Defense Department’s surplus equipment is being used as intended.

    One night after the violence that accompanied the presence of military-style equipment in Ferguson, tensions eased when a police captain, unprotected and shaking hands, walked through a crowd in a gesture of reconciliation. The contrast added to perception that the tanks and tear gas had done more harm than good.

    As the country concludes its longest wartime period, the military has turned over thousands of surplus weapons and armored trucks to local police who often trained alongside the military.

    A report by the American Civil Liberties Union in June said police agencies had become “excessively militarized,” with officers using training and equipment designed for the battlefield on city streets. The report found the amount of goods transferred through the military surplus program rose from $1 million in 1990 to nearly $450 million in 2013.

    “Every police force of any size in this country has access to those kinds of weapons now,” said David Harris, a police expert at the University of Pittsburgh law school. “It makes it more likely to be used (and) is an escalation all by itself.”

    In Louisiana, masked police in full body armor carrying AR-15 assault rifles raided a nightclub without a warrant, looking not for terrorists but underage drinkers and fire-code violations. Officers in California train using the same counterinsurgency tactics as those used in Afghanistan.

    “They’re not coming in like we’re innocent until proven guilty,” said Quinn Eaker. SWAT teams last August raided his organic farm and community, the Garden of Eden, in Arlington, Texas. “They’re coming in like: `We’re gonna kill you if you move a finger.’”

    Police found no drugs or weapons and filed no charges after their search, which authorities said followed standard procedure.

    In 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism. Though violent crime nationwide is at its lowest level in generations and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely concluded, the military transfers have increased.

    Police say the equipment, which includes free body armor, night vision goggles and scopes, keeps officers safe and prepares them for the worst case.

    “A lot evolved from the military, no question,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Chief Bill McSweeney, who heads the detective division. “Is it smart for them to use that stuff and perhaps look like soldiers from Iraq going into a place? Is that smart or over the top? I’d say generally that’s smart. Now, if you use that every time a guy is writing bad checks, that’s getting rather extreme.”

    The U.S. has provided 610 mine-resistant armored trucks, known as MRAPs, across the country, nearly all since August 2013, including at least nine in Los Angeles County, according to Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency.

    In rural western Maine, the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, which had not reported a murder in more than 20 years, asked for an MRAP. Cpl. George Cayer, wrote in his request that Maine’s western foothills face a “previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.”

    In Orange County, Florida, masked officers in tactical gear helped state inspectors raid barber shops in 2010 to find people cutting hair without a license. Using a mini battering ram and pry bar at times, police arrested dozens of people. Officials said they found illegal items such as drugs and a weapon.

    McSweeney said it’s hard to argue that police shouldn’t use the best equipment available.

    “It’s tempting to say, `Shouldn’t we wear these things? Shouldn’t we approach this as if we could get shot?’” he said. “How do you say no to that question?”

    Nick Gragnani, executive director of the St. Louis Area Regional Response System, said such supplies have proved essential in hurricane relief efforts and other disaster responses.

    “The shame of it will be … if somebody does a brushstroke and takes out all the funding and then we can no longer be prepared for that big incident,” he said.

    The LAPD’s deputy chief, Michael Downing, who heads the department’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau, said officers are dealing with “an adversary who is more sophisticated, more tactically trained.”

    Downing emphasized that though police might train with soldiers, they’re not warriors with a mission to kill but public servants with no “enemies.”

    “In police work there are times we have to become soldiers and control through force and fear,” Downing said. “But we have to come back to being a public servant as quick as we can to establish that normality and that ethical stature with communities, because they’re the ones who give us the authority to do our police work.”

    This report was written by Tami Abdollah and Eric Tucker of the Associated Press.

    The post Federal officials reconsider giving military equipment to police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    museumhack

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HANNAH YI: It’s Friday and in a few hours Ethan Angelica and Jessye Herrell will host a small get-together. They’re going through their checklist to make sure everything’s ready. There will be games and music, too.

    Their agenda tonight is to recruit a new generation of museum-goers by helping them have fun once they get there. They say it’s important because of the declining museum attendance by young people.

    SANDRA JACKSON-DUMONT: They haven’t historically been posited as the most hip spaces.

    HANNAH YI: Sandra Jackson-Dumont oversees education programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She says many millennials – those between the ages of 18 and 33 – don’t go to museums because they’ve never had the right introduction.

    SANDRA JACKSON-DUMONT: There were moments in time where arts education was a part of basic education like it was just normalized behavior. And there’s this new generation of folks then that represent in many ways a body of people that actually didn’t have arts education in school.

    HANNAH YI: Jackson-Dumont says museums are also competing with a variety of cultural activities like food fairs, street art and even online lectures. Nick Gray is 32 years old and loves museums. He goes several times a week but knows he’s in the minority.

    NICK GRAY: Maybe people had a bad experience when they were growing up at a museum. Maybe they were taken to museums as kids, and it was a snooze fest. It was super boring, or they were dragged there by their parents. And for one reason or another, the vast majority of people have checked out of museums.

    HANNAH YI: So how do you get millennials to check into museums, and get them to keep going back? Gray decided to hire young museum lovers like Jessye Herrell and Ethan Angelica, and he created a company called museum hack.

    With the permission from the Met and the American Museum of Natural History, his company gives small group tours. Their strategy is simple: jazz up the traditional tour by doing something completely different.

    NICK GRAY: Some people in big museums still believe that the museum experience is meant for you to sit down in front of the object and let its majesty wash over you. And you will be baptized by the light of this awesome art.

    You look at the objects inside of a museum that are placed there by curators who have done an awesome job, but are sometimes curating for the other curators and not for the visitors. If people come to the museum and they are not entertained, then they are gonna be tuned out.

    HANNAH YI: Museum Hack typically caters to Millennials and parents with young children, charging $39 per person per tour in addition to the donation visitors are encouraged to make to the museum. The museum doesn’t charge the company anything to conduct the tours.

    ETHAN ANGELICA: We’re gonna get you to engage with the piece of art. Assume the position. We’re gonna hold it for just a second. Friends take photos of friends. We want you to take a selfie with something. We want you to throw something up on Instagram. We want you to you know tweet about something.

    HANNAH YI: But the main attraction is the stories they tell behind the art and how they tell it.

    JESSYE HERRELL: We’re gonna bring it to you on a level that you’re really comfortable with. It’s very colloquial. We’re not trying to talk, like spew big words that you don’t know or that we feel fancy because we do know.

    ETHAN ANGELICA: And we’ll break it down for you like really sassy.

    JESSYE HERRELL: Real easy, yeah.

    ETHAN ANGELICA: Yeah, really sassy.

    ETHAN ANGELICA: I’d like to introduce you to the one and only Caravaggio, my number one drinking buddy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you had to decide where the light is coming from in this painting, where is the light coming from?

    See how there’s the V between their shoulders? It looks like there’s some orange thing sort of spurting up there. There’s a fireplace back there. So part of where the light is coming from, is that the fireplace is bouncing off the dude’s chest and shining onto their faces.

    And what he’s doing is reflecting light and putting shiny s— into the corners just to sort of keep it real. He was also known for theatrical lighting so if you’re like a filmmaker or something he was sort of like the inspiration for that.

    NICK GRAY: Taking them to a piece like this amazing sculpture of Diana that’s in the courtyard of the American wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and how do we compare her to maybe Kim Kardashian.

    And how do we talk about other objects in the museum and put them in a light that people can understand and can laugh about? It’s creating these points of accessibility that only get people to be excited and sorta energized.

    HANNAH YI: And what do you say to critics who might say, “You know, that’s a little disrespectful to art to kind of link it to pop culture like Kim Kardashian? That it’s sort of irreverent.”

    NICK GRAY: I wanna be really careful because a lot of people talk about, “Is what we’re doing just dumbing down the museum experience?” And I don’t see it like that. I see that we’re gonna get people excited to come back to the museum.

    HANNAH YI: So why aren’t museums like the ones in New York City embracing sort of your way of giving tours?

    NICK GRAY: I’d say the average museum tour is first run by a volunteer who works and gives their time freely at the museum. And I bless these people and I thank them so much for what they do.

    However, I don’t think that those are the best people to put in front of a disengaged audience. The tours that my company in contrast are led by these tour guides who develop a route that is purely based on things that they love. It’s a route that is based on amazing pieces that have crazy stories.

    HANNAH YI: Do you feel like that’s a good strategy or is that a good way to cultivate an interest in art in your opinion?

    SANDRA JACKSON-DUMONT: Absolutely. I think there’s no silver bullet. Now, I can tell you that those little salacious details would not be known without the knowledge of the curators and the people that did all the deep down research. So therein lies the reality that there is a certain level of codependence there.

    HANNAH YI: Then perhaps everyone’s working towards the same goal: making sure that young people don’t forget that museums are worth visiting.

    The post To woo millennials, museum tour group taps into the digital age appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Screen shot 2014-08-16 at 12.27.35 PM

    Tour guide Ethan Angelica explains a Duccio piece to his group as part of a “Museum Hack” tour. Credit: NewsHour Weekend

    According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the number of Americans who visit an art gallery or museum is in steady decline. Attendance is especially low among young people. Saturday on NewsHour Weekend, we present a look at a few enterprising young art lovers who have unconventional plans to reverse the decline.

    We want to know — what’s your view on these millennial-friendly museum tours?

    Take our poll (above) and share your thoughts in the comments below. Or, join the conversation on Facebook.

    The post Poll: What do you think of millennial-friendly museum tours? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    According to the National Endowment for the Arts, museum-attendance rates among young people are on the decline. Amid these reports, a group called Museum Hack aims to recruit a new wave of millennial visitors with interactive, gossip-filled tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History.

    NewsHour Weekend tagged along at the Met. Here’s our behind-the-scenes look at the highly “Instagramable” tour:

    The post Slogging through the Met, one Instagram post at a time appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Texas Governor Rick Perry waits to greet US President Barack Obama in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014 as he arrives for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Obama requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to help cope with a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry  is shown here in Dallas, on July 9. A grand jury has indicted Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

    AUSTIN, Texas — A grand jury has indicted Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power for making good on a veto threat – a case the possible 2016 presidential hopeful is dismissing as nakedly political, but which his opponents say is just deserts.

    The indictments for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant came late Friday, after a special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he carried out a promise to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit run by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. The Democratic official was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry’s repeated calls to resign.

    The case means the longest-serving governor in state history also became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison. Coercion of a public servant is a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.

    Though the charges are serious, politics are sure to dominate the case. Lehmberg is based in Austin, which is where the grand jury was seated and is heavily Democratic. That’s in stark contrast to much of the rest of Texas, which is fiercely conservative – so much so that a Democrat hasn’t captured statewide office in 20 years.

    Still, while Perry says he did nothing wrong in issuing the veto, simply having the word “indictment” associated with him could tarnish his image and complicate his prospects with 2016 GOP primary voters – should he try again for the White House.

    When he ran for president in 2012, Perry plummeted from brief front-runner to national punchline, his once promising campaign doomed by a series of embarrassing gaffes, including his infamous “Oops” moment during a debate. This time, he’s re-made his cowboy image, donning stylish glasses, studying up on foreign and domestic affairs and promising that he’ll be far more humble in the national spotlight.

    The unit Lehmberg oversees investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. It led the investigation against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who in 2010 was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for taking part in a scheme to influence elections in his home state – convictions later vacated by an appeals court.

    Perry himself was never called to testify in this case,- but many of his top aides were. David L. Botsford, Perry’s defense attorney, whose $450-per hour fees are being paid for by state funds, said he was “outraged and appalled” by the grand jury’s decision.

    “This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision,” Botsford said in a statement. “Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”

    Democrats, for their part, didn’t miss a change to gloat.

    “Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our governor,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. He demanded that Perry immediately resign.

    No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including parts of the state budget. But the left-leaning, Austin-based Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.

    “We’re pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor’s bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior,” said Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice’s executive director.

    Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor overseeing the case, said he “took into account the fact that we’re talking about a governor of a state – and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love.”

    “But when it gets down to it, the law is the law,” McCrum said.

    Perry and other high-profile Republicans said Lehmberg should resign after she was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. A video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.

    The indictment of Perry is the first of its kind since 1917, when James “Pa” Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted.

    The post Perry indictment exposes political divisions in Texas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took into office promising “a new era of accountability and transparency.” Yet after he won a second term last year and as he explores a run for president, his administration stands accused of routinely stonewalling even the most basic requests for public records.

    Attorneys involved in lawsuits filed in search of public records say they have seen a spike in the number of such cases in the past six months.

    The lawyers, along with media organizations and watchdog groups, also say they have received more arbitrary justifications for the denial of requests made under New Jersey’s open records law, as well as an increased willingness by the state attorney general’s office to fight such requests in court.

    “The quality of the denials are getting dumber,” said lawyer Walter Luers, who specializes in such cases. “They’re just kind of making reasons to not give us stuff.”

    Christie on Friday insisted that his administration was as transparent as he said it would be. “You guys want everything. You’re not entitled to everything. So we give you what you’re entitled to under the law. And I think that’s fair.”

    His spokesman, Kevin Roberts, previously had declined to answer questions about the administration’s approach to public records requests. He said he was “not going to comment on pending litigation as per our practice, or on idle speculation.”

    The attorney general’s office did not respond to multiple requests for information about how many open records-related complaints their office is litigating now or how much those cases have cost the state.

    Despite Christie’s inaugural address pledge of transparency, and his comments Friday, reporters and others have often faced frustrations when seeking records from his office.

    Those asking for copies of Christie’s calendar – a record routinely disclosed by other governors – receive copies of his public event advisories instead of details about his travel and meetings.

    Media outlets have sued over access to visitor logs at the governor’s mansion, out of state travel records and details about public contracts.

    The administration saw a surge in records requests following revelations that top Christie aides and appointees apparently conspired to create traffic chaos on the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan last September. There are indications his administration has since become less willing to comply with such requests.

    In the first six months of 2013, records show, the governor’s office received 98 open records requests. The number more than doubled to 231 during the same period in 2014.

    As of July 24, there were at least 22 open records complaints pending before the Trenton judge who handles the cases, according to a list compiled by her chamber and first reported by the New Jersey Law Journal. She declined to discuss the cases through a clerk.

    As part of a lawsuit by New York Public Radio over 11 denied or ignored records requests, attorney Bruce Rosen wrote in July that “in the first six months of 2014, the Governor’s Office and certain state executive agencies have drastically restricted access.”

    Since then, Rosen said his clients have “repeatedly encountered undue delay, insufficient explanation and unwarranted excuses and denials in response to recent requests.”

    In an interview, he added, “It seems that they’ve drawn a line in the sand,” calling the lawsuits “an incredible waste of resources and an incredible waste of money.”

    Jennifer Borg, the general counsel of the North Jersey Media Group, which has eight lawsuits pending against the state, complained of more aggressive stonewalling in the past year to 16 months.

    She said it had a “tremendous” impact on newsgathering operations at its newspapers, including The Record of Bergen County.

    “They’re putting up any roadblock they can,” she said, describing “a pattern and practice of thwarting” access that prevented reporters from obtaining even basic documents, such as payroll records.

    Last month, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson forced the Christie administration to turn over a list of public records requests filed with the governor’s office and other state agencies by Harry Scheeler Jr., a 36-year-old activist who has been filing open records requests since he was a teenager.

    The same kinds of requests have been fulfilled routinely over the years. But this time, the state had denied them – at one point citing concerns about compromising media outlets’ scoops.

    The Associated Press made a similar request in December 2013, and the governor’s office fulfilled it on Feb. 6, four days before Scheeler’s request was denied.

    “They don’t want the public to know how horrible they comply with (the law),” Scheeler said. “It’s pretty bad.”

    The increase in suits has a potential real dollar cost to the state.

    If it loses a case, the state is on the hook for plaintiff legal fees that can range into the thousands. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey says it has recovered more than $45,000 in attorney’s fees in over six cases it had litigated against the administration, including one settlement for more than $18,000.

    “Their default position appears to be to withhold records from the public even though the law requires the exact opposite,” said the group’s executive director, Udi Ofer. “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for the public to access what are undeniably public records.”

    Jill Colvin wrote this report for the Associated Press. Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvhill in Trenton contributed to this report

    The post Christie faces mounting lawsuits over public records appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    UPDATE: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri and is imposing a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. to respond to continued unrest in the St. Louis suburb.

    Protests in Ferguson, Missouri escalated into looting yesterday after police released information about Michael Brown's robbery and identified the officer who shot him.

    Protests in Ferguson, Missouri escalated on Friday after police identified the officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown and released more details on the circumstances of the shooting. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images News

    On Friday night, protestors returned to the streets of Ferguson. Hundreds clashed with police after the officer who shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last week was identified, and details about Brown’s alleged robbery of a convenience store were released.

    The situation in Ferguson had calmed on Thursday after four days of protests, when Missouri Governor Jay Nixon gave the Missouri Highway Patrol control over area security.

    But tensions in Ferguson began to rise once again after new reports and footage were released by police. Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, announced on Friday that officer Darren Wilson, who had served the St. Louis suburb’s department for four years, was responsible for shooting Brown and has been placed on paid administrative leave.

    Police also released surveillance videotapes and documents that allege Brown stole a box of cigars from a convenience store and pushed a man behind the counter shortly before his death.

    Authorities said officer Wilson was unaware that Brown was a robbery suspect and that he had stopped Brown and a friend on the street “because they were walking down the street blocking traffic.”

    Police reports revealing details about Brown the night he was killed angered family members, as well as members of the community who believe Brown’s actions did not justify his death. Two hundred protestors crowded the streets and a large group looted Ferguson Market & Liquor, the convenience store that Brown allegedly robbed.

    At least one other store was looted, and some protestors began blocking stores’ entrances and windows to limit robberies.

    Most of the demonstrations took place on West Florissant Avenue, where police set up a one-mile barricade. Protestors also threw rocks and other projectiles at police, injuring one officer. At first, police released a small amount of tear gas onto the protestors, but eventually police moved away from the protests, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson.

    “We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters,” Johnson told the Associated Press. “We just felt it was better to move back.” Johnson said last night’s protests displayed an escalation of intensity and violence and called protestors’ actions “riot-type behavior.”

    The post Curfew imposed in Ferguson, Mo. after protests escalate overnight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    UkraineCrisis

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Turning now back overseas, tensions remain high along the border between Ukraine and Russia, after reports yesterday that the Ukrainian military had destroyed an armed Russian convoy that had entered Ukraine.

    For more about the conflict and efforts to end it before it escalates further, we’re joined from Moscow via Skype by James Marson of The Wall Street Journal.

    So, yesterday there was some confusion about whether or not the event happened at all. The Ukrainians say they did away with a Russian military convoy, the Russians call it a fantasy. What do we know about it?

    JAMES MARSON: That’s right. This column of about 20 armored vehicles crossed over the Russian-Ukrainian border Thursday evening, spotted by two British reporters, who say that it snuck around the border posts and entered Ukraine.

    Ukraine yesterday said that it had destroyed this armored column. Russia dismissed this as a fantasy, and Ukraine has so far provided no pictures of this.

    It roiled the market because everyone was very fearful that this destruction of a Russian column would lead to a wider conflict with Russia and Ukraine, but in fact today Ukraine has tried to play this down and say that this is quite a regular occurrence that Russians keep sending these columns across.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what’s in their interest to make this up?

    JAMES MARSON: Well, Ukraine obviously wants to make it seem like it is having military success against the separatists, it doesn’t want to look like it’s easy for the Russians to send weapons and men into the East.

    Ukraine has been fighting this pro-Russian insurgency in essence for around four months. It’s been having significant successes in recent weeks. It’s managed to push the rebels out of the local towns and cities and it wants to keep that momentum going.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about that aid convoy? We’ve seen those pictures of those hundreds of trucks that are waiting on the border are they any closer to getting through?

    JAMES MARSON: They seem to be stuck on the border at the moment. That parked up in a hill three miles from the border crossing. The Ukrainians say they’re waiting for paperwork to allow them to cross.

    The Russians say that the Ukrainians snuck around to go across. So there’s lots of finger pointing and not a lot of aid getting through.

    Ukrainians are also sending their own aid column, which also hasn’t reached its standard recipients, so there are a lot of people, who are in beseeched towns who are waiting for aid and not receiving it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Any advances on the diplomatic front?

    JAMES MARSON: The diplomatic front was frozen for a very long time, but now it appears to be coming back to life. The Finnish president, who was in Russia yesterday meeting Vladimir Putin, today he is in Ukraine meeting Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

    Tomorrow the French, German, Ukranian and Russian foreign ministers will meet in Berlin. So there seems to be a concerted diplomatic push to find a resolution here.

    Now, it could be difficult to find that resolution. Ukraine has been pushing on with its military operation as it seems to feel that it’s on the front and could push the rebels out.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: James Marson of The Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype from Moscow, thanks so much.

    JAMES MARSON: Thank you.

    The post Amid tensions at Russia-Ukraine border, diplomats push for calm appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Texas Gov. Rick Perry, seen in this 2013 photo in Houston, . Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: “The first governor in Texas to be indicted in 100 years.” Those were some of the headlines late last night about Gov. Rick Perry, and what a grand jury says was his abuse of power.

    To explain what’s behind it all is Tony Plohetski from the Austin American-Statesman. So let’s talk about the incident in question: What is it that Rick Perry allegedly did, that was an abuse of his power?

    TONY PLOHETSKI: Well, it all started more than year ago in April 2013. The sitting district attorney here in Travis County, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested and charged with drunk driving.

    Two months after that while the legislature was finishing their session, Gov. Rick Perry was about to sign the state’s budget. And during that time he is accused of sending word to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg: “Resign or I am going to veto an item in the state budget to withhold $7.2 million in funding to your office.”

    Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney, is a Democrat. Rick Perry is, of course, a Republican.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So why is that an abuse of power? Is that not within his rights as a governor – to veto items from the budget?

    TONY PLOHETSKI: Well, that is the key question here. The governor’s camp steadfastly says, “Listen, the governor was doing just that. He was exercising his line-item veto authority.

    But what the prosecution and these grand jurors essentially have said is, “Well, yes, Gov., you may have been doing that, but you also attached a threat to it. So that changes the dynamic.

    Yes, you may have legally used your veto authority, but potentially, you did something illegal by attaching a threat to that veto authority.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And none of this happens in a political vacuum. There are Republicans that say the public integrity unit that was underneath this prosecutor went after Republicans far more aggressively than it did Democrats.

    TONY PLOHETSKI: Right, that is a decades-long, you know, dispute between Republicans and the Democratic Party. The DA’s office here in Travis County operates the public integrity unit.

    The money the governor vetoed was earmarked for that unit. That unit is tasked with investigating state ethics violations among all state officials. Their jurisdiction is not just Travis County.

    And so for years, Republicans have alleged that the DA’s office is going after Republicans and their party. The DA’s office here has been led by Democrats for decades.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, so what happens next in the legal process for the governor. What does the governor’s office do about it?

    TONY PLOHETSKI: Well, sometime during the next several days, Gov. Rick Perry is expected to come to the Travis County courthouse and turn himself in, just like any other indicted criminal defendant. He will be fingerprinted, he will have his mug shot taken, and then released on a bond.

    He will have to at some point, though, answer for these charges, potentially in court.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Tony Plohetski from the Austin American-Statesman, thank you for joining us today.

    TONY PLOHETSKI: Thanks for having me.

    The post Behind the indictment: Did Texas Gov. Rick Perry abuse the power of his office? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Good evening thanks for joining us. American jets today hit positions near a key dam in Northern Iraq that had been captured recently by Islamic extremists. This a day after the extremists, members of the Islamic State, are said to have massacred dozens of Yazidis. The extremists reportedly have demanded members of that religious minority convert to Islam. For more about all this we are joined now via Skype from Duhok in Northern Iraq by Liz Sly of The Washington Post. So we’ve heard about several more air strikes in the region this morning. What can you tell us?

    LIZ SLY: Well all we know is that there have been some big explosions around that dam at ISIS positions that we are hearing reports from residents about. It’s not clear at this moment I don’t think whether the U.S. has been involved. But we know that they have been involved in a lot of the other airstrikes that have gone on around that area and I think it is expected that these were U.S. strikes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What do we know about the area where the most recent massacre occurred?

    LIZ SLY: This is small village that southeast of the town of Sinjar which is where the assault on the Yazidis a couple of weeks ago triggered this whole Yazidi crisis. It’s a very small village, it’s in a remote area reports there have been rather sketchy but what we know is at about 1 o’clock yesterday fighters with  Islamic State did go into that village and they apparently pulled we have a number of 84 men, they lined them up and executed them and then took away around 300.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a connection between the timing of when the U.S. said the humanitarian operations in the mountains are done and when these people went in for the massacre.

    LIZ SLY:  Yes that’s what a lot of Yazidis and some Kurds are telling us. They believe there is a direct connection between President Obama calling off the humanitarian airlift  of Yazidis the mountain nearby and the Islamic State fighters going in and killing these people. They have been surrounding these people for a week demanding that they convert or risk death. So it could be that they were planning to go in anyway but a lot of people feel that they were off the hook, a green light from President Obama to continue killing in the area.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  And have they made more advances in the region since the humanitarian crisis has really occupied most of our headlines here in the west?

    LIZ SLY: Well they’ve been continuing to advance throughout this time they’ve never really stopped. The airstrikes did help them on the outskirts of Iribil but they have continued to make gains in the far southeastern corner a place called Jalula and they’ve been making a lot of gains recently in the northern Aleppo countryside in Syria the furthest other edge of the area they control. They’ve been taking a lot of small towns and villages around Aleppo, just in the past few days and people are very afraid that the Syrian rebels there are going to lose control of the border with Turkey and perhaps the town of Aleppo itself.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the talk that perhaps U.S. military aid could come to Kurdistan or other European countries could assist in this fight?

    LIZ SLY: Well it’s my understanding that U.S. military aid has already arrived in Kurdistan it was announced earlier this week that U.S. was prepared to send the aid directly to Kurdistan. tHEY ARE coordinating this with Baghdad they are not bypassing the federal government in Baghdad they’re not like cutting a separate deal with Kurdistan if you like. But they are sending arms and it’s my understanding that some have already arrived.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Liz Sly of the Washington Post joining us via Skype from Iraq. Thanks so much.

    The post New airstrikes target Islamic State fighters holding dam in northern Iraq appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Ending insurance discrimination against the sick was a central goal of the nation’s health care overhaul, but leading patient groups say that promise is being undermined by new barriers from insurers.

    The insurance industry responds that critics are confusing legitimate cost-control with bias. Some state regulators, however, say there’s reason to be concerned about policies that shift costs to patients and narrow their choices of hospitals and doctors.

    With open enrollment for 2015 three months away, the Obama administration is being pressed to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s anti-discrimination provisions. Some regulations have been issued; others are pending after more than four years.

    More than 300 patient advocacy groups recently wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to complain about some insurer tactics that “are highly discriminatory against patients with chronic health conditions and may … violate the (law’s) nondiscrimination provisions.”

    Among the groups were the AIDS Institute, the American Lung Association, Easter Seals, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Kidney Foundation and United Cerebral Palsy. All supported the law.

    Coverage of expensive drugs tops their concerns.

    The advocates also say they are disappointed by how difficult it’s proved for consumers to get a full picture of plans sold on the new insurance exchanges. Digging is often required to learn crucial details such as drugs covered, exact copayments and which doctors and hospitals are in the network.

    Washington state’s insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler, said “there is no question” that discrimination is creeping back. “The question is whether we are catching it or not,” added Kreidler, a Democrat.

    Kansas’ commissioner, Sandy Praeger, a Republican, said the jury is out on whether some insurers are back to shunning the sick. Nonetheless, Praeger said the administration needs to take a strong stand.

    “They ought to make it very clear that if there is any kind of discrimination against people with chronic conditions, there will be enforcement action,” Praeger said. “The whole goal here was to use the private insurance market to create a system that provides health insurance for all Americans.”

    The Obama administration turned down interview requests.

    An HHS spokeswoman said the department is preparing a formal response to the advocates and stressed that today’s level of consumer protection is far superior to what existed before President Barack Obama’s law, when an insurance company could use any existing medical condition to deny coverage.

    The law also takes away some of the motivation insurers have for chasing healthy patients. Those attracting a healthy population must pay into a pool that will reimburse plans with a higher share of patients with health problems. But that backstop is under attack from congressional Republicans as an insurer “bailout.”

    Compounding the uncertainty is that Washington and the states now share responsibility for policing health plans sold to individuals.

    Although the federal government is running insurance markets in 36 states, state regulators are still in charge of consumer protection. A few states refuse to enforce any aspect of the law.

    Kreidler said the federal government should establish a basic level of protection that states can build on. “We’re kind of piecemealing it right now,” he said.

    Much of the concern is about coverage for prescription drugs. Also worrisome are the narrow networks of hospitals and doctors that insurers are using to keep premiums down. Healthy people generally shop for lower premiums, while people with health problems look for access to specialists and the best hospitals.

    Before Obama’s overhaul, insurance plans sold on the individual market could exclude prescription coverage. Now the debate is over what’s fair to charge patients.

    Some plans are requiring patients to pay 30 percent or more for drugs that go for several thousand dollars a month. HIV drugs, certain cancer medications, and multiple sclerosis drugs are among them.

    Although the law sets an overall annual limit on what patients are required to pay, the initial medication cost can be a shock.

    California resident Charis Hill has ankylosing spondylitis, a painful, progressive form of spinal arthritis. To manage it, she relies on an expensive medication called Enbrel. When she tried to fill her prescription the pharmacy wanted $2,000, more than she could afford.

    “Insurance companies are basically singling out certain conditions by placing some medications on high-cost tiers,” said Hill. That “is pretty blatant discrimination in my mind.”

    Hill, a biking advocate from the Sacramento area, has been able to get her medication through the manufacturer’s patient assistance program.

    The insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans says there’s no discrimination because patients have many options on the insurance exchanges. Gold and platinum plans feature lower cost-sharing, but have higher premiums. Standard silver plans generally require patients to pay a greater share of medical bills, but some have fairly robust drug coverage.

    “There are plans on the exchanges that are right for people who have these health conditions,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the group.

    For 2015, the administration says it will identify plans that require unusually high patient cost-sharing in states where Washington is running the exchange. Insurers may get an opportunity to make changes. Regulators will collect and analyze data on insurers’ networks.

    “People who have high cost health conditions are still having a problem accessing care,” said law professor Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University in Virginia. “We are in the early stages of trying to figure out what the problems are, and to what extent they are based on insurance company discrimination, or inherent in the structure of the program.”

    The post Are new health insurance policies blocking care to the sick? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ZACHARY GREEN: When we think of the word “genius”, we may think of towering figures like Shakespeare or Isaac Newton—or of seminal works of art, like Handel’s “Messiah” or the Indian epic, the Bhaghavad Gita. Now these works and dozens of others can all be seen in one room.

    They’re part of a new exhibition called “Marks of Genius”, which is on display at the Morgan Library in New York City until September 28th. On loan from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England, the exhibit features priceless manuscripts and artifacts: a copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Fragments containing the work of the Greek poetess, Sappho. A 12th century Arabic manuscript on the constellations. Even a copy of the Magna Carta. All of them intended to reflect the idea of genius throughout world history.

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: The sort of inspiration or genius of creation goes across all formats, all levels of human creativity. So you’re able to see that through putting a printed book from the 20th century next to a medieval manuscript from the 15th. Through something from Western Europe next to something from Persia.

    ZACHARY GREEN: John McQuillen is the curator in charge of the “Marks of Genius” exhibition at the Morgan Library. An expert in medieval art history, McQuillen has also had to familiarize himself with the nearly 60 pieces from different time periods and from all over the world.

    McQuillen says that one of the exhibition’s goals is to challenge some of the more modern ideas about what genius is and who possesses it.

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: In Western civilization over the centuries– genius did become something that was– a divine gift given to only a few. But I think now we are sort of returning to an idea that– everyone is capable of this and that genius is something that we all possess, whether we– it comes to fruition and we show it or not.

    And it now even could be getting a little bit overused. “This book is genius. This blog is genius. This Facebook post is genius.”

    ZACHARY GREEN: I mean, a that’s kind of like a democratization of the–

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: Yes–

    ZACHARY GREEN: –word genius, this idea that it’s a quality that everybody possesses in one form or another. But you can also look at an exhibition like this and say, “Everyone might have a spark of genius within them, but these are the works that we’ve kind of chosen to, to set up on high as the–the truer works of genius.”

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: I think some of it is completely by chance, what we decide is a work of genius and what is not. I think part of what genius is that there is an afterlife to it. You have created, or made something, written something that has an impact, that has influence even for ten years, 50 years– 500 years, 1,000 years. If it still speaks to generations later, they might consider it an act of genius.

    ZACHARY GREEN: So genius in that sense isn’t necessarily linked to your IQ score or how well you do in school.

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: Yeah. We tend now to sort of think of genius as– kind of a synonym for Einstein– as just someone who was brilliant usually in math or science. But you have aspects of artistic and literary genius, genius in problem solving, in fashion design–choices that are inspired somehow that you can equate to being a mark of genius.

    ZACHARY GREEN: McQuillen says that one way of discovering how genius is inspired is by going back to an original source—such as the pieces in the exhibition. And one thing they show is that genius is not always created in a vacuum. Take this original handwritten manuscript of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

    McQuillen says that its backstory shows how genius is often the product of place and circumstance. The novel might not even exist, were it not for a vacation in Switzerland that Mary Shelley took in 1816 with her future husband, the poet, Percy Shelley, and their friend, Lord Byron.

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: Lord Byron proposed that they have a competition to write the best ghost story, one evening, Byron and Shelley were having a conversation about the reanimation of people and if you can bring something or someone back to life.

    And after that, she had a very sleepless night and this sort of waking dream, where she saw Dr. Frankenstein with this creation. And from this sort of vision, she, you know, had the idea for the novel, “Frankenstein”.

    ZACHARY GREEN: Since the story’s conception, “Frankenstein” has been popularized in many different forms—including multiple film adaptations.

    DR. FRANKENSTEIN: It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!

    ZACHARY GREEN: But what appeared on screen was not necessarily what Mary Shelley originally envisioned. In fact, her companions’ influence went beyond the inspiration for the story we all know today.

    DR. FRANKENSTEIN: It’s alive!

    ZACHARY GREEN: As the manuscript at the Morgan’s exhibition shows us, Mary’s lover, Percy Shelley, helped to edit her novel. One alteration he made, in particular, stands out.

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: One of the main things that he did change was the last sentence of the work.

    ZACHARY GREEN: The last sentence of “Frankenstein”—

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: The last sentence. He—he had to get that in. The way Mary wrote it, the Creature—Dr. Frankenstein’s creation—leaps from a ship onto an ice flow and pushes away from the ship and sort of sails off into the distance. But you’re left with this idea that he is going on to live somewhere else.

    In Percy Shelley’s revision of that, the Creature jumps off onto the ice flow and the ice flow takes him away, but you’re left really unsure whether the Creature is alive or dead, and he just falls off into the darkness. So that’s really one of the major changes in how that novel ends and what happens to the creature.

    ZACHARY GREEN: McQuillen says that this story is indicative of the way that the Shelleys and many artists and thinkers throughout history have influenced each other.

    ZACHARY GREEN: So, this idea of genius, sitting alone in a room, working furiously—not necessarily true in all cases—

    JOHN MCQUILLEN: No, I think, uh, genius always needs a little bit of help.

    ZACHARY GREEN: McQuillen says that details like this might make the process of genius more understandable—and help all the rest of us appreciate it.

    The post Beyond Einstein: Exhibit challenges scope of genius appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Morgan Library’s “Marks of Genius” exhibit in New York City features nearly 60 works — both well-known and obscure — that help to illustrate what we mean when we say the word “genius.”

    The collection comes on-loan from the Bodelian Library at Oxford University in England, which since 1610 has received a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom. The collection currently at the Morgan spans both history and the globe.

    Here are just a few pieces from the “Marks of Genius” exhibit.

    1b. Shakespeare First Folio

    William Shakespeare’s “Comedies, Histories & Tragedies” (The First Folio). Credit: The Bodleian Library, Oxford

    Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’ holds some of the playwright’s earliest and most celebrated work

    Although many of William Shakespeare’s plays had been published individually during his lifetime, the First Folio — published seven years after his death in 1623 — marked the first time that a collected edition of his works was printed.

    Of the 36 plays that were included in the manuscript, half of them had never been in print before. Without the First Folio, it’s very likely that plays such as Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It would have been lost to us forever.

    The copy of the First Folio on display at the Morgan was the one originally given to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, England in 1623. However, just over forty years later, it left the Bodleian’s shelves for over two centuries.

    According to John McQuillen, the curator of the “Marks of Genius” exhibit, the Bodleian sold their copy of the First Folio around 1664 when the Third Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was printed. “It was, in 1664-eyes, a better edition,” said McQuillen. “It was modern. It was brand-new. Why keep your old book around?”

    The Bodleian’s First Folio remained in private hands for many years after that and its whereabouts were unknown until 1905, when it suddenly popped up in the hands of an Oxford undergraduate who had taken it to the Bodleian Library to ask for advice about having it rebound.

    Once word got out about the recently discovered manuscript, an anonymous buyer offered the owners a bid of 3,000 pounds to purchase it (over $531,000 by 2014 standards). The owners offered the Bodleian the chance to match the offer, but lacking the funds to match such an extraordinary sum at the time, the Library decided to launch its first public fundraising campaign.

    Although Oxford graduates were approached about donating to the campaign, many of the donations came in the form of small sums from people with no connection to the Bodleian Library at all, both from the United Kingdom and from US. “It was… what you might call an early ‘Kickstarter’ campaign,” McQuillen said.

    Through these donations, the Bodleian was able to raise enough money to purchase back the book that had been lost to them for nearly 250 years.

    And the anonymous buyer who offered the initial astronomical sum? He was later revealed to be Henry Clay Folger, who would go on to found the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, which houses the largest collection of First Folios in the world.

    Learn more on the Bodleian’s website.

    9. Sappho

    Sappho, fragments of poems. Graeco-Roman Egypt, second century AD. Credit: The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

    Sappho fragments are only known work remaining from the lyric poet

    The seventh-century BCE Greek lyric poet, Sappho, was described in antiquity as “the Tenth Muse.” She is said to have written around nine books of poetry, but most of her work has been lost to time.

    Though they were produced centuries after her death, these scraps of papyrus now on display at the “Marks of Genius” exhibition are some of the only known work of Sappho’s that remain — and they were found in a rather inauspicious location. Archaeologists in 1897 discovered them in an ancient trash heap near a small Arab village in Egypt.

    McQuillen suggests that the reason that the work of one of the most celebrated poets of her time should be discarded in such a fashion may be because the popularity of Sappho’s style of poetry had begun to falter.

    “Her dialect of Greek was not taught in schools anymore and the interest in… ancient Greek lyric poetry sort of waned. And so, through both of those things, Sappho wasn’t read or studied anymore, and so she then tended to end up in trash dumps.”

    The following is a translation of some of the lines from these few fragments, without which, McQuillen said, “we wouldn’t have them at all.”

    For some, it’s an army of chariot fighters, for others, an infantry corps,
    For others, an armada of sailing ships, on the dark face of this earth,
    That is the loveliest thing of all, but I say it’s this and nothing more:
    Whatever you desire with love in your heart.

    And this is the simplest thing in the world to explain
    To everyone: for the woman who far surpassed all others
    in beauty, Helen, chose to abandon her husband
    who surpassed all other men…

    I would rather watch her love-provoking stride
    and witness the bright sparkle of her face
    than all the war chariots of the Lydians
    and shield-fighting armored men.

    (Translation copyright © 2008 Richard Welland Crowell)

    See more more on the Bodleian’s website, including audio of these lines recited in both English and Greek.

    18. Ptolemy

    Ptolemy (ca. 90 – ca. 168) Credit: The Bodleian Library, Oxford

    The Geography of Ptolemy offers historic world view

    During the time of the Roman Empire, the Greco-Egyptian geographer and astronomer, Ptolemy, wrote what would become the basis for all geographic knowledge throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern period. This map is part of a book published in Germany in 1486, and it illustrates Ptolemy’s calculations of what the world looked like.

    But of more fascination to some may be who once owned this particular copy of this book. It once made up part of the library of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who funded Columbus’s 1492 expedition to the East Indies, which lead to the European discovery of the New World.

    Ferdinand and Isabella gave this book to the Venetian ambassador to Spain in 1495, but McQuillen suggests that before that, it may have had some influence on Columbus’s journey.

    “This book was actually in their library in the 1490s… It would have been available for them to look at, for Columbus, if it was something that was shown,” he said. “An image like this might have, you know, been something Columbus had seen, if not this very book, but at least something that could have inspired… his journey to the West.”

    Even though, from a modern standpoint, this map has become completely inaccurate (North and South America are missing and Africa’s southern tip disappears from the map, looping around back to Asia and thereby turning the Indian Ocean into a large lake), McQuillen said that it illustrates how new knowledge builds on top of findings and discoveries that came before it.

    “What Ptolemy did was set the foundations for all geography thereafter,” he said. “You need one person to start the ball rolling and then you can build on that. And that’s what genius does… It builds on the shoulders of your forbearers.”

    For more works from the “Marks of Genius” exhibition that show how genius is inspired by its predecessors, visit the Bodleian Library here.

    The post From Shakespeare to Sappho: Read the stories behind three artifacts of genius appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized a second autopsy of Michael Brown to be conducted by a federal medical examiner. Scott Olson, Getty Images News

    A protestor holds up a photograph of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized a second autopsy of  Brown to be conducted by a federal medical examiner.
    Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images News

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered the Department of Justice Sunday to oversee a second autopsy of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old shot by police officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.

    Holder’s decision came a week after Brown’s family and attorney, Ben Crump, called on the Justice Department to conduct a federal autopsy to ensure objectivity in the case.

    In a statement, Justice Department Spokesman Brian Fallon said that while a second autopsy will take place as soon as possible, “officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.”

    Brown’s first autopsy was performed by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office on Aug. 10.

    Brown’s death has since sparked days of protests and unrest in Ferguson. The incident became a hot-button issue with pervasive media coverage, prompting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to declare a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb and impose a curfew between midnight and 5 a.m.

    The post Holder orders second autopsy of Michael Brown appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A hitchhiking robot has completed a 3,700-mile journey across Canada Sunday, capping off a research project that explores the relationship between robots and humans.

    A team of researchers from a group of Canadian universities created hitchBOT, a talking robot made out of a bucket, garden gloves and rain boots that set out on its coast-to-coast Canadian trip in Nova Scotia on July 26. It finished the journey in Victoria, British Columbia.

    hitchBOT was brought to life to “explore topics in human-robot-interaction and to test technologies in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and processing,” researchers said in a press release.

    “Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots,” said Dr. Frauke Zeller, Assistant Professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. “This project asks: can robots trust human beings?”

    hitchBOT is programmed with mobile technology and outfitted with a GPS system and speech recognition software. It can carry out conversations in person as well as on social media.

    While the robot can’t move on its own and depends on humans for travel, it can stand and its arms, made out of pool noodles, are always outstretched to catch the attention of drivers from the side of the road. A car seat attached to its torso makes it easy to strap it into a vehicle with a seat belt.

    Because it was developed to be a social robot, hitchBOT’s creators encouraged passersby to pick up hitchBOT if they happened upon it during its cross-country trip. People can ask hitchBOT about its creation, personal history and even its family, the press release said.

    “What we wanted to do is situate robotics and artificial technologies into unlikely scenarios and push the limits of what it’s capable of,” David Smith, the robot’s co-creator and professor at Ontario’s McMaster University told The Associated Press. “It’s challenging but it can also be highly engaging and entertaining as hitchBOT has proven.”

    The robot has proven popular among Canadians and has attended social events on his journey, including a wedding and an Aboriginal powwow.

    And unlike many human hitchhikers, hitchBOT didn’t have much trouble finding rides.

    “Social and traditional media have really ensured that HitchBOT is well-known,” Smith told the AP. “Some (drivers) have tried to search its location. And in most cases, hitchBOT has had multiple offers.”

    hitchBOT is a collaborative research project by researchers from Ryerson University, McMaster University and NSCAD University.

    The post Bumming rides, hitchhiking robot completes Canadian journey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday defended the veto that led a grand jury to indict him on two felony counts of abuse of power, noting that even some Democrats have questioned the move by prosecutors.

    “I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas, and if I had to do it again I would make exactly the same decision,” Perry, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said.

    Already the longest-serving governor in state history, Perry has made it clear that he plans to complete his third and final term in January as planned. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” the governor noted that David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, had called the indictment “sketchy” while Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz had questioned the move.

    “Across the board you’re seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm. This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences in this country,” Perry said. “You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.”

    A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto state funds to the local district attorney, an elected Democrat, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving. That 2013 veto prompted a criminal investigation.

    Perry said he had lost confidence in the prosecutor and had been clear about his intentions to veto the funding. The governor said Sunday that the indictment reflected a larger problem of government agencies not following the rule of law, pointing to the Internal Revenue Service scandal in Washington and concerns about National Security Agency surveillance.

    Several Republicans have come to Perry’s defense and the governor has received words of support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

    “This is the criminalization of just the legislative function and when you do that you weaken democracy. This is certainly a political attack, and this is very bad precedent,” said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

    Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. The charges came as he has sought to reintroduce himself to Republican leaders and rank-and-file party members eager to win back the White House. Several stumbles during his presidential bid in 2012 led to his early departure from the race.

    Perry’s veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state’s ethics watchdog housed in the county district attorney’s office. A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group, which accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.

    That unit of public corruption investigators is based in Austin, a liberal haven in the mostly conservative state. Voters in the county reliably elect a Democrat to serve as district attorney.

    Perry said Saturday he was confident that he would prevail and said those responsible for this “farce of a prosecution” would be held accountable.

    Many Democrats criticized Perry’s aggressive reaction to the indictment and accused him of trying to shift the blame.

    Yet state Sen. Wendy Davis, the face of the party in Texas who’s running a high-profile campaign for governor, took a more cautious tone Saturday.

    “The charges that were brought down by the grand jury are very, very serious,” Davis said, adding that she trusted the justice system to do its job.

    Tensions between Republicans and the public integrity unit have simmered for years. Conservatives have long grumbled that the unit operates through a partisan lens and targets Republicans.

    Associated Press writer Douglass K. Daniel contributed to this report.

    The post Perry defends veto that led to grand jury indictment appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Here in the United States, nearly 4,000 people a year die waiting for a kidney. And while it’s illegal almost everywhere in the world to traffic in organs, there is a thriving global market. Yesterday, I spoke with Kevin Sack of The New York Times who’s been investigating the global organ trade.

    So you’ve been looking at this for a year. What did you find?

    KEVIN SACK: Well, we found that there’s organ trafficking really all over the world. I don’t know that there’s a country that’s necessarily immune, including the United States. We had a prosecution here a couple of years ago, the first prosecution of organ trafficking in this country.

    So it happens everywhere and obviously it’s just because there’s this huge demand for kidneys. People are desperate to get these organs and to save their lives.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You focused on Israel, and you said that they actually have a disproportionate influence on the global demand. How is that? Explain.

    KEVIN SACK: Well, it’s kind of remarkable but over the last 15 years just time after time when there have been prosecutions of organ traffickers, Israel always seems to have some role. Israelis are either the buyers or the sellers. Often they’re the brokers.

    And it has a lot to do with a view among orthodox rabbis that brain death, which obviously is the optimal circumstance for organ donation, is not actually death, and as a result organ donation rates in Israel are very low and people have few places to go other than the black market.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And they are trying to take some steps to change that right?

    KEVIN SACK: They are. They passed a law, a series of laws in 2008, and the numbers have improved. Significant decrease in the number of people who go out of the country.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You also looked at where they go and the supply side and you focused on Costa Rica. What’s the circumstance that people are selling their kidneys for?

    KEVIN SACK: The way we decided to go about this to sort of illustrate how organ trafficking works is to trace a network from beginning to end, and this was a network in which Israeli brokers sent mostly but not exclusively Israeli recipients to Costa Rica, where a prominent nephrologist would connect them with kidneys sold by poor Costa Ricans.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So there was a price tag and what about the health outcomes and the surgeries?

    KEVIN SACK: Well, there’s been some research — it’s not terribly conclusive — but the research that has been done suggests that people who go overseas for transplants have higher risk of injury and of organ failure and even of death and that certainly was the case with this pipeline that we examined. There were at least two Israelis who we found who got transplants in Costa Rica who had very poor outcomes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And I imagine that some of these people are being taken advantage of the poor people who are selling their kidneys. But it also raises this larger question about the ethics of a marketplace. You tackle that in your story.

    KEVIN SACK: Well, these folks have very few choices, and I think when many of us put ourselves in their circumstances of either having to buy an organ or face, say, five years on dialysis and perhaps even death before they would get to the top of the wait list.

    I think people feel that they would do the same thing if it were them or a loved one and what it really reinforces is how deep the gap is between the supply of kidneys and the demand of them. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of the need is supplied by the current availability of organs.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Kevin Sack of The New York Times, thanks so much.

    KEVIN SACK: Thanks for having me.

    The post Inside the growing global market of organ trafficking appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You, your response to some of our recent work. 

    We got a lot of email overnight about yesterday’s story profiling a company that tries to attract millennials to museums by making the museum experience more fun and by linking high works of art to pop culture.

    NICK GRAY: Taking them to a piece like this amazing sculpture of Diana that’s in the courtyard of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and how do we compare her to maybe Kim Kardashian.

     John Anthony Cheng liked the idea: “First, you have got to get people to look. I don’t  really care how….Then if the art we say we cherish is as good as we think it is, people will be intelligent enough to recognize its qualities….and eventually they too will become the hushed, contemplative fogies that museums were truly meant to attract.”

    Jonathan Robertson is a fan, too: “I think it’s an excellent idea. Once someone gets the light in the eyes from wonderment, however a tour is presented, I believe that person will return and, hopefully, donate via a membership.”

    But more of you were critical.

    Alex Lindstrom wrote: “As a 20-something, I find this distressing. Do I want people to go to museums more? Yes. But I caution what we may lose in emphasizing the pursuit of knowledge as valuable only when it entertains us.”

    Rho Huang joined in: “This won’t make kids like or appreciate art any more  or less than they did. All it does is provide legitimate reasons for them to goof around museums and annoyed the heck out of people who are there to actually enjoy arts.”

    Diane Roman isn’t a fan: “If playing games and posting selfies is all we can do to teach people to appreciate the Arts, we’re in really SAD shape.”

    And from Debbie Floria McGee: “Just another way to continue the dumbing down of America.”

    As always, let us know what you think of our stories, on Twitter, @newshour, on our Facebook page, or on our website at newshour.pbs.org. 

     

    The post Viewers respond to millennial-friendly museum tours appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    With the aid of U.S. airstrikes, on Sunday, Kurdish forces were able to regain partial control of the Mosul Dam which Islamic State extremists captured nearly two weeks ago.

    In early August, Islamic State forces moved into Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq and captured a border crossing and the Mosul Dam, as well as villages populated by an Iraqi religious minority, the Yazidis.

    The U.S. began its campaign against Islamic State forces on Aug. 8, to prevent the extremist group from taking the city of Irbil and protect Yazidis from violence.

    On Sunday, the U.S. deployed a wider array of military aircraft than in past offensives on the Islamic State, including land-based bombers, fighter jets, attack planes and unmanned drones.

    The airstrikes destroyed 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint belonging to the Islamic State, according to the AP.

    The offensive allowed Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, to push Islamic State forces eastward and retake towns including Tel Kasouf.

    “The west is in control of peshmerga. But there are some battles taking place in the (east) right now,”  Halgurd Hekmat, a peshmerga spokesman told the AP.

    The post Kurdish forces move to retake parts of Mosul Dam appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Anti-Occupy Central protestors hold flags for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and People Republic of China during a "Walk For Peace And Universal Suffrage" on Sunday, August 17, 2014. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

    Anti-Occupy Central protestors hold flags for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and People Republic of China during a “Walk For Peace And Universal Suffrage” on Sunday, August 17, 2014. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

    Thousands braved the Hong Kong heat on Sunday for an all-day anti-Occupy movement protest rally. At issue: electoral reform in Hong Kong.

    The grassroots pro-democracy group “Occupy Central” has been pushing for greater freedoms in the 2017 elections, including the right to choose the candidates that make it onto the ballot.

    Occupy Central began staging peaceful protests at the beginning of July to coincide with the anniversary of Britain handing Hong Kong back over to China.

    Participants in the rally Sunday, sponsored by The Alliance for Peace and Democracy, are standing against Occupy’s protests. According to the BBC, supporters of the Alliance for Peace and Democracy group are concerned that Occupy Central’s plans for civil disobedience, including protests in Hong Kong’s central business district, may negatively impact Hong Kong’s relationship with China and ultimately — the Hong Kong economy.

    A number of the organizations backing The Alliance for Peace and Democracy are pro-Beijing.

    Hong Kong ’s current Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, was chosen by a 1,200-member committee. While he publicly supports electoral reform and universal suffrage, he does so within a political framework established by China’s communist authorities, The Telegraph reports.

    Sunday’s protest was the culmination of a month-long campaign in which The Alliance for Peace and Democracy claims it collected 128,624 signatures and 1.3 million actual signatures, including Chun-ying’s, at more than 20 locations throughout Hong Kong.

    The next election will be held in 2017.

    The post Thousands protest against ‘Anti-Occupy’ reform movement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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