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

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    On Monday, we told you about SpaceX’s failed attempted to recover and reuse Falcon 9, the 14-story rocket that launches supply capsules into space. This was the rocket that helped deliver the company’s fifth resupply mission to the International Space Station.

    Today, the company released video of the crash landing on Vine — and it’s quite the close-up.

    To review, here’s what happened in the crash, which happened Saturday:

    After the Dragon spacecraft detached, the rocket plummeted to Earth at a speed of 2,900 miles per hour. Falcon 9 opened its deceleration fins, and second set of retropropulsion engines burned to slow its fall onto a 300 foot-long, 170 foot-wide drone barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

    SpaceX founder and CEO was not discouraged by this setback. He tweeted this morning:

    The post SpaceX releases video of rocket’s spectacular crash landing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Short grasses and plants growing near the Arctic Circle absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As they die, the carbon-rich plant matter is pushed into the soil, where it freezes.

    In warmer conditions, the plant matter would be broken down quickly by bacteria another microorganisms in the soil, releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In the Arctic tundra, the dead plant matter remains frozen about a foot below the surface, which makes the tundra a giant vault of carbon dioxide, says Matthew Wallenstein, a Colorado State University ecologist.

    But the vault is opening. As the planet warms, microbes hiding in the Arctic will feed on the thawed plant matter. As they eat, they release carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

    NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien caught up with Wallenstein and a team from Colorado State University, who are digging up frozen cores of Alaskan soil to study these microbes.

    “This is frozen,” says researcher Megan Machmuller, gesturing to the tundra. “So, that prevents the release of the carbon to the atmosphere, but as temperatures are warming very fast here in the Arctic, this – the microbes – speed up, decompose carbon faster perhaps by releasing more carbon to the atmosphere, and that’s really what we’re trying to understand.”

    O’Brien has more in this report for the National Science Foundation series “Science Nation.”*

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

    The post In the Alaskan tundra, scientists dig up dirt on future climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, congressional Republicans met to plot next steps with their newfound power in Washington. And there were more steps taken by potential 2016 presidential candidates, as they gear up to run for the White House.

    For all that and more, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    It’s so good to see both of you.


    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, before we talk about politics, I want to ask you about what we — what I discussed with Marcia earlier, Mark, and that is the Supreme Court announcing it is going to take up the same-sex marriage question. Thoughts?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, as Marcia pointed out, along with Affordable Care Act, which the court is also considering, these are two big ones.

    But, Judy, David’s made the point here before about the velocity with which this issue has moved. On May 6, 2012, Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, said he was comfortable with same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press,” and it absolutely exploded. I mean, how could he do this? He put the president in a terrible position.

    Now, that is three years ago. We just missed — Rob Portman, Republican senator from Ohio, announced that he was not going to run for president, going to run for reelection. He would have been the first Republican candidate for president to endorse same-sex marriage. This issue has moved so far, so fast, 36 states, as Marcia pointed out.

    So, there’s a little bit of an anticlimactic feel to it, even though it’s of great importance constitutionally.


    DAVID BROOKS: Yes. You would have to think about, go back 2,000, 3,000 years, the prejudice against gays and lesbians. And it’s sort of washing away.

    And so you ask, how did it happen? I think, partly, it was activism. Partly, it’s people getting to know each other, partly effective media. Media rarely changes culture rapidly, but a lot of the shows that had gay and lesbian couples changed rapidly.

    And then there was the selection of the issues. The two big issues that really have been at a central of this for the last 10 years have been gays in the military and marriage. So it was two institutions at the core, and I would say the conservative core, of American culture, and by saying we just want to be married, we just want to serve in the military, people were coming out and they were coming out in full human dignity, in a way that showed respect for the institutions of our country.

    And once that embraced, then the country has begun to embrace them as individuals and then the institution of gay marriage.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We heard Marcia say it’s going to be huge, it’s going to be historic when it comes out.

    OK, politics. This is the week, as we said, the congressional Republicans met in their retreat.

    Mark, this is a time when you have got not just Speaker Boehner, but now the brand-new Republican majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, trying to corral these big numbers in both bodies. What do you see? Are these — do you see the Republicans coming together? Or do you see them still having to deal with some rump right-wing conservative critics who are just going to continue to give them a hard time?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, Speaker Boehner had 25 members of his own caucus not support him for speaker. That’s a bit more than one out of 10, more than in recent American history that that’s happened, where a speaker has failed there.

    So, even though his numbers were enlarged of Republicans in the House, his own position was somewhat shaky at the outset of this Congress. And what you have, the tensions within the party. After the 2012 election, the Republican Party went through a soul-searching, in which they came out with a rather serious document, saying the party is seen as too narrow-minded, out of touch, not mainstream, mean-spirited, unappealing to non-whites and to women and to younger voters, and we have to do it, we have to endorse immediately comprehensive immigration reform.

    And you have got a party that just won a big election totally on the opposite. So, now, the first action they take is a — the House passes a bill that is, quite frankly, restrictive and punitive even to as far as DREAM Act members are concern. Those who are those were brought here as children and they have grown up and gone to school and so forth.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On the president’s executive action.

    MARK SHIELDS: And the president’s executive action. And it can’t pass the Senate. Mitch McConnell knows he hasn’t gotten the votes.

    And I just think it’s not the issue Republicans wanted right at the outset to deal with. I think Boehner felt he had to deal with it because Republicans had made it such a centerpiece of their campaign. But I don’t see it. They’re working out the difficulties and the wrinkles very much in public, and I think rather awkwardly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You see they’re united or how do you see it?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, it’s governing party, so they’re — or it’s a majority party, so there are bound to be fringes. And we saw both the left and right fringe of the party protesting what was going on.

    I actually agree with Mark completely. They win this big victory and what do they decide to do? Well, they decide to do Pickett’s Charge. They decide to — they decide to pick a campaign they cannot possibly win. So the House passes a bill that cannot possibly pass.

    So, what’s going to happen? They are going to have to walk embarrassingly down the Hill in defeat. That’s just going to happen. And so why do you do that? And I think the reason you do it is because you have got an opposition mentality that says, let’s make a statement. We want to show the president we’re standing up to him.

    And so they make a statement, instead of passing a law. But if you’re in the majority, you’re in the majority. And you have got to start thinking that way. And I think the party — I don’t blame McConnell and Boehner. I blame the rank and file. You have got to start thinking like a majority. Are you here to make statements? Well, go to FOX or do what we do.

    But if you’re going to pass laws, you actually have some ability to influence that.

    MARK SHIELDS: And, Judy, we have seen this movie before.

    In other words, picking up on David’s point, that is that they have to come to the reality they have to fund Homeland Security by the 27th of February.


    MARK SHIELDS: And there’s not going to be a government shutdown. And every story we read, whether it’s out of Belgium, whether it’s out of Northern Europe, whether it’s across the globe, is about terrorist threats or plots or actual events.

    And the idea that Homeland Security would be put on hold and not fully funded or more funded is absolutely incredible. So they have no bargaining chip and no bargaining power and just to suffer this sort of symbolic defeat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about another part of the Republican story, and that is the race for president.

    We have seen so many names out there, David. But I think the remarkable — one of the remarkable things this week was Mitt Romney, a lot of pushback from other Republicans, including, I think, one of his campaign co-chairs, about his looking seriously at running again.


    Well, the donors don’t seem to like him. The Republican committee people don’t want him to run again. And the field is just a lot stronger this time. I mean, he ran against people who couldn’t possibly win, so he won more or less by default.

    So there are people who lose and get renominated. And — but they are people who have passionate, intense followers who believe in them, and so Adlai Stevenson, William Jennings Bryan.

    MARK SHIELDS: Reagan.

    DAVID BROOKS: Reagan.

    And so there’s just an intensity. These people will walk through hell for a certain guy, man or a woman. And if those people exist for Mitt Romney, they’re, like, in a phone booth in Massachusetts somewhere.

    He never generated that sort of intensity. People liked him. He’s a decent guy. But he never generated that intense followers. So when he announced he’s running again, people looked at it very coolly and very practically and said, you had your shot, buddy.

    MARK SHIELDS: I wouldn’t be so quick to write him off.

    I would say that the other example of somebody who was renominated was Richard Nixon, and didn’t have great, passionate, intense followers, but he — Mitt Romney sort of followed the Nixon formula, was, after he lost in ’60, Nixon campaigned across the country in ’64 and ’66.

    Romney, after 2012, became the national Republican surrogate in 2014. He went everywhere, and he was welcome everywhere. And I think that was as long as he was being contrasted to Barack Obama. And Barack Obama was at the lowest point of his presidency, maybe some buyer’s remorse on the part of some voters.

    I think that David is right that there’s more options now. We’re not talking about Herman Cain and Donald Trump. But we have also got a field that is not — doesn’t have dominant figures in it. And you’re in a competition. Jeb Bush has accelerated this system.


    MARK SHIELDS: You have competition for fund-raisers, for talent who can work in the campaign and for the — to inspire and engage voters. I mean, whoever can do that, that’s the competition.

    DAVID BROOKS: But, also, the mood is — first of all, people are really sick of this — the status quo, so they want change, they want freshness.

    But then the mood toward all these other candidates who are flowing out there is kind of intrigued. So, some people are sort of intrigued by Marco Rubio or intrigued by Ted Cruz or intrigued by Chris Christie. They’re sort of like interesting figures. And you sort of want to see how it will play out.

    And I think Mark and I agreed the John Kasich juggernaut is unstoppable.


    DAVID BROOKS: The Ohio governor who…

    MARK SHIELDS: Ohio, the mother of presidents.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We have heard you mention him before.

    DAVID BROOKS: I think John Kasich is undervalued as a candidate. Mark disagrees slightly.


    DAVID BROOKS: Maximally.


    DAVID BROOKS: But there are interesting figures out there. And so you don’t need to go back to somebody you have already known too well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not that there’s a — you’re saying it’s not that there’s a front-runner out there, but there are several folks who could develop into a front-runner.

    MARK SHIELDS: This is a party that’s always had a front-runner.

    Since — in the last 60 years, Judy, with one exception, the candidate, Republican candidate who led in the Gallup poll one year before the convention became the nominee. There’s a natural order that Republicans follow. They’re a very almost — I don’t want to say conventional, but predictable.

    It’s like the Kiwanis Club or the Rotary Club. If you have been sergeant at arms, you have been vice — you’re going to be the nominee. And this is a party that’s ahistorical in 2016. It doesn’t have a front-runner. And I really it’s kind of fascinating to watch the Republican…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Unlike the Democrats, who — they have reversed roles.

    MARK SHIELDS: The Democrats have this — they have never nominated the front-runner, never nominated the front-runner. They always nominate somebody at the back of the room who excites people, whether it’s George McGovern or Barack Obama.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you trying to tell me we’re going to have an exciting race for president this time on the Republican side?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think the Republican race is fascinating.

    And I do not write off Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s speech tonight before the Republican National Committee may be the most important speech of his career. I mean, he’s got to say something new and different, I think, and engaging tonight. If he just does the Barack Obama’s bad, we’re good, it’s — he’s going to fall flat.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is before the Republican meeting out in San Diego.

    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, with the USS Midway.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, one other thing I want to ask the two of you about.

    This week, the NewsHour announced and said on the air we have made a decision not to air the pictures, the cover of Charlie Hebdo, the French newsweekly, of course, the genesis of the tragic attack in Paris last week.

    There’s been a lot of viewer comment about it, the majority of it negative, some of it positive.

    But I’m just curious to know from the two of you, how do you think about this? I mean, our explanation is that we believe the offense that it could cause outweighs the news value. But there’s a big debate about it. So I wanted to hear from the two of you.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, I agree with the viewers, whatever they say.


    DAVID BROOKS: But, you know, I have changed my mind about this. My newspaper, The New York Times, made the exact same decision.

    And I thought, no, the news value, you have got the show what — the subject of what all this fuss is all about. But as I thought about it more, when you actually look at the actual cartoons, some of them involve sodomy, some of them involve things that violate every standard of decency which we have.

    And so my view is that our standards of what represents decent behavior and civic conversation are more important in this case. And if people want to see the cartoons, they can go online, they can go somewhere else.

    And my basic attitude is that, when it comes to speech, is that we should almost, almost never invite somebody off campus, we should almost, almost never pass a law, but we should have certain social standards, what’s polite, what’s acceptable, what gets you respect, what doesn’t. And maintaining standards of just decency, we don’t curse on the air.

    And that’s just — it’s a way of behaving respectfully, and that encourages conversation. So, I think the call is ultimately the right one.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we wouldn’t permit a cartoon on our program that offended another group, a religious group, a minority group.


    I think that anything that’s — I believe in the First Amendment, and the stipulation obviously. But it wasn’t that these photos or these images weren’t available. I mean, it wasn’t — they were widely available and — anybody who wanted to see them.

    And I just — I really think that when it comes to ridicule and satire, I’m a strong supporter. I’m a particularly strong supporter when you’re doing it to the powerful, to the mighty rich, and those who have control over people’s lives.

    And, you know, when it’s deliberately and needlessly offensive, and especially in the case here, it struck me of those who are marginalized and in many cases powerless and poor. I thought you and Gwen and the people at “NewsHour” made the right decision.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we wanted to hear what the two of you think. And I’m glad we were able to talk about it.

    Mark Shields…

    DAVID BROOKS: We agree with our bosses.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: … David Brooks, thank you both. And we will see you next week.

    The post Shields and Brooks on same-sex right to marry, Romney run resistance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    MAJOR SHIFT holder justice department seal

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced a major shift in how state and local police departments are permitted to seize and auction off property from those who are not convicted of a crime.

    Hari Sreenivasan has more.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The practice by police departments is known as civil forfeiture. And it’s raised nearly $3 billion for local departments around the country.

    But the practice has been controversial, because property has been seized from people who are only suspected of a crime, but not convicted.

    To talk more about this is Sarah Stillman, a staff writer for “The New Yorker” magazine. Her reporting nearly two years ago brought to light some of the abuses of the policy.

    So, Sarah, I tried to do it justice with a really tiny description, but explain civil forfeiture and what’s gone wrong with it, just so we have an idea of why this is so significant today.

    SARAH STILLMAN, “The New Yorker”: Well, civil forfeiture is basically a tool for law enforcement to seize people’s property, their cash, their cars, other goods, and basically appropriate it if they believe that it has been used in the course of a crime.

    Now, the problem with it is that often that’s been based on suspicion alone. So people don’t actually have to be proven guilty of a crime before their property is taken.

    And the big news today is that Eric Holder basically announced that they were more or less ending a federal policy that had allowed local and state law enforcement agencies to take people’s goods, turn them over to the federal government for forfeiture, and then they would get to take a lot of that money back and use it for themselves.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what kind of an impact will that have in all of these different thousands of police departments that use the federal law as part of the reason why they should be able to seize some of the property from someone that they pull over or involved in a crime?

    SARAH STILLMAN: Well, it’s really a starting point.

    So, it means that there will be more accountability at the local levels. But a lot of this takes place at the state level when you’re seeing abuses. And, sometimes, some of the cases I wrote about in a piece for “The New Yorker” some time ago involve people who — you know, an elderly couple in Philadelphia, for instance, whose son had sold about $20 worth of pot on the porch, and — or at least he was alleged to. He hadn’t been proven guilty of the crime.

    And the family learned that after their home was raided by a SWAT team, the home was actually going to be seized and sold at auction to benefit the city with those funds. So you’re still seeing abuses like that at the local level that won’t be stopped by this, because this is essentially ending a federal program of cooperation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, when we’re talking about $2.5 billion or $3 billion in seizures, even any significant dent is that — like that is going to have resistance from law enforcement agencies, right?

    SARAH STILLMAN: Absolutely, because one of the issues with the perverse incentives is that law enforcement has become very, very dependent on these funds.

    And we have seen in many cases local police departments really don’t have a lot of resources beyond the pool of money that they get from forfeiture, which can really be quite sizable. I looked at some small towns in Texas where almost the entirety of police operations, everything from money they were using to buy guns, to buy a lot of the things that you’re seeing in these massive SWAT Raids, all of that was coming from forfeiture funds.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And are we seeing a slight shift in the political climate?  Because there were — there was a little bit of bipartisan support today for trying to rethink these laws.

    SARAH STILLMAN: I think it’s tremendously exciting. I think it’s one of the areas — there are so many criminal justice reforms going on right now that are bipartisan.

    You see a lot of support on the left and right. And across the political spectrum, people have been calling for more comprehensive reforms. Both — there’s been conversation about federal — there has been legislation proposed. And there’s also many people looking at this at the state and local levels to push reforms.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what’s motivating that?

    Is the shift that we were concerned 20, 30 years ago, when these laws went on the books, to say, let’s get the criminals off the streets, let’s take away the cash and the cars and maybe make some money off of it, and now it’s more of an encroachment on our personal freedoms?

    SARAH STILLMAN: I think we’re at a moment when we’re really reassessing a lot of what came out on the war on drugs.

    So, these laws emerged from the 1980s. And they came out of, in many respects, a very good place, which is that people shouldn’t be able to profit from their crimes. But as they became this, this means of funding law enforcement, a lot of that spun out of control.

    And I looked at a lot of places where, for instance, in Detroit, a bunch of kids were at a party at an art museum, a huge SWAT team raids the place, and they seized all of the young people’s cars, without ever actually going through real procedures in court to prove them guilty of anything.

    So I think we’re at a moment when we’re really rethinking police militarization, and these issues are really intertwined.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, while those particular anecdotes sound heinous, I mean, I would imagine a law enforcement official will come back and say, you know what?  Some of this does help us to make sure that they don’t have access to the resources to keep committing these crimes.

    So how do you figure out what’s appropriate civil forfeiture or seizure and what’s abuse of power?

    SARAH STILLMAN: Well, there’s two things about that.

    So, one important aspect of the reforms that were just announced is that there are exceptions for issues of public safety, where there are firearms involved or other things of that nature. And so I think that’s important to understand.

    I think that there’s a lot of ways in which the reforms that are being called for are still sort of part of a larger conversation that needs to be vetted in the public sphere.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Sarah Stillman of “The New Yorker” magazine, thanks so much.

    SARAH STILLMAN: Thank you.

    The post Will federal reforms on civil forfeiture mean more police accountability? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    POWER STRUGGLE monitor Wyoming

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The rise in greenhouse gases and temperatures are the reasons why the president has issued new restrictions on coal-fired power plants in this country.

    But now that Republicans hold control of Congress, one issue high on their agenda, blocking or delaying the EPA’s plans.

    We get a report on how that’s viewed in a key energy-producing state, Wyoming.

    It comes from Leigh Paterson of Inside Energy. That’s a public media collaboration on energy issues, working with the NewsHour.

    LEIGH PATERSON, Inside Energy: Caring for a few hundred cows during the Wyoming winter is hard work. Subzero temperatures and hurricane-force winds are normal.

    Rancher Dave Hamilton say it’s part of the disconnect between people who live off the land and those who regulate the environment.  

    DAVE HAMILTON, President, Natural Gas Processing Co.: We seem to have people that have never, ever even set foot on — in the state of Wyoming, that don’t understand farming, don’t understand ranching pass rules that affect us all, when, in fact, we all want to keep our land together. I can’t make a living if I destroy my land.

    LEIGH PATERSON: In 2010, the EPA sued Hamilton for building an irrigation ditch that it claimed violated the Clean Water Act. His lawyer says the agency was seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.

    But when the case went to court, the jury ruled in Hamilton’s favor because farming and ranching are generally exempt from the Clean Water Act.

    DAVE HAMILTON: We don’t want to have air like China. And we don’t want to have water that has so much benzene in it that all the fish are dead. But I think the problem is, is that if we would have interaction that creates solutions — well, what we’re having is, you can’t do this. We don’t know what you’re going to do about it, but you can’t do this, because we’re going to fine you.

    GINA MCCARTHY, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency: This is about protecting our health and it is about protecting our homes.

    LEIGH PATERSON: In June, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the clean power plant. It’s the agency’s newest proposal to cut carbon emissions.

    GINA MCCARTHY: All told, in 2030, when the states meet the final goals, our proposal will result in 30 percent less carbon pollution from the power sector across the United States in comparison to 2005 levels.

    LEIGH PATERSON: People here in Wyoming care deeply about issues that affect their land and energy resources. And this plan is threatening because it aims to slash carbon emissions by 30 percent in part by moving American electricity generation away from coal.

    And this hard black rock is Wyoming’s lifeblood. Mineral extraction accounts for nearly 75 percent of the state’s revenue, about a third coming from coal, to fund things like schools and road construction and a huge state savings account.

    Wyoming has a long history of coal mining, and these days, the state provides nearly 40 percent of the nation’s supply. But the top executive at this mine does acknowledge concerns about emissions from burning coal.

    Colin Marshall is the CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, one of the largest coal companies in the country.

    COLIN MARSHALL, CEO, Cloud Peak Energy: I believe the science is clearly not settled, but there are some theories out there. And if they’re right that the CO2 emissions are significant, then they could — potentially could be very — a big impact on the world and its climate.

    And I always think, well, what happens if the impact on climate change are twice as bad as people are thinking?

    LEIGH PATERSON: Marshall believes the answer is the technology shown here at the Boundary Dam Power Station, the world’s first and only carbon capture power plant. Components like this absorber tower are bolted on and then remove the harmful CO2 right out of emissions.

    COLIN MARSHALL: Let’s develop the technology so, if it’s appropriate to play the card, we have actually got the technology we need.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Boundary Dam opened in Canada last year, but installing this technology on a wide commercial scale is almost prohibitively expensive.

    And so coal country is fighting back against the clean power plant. In August, Wyoming, along with 11 other states, sued the EPA, hoping to derail the proposal. But this is just the latest chapter in a long history of conflict. Since the year 2000, the state has sued the EPA 12 times over issues like regional haze and mercury emissions, and that doesn’t even include the lawsuit that is joined on behalf of other states.

    Professor Harold Bergman specializes in environmental toxicology.

    HAROLD BERGMAN, University of Wyoming: Wyoming can file 100 lawsuits a month if they want, and it’s not going to change a thing. This is going to get fixed. It absolutely must.

    LEIGH PATERSON: He says Wyoming lawmakers need to recognize the realities of a changing climate.

    HAROLD BERGMAN: The consequences for the coal industry, for instance, are going to be severe, and they have to begin adjusting for it now. If they don’t, we’re going to be blindsided.

    LEIGH PATERSON: The sole U.S. House representative for the state of Wyoming doesn’t share this sense of certainty.

    REP. CYNTHIA LUMMIS, (R) Wyoming: The climate is changing. The climate is always changing. And the science on mankind’s role in the change of climate is simply not as well-established as one would have us think.

    LEIGH PATERSON: And as the chair of a brand-new subcommittee focused on energy and environmental policy, Lummis says she will work to gather information on how the EPA’s policies affect people.

    She and her fellow legislator Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, who chairs the Republican Policy Committee, believe the clean power plan would result in job loss and higher utility bills. And so blocking it is a priority among Republicans in leadership positions.

    Lummis hints at their strategy here.

    REP. CYNTHIA LUMMIS: We will have the power of the purse and can use it in a way that will allow us to send messages to the president that certain policies and rule-making is having a negative impact on jobs and the economy, mostly in rural America and in energy-producing areas of our country.

    LEIGH PATERSON: At Jake’s Tavern, a popular hangout in coal country, energy worker Brandon Allee says the issue is more about politics, but more about Wyoming’s rugged independent mentality.

    BRANDON ALLEE, Energy Worker: There’s a lot of us around here that we have been here for generations, and the EPA coming in and telling us what we can and can’t do or making it really hard for us to do what needs to be done just doesn’t settle well with a lot of us.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Wyoming exports more energy than any other state, so there’s a lot on the line in the debate over the clean power plant.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Leigh Paterson in Wyoming.

    The post How an EPA plan to cut carbon emissions is playing out in coal-rich Wyoming appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HEATING UP monitor oceans

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Scientists report that 2014 was the hottest year in recorded history for the planet, and that dates back to 1880. This was announced today by both NASA and NOAA, the Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

    Five months last year set temperature records. The ocean surface was unusually warm around the world, except for Antarctica. In the U.S., the Western part of the country baked under extreme heat, shown here in yellow, although the Eastern half of the country saw below-average temperatures, as seen in blue. And there were temperature records set in several European countries.

    Well, we get further insight and information on all of this from one of the lead scientists involved with the report.

    Gavin Schmidt studies climate change at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    And, Gavin Schmidt, we welcome you to the program.

    GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies: Thank you very much for having me.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So spell this out a little bit more for us. How did 2014 differ from other years?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Well, 2014 was only a little bit different from previous years, but what we’re seeing is a long-term trend that is producing record warm year after record warm year.

    The previous record was in 2010, before that 2005, before that 1998. So this year is part of a long-term trend that is just going to continue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, when you say it’s only a little different, I mean, by a fraction of a fraction, is that right?


    So, there is — there — each year makes a record. It’s like people running a marathon. They only beat the record by a few seconds each time, but times are getting faster. The globe is warming up.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And am I right? I believe I read today that the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1997?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Yes, that’s right.

    Nine of those have occurred in the last 10 years. 1998 was a real standout year, and so that’s still in the top five. But we have warmed about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century — beginning of the 20th century. And we attribute those changes mainly to the increase in greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, that we have been putting into the atmosphere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just to be clear, we showed a map of the United States, the Western part of the country very hot, but the Eastern part of the United States cooler. But you still had, overall, this record.

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: That’s right.

    In any one year, there is a lot of variability. Sometimes, you have an El Nino event in the Tropical Pacific. That could make a difference. You always have weather and various natural variability that is going on, and so you never see a uniform pattern. You are always going to see some place that were warmer, some places that were cooler.

    But in our analysis, we’re trying to average over all of those things to get a sense of what the whole globe is seeing on a long-term scale.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what do you and other scientists believe is going on here?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Well, so, year to year, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of chaos and dynamism in the climate system.

    But the underlying trend, the trends that we have seen since the 1970s particularly, that’s being driven, that’s being pushed. And it’s being pushed mainly by carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, which are adding to the greenhouse effect, which is making the planet warmer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Carbon dioxide, meaning manmade emissions?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Yes, carbon dioxide mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil, natural gas, and from deforestation, mainly in the tropics.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, to the skeptics who are out there vocally when a report like this comes out, saying, wait a minute, there’s no proof that there is connection to what humans do, you say what?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: So, you know, science works by putting all the bits of evidence together.

    We have looked for all sorts of different fingerprints of change. We have looked to see whether the warming is caused by oscillations in the ocean, whether it’s caused by changes in the sun or volcanoes or all sorts of different things. But what we find is that the picture that you get when you think about what’s happening with greenhouse gases fits the data, not just at the surface, but in the — higher up in the atmosphere, in the ocean, in the Arctic, all around.

    And so we have a fingerprint of change that is associated with human activities, and that fingerprint fits the evidence that we’re seeing in the data.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Separately, Gavin Schmidt, we saw yesterday in the journal “Science” this report that humans, it basically concludes, are causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and to life, to animals’ life in the oceans.

    When you put that together with the temperature findings, what does that tell you?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Well, human impact on the planet, with the population that we have and the huge exponential growth in population, we’re having exponentially growing effects on the planet across a whole suite of different metrics, whether it’s ocean acidification, whether it’s overfishing, whether it’s habitat loss, whether it’s deforestation.

    All of the graphs look very similar. It’s flat for a long time and then it shoots up. We’re in that exponential growth phase. And we have to be very, very careful that we don’t exceed our reach and damage systems that can’t be recovered.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Any glimmer of hopefulness in all this?

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Well, I think the glimmer of hopefulness is that we’re having a conversation about that. We’re discussing these things, hopefully in a sustainable manner. We’re talking about ways to mitigate and to adapt to the changes that were coming about.

    And these kind of conversations that we’re having now help raise awareness and help us make sure that the people who are making decisions are making decisions in the full light of the scientific evidence that we have found.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gavin Schmidt, who is the director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, we thank you.

    GAVIN SCHMIDT: Thank you.

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    Oliver and Pries stand during a ceremony performed by Robin Gorsline outside the John Marshall Court's Building in Richmond

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: While aspects of same-sex marriage have been debated at the U.S. Supreme Court, today, the nine justices agreed to hear arguments at the heart of the debate. Should gay couples be allowed to marry nationwide? They will consider cases stemming from four states. The arguments will be heard in April and a decision announced in June.

    For more on the court’s move, NewsHour contributor Marcia Coyle of “The National Law Journal,” joins us.

    Marcia, a big day.

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Hi, Judy.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: So we know gay marriage is now legal in 36 states. What’s the significance of the court taking up these cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, as you probably remember, last October, the court had seven cases and it declined to review those cases.

    The big difference between October and today is the fact that, in November, a lower federal appellate court broke with the trend across the lower federal appellate courts and upheld state bans on marriage by gay and lesbian couples, as well as bans on the recognition of legal out-of-state same-sex marriages.

    So that created a circuit split, which is one of the key criterion — criteria for granting review by the Supreme Court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So that was a couple of months ago. Any sense of what — I mean, other than the fact it is a split, any sense of why the court would jump on this and say, all right, we’re now ready to look at this?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, I think they were waiting for the right cases to get to them, but I really do think the circuit split was something very important for them, because the Supreme Court wants to ensure uniformity of federal law, uniform application of the federal Constitution.

    And here you had the Sixth Circuit saying in four states these bans were OK, but you had all these other circuits saying they’re not OK.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is the main question they’re going to be wrestling with?

    MARCIA COYLE: The justices actually fashioned two questions.

    Even though they took four cases, they’re not going to hear four separate arguments. They consolidated those cases, and there will be a decision on two questions that they told the lawyers in the cases to brief and be prepared to argue. First, does the 14th Amendment require states to license marriages by same-sex couples? And, second, does the 14th Amendment require states to recognize same-sex couples who are legally married out of state?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do previous rulings by this court tell you, tell us very much about how they’re likely to go on this next question?

    MARCIA COYLE: Well, it’s hard to say, Judy.

    We know that, in 2013, the court took up the definition of marriage in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and that definition said marriage was between one man and one woman, and the court, in a 5-4 decision, struck the definition as it is applied to legally married same-sex couples. So the court was divided there.

    But the majority opinion had two very important strands, equal protection and federalism, that marriage had always been the province of the states to regulate. So it’s going to be very interesting. What the court’s dealing with today are state laws, not the federal law, and we will just have to wait and see how they view the role of the states here today in this type of issue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, I know it’s always dangerous to speculate.


    JUDY WOODRUFF: But I was reading today the sense is that it’s clear how some of the justices are going to go one way or another, but it’s not at all clear how some in the middle will go.

    Who are you watching more than anyone else?


    I think I am going to be watching Justice Kennedy, as always, although he wrote the 2013 majority opinion in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and he’s been very strong in prior cases involving gay rights under the Constitution.

    But I’m also going to watch, I think, the chief justice to see what he does. His dissent in that 2013 case focused on the federalism aspects. But I’m not sure, you know, where he really stands here and what’s going to go through his mind in terms of the fact that this is one of the most important social civil rights issues of our time.

    And I think he’s going to be very conscious of that, conscious of the fact that 36 states now allow same-sex marriages, and conscious of the court and its standing as an institution in society, as well as that he has a lot of integrity, I believe, in terms of how he views the Constitution.

    So I think he’s going to be a very interesting figure to watch in this. I think Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito are leaning against same-sex marriages, based on what they wrote in that 2013 case.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, this one is one we’re all going to be — I know you are going to be at the court and watching.

    MARCIA COYLE: It raises the stakes. And they already had a potentially major case on the docket, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act. So, it’s…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this is the second really big one.

    MARCIA COYLE: This is the second really big one, yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This year.

    Marcia Coyle, we thank you. We will see you in April, but certainly before that too.

    MARCIA COYLE: You will. My pleasure, Judy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks.

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    EUROPE ON EDGE   map of europe monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We begin with one of the two major stories that dominated this day, Europe on edge.

    Law enforcement agencies across the continent targeted terror suspects in raids and arrests across at least four countries. The crackdown was spawned in part by the Paris violence of a week ago.

    From Belgium to Germany and again in France, heavily armed police were out in force. In Verviers, Belgium, authorities said late-night raids that killed two suspects had disrupted a plot to attack police. They said they found a well-organized, well-equipped cell.

    ERIC VAN DER SYPT, Spokesman, Belgian federal prosecutors’ spokesman (through interpreter): At the house search in Verviers, several weapons were found, including four military weapons of the AK-47 Kalashnikov type, several handguns, ammunition and explosives. Several police uniforms were also retrieved, and mobile phones, fake documents and a significant amount of money.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: German authorities raided 11 homes in Berlin and netted two Turkish suspects. They’re suspected of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.

    The dragnet also reached to Bulgaria, where a French national appeared in court over alleged ties to one of the gunmen in last week’s attacks in Paris.

    Watching the day’s events, the head of the European police agency, Europol, warned the continent now has up to 5,000 Muslim radicals.

    ROB WAINWRIGHT, Director, Europol: The scale of the problem, the way — the diffuse nature of the network, the scale of the people involved makes this extremely difficult for even very well-functioning counterterrorist agencies, such as we have in France, to stop every attack. I think that’s — that is really very, very difficult.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The heightened tensions across Europe had Jewish schools in Belgium and the Netherlands closing their doors as a precaution.

    And back in Paris, more funerals today — hundreds gathered to say farewell to the editor of Charlie Hebdo, one of 12 people slain in last week’s killings.

    Secretary of State John Kerry paid his own tribute at a makeshift memorial outside the magazine’s offices.

    Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande insisted again that his government will not back down in the face of Islamist terror.

    PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): We are at war against it. It is not a war against a religion. It is a war against hatred. The attacks committed in Paris are an insult to Islam. And in the world, it is the Muslims, I keep repeating this, who are the first victims of terrorism.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hollande drew support from Washington, where President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron formed a united front.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know David joins me when I say that we will do everything in power to help France seek the justice that is needed, and that all our countries are working together seamlessly to prevent attacks and defeat these terrorist networks.

    DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: We know what we’re up against and we know how we will win. We face a poisonous and fanatical ideology that wants to pervert one of the world’s major religions, Islam, and create conflict, terror and death. With our allies, we will confront it wherever it appears.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Across the Muslim world, however, there were more marches and angry protests against Charlie Hebdo’s decision to print another cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

    In the day’s other major story, the United States Supreme Court agreed to decide whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. It sets the stage for a potentially history-making decision later this year. We will explore what’s at stake after the news summary.

    President Obama issued a stern new warning to Congress today not to impose new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. He said the odds of reaching a deal with Iran to curb the program are already — quote — “less than 50-50,” and he warned lawmakers that their actions could end all hope.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The likelihood of the entire negotiations collapsing is very high. Congress should be aware that, if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened, and Congress will have to own that as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. and five other world powers are trying to get a framework deal with Iran by March. They missed two previous deadlines. In a bid to push the process along, Secretary of State Kerry met with Iran’s foreign minister in Paris today for the third time this week.

    Britain and the U.S. are beefing up cooperation on preventing cyber-attacks. The two nations announced plans today for joint cyber-security war games. They’re also forming a so-called cyber-cell to share intelligence on hacking.

    The U.S. military will deploy more than 400 troops to train Syrian rebels, so they can fight Islamic State militants. Hundreds of support personnel will also be sent to locations outside Syria.

    The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said today that it will take some time to get the troops battle-ready.

    REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, Pentagon Press Secretary: If the training is able to start in March, you could be looking at some opposition groups getting back into Syria and into the fight before the end of the year. I think that’s certainly a possibility, but we have got a lot of work to do before we’re there.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The goal is to train 5,400 rebels in the first year. President Obama already authorized more than 3,000 troops to train Iraqi soldiers in the fight against Islamic State forces.

    The International Criminal Court will make an initial examination of possible war crimes in Palestinian territories. That could include actions by Israel and the militant group Hamas during last summer’s war in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority accepted the court’s jurisdiction last month. Israel condemned that move and today’s announcement.

    Fighting escalated in Eastern Ukraine today, dimming any prospects for new peace talks. Government forces and Russian-backed rebels stepped up their battle for the airport at Donetsk, a city held by the rebels. So far, two cease-fires have failed to stop the violence.

    European space scientists had some good news today. An unmanned British spacecraft that disappeared over Mars long ago has been found. Beagle 2 was spotted on the Martian surface by a NASA craft orbiting high overhead.

    We have a report from Alok Jha of Independent Television News.

    ALOK JHA: Lost on another planet for 11 years, this audacious piece of British engineering has now been found in the barren wilderness of Mars.

    MAN: Beagle 2 is no longer lost. And, further, it seems we are not looking at a crash site.

    ALOK JHA: Beagle 2′s mission was to look for signs of life on Mars. It separated from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission on Christmas Day in 2003. But then it disappeared.

    What we know now is that Beagle 2 seems to have reached the surface of Mars in one piece and two of its solar panels even deployed when it got there, but then it never got back in touch with home. Frustratingly, it seems to have been recording data on its descent and even recorded something on the surface of Mars, too, but we will probably never know what it found out.

    Christmas Day in 2003 was devastating, not least for Beagle 2 project leader Colin Pillinger.

    COLIN PILLINGER, Beagle 2 Project Leader: Unfortunately, we don’t have any Beagle data in the telemetry that has passed.

    ALOK JHA: He died last year without knowing what had happened to his lander.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Beagle 2 was named for the ship that carried Charles Darwin on his voyage of discovery in the 1830s.

    Back in this country, Medicare and Medicaid chief Marilyn Tavenner unexpectedly stepped down today. She presided over the troubled rollout of healthcare.gov under the president’s health care law. And, later, she overstated the number of people enrolled for coverage by 400,000. Tavenner told staffers today she is leaving with sadness and mixed emotions.

    Penn State University and the NCAA have reached an agreement that restores more than 100 football wins to the school. They’d been officially erased by a 2012 consent decree in the child molesting scandal involving a former coach. Alumni and fans challenged that decree in court, and news of a settlement came today. It means the late Joe Paterno will regain his status as the winningest coach in major college football history.

    And Wall Street went into the weekend on a high note. Stocks rallied after oil prices surged back above $48 a barrel. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 191 points to close at 17511. The Nasdaq rose 63 points to 4634. And the S&P 500 added 26 to finish at 2019. But for the week, all three indexes lost between 1 percent and 1.5 percent.

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    An airplane flies over a drone over Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York Jan. 1, 2015. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    An airplane flies over a drone over Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York Jan. 1, 2015. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    Ten news organizations, including The New York Times and the Associated Press, formed a coalition with Virginia Tech to test unmanned aircraft systems, UAS, for news gathering, the media companies said in a joint statement Thursday.

    “The partnership … is designed to conduct controlled safety testing of a series of real-life scenarios where the news media could use small UAS technology to gather the news,” the statement read.

    Partners also include Gannett, Getty Images, NBC Universal, the E.W. Scripps Company and The Washington Post. The announcement also follows CNN’s partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to perform similar research for the FAA.

    The companies will share the resulting data with the Federal Aviation Administration to help the agency release the long-awaited proposed rules for commercial drones that would better integrate them into the national airspace.

    The FAA has repeatedly faced delays and missed their deadline to issue those rules by the end of 2014. Once the agency does, it will take about two to three years before the regulations can be finalized, the Associated Press reported.

    Except for a series of piecemeal exemptions, there’s a FAA ban on commercial drone flights.

    Last summer, several news organizations criticized the FAA’s ban as an “overly broad policy” that “has an impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights of journalists.”

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    Editor’s note: This broadcast segment contains footage that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: As she opens the door to her home…this 34-year old Belgian woman known as “Eva” seems at ease. But actually she’s chronically depressed. More than once she’s tried to commit suicide. And now she’s asking doctors to help her. Help her die by euthanasia…all of it captured in a Belgian documentary.

    EVA (voiceover): It may seem strange but I am looking forward to the rest. The choice has been made. The decision has been made. I am looking forward to the rest I have longed for, for so long.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: It may sound shocking, but in Belgium euthanasia is quite accepted. And it’s not just for the terminally ill. Chronically depressed patients like Eva can request it, too. And so on a day and time she’s chosen… Eva says goodbye to her family.

    MARC VAN HOEY: Eva, are you ready?

    EVA: Yes, I am ready, doctor.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: And then she lays down on her couch.

    MARC VAN HOEY (voiced over): Would you like to say something to your brother and sister-in-law?’

    EVA (voiced over): Bye.

    BROTHER: Sleep Well.

    EVA (English): Thank you.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The man kneeling by her side, about to give her the lethal injection, is her doctor for the past two years. Dr. Marc Van Hoey.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Doctor, how many euthanasias have you performed yourself?

    MARC VAN HOEY: More than 100. In 12 years time, I think.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Dr. Van Hoey is a general practitioner and president of one of the leading right to die organizations in Belgium. He’s helped shaped the country’s policy toward euthanasia which can be requested by patients who meet two basic conditions: They are experiencing “constant and unbearable” suffering – either mental or physical – and their condition is ‘incurable.” And then patients must put their request in writing.

    MARC VAN HOEY: Only thing you have to write down is the name, the date and ‘I want Euthanasia,’ and signature.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In the few American states with laws on the books allowing this, patients must take the life-ending drugs themselves.

    Brittany Maynard: I’ll die upstairs …

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Like terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard who recently went to Oregon to end her life. But in Belgium it’s the doctor who must administer the lethal dose – usually an injection.

    MARC VAN HOEY: I start with a narcotic drug, in a higher dose, to create a deep sleep.
    And later on we give barbiturate in a shot. If you use an intravenous injection and do it good, the patient is dead in one or two minutes.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: One or 2 minutes?


    MEGAN THOMPSON: So it happens very quickly.

    MARC VAN HOEY: Yes. You have a life-line. You say are you ready? Do you want to go with it? Till the very end we ask do you want to go, because there’s no way back. Then we give the injection and (whistles) it’s gone.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: You talk about it very matter-of-factly.

    MARC VAN HOEY: I’m quite used to talking about assisted dying and so on. It’s part of my job.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: That’s right. In Belgium, it can be part of a doctor’s job to end a patient’s life. It’s been the law since 2002.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Belgium has the most liberal euthanasia law in the world. And even though this country is predominantly Roman Catholic, surveys show overwhelming support here for the right to die by euthanasia.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Since the law passed, the number of Belgians choosing euthanasia has steadily risen each year, with more than 1,800 dying this way in 2013 – that’s an average of about 5 people a day. In 2014, Belgium made headlines when it became the first country in the world to extend euthanasia to terminally ill children of any age, although no cases have occurred so far.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: So in Belgium it’s not just the terminally ill who can request euthanasia. Psychiatric patients. Now children. Is Belgium pushing the boundaries when it comes to euthanasia?

    GILLES GENICOT: I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Gilles Genicot is a lawyer and co-Chairman of the Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission, which oversees the practice in Belgium.

    GILLES GENICOT: The law humanizes– the deaths of terminally ill patients, on the one hand, and on the other hand, for patients who are not terminally ill but who are completely hopeless, there is a respect to the individual autonomy. I think it’s a major advance in the way society, law and– philosophy see this very important issue.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The 16-person euthanasia commission – half doctors, half lawyers, meets every month in Brussels. By law, after performing euthanasia, doctors must file a report with the Commission detailing what they did and why. The Commission reviews the reports to be sure conditions set by the law were met. If not, Genicot says in the worst case, a doctor could face homicide charges.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The reports also must affirm the patient’s request for euthanasia was voluntary, and that two doctors had approved it. Three doctors in the case of psychiatric patients.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: These are all euthanasia cases from the last few years?


    MEGAN THOMPSON: Genicot’s office is filled with reports of past and future cases…

    GILLES GENICOT: It’s the current box.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: And he says the system works well. Giving doctors a practical and humane way to help suffering patients die peacefully. Genicot says some doctors choose to describe that in an optional section of the report.

    GILLES GENICOT: Very often it is to express how serene, peaceful and quick the procedure was. That the patient was grateful. Said ‘thank you’ to the doctor. And was surrounded by family and friends.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: But it isn’t always that way. Tom Mortier’s mother Liefe had a passion for traveling the world but suffered from a lifetime of severe depression. Despite 40 years of therapy with several psychiatrists, and treatment with anti-depressants, she continued to struggle with suicidal thoughts and hopelessness.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Deemed “incurable,” she was euthanized in a hospital in Brussels on April 19, 2012. The date marked in her own calendar. Mother and son were estranged at the time and Mortier didn’t find out about it until the next day when the hospital called his home with the news.

    TOM MORTIER: Yeah, it was a complete shock. Of course, I knew that my mother was suffering mentally. But she would never have done it herself. She never would have committed suicide. I went to talk to the physician who killed my mother and he told me he was absolutely certain my mother didn’t want to live anymore. And I said how can you be certain?

    MEGAN THOMPSON: When you said, ‘Why wasn’t I consulted. Why wasn’t I involved?’ What was his response to that?

    TOM MORTIER: He said my mother didn’t want the children to be contacted and he had to fulfill the wish of the patient.

    TOM MORTIER (reading letter): “The psychic suffering has been too much… and I can’t go on.”

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Letters Mortier’s mother left behind did little to help him make sense of how she died.

    But wasn’t it his mother’s choice, and hers alone, to make? Mortier says his mother’s depression came partly from being estranged from her children, so her doctors should have reached out to him. And, he’s convinced his mother – severely depressed and on medication – was not in the right state of mind to make such a decision.

    ROBERT CLARKE: The option being offered to her rather than treatment is death.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Attorney Robert Clarke with the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom is now using Tom Mortier’s case to challenge Belgium’s euthanasia law in the European Court of Human Rights …arguing it violates the basic obligation of the state to protect the “right to life.” If the court takes the case – and if it rules in Mortier’s favor, a big if, Belgium could be forced to re-write its law.

    ROBERT CLARKE: What we see in Belgium is a slippery slope. We see the number of euthanasia deaths rising year in, year out since the legalization in 2002. And what we see is completely inadequate oversight. The committee that monitors them has received just over 8000 notifications of euthanasia deaths since the legalization. In its history of those 8,000 cases the committee has submitted not a single one to the public prosecutor.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: That’s not an indication of a flawless system, Clarke says…but instead, it suggests that the euthanasia commission’s reliance on doctors’ reporting alone is not enough to catch possible abuses. We asked euthanasia commission co-chair Gilles Genicot about that number.

    GILLES GENICOT: I can understand it might sound surprising, but the way our law works is– based on– trust we give to doctors. Because they know their patients far better than anyone else.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Genicot says he thinks doctors acted appropriately in the case of Tom Mortier’s mother, and that Mortier’s complaint to the European Court has no legal standing. But there have been other controversial cases that have raised eyebrows, including: A transgender patient who was euthanized because of depression following an unsuccessful sex change operation…. And twins who were chronically ill, deaf and going blind who were euthanized together.

    GILLES GENICOT: Those cases are really extremely rare, so we can mention them, it’s okay to discuss them, but we should not bring them to the front to say– to put the law into question, because the law is not primarily made for these cases.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: In fact, Dr. Marc Van Hoey says only about 5 percent of his cases were psychiatric patients. But he doesn’t shy away from discussing them. As he sees it, euthanasia can be a less traumatic option for a patient and their family than some other form of suicide.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Can it be emotional for you? Are some cases harder than others?

    MARC VAN HOEY: It’s always emotional. And what I always say to my colleagues and also to the family I say this, try to bear in mind you follow the law and it’s the question of the patient. I didn’t say you have to die.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: Which brings us back to Eva, the young woman convinced the only way to end her mental suffering was to end her life. Eva agreed to be filmed because she believed that people with chronic, incurable psychiatric illness can be helped to die with dignity. About two minutes after receiving the lethal injection from Dr. Van Hoey Eva died. The last thing for Dr. Van Hoey to do was fill out the paperwork required for the Commission.

    The post The right to die in Belgium: An inside look at the world’s most liberal euthanasia law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Belgium has the most liberal euthanasia law in the world. And although the country is predominantly Roman Catholic, national surveys show overwhelming support in Belgium for the right to die by euthanasia.

    Since the law passed in 2002, the number of Belgians choosing euthanasia has steadily risen each year, with more than 1,800 dying this way in 2013 — an average of about five people per day.

    Graphic credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    Graphic credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    In 2014, Belgium made headlines when it became the first country in the world to extend euthanasia to terminally ill children of any age, although no cases have occurred so far. Additionally, it’s not only terminally ill patients who can request euthanasia — psychiatric patients with longstanding and debilitating mental suffering like depression can also qualify.

    Under the law, two doctors much approve a patient’s request for euthanasia — and three doctors must agree in the case of psychiatric patients.

    We want to know what you think — do you support Belgium’s euthanasia law? Take our poll and sound off in the comments below.

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    WASHINGTON — Do students take too many tests?

    Given the complaints about a high-stakes testing culture in classrooms, some states are reviewing the quality and quantity of the tests their students take. Congress is getting into the act, too.

    On Wednesday, the Senate’s education committee is set to take up the issue of whether federally mandated annual testing should remain a requirement under the No Child Left Behind law. Lawmakers are considering the reauthorization of the bipartisan education measure that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2002.

    “Of course we should be asking the question: Are there too many tests?” says the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

    Five things to know about testing in U.S. schools:


    The Bush-era law requires that states test students in grades three to eight in reading and math, and once again in these subjects in high school.

    The tests are used to measure student progress. Schools that don’t show improvement face consequences. President Barack Obama has allowed states to avoid some requirements by requesting waivers, but he has kept annual testing in place.

    Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said the federal requirement opened the door for more testing, with some districts conducting interim tests to make sure their students are on track for the federally mandated assessments.


    Many states and districts require additional testing beyond the federally mandated exams. A Center for American Progress snapshot of 14 districts in seven states found that students take as many as 20 standardized assessments annually and an average of 10 tests in grades three to eight. The group said these students spend on average 1.6 percent of instructional time or less taking tests.

    Preliminary research by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts, found that students take an average of 113 standardized tests between pre-K and 12th grade. It said testing time for 11th graders was as high as 27 days, or 15 percent of the school year, in one district and that didn’t count Advanced Placement, career and technical education course and college entrance exams.

    Other tests measure things such as English language proficiency, eligibility for gifted and talented programs, whether students have met high school graduation requirements or are ready for kindergarten.

    It’s not just the actual test-taking that’s frustrating some parents and educators. It’s also the hours students spend preparing – and worrying.

    “In some grades, it’s astonishing when you lay it all on top of each other,” said Chancellor Kaya Henderson of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

    Henderson has appointed a committee to review testing in her district, a move also taking place in several states.

    John White, the Louisiana state superintendent, told reporters that business forces are at play, with the testing industry selling districts tests that aren’t necessarily needed.


    Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the education committee’s top Democrat, agree there’s too much testing. But they also are among the backers of the annual federal testing requirement, saying an annual measurement is critical to ensure that low-income or minority students and those with disabilities aren’t lost in the system.

    “To put our heads in the sand and just hope, that’s not fair to the kids. It’s simply not fair,” Duncan said.

    Margaret Spellings, education secretary under Bush, said the annual testing mandate is the “holy grail” of education reform. This federal role in education is backed by civil rights and business groups.”

    “If the testing is sound and accurate and valid and reliable and aligned, all those wonky words, then teaching to the test is not necessarily a bad thing,” Spellings said.

    Alexander says he’s open to listening to all sides. But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., an education committee member, says districts should determine how students are tested. He wants to repeal the law and says many students have been “failed by the current system.”

    The National Education Association, a teachers union, backs a federal mandate that would require the testing just once in elementary, middle and high school.


    This spring, millions of students in about 30 states are expected to take new Common Core-based assessments that are replacing other state ones. The standards, the result of a states-led effort backed by governors, spell out what skills students should master in each grade and are designed to develop critical thinking skills.

    The tests were developed by two different groups of states that pooled resources and expertise. A $360 million federal grant helped fund the work.

    The tests are computer based and designed to the Common Core standards. Just as the standards have been controversial, so have the assessments – and some states have opted out of them.

    Educators expect student test scores to drop and cause angst. But proponents say they are a better measure of what students actually know and are better aligned to what they learn in class.

    About 5.2 million students participated in field tests of the new assessments, with few technology-related snags. But it’s expected that some schools will not have the Internet capability to administer the tests by computer and will need to do so using old-fashioned paper and pencil, according to the Government Accountability Office.


    The Obama administration views teacher evaluations with teeth as in important way to improve schools. It has given incentives to states to develop such evaluation systems, including making them a requirement to get a waiver to No Child Left Behind.

    In 2009, 35 states and the District of Columbia did not require teacher evaluations to include measures of student learning, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. But by last year, that dropped to nine states.

    That’s put added pressure on teachers – and at the same time classroom expectations are changing because of Common Core.

    Last fall, Duncan said states can apply for extra time before they use student test scores to judge educators’ performance.

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    Police in North Miami have suspended a sniper training program after it was revealed that trainees used old mugshots of black suspects during target practice.

    The pictures, which featured inmates who had been arrested more than a decade ago, were discovered by a member of the National Guard who saw a bullet-riddled photo of her brother at the gun range used by police in early December.

    Army Sgt. Valerie Deant told reporters she broke down in tears when she saw her brother Woody Deant, who was arrested 15 years ago, pictured in a lineup of other suspects with bullet holes through his forehead and eyes.

    While North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis launched an internal investigation into the program in late December, it wasn’t until Friday after swelling public outcry that he formally halted the program.

    “I immediately suspend the sniper training program as we conduct a thorough review of our training process and materials, ordered commercially produced training images, and opened an investigation into the matter,” Dennis said in a statement.

    But Dennis said that none of the department’s policies were violated and that no disciplinary action will be taken.

    He also said the grid of 22 target photos also included images of whites, Hispanics and even Osama bin Laden.

    “We’ll have six pictures of people who will look very similar,” Dennis told NBC Miami. “We have an array for black males, we have an array of white and Hispanic males. And the purpose for this is to be able that they can have the sniper identify a particular individual that they’re given a small picture of and looking down range at this array of six to be able to pick the proper target out based on what was presented to them in intelligence.”

    Amid a climate of strained relationships between police and minority communities across the country, Dennis released on Friday a 22-point memo with facts about the sniper program, in which he insisted the training was not racially motivated.

    “This was not a race issue,” the memo said. “There was no mal-intent or prejudice involved. The same target inventory has been used for more than a decade.”

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    WASHINGTON — For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama will stand before a Republican-led Congress to deliver his State of the Union address and try to convince lawmakers newly empowered to block his agenda that they should instead join with him on education, cyberprotection and national security proposals.

    With Obama firmly in the legacy-building phase, his address is expected to be as much about selling a story of U.S. economic revival as it is about outlining initiatives. The approach reflects the White House’s belief that it has been too cautious in promoting economic gains out of fear of looking tone deaf to the continued struggles of many Americans.

    White House advisers have suggested that their restraint hindered Democrats in the November elections and helped Republicans take full control of Congress for the first time in eight years. But with hiring up and unemployment down, the president has been more assertive about the improving state of the economy in the new year and his prime-time address Tuesday will be his most high-profile platform for making that case.

    “America’s resurgence is real, and we’re better positioned than any country on Earth to succeed in the 21st century,” Obama said Wednesday in Iowa, one of several trips he has made this month to preview the speech.

    Tuesday is the second-to-last time Obama will take part in the pageantry of the annual presidential address to Congress and a televised audience of millions. By the time he stands before lawmakers next year, Americans will have begun voting in the primary campaigns that will determine his successor.

    Mindful of Obama’s fading share of the spotlight, the White House has tried to build momentum for his address by rolling out, in advance, many of the proposals he will outline. Among them: making community college free for many students; ensuring paid sick leave for many workers; cutting the cost of mortgage insurance premiums for some home buyers; pressing for cybersecurity legislation in the wake of the hacking on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the U.S. has blamed on North Korea.

    Some proposals are retreads. Most stand a slim chance of getting congressional approval.

    The real battle lines between Obama and the Republican-led Congress will be on matters long fought over.

    Buoyed by their new majority, Republicans are moving forward on bills to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, change Obama’s health care law and dismantle his executive orders on immigration. The White House has threatened vetoes.

    Republicans say that’s a sign of a president who didn’t get the message from voters trying to relegate his party to minority status in the November election. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president still has a chance to change his tone.

    “Tuesday can be a new day,” McConnell said. “This can be the moment the president pivots to a positive posture, this can be a day when he promotes serious realistic reforms that focus on economic growth and don’t just spend more money we don’t have. We’re eager for him to do so.”

    Obama isn’t expected to make any major foreign policy announcements. He is likely to urge lawmakers to stop the pursuit of new penalties against Iran while the U.S. and others are in the midst of nuclear negotiations with Tehran. In a news conference Friday, Obama said legislation threatening additional penalties could upend the delicate diplomacy.

    “Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened – and Congress will have to own that as well,” he said.

    The president also is expected to cite his recent decision to normalize relations with Cuba, as well as defend the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to stop Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and conduct air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

    The post For first time, Obama to deliver State of the Union address to Republican-led Congress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska in a March 6, 2007 file photo. Oil from a spill or oil well blowout in the Arctic waters of Canada's Beaufort Sea could easily become trapped in sea ice and potentially spread more than 1,000 kilometers to the west coast of Alaska, a World Wildlife Fund study showed on July 25, 2014. REUTERS/Susanne Miller/USFWS/handout  (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS DISASTER) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTR40582

    A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska in a March 2007 file photo. Recent findings from a study of mating and movement behaviors of polar bears showed that the arctic marine mammals are gradually heading further north in search of new habitats, due to climate change. REUTERS/Susanne Miller/USFWS/handout

    Polar bears are gradually moving north in search of longer lasting sea ice, according to findings published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

    “The polar bear’s recent directional gene flow northward is something new,” said U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) researcher and lead study author, Elizabeth Peacock, in a press release. “In our analyses that focused on more historic gene flow, we did not detect movement in this direction.”

    Scientists are linking the migration of the marine mammals to climate change, as the polar bears move away from areas with increasing temperatures and depleting amounts of sea ice, toward the Canadian Archipelago and Western Polar Basin, which have abundant, year-round supplies.

    For the study, U.S.G.S. researchers and scientists from Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia analyzed the DNA of approximately 2,800 polar bears in the Canadian arctic, tracking changes in their genetic make-up over generations. They found that the migration north happened slowly over the last one to three generations.

    Arctic sea ice is essential to the existence of polar bears, as it provides them with a place to live, breed and hunt for seals and other prey. The effects of climate change on glacial ice are explained in this report on Alaska by NewsHour Science correspondent, Miles O’Brien:

    Polar bears are currently categorized as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species due in part to habitat-loss.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You: Your comments about some of our recent work. This week, your response to two extended interviews we did exploring the often tense relationship between minority communities and the police.

    There was this from Reed More: Sorry, but as a white female that grew up in a large city my parents told me in my teen years to be careful of how I acted around police (or anyone with a gun). You mess with anyone holding a gun who regularly has to deal with people who are violent… black or white you lack common sense.

    And from Rollin Watson Walker: Hopefully we’ve learned that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable…no matter what color you are.

    Rob Bieser said: I often wonder what officers of color think and feel about the demonstrations against police violence towards people of color. It must be a horrible and uncomfortable position for them!

    Marcus Landon added: Respect and serve is the credo they should actually follow! Way too many cops are on a power trip. My best friend is a retired NYPD Detective and he agrees with me but admits he can’t say it as cops stick together no matter what!

    And from ulfur: The police think there are just three kinds of people; cops, criminals, and victims. No tax payers, citizens, voters, fathers, mothers, or children. They have an us against the world mentality. Now they are finding out what it is really like to be opposed by most of the citizens they police.

    mindfull said: We need to find resources to address poverty, which will protect our police officers and free them up to fight real crime, instead of chasing teens around the streets for minor offenses and tying up our courts with poor people.

    As always, we welcome your comments. Leave them on our Faceook page, online at newshour.pbs.org or tweet us @NewsHour.

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    A child holds a flyer with the faces of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, during the search of the students in Lomas del Zapatero, on the outskirts of Iguala, Guerrero, January 15, 2015. The Attorney General's office said it had granted a request from the families to allow them to search military barracks throughout Guerrero and other parts of Mexico.  REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez (MEXICO - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR4LM0P

    A child holds a flyer with the faces of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, during the search of the students in Lomas del Zapatero, on the outskirts of Iguala, Guerrero on Jan. 15. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

    A new suspect was arrested in connection with the September 2014 disappearance and alleged killing of 43 college students in Mexico, officials announced on Friday.

    Felipe Rodriguez – also known as “Brush” or “The Stubborn One” – was identified by the office of Mexico Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam as a member of the Mexican gang Guerreros Unidos, the Associated Press reported. Authorities believe him to be the “material author” of the students’ murders.

    According to the New York Times, prosecutors claim that municipal police in the city of Iguala gave the students over to the organized crime group Guerreros Unidos, following orders from the city’s mayor, José Luis Abarca. The students vanished in Iguala, Guerrero, after participating in demonstrations against school budget cuts on Sept. 26.

    The remains of one of the students was identified in December.

    At the time Attorney General Murillo Karam announced the student’s identity, he also told the press that mayor Abarca and his wife, María de los Angeles Pineda Villa, were taken into police custody under suspicion of their involvement in the students’ disappearance.

    Relatives of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College distribute flyers during the search for the students in Lomas del Zapatero, on the outskirts of Iguala, Guerrero, January 15, 2015. The Attorney General's office said it had granted a request from the families to allow them to search military barracks throughout Guerrero and other parts of Mexico.  REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez (MEXICO - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR4LLVA

    Relatives of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College distribute flyers during the search for the students in Lomas del Zapatero, on the outskirts of Iguala, Guerrero on Jan. 15. REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez

    To date, Mexican authorities have conducted more than a dozen searches, taken statements from 385 people, and detained 97 people in connection with the disappearance of the 43 men.

    Authorities met with the students’ families on Jan. 13. During that meeting, officials said that no member of the military or federal law enforcement had been implicated in the disappearance or suspected killings of the students.

    Many family members still believe that the students are alive and they have continued to search for them, including over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

    The post In Mexico, new suspect detained in disappearance of 43 students appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People gather next to rubbles and a hotel set on fire during a demonstration against French weekly Charlie Hebdo's publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in Niamey, on January 17, 2015.  At least 1,000 youths assembled at the grand mosque in the capital Niamey, some of them throwing rocks at police while others burned tyres and chanted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is Greatest"). The protest came a day after a policeman and three civilians were killed and 45 injured in protests against Charlie Hebdo in Niger's second city of Zinder, which saw three churches ransacked and the French cultural centre burned down. AFP PHOTO / BOUREIMA HAMA        (Photo credit should read BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images)

    People gather next to rubble and a hotel set on fire during a demonstration against French weekly Charlie Hebdo’s publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in Niamey, Niger on Jan. 17.  Credit: BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

    At least five people were killed in Niger during protests against the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo on Saturday, authorities said, raising the two-day death toll in the violent demonstrations in the country’s capital to ten.

    Police fired teargas at crowds in the Niger capital of Niamey, as Muslim youths threw stones and set fire to churches, Reuters reported.

    “They offended our Prophet Muhammad, that’s what we didn’t like,” Amadou Abdoul Ouahab, who took part in the demonstration, told Reuters. “This is the reason why we asked Muslims to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That’s why we’re angry today.”

    President Mahamadou Issofou of Niger said the five people killed on Saturday were civilians and promised an inquiry into the violence.

    “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said in a televised appearance.

    Marches remained peaceful in other Western African countries, including demonstrations held in Mali, Senegal and Algeria.

    Supporters of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa Islamic organization burn a French flag during a protest against satirical French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which featured a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad as the cover of its first edition since an attack by Islamist gunmen, in Peshawar January 16, 2015. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz (PAKISTAN - Tags: MEDIA CIVIL UNREST POLITICS RELIGION) - RTR4LQEP

    Demonstrators burn a French flag during a protest against satirical French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Peshawar on Jan. 16. Credit: REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

    But protests against the French weekly newspaper’s cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad turned violent in Pakistan on Friday, with several injuries reported.

    In Karachi, four people, including two journalists, were shot. According to the New York Times, riot police officers responded to rock-throwing demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons and gunfire.

    “Freedom of speech should not be used to hurt religious sentiments of any community,” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement on Thursday. “Publication of provocative material should be discouraged by the international community,” he said.

    In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani spoke out against the cartoons in a press release on Saturday, condemning “in strongest possible terms” the caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. Ghani called the cartoons blasphemous and “utterly an irresponsible act.”

    On Wednesday, Charlie Hebdo published its first issue since two gunmen stormed the weekly’s newsroom and killed 12 people on Jan. 7.

    The issue showed a cartoon depiction of Muhammad holding a sign that read “Je suis Charlie.”

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For the latest about stepped-up security in Belgium, we are joined now via Skype from Brussels by Matthew Dalton. He is a reporter with “The Wall Street Journal”.

    So, Matthew, it’s been decades since we saw military on the streets of Belgium, where are these troops and why?

    MATTHEW DALTON, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, they are positioned throughout the city in certain strategic places, around government buildings, ministries, and the reason is because of this plot that was disrupted on Thursday evening.

    The plotters wanted to kill policemen. That was the purpose of their plot. They had police uniforms. They had explosives. They had Kalashnikovs.

    It was more than 13 people involved in the plot. It was a fairly sophisticated, ambitious effort to try to kill people, kill policemen on the street, and in police stations. So, they’re not — they believe that they’ve rounded up the plot — they’ve rounded up all the plotters but this is more was a fairly sophisticated, ambitious effort to try to kill people, kill policemen on the street, and in police stations. So, they’re not — they believe that they’ve rounded up the plot– they’ve rounded up all the plotters, but this is more of a precautionary effort to make sure that if they’ve missed anybody, that they have enough firepower in place to fight them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How is it affecting the mood on the street to see this military presence, to hear about these raids happening? What are people thinking about, talk, about?

    MATTHEW DALTON: Well, I think they’re pretty shocked. Belgium has a large Moroccan minority, a large Muslim minority. Brussels itself is probably about 25 percent Muslim. But the Belgians have lived with this minority in peace for a long time, and there haven’t been major problems until recently, until the events in the Middle East have really inflamed sentiment among parts of — a minority of the Muslim population.

    But nevertheless, you’re still talking about, you know, a few hundred people, maybe more than that. So I think people, generally speaking, are worried about the idea of a multi-cultural state in Belgium. That’s what a lot of people are talking about. The security presence itself is not pervasive, I would say.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. Belgium officials have also said that about 350 people have gone from there to fight in wars in Iraq and Syria and about 100 of them have come back. That’s an enormous number. That’s the highest per-capita population in Europe.

    MATTHEW DALTON: That’s right. There was a group — starting in 2010, there was a group called Sharia for Belgium, that was formed in response to Belgian efforts to ban the niqab, which is the face veil that Muslim women wear.

    Then, starting in about 2011, this group, of Muslim fundamentalists you could call them, started plotting to send their members to Syria. And so, there are more than 50 people associated with this group who have been sent to Syria to fight. And then, there are other — that was kind of the beginning, the first wave of people that left from Belgium.

    But the recruitment happened via these people and via others through social media, largely Facebook, Twitter, has drawn friends, sometimes family members, wives, children, to follow a lot of these people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Matthew Dalton, reporter for “The Wall Street Journal”, joining us live on Skype today from Brussels — thanks so much.

    MATTHEW DALTON: Thank you.

    The post Belgium steps up security amid new terror threats appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A family of elephants walks after cooling themselves in a pond during a census at the Amboseli National Park, 290 km (188 miles) southeast of Kenya's capital Nairobi, October 9, 2013. Kenyan and Tanzanian governments are conducting a joint aerial count of elephants and other large mammals in the shared ecosystem of the Amboseli- West Kilimanjaro and Natron- Magadi landscape. The census will cover a 25,623 square kilometer area including 9,214 square kilometers of the Amboseli area, 6348 square kilometers of the Namanga-Magadi areas in south-western Kenya and 3,013 square kilometers of the West Kilimanjaro and 7,047 square kilometers of the Natron areas in North Tanzania. October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya (KENYA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS) - RTX146T1

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    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Scrambling through the Ethiopian bushlands, a team of conservation biologists, running, to find an elephant. Darted from the air with a tranquilizer earlier, and part of a much bigger discovery.

    MIKE CHASE: We took off from a very small airstrip over this range of hills into this valley and it was paradise like the last frontier and I just could feel we were on the verge of discovering something great and we did. Nearly three thousand elephants, unknown to anybody, tucked away, safe in a very remote corner of Ethiopia.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Considering elephant numbers are dwindling across Africa it is a remarkable find.

    The team fits it with a huge collar so they can keep track of the herd.

    The mission to Ethiopia is part of a plan to count Africa’s elephants—that’s right—count all the Elephants in Africa.

    It is an ambitious two year project expected to conclude in May. Called The Great Elephant Census the seven million dollar initiative is being funded by American Philanthropist Paul Allen.

    It is led by Chase, he grew up in Botswana- and has dedicated his life to protecting elephants founding a non-profit organization called ‘Elephants without Borders’

    MIKE CHASE: How many elephants are on the African continent? And that’s a question which nobody can answer with any certainty. And the worlds largest terrestrial animal — the 6 ton animal roaming our continent — and people can’t tell you how many are left. They can tell you how many are dying, a hundred elephants a day Africa is losing.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Elephants die of natural causes—old age, disease.

    This young elephant was hunted and killed by a pride of lions—part of the natural cycle of life in Africa.

    But big numbers of elephants are also killed when they come into contact with humans—farmers in particular—they sometimes lose crops to elephants–and so they shoot them.

    And then there is poaching. During the 1980’s there were some years when 100,000 elephants were killed for their tusks. Kenya is estimated to have lost 83 percent of its elephant population during that period.

    Iain Douglas Hamilton is a leading authority on elephants. He is based in Nairobi and he says there has been another spike in elephant poaching recently.

    IAIN DOUGLAS-HAMILTON: In 2011, we estimated there were 40,000 elephants illegally killed. If that rate were to continue it would inevitably drive the elephants down because they cannot reproduce fast enough to replace the losses caused by natural mortality and illegal killing for ivory combined.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Hamilton is one of nearly 50 conservationists across Africa supporting the great elephant census.

    IAIN DOUGLAS HAMILTON: You can’t fight a war to save something if you don’t know how many you are trying to save.

    MIKE CHASE: So to have this foundational information on precisely how many elephants are left will help gauge future conservation efforts.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: It is an enormous challenge—elephants are found in 37 African nations. Populations vary in size. But some countries refused to take part in the survey.

    MIKE CHASE: And that for me has been the most difficult part of the Great Elephant Census to comprehend why people, why countries don’t want their elephants counted.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Chase is optimistic many countries will ultimately join the census. In the meantime, he is working hard in the 18 nations that have agreed.

    From South Sudan in the north — pockets of West Africa — through East and Central Africa down to South Africa. And Botswana, his home country, with an estimated population of 100,000 elephants. The largest in Africa.

    Counting is done from the air. A small plane flying low, across the African landscape. The plane flies back and forth in a series of straight lines. Called transect lines, pre-programmed ahead of time using GPS coordinates.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: A typical survey session lasts about four hours, it is tedious, it is mentally exhausting, but its really the best way to count elephants.

    SPOTTER: Look at that herd. Oh my goodness look at that.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Chase is in the front seat recording information. There are 2 spotters in the back.

    MIKE CHASE: There’s a tremendous amount of skill that goes into flying an aerial survey. A consistent height. You can’t deviate off the transect line. You’ve got to maintain a speed of 170 kilometres — you go too fast you’re going to miss animals.

    Kelly Landen is one of the regular spotters. Originally from Buffalo, New York, now living in Botswana.

    KELLY LANDEN: Well the transect lines are about 15 minutes each in one direction and then on the turn we get a little bit of an eye break. We stretch. We close our eyes and try and get a regroup for a few minutes until we get to the next transect which is actually quite a relief.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: In neighboring South Africa the massive Kruger Park is also home to thousands of elephants. Chase and the team won’t have to do any counting here because the South Africans will provide figures from their own aerial surveys.

    Sam Ferreira is an ecologist in Kruger Park well aware of the difficulties of counting elephants from the air.

    SAM FERREIRA: Imagine an elephant stands under a tree. You fly over it. The elephant is there but it’s not available for you to be sampled and you can’t see it.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: To compensate cameras are mounted on each side of the plane — the spotters constantly take pictures.

    After the flight the photos are downloaded and used to verify what the spotters have reported.

    Using a special program each elephant is highlighted making it much easier to spot those elephants under the trees.

    KELLY LANDEN: This verification helps quite a bit. Especially when you have large herds. It’s very difficult when you go by for just a few minutes, so the numbers are really well verified when you count it on the computer.

    Right now, like I said, I missed an elephant on this one.

    MIKE CHASE: It would be extremely difficult if we didn’t have this technology available to us to fly aerial surveys — over such a vast scale an area that we’re covering.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Wildlife officials with the Botswana government are observing and assisting with the count here. It is indicative of the concern African nations have for elephants.

    Alfred Seonyatseng is a senior wildlife warden.

    ALFRED SEONYATSENG: I think it’s going to help all the African countries to know and conserve and to know exactly what the number they have and that they can know how they can conserve their elephants.

    AMO KEITSILE: If we don’t intervene it’s going to be a problem the elephant will soon disappear.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Chase is encouraged by the response so far. He says that trip to Ethiopia gave him a lot of reasons to be hopeful.

    MIKE CHASE: As soon as a government hears that they have 3,000 elephants tucked away in the southern corner of their country, which they didn’t know about, man, that changes things, that gets people excited and that’s what we’ve discovered on the great elephant census.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: And there are many more countries still to be counted…

    The post As Africa’s elephant population dwindles, project aims to count them all appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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