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

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    Mendelsund used the eye for a series of publications of Kafka's books and letters. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Designer Peter Mendelsund uses a symbol of the eye in a series of re-publications of Franz Kafka’s books and letters. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but browsing the stacks of your local bookstore or public library, what makes you gravitate toward one text over another?

    It could be the work of designers like Peter Mendelsund, whose new book “Cover” was released earlier this month.

    Mendelsund is the associate art director at Alfred A. Knopf Books. A professional musician for more than a decade, he stepped away from the piano and embarked on a design career with no formal training. Eleven years later, he is a renowned designer who has put the face on hundreds of books.

    According to Mendelsund, Joyce brought samples of cloth with him to the printer -- he had specific colors in mind for his covers. The designer capitalized on that original idea. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    According to Mendelsund, James Joyce had brought samples of cloth with him to the printer — he had specific colors in mind for his covers. The designer capitalized on that original idea. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Mendelsund has a few rules that he follows when he goes about designing a book: first, it has to represent the story well.

    “It’s a serious responsibility. I like to read the work as closely as I can,” Mendelsund told senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown during a recent stop by the NewsHour studio. “It’s very important to me that the cover that ends up on the book not be in some way dissonant with the author’s project as a whole.”

    "Does a designer attempt a (truly) shocking cover, in order to properly represent the ethical disquiet that Nabokov's narrative provokes?" From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “Does a designer attempt a (truly) shocking cover, in order to properly represent the ethical disquiet that Nabokov’s narrative provokes?” From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Second, the cover has to pop. When competing against all the over books on the table, Mendelsund wants you to choose the one he designed.

    “Any cover that looks very different from all the covers around it — that cover is going to draw your eye. If all the covers on the table are colorful and you make a white cover, it may seem bland by itself, but that white cover, just by virtue of being different, will draw your eye and draw you to it.”

    Peter Mendelsund was inspired by wall stensils of the 1968 Paris riots when designing these covers for Simone de Beauvoir's "A Very Easy Death," "Adieux" and "The Woman Destroyed." From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Peter Mendelsund was inspired by wall stencils of the 1968 Paris riots when designing these covers for Simone de Beauvoir’s “A Very Easy Death,” “Adieux” and “The Woman Destroyed.” From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Another way to make a book pop? Make it pretty.

    “If you make something pretty enough, it doesn’t matter what it looks like people will want it.”

    One best seller that Mendelsund designed, Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” did just that. Unlike many other thrillers and crime novels, the cover shows no blood, silhouettes or weapons. Instead, he gravitated towards a more “delicate” look.

    Mendelsund worked on the cover for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for three months, designing almost 50 different covers. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Mendelsund worked on the cover for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for three months, designing almost 50 different covers. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “It just looked so different and hopefully was visually appealing enough that when you were in a bookstore and you saw it, at the very least you would come a little bit closer to it.”

    Sometimes Mendelsund gets it right the first time, sometimes it takes several stabs. With “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” he estimates he designed 50-70 different versions.

    He was tasked with creating the cover for the 50th anniversary of Julio Cortázar’s “Hopscotch.” In “Cover,” Mendelsund writes that some books, such as Cortázar’s, are so inspirational that he will never be satisfied.

    " I don't think I will stop making 'Hopscotch' covers." On the top left is the final design choice for the 50th anniversary cover of Julio Cortazar's "Hopscotch." The remaining five are among the many ideas that Mendelsund came up with, but did not use. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “I don’t think I will stop making ‘Hopscotch’ covers.” On the top left is the final design choice for the 50th anniversary cover of Julio Cortázar’s “Hopscotch.” The remaining five are among the many ideas that Mendelsund came up with, but did not use. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “When the book date comes around, one must produce a cover. Perhaps not thecover. But a cover,” he writes. “I don’t think I will stop making ‘Hopscotch’ covers, though.”

    Mendelsund’s book “What We See When We Read,” which investigates the act of reading itself and how readers visually interpret the words on the page, was released on the same day as “Cover.”

    Stay tuned — the PBS NewsHour will air senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Peter Mendelsund.

    You can also check out the images below to see more designs by Peter Mendelsund that are featured in his book, “Cover.”



    Mendelsund initially was cutting up paper to make birds for the cover. When he flipped over his design, he realized that he had accidentally created fire. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Mendelsund said that he initially had cut paper to make birds for the cover. When he flipped over his design, he realized that he had created something that looked like fire. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    This Foucault cover is part of a series by Mendelsund, each featuring a different related object against a white background. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    This Foucault cover is part of a series by Mendelsund, each featuring a different related object against a white background. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    "The portrait of Stalin is hanging from a real, tiny brass nail." From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “The portrait of Stalin is hanging from a real, tiny brass nail.” From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    "War and Peace" made a come-back on the best-sellers list after this printing of the book. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “War and Peace” made a comeback on the best-sellers list after this printing of the book. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Each jacket of Mark Z. Danielewski's "The Fifty Year Sword" is perforated differently by a special spike axle in China that was created for this design. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    Each jacket of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “The Fifty Year Sword” is perforated differently by a special spike axle that was created in China for this design. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    "Plato's Republic as 1971 Chermayeff & Geismar Pan Am World's poster. 'Come for the flickers shadows -- stay for the theory of forms.'" From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “Plato’s ‘Republic’ as 1971 Chermayeff & Geismar Pan Am World’s poster. ‘Come for the flickering shadows — stay for the theory of forms.’” From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    "A boy beset by codes. The symbols over his eye, and the one that appears on, but almost in his mouth, have an aspect of afflication (an eye-patch and a ball-gag) as well as an aspect of adornment." From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    “A boy beset by codes. The symbols over his eye, and the one that appears on, but almost in his mouth, have an aspect of affliction (an eye-patch and a ball-gag) as well as an aspect of adornment.” From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    This was one of Mendelsund's original designs for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" before the title of the book was changed. From Cover by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    This was one of Mendelsund’s original designs for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” before the title of the book was changed. From “Cover” by Peter Mendelsund, published by powerHouse Books

    The post The art of designing ‘Ulysses,’ ‘Lolita’ and ‘The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Open, online courses are reshaping classrooms, giving motivated students the chance to learn online for free and creative tough questions for college administrators. Photo Credit: John Loo

    Open, online courses are reshaping classrooms, giving motivated students the chance to learn online for free and creative tough questions for college administrators. Photo Credit: John Loo


    Massive, open, online courses could be reshaping the typical college classroom. Tonight, PBS NewsHour Weekend Anchor Hari Sreenivasan looks at how in the third story in his Rethinking College series.

    The classes, known as MOOCs, were once hailed as the next big disruption to traditional higher education, opening the door to a college education to anyone, anywhere in the world. But the low percentage of students who complete such classes on their own, and the fact that most people who sign up for MOOCs already have a college degree, have educators rethinking how the new format for college coursework can best be put to use.

    Instead of thinking of MOOCs as a self-directed route to a college education, Georgia Tech has taken both massive and open out of the equation and is using the format of short video lectures and online coursework to offer a $6,000 master’s degree in computer science.

    Other universities are still wrestling with the decision concerning whether to recognize students’ work in the free courses offered by organizations like edX, Coursera and Udacity.

    Earlier this month On Campus, the higher education desk at Boston’s WGBH, looked into what college and universities leaders are thinking about how MOOCs that students independently might fit into their formal college career.

    They also spoke with Johnathan Haber, who is writing a book about his experience completing a self-designed MOOC philosophy bachelor’s degree. Highlights of their conversation appear below.

    ON CAMPUS: First of all, why would you want to take so many open online courses?

    HABER: I originally discovered MOOCS at the end of 2012. At that time there was a lot of talk that MOOCS were going to revolutionize education, going to rock higher education to its foundations. As I read more I realized a lot of the people commenting on MOOCS all had something in common. They had not actually taken many of them, are even one of them. And I realized to get a real sense of what they could and couldn’t do, I couldn’t just take one course, I needed to take enough coursers to be able to get a real sense of what they’re like from different technology platforms, different providers, different universities, different professors and that was genesis of my degree of freedom project.

    ON CAMPUS: What was it like to complete all these courses and what did your typical day look like?

    HABER: I decided I was going to take these coursers as a seriously as residential college courses, so this is what I did for the year: I took the courses as well as writing about the experience. I structured my day very much like a college day in that I scheduled classes for different times of the day. I would take my Einstein’s relativity course at 11 on Monday, Wednesday Friday. I would take my Greek Hero Class on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I found actually without that structure, without treating it like a real college class, it is really difficult to take a MOOC from beginning to end because they’re not passive learning, there’s actual active learning, note taking, close paying attention, not multi-tasking.

    ON CAMPUS: What was the workload? How many courses did you end up taking?

    HABER: The total ended up being 34 courses that matched the distribution and degree requirements for a B.A. in philosophy. Not all were MOOCS- in some cases I found other free learning tools that would help me meet my degree requirements. Of the MOOC category there was an interesting kind of intimacy created by the course itself. I can think of a course I took from Harvard on the Ancient Greek Hero. The way the videos were structured were as conversations between the professors and his colleagues and his students. In an interesting way, the thing that should be the most impersonal, video lectures, created a sense of intimacy that I did not find in other learning methods.

    ON CAMPUS: What’s your opinion on course credit?

    HABER: You need to keep in mind that not all MOOCs are created equal. Some of the courses I took went on for 14-17 weeks and required several papers or some pretty rigorous tests. Others went on for just 6-8 weeks, and you could pass by just answering some relatively easy multiple choice questions. And I think that’s by design. Professors have different goals for their class; Some are very much trying to replicate an existing residential class and put as much syllabus material as they can on the web, and others feel liberated from the semester system and can teach just that chunk of material that they really love and wrap it into a 6-8 week course. So it’s very hard to calibrate and simply say a MOOC is a college course, because it’s not.


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

    The post Still little consensus on role of massive, online courses in higher education appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    newswrap

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    GWEN IFILL: Pro-Russian rebel forces opened a new front in Ukraine today, fighting their way into a key southeastern town. Novoazovsk lies in a strategic location astride the road that links Russia to Crimea. Up to now, fighting had not reached that far south.

    Ukraine also reported more Russian soldiers and armored vehicles have crossed the border. The State Department said it appears a — quote — “Russian-directed counteroffensive” is under way in support of Ukrainian rebels.

    United Nations investigators are once again accusing the Syrian government of poison gas attacks against its own people. An independent commission said today there’s evidence the Syrian military used chlorine gas at least eight times in April. The targets were villages in the north where Islamic State fighters now have control.

    Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared victory today in the latest war in Gaza. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died before a cease-fire took effect last night.

    Netanyahu spoke today at a news conference in Jerusalem.

    BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): With the establishment of the cease-fire, I can say that there has been a huge military achievement here and also a political achievement for the state of Israel. Hamas was hit hard and didn’t get any of the demands they made as a condition for the cease-fire, not even one.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, Gazans streamed back to communities reduced to rubble by seven weeks of fighting. Thousands of homes were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving many people weary after the third round of fighting since 2007.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned today the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will get worse. Dr. Tom Frieden spoke during a visit to Liberia. Meanwhile, security forces there fired live rounds at a crowd trying to break a quarantine on their neighborhood. At least four people were hurt. The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,400 people so far.

    President Obama will push for an international climate accord that doesn’t require Senate approval. A White House spokesman confirmed the new strategy today. He said the accord would — quote — “name and shame” countries that fail to reduce fossil fuel emissions, but it wouldn’t be legally binding. Republicans and Democrats have said there’s no way a formal treaty will get through the Senate.

    The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, faces preliminary charges of negligence in a French corruption scandal. The announcement involves her former role as France’s finance minister in awarding $500 million to a businessman who sued a state-owned bank. Lagarde says the accusations are without basis.

    In economic news, the Congressional Budget Office projected economic growth at just 1.5 percent this year. And Wall Street had a lackluster day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 15 points to close at 17,122. The Nasdaq slipped a point to close at 4,569 and the S&P 500 added a fraction to stay above 2,000.

    The post News Wrap: UN investigators accuse Syrian government of additional poison gas attacks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    americanjihadist

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    GWEN IFILL: There was continued shock today over the discovery that a 33-year-old American man was killed fighting for Sunni militants in Syria. The Californian is not the first American who has given his life for jihadi causes in the war-torn country, and the FBI warns that there are dozens more like him out there.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department Spokeswoman: We, of course, use every tool we have to disrupt and dissuade individuals from traveling abroad for violent jihad, and to track and engage those who return.

    GWEN IFILL: The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain has once again highlighted the issue of Americans joining jihadist groups. He reportedly died near Aleppo, fighting with Islamic State forces against the Western- backed Free Syrian Army.

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki:

    JEN PSAKI: We previously were aware of his presence in Syria and his affiliation with ISIL.

    GWEN IFILL: The 33-year-old McCain grew up in Minnesota, and later lived in Southern California, attending San Diego City College. It’s unclear exactly when he traveled to Syria, but online postings show he’d been drawn to the militants also known as ISIL or ISIS.

    On Twitter, McCain went by the name Duale Khalid. In late June, he re-tweeted a post that read: “It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS.”

    McCain wasn’t the only radicalized American to travel to the battlefront.

    MONER MOHAMMAD ABU-SALHA: You think you’re safe where you are?

    GWEN IFILL: Florida-born Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria last May. He’d joined the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaida. And, last year, a Michigan woman was killed by pro-government forces in Syria.

    FBI Director James Comey says about 100 Americans have joined the fight there. They follow the likes of American John Walker Lindh, captured in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban in 2001. He’s now serving 20 years in a federal prison.

    The State Department said today it is looking into reports that a second American died in the same Syrian battle that took McCain’s life last weekend.

    For more on why Americans and other Westerners join Islamic extremist groups, we turn to Jessica Stern, a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard University, and the author of “Terror in the Name of God.”  She served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration. And Humera Khan, the executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that focuses on countering violent extremism.

    So how typical, Humera Khan, is this?

    HUMERA KHAN, Muflehun: In terms of going off and trying to fight — join ISIS, trying to fight in Syria and Iraq, there is no nationality which is exempt.

    We have seen people from many, many countries going. And so being American doesn’t mean there is any less likelihood. We see a lot of movement from Europe. We know that there is — the last numbers which have come out from the government are that there has been about 140 known Americans who have actually gone to Syria to fight.

    GWEN IFILL: Jessica Stern, how does that compare to Westerners drawn from other countries? We saw in the execution video of James Foley — at least we heard that his executioner appeared to have a British accent.

    JESSICA STERN, Harvard University: Yes.

    There are about 50 countries from which jihadis have volunteered to go and fight in Syria. And what studies show is that they’re not necessarily religious zealots. Indeed, they may be rather ignorant about Islam. Quite a few of them actually are converts. They are often quite marginalized. They often have bad encounters or unhappy encounters with the police.

    They may have had an identity crisis. They feel more connected with a group abroad than with their neighbors.

    GWEN IFILL: What does it mean, Humera Khan, that, as Jessica Stern says, that they are converts, so they are almost like people who quit cigarettes, in that they are more passionate about it than people who are born to it or people who never — who never stopped?

    What is it about the conversion which might make some of these people more radical?

    HUMERA KHAN: I think it’s conversion, but it’s not just conversion, because you also — we are also seeing people who are culturally Muslim, right, and they actually haven’t had much exposure to the traditional or classical teachings.

    And so this is a group which is — they have limited information about classical teaching of religion itself. They might have been — committed criminal acts. They have been involved in all sorts of other problems in the past. So, for them, it’s a matter of proving that, oh, we can actually — we have now become good. They’re trying to make amends in a particular way.

    And they’re trying to find a sort of like shortcut to heaven. Now, most people when they do something bad in the past, right, a regular believer will say, OK, I need to repent, I need to do good deeds, I need to maybe go for a hajj. I will pray.

    Those are the regular things you do. But these — they have such a superficial understanding of religion, that they actually go down the path of, well, maybe if I do this, this will be my shortcut and it get me away suddenly into — and it will save me.

    GWEN IFILL: Jessica Stern, a shortcut to heaven, OK, if this is what is drawing some people to these causes, does ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State group, does that provide an easier path in?

    JESSICA STERN: Well, I think we also need to remember that these are people who actually want to kill.

    A lot of people want to right injustices around the world, and they become physicians and heal people, for example, of Ebola, or they work for human rights groups. These are people who think that by killing civilians, they have a quicker pathway to heaven. And it is really sad, as Humera said, is that often this happens among people who really don’t know very much about traditional teachings of Islam.

    GWEN IFILL: But what about this — about ISIS’ role? Is — we have been dealing with al-Nusra Front, with al-Qaida. Over the years, Humera Khan, we have seen this happen, even in Afghanistan with John Walker Lindh all those years ago. Is there something about ISIS which makes it more accessible to these people?

    HUMERA KHAN: Actually, there’s two parts to it, right?

    One is that ISIS is a lot more open or encouraging or welcoming to foreign fighters. And so they are they are — they’re one of few groups which is openly calling out to them, much more so than other groups.

    I was actually — our organization looks at people or tries to keep people from actually joining terrorist groups, trying to step — step away from terror, violent terrorism. So in one of the cases, we actually ask, why, why ISIS? Why specifically did you want to join ISIS vs. anyone else?

    And the response was because of its international flavor, and because they have this — this — they have now got a reputation of having an international flavor, so you find a lot of other nationalities. It’s actually more attractive to people going from the West, because, in some of the other groups who are fighting on the ground right now, they’re not looking for foreign fighters, right?

    You talk to some of the people from FSA, and they actually — they expect the Syrians to step up, right? Jabhat al-Nusra has fewer foreign fighters. And they have a lot more vetting which goes on, because they are part of al-Qaida. And al-Qaida has its own thing. They are very careful on who they let in.

    GWEN IFILL: Jessica Stern, and yet Syria somehow has become ground zero for this. Is it because of anti-Western activity, anti-Assad activity? What is it about Syria that has proved so attractive?

    JESSICA STERN: Well, I think that part of the answer has to be the sophisticated recruiting online presence. It’s really quite extraordinary, the care with which these recruitment videos are made.

    And if you compare what those recruitment videos look like with the State Department’s response online, you can see how much more sophisticated we really need to get to be in order to counter this — really a kind of fad, a horrible fad.

    GWEN IFILL: So, Humera Khan, this is not just people searching out and finding a group like ISIS. ISIS and groups like it are actively reaching out.

    HUMERA KHAN: Well, yes, because when people show that there is a willingness, that they have sympathies towards the cause, or they are sympathetic towards what is happening on the ground, then it is actually much easier for recruiters to find them. And then they groom them.

    So this is not an overnight process. They actually actively groom them, try to get them to trust and build relationships. And then the conversations which start off on social media actually move offline. So, then they start doing things like e-mails. They will Skype. There’s — the personal relationship is built, and also that’s how they are helping them or teaching them what they should do next.

    They are indoctrinating them in their ideology, right, completely changing — teaching them things which are — they can’t distinguish right from wrong. And then they are actually helping them — or trying to help them get into on-the-ground fighting.

    GWEN IFILL: And, Jessica Stern, Turkey — just logistically and physically, Turkey is the way in, that border, for people to get where they want to be. Why is that? How is that?

    JESSICA STERN: Because the border apparently is quite open. It’s very hard to police that border. And ISIS is quite active in that area.

    So, yes, that is one of the problems. It’s unusually easy to get there for Europeans.

    GWEN IFILL: And, Jessica Stern, is the U.S. government on top of this? Is there any way of knowing whether we’re watching this carefully enough?

    JESSICA STERN: I am concerned that the U.S. government maybe wasn’t really paying all that much attention until fairly recently.

    This has been going on since 2003. And I think we left Iraq quite precipitously. We weren’t paying attention to what was going on. And, of course, ISIS, the Islamic State, comes directly out of a group, al-Qaida in Iraq, that was formed as a result of our invasion. It’s not new. It’s just a new name.

    This is what happens with al-Qaida-related groups. They’re constantly changing their names, merging, splitting and so on. But this is not a new phenomenon. It didn’t start when an American was beheaded.

    GWEN IFILL: Jessica Stern, Harvard University, and Humera Khan of Muflehun, thank you both very much.

    The post Why do foreign fighters join the Islamic State? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    jamesfoley_discussion

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    GWEN IFILL: Now we will take a closer look at some of the victims of Muslim extremists, Americans who have been taken hostage.

    Jeffrey Brown take a look tonight at the long, complicated and often unsuccessful process of bringing them home.

    JEFFREY BROWN: American journalist Peter Theo Curtis spoke publicly for the first time since he was released in Syria on Sunday.

    PETER THEO CURTIS, Freed Journalist: I have learned bit by bit that there have been literally hundreds of people, brave, determined and big-hearted people all over the world, working for my release. They have been working for two years on this.

    I had no idea when I was in prison. I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf. And now, having found out, I am just overwhelmed with emotion.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The 45-year old Curtis spent 22 months in captivity, held by the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate. His freedom came days after a video was released showing James Foley, another American journalist, beheaded by Islamic State militants.

    They also threatened to kill 31-year-old journalist Steven Sotloff unless the U.S. halted airstrikes against their forces in Iraq.

    Today, in her own video, Sotloff’s mother appealed directly to the Islamic State’s leader.

    All of this has renewed focus on the U.S. refusal to pay ransoms for the return of hostages, a policy that differs from many European countries. It’s also been reported that Islamic State is holding yet another American, a 26-year-old female aid worker.

    SHIRLEY SOTLOFF: As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over. I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Mohammed, who protected people of the book. I want what every mother wants, to live to see her children’s children. I plead with you to grant me this.

    The post American hostages renew focus on U.S. ransom policy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    hostages1

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    JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now, David Rohde, an investigative reporter for Reuters. He’s a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and former reporter for The New York Times, where he was working when he was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008. He escaped after seven months in captivity. And Brian Jenkins, a terrorism and security expert who has advised in hostage negotiations, he’s a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation.

    Brian Jenkins, let me start with you.

    Explain first for us the thinking behind the U.S. policy to not pay ransoms?  And to what degree does that govern third parties from stepping in and negotiating?

    BRIAN JENKINS, RAND Corporation: Well, the U.S. policy is that the U.S. government itself will not pay ransom, will not release prisoners, will not make other concessions to terrorists holding hostages.

    It does so in part on a belief that by holding to a no-concessions position, it will deter future kidnappings of Americans or, at the very least, were it to abandon that position, that is, to express a willingness to negotiate in these cases, that that would only really paint a target on the back of American citizens abroad.

    U.S. policy doesn’t prohibit negotiations by others from attempting to ransom people, nor does it preclude creative diplomacy, as we may have seen a demonstration of in the — in the Curtis case. The other part of not paying ransom, though, is also based on the fact that the ransoms are used to finance further terrorist operations.

    The report is that ISIS demanded $130 million for the return of James Foley. Now, that’s the equivalent of several hundred thousand AK-47s on the black market or the equivalent of more than 200 9/11 operations as financed by al-Qaida.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask David Rohde, because, as we said, in the case of Peter Theo Curtis, there was speculation that might have been intervention and help from Qatar in this case.

    Does that sound possible or likely, given the way these things work?  What do you think about the policy?

    DAVID ROHDE, Reuters: I think, in the case — first, it’s absolutely fantastic that he’s home.

    But Qatar has to answer questions. Was he was held captive for two years. And, to me, it’s very clear. There’s been rumors for a long time that Qatar was actually backing the al-Nusra Front, this al-Qaida-allied group that was holding Theo Curtis for these two years.

    And now they’re saying they just managed to get him released from this al-Qaida-aligned group. I know from my own experience in captivity, holding a captive is very labor-intensive. There’s many guards for the group. They spend a lot of money on food to keep the captive alive.

    So whoever gave Theo Curtis up had to get either something in return, you know, potentially a ransom from the Qatari government, or this shows how close, you know, Qatar’s relationship is to this al-Qaida-related group.

    And there’s a broader problem with governments. The U.S. did this in the past with the Soviets in Afghanistan. We used jihadis as proxies to fight the Soviets. But, today, it looks like Qatar and definitely Pakistan, they work with these jihadist groups. And it’s very dangerous. These groups can’t be controlled. They’re Frankensteins. And it’s a real mistake to have that policy, I believe.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, David Rohde, I did want to ask you that, because, as we said, many European countries do negotiate and give ransoms. They deny it, but it is apparently widely known that they do it.

    So there is a divergence, right, between the U.S. and other countries. And you have argued that this has been a serious problem.

    DAVID ROHDE: Well, it is — first, kidnapping is a growing problem. A colleague of mine at Reuters just wrote a story today about a Japanese man who traveled to Syria. He was sort of unstable mentally. He was homeless for a period in Japan. He’s now been taken captive.

    And I just don’t feel that this — the U.S. and British approach of no ransoms and the Europe approach of paying, it’s not working. I’m sure, in the region, that the perception is that there was a ransom paid for Theo Curtis, whether or not there was a ransom paid.

    When I was in captivity — this was now five years ago — Captain Phillips, who was famously rescued off the coast of Somalia by Navy SEALs, my Taliban kidnapper heard news about that on the local-language BBC radio broadcast. He said, no, no, there was no Navy raid. That is a lie. The U.S. secretly paid $15 million.

    So, you know, kidnapping is working. They’re getting huge amounts of money. And there needs to be a more coordinated approach.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Brian Jenkins, is it possible to have a more coordinated approach?  Or are these things just so politically sensitive that every country is going to make its own decision in each case?

    BRIAN JENKINS: I think it’s unlikely that we will see a coordinated international policy in dealing with these episodes.

    First of all, as already pointed out, the governments have different positions on this. A kidnapping of a hostage of any nationality creates a crisis for that particular government. As we have seen in our own experience, hostage events can turn into political crises, for the Carter administration during the abduction of the Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, for the Reagan administration when it was revealed that, contrary to U.S. policy, the U.S. had secretly sold arms in an effort to spring the hostages being held in Lebanon.

    The European governments are pragmatic about this. They say rather pay a ransom than create a government — crisis that can bring down the government.

    I don’t see we’re going to — I don’t think we’re going to see a unified international position on this.

    JEFFREY BROWN: What about — David Rohde, we also saw today the mother of Steven Sotloff speaking out in that video. How usual or unusual is that?  What role do families typically play?  And what is their relationship with the government in cases like this?

    DAVID ROHDE: I mean, it shows the desperation these American families face.

    And the problem with the current approach is that these European ransoms are growing. The record that I have heard of was that a state-owned French company paid $40 million for the release of four prisoners last year in Niger. That is $10 million a hostage. In a sense, these growing European ransoms skew the market.

    So the Curtis family and the Foleys — you mentioned 130 — it was mentioned earlier the $130 million demand. There is nothing they can do to possibly come up with that amount of money. The government, the American government will advice them, help them with how to handle phone calls, and these kind of things.

    But the government will not — the American government will not pay. They will turn a blind eye if a family or an organization can raise a ransom. But, again, this is a growing problem. The ransoms are rising. And it’s impossible for Americans.

    I just felt terrible for these families. It’s this sort of hidden world that they are trapped in. And they really don’t know what to do. And I applaud — I think was a very positive thing to make that announcement today by Mrs. Sotloff. Maybe, maybe it might just save her son.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will leave it there.

    David Rohde and Brian Jenkins, thank you both very much.

    DAVID ROHDE: Thank you.

    The post What does it take to free a captured American? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: Plans for a possible expansion of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State forces appeared to be firming up on two fronts today.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports from Iraq.

    MARGARET WARNER: U.S. warplanes have carried out more than 100 airstrikes in Northern Iraq in the last three weeks.  And now officials are talking openly of expanding the mission against the Islamic State forces into Syria.

    On Monday, the Pentagon said it began surveillance flights above Syria, a necessary precursor to airstrikes.  And, today, The New York Times reported the Obama administration is building a coalition of nations to support just that step.

    Presidential Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed the question at today’s White House briefing.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: I know that there are some headlines in the paper today that would lead some to believe that the U.S. has begun a new diplomatic effort in pursuit of this one goal.

    The fact is, this is — this element of our strategy is something that we have communicated on multiple occasions and will continue to be a critical part of whatever success we have.

    MARGARET WARNER: There was also talk of launching a new humanitarian mission in Northern Iraq.  It was widely reported the focus of possible U.S. action has shifted to the town of Amirli, where thousands of Shiite Turkmen are under siege by Islamic State militants.

    The Iraqi military evacuated a group of terrified women and children from the area on Monday.  And the United Nations mission in Iraq is calling for urgent action.

    Again, White House spokesman Josh Earnest:

    JOSH EARNEST: This is the kind of situation that the president has ordered military action in support of in the past.  And this particular situation is one that the president and his national security team continues to watch very closely.

    MARGARET WARNER: There are fears the Turkmen could fall victim to the same atrocities visited on others considered infidels by Islamic State fighters.

    The U.N. today accused the group of widespread war crimes in Iraq and Syria, including amputations and public executions.  At the same time, U.N. investigators voiced concern that boys forced into Islamic State training camps in Syria could be hit by any U.S. airstrikes.

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    GWEN IFILL: Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Margaret earlier today.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Margaret, let’s start with the situation in the town of Amirli, where the president has considered airstrikes or possibly even humanitarian intervention.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Hari, I have talked to people — I have tried to get people inside Amirli, have not been able to, but talked to senior Turkmen officials, people involved with them in Baghdad, who say it is desperate.

    There are 15,000 civilians trapped there.  They have been under siege for 76 days.  They are without adequate food, water or medicine.  He had harrowing stories to tell of people dying for lack of medical care.  Now, the Iraqi air force has been airdropping in supplies of food and medicine, alternated with supplies of weapons.

    But, for example, yesterday, they only got an airdrop of weapons, not a food and medicine, so it is a very, very dire situation, or, as the head of the U.N. mission in Iraq warned, there’s a real danger of a massacre, should the I.S. forces actually make their way into this town of Shiite Turkmen.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how are they defending themselves?  Is it with these airdrops of weapons?  Is that adequate?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, that was really interesting, Hari.

    You would think, how does a town of 15,000 people defend themselves against the ISIS forces?  Well, it turns out that, first of all, they’re Turkmen.  They’re tough.  And, secondly, many are veterans of the Iraqi army.  So though they are now farmers or merchants or shop owners, they know how to use weapons.

    Now, they have very old weapons.  The airdrops have helped give them weapons, but they are surrounded.  So they have to defend from every direction.  They have divided the town into areas.  And they defend all around.

    The airstrikes — I mean, the strikes by ISIS or the advances apparently take place between midnight and the morning, so they’re kind of prepared mostly for that.  But they say they can hold out for a while, but it is very, very tough.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the Iraqi Turkmen asking for in terms of help?

    MARGARET WARNER: Number one, Hari, they are saying they think their fighters can hold out for a while on that front, if the humanitarian problem is solved.

    So they want one of two things.  First of all, they want better airdrops of food, medicine and water.  The Iraqi military, I’m told, has only maybe two dozen helicopters.  They have got a lot of missions all over Iraq against the ISIS forces.  So they only get there two times a week.

    So, they really want the Americans to do what the Americans did on Sinjar Mountain, which is massive airdrops of supplies.  Secondly — and here’s where it gets problematic — they would like an evacuation corridor north toward Tuz, a town that we actually went through and had to skirt, because that is where ISIS control begins.

    And, there, they said well, yes, it has to go through three Arab villages.  A senior Kurdish military official told me today that, he thinks, will be problematic for the Americans, because they have made clear in these joint operation centers they do not want to bomb areas where there are civilians.  There are three Arab villages along that route.

    The Turkmen say, oh, well, they’re all sympathizers and partners of ISIS, as they call it.  But the Kurdish Peshmergas are not so sure that the Americans will be willing to do that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So if the U.S. does get involved, what sorts of forces would be involved in an operation?

    MARGARET WARNER: That’s also an interesting question.

    First of all, of course, clearly, the Iraqi forces.  This town, though it is called in Northern Iraq, is really equidistance between Irbil, where I am now, in the Kurdish capital, and Baghdad.  So the Iraqi forces are pretty close and their air force has been helping.

    The question is whether the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who are right down across from it — it is kind of where I was five days ago — are willing to support it.  That’s where ethnic politics comes in, in — or ethnic hostilities comes in, in Iraq.  The Turkmen and the Kurds have never been pals.  They are in contention for control of territory in Kirkuk and elsewhere, including in this kind of area, general area.

    So this Kurdish military official said to me, I’m not sure that these Shiite — Shiite Turkmen want us there.

    The Turkmen said to me, look, they shouldn’t be on the front lines, but they should help with artillery.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Margaret Warner, thanks so much.

    MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Hari.

    The post Fearing massacre in Amirli, Iraqis ask U.S. for additional support appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: Now to some domestic politics.

    One of the most closely watched gubernatorial contests this fall will be in Florida, where current Republican Governor Rick Scott and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist both scored big primary wins Tuesday night.

    With his resounding primary victory and a critical party switch, Charlie Crist moved a step closer to winning back his old job.

    CHARLIE CRIST: In 70 days, we want to make Florida Scott-free.

    GWEN IFILL: That was a shot at current Republican Governor Rick Scott, who scored his own big primary win Tuesday.

    GOV. RICK SCOTT, R-Fla.: I cleaned up Charlie Crist’s mess. He left me with a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

    GWEN IFILL: For Crist, the Democratic primary win highlights one of the political world’s more remarkable transformations. In 2008, Crist, then the state’s Republican governor, campaigned for GOP presidential nominee John McCain, even making it onto the short-list of vice presidential prospects.

    But his ties to the Grand Old Party started to fray in 2009, after he welcomed President Obama to the state a little too warmly. By 2010, he’d dropped the Republican label, running for the Senate as an independent. He ultimately lost to Republican Marco Rubio in the general election.

    And, by 2012, the former Republican had become a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention that renominated President Obama. He officially became a Democrat later that year.

    CHARLIE CRIST: I didn’t leave the Republican Party; it left me.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    GWEN IFILL: Then, last year, Crist announced he would run for his old job as a member of his new party. With early polls showing a tight race, the matchup in the Sunshine State is expected to be one of the most expensive and negative of the cycle.

    For more, we are joined by Adam Smith, political editor for The Tampa Bay Times.

    Hi there, Adam.

    So tell us the significance of this big whopping victory last night. It wasn’t just that he beat the primary opponent, but what it says for what happens next.

    ADAM SMITH, Tampa Bay Times: Yes.

    I think a lot of people are wondering Charlie Crist, lifelong Republican, can Democrats really get excited about him?  So, there was some concern from some of his allies that his underdog primary opponent could crack 30, 40 percent, and that would have been a sign of trouble.

    GWEN IFILL: So — but we still don’t know for sure whether Democrats are excited, because we have another test coming up, and turnout has always been a problem.

    ADAM SMITH: Yes, absolutely.

    And, in fact, Democratic turnout in some of the big, big strongholds in Southeast Florida, Miami-Dade, Broward County, was very weak. Historically, in off-year elections, Republicans turn out 5, 6, 7 percent higher than Democrats. So, Charlie Crist has a lot of work to do to mobilize and energize Democrats in the state.

    GWEN IFILL: We just gave a thumbnail sketch of the transformation that Governor, former Governor Crist had made in the past couple of years. And nobody has covered it more closely than you.

    How much of a swing — he says the party left him — how much of a swing from the right to the left have we seen happen with Charlie Crist?

    ADAM SMITH: It really is an only-in-Florida kind of story.

    As governor, he really was a moderate governor, and moderate Republican. Part of the reason he got into so much trouble as the Tea Party rose was because he was reaching out pretty aggressively to Democrats. He was courting the teachers union. He was courting trial lawyers.

    He was doing things on civil rights, so, you know, there are reasons that Democrats can get behind him. But then again, this is a guy that through most of his career has called himself a pro-life, pro-gun, Ronald Reagan Republican.

    GWEN IFILL: So let’s talk about the other candidate who still is a pro-life, pro-gun, Ronald Reagan Republican. And that is Rick Scott, the current incumbent governor, who is very wealthy and has demonstrated he doesn’t mind spending money.

    ADAM SMITH: Yes, he spent almost $80 million of his own money to get elected last time. And the poll numbers consistently show him as one of the very least popular governors in the country. So he should be very vulnerable.

    But this going to be a mind-bogglingly expensive race.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, he’s — if the polls show that he is not that popular, we still have what looks like a neck-and-neck race. What accounts for that?

    ADAM SMITH: Well, we still — Florida is Florida, so it is going to always be tight in these races. And we have already seen Charlie Crist was up double digits about a year ago over Rick Scott. Rick Scott spent almost $30 million already on a lot of negative ads trashing Charlie Crist. Now it looks like a dead-heat race.

    And I think you’re going to see an extremely negative campaign for the next 70 days.

    GWEN IFILL: Can Charlie Crist match Rick Scott’s fund-raising capability, maybe from in state or out of state?

    ADAM SMITH: No. You will see some — you are already seeing a fair amount of out-of-state money. There is a billionaire in California, environmentalist Tom Steyer, that is spending billions of dollars to help Charlie Crist.

    But Democrats can never match Republicans in the state of Florida, and especially they can’t match a guy who at any day could write a $20 million, $30 million, $40 million check.

    GWEN IFILL: You mentioned in your coverage of last night’s election that it was significant that Charlie Crist spent his election night in Fort Lauderdale, not in Saint Petersburg, his hometown. Explain to the rest of the country why that makes a big difference.

    ADAM SMITH: It’s interesting.

    The rule of thumb has usually been where I am, the I-4 Corridor, is your sort of centrist — Central Florida swing vote area. And that is where elections traditionally are won or lost. And it seems as if the Crist campaign really has more of a really let’s jack up the base, let’s really target those infrequent voters that maybe don’t turn out routinely in off-year elections.

    And so they’re looking heavily at Miami-Dade and South Florida for those Democratic voters that don’t usually turn out in non-presidential years.

    GWEN IFILL: It sounds a little bit like what we saw happen in Mississippi with Thad Cochran going up after nontraditional voters.

    But there is another person involved in this race. And that’s — who casts kind of a shadow, and that’s the president of the United States. They’re both in their way running with or against him.

    ADAM SMITH: Yes.

    Last time Rick Scott really ran, the nominee was Alex Sink, a chief financial officer. And Rick Scott really ran almost more against Obama and Obamacare than he did against Alex Sink.

    This year, he hasn’t been running ads against Obama, but that’s clearly part of his thinking. And Charlie Crist, unlike Alex Sink, really is not distancing himself at all. I think he is an Obama person. He campaigned hard for Obama. He spoke at the convention.

    And I think his calculation is, Obama’s approval ratings may be in the low 40s, but among those voters that he needs to get excited and he needs to turn out, the president is still very popular.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, we will all be watching.

    Adam Smith, political editor for The Tampa Bay Times, thanks.

    ADAM SMITH: Thank you.

    The post ‘Mind-bogglingly expensive’ race brews in Florida as former and current governors go head-to-head appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: Next tonight: another in our series on Rethinking College.

    Are the ivory towers of higher education delivering their product, the much sought-after sheepskin, in an old-fashioned and inefficient way? We look at online technologies that could change colleges and universities.

    Hari Sreenivasan is back with that.

    They’re handwriting on a tablet, so a white board that can handwrite on a tablet.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: When Anant Agarwal, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, decided in 2011 to offer his circuits and electronics course online for free, he was amazed by the response.

    ANANT AGARWAL, CEO, edX: I had over 150,000 students taking it from 162 countries.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And while the vast majority of students eventually dropped out, the sheer number of students who passed the course was remarkable.

    ANANT AGARWAL: Of 155,000 students that took the course, about 5 percent passed the course and earned a certificate. So that was about 7,200. That is a big number. If I were to teach on campus twice a year, both in the spring and fall semesters, I would have to teach for about 40 years before I could teach 7,200 students.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, just three years later, Agarwal’s overall online venture reaches 2.5 million students from every country in the world.

    With help from Harvard and MIT, the computer science professor founded edX, a nonprofit learning destination with a staff of more than 100.

    ANANT AGARWAL: Learners from all over the world can come in and take these great courses for free. And the courses from the great universities like Berkeley from California, or Harvard and MIT, or Tsinghua from China, or IIT Bombay, the Australian National University.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Massive open online courses, nicknamed MOOCs, initially generated huge expectations. Many hoped they would make higher education more affordable and accessible to students around the globe.

    NARRATOR: Imagine taking a class with 100,000 or more students.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But the format has met with criticism from some professors, who say computers cannot equal the quality of in-person teaching.

    SHYAM SHARMA, Stony Brook University: We want to know what you think.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Shyam Sharma is an assistant professor at writing at Stony Brook University in New York.

    SHYAM SHARMA: In our discipline, the objective of students learning is not to basically learn the content of the discipline, but instead to use the content as a context to engage in intellectual discussions, to develop their positions, intellectual positions, to debate and argue and develop critical thinking skills. And that oftentimes requires the expertise and guidance and mentoring and close connection, one-on-one support to the students.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the concerns that the existing academia has about quality is, is delivering information equal to educating someone?

    ANANT AGARWAL: So educating someone doesn’t mean just consume a set of information.

    It’s not about just watching the video and just listening to it. We have interactivity. We have problem sets and exercises that students engage with. They get feedback. And so they get to try things out and experiment with things.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier this summer, the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a group funded in part by teachers unions, created this video highly critical of MOOCs.

    NARRATOR: So far, MOOCs equals failure.

    Professor Lillian Taiz is president of the California Faculty Association.

    LILLIAN TAIZ, President, California Faculty Association: I think every single faculty member in our system worries all the time that these products come into our system making all kinds of claims, they’re going to be cheaper, they’re going to be quicker, they’re going to move people in and out faster, but nowhere in the conversation is there a discussion about the quality of the education that they are helping us provide for our students.

    ANANT AGARWAL: I really believe that we can transform education both in quality and scale and access.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Despite all his online teaching success, Agarwal agrees with critics who say online courses are no replacement for classroom instruction. He says edX can be an effective supplement.

    Agarwal points to universities that use the edX platform on campus, an approach called blended learning.

    ANANT AGARWAL: It doesn’t replace the campus. We really believe that, ultimately, the right model for learning is a blended model, where you blend the best of online and the best of in-person.

    Students watch the videos and then do a lot of interactive exercises online. And then they work in groups with the professor. And the professors answer questions and help the students and really help them learn the material. And so this is a form of blending, where you are blending the online with the in-person, to very good results.

    BRIAN WHITE, University of Massachusetts Boston: There are different interpretations.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Professor Brian White agrees. White, who has taught biology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston for 15 years, decided last fall to replace his lectures with edX instruction.

    BRIAN WHITE: I didn’t give a single lecture on any of this material. All these sort of lectures that were sacred to me that I set up for all these years were not necessary.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Instead, white used edX’s intro to biology class with lectures by MIT Professor Eric Lander, a world-renowned scientist and leader of the Human Genome Project. White says online lectures made it easy for his students to learn the material.

    BRIAN WHITE: They really like the ability to stop and rewind and watch at their own pace, to do the equivalent of saying, can you say that again? Can you say that again? Can you say that again? Can you skip over that boring part?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That allowed White to focus his time in class getting students to truly understand the lesson. He added his own materials and spliced edX content to best fit his course.

    BRIAN WHITE: I used the MOOCs lectures to show the students what they needed to do to come to class prepared, and then in class, rather than just telling them information, what I was able to do is take them the next step, so show them how to use it, fill in any cracks, deal with students’ individual issues.

    To the extent that I can be replaced by a videotape, fine, replace that part of me with a videotape and leave me to do what I do best, which is to work with students.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Unlike White, many faculty are uncomfortable with the idea of handing over lectures to another professor, and see it as a way college administrators could cut costs in the future by reducing the number of professors on campus.

    LILLIAN TAIZ: Budget cuts across the country here in California particularly have really created a crisis in public higher education. And it has been tempting on the part of our boards of trustees and our administrators to look around for cheap silver bullets.

    And there is the notion that MOOCs and online will provide that cheap silver bullet. But there is no silver bullet for higher education and education in general. You have to invest in it. You have to really understand that it is labor-intensive.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Professors, institutions and online course designers all agree that online learning is likely to play an important role in the future of higher education.

    GWEN IFILL: We will continue Rethinking College tomorrow, as Hari looks at the reinvention of the City Colleges of Chicago.

    And, online, you can read about the Department of Education’s plan rating how effective and affordable the country’s colleges really are. See what that could mean for students and financial aid.

    The post Can online courses replace a campus education? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Judith Kennedy is the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

    Judith Kennedy is the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

    Lynn, Massachusetts is 1,500 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico, but the old factory city has found itself strained because of the recent surge of Central American minors into the country.

    Mayor Judith Kennedy, who spoke at a press conference hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies this morning in Washington, is on a mission to ask for federal action as Lynn schools struggle to handle a rising tide of Central American students. Kennedy said that the minors in her city are coming from Guatemala, primarily the San Marcos region, and are sent to live with relatives in Lynn after they have been processed in San Antonio.

    “When I talk to Immigration Customs Enforcement, they mention how they have reduced detention costs by resettling 80 percent of the migrants,” said Kennedy. “But those 80 percent are going to places like Lynn that bear the costs.”

    According to Kennedy, in the 2010 to 2011 school year, the Lynn school system had 54 Central American students enrolled. As of the 2013-2014 school year, she said there were 538 in the schools.

    Almost all the new students are illiterate in both Spanish and English, she said, making their education more difficult while costing the district hundreds of more dollars per student. In addition, the law requires students to be vaccinated before attending public school and the city-provided vaccinations have seen a massive uptick in demand and cost to operate.

    “It’s gotten to the point where the school system is overwhelmed, our Health Department is overwhelmed, the city’s budget is being sustainably altered in order to accommodate in the school department,” Kennedy said.

    Lynn has the fifth largest school system in Massachusetts and has seen its school population swell by eight percent as it admits more migrant children. Officials in Lynn also say they have been forced to admit students who they say are clearly over the ages of 17 and 18 but have no birth certificates or documentation besides those given by federal immigration officials. “We have no ability to directly confront a student about their age, per the (Department of Justice) guidelines we cannot ask them for verification of their age,” said Kennedy.

    The Mayor said she is asking for lawmakers in Washington to ease the strain on Lynn and cities like it. “I don’t know if it means more financial aid to provide for these students, or having surrounding districts pick up the slack. I’m not a policy-maker but something needs to be done.”

    Hear more voices from the immigration debate. PBS NewsHour has invited an immigration judge, a border patrol officer, an immigration lawyer and an Arizona rancher to give a personal account from their front-seat view of the clash over the recent influx of migrants from Central America. Watch these conversations in the playlist below:

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    GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight:  Classical dancer Misty Copeland is only the second African-American woman ever to reach the level of soloist at American Ballet Theatre and the first in 20 years.

    She recently performed here at the Kennedy Center in Washington.  And while she was here, she sat down with us to share the story of her rise from poverty to the spotlight and her desire to open the world of ballet to all economic backgrounds and races.

    She began by reading from her new memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.”  In it, she recounts the evening she danced the title role in Stravinsky’s “Dance of the Firebird.”

    MISTY COPELAND, Author: “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina”: Outside, the largest crowd I have ever seen waits.  Prominent members of the African-American community and trailblazers in the world of dance who have seldom received their due are here tonight, but I know I will also dance for those who aren’t here, who pass the Metropolitan Opera House, but cannot imagine what goes on inside.

    They may be poor, like I have been; insecure, like I have been; misunderstood, like I have been.  I will be dancing for them, too.  I run onto the stage and feel myself transform.  As I approach center, my flock parts, leaving me to stand alone.  There’s a brief second of silence before the audience erupts into applause once more, clapping so loudly I can barely hear the music.  And so it begins.

    I’m Misty Copeland.  And I’m a soloist with American Ballet Theatre.

    I didn’t come from a background that would’ve introduced me to this world in any way.  I didn’t come from a family with money.  I had no knowledge of the ballet world.  I had never heard classical music before.

    But I think, above all of that, just starting at 13 and only training for four years before I was accepted into American Ballet Theatre, America’s national ballet company, I think is the most unlikely of it all.

    I took a free ballet class at a Boys and Girls Club surrounded by other kids that had similar backgrounds to me that were all older.  And I was selected to come to my teacher’s school on a full scholarship.  It was the first time in my life that that had been presented to me, that I had no limits and that I could dream.  That wasn’t something I grew up in my home atmosphere having.

    I remember the first time I sat on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House.  I was 19 years old, still struggling to find my place in ABT’s Corps de Ballet.  I traced the marley floor with my pointe shoes, and imagine myself on the stage, not as a member of the corps, but as a principal dancer.  It felt right.  It felt like a promise.  Some day, somehow, it was going to happen for me.

    The ballet world, I don’t think is an art form that is quick to change or to adjust or evolve.  ABT and most classical companies are about kind of following this slow and steady process of proving yourself and moving up through the ranks.  And because I was so able and capable of mimicking and doing movements that I had never done before, I could just see it and imitate it, choreographers wanted to work with me.

    You just have to be given the opportunity and just give everything to it and dive into it and really commit to these roles, which, with these opportunities I have been given, with Firebird and Swanilda, Gamzatti, all of these parts that I really just — I took care with all of them because I have so much respect for this art form.

    The ballet world, I think, is so similar to theater and drama, and you’re becoming a character.  I mean, it’s not you out there on the stage.  You know, there is no role called Misty that I am playing.  We’re portraying a character.  And even if you are in the Corps de Ballet, you know, why can’t there be a beige swan, a brown swan, a black swan out there?

    So I understand the importance of me having a voice and exposing people beyond the typical ballet world to this art form.  I think it saved my life.  And I want to introduce it to more people.  And coming full circle, that’s something that I’m trying to do now, is to give back to those communities through Boys and Girls Clubs, being an alum.

    To invite people into my world as it’s happening, I think, is really amazing.  To have grown men that have never seen a ballet in their life look at me and see a woman that they can relate to, someone who looks like their sister, their daughter, their mother, and to say, well, I’m going to put my child in that because they can see themselves through you, I think it’s creating a completely different path for these people that never saw themselves in this world.

    And to watch me still growing in it and on my path, I think, is really powerful.

    GWEN IFILL: Misty Copeland will be performing with the American Ballet Theatre next month in Australia.

    The post Misty Copeland makes a point of sharing her art with unlikely ballet fans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Immigration reform groups march outside the White House calling on President Obama for immigration reform and to stop deportations on July 16. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    Immigration reform groups march outside the White House calling on President Obama for immigration reform and to stop deportations on July 16. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    The Morning Line

    Today in the Morning Line:

    • Executive action on immigration could shake up midterms
    • Both parties eyeing Obama’s decision for impact
    • Rand Paul takes aim at Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy
    • The GOP’s trouble winning over women voters

    Both sides on edge over Obama immigration action: Could President Barack Obama’s impending decision on executive steps to address the country’s immigration system bring a “September surprise”? The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa report lawmakers in both parties are openly fretting what the action might mean for the November election, with Democrats in red states worried the president will overreach in terms of policy, and Republican leaders concerned rank-and-file members might go too far in how they respond. The most likely scenario, which Democrats worry about, is short-term gain for Republicans. Republicans are already seeing an advantage in terms of engagement in the election. And nothing fires up the conservative base quite like “amnesty.” This cycle, and control of the Senate, after all, is playing out in mostly Republican-leaning states with few Latino voters.

    GOP aims to steer clear of impeachment, shutdown talk: For the GOP though, Tumulty and Costa write that “any move toward impeachment hearings against Obama or another government shutdown would cause serious problems for Republicans in key Senate races.” White House press secretary Josh Earnest brushed aside any suggestion that the threat of a government shutdown over immigration might dissuade the president from moving forward. “The president is determined to take the kind of common-sense steps that are required to address the worst problems of our broken immigration system,” he said, adding, “it would be a real shame if Republicans were to engage in an effort to shut down the government over a common-sense solution like that.” The Republican Party’s brand suffered serious damage following the government shutdown over funding for the health care law in October 2013. A repeat of that episode on immigration policy could put a halt to the momentum the party has been seeing when it comes to its prospects for taking back control of the Senate in November.

    What will Obama do?: That is still the million-dollar question here. USA Today’s Alan Gomez looks at five areas the president could address with his upcoming decision. The moves include expanding the pool of undocumented immigrants eligible for the Deferred Action program unveiled in 2012 and bolstering the authority of law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of individuals arrested for other offenses. Then, of course, there is also what to do about the recent surge of child migrants who’ve come from Central America. Congress left for the five-week August recess without acting on the president’s $3.7 billion funding proposal to deal with the crisis. The GOP-controlled House approved a smaller measure, while Democrats in the Senate failed to advance their own measure — also smaller than the president’s request.

    Paul’s 2016 foreign-policy positioning: While the rise of the Islamic State is making President Obama inch closer to more intervention in Syria and Iraq, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tries to lay blame for the rise of the group on interventionist U.S. policy — and he takes direct aim at Hillary Clinton. “To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State,” Paul writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn’t get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS.” Clinton and some others might argue that ignoring the Islamic State — and not arming more moderate groups — was the mistake Obama made. Either way, Paul is showing why he might be the most interesting candidate of 2016, challenging conventional wisdom and trying to win the argument, even when it doesn’t seem politically palatable.

    Republicans try to figure out what women want: A group of Republicans are acknowledging problems with another block key to the election — women. Politico: “A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as ‘intolerant,’ ‘lacking in compassion’ and ‘stuck in the past.’” We noted back in April how key women are, particularly to Democrats’ hopes. Obama won women by double-digits in both 2008 and 2012, but when Republicans took back the House in 2010, they narrowly won them. Republicans have a long-term problem with women in national elections, but Democrats are vulnerable in midterms because the key group to their chances — unmarried women — have showed up in disproportionately lower numbers in non-presidential years.

    Ukraine latest: The conflict in Ukraine shows signs of heating up again as “Russia reinforced what Western and Ukrainian officials described as a stealth invasion on Wednesday, sending armored troops across the border as it expanded the conflict to a new section of Ukrainian territory,” the New York Times reports. It adds: “Russia, which has denied it is helping the insurgents, did not acknowledge the military movements. But the Russians have signaled that they would not countenance a defeat of an insurgency in the heavily Russian eastern part of Ukraine, which would amount to a significant domestic political setback for President Vladimir V. Putin.” There is still a divided response from the West that Putin is able to take advantage of. The U.S. has shown a willingness to take a harder line with the Kremlin than its European counterparts, which have stronger business ties to Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Putin Wednesday wanting an explanation, but does frustration turn into action against Russia for Europe?

    Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. pled innocent to the charge of attempting to kill President Ronald Reagan. What reason did Hinckley give for shooting the president? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Kathy Benson ‏(@KathyBenson2) and Sharita ‏(@Shugruberg) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: What was LBJ’s first job, before becoming a politician? The answer was: LBJ was a teacher.

    LINE ITEMS

    • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the audience at a private Koch brothers’ event this June that should the Republicans win control of the Senate, he’d use the budget process to chip away at Mr. Obama’s legislative accomplishments. A liberal-leaning YouTube channel also leaked audio of Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Iowa’s Joni Ernst praising the Koch brothers.

    • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is “talking tougher than ever” on immigration, saying he wouldn’t support the immigration bill he helped draft last year if it came up for a vote today. Rubio suggested that his party could prevent Mr. Obama from taking executive action by removing funding for it from the annual budget.

    • In a year when most Democrats duck questions about issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., is embracing climate change as a central theme of his campaign for Senate.

    • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has a book coming out early next month, and in it, she writes about male senators commenting on her weight. One colleague told her, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”

    • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing the U.S. Department of Education over Common Core standards.

    • An internal poll from Crossroads GPS and American Action Network found that women voters believe the Republican Party is “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”

    • A longtime aide to Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., admitted to lying in order to cover up a $1 million campaign loan during Fattah’s 2007 run for mayor of Philadelphia.

    • A former Iowa state senator pleaded guilty to accepting money from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in exchange for switching his support from Rep. Michele Bachmann to Congressman Paul.

    • Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., thinks that police departments should not get federal funding unless they agree to wear body cameras.

    • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has nominated what would be the only black member of his cabinet to serve as the state’s top law enforcement official. If confirmed as the head of the Department of Public Safety, former St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom III would oversee the Highway Patrol, which has been in charge of policing Ferguson.

    • National Democrats are hitting North Carolina State House Speaker Thom Tillis on education — again. The second in a $9.1 million buy from the DSCC, the ad features a mother saying that public schools are not a luxury where funding can be cut.

    • A new Marquette Law School poll found Gov. Scott Walker running ahead of Democrat Mary Burke by four points among registered voters. Burke, however, leads the incumbent by two points among likely voters.

    • Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst are running neck and neck in the Iowa Senate race, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll.

    • Is Medicare not the budget buster once projected to be? The Congressional Budget Office dropped its long-term cost estimate again on how much the program will cost. It’s the sixth year in a row it has done so.

    • Despite wins in the lower courts, plaintiffs in three cases that successfully challenged their state’s gay marriage bans are now asking the Supreme Court to review the cases.

    • Rep. Tom Marino’s press secretary, who was arrested in July for bringing a handgun into the Cannon House Office Building, refused to take a plea deal Wednesday.

    • Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., “has made himself a stranger to the national press” in Washington, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar writes, and he’s doing much the same at home, Kraushaar found out on a recent trip seeking out the senator in Minnesota.

    • There’s a Kennedy running for the lowest level of District of Columbia government.

    • Buzzfeed’s John Templon analyzed the past 21 years of White House press briefings and how the various press secretaries have ducked questions.

    • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

    TOP TWEETS

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    Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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    The post The issue that could roil the midterms appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

    This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

    It will take six to nine months to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa according to a road map released today by the World Health Organization. During those months more than 20,000 people may become infected with the disease.

    Controlling the epidemic could cost $490 million and will need the help of thousands of local health workers and hundreds of international experts.

    So far, 1,552 people had been confirmed dead in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, while 3,062 had been infected. Almost 40 percent of all the cases have been reported in the past three weeks which shows the virus is accelerating.

    Health officials in Nigeria confirmed the country’s sixth Ebola related death on Thursday. The victim died in the southeastern oil city of Port Harcourt, located just outside of Lagos — Nigeria’s main international transit hub. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation.

    In response to the epidemic, the U.S. announced that they will begin testing Ebola vaccines on humans next week — much sooner than previously planned.

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH said the Ebola outbreak “is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response.”

    He added that results from this initial round of testing won’t be available until the end of the year, and the success of the vaccine was not guaranteed.

    Health care workers will be the first to take the vaccine if it works, given the fact that more than 240 workers have contracted the virus, so far. However, Fauci said that residents in affected areas could be eligible to receive the vaccine.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci will be on PBS NewsHour tonight to discuss the upcoming trials.

    The post Ebola outbreak could affect 20,000 people before it’s over appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Over the River (Project for Arkansas River) Drawing 2007. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo

    A drawing depicts artist Christo’s “Over the River” project. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2007 Christo

    Imagine stringing nearly six miles of translucent silver panels above a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in southern Colorado. That’s the latest dream for installation artist Christo.

    The 79-year-old — who goes by just one name — described the venture at New Mexico’s Albuquerque Museum on Aug. 22. The museum is exhibiting a collection of the artist’s drawings, photographs, sculptures and collages relating to Christo’s large-scale works.

    Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for Over The River, 2011. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo

    Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for “Over The River.” Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo

    The Bulgarian-born artist and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, are known for their massive outdoor art installations, which have often sparked controversy over their scale and impact on the environment. This project is no exception.

    For the two weeks that “Over the River” would be up, kayakers and rafters at the most popular whitewater rafting river in the U.S. will see the Rocky Mountains through industrial strength fabric. As the wind blows, motorists will see reflections of the bright blue western sky.

    Over the River (Project for Arkansas River, State of Colorado) Drawing 2010 Photo: André Grossmann © 2010 Christo

    Over the River project for the Arkansas River in Colorado drawing. Photo by André Grossmann, © 2010 Christo

    “It’s not like a normal sculpture,” Christo told a crowd of 400 at the museum. “You will need a full day to experience it.”

    A special bus will take tourists to a vantage point where they can look down on the art and raft under it for five hours.

    The idea came to Christo 37 years ago. He and his wife scouted more than 15,000 square miles of western wilderness investigating 89 rivers before selecting the Arkansas.

    Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their team at work in the Arkansas River valley, Colorado, August 2000. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2000 Christo

    Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their team at work in the Arkansas River valley, Colorado, in August 2000. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2000 Christo

    “The hardest part is getting permission,” said Christo. “Everything in the world belongs to somebody.”

    In this case, it’s mostly the federal government. Christo got a permit from the Department of Interior after filing an Environmental Impact Statement, usually reserved for major construction projects. Numerous other local, state and regional agencies had to approve, too. Still, a lawsuit filed by Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, a nonprofit created to preserve the headwaters of the Arkansas River, is pending against the Bureau of Land Management. Christo is confident he will be allowed to proceed but acknowledged it will be at least three years before the project is completed. For now, Associated Press reports that the project is on pause.

    The artist isn’t fazed by the criticism. Christo noted it took 26 years of negotiations before he could erect the more than 7,500 saffron colored fabric panels that comprised “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005.

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude  The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005  Photo: Wolfgang Volz  © 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude

    Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude. See more photos of “The Gates”.

    He said that $14 million has already been spent on “Over The River” before ever erecting a single panel. All costs are funded from the sale of Christo’s artwork. No public money is used, nor will any admission fees be charged.

    Abroad, Christo has an even bigger vision: to create the world’s largest sculpture. In Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he aims to use 410,000 oil barrels to create “The Mastaba,” nearly 500 feet high.

    The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, Al Gharbia, near Oasis of Liwa) Collage 2012. Photo: André Grossmann © 2012 Christo

    Drawing of the proposed project, “The Mastaba,” in Abu Dhabi. Photo by André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo. See more sketches and plans for “The Mastaba”.

    A mastaba is an ancient Egyptian tomb made from mud bricks in a rectangular shape with sloping sides and a flat roof. Christo’s version will be constructed from 55-gallon steel barrels painted in a rainbow of colors that echo Islamic architecture. Unlike most earlier works, “The Mastaba” will be permanent.

    The exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum continues through Sept. 14 before it moves to the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and on then on to St. Mary’s College Museum of Art in Moraga, California.

    The post When will Christo wrap the Arkansas River in 5.9 miles of silver fabric? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Immigrant rights activists shout slogans in front of the White House on August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

    Immigrant rights activists shout slogans in front of the White House on August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — With impeachment threats and potential lawsuits looming, President Barack Obama knows whatever executive actions he takes on immigration will face intense opposition. So as a self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline to act approaches, Obama’s lawyers are carefully crafting a legal rationale they believe will withstand scrutiny and survive any court challenges, administration officials say.

    The argument goes something like this: Beyond failing to fix broken immigration laws, Congress hasn’t even provided the government with enough resources to fully enforce the laws already on the books. With roughly 11.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally — far more than the government could reasonably deport — the White House believes it has wide latitude to prioritize which of those individuals should be sent home.

    But Republicans, too, are exploring their legal options for stopping Obama from what they’ve deemed egregious presidential overreaching.

    While Obama has yet to receive the formal recommendations he’s requested from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, administration officials said the president is intimately familiar with the universe of options and won’t spend much time deliberating once Johnson delivers his report.

    Obama’s goal had been to announce his decision around Labor Day, before leaving on a trip next week to Estonia and Wales. But a host of national security crises have pushed the announcement back, likely until after Obama returns, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

    In a sign of how heated the issue has become, protesters demanding Obama halt all deportations mounted a display of civil disobedience outside the White House midday Thursday. Some draped themselves in American flags and held signs saying “I am a witness for justice.” An Associated Press reporter counted roughly 100 protesters being arrested, as onlookers cheered them on with chants of “Yes, we can.”

    In a sign of how heated the issue has become, protesters demanding Obama halt all deportations mounted a display of civil disobedience outside the White House midday Thursday.After resisting calls to act alone in hopes Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration fix, Obama in June bowed to immigration activists and said that “if Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.” The most sweeping, controversial step under consideration involves halting deportation for millions, a major expansion of a 2012 Obama program that deferred prosecutions for those brought here illegally as children.

    Roughly half a million people have benefited from that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

    But while prosecutors are routinely expected to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis, such blanket exemption of whole categories of people has never been done on the scale that Obama is considering — potentially involving many millions of people if he extends relief to parents of DACA children, close relatives of U.S. citizens or immigrants with clean criminal records.

    “The question is how broadly can the president extend the categories and still stay on the side of spectrum of ensuring the laws are faithfully executed?” said Cristina Rodriguez, who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2013 to teach at Yale Law School.

    Other options under consideration, such as changes to how green cards are distributed and counted, might be less controversial because of the support they enjoy from the business community and other influential groups. But Derrick Morgan, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Obama will still face staunch opposition as long as he attempts an end run around Congress.

    “Any potential executive action the president takes will be rooted in a solid legal foundation,” White House spokesman Shawn Turner said, but Obama’s actions will almost surely be challenged in court.

    What’s more, Obama may have undermined his case because he has insisted time and again that he’s the president, not the king, and “can’t just make the laws up by myself.” In a 2012 interview with Telemundo, a Spanish-language TV network, Obama defended his decision to defer deportations for children but said he couldn’t go any bigger.

    “If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option,” he said then.

    Republicans are already hinting they’ll consider legal action to thwart what they’ve denounced as a violation of the separation of powers. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a conference call this month with GOP House members, accused Obama of “threatening to rewrite our immigration laws unilaterally.”

    “If the president fails to faithfully execute the laws of our country, we will hold him accountable,” Boehner said, according to an individual who participated in the call.

    The House already has passed legislation to block Obama from expanding DACA and, through its power of the purse, could attempt to cut off the funds that would be needed to implement the expansion. House Republicans could also consider widening or amending their existing lawsuit against Obama over his health care law, a case both parties have suggested could be a prelude to impeachment proceedings.

    The post White House prepares to defend coming executive orders on immigration appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Twitch users collaborated to play a game of Pokemaon live.

    175,000 people participated in “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” a collaborative playthrough of the popular children’s game that crowdsourced directions from Twitch viewers.


    On Monday, Amazon announced that it had finalized a deal to acquire Twitch.tv, a live streaming video service geared towards the broadcast of video game gameplay. For $970 million, the world’s largest online retailer bought a website where people from around the world could log on to watch other people play games like World of Warcraft, Pokémon, and Minecraft. For months ahead of the announcement, it was rumored that Google was in talks of buying the service in a move similar to its purchase of YouTube in 2006. Talks between Google and Twitch deteriorated amid concerns about antitrust violations that left Amazon in the green to seal a deal.

    While popular in online gaming circles, Twitch as a company has not carried the same kind of brand cachet as other streaming services like Netflix, HBO Go, or Hulu. According to statistical research coming from cloud-data analytics firm DeepField, however, Twitch accounts for about 1.8% of all peak, U.S. internet traffic, outpacing Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, and Tumblr. Amazon’s “Instant” video streaming service, which is a lesser known feature of its Prime membership, has slowly been expanding its programming catalog to go toe-to-toe with its main competitor Netflix. Numbers recently published in the New York Times, though, point to Twitch’s potential to overtake many traditional broadcasting networks in terms of viewership.

    At 715,000 concurrent viewers, Twitch’s primetime viewing audiences outnumber those of MSNBC, CNN, and E!. Sporadically, Twitch will boast numbers larger than MTV. But, the amount of video consumed on Twitch’s network is relatively small when compared to its online rivals. Measured in hours, Netflix users consume eight times more video content than Twitch users each month. Moreover, YouTubers consume up to 24 times more video. Twitch’s audience may be smaller, but it is the way that people create, collaborate on, and consume its content that sets it apart from the competition.

    Earlier this year more than 175,000 people participated in “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” a collaborative playthrough of the popular children’s game that crowdsourced directions from Twitch viewers. The experiment, a first for Twitch, demonstrated that the service’s audience could be as interested in actively interacting with the content as they were in consuming it.

    In 2013, 58% of Twitch’s 55 million users reported watching about 20 hours of video content each week, or about 3 hours per day. The average user reported watching about 106 minutes of content per day, and those numbers translate to very real sources of revenue for Twitch, advertisers, and creators. Where YouTube videos can vary in length from a few seconds to a few minutes, the nature of video game playthroughs lends itself to longer videos, translating into more opportunities for ad placement and profit generation for people broadcasting themselves.

    Like Amazon’s self-publishing book platform, Twitch’s barrier to entry in terms of content creation is relatively low. With a gaming console and internet access, anyone can set up a Twitch channel to stream their play with the knowledge that if they can reach a built-in audience that comes for the games, but ultimately stays for the personalities.

    The post Amazon acquisition ‘Twitch’ boasts audience rivaling primetime TV appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama tamped down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria on Thursday, saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

    The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. However, officials said Obama was not expected to emerge from the meeting with a decision on which avenue to pursue.

    The U.S. is already striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

    But Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the U.S. military into Syria, said confronting the Islamic State would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.

    In blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

    “They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages in Syria.

    The president said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.

    The heightened threat from the Islamic State comes at a time of instability elsewhere in the world that has challenged Obama’s desire to keep the U.S. out of military conflicts. Russia has escalated its threatening moves in Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia on Thursday of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops.

    Despite the increased tensions, Obama ruled out any military options in Ukraine and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

    In outlining his strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the president said his top priority remains rolling back the militants’ gains in Iraq, where he has said they pose a threat to U.S. personnel in Erbil and Baghdad.

    “Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected,” he said.

    Some of Obama’s top military advisers have said the Islamic State cannot be defeated unless the U.S. also goes after the group inside Syria. The president didn’t rule out that possibility, but said that if he were to expand the military mission, he would consult with members of Congress, who are due to return to Washington in early September.

    “The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,” Obama said. “That’s not what’s going to happen.”

    However, the president did not commit to seeking a vote from Congress if he were to decide to proceed with military action. One year ago, Obama was on the verge of taking strikes against the Syrian government it retaliation for its use of chemical weapons, but abruptly shifted course and decided to seek congressional approval.

    The surprise move threw his policy into chaos. Congress balked at Obama’s request for a vote, contributing to his decision to ultimately scrap the strikes. The White House said it also abandoned plans to take military action after Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.

    This time, with the midterm elections just over two months away, lawmakers may be even less inclined to take a politically risky vote on military action.

    “I see no reason to come to Congress because, if he does, it’ll just become a circus,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said this week.

    Still, some lawmakers are calling for Obama to put military action in Syria to a vote. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, has said Congress should “certainly” authorize such steps. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president’s broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.

    “I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform,” said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. “Congress should vote up or down on it.”

    The post Obama: ‘no strategy yet’ for U.S. military action in Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama spoke Thursday on efforts in the Middle East, announcing Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region to build a coalition against Islamic militants.

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama suggested Thursday that the U.S. might impose new economic sanctions on Russia, blaming it squarely for the warfare in eastern Ukraine. But he ruled out any military options and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

    Briefing reporters at the White House, Obama said he spoke by telephone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country that has led diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels. They spoke after two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles entered the country’s southeast and fired Grad missiles at a border post and 1,000 Russian troops poured into the country, according to NATO and Ukrainian officials.

    “We agree, if there was ever any doubt, that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia, they are armed by Russia, they are funded by Russia,” Obama said. “Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see.”

    Obama was cautious in foreshadowing a possible American response, expressly ruling out any U.S. military involvement. He said Russia’s recent activity in Ukraine would incur “more costs and consequences,” though these seemed to be limited to economic pressure that will be discussed when Obama meets with European leaders at a NATO summit in Wales next week. He also offered “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine and announced that its Western-looking president, Petro Poroshenko, would visit the White House next month.

    The Russian offensive comes after months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, which U.S. and other Western countries say Moscow has orchestrated. After Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader fled the country earlier this year and a new government turned away from Moscow toward its European neighbors, Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Since then, it has continued to provide support for armed pro-Russian groups fighting the Ukrainian government despite rising U.S. and European sanctions against Russian government officials, banks and energy companies.

    Obama said the sanctions have been “effective,” prompting capital to flee Russia and its economy to decline, but they’ve done little to convince Putin to end Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. The president said Russia has been involved in all separatist activity and that the latest its latest escalation appeared to be a response to progress by Ukraine’s government against the main rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

    “This is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine,” Obama said. Putin, he added, has “repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically” and “we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion.”

    Russia continued Thursday to say there is no proof its troops are operating in Ukraine, without delivering firm denials, even as its forces and separatist rebels appeared to take control of the strategic town of Novoazovsk, breaking open a third front in the war. The new southeastern front raises fears Moscow is creating a land link between Crimea and Russia. Novoazovsk lies on the road between the territories.

    State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia was engaged in a “pattern of escalating aggression.” But she, too, was vague about any immediate steps the United States might take even to help Ukraine, saying Washington’s focus was on “nonlethal” assistance and not any defensive or offensive military equipment.

    Obama still held out hope for Russia to change course.

    “What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia,” he said. “But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.” Russia’s actions have only hurt itself, he said, leaving it more isolated than at any point since the end of the Cold War — something he hoped would become increasingly apparent to its leaders.

    The post Obama condemns Russia for Ukraine violence; rules out U.S. military involvement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GWEN IFILL: President Obama moved today to tamp down talk of imminent military action against Islamic State fighters in Syria.

    At the White House, he said his priority is to roll back the militants’ gain in Iraq, where U.S. airstrikes are already under way.  He said calls to expand the campaign into Syria amount to — quote — “putting the cart before the horse.”

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We don’t have a strategy yet.  I think what I have seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.

    But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

    GWEN IFILL: Separately, there was word that Islamic State fighters executed more than 150 soldiers Syrian captured in recent fighting.  The troops were taken prisoner after militants seized a key air base in northeastern Syria.  A video posted on YouTube showed a long line of bodies lying face down in the sand.

    Gunmen on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji today.  U.N. officials say it happened during fighting between an unidentified armed group and Syrian troops.  Another 81 peacekeepers from the Philippines were trapped.  Afterward, U.N. troops kept a close watch on the Syrian side of the Heights.  Their mission is to monitor a zone of separation between Syrian and Israeli forces.

    J.P. Morgan Chase has confirmed it’s investigating a possible cyber-attack, but it says the scope is unclear.  Bloomberg News reported it’s part of a series of coordinated and sophisticated attacks by Russian hackers.  And The New York Times reported at least four other banks were also targeted in the last month.  The stolen data includes checking and savings account information.

    A family feud over control of a supermarket chain in New England is finally over.  The disagreement, which began in June, spawned worker and customer boycotts of Market Basket that attracted national attention.  Now Arthur T. Demoulas will buy the majority stake in the chain from his cousin for $1.5 billion.  He celebrated with employees today in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.  The battle for control ultimately cost the grocery chain millions of dollars in lost revenue.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 42 points to close at 17,079.  The Nasdaq slipped nearly 12 points to close at 4,557.  And the S&P 500 dropped three points to 1,996.

    The National Football League is getting tougher on domestic violence.  Commissioner Roger Goodell announced today players will be suspended for six games for a first offense.  They will be banned outright if it happens a second time.  Goodell was criticized when he suspended the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice for just two weeks for allegedly hitting his fiancee.

    Today, Goodell acknowledged he — quote — “didn’t get it right.”

    The post News Wrap: Islamic State executes captured Syrian fighters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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