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

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    New funding from the National Institute of Health will allow 82 research projects to add the number of female cells to their projects and examine the “effect of sex” in preclinical testing. Photo by Science Nation.

    In scientific studies, the gender gap is not defined by an hourly wage or staff composition. Preclinical scientific research is done primarily on male subjects. This inequality obscures results and can be dangerous for women, who experience both illness and treatment differently than men.

    To counter the male bias, the National Institutes of Health announced Tuesday that it will award $10.1 million in additional grant funding to “explore the effect of sex” in preclinical testing, which occurs on cells or animals before human trials begin.

    Current research often ignores how females may react differently to a disease or medication. With this funding, 82 research projects will be able to add or increase the number of female cells or animals to their project, providing better analysis of sex and gender differences.

    In May, Janine Austin Clayton, director of the NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health announced the institute would require researchers to report how they are balancing male and female cells and animals in their preclinical experimental design, data collection and reporting.

    “Every part of the body is made of cells, and each of those has a sex, depending on whether the body is a man’s or a woman’s,” Clayton wrote in the announcement. “For the most part, looking for differences between males and females has been a blind spot in biomedical research, leaving gaps in our knowledge.”

    Research has shown, for example, that males and females cope with substance abuse differently. A study on the relationship between stress and drug cravings found that the prescription drug guanfacine, which reduces the body’s nervous-system response to stress, also reduced cocaine and alcohol cravings in females. It had no effect on males.

    21 years ago, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 began addressing the gender bias in research by calling for equal numbers of men and women in human testing. It took over two decades to reach the point where more than half of the participants in NIH studies are women.

    The post National Institute of Health will examine ‘effect of sex’ in preclinical testing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The prospect of catching germs while at the hospital sounds about as pleasing as a run-in with a shark in the ocean. However, those aquatic predators — or at least their skin — may be the key in helping the hospitals of the future keep those harmful germs from spreading.

    Sharklet, a material that mimics the properties of shark skin, may be a solution to preventing the spread and growth of disease-causing bacteria in hospitals. Image by Mann et al., Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control

    Sharklet, a material that mimics the properties of shark skin, may be a solution to preventing the spread and growth of disease-causing bacteria in hospitals. Image by Mann et al., Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control

    A new study published September 17 in the journal Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control examined the effectiveness of a shark skin-like material in preventing the spread of disease-causing bacteria. The material, Sharklet, mimics the tiny ridges and grooves that permeate shark skin, which allows the creatures to prevent barnacles and other organisms from latching on to them.

    The researchers spread bacteria like antibiotic-resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, over smooth surfaces as well as the Sharklet, recreating how the germs could be spread via sneezing or touching in a hospital environment. After comparing the surfaces, the Sharklet material was found to contain 94 percent less MSRA bacteria than smooth surfaces.

    “Shark skin itself is not an antimicrobial surface, rather it seems highly adapted to resist attachment of living organisms such as algae and barnacles,” said Ethan Mann, a research scientist at Sharklet Technologies — the company that manufactures the material. “Shark skin has a specific roughness and certain properties that deter marine organisms from attaching to the skin surface. We have learned much from nature in building this material texture for the future.”

    The post Sharks could help hospitals prevent dangerous germ transmission appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Heads of state will speak one after another at the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York from Sept. 24-30. You can watch the speeches live each day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT in this blog, where we’ll capture some of the highlights.

    Updated at 3:40 p.m. EDT Wednesday:

    Turkey condemns pairing Islam with terrorism

    Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided those who connect Islam with the fighters who call themselves the Islamic State during his appearance at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. “Those labeling their inhuman actions as Islamic disrespect the religion of Islam and all religions,” he said through a translator.

    Problems in Iraq and Syria have spread beyond their borders and created fertile ground for extremists, he said. The unresponsiveness in the United Nations cannot continue, he added.

    Turkey has taken in 847,000 Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency, and resources with the country are stretched thin.

    Erdogan focused on children dying in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere in his pitch for nations to act. “No one is innocent in a world in which children die and are killed,” he said.

    The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, the UK and United States — frequently disagree on resolutions and have rendered the world body ineffective, said Erdogan. “The world is bigger than five” nations, he said.

    French president addresses beheading

    France’s President Francois Hollande said his country, which just learned about the beheading of a French hostage by extremists in Algeria, is fully committed to the fight against terrorism.

    Hollande called it a “cowardly” act, and described the slain hostage Herve Gourdel as “full of life.”

    “This (Islamic State) group is threating the entire world by organizing attacks and recruiting fighters from all areas so they can reproduce sinister acts of terrorism,” he told the United Nations through a translator. That is why France has committed to act, because terrorism affects or will affect everyone, he said.

    Watch Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s full address to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

    El-Sissi: Egypt is a ‘beacon of moderate Islam’

    Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi touted his country as a “beacon of moderate Islam” in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. After years of political and religious struggle, “Egypt today has regained its self-confidence,” he said.

    Egypt is working on rebuilding its economy, he said, mentioning the Suez Canal project — a plan he announced in August to develop the Suez-Ismailia-Port Said region of northern Egypt to boost international trade.

    He also spoke about the terrorism gripping his region. Terrorists aren’t bound by certain economic levels, they come from all walks of life, he said.

    The way to defeat them is to establish the principles of equality for all citizens and respect for the rule of law, while ensuring rights to development to save society from exploitation and extremism, he said through a translator.

    Societies must defeat terrorism, Qatar amir says

    The leader of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, urged the international community to “work to end the bloodshed and destruction of Syria” that has put Syrians in the troubling spot of having to choose between “the terror of the regime” and terrorist forces.

    Qatar is one of the Arab allies that helped the U.S. military launch airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State militants on Monday.

    Terrorism can only be defeated within societies themselves, said Al Thani. They “must be convinced it’s their war, not to stabilize the regime that is oppressing them,” he said through a translator.

    Watch President Obama’s full speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 24.

    Obama takes Syria, Russia to task

    President Barack Obama dinged Russia for absorbing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and declared the extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq a “network of death” in his U.N. General Assembly speech on Wednesday.

    “Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness,” the president said.

    Russia’s backing of the separatists in Eastern Ukraine challenges the notion that “people can decide their own future,” said President Obama.

    The recent cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and Russia shows a diplomatic opening, the president said, and if Russia follows through, “we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges.”

    President Obama urged U.N. member states, both big and small, to uphold international norms and stand together in the fight against the Islamic State militants.

    He pointed to the “notinmyname” campaign started by young British Muslims to counteract the terrorist propaganda, and said that the U.N. Security Council will adopt a resolution later Wednesday “that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism.”

    Many of the world’s problems — from violent extremism to the unwieldy outbreak of Ebola — stem from “the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world,” said the president.

    “Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.”

    The United Nations can renew itself and choose “hope over fear,” he said.

    Haiti's flag flies with others outside the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Photo by Larisa Epatko/PBS NewsHour

    Haiti’s flag flies with others outside the U.N. headquarters in New York City. Photo by Larisa Epatko/PBS NewsHour

    Throughout the week, more than 120 world leaders and officials are speaking about their country’s priorities and concerns at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. They have held high-level meetings on climate change, humanitarian needs for Syrian refugees and the unprecedented spread of the Ebola virus at this year’s 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly.

    We will continue to update this blog with highlights and will have more analysis on Wednesday’s broadcast.

    The post Watch Live: Speeches of U.N. General Assembly 2014 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo courtesy of Amtrak

    Amtrak named 24 writers who will receive an Amtrak Residency to write on board a train during a long-distance ride. Photo courtesy of Amtrak

    For some, writing is best tackled in solitude. For others, linguistic discoveries are best made with a little ambient noise in the background.

    Today, Amtrak named 24 writers who will get free access to the sounds of human chatter and the whir of landscapes rushing past as the background to a short-term residency.

    The Amtrak Residency program was launched in February, after an unintentional beginning. In December 2013, PEN Ten published an interview with “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of the Night” author Alexander Chee, whose expressed his love of writing while hearing those pulsing train hums:

    “I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.”

    A week later, New York-based writer Jessica Gross jumped into the conversation with a tweet that quoted Chee, sparking the idea. Gross’ subsequent Twitter conversation with Amtrak landed her a 44-hour roundtrip “test run” residency to Chicago and back, and culminated in a story in The Paris Review.

    Now, 24 writers will get to follow Gross. “Half a Life” author Darin Strauss (who has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Book Critics Circle Award for his work) and Lindsay Moran (a freelance journalist and former clandestine officer for the CIA) are among the diverse and distinguished writers who will get a complimentary long-distance ride.

    Award-winning author and journalist Farai Chideya will be another Amtrak Residency guinea pig. The voice behind the “One with Farai” podcast, Chideya is a distinguished writer-in-residence at New York University’s Journalism Institute and writes both fiction and nonfiction. She’s looking forward to being surrounded by that “human noise” on the train.

    “I love to be able to be really immersed in what I’m doing and then be able to take a break simply by looking around or eavesdropping. It may be impolite, but I’m a big fan of eavesdropping because I learn so much about human nature from it,” Chideya told Art Beat. “You hear parents and children talking, you hear couples and lovers talking. You hear things that take your brain in that direction of cultivating your narrative sense.”

    Jeffrey Stanley, the playwright behind “Tesla’s Letters,” wrote on his blog that he has “no idea when I’m leaving, where I’ll be going, or what I’ll be working on.”

    But Chideya has a plan. She wants to ride 1,995 miles on the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles, a 48-hour journey each way.

    “That’s a very evocative route because I covered Katrina, I love New Orleans, I lived in Los Angeles, and also there’s a lot of history specifically of African-American migration, from New Orleans to Los Angeles in the early 1900s and throughout the 20th century.”

    We tend to look at long train rides with romantic nostalgia of times past, an element or emotion that may play into some of the work these 24 writers create. But, according to Chideya, the residency isn’t as retro at it might appear.

    “This was really a social media-driven project, from the writers who initially came up with the idea and started tweeting at Amtrak, to Amtrak’s response. I would love to say that I was chosen just on my literary merits, but I also think what factored in is that I have a very active social media presence and I suspect, if you run down the list, you’ll see a bunch of people with an active social media presence,” said Chideya.

    “There’s something very classic and timeless about trains, but also a very modern social media aspect to the entire enterprise of the residency.”

    The post Amtrak Residency offers 24 writers a desk during a long train ride appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    India’s space agency successfully sent a spacecraft into Mars’ orbit on Wednesday.

    India’s low cost spacecraft mission to Mars entered the Red Planet’s orbit Wednesday, following a 414 million mile journey that lasted over 10 months. It was cast into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Bangalore.

    The $74 million price tag is a bargain, particularly compared to NASA’s $671 million Maven mission that also reached Mars this week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others, noted the figure was less than the budget of the Hollywood blockbuster “Gravity.”

    The Mars Orbiter Mission is the first successful Asian attempt to reach the planet, and joins NASA, the European space agency and Russia in achieving orbit. The feat is particularly remarkable given India had a positive result on their first try. Significantly, of 51 global attempts to reach the planet to date, 30 have failed. China’s last effort was in 2012 and Japan’s in 1999.

    Modi trumpets the feat “as a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation,” and that “the odds were stacked against us.” Indeed, the ISRO has worked in international isolation for half a century. In the aftermath of Indian nuclear tests, a number of countries booted the nation from technological sharing programs. NASA congratulated the ISRO Wednesday via a tweet.

    For the next six months, the spacecraft will use five solar powered instruments to gather data from the Red Planet. Until it runs out of fuel, it will be able to investigate indicators of water and methane gas. Little is currently known about the Martian weather system, but the information could help scientists understand how planets form.

    Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to sit down with President Barack Obama in Washington next week, following an address at United Nations General Assembly. Despite the success, India faces criticism for spending so much on research when a large portion of its 1.2 billion inhabitants live in dire poverty.

    For more on the mission, we spoke with Pallava Bagla whose latest book is “Reaching for the Stars: India’s Journey to Mars & Beyond” about the significance of this event:

    Also, in January, Hari Sreenivasan profiled India’s Mars Orbiter Mission:

    The post India becomes first Asian nation to put spacecraft in Mars’ orbit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A poster with Herve Gourdel's picture says "come back" at the town hall of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in southeastern France. Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountain guide, was seized on Sept. 21 while trekking in the rugged, heavily forested northern part of Algeria, where al-Qaida is active. Photo by Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP/Getty Images

    A poster with Herve Gourdel’s picture says “come back” at the town hall of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in southeastern France. Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountain guide, was seized on Sept. 21 while trekking in the rugged, heavily forested northern part of Algeria, where al-Qaida is active. Photo by Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP/Getty Images

    Herve Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountain guide, was abducted on Sunday as he was hiking the remote Djura Djura mountains of northern Algeria. He was killed by extremists in a video released Wednesday that YouTube quickly pulled off the Internet.

    A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, had said they would kill Gourdel unless France ended its airstrikes against the Islamic State militants in Iraq.

    French President Francois Hollande said at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that the killing only strengthened his country’s resolve to fight the terrorists.

    “My determination is total and this attack only reinforces it,” he said. “We will continue to fight terrorism everywhere.”

    Hollande described Gourdel as being “full of life.” Gourdel, he said, “is dead because he is the representative of a people — ours — that defends human dignity against barbarity.”

    The post Slain French hostage was ‘full of life’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    F-22 Missile Launch. Video courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

    WASHINGTON — Envisioned in the 90s as crucial to U.S. military superiority in the next century — the sleek, radar-evading F-22 Raptor has finally seen its first combat.

    Never used in Afghanistan or Iraq, the Air Force’s newest fighter jet made its combat debut this week, taking part in the second wave of airstrikes over Syria, according to the Pentagon.

    Here are five things to know about the F-22:

    1. Its first combat mission involved dropping bombs on an Islamic State group command-and-control building in Raqqah. During a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Lt. Gen. William Mayville showed before and after slides of the airstrike targets. The after-shot for the F-22 showed a successful mission, with the command-and-control center destroyed.

    2. It was developed by Lockheed Martin, with major subcontractors such as Boeing, as a 21st century fighter jet to replace various models of the aging F-15. With its stealth design, the single-seat F-22 was built to evade radar and has twin engines that allow it to fly at faster-than-sound speeds without gas-guzzling afterburners. Production of the first F-22 Raptor started in 1999 and was delivered to Air Force in 2002. The last one was delivered in 2012.

    3. The F-22 comes with a hefty price tag. Each costs an average of $190 million. More than 190 F-22 fighter jets were manufactured for the U.S. military, including eight test aircraft.

    4. The Raptor program was beset by design and costs overruns. When the F-22 was unveiled in 1997, critics were complaining about the costly program. At the time, the Air Force sought an order of 438 F-22 fighter jets, at a cost of about $45 billion. That order was scaled back sharply. In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress he was willing to cut the F-22 fighter jet program as too expensive. Production was later capped.

    5. Safety concerns were the issue in 2011 when the nation’s F-22s were grounded for four months after pilots complained about getting dizzy and a lack of oxygen in the cockpit. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show U.S. military experts had raised concerns about the flow of oxygen into the pilot’s masks years earlier. The Air Force blamed a faulty valve in the pilots’ vests, said there was a fix and gradually returned to the aircraft to flight.

    The post Air Force’s newest fighter jet, F-22 Raptor makes combat debut appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The ban affected drinks over 16 oz. sold in restaurants, delis, movie theaters and stadiums. Photo by Flickr user Todd Lapin.

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a new push to help Americans slim down. It comes from the world’s largest soda manufacturers.

    Yesterday, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper Snapple pledged to reduce the number of calories in sugary drinks by 20 percent over the course of the next decade.

    This afternoon, I moderated a discussion at the Newseum here in Washington with PepsiCo’s CEO, Indra Nooyi, and Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which have together been part of a coalition of companies and nonprofits working to cut calorie consumption and improve Americans’ health.

    Here is part of our conversation.

    This new pledge yesterday, Indra, from three of the major beverage soda companies, how is this different? What new do you think will happen?

    INDRA NOOYI, CEO, PepsiCo: This is a major commitment because, at a point where diet drinks are not in vogue, we’re saying that we will still commit to reducing calories by 20 percent, which means that we’re going to shift portfolios to sell lower-calorie options. We’re going to go to smaller pack sizes, which means volume may be lower, but smaller pack sizes.

    And we’re looking at reformulations, fundamental investment in R&D to search for new ingredients, new sweeteners, so people can still get a great experience in a beverage, but at a much lower calorie. So I think the 20 percent reduction in 10 years needs a huge undertaking.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Risa, what’s your take on that new goal that they have announced?

    DR. RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY, President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Well, it’s a significant goal, because we know that calories, excess calories in beverages is a significant part of the calories that we could take out of the diet and have people have a healthier weight.

    So it’s significant from that perspective. It’s also one that they’re saying they’re going to measure the number of calories consumed, or decreasing by 20 percent the calories consumed. And so that’s going to be tricky to go from what’s sold to what’s actually consumed. And I think that’s one of the ways that independent evaluators and others in the scientific community will be looking at it.

    It’s significant, it’s hard to do, but it will make a — potentially could make a difference in healthy weight.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Indra, you talked a few minutes about how so much oft attention is on the industry, but it’s of course a much bigger set of challenges, and that there are many more actors who can have an effect on the outcomes in an attempt to reduce obesity.

    What about the role of the public sector, of government? Clearly, they have been attempts in states to impose taxes. You had the highly publicized Michael Bloomberg effort in New York to ban supersized sodas. There have been other efforts with labeling. How do you see all that?

    INDRA NOOYI: I think the role of government, the role of NGOs, the role of policy-makers I think has got to be much broader than just saying let’s ban supersized sodas or whatever.

    I don’t think we want to become a nanny state. That was never — that should never be our goal. Freedom of choice is very important. Personal accountability and responsibility is very important. I think — where I think governments have to play a role, federal and state level, how do we improve the quality of lunches in schools, really good-quality lunches in schools?

    We spend the highest per student on education as a nation. Why is our school lunch program not as nutritionally outstanding at it could be? Why don’t we have mandatory phys-ed every day for an hour in schools? Why don’t we?

    I think we have go to go back and reexamine all of that. Why don’t we say that school — I mean, the towns have to have a sidewalk and encourage people to walk? Why don’t we have playgrounds in communities and not have the worry of litigation all the time if somebody falls down and gets hurt?

    I think we have so many issues we have to address. I think what we have chosen to do is point the finger at food and beverage companies, when we have pointed a finger at ourselves in addressing the issue. But then we assume that if you impose taxes on them, everything is going to get taken care of. It’s not. It’s a slippery slope.

    You have got private label manufacturers who don’t even fall under the purview of the branded manufacturers. You have got a whole unorganized restaurant trade that has food choices that don’t come under the purview of these branded manufacturers.

    So I think we have got to approach this as a complex problem that requires a multifaceted solution, as opposed to a simple solution, which is to tax the company or make bans happen. I don’t think that’s going to work.

    DR. RISA LAVIZZO-MOUREY: I think within this industry, one of the things that we really need to start to address is the gap that we see in the availability of healthy foods by income.

    And Indra spoke about this earlier. One of the things we’re very concerned about is this rise in childhood obesity has started to level off, but we’re not seeing the same change in low-income communities and in African-American and Latino communities.

    We also know that there tends to be more marketing of unhealthy foods in these communities. And so we want to make sure that we — as we’re addressing this, we think of ways that we can all work together to reduce that gap, because we’re not going to see a real benefit and a leveling off and a reduction of childhood obesity until we’re able to address it in all the communities, especially those where there’s a disproportionate risk.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: An upcoming addition of “PBS NewsHour Weekend” will focus on the campaign in San Francisco to raise taxes on sugar-added beverages.

    And, for the record, the CEO of WETA, which produces the “NewsHour,” is on PepsiCo’s board of directors.

    The post What can the food and beverage industry do to improve American health? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    UP AND AWAY monitor mars

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: More now about India’s historic mission, its space program and whether this fits into our exploration of Mars.

    Miles O’Brien is the NewsHour science correspondent, and he joins me from Boston.

    So, they have every right to be excited, I take it.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, It’s a great day for space lovers everywhere, really.

    I always say the more the merrier in space. And the beauty of these kinds of missions is, everybody shares the data. If this particular vehicle has a detector for methane, let’s say, for example, and the NASA MAVEN, which arrived just a couple of days before, doesn’t, that data can just be added on to what they’re using and they can share the information.

    And it just increases our knowledge and builds another little puzzle piece in understanding what happened to Mars over the millennia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Americans almost take it for granted that we have now successes on getting something up to the orbit of Mars, but India, you know, was really pretty impressed by just the mathematical difficulty of it. How hard is it to do all the right kind of course corrections to get something in orbit around a different planet from here?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, you know, it wasn’t too long ago when we were talking about a NASA mission that crashed on its way to arrive on Mars.

    And the problem was, if you will recall, they had two teams operating on it. One team was using the metric system. One team was using English units, and they completely missed Mars. They missed their landing spot and that was the end of that mission, Mars Climate Orbiter.

    So it’s tricky stuff. It really is. The term, it’s rocket science? It really is rocket science. So the fact that they pulled this off is a huge demonstration of their prowess and it’s a great technological demonstrator.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the big headlines today is the cost of getting something from India to Mars vs., three days ago, the cost of getting something from the United States to the same planet. Why is there such a big difference?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, of course, as you well know, Hari, there is a difference in the wage structure there. That’s a part of it.

    But there is a little more subtlety to it than that. If you think about the origins of NASA, NASA began with a blank check essentially to beat the Soviets to the moon. And that ethos, that mind-set kind of stayed with them for a long time after they had accomplished that goal in 1969.

    And so I think NASA now has turned around on that. They are trying to open up low-Earth orbit, for example, to commercial entities as a way of lowering the cost to getting to space. But the Indians over the years — necessity is the mother of invention. They had lean budgets and so they had to build lean spacecraft in novel ways.

    They couldn’t throw things out like perhaps NASA was. They had to iterate in a very gradual way. And, as a result, you can do it a lot cheaper. And I think there’s a great lesson there for the U.S. space program.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Even the head of the Indian Space Research Organization was saying, we stand on the shoulders of the people who went before us.

    I’m assuming a space program like theirs benefit from watching the mistakes and the corrections of the European Space Agency or NASA or Japan or anybody that has gone therefore.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, that’s an important point as well.

    It’s always more expensive to be first. And there were many mistakes along the way. The U.S. lost many craft. The Soviets lost many craft. The Europeans have lost craft. Trying to get to Mars is kind of the Bermuda Triangle of planetary destinations in our solar system.

    So the fact is, the Indians were able to go to school on all these mishaps over the years and learn an awful lot about what it takes to arrive there. It’s not an easy task. And they have proven a lot of things. This is a very ambitious space program. They one day want to join the ranks of nations that send human beings into space.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is it that now with both of these crafts, or maybe five crafts circling Mars, what are we hoping to learn about Mars with these missions?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, Mars is very dry, very inhospitable and it’s very cold. Three billion or four billion years ago, it was warm and wet and we think a cushy birth for life.

    We haven’t seen the smoking gun that there was life there or may be life there subterranean, but something happened along the way there. And understanding what that is all about is a very interesting scientific problem and it might tell us a little something about climate change here on Earth, for one thing.

    The other thing is just understanding if there was life, finding that fossil or, for that matter, that tiny microbe that might exist there today will tell us one way or another if we are in fact alone in the universe. If we look at the planet next door and we find that there has been life or there is life, we can look at the stars and say, gosh, there’s probably something else out there.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien joining us from Boston, thanks so much.

    MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome, Hari.

    The post India’s low-budget space program may offer lesson for U.S. – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Judy Woodruff’s complete interview with award-winners Rana Hajjeh and Ed Kneedler

    They saved thousands of lives through vaccine campaigns, argued more than a hundred cases in front of the Supreme Court, recovered hundreds of millions of dollars from fraudulent Medicare costs and greatly improved the lives of paralyzed veterans.

    They are civil servants, and the recipients of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals; better known as the Sammies. On September 22, hundreds of federal leaders and employees gathered to honor these recipients. Two of the honorees sat down with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff to talk about their awards and the huge difference public service continues to make.

    Rana Hajjeh received the top medal, the Federal Employee of the Year. She works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and received the award for leading a global campaign to convince some of the world’s poorest countries to use a vaccine that fights meningitis and pneumonia. An estimated seven million children’s lives will have been saved by 2020 because of the initiative.

    Ed Kneedler was awarded the Career Achievement Medal for his distinguished career as a deputy in the solicitor general’s office. Kneedler has argued 125 cases before the Supreme Court — more than any other attorney currently practicing law. He has represented the government’s interests throughout the administrations of both political parties, tackling issues ranging from affirmative action to free speech to, more recently, health care.

    The Sammies are an increasingly rare opportunity to acknowledge the work by outstanding civil servants such as Hajjeh and Kneedler. In a time when the country’s perception of work in Washington, D.C. is at an all-time low, it’s more important than ever, said Hajjeh, to communicate their efforts.

    “We need to communicate better with the rest of the country what great work is going in government agencies,” Hajjeh told Judy. “At CDC we are controlling diseases, we are monitoring day by day what is going on inside the U.S. and outside the U.S. so that we can better protect our country.”

    Public service is a career choice and one, in Kneedler’s case, which probably led to significantly less financial gain than the private sector. Though, as Kneedler said, he and other public servants are focused on the difference they can make and not their own achievements.

    “The people working on these public service programs are dedicated, energetic, and creative – part of what makes public service so attractive is that you get a lot of responsibility early in your career, so early in your career you get the sense that you can make a real difference,” Kneedler said.

    You can see a full list of the recipients on the Service to American Medals website.

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    GWEN IFILL: Now let’s turn to a space story that captured the world’s attention today, as India claims a triumph in its first mission to Mars.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Cheers erupted at the Indian Space Research Organization on word that the satellite named Mangalyaan, or Mars craft, had swung into Mars orbit.

    Journalist Pallava Bagla was at mission control in Bangalore, and spoke with us via Google Hangout.

    PALLAVA BAGLA: When it emerged from behind Mars and 12 minutes later the signal came that the main rocket engine had its stopped firing, oh, my God, I have never seen such happy faces in India.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: India joins the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and the European Union as the only ones to land a spacecraft on the Red Planet or place one in orbit.

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

    NARENDRA MODI, Prime Minister, India: History has been created today. We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The Indians pulled it off on the first try for just $75 million, less than it cost to make “Gravity,” the Oscar-winning blockbuster movie. But there have been debates over whether the money could be better spent in a country where millions live in wrenching poverty.

    BRINDA ADIGE, Director, Global Concerns India: At one end of the spectrum, so much of money that is being spent to send a rocket out into outer space, when we know that here on Earth, in my country, there are children dying every day because they have no food to eat.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, the success in space proved inspirational for many, including schoolchildren who arrived in class early to watch the TV coverage.

    STUDENT: It is a very big achievement for India. I mean, we are feeling very proud to be Indians, proud to be born in a country who can do anything.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: India’s satellite followed close behind the U.S. MAVEN orbiter, which arrived at Mars on Sunday.

    BRUCE JAKOSKY, Principal Investigator, MAVEN: We are on orbit of Mars, guys.


    BRUCE JAKOSKY: And we have taken 11 years to get here, and now we get to do the science that we have been planning for all this time.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: MAVEN cost nearly 10 times that of India’s satellite, but their missions are similar, to examine how the planet went from warm and wet to cold and dry.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there too much testing today in the public schools? It’s a question more parents, teachers and school officials are asking around the country. This is the first year scores on new tests tied to the Common Core standards will be published in many states. Some early adopters like New York State have already seen students’ scores dive on the new exams.

    Now more parents are opting their children out of tests and some officials are calling for a time-out when it comes to linking test results to consequences.

    As a part of our American Graduate series, we explore this with two who are closely involved.

    Alberto Carvalho is the superintendent of Miami-Dade County School District, who’s calling for changes. His district is dealing with dozens of mandated tests throughout the year. And Kathleen Porter-Magee is with the Partnership for Inner-City Education. She’s also a fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

    We welcome you both.

    To you first, Alberto Carvalho, in Miami-Dade. What do you see in your district in terms of the number of tests students are expected to take?

    ALBERTO CARVALHO, Superintendent, Miami-Dade County School District: Well, I have seen a complete swing of the pendulum way too far in the direction of overtesting.

    Right now, this year, we’re facing about 32 different assessments, different tests that our students will have to take, in addition to about 1,200 different end-of-course assessments mandated by both state and federal entities.

    So I think if that’s not an indication of teaching time being robbed from teachers and students alike in favor of testing, I don’t know what would be. And so I think that’s a real crisis we facing not only in Miami, but across the country. And I think we need to recalibrate the necessity of so many of these tests, conduct a thorough analysis of the duplicate nature of some of these exams, and have a rapid regression back to reason in terms of what’s appropriate for students and teachers alike.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kathleen Porter-Magee, is this as onerous as Mr. Carvalho describes?

    KATHLEEN PORTER-MAGEE, Partnership for Inner-City Education: It depends on the place. And I think that is one of the challenges of this being a national debate.

    There are certainly some districts where the testing is far too onerous, where students are taking hours upon hours of tests. There are other places where I think it is far less so. And I think that is one of the challenges is we really need to separate this out and have local debates about what makes sense for each community.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying it just depends on where you live, what school district you’re in?

    KATHLEEN PORTER-MAGEE: It depends on where you live, yes, because a lot of times — so, in a lot of places, there are state requirements, for example, that students take English language arts and math assessments that are aligned to, for example, the Common Core state standards.

    In addition in some districts, there are district level requirements. In addition, sometimes, school requires testings that go on top of that. All of that can add up to hours and hours spent on testing, and taken away from instruction. So it does — it can reach a point where it just gets to be far too much.

    In other places, I think it’s more limited to the state mandates, and there’s far more flexibility at the local level to what teachers and studies can do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Alberto Carvalho, again, in Miami-Dade, what is it that you’re saying is the deleterious effect of this? How is it affecting the education of these students?

    ALBERTO CARVALHO: Well, I think, number one, I agree with what was said just now.

    I think it varies from state to state, from community to community. The vast majority of the 32 assessments that I described are really state and federally mandated. But, certainly, the variance across the country is rather pronounced.

    Look, the bottom line for me is I believe in accountability. I believe that you need to have a reasonable and respectful way of assessing children. Otherwise, you don’t have a way of informing the teaching and learning process. That’s key.

    I think how we’re using the results of testing is what we need to question, in addition to the number of exams that we have in front of children. We have 32 different state or federally mandated exams on a system like Miami-Dade, in addition to the prospect of 1,200 additional end-of-course exams for every single course taught in the state of Florida, I think, is going too far.

    Secondly, we all recognize as educators that you cannot manage what you can’t measure. However, when we use the rules of assessment, for example, in untested ways, venturing into areas that don’t necessarily inform what teachers need to know or communities need to know about whether or not children are learning, you’re going too far.

    The true applicability of assessment and accountability is strictly to inform the instructional process, tying it often to untested methodology. Whether it is to reward schools with additional funding or teachers evaluation using untested methodology like them is perhaps going too far.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Kathleen Porter-Magee, it sounds like he’s saying that these tests are being created to measure something that came out of a think tank, rather than something that applies to what these children really need to learn.


    And, again, I think it’s — for the most part, that’s not true, right? So, some of the — let’s call it the state-mandated tests that are aligned to the state standards. They’re meant to test whether or not students have mastered the content and skills that the state says they need at each grade level. And in those cases, I think those summit of tests are very important, because they are a gauge that tells us, are students where they need to be? Are they learning what they need to learn?

    And, in fact, it was these tests, it was the advent of state-level testing and accountability that allowed us to have the conversations we’re having today about things like the achievement gap. We really saw that our most disadvantaged students were just learning far less. And it was so clear. And the power of the test was really contributing to that conversation.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just very quickly to you, this argument that teachers are now teaching to the test, rather than teaching what they need to be spending time with these children.

    KATHLEEN PORTER-MAGEE: Yes, and I think that’s a fair unintended consequence. I think we are seeing — when people say teaching to the test, I think what they mean is trying to game the test.

    So, essentially, they’re taking away from content instruction and they’re teaching tricks. Here’s how you answer this question. Here’s how you eliminate answer choices. And when that is supplanting core content instruction, students lose. So there’s no question that when that has started to happen — and we have seen it happen and it has been an unintended consequence — that’s bad.

    What I should say, though…


    JUDY WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, I want to come back to Superintendent Carvalho in our limited time.

    The point has been made to me that Florida, Miami-Dade had time to prepare for these Common Core standards, and yet this has come, this has happened in a way that the county and around the state, they seem to be taken aback by it. Why wasn’t the state, or was the state, is the county better prepared to handle the Common Core requirements?

    ALBERTO CARVALHO: Well, I think the county is actually prepared.

    Our teachers are ready to implement the standards. We have been implementing the new standards over the past three years, at least at the elementary level. That’s not the question.

    However, the state was on the late train in terms of adopting a new assessment that is now being constructed, field tested in Utah to be applied in the state of Florida. I believe that’s a mistake.

    Secondly — and I think this is a critical point — nobody’s questioning the necessity of assessment. I support the assessment. In fact, I believe that overtesting is just as bad as not testing at all. How would you know whether or not you can identify pockets of underperforming students even in high-performing schools or districts? So assessment is important.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Kathleen Porter-Magee, to you, finally, what is it that needs to be done? You’re saying don’t throw out all testing. You’re just saying, just take a careful look at it.

    KATHLEEN PORTER-MAGEE: Absolutely. I think there needs to be a very careful look.

    I think we do need to look at individual students and say, how many hours of testing are we giving an individual student, and is that too much? Is it taking away from core instruction? And then, how are we using those assessment results? And I think there are some tough questions that we need to ask.

    But I think we just need to be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I think tests are important and I think they really actually have contributed in a very positive way to the education debate.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will leave it on that note.

    Kathleen Porter-Magee, we thank you, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

    GWEN IFILL: Our American Graduate unit is part of a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

    On Friday, we will bring you a second story involving the state of Florida, this about how schools are dealing with an influx of immigrants. Saturday marks American Graduate Day across the country, when there will be a special broadcast on most PBS stations featuring interviews with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and celebrities like Tony Bennett and actress Allison Williams, along with student voices and many others making a difference in the lives of young people.

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

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to another form of destruction taking place in Syria and Iraq, that of history itself.

    Jeffrey Brown looks at that side of the story, part of his series Culture at Risk.

    JEFFREY BROWN: On a site dating back to the 8th century B.C., this mosque in Mosul was celebrated as the final resting place of the biblical prophet Jonah. In July, it was blown up by militants from the Islamic State group.

    Since taking control this summer of much of Northern Iraq, a region boasting thousands of archaeological sites dating back to the beginnings of civilization, the group has destroyed invaluable cultural relics in spectacular fashion.

    Abdulamir Al-Hamdani is an Iraqi archaeologist now studying at New York’s Stony Brook University.

    ABDULAMIR AL-HAMDANI, Stony Brook University: I have been in touch with my colleagues, friends in Mosul museum and the university, and I hear the terrible news and been very shocked for them. It’s really a disaster. You know, they say we cannot see Mosul without that shrine.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For the militants, it’s a bald statement of control and brazen destruction of religious and other sites in conflict with their interpretation of Islam.

    Just across the porous border in Syria, the three-and-a-half-year-old civil war grinds on. Nearly 200,000 are dead and millions more have been displaced. And much of the country’s history spanning across millennia, languages, and religions is being laid waste.

    AMR AL-AZM, Shawnee State University: The damage is almost incalculable.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Amr Al-Azm is an archaeologist and member of the Syrian opposition who teaches at Shawnee State University in Ohio.

    AMR AL-AZM: The damage is great. And I think, you know, Syrians will spend years to come trying to work out how much was lost, and not just for Syrians, but I think also for the rest of the world as well.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In Syria’s central region, the ruins of the ancient oasis of Palmyra, which date back to the 1st century A.D., have been damaged by mortars and shelling, as government and rebels jockey for position.

    Outside of Homs, the Krak des Chevaliers, a castle built by European crusaders in the 12th century, is a United Nations World Heritage Site, now bearing the scars of war.

    CORINE WEGENER, Smithsonian Institution: It’s one of the biggest problems to confront the cultural heritage community in decades.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Corine Wegener is a cultural heritage preservation officer at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

    CORINE WEGENER: This is ancient Mesopotamia, the land of the first cities, you know, some of the first writings. And it’s really the cradle of civilization that we’re talking about. And once we lose these archaeological sites, we don’t know what kind of information and knowledge that we’re losing forever.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Aleppo, thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, has suffered terrible damage. Its medieval marketplace, another recognized World Heritage Site, was set ablaze in 2012. And it along with the old city and citadel have been badly damaged by fighting and nearby bombings.

    Watching the destruction from above, Susan Wolfinbarger heads the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

    Through a new National Science Foundation grant, Wolfinbarger, Wegener and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are using satellite imagery to document intentional destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq, in places too dangerous to visit.

    SUSAN WOLFINBARGER, American Association for the Advancement of Science: We want to construct a timeline of what’s happening at thousands of important sites across Syria, so that we can have a very clear idea of what’s happened when. And this will be important down the road because we believe that there will be a lot of international attention once the conflict ends in terms of litigation and prosecution.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But the destruction goes beyond collateral damage and intentional acts. Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department released these before-and-after satellite images showing ancient grounds in Syria. At Dura-Europos, a Hellenistic site in Eastern Syria, for example, the image shows a pockmarked landscape, thousands of holes in the ground illustrating another erasure of history, illegal excavation and looting.

    Amr Al-Azm says as the conflict has dragged on, the looting has become far more sophisticated and destructive.

    AMR AL-AZM: In the beginning of the conflict, going to back to 2011, maybe, you know, late 2011, and for probably much of 2012, it was mostly opportunistic. But what are seeing today now, in 2014, is far beyond just opportunistic looting. We’re looking now at organized, almost industrial-scale looting in some cases. And that’s what’s really, really dangerous.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And there are reports that the Islamic State group, also called ISIS or ISIL, is allowing and indeed profiting directly from the looting and sale of stolen antiquities.

    In an effort to slow that market, the U.S. State Department joined others in issuing a so-called red list of Syrian cultural objects at risk ceramics, mosaics, sculptures and more, to help art dealers, museum directors, law enforcement and others identify plundered objects that may come their way via the black market.

    But the destruction and threat continue. And the world is taking notice. Secretary of State John Kerry sounded the alarm this week at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We gather in the midst of one of the most tragic and one of the most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage that perhaps any of us have seen in a lifetime. Ancient treasures in Iraq and Syria have now become the casualties of continuing warfare and looting.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, Syrian archaeologists and curators on the ground are working to protect what they can. This summer, a group of them, their faces blurred here for their protection, came across the Turkish border for a training session with Amr Al-Azm, Corine Wegener and others.

    AMR AL-AZM: The training focused on showing these activists and these museum staff how to pack items, how to pack artifacts in boxes, how to wrap them, how to record the activity, how to make sure that everything is documented.

    CORINE WEGENER: Worst-case scenario, you know, maybe all you have is a container or a cardboard box or something, and you fill it with sand, and you put the objects in around the sand, because that’s at least going to keep it from being broken until you get where you’re going if you have to evacuate.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Sandbags in the dirt, satellites in the sky, brave men and women on the front lines still working to protect and preserve their own and the world’s history.

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    GWEN IFILL: It was a busy day at the United Nations.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner is there, and she joins me now.

    Margaret, thank you for joining us again.

    It was unusual — we saw it in your piece — to see the president chairing a — the National Security Council meeting this afternoon. Why did that happen?

    MARGARET WARNER: It’s only the sixth time in U.N. Security Council history, Gwen.

    The president saw an opportunity to galvanize the entire world, finally, in this fight, because it has suddenly become clear that citizens from nearly half the countries in the world, 80 countries, have gone to join ISIS, Islamic State, one of these groups in the Middle East, many of them recruited specifically because they are Westerners or have foreign passports, some recruited specifically to go back and reinsert in their home country to stage attacks later.

    And so he saw this opportunity to appeal to self-interest and get other countries in this coalition who are not willing to join a military effort.

    GWEN IFILL: What precisely is this resolution and how would they enforce it?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, the wording, Gwen, is really tough.

    It says every country must, is required to prosecute and penalize any foreign — any national, any citizen who tries to leave to go join one of these groups, anyone in the country who helps finance them, recruit them, get them excited about the idea, help them travel, makes logistical arrangements.

    So it’s very, very specific. It also requires the countries to share a lot more intelligence with one another about no-fly lists, make their airlines comply with the no-fly list. I guess the question really is, what is enforcement mechanism?

    GWEN IFILL: OK. Well, we don’t know the answers to that question yet, obviously, but because we will have to wait and see what happens.

    But, obviously, we have watched other nations, including Jordan and Turkey, respond not only to the president’s speech today, but also to this resident today. There was a kind of unusual tableau of world leaders speaking to that. What was the talk in the hallways and in that room about what this plan is and whether it can be executed?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Gwen, first of all, the enforcement mechanism is mostly peer pressure. It’s Chapter 7, but it’s really mostly peer pressure.

    GWEN IFILL: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: The reaction was muted when the president gave his speech.

    The Security Council vote was a big deal. He announced that he got 104 countries to co-sponsor it, even members who aren’t on the Council. And what you heard from some countries, they all talked about the scourge of international terrorism and how much at threat they feel. And some leaders talked about specific steps they have already started to take.

    And as we know, the British and the French in particular feel very exposed. They have got a lot of foreign fighters. French President Hollande said of the 15,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, 1,000 are French. And so they have bills in parliament that really cross some civil liberties line about preventing their own citizens from travel if they’re reasonably suspected to be traveling for that purpose, to — if any do, to prevent them from coming back, even though they hold passports, to in Britain’s case really prosecute and suppress extremists, not just violent, but extremists forces in schools and universities.

    So all of these are going to be controversial measures in the various countries. And then of course you have the question of one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. I thought the most interesting reaction, what came from the Islamic countries, President Erdogan of Turkey, the emir of Qatar, and King Abdullah of Jordan, who certainly agreed that this is a scourge, but have all been criticized, especially Turkey and Qatar, for not — for themselves having fund these extremist groups or in Turkey’s case cross the border.

    And President Erdogan took potshots at the international community for its inertia. And they all said, we have been warning the international community, if you didn’t help the moderates in Syria, you would create this vacuum.

    But he did say that now that there’s better intelligence sharing, they have arrested or stopped some 6,000 potential foreign fighters and arrested another 1,000 at the border. So he wouldn’t admit he’s doing more, but he did say he is doing more.

    GWEN IFILL: Fascinating and unusual day today at the United Nations. Margaret Warner, thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Gwen.

    GWEN IFILL: We get two views now on how the president’s speech may be received in the Middle East and around the world.

    Jessica Tuchman Mathews is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Raghida Dergham is a columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Al-Hayat, the Arabic language daily.

    Thank you. Welcome to both of you.

    So the president made the case, Jessica Mathews, for concerted international interventions. Was that the right case to make?

    JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: I think that speech hit it right on the nose for this audience, in that he was tough, but at the same time engaging.

    He was, for the first time in a long time, not defensive and not backward-looking at the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but forward-looking, and the focus was not on what we’re not going to do, but what we’re going to do. So, he — I think the tone of this speech really finally captured a presidential tone that he has lacked recently, indeed of a world leader.

    And you could see it in the room, that people were listening, were engaged, were sitting forward in their seats. And the applause at the end was much more than pro forma.

    GWEN IFILL: Raghida Dergham, what is your sense of what he said and what he didn’t say and perhaps what he needed to say today?

    RAGHIDA DERGHAM, Al-Hayat: I thought the president lost the opportunity to clarify a little bit what his strategy might be.

    He sounded more of a preacher, to tell the Islamic world and the Arab world in particular, here’s the list of what you need to do, and rightly so. But what he didn’t address is, for example, Iran’s role in the region, regional ambitious, its role — ambitions, its role in Syria in particular, which is a problem for his allies in the coalition.

    What he did not say is, for example, anything of the same language or similar language about President Bashar al-Assad, whom, in the past, from the podium of the G.A., General Assembly, he has called him a man who has lost legitimacy, and other times he has said your days are numbered, practically.

    And this time, he was very lenient on Bashar al-Assad. He practically didn’t leave that message that there is an urgency to address that part of the problem, not only the ISIS problem. Notably also and significantly, in my view, he did not mention anything about Yemen, a place that is being taken over by the Houthis, who are very close to Iran.

    And, therefore, that’s something that people were talking about. Libya, which is falling apart, got half a line. And I think there is a problem with that. But, all in all, his call for moderation was very important and his call on Arab countries to really put their effort in making sure there’s moderation is very important. But it’s just a call for the moment, and I think he needs to do more than that.

    GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Jessica Mathews about that.

    It was a very different speech than what he has delivered at the U.N. General Assembly in the past. Did it need to be?

    JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: It did need to be.

    And it — the contrast last year couldn’t have been stronger. That was a defensive speech. He was apologizing for things. He was uneasy in talking about America’s role. Today, he was confident in America’s role and unapologetic about both our strengths and our use of force, but also about two things, that the situation in Syria only had a political solution, and about the need to confront the ideology of violent extremism.

    And I thought he did it without in any way being preachy or blustery or separating himself from everybody else in the room.

    GWEN IFILL: But what about the part Raghida was just saying about Assad? Can ISIS be defeated and Assad allowed to stay?

    JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, that — everybody knows that this is a tough line to follow. I think the most optimistic thing anyone can say that’s accurate is that our engagement now, our active engagement, both in the air and on the ground in training and equipping forces, provides an opportunity to perhaps get a cease-fire, to even the military forces on the ground and get a cease-fire from which you can move forward with a political solution. But it isn’t going to be easy.

    GWEN IFILL: Another interesting point today, Raghida Dergham, the president decried the hypocrisy of wealthy nations that accumulate wealth, only just to enable some of these terror groups. And we actually heard King Abdullah of Jordan make a similar point. Is that speaking — is that speaking to anybody in particular that you heard?

    RAGHIDA DERGHAM: To individuals, not to the states. Those states have been acting in alliance with the United States in fighting ISIS and other extremists who are right now part of the problem that is not for Syria and Iraq alone, but also for them.

    So they have been very well aware of that. The trouble is that there are individuals who support these extremist, violent, terroristic groups. And these are the ones we should worry about. In order to — for these countries, their governments to either take action against them or at least bring, rally the public with the leadership in order to take action against them, you needed to give more.

    The president needed to give more than simply say, here, you have a problem, and here’s how — the way you do it. You just do laws and then we will cooperate with intelligence and then end of the line.


    GWEN IFILL: At the same time, however, we are hearing here, Jessica Mathews, that the heads of Al-Shabab and al-Nusra Front, and perhaps Khorasan, who we — the strikes that began earlier this week, have all been eliminated.


    GWEN IFILL: Killed.


    GWEN IFILL: Let me just ask Jessica Mathews this first.

    How important is that piece of this to making the larger case at the U.N.?

    JESSICA TUCHMAN MATHEWS: Well, it’s enormously important, because it allows him — with U.S. planes in the air acting as effectively as they have, it underlines the strength of our intelligence. And that comes not just from our own, but from connections in the region.

    And I think it underlines the strength of that American pledge, and that he repeated several times, we will not be deterred, we will not be distracted, we will not disengage, we will stay engaged in the region. This was a very different message than he has given before. There was none of the holding back and almost wishing we weren’t involved that we have heard so often before.

    GWEN IFILL: Raghida Dergham, brief response?


    Look, there has been a history of reluctance because of the president’s actions last year, going all the way to an execution of a threat and then backing down from it.

    So the fact that he is now engaging in the fight in Syria, the fact that he has taken as his allies the Arab states and not the regime in Damascus that said, listen, here I am, I am your partner in fighting terrorism, this is important.

    But it’s also quite important to know who are the boots on the ground. In Syria, it is that opposition, the moderate opposition, that it’s not enough to wake up and say, you know what, I should have armed you before. It’s not — it’s almost suicidal to tell them, you take care of this on your own.

    So, you need elements. You need elements of going stronger, public pronouncement against Bashar al-Assad. And in Iraq, you also have the boots on the ground, the Sunnis, the moderate Sunnis, the ones who have done awakening before. And they’re saying that I’m not going to give you my blood for free. I’m not going to just — I need reassurances once again, because it’s happened before that I have come and helped, and then Iran was having the free hand in running Iraq.

    GWEN IFILL: All right.

    RAGHIDA DERGHAM: So we need other assurances. I should have — I would have…


    GWEN IFILL: I’m sorry.


    RAGHIDA DERGHAM: … to have heard that from the president today. I wish he did.

    GWEN IFILL: All right. Raghida Dergham of Al-Hayat newspaper and Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thank you very much.


    RAGHIDA DERGHAM: Thank you.

    The post Can the U.S. rally more partners against Islamic State? – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Militants in Algeria have beheaded a Frenchman after Paris rejected their demand to halt airstrikes in Iraq. Herve Gourdel was kidnapped on Sunday. A group linked with Islamic State forces released a video of his killing today, and French President Francois Hollande confirmed it later.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A court in Jordan today acquitted a radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada, of plotting to attack Israelis and Americans back in 2000. Qatada, known for fiery pro-al-Qaida speeches, was greeted by family and friends in Amman after his release. He was deported from Britain to Jordan last year.

    GWEN IFILL: NATO reports a significant withdrawal of Russian forces from inside Ukraine in recent days, but the alliance said today thousands of Russian troops are still deployed near the border, and special forces are operating inside Ukraine. That’s in spite of the cease-fire agreement signed in early September. The Russians deny they have any troops in Ukraine.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s been another attack on health care workers in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. Red Cross workers in southwestern Guinea were assaulted yesterday as they collected bodies of suspected Ebola victims. Locals say relatives of the dead went after the volunteers. Last week, eight health workers and journalists were killed in Guinea.

    GWEN IFILL: Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, called for calm today after renewed unrest. Five people were arrested and two officers were hurt last night. The trouble started after a fire burned an impromptu shrine to Michael Brown, the black teenager killed by a white police officer last month.

    Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson said today that officers also reported seeing gunfire from the crowd.

    RON JOHNSON, Captain, Missouri State Highway Patrol: We must all stand. The citizens must stand. This agenda for peace, this agenda to make our community better takes us all. We cannot have nights like last night. We can’t have actions like last night that can result in injury or death. Those will not be tolerated.

    GWEN IFILL: A state grand jury is still investigating the shooting of Michael Brown. The Justice Department is conducting its own separate investigations.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: NASCAR driver Tony Stewart will not face criminal charges in a fatal accident during a dirt track race. Prosecutors in Upstate New York announced today that a grand jury decided not to indict. In August, Stewart’s car struck and killed another driver, Kevin Ward Jr., after they collided, and Ward climbed out of his car and walked into the center of the track.

    GWEN IFILL: There were calls today for the head of the Food and Drug Administration to step down. Sixteen groups charged Dr. Margaret Hamburg has failed to stop an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Opposition to Hamburg heated up last year, when the FDA approved a powerful new painkiller, over the objections of medical advisers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A federal judge has ruled that BP must stick to its agreement to compensate companies for losses in the Gulf oil spill. The ruling today, in New Orleans, denied the oil giant’s bid to recoup hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable claims. BP said it will appeal.

    GWEN IFILL: Wall Street staged a broad advance today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 154 points to close at 17,210. The Nasdaq rose 46 points to close at 4,555. And the S&P 500 added 15 to finish at 1,998.

    The post News Wrap: Militants behead Frenchman in Algeria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    United Nations Hosts World Leaders For Annual General Assembly

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. military and Arab allies struck at Islamic State targets once again late this evening with a new wave of airstrikes. That came hours after President Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly and appealed for action against both Islamist terrorists and Russian aggression.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner is in New York for the U.N. gathering.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: We come together at a crossroads between war and peace, between disorder and integration, between fear and hope.

    MARGARET WARNER: That stark statement headlined the president’s address on a raft of major dangers facing the world, starting with the renewed confrontation between Russia and the West. Mr. Obama accused Moscow of endangering the entire post-Cold War order with its aggressive actions in Ukraine.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is a vision of the world in which might makes right, a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies and uphold our commitment to collective self-defense.

    MARGARET WARNER: But the bulk of the speech was a direct challenge to Arab and Muslim states to fight together what the president called a growing threat to the entire globe.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.

    MARGARET WARNER: He insisted, as he has before, that is not a war against a faith, but against those who pervert it.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics and the trends that fuel their recruitment.

    No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

    MARGARET WARNER: To that end, the president urged Arab and Muslim leaders to join in a four-part plan, to degrade and destroy the Islamic State, to explicitly delegitimize the ideology of groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida, to reduce the sectarian conflicts within their faith that stoke extremism, and to create greater opportunities for their own people.

    Mr. Obama also argued, in blunt terms, that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue can no longer justify their inaction on other regional challenges.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Understand, the situation in Iraq and Syria and Libya should cure anybody of the illusion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the main source of problems in the region. For far too long, that’s been used as an excuse to distract people from problems at home.

    MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Obama said that while the U.S. will do its parts to help revitalize the Middle East, the real impetus must come not from U.S. military involvement, but from the region itself.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe havens, nor act as an occupying power.

    MARGARET WARNER: One partner in the newly-formed coalition against Islamic State is Qatar, which aided the airstrikes on Syria that began Tuesday night. The wealthy Gulf emirate has long been accused of stoking and funding extremist rebel groups in Syria.

    Today, the new emir of Qatar didn’t address that issue, though he did agree the region’s governments need to do more to realize the dreams of their people.

    EMIR TAMIM BIN HAMAD AL THANI, Qatar (through interpreter): If societies were to stand with us in the fight against terrorism, we need to be fair to them and we need not push them to choose between terrorism and tyranny or between terrorism and sectarian discrimination.

    MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, the president met with Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, continuing a show of support for the fragile new government.

    And this afternoon, the president, in an unusual turn, chaired a U.N. Security Council meeting on a resolution requiring all countries to take steps to keep their citizens from traveling to join violent militant groups in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. After the resolution passed unanimously, he challenged everyone to back up their votes with deeds.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Promises on paper cannot keep us safe. Lofty rhetoric and good intentions will not stop a single terrorist attack. The words spoken here today must be matched and translated into action.

    MARGARET WARNER: Far from the council chambers, the U.S. continued airstrikes against Islamic targets in Syria and Iraq, with the latest wave starting as midnight approached.

    The post Obama challenges Arab and Muslim states to fight violent extremism in U.N. address – Part 1 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Tonight's home finale at Wrigley Field in Chicago will mark the final video-free game for the stadium. Photo by Getty Images

    Tonight’s home finale at Wrigley Field in Chicago will mark the final video-free game for the stadium. Photo by Getty Images

    If you build it, they will come. Or, at least, that’s what the Chicago Cubs are hoping.

    The Cubs will close out the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field tonight when they play their last home game of the season against the St. Louis Cardinals. When the lights go down on the field Wednesday, however, it will be more than the end of both a season and a century at the ballpark — it will also mark the end of a video-free era.

    The Chicago Cubs’ home finale will be Wrigley Field’s final game as the last major league ballpark without a video board. In the offseason, the stadium will undergo the beginnings of a $575 million renovation that will see many large changes; the least of which include a new video replay board in left field. For a venue that has resisted many radical changes — it was the last major league ballpark to adopt lighting for night games — the change is controversial.

    “I’m a traditionalist,” Fred Kilcullen, a 71-year-old Cubs fan, told the Chicago Tribune. “I think it’s going to ruin the ballpark. It’s too big and overpowering to me. But I wasn’t too crazy on (installing the lights in 1988), and those have blended in well. Actually, they’ve done everything tastefully, even the Toyota sign. But I just think the jumbotron is going to be too humongous.”

    However, Cubs spokesman Julian Green thinks the changes to modernize the ballpark will allow it to thrive for another century. “In some respects, this is 10 years or more in the making,” Green said. “Throughout all the fits and starts, we’re finally going to be able to save this ballpark. And if you’re going to invest $575 million in this project, it means Wrigley field is going to be here for the next 100 years. It’s pretty cool. It gives you goose bumps.”

    The video board, alongside a large Budweiser sign, are due to be ready before the start of the 2015 season. Several other renovations, such as new bullpens, batting cages and home team locker room won’t be completed until the start of the 2016 season.

    The post Wrigley Field ending era as last major league ballpark without video appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Alaska Thursday morning, with its epicenter located 81 miles northwest of the city of Anchorage. Map by Google Maps

    A 6.2 magnitude earthquake rocked Alaska this morning, shaking residents in one the strongest quakes for the state in 50 years.

    The earthquake struck at 9:51 a.m. EDT, with an epicenter located 81 miles northwest of Anchorage and, the Associated Press reports, the effects were felt “as far as 250 miles northeast” of the quake’s origin. No damage or injuries were reported in the aftermath, and officials say no tsunamis are expected to result from the event.

    Seismologist Natalia Ruppert, of the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, told the Alaska Dispatch News that Thursday’s earthquake was caused as the Pacific tectonic plate dove underneath the North American plate.

    “This was quite deep, so I wouldn’t expect any serious damage,” Ruppert said. “Deep earthquakes normally don’t produce as many aftershocks as shallow earthquakes, so there will be some aftershocks, but I don’t expect there to be too many.”

    The post 6.2 magnitude earthquake rocks Alaska appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A White House official has announced that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will resign Thursday.

    A White House official has announced that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will resign Thursday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Almost immediately after the first reports of Attorney General Eric Holder’s impending resignation surfaced today, his detractors did too. “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) – with whom Holder often clashed – tweeted.

    “The nation deserves an attorney general whose loyalty to the justice system will trump loyalty to a political party,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who had called for Holder’s resignation.

    Holder, who gained something of a reputation for his impatience with his critics, dismissed them again today.

    “Well, I can say that to those who think that they forced me out, I hate to break their hearts, but that’s totally untrue,” Holder told me in a telephone interview after the White House confirmed he would step down. “If they couldn’t force me out during the first term, with all of the things that they did – all the mistakes that they made – they certainly weren’t going to do it after what I think has been a relatively good period where we have moved on criminal justice reform, we’ve initiated the fight for voting rights, we’ve done a lot of good things around the issues of LGBT equality.”

    Holder acknowledged that he is leaving some things undone – the Supreme Court is expected to take up challenges to state bans on gay marriage, and he had hoped to strengthen the Voting Rights Act – but he said he has accomplished much.

    “I’ve made a lot of progress in these last few years – from civil rights, to criminal justice reform,” he said. “I think that now I’ve either accomplished what I’ve wanted to do, or I’ve left these issues in a good place for whoever succeeds me to continue this work. And I discussed this with the White House, with the President, and I think he and I have the same world view. We both decided now was the right time.”

    “You really get to the point where – even if this were like 2017 January – there would still be issues left undone,” he added. “But I’m satisfied that we’ve done a good job with regard to the things that I could handle and that matter to me, and I’ve left in a good place those things that still require a certain amount of effort.”

    Holder was severely criticized during his term for his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the men who planned the September 11 attack in a downtown New York federal courthouse – a decision he was forced to reverse after local outcry. The men are still in military prison.

    “History has shown that the decision that I made was right,” he said with some force. “And if we had done it the way I had said we should have done it, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his confederates would probably be on death row right now, instead of lingering in a military commission.”

    But Holder says he is still optimistic Republicans and Democrats can agree on some issues in the short run – including criminal justice reform.

    The Attorney General plans to stay in place until his as-yet-unnamed successor is confirmed.

    “It’s been a good run, but it’s time to let somebody else take a shot,” he said. “And let me get reacquainted with that wonderful woman who claims to be my wife.”

    The post Eric Holder: no one forced me out appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Every brain movement and thought zips between neurons like the current that moves through the wires and circuits in a computer. But the brain is covered with a white tissue, making it impossible for scientists to see how it makes these connections — until now.

    A new process called CLARITY, developed by neuroscientist and psychiatrist Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford University, allows scientists to dissolve that fatty tissue and replace it with a clear gel. The clear gel exposes the brain’s circuitry, and with computer programming neuroscientists can zoom in on individual neurons.

    “You can actually fly in and look around, see which connections are next to which other connections,” Deisseroth says. “And our goal is to understand the system in its entirety, but also in high resolution at the level of its wiring and individual cells.”

    Being able to see individual neurons and their connections could help scientists fix neurological problems like depression or anxiety, something he sees often in his patients, Deisseroth added.

    Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has more on CLARITY for this story from the National Science Foundation’s program “Science Nation.”*

    *For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.

    The post Dissolving part of the brain for a clearer look at its wiring appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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