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

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    From Jan. 20-24, racers from all over Europe are taking part in the 2015 Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in the Orlicke mountains near the Czech-Polish border. 

    A musher rides his dog sled during a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach January 23, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race . REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR4MNL4

    A musher rides his dog sled during a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach on Jan. 23. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    The four-day race with 88 mushers and 500 dogs is the longest dog sled race in the Czech Republic and one of the most challenging races of its kind in Europe.

    Dogs rest during the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach January 23, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race.  REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC  - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT) - RTR4MNLM

    Dogs rest during the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Czech Republic. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    The 222 kilometer-long course (just over 137 miles) is held in stages along the ridges of the Orlické Mountains in the Czech Republic, according to the Czech Tourist Authority.

    A dog rests during the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach January 23, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race. REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT) - RTR4MNLA

    Dogs rest during the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Czech Republic. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    A musher greets his dog during a break in a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach January 22, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race. Picture taken January 22, 2015. REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT) - RTR4MNKH

    A musher greets his dog during a break in a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach on Jan. 22. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    A dog rests during a break in a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach, January 22, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race. Picture taken January 22, 2015. REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT) - RTR4MNKR

    Dogs rest during the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Czech Republic. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    A musher rides his dog sled during a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach January 23, 2015. Each year, racers from all over Europe arrive at the village of Destne in the Orlicke mountains in Czech Republic to take part in the race . REUTERS/David W Cerny (CZECH REPUBLIC - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT) - RTR4MNLN

    A musher rides his dog sled during a stage of the Sedivackuv Long dog sled race in Destne v Orlickych horach on Jan. 23. Photo by David W. Cerny/REUTERS

    The post Photos: Dog sled derby mushes through Czech Republic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Privacy advocates say the Obama administration needs to make more changes to protect consumer privacy on the government’s health insurance website.

    The administration reversed course Friday and scaled back the release of personal information from HealthCare.gov, after The Associated Press reported that such details as consumers’ income and tobacco use were going to private companies with a commercial interest in the data.

    The episode could become a blemish on what’s otherwise shaping up as a successful open enrollment season for the second year of expanded coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

    Lawmakers continue to insist on a full explanation.

    HealthCare.gov is used by millions to sign up for subsidized private coverage under the law, or to merely browse for insurance plans in their communities.

    The latest changes by the administration mean that the website is no longer explicitly sending out such details as age, income, ZIP code, tobacco use and whether a woman is pregnant.

    But HealthCare.gov still has embedded connections to a number of outside commercial websites, and it’s not clear how or if the administration intends to address that.

    An administration spokesman had no comment Friday on the changes, which were verified by the AP’s analysis. Earlier, officials had said the sole purpose of the embedded connections to private firms was to monitor the health insurance website and improve performance for consumers.

    The AP previously reported that HealthCare.gov was quietly sending consumers’ personal data to companies that specialize in advertising and analyzing Internet data for performance and marketing.

    Cooper Quintin, a staff technologist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the government’s changes are “a great first step,” but more needs to be done.

    For example, the health site should disable third-party tracking for people who enable the “do not track” feature on their web browsers.

    “HealthCare.gov should meet good privacy standards for all its users,” he said. The foundation is a civil liberties group.

    Quintin had verified the AP’s initial findings and added more detail, showing that HealthCare.gov was sending personal health information to at least 14 third-part Internet domains.

    Privacy advocates say the mere presence of connections to private companies on the government’s website -even if they don’t explicitly receive personal data- should be examined because of their ability to reveal sensitive information about a user.

    Third-party outfits that track website performance are a standard part of e-commerce. It’s a lucrative business, helping Google, Facebook and others tailor ads to customers’ interests. Because your computer and mobile devices can be assigned an individual signature, profiles of Internet users can be pieced together, generating lists that have commercial value.

    The third-parties embedded on HealthCare.gov can’t see your name, birth date or Social Security number. But they may be able to correlate the fact that your computer accessed the government website with your other Internet activities.

    Have you been researching a chronic illness like coronary artery blockage? Do you shop online for smoking-cessation aids? Are you investigating genetic markers for a certain type of breast cancer? Are you seeking help for financial problems, or for an addiction?

    Google told the AP it doesn’t allow its systems to target ads based on medical information.

    Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the situation “extremely concerning” for consumers. Grassley said Friday it’s still unclear how consumers’ information is being used and he wants a full explanation.

    “People using HealthCare.gov should have the confidence that their information is secure and not being used for sales pitches by outside firms,” he said in a statement.

    Officials of the Health and Human Services Department had at first defended their information-sharing practices. There is no evidence that consumers’ personal information was misused, they said.

    The website’s privacy policy says in boldface type that no “personally identifiable information” is collected by outside Web measurement tools. That is a term defined in government regulations, but other personal details were being allowed through.

    HealthCare.gov is the online gateway to government-subsidized private insurance for people who lack coverage on the job. It serves 37 states, while the remaining states operate their own insurance markets. The privacy concerns surfaced just as the president was calling for stronger Internet safeguards for consumers, in his State of the Union speech.

    The website was crippled by serious technical problems when it made its debut in the fall of 2013. This year it has worked much better, a marked contrast. The administration is aiming to have more than 9 million people signed up by Feb. 15, the last day of open enrollment.

    But the privacy issues were a reminder that the website remains a work in progress, like the underlying law that created it.

    The post Advocates seek greater privacy protections for HealthCare.gov appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will cut short his three-day trip to India and visit Saudi Arabia to pay respects after the death of King Abdullah, U.S. and Indian officials said Saturday.

    The schedule change, announced shortly before Obama left for India, means the president will skip plans to see the Taj Mahal, and instead pay a call on an influential U.S. ally in the volatile Mideast.

    The king, who died Friday, was aggressive in trying to check the spreading power of Saudi Arabia’s chief rival, Iran. Obama visited the ailing monarch in his desert compound last March.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president and first lady Michelle Obama would travel to Riyadh on Tuesday and meet with new Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. Vice President Joe Biden was to lead a U.S. delegation, but Earnest said the White House changed plans after determining that Biden’s trip coincided with Obama’s departure from India. Biden will remain in Washington.

    The more substantive portions of Obama’s trip to India appeared unlikely to change.

    Obama was due to arrive Sunday for meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then attend Monday’s annual Republic Day festivities, which mark the day in 1950 that India’s constitution came into force.

    Relations between the world’s two largest democracies are strengthening after recent tensions. Obama and Modi developed a good rapport during the prime minister’s visit in Washington last fall.

    Modi’s invitation to Obama caught some in the U.S. off guard.

    “It took us by some surprise,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “There’s a great affinity between the United States and India and our people, but there’s also a history that is complicated and that would have made it seem highly unlikely that a U.S. president would be sitting with India’s leaders at their Republic Day ceremony.”

    While in India, Obama also planned to meet with Modi and attend an economic summit with U.S. and Indian business leaders.

    Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit India twice while in office; he also traveled there in 2010 for an economic summit.

    His trip was expected to be heavy on symbolism and lighter on substantive advances, though climate change, economics and defense ties are on the agenda. Still, U.S. and Indian officials appear to agree that even a symbolic show of solidarity would mark progress after recent difficulties.

    While military cooperation and U.S. defense sales have grown, Washington has been frustrated by India’s failure to open up to more foreign investment and to address complaints alleging intellectual property violations. India’s liability legislation has also prevented U.S. companies from capitalizing on a landmark civil nuclear agreement between the two countries in 2008.

    Relations hit a new low in 2013 when India’s deputy consul general was arrested and strip-searched in New York over allegations that she lied on visa forms to bring her maid to the U.S. while paying the woman a pittance. The official’s treatment caused outrage in New Delhi, and India retaliated against U.S. diplomats.

    Modi’s hosting of Obama caps a year of high-profile diplomatic maneuvers by a leader denied a U.S. visa in 2005, three years after religious riots killed more than 1,000 Muslims in the Indian state where he was the top elected official.

    The visit ties in with Modi’s election promise that he would turn around Asia’s third-largest economy. It also could send a message to Pakistan and China – India’s closest neighbors and rivals – that Modi has a powerful ally in the United States.

    The White House plans to push India on climate change, particularly after reaching a sweeping agreement with China on limiting carbon emissions. Accompanying Obama are several U.S. business leaders hoping to forge new partnerships with India.

    The post Obama cuts India trip short to pay respects in Saudi Arabia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hall of Fame baseball player Ernie Banks in the East Room at the White House on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC.  Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Hall of Fame baseball player Ernie Banks in the East Room at the White House on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

    Legendary Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks died on Friday. He was 83 years old.

    His family’s attorney, Mark Bogen, confirmed his death, for which an official cause was not released. Banks’ family is expected to hold a press conference on Sunday.

    Banks, popularly known to fans as “Mr. Cub,” joined the team as its first black player in 1953. He hit 512 career home runs throughout his 19-season career with the Cubs and was famous for his catchphrase, “Let’s play two,” which adorns his statue at Wrigley Field.

    “He was one of the greatest players of all time,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.”

    OCT 2 1984, OCT 3 1984; Special for the Denver Post -- "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks salutes the crowd at Wrigley Field before throwing out the first pitch for the Cubs-Padres playoff opener. 1984  (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)

    “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks salutes the crowd at Wrigley Field before throwing out the first pitch for the Cubs-Padres playoff opener on Oct. 2, 1984. Photo by The Denver Post via Getty Images

    Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He was also a two-time MVP and a 14-time All-Star.

    In a statement Saturday, fellow Chicagoan President Barack Obama called Banks an “incredible ambassador for baseball and for the city of Chicago.”

    The statement said:

    Michelle and I send our condolences to the family of Ernie Banks, and to every Chicagoan and baseball fan who loved him. He was beloved by baseball fans everywhere, including Michelle, who, when she was a girl, used to sit with her dad and watch him play on TV. Somewhere, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, his team’s behind him, and Mr. Class — “Mr. Cub” — is ready to play two.

    In 2013, Obama presented Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, citing his good cheer, optimism and eternal faith that “someday the Cubs would go all the way.”

    On Saturday, Cubs fans began a makeshift memorial to Banks outside of Wrigley Field. 

    The post Ernie Banks, baseball pioneer and Cubs legend dies at 83 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Japan's PM Abe speaks to the media at his official residence in Tokyo

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: For more about today’s beheading of one Japanese hostage and Japan’s efforts to free the second, we are joined now by Hajime Ozaki. He is the New York bureau chief of the Kyodo News Agency.

    So, what steps did the Japanese government take to try and free this particular hostage? Or what are they still doing to try to get the next one?

    HAJIME OZAKI, KYODO NEWS: I believe that the Japanese government is trying all its effort to release Mr. Kenji Goto, the second hostage, so there are channels, including neighboring countries, countries to ISIS, and then Jordan and so on.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Uh-huh. And there’s been some concern that this is in retaliation to the prime minister’s visit to the Middle East region, pledging another $200 million for countermeasures against ISIL, but also humanitarian support.

    HAJIME OZAKI: Correct. Prime Minister Abe last week visited Cairo and issued that statement that the Japanese government is trying to help the refugees and neighboring countries to ISIS, which are fighting the threat of ISIS. Apparently, ISIS seized the moment of Prime Minister Abe’s statement, and the ransom that they demanded coincides with the amount of the money that Prime Minister Abe pledged to humanitarian assistance.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is there any chance Japan would pay the ransom? I mean, back in the late ‘70s, there was an incident in Bangladesh and there was some question about an incident in the late ‘90s in Kyrgyzstan. Was there an official government policy that said they wouldn’t pay?

    HAJIME OZAKI: The official government policy is to comply with the kind of international norm, that not to bend to the threats of the terrorists. So, it is understood that the Japanese government is not ready to pay the ransom.

    But everything may be possible. But, on the other hand, now ISIS changed their demand from the ransom to the release of the hostage taken in Jordan.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what has the reaction been in Japan over the past few days? Obviously, this news broke so late at night that most Japanese were asleep and they won’t know until tomorrow morning and & that will be the reaction to this hostage’s assassination. But over the past several days, as this story has been building in Japan, what’s it been like?

    HAJIME OZAKI: Yes, of course, most of the Japanese population are very much concerned and worried about the fate of the two hostages, and there was a press conference by one of the — the mother of one of the hostages the other day, and it — her appeal to free the — free her son was widely appreciated and a lot of compassion grown in Japanese society.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.

    HAJIME OZAKI: On the other hand, there are some sentiments in certain people in Japan that the guys went to Syria knowing that there are risks, and there are some voices that blame the behavior –

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That they engaged in risky behavior.

    HAJIME OZAKI: Right, correct.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK, Hajime Ozaki, the New York bureau chief of Kyodo News Agency, thanks so much.

    HAJIME OZAKI: Thank you very much.

    The post After hostage execution, Japan devotes ‘all efforts’ to rescue second from ISIS appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Graphic credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to Viewers Like You: Your comments about our recent work. Tonight, some of what you had to say about last Saturday’s signature segment from Belgium describing that country’s euthanasia laws, the least restrictive in the world.

    One viewer (PancakeSorting) said: I’ve seen patients get great comfort out of simply knowing they have the choice to end their suffering… I am, however, somewhat dubious about using euthanasia on psychiatric patients. Not because I doubt their suffering, but because I doubt their mental competency to make a life altering decision.

    Hana Sheala added: I live with muscular dystrophy, and I hope euthanasia will not be legal, that there always are alternatives for being self determined even as a vented functional quadriplegic.

    There was this from lstcaress: After suffering from severe depression for thirty years and growing tired of being a drugged zombie, I’m appalled I’m not allowed this option.

    And from Michelle A. Mead: My mother and my cat were both dying at the same time. One of them was allowed to die with dignity. It was not my mother.

    Others commented about the provision in the Belgian law that allows for terminally ill children to choose euthanasia with their parents’ consent.

    Briee della Rocca added: I wish we had this in the states. Everyone, even children, should be allowed to free themselves from unending pain and terminal conditions where treatment is only torture.

    Beth DeRoos said: Putting an innocent child to death because medical ‘professionals’ or parents feel its best? Sorry but actually executing a child which is what this is, is just so wrong.

    And finally, there was this from Hillery Geelon: Unless you’re ever in that situation no one would ever be able to judge.

    As always, we welcome your feedback at pbs.org/newshour, or on our Facebook page, or tweet us @NewsHour.

    The post Viewers respond to report about euthanasia in Belgium appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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     U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Lagos Airport on January 25, 2015. Kerry arrived in Nigeria to meet with the leading rival candidates for the upcoming Feb. 14 presidential election admid concerns of post-poll violence in a country already devastated by an al-Qaida linked insurgency.  Photo by Akintunde Akinl U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Lagos Airport on January 25, 2015. Kerry arrived in Nigeria to meet with the leading rival candidates for the upcoming Feb. 14 presidential election admid concerns of post-poll violence in a country already devastated by an al-Qaida linked insurgency. eye/Reuters

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lands in Lagos Airport on Jan. 25. Kerry arrived in Nigeria to meet with the leading rival candidates for the upcoming Feb. 14 presidential election amid concerns of post-election violence in a country already devastated by an al-Qaida linked insurgency. Photo by Akintunde Akinleye/REUTERS

    LAGOS, Nigeria– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is encouraging the main candidates in Nigeria’s upcoming presidential vote to accept the results and tamp down potential postelection violence in a country reeling from an al-Qaida linked insurgency.

    After touching down Sunday in this steamy, sprawling city of 21 million, Kerry met first with President Goodluck Jonathan and later, at a different location, sat down with former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, the loser in the 2011 race.

    The Feb. 14 election in Africa’s most populous country comes amid a series of killings and kidnappings carried out by Boko Haram, an al-Qaida-linked group that has seized large portions of northeast Nigeria and attacked civilians.

    Last week, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a massacre of hundreds of people in the town of Baga on the shores of Lake Chad.

    In fierce fighting Sunday, Nigerian troops battled Islamic extremists who attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast. Dozens of combatants have been killed and wounded, soldiers and hospital workers said.

    Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, is nearly 1,000 southwest of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram that has been attacked many times in the long-running Islamic insurgency that killed 10,000 people last year.

    Kerry intended to appeal to Jonathan and Buhari to instruct their supporters to refrain from violence, State Department officials said ahead of Kerry’s trip.

    Jonathan’s disputed 2011 election victory triggered riots in the north that killed an estimated 800 people.

    American diplomats have expressed concern about what could be a prolonged election.

    Under Nigeria’s election laws, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote, as well as more than 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of the states to avoid a runoff.

    If no candidate wins by those margins, a runoff election would take place Feb. 28. If those margins still are not achieved, a third runoff would be held in a week, winnable by a simple majority.

    Boko Haram was expected to be a main topic of Kerry’s discussions. In a report last week, the Virginia-based Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research corporation, called the group a locally focused insurgency largely fueled by bad government.

    “The conflict is being sustained by masses of unemployed youth who are susceptible to Boko Haram recruitment, an alienated and frightened northern population that refuses to cooperate with state security forces, and a governance vacuum that has allowed the emergence of militant sanctuaries in the northeast,” the report said.

    “The conflict is also being perpetuated by the Nigerian government, which has employed a heavy-handed, overwhelmingly (military) approach to dealing with the group and has paid little attention to the underlying contextual realities and root causes of the conflict,” the report said. That view comports with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

    In December, Nigeria canceled the last stage of U.S. training of a Nigerian army battalion, a reflection of strained counterterrorism relations between the two governments.

    In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 270 schoolgirls from the northern town of Chibok, prompting international condemnation and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.” Most of the girls, however, have not been rescued.

    Boko Haram has denounced democracy and is fighting to impose its strict version of Shariah law across Nigeria, whose population of about 170 million is divided almost equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

    The post Kerry in Nigeria to urge against postelection violence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    NEW DELHI – President Barack Obama says the political vacuum in Yemen hasn’t affected U.S. counterterrorism operations inside the Middle Eastern country.

    He says that news reports to the contrary are inaccurate, and he says the U.S. continues to pursue terrorist targets inside Yemen.

    Yemen was thrown into a state of political turmoil last week after Shiite rebels overran the capital and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his ministers resigned.

    Hadi had worked with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. Washington says Yemen is the base of operations for the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaida.

    Obama spoke Sunday in New Delhi during an appearance with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

    The post Obama: Upheaval in Yemen has not affected US counterterrorism ops appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An airplane flies over a drone Jan. 1, 2015. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    An airplane is seeing flyings over a drone on Jan. 1, 2015. This month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued the first permit for agricultural use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Herding cattle. Counting fish. Taking an animal’s temperature. Applying pesticides.

    When it comes to drones, “your imagination can go pretty wild in terms of what would be possible,” says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.

    This month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued the first permit for agricultural use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Steven Edgar, president and CEO of ADAVSO, says his Idaho-based business will use a lightweight, fixed-wing drone to survey fields of crops.

    Drone technology, already used in other countries, can make farmers more efficient by helping them locate problem spots in vast fields or ranchlands. Increased efficiency could mean lower costs for consumers and less impact on the environment if farmers used fewer chemicals because drones showed them exactly where to spray.

    The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use, once government regulations allow it. That could be a while. The Federal Aviation Administration has been working for years on rules that would balance the desire for commercial flights of small drones with the need to prevent collisions involving manned aircraft.

    Five ways drones could affect the food supply:

    SCOUTING FARMS

    The first agriculture drones are looking at massive fields of crops to scout out where crops are too wet, too dry, too diseased or too infested with pests. They can help farmers count plants or measure their height. Farmers can now use satellite technology, but it’s slower and less detailed than images from low-flying drone.

    “This is about getting the most productivity from every square inch of a farm,” says ADAVSO’s Edgar.

    Alabama farmer Don Glenn said he would buy a drone or use a service that provides drone surveillance on his farm of corn, wheat, soybeans and canola. It’s hard to survey corn fields when they are 8 feet to 10 feet tall, he says.

    Drones can carry different tools, including high-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and thermal sensors. Ground-penetrating radar could even measure soil conditions.

    APPLYING CHEMICALS

    Once the land is surveyed, farmers could use that data to narrow the areas that need treatment. If a plot of farmland is infested with weeds, for example, a farmer could spray a small amount of herbicide just in that area, instead of an entire field, to kill them. Farmers hope that they eventually could use drones to do the spraying.

    Kevin Price of the Iowa-based drone company RoboFlight Systems says that kind of precision would put farmers at a huge advantage, helping them reduce the costs of chemicals and their application.

    PLAYING COWBOY

    The National Farmers Union’s Johnson says his father used to fly a plane over his ranch and his neighbors’ to spot escaped cattle when he was growing up in North Dakota. That’s something a drone could do with far less money and effort.

    Lia Reich of the UAV manufacturer PrecisionHawk says the company’s drones can use thermal sensors to take the temperature of cattle. The data comes back as bands of color, and “if all of the cattle look green and one looks dark purple then that one has a higher temperature,” she said.

    Drones could help ranchers count cattle, disturb pests that are aggravating livestock or even apply insecticide to an animal.

    FINDING FISH

    A University of Maryland project is developing drone technology to monitor fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Matt Scassero, the project director, says the idea is that a laser-based sensor mounted on a drone would allow scientists to see through the water and measure the size of a school of fish. Researchers could ascertain the conditions of the water, too.

    Some drones can land on water, making it possible to measure water quality, as well.

    REVEALING SECRETS

    There are downsides for farmers. Documentary filmmaker Mark Devries has used an unmanned vehicle to fly over large commercial hog operations and film them. He wants consumers to see the buildings full of animals and huge manure pits.

    The drones “allow for close-ups and vantage points that satellites and airplanes cannot easily obtain,” Devries says.

    R.J. Karney of the American Farm Bureau Federation says there is a “major concern” about those kinds of films and his group intends to work with the Obama administration and Congress to address it. He says such films are not only a privacy violation, but can put farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

    Still, the agriculture industry sees the advantages of drones as far outweighing the disadvantages.

    “We’re concerned about falling behind other countries” as the FAA delays, Karney says. “Farmers are anxious to see where this can go.”

    The post 5 ways drones could change the way America eats 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 6, 2007 file photo. President Barack Obama will reportedly ask Congress to designate more than 12 million acres of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area. REUTERS/Susanne Miller/USFWS/handout

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says he will ask Congress to designate more than 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the Coastal Plain, as a wilderness area. The designation would seal the area off from oil exploration and give it the highest degree of federal protection available to public lands.

    The nearly 20 million acre refuge has long been a piece of contentious land in the struggle between conservationists and advocates of greater energy exploration in the United States.

    In a White House video released Sunday, Obama says he is seeking the designation “so we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”

    The Department of Interior on Sunday issued a comprehensive plan that for the first time recommended the additional protections.

    The post Obama will seek wilderness designation for Alaska refuge appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee waves after speaking at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, January 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Jim Young  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4MRR7

    Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee waves after speaking at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 24. In Iowa, the former Arkansas governor mocked Obama’s elevation of climate change as a critical issue. Photo by Jim Young/REUTERS

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Prior Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee is reacquainting himself with activists who could help decide the next Republican nominee.

    Huckabee appeared before the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday to deliver a biting assessment of President Barack Obama’s policies and make a pitch for his potential candidacy. He recently left a cable news show and is on a book tour.

    The former Arkansas governor mocked Obama’s elevation of climate change as a critical issue. Huckabee says a greater threat is violent radical elements stoking fear around the world. He says America hasn’t done enough to strike those terror groups.

    Huckabee also says Democrats are misguided by focusing on raising the minimum wage instead of cultivating better-paying jobs.

    Huckabee has re-emerged as a possible presidential candidate seven years after his last bid.

    The post Huckabee in Iowa mocks Obama on climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A woman leaves a booth before casting her ballot at a polling station in the northern port city of Thessaloniki Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Alexandros Avramidis/REUTERS.

    A woman leaves a booth before casting her ballot at a polling station in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki on Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Alexandros Avramidis/REUTERS.

    Greece’s far left party was projected to win a national parliamentary election in the eurozone country on Sunday, according to exit polls.

    Syriza – a party which has vowed to end austerity measures in the region if elected – has reportedly received 35.5 to 39.5 percent of the national vote, according to polls by Metron Analysis, GPO, Alco, MRB and Marc, the Associated Press reported.

    Supporters of opposition leader and head of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras cheer at exit poll results in Athens, Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Marko Djurica REUTERS.

    Supporters of opposition leader and head of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras cheer at exit poll results in Athens, Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Marko Djurica/REUTERS

    A party needs approximately 36 to 40 percent of the vote for the win in Greece.

    In the days leading up to the election, the anti-bailout party led by Alexis Tsipras had gained momentum, leading with 6.5 points on Jan. 19, up from a 4.5 point lead a week prior, said a University of Macedonia survey, Reuters reported.

    The snap election was called in December by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, of the New Democracy Party, which lagged behind Syriza with 23 to 27 percent of the vote.

    Currently, Greece has an unemployment rate of 25.5 percent, according to the country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.

    In Athens on Jan. 22, Pablo Iglesias, the head of Spain’s left party Podemos, which was modeled after Syriza, joined Tsipras on stage and told the crowd: “A wind of change is blowing through Spain and Greece. In Greece it’s called Syriza. In Spain, Podemos. Hope is returning. Syriza, Podemos, we will be victorious.”

    The post Exit polls show Greece’s anti-austerity party on course to win election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    indiapoverty

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    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Gujarat was the home of Mahatma Gandhi. Thousands come to pay homage — the ordinary and the famous. This video is from the YouTube channel of India’s new leader as he hosted China’s president at Gandhi’s ashram. 

    Narendra Modi invokes the father of modern India, who preached non-violence and simple living. But Modi’s vision seems in many ways more like modern China.

    So this is sort of Shanghai-inspired?

    RAMAKANT JHA: That’s right.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This is the scale model of an all new city being built in Gujarat from scratch. It was championed by Modi when he headed the state government here.

    So this is what we’ll come back to in about a decade?

    RAMAKANT JHA: Yes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ramakant Jha who heads a agency set up to develop it says in a decade 500,000 people will work in the new city. He says it will keep in the country some $50 billion that now goes elsewhere because India lacks such facilities.

    RAMAKANT JHA: All this Indian business are being performed in other countries: Singapore, Dubai, London.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The multinational finance and insurance firms will come to Gujarat, he predicts, as many manufacturers have in recent years.

    The Japanese company Hitachi is one. Hitachi’s Vinay Chauhan says it’s tedious to do business in India with myriad permits and corruption. But not so in Gujarat, he says, where Modi cut red tape and improved the infrastructure.

    VINAY CHAUHAN: One of the most important is power. We have uninterrupted power. These governments talk but don’t do. In Gujarat nobody talks, it is just done.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Under Modi’s leadership, Gujarat made land available for factories and redevelopment. One showcased project is Riverfront Park in Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad. Luxury high rise homes are soon to follow.

    But not everyone is pleased with Modi’s approach. Critics say it favors big business at the expense of the poor, including thousands who once lived in this gentrified area.

    The families living in this decrepit industrial location say they lived for years along the riverfront when all of a sudden they were abruptly displaced and moved here, given tiny plots of land and nothing more to restart their lives.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: We are just day laborers, said this man. The city — at least an hour’s bus ride away — is where the work is, they said. But bus fare now takes half of their meager earnings; around three dollars a day.

    MAN: We’re right by a garbage dump and when it rains this place floods and the water brings it all in.

    WOMAN: The water is bad, we have to walk really far to latrines. We have a lot of difficulties. We’re forced to live like animals.

    SHABNAM HASHMI: Modi is a very good show man. He knows how to project things. But that is about all.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Shabnam Hashmi founded a human rights group that advocates for marginalized communities. Hashmi says Gujarat is near the bottom among India’s states in education and health care. And poverty actually grew during Modi’s 13 years at the helm, she says.

    SHABNAM HASHMI: The Gujarat model helped middle classes, and Gujarat model cared a damn about the poor, about the marginalized sections, and it is going to be the same all over India.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Other politicians may be criticized for favoring the wealthy over the poor. But in Modi’s case, there’s also a sectarian dimension. He’s long been dogged by accusations he did little to stop programs against Gujarat’s impoverished Muslim minority back in 2002 — allegations that led the U.S. and U.K. to ban him from entering those countries.

    Inquiries later cleared Modi but he’s still hurt by long ties to Hindu nationalist groups — some with violent pasts — who want India officially declared a Hindu nation.

    Modi’s election has emboldened the extremists, says Hashmi, who belongs to India’s 14 percent Muslim minority.

    SHABNAM HASHMI: In the last six months, there have been more than 600 communal riots in this country.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Communal riots.

    SHABNAM HASHMI: Communal riots. 600.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: This is between what, Hindus and Muslims?

    SHABNAM HASHMI: Yes. And I don’t know how long somebody like me should feel safe sitting in this home, frankly.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: What does that mean?

    SHABNAM HASHMI: That means that I have a Muslim name.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Supporters of the new prime minister say such fears are exaggerated. They say Modi has spoken out against extremist rhetoric and activity.

    M.J. AKBAR, RULING PARTY SPOKESMAN: He said it in the House of Parliament, this is unacceptable. This can’t go on. We want development for all.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: M.J. Akbar, a columnist and author and himself Muslim, is a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.

    M.J. AKBAR, RULING PARTY SPOKESMAN: He has said repeatedly, “I said, I want to see Muslims in India with the Quran in one hand, their holy book, but with the computer in the other hand.”

    Now that is true empowerment. Jobs are true empowerment.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As for the Gujarat model, Akbar says, Modi inherited the challenges that underlie its poverty. He says the verdict on his tenure come from his election three times in the state.

    M.J. AKBAR, RULING PARTY SPOKESMAN: We are a democracy. People will vote only if their lives have improved. It’s quite simple.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: I asked people displaced from the riverside who they voted for in the election.

    No one, they said. We lost our election cards when they took our homes away, and we don’t have proper addresses, which are required to get new ones.

    WOMAN: How much have we been pleading? How long have we been writing them? No one has listened to us yet.

    WOMAN: We’ve been promised help for a long time. Whoever gives it to us, Narendra Modi or anyone else, we’d be very thankful.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As in Gujarat, the new prime minister’s challenge will be to offer hope to some 400 million people who live below India’s poverty line, that his pro-business policies are their best path out of poverty.

    The post Are Modi’s pro-business plans a path out of poverty for India’s poor? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MEDICINAL MARIJUANA

    Ryan Milligan tends to the plants he grows at the Greenwekrs facility for sale to medical marijuana dispensaries in Denvery, Colorado, on August 3, 2011. Photo by Randall Benton/Getty Images.

    Colorado colleges may soon begin growing their own weed — that is, if a group of state officials have their way.

    In a letter sent to federal health and education officials last month, the state’s attorney general’s office asked for permission for Colorado’s colleges and universities to “obtain marijuana from non-federal government sources” for research purposes, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    They say the state’s legalization of pot has raised larger questions about the drug’s health affects, which could be studied to “fill the void of scientific research” at universities.

    “Current research is riddled with bias or insufficiencies and often conflict with one another,” Colorado Deputy Attorney General David Blake wrote in the letter, which was sent to five federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health. 

    Only one federally approved marijuana farm exists at the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, which is operated by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, according to the Brush News-Tribune.

    But bureaucratic red tape make it difficult for researchers to obtain the pot, so Colorado officials would instead like universities to contract with NIDA to grow their own weed locally. 

    “We are basically seeking permission for an activity that has been banned for 70-plus years,” Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Co.), who helped craft the state’s marijuana laws, told the LA Times. “Universities are generally where the best research takes place so why not have the best and brightest working on discovering not only the dangers but also the therapeutic benefits of marijuana?”

    While marijuana is legal in Colorado, save for some qualifications, it remains illegal under federal law, and the state is still struggling to regulate marijuana products like edibles and stay ahead of potential health threats that increased consumption of the drug may cause. 

    “The conversation is changing,” Teri Robnett, a member of Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council, told the LA Times. “We have hospitals using cannabis therapy for epilepsy. What kind of epilepsy does it work best on? The only way we can find out is through research, but until we can grow our own marijuana all researchers have to go through NIDA.”

    The post Colorado to federal government: Let our colleges grow pot for research appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A supporter of opposition leader and head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waits outside his campaign headquarters in Athens, January 25, 2015. Greeks are voting in a historic election expected to bring in a government led by the leftwing Syriza party which has promised to take on international lenders and roll back painful austerity measures imposed during years of economic crisis. REUTERS/Marko Djurica (GREECE - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today’s vote in Greece is likely to affect people around the world.

    To help understand how, we are joined now by John Authers. He is the senior investment columnist for The Financial Times.

    So, what does it mean if the Syriza Party takes control of Parliament, whether it’s an absolute majority or not?

    JOHN AUTHERS, Senior Investment Columnist, The Financial Times: It means that they now have a mandate to do what they have been threatening to do for several years, which is attempt to renegotiate the terms of the bailout, in which they — which they received from the European Union some years ago.

    Plainly, that then opens the issue, if they fail to negotiate new terms, that they leave the Eurozone, for which there is no precedent.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

    And how does the E.U. feel about renegotiating a bailout that they begrudgingly accepted a few years ago and have had to make modifications for over the last couple of years?

    JOHN AUTHERS: Well, markedly unenthusiastic, as you would expect.

    The line that came across to The Financial Times’ reporters at Davos last week was a fairly clear one, that they feel they have done enough for the Greeks.

    The Greeks may still have 175 percent of their GDP as their overhanging debt, but they — the other Europeans say, well, we have still given them a lot of generosity already. We have negotiated the debt down. We have extended the terms.

    It looks as though there would be a line in the sand when it came to what is known as a haircut, to actually reducing the amount of debt outstanding. There may well be a lot of wiggle room in terms of extending the debt still further into the future.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what if the E.U. says, OK, fine, we will give you this haircut, but you have to leave, or there’s actually members in this new party that say, we should leave the E.U. altogether?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And that’s — either way, it is a precedent.

    JOHN AUTHERS: Yes, it is.

    Plainly, the briefings, again, the belief out there at the present — present is that that would be just about survivable, if you look at how the bond markets have behaved in the last year or so, back in 2010, when the Greek crisis first — first blew up.

    We now see that the Spanish debt and Italian debt is signaling almost no risk of leaving the euro, no risk of defaults.

    Two-and-a-half years ago, the last Greek election, they were signaling real panic over the possibility that — that that could happen.

    So there is a belief that the rest of the Eurozone can carry on. But the critical thing is, there no so precedent for this up until now.

    The whole point of the Eurozone is that — is that you are so totally committed to this currency that there is no way you can leave.

    Once one country has left, it becomes far more possible for others to leave.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Before that departure point, does it embolden more parties on the far left in other countries?

    JOHN AUTHERS: Almost certainly.

    I mean, the mere fact that Syriza has finally — that this looks as though we have finally got the point — got to the point where one of the populist alternative parties has actually managed to take power, we have seen the rejection of the incumbent parties in all the crisis-hit countries since the — since the crisis took hold.

    But this is the first time one of the truly new wave populist parties have taken hold. That will embolden the new left-wing alternative parties elsewhere very, very much.

    Obviously, a lot depends on how much Syriza manages to do with its opportunity.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what happens to the financial markets around the world? Has this uncertainty already been baked in, or are we likely to see some more volatility?

    JOHN AUTHERS: My suspicion is that this will probably cause some concern in the morning, simply because Syriza has done even better than the more optimistic projections as time went on.

    That said, we are at a position now where a large number of the other countries which would suffer from contagion have had much lower rates at which to borrow for quite a while.

    They have been able to defend themselves quite nicely against this situation.

    Yes, volatility will increase. This will worry people, until such a point as negotiations emphatically break down or the Greeks actually go through with a default, at which point that’s a very serious event, arguably not a Lehman Brothers event, but a very serious event.

    Until such a point, I think it just means that people get a little bit more nervous. I doubt there would be any major impact on the market.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Authers of The Financial Times, thanks so much.

    JOHN AUTHERS: Thank you.

    The post Greek anti-austerity party claims decisive victory appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola in Geneva on Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Pierre Albouy/REUTERS.

    World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola in Geneva on Jan. 25, 2015. Photo by Pierre Albouy/REUTERS.

    In a special session on Sunday, the World Health Organization debated how to reform itself after acknowledging the organization had botched its response to the 2014 Ebola emergency.

    “The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings in this organization’s administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said.

    At its headquarters in Geneva, Chan presented a series of proposals aimed at ending the current outbreak, as well as reinforcing preparedness globally and guaranteeing the WHO’s ability to address future large-scale outbreaks.

    She stressed the need to streamline recruitment for emergencies, as the current process is “too slow” and emphasized the need for a “one WHO” approach that employs universal operating procedures and tools for responding to emergencies.

    According to Chan, the current rules for reporting outbreaks – International Health Regulations (IHR) – created to prevent national health emergencies from becoming global crises, are too thin. But the largest lesson she and others at WHO learned during the outbreak fight was that well-trained, and appropriately paid health care workers, are essential to stemming the spread of disease.

    To date there have been more than 21,000 Ebola cases and over 8,400 deaths.

    “The volatile microbial world will always deliver surprises, Chan said. “Never again should the world be caught by surprise, unprepared.”

    The post WHO contemplates reforms after admitting missteps on Ebola appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A snow shoveler crosses a street during a winter snowstorm in Cambridge, Massachusetts January 24, 2015 Blizzard warnings and watches went in effect Sunday morning for more than 29 million people in areas in the Northeast. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

    A snow shoveler crosses a street during a winter snowstorm in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Jan. 24. Blizzard warnings and watches are underway for more than 29 million people in areas across the Northeast. Photo by REUTERS/Brian Snyder

    A crippling and potentially historic winter storm was approaching a large swath of the northeastern United States on Sunday, which officials and forecasters warned could dump up to three feet of snow, produce high winds and cause power outages and flight cancellations between Monday and Wednesday.

    Blizzard warnings and watches went in effect on Sunday morning for more than 29 million people in areas along the coast from central New Jersey to the Canadian border.

    The National Weather Service predicted the storm could be responsible for life-threatening conditions and extremely dangerous travel due to heavy snowfall and strong winds that could down power lines and tree limbs late Monday through Tuesday.

    In New York City, officials warned the storm could potentially bury the metropolitan area in up to three feet of snow.

    “Don’t underestimate this storm,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference. “We are facing most likely one of the largest snow storms in the history of this city.”

    The biggest one-day snowfall on record in New York City was 26.9 inches. 

    “My message for New Yorkers is prepare for something worse than we have ever seen before,” de Blasio said.

    Mayor de Blasio and other city officials urged people not to drive in New York City on Monday and to expect the roads to be unsafe by the evening.

    The storm was also expected to snarl air traffic with flight cancellations and delays as major airports in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other parts of New England expected to see disruptive snow totals.

    Nearly 600 flights had already been canceled and thousands more delayed by Sunday evening, as major airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and US Airways announced winter-weather waivers, which allow passengers to change their itinerary without paying a fee.

    The post Crippling and ‘potentially historic’ blizzard to slam Northeast appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Lolita the Killer Whale is seen between shows at the Miami Seaquarium

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: You may have seen the documentary “Blackfish” that examined the treatment of killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando. Now at the Miami Seaquarium, another controversy is brewing over a whale named Lolita.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently deciding whether Lolita should be placed on the Endangered Species list.

    NAOMI ROSE: If she is listed as an endangered species, citizens will then have the right to sue on her behalf.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That could lead to Lolita being re-acclimated over time and eventually released back into the waters off Seattle, where she was captured in 1970.

    Some scientists and activists argue that the tank where Lolita currently lives alone is too small for her well-being and that she should be set free.

    Lolita has been dubbed “the world’s loneliest orca.” And this week, hundreds marched in Miami demanding her release.

    But the Miami Seaquarium says it will fight any plan to put Lolita back into the wild, arguing that she simply can’t survive on her own after 45 years in captivity.

    Robert Rose, the curator of the aquarium notes how hard it is for an animal that’s lived in captivity for so long to be returned to the open ocean.

    ROBERT ROSE: I mean, she’s gonna die, without question. They are going to take her out there and do exactly the same thing they did to Keiko which is to kill him.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Keiko was the iconic killer whale that starred in the movie “Free Willy”.

    Keiko was released into the waters off Norway in 2002 but died alone a year later of pneumonia.

    ROBERT ROSE: Unfortunately this didn’t have the Hollywood happy ending where Free Willy jumped over the wall and lives happily ever after.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: NOAA’s decision on Lolita’s status is expected by the end of this month.

    The post In danger or endangered? Will ‘world’s loneliest orca’ be released into the wild? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A health worker prepares a vaccine against measles at the Benito Juarez international airport in Mexico City

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: U.S. health officials say the recent measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in Southern California continues to ripple across the nation. Approximately 100 cases have been reported so far.

    How great a risk does it pose? And what can be done to stop its spread?

    I spoke about this yesterday with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Washington.

    So, Dr. Fauci, we know that there are, what, 20 million measles cases around the world every year. But what does a theme park like a Disneyland do to make sure that the parents and children that are visiting from the United States or from other countries are safe?

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: You know, it really relates to the fact that this happens because children are not vaccinated.

    The overwhelming number of people who have gotten infected, particularly among the children, are children that have not been vaccinated, because parents, for reasons that are really not based on any scientific data, just don’t want their children to be vaccinated.

    And it’s really unfortunate, because vaccination can prevent all of this.

    One of the things we do know about measles is that the vaccine that we have is one of the most effective vaccines we have for any viral disease or for any microbe.

    So this all could have been shut down if people had gotten vaccinated. That is the real critical issue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: I mean, in 2000, we declared measles was eliminated. I mean, that means not active disease transmissions.

    And when you look at the numbers, between 2001 and 2013, we had an average of about 88 cases a year.

    And, last year, we had 644. I mean, that is an enormous leap.

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: That is. And that’s very unfortunate.

    There were 23 separate outbreaks during the year 2014, which, as you mentioned correctly, 644 cases.

    That just shouldn’t have happened. People don’t fully appreciate that measles is not a trivial disease. It can be truly a very serious disease.

    Prior to the availability of vaccinations, we had about 500,000 cases in the United States and an average of about 500 deaths per year.

    That was essentially — as you mentioned, again correctly, essentially eliminated because we were measles-free.

    And then, because of the movement of — anti-vaccination movement and children not getting vaccinated, particularly when it is concentrated in certain areas, where there are a higher percentage in certain parts of the country.

    That really leads to that group and cluster, so that when you have an introduction of measles, wherever it may be, it could be in a recreational park or someplace else where people congregate, if you have a certain percentage of the children or of anyone who are not protected against measles, that’s how you get these outbreaks, which, unfortunately, could really have been completely avoided and prevented.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, as you mentioned these clusters, I mean, epidemiologists have studied these patterns.

    And this is something that cuts across, whether it’s conservative or liberal, rich or poor.

    So, how do you design a health policy that tackles these little clusters?

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, what we have to do is continue to underscore and emphasize the importance of vaccination, but also to underscore the fact that the reason for not vaccinating, they — this issue that the risk of a measles vaccine is so great that it overrides the benefit that you could get from protecting your child, is just not true.

    Because the evidence that was put forth years ago about various adverse events associated with measles vaccination, from different types of disease to autism, have been completely disproven by a number of scientific bodies, independent bodies, that have shown that.

    And yet they still cling and reinforce each other that, in fact, measles vaccines and other vaccines really shouldn’t be given because they’re dangerous.

    That’s just unfortunate and leads to the kind of thing that we’re dealing with right now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let me preface this question with saying, I’m not trying to scare my audience.

    But I have got to ask that some part of us is due to the fact that a lot of us don’t have firsthand experience with measles, right?

    So what is the vaccine protecting a child from? What are the effects of this disease?

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, measles is one of those diseases that, in and of itself, is serious, but can lead to serious complications.

    The kind of clinical manifestation, you get a fever, you get a cough, you get running nose, you get conjunctivitis or what we call red eye.

    And it really debilitates the child during that period of time. A certain percentage of children go on to complications like middle ear infections, pneumonia, and even encephalitis, and even death.

    That is the — why the development of the measles vaccination and the elimination of measles from this country several years ago, until it bounced back now with these outbreaks, was really a triumph in medical public health endeavor.

    Good vaccinations, in some respects paradoxically, are victims of their own success.

    Now that we don’t see a lot of measles, that scare of the difficulty and the seriousness of it is not on people’s radar screen.

    It gets back on their radar screen when you see what is going on right now throughout the country, which could be completely avoidable if people had vaccinated their children.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, thanks so much.

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: You’re quite welcome.

    The post ‘Completely avoidable’: Vaccination could have prevented Disneyland measles outbreak appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — Solid economic growth will help the federal budget deficit shrink this year to its lowest level since President Barack Obama took office, according to congressional estimates released Monday.

    The Congressional Budget Office says the deficit will be $468 billion for the budget year that ends in September. That’s slightly less than last year’s $483 billion deficit.

    As a share of the economy, CBO says this year’s deficit will be slightly below the historical average of the past 50 years.

    In a report released Monday, CBO projects solid economic growth for the next few years. The official scorekeeper of Congress also expects unemployment to drop slightly.

    “In CBO’s estimation, increases in consumer spending, business investment and residential investment will drive the economic expansion this year and over the next few years,” the report said.

    CBO also cited wage increases, rising wealth and the recent decline in oil prices.

    For future years however, CBO issued a warning: Beyond 2018, deficits will start rising again as more baby boomers retire enroll in Social Security and Medicare. By 2025, annual budget deficits could once again top $1 trillion, unless Congress acts.

    Obama inherited an economy in recession when he took office. The deficit topped $1 trillion for each of his first four years in office, including a record $1.4 trillion in 2009.

    CBO projects that the economy will grow at an annual rate of 3 percent in both 2015 and 2016. In later years, however, CBO projects slower economic growth as more baby boomers retire and the labor force grows more slowly than it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

    The post Deficit to shrink to lowest level of Obama presidency, CBO says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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