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

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    GWEN IFILL: A busy day at the Supreme Court, where justices heard arguments over a high- profile environmental case. More on that in a moment.

    First, we turn to two significant decisions, on the discrimination claim of a pregnant worker, and on the politics of race.

    As always, joining us to explain her day at the court is NewsHour contributor Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.

    I want to start in Alabama, because this redistricting case, which we talked about on this program some time ago…

    MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: We did.

    GWEN IFILL: … during the arguments, were about how they decided to draw districts in Alabama and whether race was a factor.

    Let’s look at these two maps. On the left is the way it is now and on the right is the much larger 7th District, which the complainants, the plaintiffs were saying had been drawn in order to put all the black voters in one area.

    MARCIA COYLE: That was the claim, that this was a racial gerrymander, that black voters were packed into districts that were already minority-majority districts in order to make surrounding districts more white and Republican.

    That, the claim, is unconstitutional racial gerrymander. A three-judge panel of a federal district court agreed with the state that it wasn’t racial gerrymander. And the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference brought an appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled today.

    GWEN IFILL: Five to four.

    MARCIA COYLE: Five to four.

    And the opinion, written by Justice Breyer, found that the lower federal district court had made a number of errors. Two were probably key among the errors, first that the court, lower court, had examined the racial claim on the basis of the boundaries that were drawn by the state as a whole, instead of looking district by district as to what the legislature did here.

    And, secondly, the — Justice Breyer said the lower court and the state legislature relied too heavily on trying to maintain the percentages of minority voters — the same percentage of minority voters that were approved in the old plan, believing that that was how it had to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which bars a — at the time a state like Alabama from diluting the influence of minority voters.

    GWEN IFILL: In fact, Justice Breyer said today, asking the wrong question may well have led to the wrong answer. What did he mean by that?

    MARCIA COYLE: He meant, instead of asking what percentages are needed to maintain the same number of minority voters in a district, the court and the legislature should have been asking, what percentage is needed to preserve the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice?

    GWEN IFILL: And we should say briefly there was pretty strong pushback from the dissenting side of this, including from Justice Scalia.

    MARCIA COYLE: Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas wrote separate dissents.

    Justice Scalia saw this as a much more sweeping decision than Justice Breyer presented it. He didn’t say exactly how it would play out, but he felt it had serious implications for the one-man — one-person one-vote fundamental principle in the Constitution.

    Justice Thomas felt — he actually criticized the Department of Justice and special interest groups like the ACLU, saying that they had hijacked the Voting Rights Act, that this was simply a quest for the best racial quota.

    GWEN IFILL: The second decision, which also Justice Breyer wrote, this time a 7-2 decision, had to do with another case we talked about here, which is whether an employee, as it happened, of UPS was discriminated against because of her pregnancy when they were making special accommodations for other — other employees.

    In fact, Justice Breyer wrote, “Why, when the employer accommodated so many, could it not accommodate pregnant women as well?”

    So, what did the court — how did the court reason this through?


    Well, UPS had three categories of employees who could get accommodations if they were not able to do their regular jobs, and pregnant workers were not in one — was not one of those three categories. Justice Breyer said today that pregnant workers like Peggy Young in this case could prevail in the lower courts if the pregnant worker showed she was denied an accommodation that had been offered to a non-pregnant worker similar in their ability or inability to work, and the employer could not come forward with a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the difference.

    And that’s what Justice Breyer’s quote was about.

    GWEN IFILL: He said, if you provide me with a reasonable reason, perhaps this could hold.

    MARCIA COYLE: He said the lower court failed to ask the critical question of UPS: Why did you treat pregnant workers differently?

    So, both the pregnant worker in this case and the challenges to Alabama’s redistricting plan get basically a redo in the lower courts.

    GWEN IFILL: But this is considered, at least for now, a victory for the woman in this case and for women’s rights groups.

    MARCIA COYLE: It is. Yes, it is.

    The framework that Justice Breyer announced today is not a new one in discrimination cases, but he very clearly said what each side has to do in order to either prevail on a pregnancy discrimination claim or prevent being held liable for discrimination.

    GWEN IFILL: Marcia Coyle of National Law Journal, thank you, as always.

    MARCIA COYLE: My pleasure.

    The post Supreme Court weighs in on accommodations for pregnant workers, Alabama redistricting appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters TV

    U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters TV

    On June 30, 2009, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan, escaping to a nearby village where he was captured by the Taliban and held for five years as a prisoner. Today the U.S. military charged Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted, he could serve life in prison.

    We may never know why he decided to leave his base in the remote and volatile Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan and his platoon mates behind. But included in a statement released today by his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell, is Bergdahl’s personal account of the gruesome details of his captivity.

    “In the beginning of my captivity, after my first to escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine.” the statement begins.

    Bergdahl goes on to describe sores that developed after being chained and blindfolded for such a long period of time. “Around my ankles where the chains were, I developed open wounds that looked like the staph infection I had earlier that year. The infection also appeared on my forehead and side of head. It was also in the beginning of this that my body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year.”

    Read the soldier’s full account below:

    In the beginning of my captivity, after my first two escape attempts, for about three months I was chained to a bed spread-eagle and blindfolded. The blindfold was only taken off a few times a day to allow me to eat and use the latrine. It was not [until] after seeing I could barely walk from my body going through muscle atrophy, that they unchained one of my hands from above my head and chained it down by side, allowing me to sit up in the bed. Because of the constant heat and sweat my body where it was in contact with the bed would become sore and raw, burning from the sweat and pressure. My eyelids from the continuous pressure of the blindfold would become raw and being unable to wipe the sweat out of my eyes and because the blindfold wouldn’t allow the sweat to dry, my eyes were always burning and arching. Around my ankles where the chains were, I developed open wounds that looked like the STAPH infection I had had earlier that year. The infection also appeared on my forehead and side of head. It was also in the beginning of this that my body started a steady decline in constant internal sickness that would last through the final year. In the first three months they fed me elbow noodles or rice and very little of anything else, as well as two bottles of water a day. But because of the growing internal sickness it become more and more of a problem to east. During these months some of the things they did was beat the bottoms of my feet and parts of my body with a copper cable. After the first three months they moved me. Though they never fully chained me to a bed again, the first year I spent in chains on both hands an feet, and more often than not, even in the locked in the room, they had my feet chained to a solid unmovable object either outside or inside the room. At this point, because of sickness, weather, and little food and water, hunger, and worse, dehydration my body continued a steady decline. In the beginning of the winter I was wearing summer clothing and even though later towards the end of winter I was given an army PT windbreaker and a hat, because of the cold and the conditions of the room, my body was never able to worm up, adding to my sickness. The lowest point coming in the winter of the end of the first year. My body weight having dropped to the point that my ribs and joints protruded clearly, my skin losing all signs of fat and my muscles, from atrophy, reducing to thin tight cords or bumps that did barely to support me or keep my joints in place. After the first year they put me inside a cage. In there my hands were always handcuffed in front of me, being taken off only on the few times I would wash and change clothes, which came more often than in the first year when I would go 3 or 4 months without washing or changing clothes. In the cage my feet were usually chained to the cage at night, thought they stopped doing this towards the middle of the second year, because of the acute pain my feet and legs were in, it was here that the most severe problems began with my feet and legs and, roughly, for the next year and a half I would feel acute burning “cobwebs” and have continuous bad swelling in my feet and legs. When this past it was replaced with the freezing numbness that continues to the present, as both feet have neuropathy. It was also during this time that I had between 8 and 12 open wounds on each wrist under the hand shackles. Not healing I would have to push the puss out of them daily. Then they moved the cage to another room over the top of plumbing that they had built into the first floor. After this, since they no longer had to take me out of the cage, they took all the chains off me. From this point for more or less the conditions remained somewhat the sane. Until going into the final two years, where things got better and my body was able to heal and gain some weight, the internal sickness lessened to a more manageable state. I was kept in constant isolation during the entire 5 years, with little to no understanding of time, through periods of constant darkness, periods of constant light, and periods of completely random flickering of light, and absolutely no understanding of anything that was happening beyond the door I was held behind. Told I would leave the next day, and the next day told I would be there for 30 years. Told I was going to die there. Told to kill myself. Told I would have my ears and nose cut off, as well as other parts of my body. I was told anything they could think of, weather it was through sing language, broken English, or fluent English. My first escape attempt was within the first few hours of being captured. The Taliban stopped in a village. Pulling me off the back of the motorcycle and put me on my knees and threw a blanket over my head (even though I was also blindfolded), a few moments later one of the guys that had captured me pulled the blanket off and took the blind fold off. I saw that he had come back with a younger guy and had squatted down, the older one in front and the younger one to my right. From my peripheral vision I could see a few other young guys standing behind them. At this point the older guy had pulled out his cell phone and the younger one began asking a question, and after evading his questions he would hit me in the face. This was repeated but I evaded answering his question and after a while they put the blindfold back on and threw the blanket over my head. Some moments after that I believed had a chance to run for it and did. I was brought down towards the edge of the village by a large group on men, on the ground I felt many blows from fists, and one from the butt stalk of an AK that broke it off the weapon. After that in all my efforts to escape I had made it twice in escaping the buildings where I was held. The first being in the first week of being captured, and because of the populated area and time that I had managed to do it, I had only managed to get a short distance before being spotted, and because of the terrain I had no place to hide and no terrain to use to evade. This escape lasted approximately 10-15 minutes and after recapturing me and putting chains back on they took turns beating me with a length of thick rubber hose. Afterwards they added more chain to my hands and feet and seeing what I had been able to do they increased the guards and moved ne to a more heavily secured compound where I would spend roughly the next three months. The second one where I had made it out of the buildings was around the end of the first years. Lasting close 9 days without food and only putrid water to drink, my body failed on top of a short mountain close to evening and some moments after I came to in the dying grey light of the evening, I was found by a large Taliban searching group. After recapturing me again a few hit me and one tried to rip my beard and hair out, but from what I could sense they were more worried about getting me out that area as quickly as they could. This is the time that my body reached the worst point of condition and for approximately the next year and a half I would not recover from it, but instead have to deal with specific problems getting more severe. During the five years I unsuccessfully tied to escape approximately 12 times.

    Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    After five years in captivity, he was freed on May 31. The Obama administration’s decision to secure Bergdahl’s release by trading five Taliban detainees who were being held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was met with praise and criticism.

    The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.

    The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing to be held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, where Bergdahl has been performing administrative duties as he awaits the conclusion of the case. That proceeding is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.

    A date for that hearing was not announced.

    Read the full statement from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as released by his attorney Eugene R. Fidell. Bergdahl’s account of his captivity begins on page 16:

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    The post Bowe Bergdahl: My life in captivity at the hands of the Taliban appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters TV

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now more on the case of U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

    He has been back in the U.S. since being released by the Taliban last year, in exchange for the transfer of five Guantanamo detainees to the nation of Qatar. Soon after that deal, some of the men who served with Bergdahl came forward and said they believed he deserted his post.

    This afternoon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army Colonel Daniel King announced charges against the soldier.

    COL. DANIEL J. W. KING, U.S. Army Forces Command: The U.S. Army Forces Command has thoroughly reviewed the Army’s investigation surrounding Sergeant Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan and formally charge Sergeant Bergdahl under the Armed Forces Uniform Code of Military Justice on March 25, 2015, with desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command unit or place, and has referred the case to an Article 32 preliminary hearing.

    As you recall, Sergeant Bergdahl disappeared June 30, 2009, from combat outpost Mest Malak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was subsequently captured. Regarding next steps, an Article 32 preliminary hearing is a legal procedure under the Uniform Code of Military Justice designed to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to merit a court-martial and is required before a case can be tried by a general court-martial.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And with me now is Eugene Fidell. He is Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s lawyer. He’s also a scholar in law at Yale University.

    Eugene Fidell, welcome.

    We know Sergeant Bergdahl got the news while he was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Was he expecting this charge?  What was his reaction?

    EUGENE FIDELL, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s lawyer: Well, I can’t tell you what his reaction was, because that would be breaching the attorney-client privilege.

    But he was — what I can tell you, I think, in fairness, is that he’s philosophical about this entire controversy. You know, it’s lasted many, many months more, I think, than any of us anticipated. It’s something that he and all of us would like to see over. But, at the same time, we have to make sure that we’re protecting his legal rights.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Is he guilty?


    EUGENE FIDELL: Judy, I’m not going to go into that. I have made a point over the time since I was asked to represent Sergeant Bergdahl of not attempting to try the merits of the case in the media. I’m going to hold to that rule, if you don’t mind.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, why did he leave his post?  What was he trying to do?

    EUGENE FIDELL: I’m also not going into that, except to say that Major General Kenneth Dahl, who conducted the investigation, concluded that his motives were pure, that he was truthful in describing his motives and his conduct.

    And I think that’s important. Now, the facts of the case, including my client’s motivation, will come out. They will emerge as this case now moves forward into a more public arena. Article 32 hearings are open to the public, except to the extent that there’s classified information involved. That shouldn’t be a problem in this case.

    So, I think everyone is going to have a much, much better feel for him, for his conduct and really for what is the proper disposition of this case, given all the circumstances.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we have been shown a letter you wrote to the Army, I understand, in which you said — among other things, you said: “This investigative report concludes that Bergdahl’s specific intent was to bring what he thought were disturbing circumstances to the attention of the nearest general officer.”

    What disturbing circumstances?

    EUGENE FIDELL: Conditions in the unit, in the management of the unit and within the battalion of which his unit was a part. And he — we did put that in the letter, you’re quite right.

    And his concern was that these matters were something that merited the attention of a general officer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Then, why would he leave the post in order to bring it to an officer’s attention?

    EUGENE FIDELL: That gets into a level of detail that, if you don’t mind, I’m going to defer commenting on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You also said in the letter, I believe, that the general’s report concluded — and I guess you referred to this just a minute ago — that Bergdahl didn’t harbor an intent to remain away permanently. Can you shed light on how you know that?

    EUGENE FIDELL: Oh, well, we have said it because that’s a fact. And I don’t think that’s inconsistent with what Major General Dahl concluded.

    I would want to comment, if I may, we have not been permitted to examine the full report of General Dahl. All we got was the executive summary. There are, I believe, thousands of pages of exhibits. There is also a final action by a general at the Department of the Army that comments on the report and makes certain recommendations and directions.

    We can’t really proceed without having the same kind of information that was supplied to General Milley. And that is going to be major issue. We have got to have the information on which General Dahl’s report was based. Other — without that, we cannot have a fair Article 32 hearing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Besides desertion, Eugene Fidell, one of the other charges that was leveled today was misbehavior before the enemy. What does that mean and what does that mean for Sergeant Bergdahl?

    EUGENE FIDELL: Well, it’s piling on, to be perfectly honest.

    The Army — it’s a practice in military justice — and I served on active duty myself a long time ago — the practice of military prosecutors is to try to come up with as many ways of charging the same conduct and hope that something sticks.

    The violation, it’s the second of two charges under Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice concerning misbehavior before the enemy, basically is another way of saying the same thing that was said in the charge under Article 85, which is desertion. I don’t know why it was thrown in, if it was to terrify us.

    You know, we have all been around the block, my co-counsel and I from the U.S. Army. We will deal with that. It will present some legal issues, and we will deal with the legal issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think the sergeant will get a fair hearing?

    EUGENE FIDELL: I have to say that I have some concerns, in two dimensions.

    The first is, his case has received a niagara, a niagara of vilification in the media and elsewhere. I’m not going to name names. Everybody knows who I’m talking about.

    A number of people, many people have said the most dreadful things about my client without knowing the first thing about his actual conduct or his actual motivation. People have said he should be shot, he should hanged, he should be shot in the legs and then shot again, the most bizarre things.

    And I do have some concern, given the amount of publicity that this case has generated over the time since he was liberated by President Obama that it will be very, very hard to assemble a jury, if the case ever gets to a court-martial. That’s the first point.

    The second point is that this is an area where I think people’s emotions run very strong. And the case has been tangled up in some people’s views of the current president of the United States and various other controversies, over which Sergeant Bergdahl has had absolutely no control or influence.

    People have used Sergeant Bergdahl as a punching bag and a lever to get at President Obama. That’s their privilege. We have a democratic society, but let’s — let’s make sure that we don’t let other extraneous political factors weigh in.

    And, by the way, another factor that I — is definitely on my mind is whether there’s been back-channel communication that has tended to be adverse to my client. We are going to be looking into that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we will certainly be following all this.

    Eugene Fidell, thank you.

    EUGENE FIDELL: Thank you very much.

    The post Bowe Bergdahl’s motives were ‘pure,’ says lawyer of desertion charges appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Army sergeant who disappeared in Afghanistan for five years now faces a court martial. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was formally charged today with desertion and avoiding military service.

    Bergdahl left his post in 2009, was captured by the Taliban and held until his release last May. We will have some of the Army’s announcement and reaction from Sergeant Bergdahl’s defense attorney after the news summary.

    GWEN IFILL: There were questions, but no answers today about the German airliner that smashed into a mountainside in the French Alps. Tuesday’s disaster killed all 150 people on board and left investigators looking, literally, for bits and pieces.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports from the scene.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: The search began at daybreak, the hunt by helicopter for what remains of 150 passengers and crew, the hunt for clues as to what exactly happened here, because why the Germanwings Airbus 320 came down in this remote and craggy ravine remains a mystery.

    There was no distress call or conversation with the pilots after the plane suddenly began to descend. The pilots were experienced. The plane’s safety record and the weather were good. French police scouring the French Alps have not ruled out terrorism completely, but they suggest some other catastrophic event on board is more likely.

    The plane crashed just on the other side of this mountain here. It was traveling so fast that it broke into very small pieces. The area is only really accessible by helicopter. And the police who are searching on the other side of this mountain say the debris has been scattered far and wide.

    This afternoon, the leaders of France and Germany arrived to see the crash site for themselves. The dead include 72 Germans and at least 49 from Spain. Prime Minister Rajoy has also flown in to meet recover teams and those relatives of the dead who have chosen to come.

    This is the worst air disaster on French soil in decades. And France’s president is determined to find out why.

    PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): Dear Angela, dear Mariano, rest assured, we will find out everything and we will shed full light on the circumstances of this catastrophe.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: The plane’s so-called black box is in fact orange. Investigators say it will take several days to make sense of the cockpit voice recordings inside.

    Only the exterior of the second box has been found and its memory card is reportedly missing. In the meantime, it will take several weeks and DNA samples to identify all those who died.

    BRICE ROBIN, Marseille Prosecutor (through interpreter):
    I will say it again. It won’t be done in five minutes. It’s going to take several weeks. Everyone has to be aware of the fact that this is going to take some time.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: Meanwhile, the tiny village of Seyne-les-Alpes is waiting to receive the bodies and their grieving relatives. One of the quietest corners of France has been transformed into one of the busiest.

    GWEN IFILL: U.S. officials confirmed today that three Americans were on the airliner.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State John Kerry headed back to the Iran nuclear talks today, with a deadline bearing down. The United States and five other countries are trying to work out a framework agreement with Iran by the end of the month. The talks have drawn strong criticism from Israel and congressional Republicans.

    Kerry fired back today before leaving Washington.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: What happens if, as our critics propose, we just walk away from a plan that the rest of the world were to deem to be reasonable? And that could happen. Well, the talks would collapse. Iran would have the ability to go right back spinning its centrifuges and enriching to the degree they want, if they want, if that’s what they choose, and the sanctions will not hold.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Iran issued its own warning today. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said any nuclear deal must include the immediate lifting of all sanctions. He told Iran’s official state news agency: “This is the position that the government has insisted on from the start.”  The U.S. and the other Western powers have consistently said that sanctions must be lifted only gradually.

    GWEN IFILL: The U.S. has launched new airstrikes in Iraq to jump-start a stalled offensive against Islamic State forces. A senior U.S. official says the strikes hit ISIS targets in Tikrit this evening. Iraqi troops and Shiite militias, guided by Iran, have encircled the city, but they have stalled against dug-in opposition. Until today, the Iraqis had not asked for American air support.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of Afghanistan voiced confidence today that his government can make peace with the Taliban. In an hour-long address, Ashraf Ghani told the U.S. Congress that the key is getting Taliban fighters to break all ties with terror.

    PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI, Afghanistan: The Taliban need to choose not to be al-Qaida and be Afghan. Provided that combatants agree to respect the constitution and the rule of law as the outcomes of negotiations, we are confident that we can find a path for their return to society.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ghani also thanked the United States again for billions of dollars in aid, and he vowed that Afghanistan will be self-reliant within this decade. He said — quote — “We’re not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe.”

    GWEN IFILL: The FBI has made major progress on counterterrorism since 9/11, but it needs to make more to meet the Islamic State challenge. An independent commission reported those findings to Congress today. It called for better technology and analysis.

    FBI Director James Comey said he largely agrees.

    JAMES COMEY, FBI Director: There was no intelligence career service in the FBI until after 9/11. The progress has been extraordinary, and so I don’t want to ever let that be forgotten. But it’s not good enough. And so it’s about training, and deployment, and about culture.

    GWEN IFILL: The commission highlighted the threat of homegrown extremists who go abroad for training and then return home to stage attacks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama said today that he’d sign bipartisan legislation to resolve a long-running Medicare problem. He didn’t endorse a particular measure, but the House of Representatives is set to vote on one tomorrow. Without it, doctors face a hefty cut in Medicare fees, a provision that Congress has waived for 17 straight years.

    GWEN IFILL: In economic news, H.J. Heinz Company has announced it’s buying Kraft Food Groups. The move would create one of the world’s largest food and beverage conglomerates. If federal regulators approve the deal, the new Kraft Heinz Company will bring Heinz Ketchup, Oscar Mayer, Jell-O and other well-known brands under one roof.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Montgomery, Alabama, thousands of people marked the conclusion, 50 years ago, of the civil rights march from Selma. The crowd celebrated with banners, songs and speeches. The events in Selma, and the march, led to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    The post News Wrap: Investigators search through Germanwings wreckage on Alpine slopes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise has been given a lifeline this week by a Chinese government plan to move a small group of porpoises to a brand new home. Photo by WWF

    The critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise has been given a lifeline this week by a Chinese government plan to move a small group of porpoises to a brand new home. Photo by Li Kui/© WWF

    Determined to save the last mammals in the Yangtze River from extinction, China plans to relocate eight critically endangered finless porpoise’s to a new home far away from humans.

    By moving the porpoises to a new area, officials hope to repopulate these porpoises and to avoid having them meet the same fate as the Baiji dolphins, which were officially declared extinct nearly a decade ago.

    According to Director of the Freshwater Program for the World Wildlife Fund Karin Krchnak, maintaining the porpoise population is pivotal for the Chinese.

    “Part of China’s culture is really finding the harmony between people and nature, and the finless porpoises are part of China’s history,” Krchnak told the NewsHour. “So, it’s really important as the country is growing economically and developing very rapidly, that it’s trying to find that balance between humans and nature by protecting and ensuring the long health of the porpoises.”

    Capturing Yangtze finless porpoises in Poyang Lake before moving them to their new home. Photo by WWF

    Capturing Yangtze finless porpoises in Poyang Lake before moving them to their new home. Photo by Li Kui/© WWF

    With only 1,000 porpoises remaining, the mammals are estimated to survive less than a decade if no immediate measures are taken.

    The WWF reports these porpoises could be extinct within the next five to 10 years as their population drops by nearly 14 percent each year.

    Krchnak says these declines come as a result of industrial and agricultural pollution impacting the river system, boat traffic in the river basin and most importantly changes to their habitat by infrastructure that cuts off their ability to navigate through the river to find food sources and reproduce.

    The harsh mortality rate prompted China’s Ministry of Agriculture to devise a plan that will move four finless porpoises from Poyang Lake into a secure new habitat that is seasonally connected to the Yangtze by the end of March. The other four will be taken at a later date to the Tian-e-zhou oxbow in hopes of boosting the genetic diversity of its already existing population. This area has had a bustling porpoise community since the ministry and Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Science successfully began a reservoir in the 1990s.

    Yangtze finless porpoise being carefully carried before being tested and measured by scientists. Eight were chosen for translocation. Photo by WWF

    Yangtze finless porpoise being carefully carried before being tested and measured by scientists. Eight were chosen for translocation. Photo by Li Kui/© WWF

    The key to relocation, Krchnak explains, is making sure the new habitats meet an animal’s needs for reproduction, food and long-term health.

    “This relocation is bringing the species into an area where all of the different elements are there for actual long time survival,” she said.

    If all goes as planned, experts expect the new communities to be home over time to about 100 porpoises, which are nicknamed “underwater pandas” because of their smile and cuddly demeanor.

    Krchnak says the lesson of the critically endangered finless porpoises is the decline of fresh water health overall, “what threatens the porpoises, threatens the people and threatens the prosperity of China. So it really comes down to the health of the freshwater system. Where our work is focused is bringing all the elements so that people and nature can be in balance and in harmony.”

    Yangtze finless porpoise in a research center in China. Photo by WWF

    Yangtze finless porpoise in a research center in China. Photo by Kent Truog/© WWF

    To maintain that harmony, local officials have teamed up with Chinese fishermen and the WWF to find areas in the vicinity where they can fish and not jeopardize the environment. The team also plans to supplement fishermen financially and provide technical alternatives over the next three-to-five years to help the fishermen develop other income.

    Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Karin Krchnak‘s name.

    The post China races to save the Yangtze finless porpoise appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Washington, DC (March 26, 2015) — The PBS NewsHour, co-anchored by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, and The New York Times have begun sharing video journalism including news reports and longer form documentaries. The news outlets will regularly offer each other access to rich video content for publishing across websites and social channels.

    In recent weeks, the PBS NewsHour has broadcast a New York Times video about Kodak trying to reinvent itself and a NYTimes documentary about the radicalization of one young Egyptian who joined ISIS. The NewsHour also aired part one in a seven-part series on life in Iran, featuring Thomas Erdbrink, Tehran bureau chief for The New York Times.

    “Our goal on the NewsHour is to present great reporting that illuminates the world we live in now. Much of that is produced by our own staff but we are also proud to showcase great work being done by others,” said NewsHour Executive Producer Sara Just. “We are big fans of the video work being done at The New York Times and eager to share it with our audience, and present our work to The New York Times audience as well.”

    “The New York Times has led the way in the creation and presentation of video journalism on the web. Working with The NewsHour, long known for its high-quality broadcast journalism, is a natural fit for us. We are excited about the benefit these expanded offerings bring to both our audiences,” said Ann Derry, The New York Times’ editorial director for video and television partnerships.

    About PBS NewsHour          

    PBS NewsHour is seen by over four million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets, and via podcast. PBS NewsHour is a production of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA Washington, D.C., in association with WNET in New York. Major funding for PBS NewsHour is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers. Major corporate funding is provided by BAE Systems, BNSF and Lincoln Financial Group with additional support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others. More information on PBS NewsHour is available at www.pbs.org/newshour. On social media, visit NewsHour on Facebook or follow @NewsHour on Twitter.


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    Photo by Cultura RM/Luc Beziat via Getty Images.

    Photo by Cultura RM/Luc Beziat via Getty Images.

    Editor’s Note: In 2010, Paul Solman joined a busload of snow-bird wannabes and investors on a tour through Cape Coral, “the ground zero” of Florida’s real estate bust. Led by real estate agent Marc Joseph, the “Foreclosure Tours-R-Us” bus stopped at recently vacated homes selling for cheap.The median sales price was just $85,000. “It is definitely the right time to buy,” Joseph said back then.

    Returning to Florida last month, Solman heard a similar refrain on Joseph’s weekly bus tour: “The time to buy is now.” But with the median sales price just under $200,000, those homes are not nearly as cheap. In fact, prices are rising. But they’re still selling, Joseph tells Making Sen$e on the NewsHour Thursday — increasingly to all-cash buyers. “Foreclosures have dried up, inventory has gotten tight, and the demand to be here is still here,” Joseph says.

    Yes, with warm temperatures in abundance, the Sunshine State still has the “location” market cornered, especially after New England’s brutal winter. But as Joseph discovered himself during the 2005 bubble, when he paid $1 million cash for a house that soon plunged in value to $400,000, location should no longer be a sufficient motivator to buy. Price and timing are equally important. And both of those factors are starting to give Joseph pause. With prices creeping back toward their 2005 highs, he fears that Florida’s housing market may be heading for a déjà vu.

    Find out why in the edited transcript of Paul Solman’s interview with Joseph below.

    Simone Pathe, Making Sen$e Editor

    Will History Repeat Itself?

    MJ: We may very likely hit $317,000 as a median sales price in the year 2020. That was the high in 2005, when it dropped. So, I guess I could ask, will history repeat itself? A part of me says maybe not because it’s not built on a fake house of cards. This is real money: 54 percent of our market is cash.

    PS: What was it back in 2004-2005?

    MJ: Lucky if it was 20 or 30 percent because they were giving zero-down, no-income-verification loans. Those were, as we all know now, toxic loans. Now the fear I have is that they’re not toxic loans anymore. Now, we have large hedge funds in our area buying up mass amounts of houses, renting them out, and then they take ‘em in big pools and they sell ‘em up to the New York Stock Exchange, to the Real Estate Investment Trusts.

    “But the biggest thing that we have is the sun. As long as that thing is out there shining, people will come here, they’ll go through their bankruptcies, they’ll go through their foreclosures; this is paradise.”

    My question to you is, in the year 2020, or before, when these large hedge funds pull out, what happens to these thousands of homes that they purchased all through Florida? Are we going to have history repeating itself, not on toxic mortgages, but on homes that are rented to people that really can’t afford to rent the homes? It takes one hiccup in our economy — and you’ve gotta remember, they’re paying rent. They’re not paying mortgages.

    [And] In this market, anything could depress us. Any small little hiccup. But the biggest thing that we have is the sun. As long as that thing is out there shining, people will come here, they’ll go through their bankruptcies, they’ll go through their foreclosures; this is paradise. You’ll pay a premium for that sun. That premium is built in to the median sales price, it’s built into the lack of inventory, and it’s built into the pent up demand that people have to want to be here. I just don’t know if we can support all of that five years from now, unless something changes. Because if we get back up to $315,000 or $317,000 as a median sales price, how does your average working class person afford that home? If the schoolteacher and a fireman can’t get a house, we’re missing something big.

    Cash Is King

    Editor’s Note: Those workers could buy a similarly priced house in 2005, but as Joseph explains, “that was part of the problem.” With no income verification or down payment needed, first-time homebuyers were moving into houses they couldn’t afford.

    PS: You were selling people property with no-income-verification loans?

    MJ: Yes.

    PS: You knew they were putting nothing down, and that the appraisals were higher than the value of the home at the time?

    MJ: Yes, that was our market.

    PS: Did you see the crash coming?

    MJ: No. Absolutely not. I would have been the first one to pull out. I lost $600,000 on one house because I believed in location, location, location.

    PS: And that’s not true?

    MJ: That’s B.S.! My eyes are so open right now: it’s location, timing and price. Time is now, not in 2005. In 2005, I lost half my money.

    PS: Wait, wait wait. So, the three rules of real estate are not location, location, location, but location, timing and price?

    MJ: Dead on. If you can get those three to line up together, you have a home run. If you can’t figure that out, you’re gonna get slapped like I got slapped, and I will never get slapped again. I watch these numbers every month. When I see $317,000 dollars come back up again as the median sales price? I’m pretty sure I’m selling.

    PS: And the no-income-verification loans, they’re gone?

    MJ: They are totally gone. If you cannot qualify for the mortgage right now, you are not getting it. Again, that’s why I’m seeing so much cash come to our market. … The banks are making people move their money. Because 1 percent is lower than inflation, you can’t leave it in the bank. If you got a couple of hundred grand in the bank, move it.

    PS: Well, the chair of the Federal Reserve has signaled she’s going to raise interest rates.

    MJ: I didn’t even need to read that, I see it right here. If there are this many people wanting to buy, and there’s a premium, and cash is coming in like it’s coming in, it’s time to tighten up a little bit — just not too much.

    I have found that if you just take your time, and you approach investment properties with your eyes open, not with the blinders on, it’s a good deal. Don’t put your head in the sand. You got to slowly go into the investment. You gotta micro-analyze everything about it.

    And the key about buying lots and buying houses [is], if you lose your job tomorrow, can you afford to hold everything that you have? And if you say no, then you should be selling some of that off, because that means you’re over-leveraged, you’re going to be one of those people who in five years is going to say, “I wish somebody woulda told me.”

    Is Home Ownership Overrated?

    PS: Are a lot of people living in this area now just better off because they’re renting, instead of owning?

    MJ: Absolutely. Homeownership is overrated.

    PS: You’re a real estate broker saying that!

    MJ: I’m being real. It’s overrated. If you can afford to own a home, buy a home. If you can’t afford to own a home, the next best thing is renting it. Nobody knows if you’re renting or owning your home. You’re out there cutting the grass, just like the guy that bought the house.

    PS: But the argument made by Democrats, and even more by Republicans, in my experience, is that if you own something, you’ll take better care of it.

    MJ: Sure, it feels better to have five dollars in my pocket than to ask for five dollars out of your pocket. But, the reality is, if they can’t buy that house, they should hold their head high, they should rent that house.

    PS: Right. Well, look, I grew up in an apartment. I rented, my parents rented, my whole life, I never thought twice about the fact that we didn’t own the apartment.

    MJ: And you probably kept your apartment as if it was your home, and it didn’t make any difference that you didn’t own it.

    PS: That’s true.

    Watch Paul’s first report on Florida’s ongoing foreclosure crisis.

    And his conversation with one homeowner-turned-homeless victim of that crisis:

    The post Why location, location, location in real estate is ‘BS’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    It turns out that Dean Smith, the late, legendary head coach for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team, had one last play drawn out for his former players.

    Smith, who passed away in February at the age of 83, requested in his will that each and every one of his former players be sent a $200 check from his trust. Players each received a letter that included a message from their former coach, asking that they “enjoy a dinner out compliments of Coach Dean Smith.”

    Sports Illustrated calculates that Smith coached 184 players in his 36-year coaching tenure at UNC, making for a grand total of more than $36,000 paid out. While coaching from 1961 to 1997, Smith’s teams won 879 games and 2 NCAA championships.

    The post Late UNC coach Dean Smith left $200 each to former players for ‘dinner’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An explosion at a residential building in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood caused the building to collapse and started a fire at a neighboring building Thursday afternoon.

    Frank Gribbon, FDNY’s deputy commissioner of public information, told the Associated Press that 12 people have been injured, at least three critically so in the seven-alarm fire.

    More than 250 firefighters from 50 departments were sent to the area at 123 2nd Avenue. The building next door, 121 2nd Avenue, is also in danger of collapsing.

    According to the Associated Press, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the fire and building collapse are due to a gas-related blast.

    You can watch a live stream of the events here.

    The post 12 injured after building collapses in New York City’s East Village appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2105 in Star City, Russia. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

    NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2105 in Star City, Russia.
    Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

    On Friday, 51-year-old astronaut Scott Kelly, who has flown three previous space missions, will return to the International Space Station where he will remain for a year. A whole year.

    Joining him on the long mission will be Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

    Long-term space travel can do a number on the human body, causing muscle atrophy, bone loss and changes to the eyes. The space travelers’ sleep patterns, behavior, cognitive function, gut microbes and vision will be closely monitored during this time. From NASA:

    “Functional studies will examine crew member performance during and after the 12-month span. Behavioral studies will monitor sleep patterns and exercise routines. Visual impairment will be studied by measuring changes in pressure inside the human skull. Metabolic investigations will examine the immune system and effects of stress. Physical performance will be monitored through exercise examinations. Researchers will also monitor microbial changes in the crew, as well as the human factors associated with how the crew interacts aboard the station.”

    Meanwhile, Kelly’s twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, will undergo a number of comparative tests on the ground.

    Both Kelly and Kornienko told the Washington Post that they’d miss nature the most:

    “Kornienko expects to miss flowing water — stuff he can swim in, not the floating globs he’ll deal with in space — and Kelly will miss the outdoors of his Houston home. “

    The post Astronaut Scott Kelly to return to space for one year appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    GWEN IFILL: Finally, March Madness continues this evening with the next round of the NCAA playoffs, known as the Sweet Sixteen.

    With so many eyes following the excitement on the court, we turn to story of how one writer used basketball to inspire children to read.

    Jeffrey Brown has more, our latest conversation from the NewsHour Bookshelf.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Up and down the courts, a drive to the hoop, a fast break in the other direction. Middle school boys and basketball, and, well, why not poetry? They come together in “The Crossover,” a novel in verse about twin brothers obsessed with basketball. It’s won this year’s Newbery Medal, the highest honor in young adult literature.

    KWAME ALEXANDER, Author, “The Crossover”: Josh Bell is my name, but Filthy McNasty my claim to fame. Folks call me that because my game is acclaimed, so downright dirty, it will put you to shame.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Its author is 46-year-old poet, writer and literary activist Kwame Alexander. At the St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School near his home in Northern Virginia, he told us of his own obsession, introducing boys to the joys of reading.

    KWAME ALEXANDER: You want to reach all kids. You want to reach librarians and teachers. But you often hear that boys don’t read or boys are reluctant readers.

    Well, I believe that they don’t have anything that’s relatable. Basketball, sports is the hook, but once you get them hooked, family, love, friendship, brotherhood, you know, jealousy, all the things that girls are interested in, all the things that we’re interested in. We’re all interested in the same things, but I think sometimes with boys you have got to — you have to reach them a different way.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, a novel in verse, right? You are trying to reach boys, you say, especially, particularly, and you’re giving them poetry.

    KWAME ALEXANDER: Right. Right. Poetry.


    KWAME ALEXANDER: Right. No, you’re dead on.

    And that’s why the book got rejected 20-plus times.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really?

    KWAME ALEXANDER: Because you have got this sports book and you’re writing in poetry? We don’t — there’s a disconnect.

    So, how do we hook kids who are reluctant readers? Well, poetry is a vehicle. I believe it can be the bridge, Jeffrey, to take our kids to a more higher level of appreciation for language and literature.

    JEFFREY BROWN: “The Crossover” tells of a year in the life of a close-knit African-American family, the traumas of adolescence and sibling rivalry, the illness of a loving father.

    It also shows the sometimes subtle ways that race plays a role in the boys’ lives.

    The mother tells her son about being careful about how young black men shouldn’t show real anger in public. Are you conscious of messages in a sense or just showing us life? Or how did it work?

    KWAME ALEXANDER: Yes, that’s interesting, because, when I wrote it, I often hear that question. There’s a strong race element as it relates to the way they’re trying to raise their boys or when the father gets stopped by the police.

    And I never thought about that when I was writing it. It didn’t come to mind that the mother was talking to her young black boy and saying, you know, you’re going to — if you’re angry, you’re going to end up like this. It was just, you know, a mother trying to tell her child that you need to have a little bit of joy in this world. You need to find a little bit of peace.

    And if that story can relate to a young black boy, as it should, then great. If it can relate to a young Asian boy, then great. But I think the idea is that we want our children to be interested in positivity and not necessarily negativity.

    “Having great physical beauty and appeal, as in every guy in the lunchroom is trying to flirt with the new girl because she’s so pulchritudinous, as in, I have never had a girlfriend, but if I did, you better believe she would be pulchritudinous, as in, wait a minute, why is the pulchritudinous new girl now talking to my brother?”

    JEFFREY BROWN: You’re a poet. But you had to make decisions about what kind of poetry, right, how to — so there’s rhymes.


    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s stuff that sounds like rap.


    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s a lot of free verse.


    JEFFREY BROWN: How did you think about that?

    KWAME ALEXANDER: There’s haiku.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There’s haiku.

    KWAME ALEXANDER: There’s list poems. There are these vocabulary poems.

    See, I’m in love with poetry. And there are so many different forms of poetry. And I believe I wanted to have that sort of variety, that sort of diversity of verse, so that kids could sort of figure out what they were interested in and what they could latch on to and perhaps mimic some of these poems themselves.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That message isn’t lost on teachers and librarians across the country, who have seen children drawn to “The Crossover,” such as this seventh grader in Wellesley, Massachusetts.


    KWAME ALEXANDER: This is the next thing that I do when I’m writing a poem.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Kwame Alexander himself gets into classrooms frequently, working with students through his Book-in-a-Day program. He’s also taken those efforts overseas, leading a delegation to Ghana in 2013 to distribute books, build a library and train teachers.

    KWAME ALEXANDER: I don’t believe that writing is just pen to paper or finger to laptop. Writing is active. Writing is action. Writing is activism. Writing is being part of the world. And that’s what I like to do.

    I like to inspire and show teachers and children that poetry, on a more general level, is cool, is fun. And I like — I think I have learned how to do that to a certain degree.

    Wow. Ooh.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Do you say it’s cool? What do you do?

    KWAME ALEXANDER: What do I do?

    “I got up this morning feeling good and black, thinking black thoughts. I did black things, like played all my black records and minded my own black business. I put on my best black clothes, walked out my black door, and, lord have mercy, white snow.”

    I show them. I don’t need to tell you that it’s funny, that it’s cool. That was a poem by Jackie Earley. It’s called “1,968 Winters.”

    So I model what poetry can do.

    Three lines of the haiku. The last line always has to be the ah-hah.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Kwame Alexander, congratulations, and thanks for talking to us.

    KWAME ALEXANDER: Thank you.


    The post Poet’s novel turns young sports lovers into book lovers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The brutal murder by a mob in Afghanistan last week of a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda has sparked worldwide outrage and concern for the plight of all Afghan woman. This week, a delegation of female Afghan leaders accompanied President Ashraf Ghani on his official visit to Washington.

    Among them, Kamila Sidiqi, whose story reached the United States in the 2011 bestselling book “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.”  It chronicles her bold efforts to create a dressmaking business that supported her neighborhood during years of Taliban rule.

    NewsHour special correspondent Gayle Tzemach Lemmon happens to be the author of that book. She brings us an update now on her remarkable subject.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: The last time I saw Kamila Sidiqi, she was a successful businesswoman in Kabul with more than a dozen employees. Then she started a dried fruit business and launched a taxi company.

    Yet here she is today on the streets of Washington, D.C., having risen to even greater heights. She’s now deputy chief of staff to the president of Afghanistan, handling technology, finance, admin and hiring in the office of the president.

    Her journey has taken her from a teenager trying to survive during the Taliban years to the presidential palace today.

    You always believed that your hard work would pay off, even in those times when there were real regulations  and rules against women being out in the public sphere.

    KAMILA SIDIQI, Afghan Presidential Deputy Chief of Staff: Yes, I’m very grateful the recognition that I have received from my work today, and work with the office of the president.

    It’s only and also if someone work very hard and have belief and confidence, I’m sure they can work in the office of president, and they can work any place they want.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi’s journey began in the days of Taliban rule, when women weren’t permitted to work or go to school or even to leave the house without a male chaperone. Determined to support her family and with few options left given the Taliban’s rules, Sidiqi turned to business.

    She learned to make dresses. And from one dress she sewed to help her family survive, she built a living room business that provided jobs and an income to girls and women all around her neighborhood.

    And what did those times teach you?

    KAMILA SIDIQI: To be more confident, that we can — if we want to work and have commitment, we can bring some change.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: That change is not easy in a country where violence against women remains rampant, child marriage is entrenched and female literacy rates remain well below 50 percent. The past decade has brought progress, more than three million girls in school and women as police officers, teachers and lawmakers.

    Alongside that progress, however, is the looming uncertainty of insecurity.

    Do you ever get worn down by security situation, or by when a big attack happens, or when the headlines are tough, or when you see what’s happening right now with protests on the street? Do you ever question your commitment?

    KAMILA SIDIQI: Sure. I have a good feeling for my country. I am always concerned about all this accident, and it happen in my country every day.

    All Afghan people are concerned, and I’m also very concerned about these things that happen, but I love my country. I have commitment.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi remains committed to her country, in part because she never really left. Even during the civil war, she stayed in school, despite rockets falling from street-by-street trench warfare all around her.

    Like so many other Afghans, she stayed behind to build the best life she could, despite growing up amid three decades of war. At a dinner this week for President Ghani, Secretary of State John Kerry paid tribute to Sidiqi’s achievements.

    JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: I met her on my first trip to Kabul when I was secretary of state, and she is a very brave entrepreneur who started her own business in her home at a time when the Taliban kept all women off the street.

    And I would like to honor her also, if everybody would — where is she?


    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Sidiqi had in fact missed the dinner in order to attend a street vigil in Washington for Farkhunda, the young Afghan woman murdered by the mob in Kabul last week.

    Sidiqi’s visit to Washington has been a whirlwind of interviews, White House meetings, and conferences, including this one at Georgetown University featuring Afghan women leaders.

    KAMILA SIDIQI: Today, we have a lot of opportunity. If someone wants to establish a business, it’s very easy to go and register a company and do a business.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Your father had nine girls and two boys and made sure that every one of them was educated. Is education a personal issue for you because of that?


    As you know that, today, I am working in the office of the president. That’s all because of my father and my mother, that they gave us a chance and in such difficult times in Afghanistan. And they always focus for the education of their children. In this case, it’s not only important in my family. It’s important in my country.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Is there anything that gives you concern or things that keep you up at night worrying about the future?

    KAMILA SIDIQI: Security, security of my country, especially those people that they are living in the very remote area and very different provinces, that there is no good life for a woman. Security is important for us, and I’m concerned about it.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, we talked years ago. You went on a bus down south to do a presentation wearing your burqa, and you were talking to a mullah, I think, who said, if I knew my daughter would turn out like you…


    KAMILA SIDIQI: Yes, you remember that. It was in Kandahar, when I provided training. And in Kandahar, it was a gender training and business. And that was his comment about me. And he say — he promised me that, I will give much and I will give my support for my girl to be like you in the future.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Do you think about yourself as a role model?

    KAMILA SIDIQI: I hope. Let people judge.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: For the NewsHour, I’m Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in Washington.

    The post How one Afghan woman rose from dressmaker to policy insider appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    John Boehner Holds Weekly Press Conference At Capitol

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    GWEN IFILL: In Congress today, a rare and significant bipartisan agreement. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly agreed to repair Medicare. For over a decade, doctors have faced repeated threats of pay cuts. But this new deal would permanently end the uncertainty.

    Plus, it put House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi in the rare position of being on the same side.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Speaker of the House: This will be the first real entitlement reform that we have seen in nearly two decades. And that’s a big win for the American people.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, House Minority Leader: I just have confidence that the quality of what we have done, what has been crafted in the House is really a good bipartisan initiative.

    GWEN IFILL: Here to explain the deal and how it would work is Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News.

    Mary Agnes, there have been 17 patches, fixes, temporary fixes for this over the years. It’s not a new problem. What changed this time?

    MARY AGNES CAREY, Kaiser Health News: A couple years ago, members of the House and the Senate, bipartisan member of the relevant committees, came together and decided a policy on how to move forward to pay Medicare physicians.

    But they could never find the money to fix it. So, now what’s happened is, there has been bipartisan agreement, as you say, in the House to simply say we’re not going to finance some of this repeal of the Medicare payment formula — that’s about $141 billion — to the deficit.

    There are some things they are financing, but they have simply decided this is a hole that’s never created, it’s not one we have to fill, and we agree to just not finance it.

    GWEN IFILL: And is part of what the fix is that they’re paying doctors for quality of care, rather than the quantity they provide?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Exactly.

    The current payment formula had incentivized providers, physicians to simply do more services. And so what the repeal does is takes a five-year path to doing exactly what you say, paying physicians on the quality of the care they provide, rather than the quality — the quantity, rather.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, not only that, but there is a financial piece. The temporary fixes they kept passing, that was actually more expensive than a permanent fix.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Right. Those came in at $170 billion, for example, the fixes that you talk about that have happened for the last 12 years. The actual repeal this time is $141 billion.

    GWEN IFILL: So, that’s how they ended up on the same side?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: That’s part of the way they ended up on the same side.

    And, also, there are also other provisions that attracted votes in that bill, for example, two years of additional funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, more money for community health centers that enjoy bipartisan appeal, and also an extension of some Medicare policies, including one that permanently extends a program to help low-income beneficiaries pay for their Part B premiums.

    GWEN IFILL: Were doctors a powerful force in finally getting this done?  I mean, they must not have liked the uncertainty from year to year to year.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: No, they didn’t.

    Think about, if you’re a physician and you take a lot of Medicare patients — and most doctors do take Medicare patients — every year, you’re sitting down trying to figure out how Congress was going to pay you. Were they going to cut you? Were you going to get a three-month patch, or a three-month fix?

    And so this created kind of a full-court press from the physician community and other patient communities and providers as well to say to Congress, fix this once and for all.

    GWEN IFILL: Does this fix have any effect on the Affordable Care Act? Is there a connection?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: In the sense of moving Medicare to being a provider of more quality care, it certainly does.

    There’s programs in the Affordable Care Act that look at things called accountable care organizations, where providers work together to improve care or bundle payment or trying to reduce preventable hospital re-admissions, to make Medicare a more efficient provider of medical care.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, of course, what we had today was passage in the House. The president has signaled that he will sign it. Today, he actually praised John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, which also never happens.

    But the Senate still looms. Some Senate Democrats have been unhappy with just the compromise you were talking about, which is for the children’s health program, saying they want it to be extended longer.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Right. They would like four years of additional funding.

    And there is also some concern about other ways they’re financing the package, including asking wealthier Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for than coverage, and starting in 2020 putting some limits on these very — they call them the first dollar supplemental Medigap policies. They’re questioning, why should seniors pay so much for a Medicare physician payment fix?

    So you might hear some of those concerns on the Senate floor.

    GWEN IFILL: What is the timing?  This thing is do April 5? It’s supposed to expire April 1?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: April 1, that’s right.

    So, in theory, if a final fix isn’t passed, a replacement formula isn’t passed by April 1, doctors would see a 21 percent payment cut. But here’s something that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare services, could do. They could hold those claims for about two weeks.

    And, as we know, the House has already left on a two-week break. The Senate is in the middle of fighting over their budget resolution for the next fiscal year. They’re expected to go tomorrow. So, while they may not take action on it now, they could take action on it when they return.

    GWEN IFILL: But it sounds like they’re really closer to a deal now than they have ever, ever been.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Closer than ever before.

    GWEN IFILL: Mary Agnes Carey from Kaiser Health News, thank you, as always.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Sure. Thank you.

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    GWEN IFILL: Home prices continued their climb back during the past year, even in some of the cities that took the hardest hits during the housing crash.

    But economics correspondent Paul Solman found there’s a much more complicated picture behind the numbers.

    Here’s his story, part of our ongoing reporting Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: In Fort Myers, Florida, realtor Marc Joseph’s welcome bus tour, an overview of the local housing market every Wednesday morning. And shades of the last real estate boom here, things are heating up.

    MARC JOSEPH, Founder, Marc Joseph Realty: The time to buy is now because inventory is tightening up.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Of course, in real estate-speak, now is always the time to buy.

    MARC JOSEPH: If you’re questioning if it’s the right time to buy, it is definitely the right time to buy.

    PAUL SOLMAN: That was Marc Joseph five years ago, when we first met him, on what he then called Foreclosure Tours R Us, taking rubbernecking retirees around the wreckage of Southwest Florida’s spectacular real estate crash.

    MARC JOSEPH: December of 2005, up here, we hit $322,000 as the average median sales price. Since December ’05, it came straight down. For the entire last year, we have been hovering at a leveling off of between $85,000 and $90,000 over the entire last year.

    PAUL SOLMAN: That was spring 2010, 24,000 foreclosure cases then backlogged in the county court. Too bad we didn’t buy, because five years later, the median sales price has more than doubled, to nearly $200,000.

    But Joseph’s job is to move the product.

    MARC JOSEPH: It’s location, it’s the timing, and it’s the price.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Like this bank-owned foreclosure, last sold for $218,000 in 2005, still 50 percent off today.

    MARC JOSEPH: This is concrete block. I cannot reproduce this for $109,000.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Or this one, last sold for $246,000 in 2005.

    MARC JOSEPH: It’s 32 cents on the last sales price because I’m only asking $77,000. So when somebody says, are there deals still out there, this is a deal. They’re paying $85,000 for vacant lots in this neighborhood to put up homes.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Small wonder, says Joseph, that investors large and small are now jumping in, buying houses to rent out, or renovate for resale.

    MARC JOSEPH: People are taking money out of their retirement plans, and they’re making a move. I’m seeing it every day.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Jim Gandhi, down from Toronto, was primed to pounce.

    JIM GANDHI, Toronto: We’re used to $300 a square foot. When we look at something below $100 a square foot, I mean, it’s mind-boggling.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Debbie Abdale hails from Buffalo, New York.

    DEBBIE ABDALE: You’re going to make a lot more money doing this than leaving your money in stocks or bonds or annuities.

    MARC JOSEPH: If you have cash, you are king right now.

    PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, cash bidding wars are erupting.

    MARC JOSEPH: Cash. Everybody’s on the same page now. Please watch your step getting off.

    So, guys, what you have is a two-bedroom, one-bath, $101,000.

    PAUL SOLMAN: How much can you rent this out for?

    MARC JOSEPH: This is $900, $950 to $1,000. You may even get $1,200 because of the desirability of where you’re at.

    PAUL SOLMAN: This is going to seem like I’m just your straight man or something, but why wouldn’t anybody do that?

    MARC JOSEPH: That’s what I ask myself every day.

    CHRIS TAMBURELLO, Boston: Because it comes with the couch.


    PAUL SOLMAN: Younger Gen Xers and older millennials may recognize the one celebrity on the bus, Chris Tamburello, C.T., of MTV’s “Real World” and other reality shows. What was he doing here?

    CHRIS TAMBURELLO: I’m interested in buying a few of those rentals on the lower end and finding me a fixer-upper to live in, and just kind of making my little castle, you know, my little piece of paradise.

    PAUL SOLMAN: There were fixed-up fixer-uppers on the bus tour, two former foreclosures already being flipped. This one’s now on the market for $279,000, this one for $399,000, higher prices that demand higher rents to justify as investments.

    But, says foreclosure expert Daren Blomquist, the renters are plentiful.

    DAREN BLOMQUIST, Vice President, RealtyTrac: These are displaced homeowners who still often need a place to live, but they can’t qualify to buy, and so for now they are renters.

    LAURA NEGRON: People like myself that are still trying to get their credit back in shape.

    PAUL SOLMAN: We met Laura Negron in 2010, translating for Marc Joseph in a cash-for-keys transaction, a sort of voluntary eviction.

    LAURA NEGRON: It’s kind of intimidating and scary that someone would just offer you $1,500 to get out of your house. It hits home.

    PAUL SOLMAN: It hit home because Negron herself was in default on her mortgage, hadn’t made a payment in nearly a year.

    LAURA NEGRON: My husband was out of work for eight months.

    It’s been hard. I’m sorry.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Today, Negron still works for Marc Joseph, has been promoted to real estate agent.

    LAURA NEGRON: We had to short-sale our house. We did a bankruptcy.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And are you going to buy in the next year or two?

    LAURA NEGRON: Absolutely. Can’t wait.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Boomerang buyers like Laura Negron are further stoking the market, says Daren Blomquist.

    DAREN BLOMQUIST: We are seeing a first wave of buyers who lost their homes to foreclosure now qualifying and being able to purchase again. But the irony is that, in some markets, they may have been priced out because of the big investors who’ve come into those markets and propped up prices.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Very big investors.

    MARC JOSEPH: We have large hedge funds in our area buying up mass amounts of houses, renting them out, and then they take them in big pools and they sell them up to the New York Stock Exchange, to the REITs, the real estate investment trusts.

    PAUL SOLMAN: What Joseph senses is, to put it bluntly, another bubble in the making.

    MARC JOSEPH: To go from $85,000 to $200,000 in five years?  My fear is the people that are in those homes, if they don’t make their rent payments…

    PAUL SOLMAN: See you later.

    MARC JOSEPH: We have a lot of see-you-laters.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And a lot of investors losing a lot money.

    Daren Blomquist isn’t worried yet.

    DAREN BLOMQUIST: But if the momentum can’t be stopped in terms of that home price appreciation of 10, 20, 30 percent a year, that’s where we’re going to very quickly get into that danger zone for a housing bubble. And, unfortunately, human nature is such that a lot of times that momentum carries farther than it should.

    MARC JOSEPH: Show of hands. How many people are investors here, please?

    PAUL SOLMAN: And even if momentum isn’t a problem, there could be another glut if Florida’s so-called shadow inventory suddenly hits the market.

    MARC JOSEPH: You have to go out and check a property to see if it’s vacant or if it’s occupied.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Florida leads the nation in zombie foreclosures, where the owner can’t be found, may even have died. It leads in actual foreclosures, 300,000 cases pending, 20,000 new cases a month.

    Another 500,000 Florida homeowners are at least three months behind in their payments, technically delinquent. And hundreds of thousands of modified mortgages and home equity loans are about to balloon in payments. Is Marc Joseph predicting another crash?  He wouldn’t dare. And neither would we. But loans requiring only 3 percent down are now back, he says, and:

    MARC JOSEPH: It’s a big scary thing, because we are getting almost to where we were in 2005 at $317,000. And if we get there, how does that schoolteacher, how does that fireman, how does that police officer, how do they buy a house when it’s $317,000?

    Oh, we’re going to get creative. We’re going to give them zero down, no income verification loans. And here we go again. No, we can’t do that.

    PAUL SOLMAN: This is PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman reporting from one of the disaster areas of the last crash, Fort Myers, Florida.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Joining me now to shed some light on what these new developments mean for the already smoldering Sunni-Shia split in that region are David Rothkopf. He’s editor and CEO of “Foreign Policy” magazine. And Trita Parsi, he’s president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy With Iran.”

    And welcome to both of you.

    TRITA PARSI, National Iranian American Council: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Rothkopf, what prompted the Saudis and their allies to get involved militarily? Al-Qaida has been causing unrest in Yemen for some time. What’s different now?

    DAVID ROTHKOPF, Foreign Policy: Well, I think what’s different now is the rise of the Houthis, the gradual takeover of a very significant portion of the country, the fact they’re allied with Iran, which, as you noted, is the principal rival of the Saudis in the region, and the fact that Yemen has a very long border with Saudi Arabia, so that if, in fact, this country became a satellite of the Iranians, it would pose a real strategic threat to the Saudis.

    I also think the other thing that’s driving it is that the Saudis and the GCC countries, the Egyptians and the others that are involved, don’t really feel that the United States or any other foreign power is going to have the ability to help stabilize this. And so they had to take some action on their own.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Trita Parsi, is — would a Houthi takeover in Yemen pose a strategic threat to Saudi Arabia?

    TRITA PARSI, President, National Iranian American Council: Well, absolutely.

    I think the panic you have seen in Saudi Arabia is to some extent understandable in their rivalry with the Iranians. Twenty years ago, the Saudis essentially had encircled Iran. They were funding the Taliban in Afghanistan. They were funding elements in Pakistan. They were funding most of the Wahhabi mosques that were built in Central Asia. And Iran was also checked by Saddam Hussein.

    Twenty years later, it’s pretty much the opposite. Iran has more influence in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in Syria than the Saudis do. And now the Iranians also have a foothold right in Saudi Arabia’s backyard in Yemen. It’s not difficult to understand that they’re panicking, but the question is whether what they’re doing right now is actually going to be able to advance their interests.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what do you think?

    TRITA PARSI: Well, I think what you have — the problem you have in the Middle East right now is that you have a significant diplomacy deficit.

    We’re not going to be able to see any stabilization in Syria or in Yemen unless the Saudis and the Iranians find a way to be able to talk to each other, rather than to fight each other through proxies.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you about that, David Rothkopf. But you did mention that the Saudis worry that the U.S. and others wouldn’t be willing to stand up to Iran. The U.S. is supporting the Saudi effort, though, aren’t they?

    DAVID ROTHKOPF: Well, in theory, they’re supporting them, although your clip a minute ago noted that the senior U.S. general didn’t really know what the Saudis were up.

    Meanwhile, yesterday, despite the administration’s statements to the contrary, the U.S. actually was flying air support missions for the Iraqis. And the Iraqis, of course, in their fight against ISIS are very close aligned to the Iranians. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, we’re negotiating with the Iranians on a nuclear deal that many, including the Saudis, see as a potential rapprochement with the Iranians.

    And so we seem to be on both sides of this, and that, of course, is one of the reasons that the Saudis are extremely uncomfortable right now, as are essentially all of our other traditional allies in the region.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s what makes this hard to understand, Trita Parsi.

    Let’s look at it from the other perspective, from the Iranian perspective. How committed are they to the Houthi rebels? How involved are they in Yemen?

    TRITA PARSI: It’s not clear how committed they are, if this is just something that they’re doing to essentially punish the Saudis, because there is a sentiment in Iran that the Saudis have been going out after Iran for quite some time.

    The sanctions against Iranian oil would never have been successful had it not been for the Saudis replacing Iranian oil on the markets. The Saudi support for the Sunni insurgency in Iraq that really started the sectarian fight, all of these things, the Iranians believe, have been done by the Saudis against Iran without carrying much of a cost for the Saudis.

    If this is just something to punish the Saudis, the commitment may not be that extensive. It’s part of either a larger strategic move by the Iranians or an effort to be able to further come across as a protectorate of all Shiite populations in the region, then the commitment is probably going to be a bit stronger.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see Iranian intentions, David Rothkopf?

    DAVID ROTHKOPF: Well, I think it’s clearly part of a strategy.

    The past couple years of chaos in the Middle East have benefited the Iranians more than any other country, as Trita noted, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, with Hezbollah in Lebanon, with Hamas in Israel. They are standing to gain. And right now, if they end up with a deal that relieves sanction, allows them to get a little bit more cash in their pockets, they can strengthen their hold on the region and end up considerably stronger at the end of this.

    And the Saudis and the others do not see the same kind of opportunities for them.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what about that? And do you see this — Trita Parsi, do you see what’s going on right now in Yemen affecting those Iranian nuclear talks?

    TRITA PARSI: I don’t think it’s going to have a significant impact on those negotiations. If anything, it may make it more clear that there is a need for a nuclear deal there, so that the United States and Iran actually can start talking about regional developments, because, so far, that’s been off the table.

    But I would also caution against a view that the Iranians some way, somehow are taking over the region. Yes, the Iranians have been able to take advantage of chaos that has existed, which is rooted frankly in the invasion of Iraq, much better than others have. But the idea that this is turning into some sort of Iranian hegemony is a view that is held in Saudi Arabia, but I don’t think it’s an accurate view.

    It is driven by the sense of panic that the Saudis are having because so much has gone against Saudi interests in the last 20 years, which have very little to do with Iran and have much more to do with general geopolitical trends.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, David Rothkopf, American interests in all of this, both of you have referred to this. How much should the U.S. be worried at this point about what has developed — what is developing in Yemen?

    DAVID ROTHKOPF: Well, I think we should be worried about what’s developed in Yemen as a symptom of what’s going on in the region.

    For the first time in history, effectively, every single country in the Middle East, with the exception perhaps of Oman, is involved in a war. And that, of course, creates the conditions where wars can spread, where conflicts can get escalated, where our interests can really suffer.

    And right now, there is no sign that we or any of our allies have any ability to influence these outcomes in any significant way. This is a very, very dangerous moment for the U.S. interests in the region, as it is for the countries in the region themselves.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Trita Parsi?

    TRITA PARSI: I think David is right. But I think it’s also important to note that the true leadership that is needed here is to drive a new diplomatic initiative and bring all of the different parties to the table.

    In the past, the United States has had difficulties doing this because the Saudis refuse to come to the table if the Iranians were there. I think it’s become increasingly clear all major powers have to be at the table in order to be able to find a new equilibrium in the region through diplomatic means, rather than thinking that it can be achieved through military means.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Trita Parsi and David Rothkopf, we thank you both.

    DAVID ROTHKOPF: Thank you.

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    Shi'ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The chaos in Yemen has taken another dramatic turn, as neighboring Saudi Arabia entered the fight against rebels in that country with airstrikes.

    The operation began overnight, as Saudi jets flew from the Sunni kingdom’s southern desert and bombarded military targets in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the goal, drive out Shiite Houthi rebels who’ve taken over much of the country.

    The Saudi ambassador to the U.S. announced the campaign last night in Washington.

    ADEL AL-JUBEIR, Ambassador, Saudi Arabia: We will do whatever it takes in order to protect the legitimate government of Yemen from falling and from facing any dangers from an outside militia.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The strikes flattened a number of homes, killing at least 18 civilians. Residents were left searching through piles of rubble for survivors.

    Jonathan Bartolozzi of Mercy Corps is in Sanaa, and spoke with the NewsHour via Skype.

    JONATHAN BARTOLOZZI, Mercy Corps: People were woken up by explosions. When people found out that it was actually a foreign military intervention, people were quite shocked. We had a situation where targets — the military targets that they were aiming for are specific. So, the actual city center did not see a lot, or actually any at all.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Thousands of Houthi supporters took to the streets of Sanaa, protesting the Saudi airstrikes. But at a separate rally in the southern city of Taiz,, scores of Yemenis cheered the action.

    The Saudis are joined in the effort by other Persian Gulf nations, as well as Sudan, Jordan, and Egypt. Those nations back Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who’s been in the port city of Aden since fleeing Sanaa last month. Today, Hadi left the country under Saudi protection and arrived in Riyadh.

    SAMEH SHUKRI, Foreign Minister, Egypt (through interpreter): It was an obligation to answer the call of President Hadi. Egypt has announced its political and military support to Yemen and also to join the coalition through air, naval forces and land if the matter calls for it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The head of the Arab League added his backing.

    NABIL AL-ARABY, Secretary General, Arab League (through interpreter): It took place after the failure of all trials to stop the Houthi coup d’etat, after their persistence to take escalated steps against the constitutional legitimacy and the national Yemeni will.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Houthis’ key supporter, Iran, denounced the strikes. Yemen became the latest flash point in a long-simmering conflict between Tehran and Riyadh for regional dominance.

    Iran’s foreign minister:

    MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Iranian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): Military action, especially military action from outside Yemen against territorial integrity and against the Yemeni people, will have no result but bloodshed and slaughter of the people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. authorized logistical and intelligence help for the campaign, but, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the top general overseeing U.S. operations in the Middle East had few answers.

    GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, Commander, U.S. Central Command: I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign, and I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The chair of the committee, Arizona Republican John McCain, said the airstrikes stemmed from a — quote — “total absence of U.S. leadership.”

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    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Closer to home, communities across Oklahoma and Arkansas are cleaning up today after being hit by this season’s first round of tornadoes. Twisters ripped through both states yesterday, killing at least one person in Tulsa. The storms flattened homes and businesses, toppled power lines, and caused multiple injuries.

    Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin toured the damage in Moore, a town hit hard in 2013 by a powerful twister that killed 24 people.

    GOV. MARY FALLIN, (R) Oklahoma: We have been down this road before. We know what to do. And I’m just very grateful that we have so many people that worked so hard over the night to make sure that people were safe, to make sure they weren’t injured, and then to certainly make sure that we keep our roads and highways blocked off from power lines that were down and make sure that the traveling public was also safe.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Fallin declared a state of emergency in 25 Oklahoma counties. Tens of thousands of residents are still without power.

    GWEN IFILL:  The governor of Indiana declared a public health emergency today to help contain an HIV epidemic. Rural Scott County near the border with Kentucky has recorded 79 new HIV cases since January. All were tied to intravenous drug use of the prescription painkiller Opana.

    Republican Mike Pence is against needle exchange programs, but made an exception and authorized a short-term program.

    GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) Indiana:  This is all hands on deck. This is a very serious situation. We will not only contain the spread of this virus, but we are going to speed relief and medication to people that have been affected by it. And we’re going to arrest its exposure. And, through an aggressive law enforcement effort, we’re going to find the people that are responsible.

    GWEN IFILL:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended needle exchange to help keep the number of HIV infections at bay. But state health officials still expect the number of cases to increase as more people are contacted.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Department of Justice officials have arrested two Illinois cousins, both of them National Guardsmen, on charges they were joining Islamic State fighters. One man was arrested at a Chicago airport last night, and was allegedly leaving for Egypt to join the militant organization. The cousins allegedly told an undercover FBI agent they had plans to attack an Illinois military facility.

    In Iraq, the battle to take back the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants lost the support of Shiite militias today. But it comes a day after the U.S. joined airstrikes on the city.

    In Washington, General Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate committee the U.S. demanded the Iranian-backed militias leave before the U.S. got involved.

    GEN. LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. Commander, U.S. Central Command:  And I would like to just highlight, sir, that three tours in Iraq commanding troops who were brutalized by some of these Shia militias, I will not and I hope we never coordinate or cooperate with Shia militias.

    GWEN IFILL:  Austin went on to say there are now about 4,000 Iraqi forces, commandos and police fighting for the city, with American help.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  U.S. and Iranian officials went back to the negotiating table in Switzerland today, with a nuclear agreement deadline looming.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have significant gaps to overcome before March 31. Negotiations have already been extended twice over the past two years.

    GWEN IFILL:  More than 1,000 civilians have been killed by the militant group Boko Haram this year. Human Rights Watch said they died in attacks from Northeast Nigeria, to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Ahead of this weekend’s elections, the Nigerian government has brought in mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union to push the militants back.

    JUDY WOODRUFF:  Back in the U.S., stocks on Wall Street extended their losses for a fourth day. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 40 points to close at 17678. The Nasdaq fell 13 points, and the S&P 500 slipped nearly five.

    GWEN IFILL:  The 15th century monarch King Richard III received a proper burial today in Leicester, England. Royalty, religious leaders and the archaeologists who discovered Richard’s remains in a parking lot in 2012 were all in attendance. The long-lost king died in battle in 1485, and was buried without a coffin in a church that was later destroyed. Scientists identified his remains by his distinctively curved spine, radiocarbon dating and DNA tests.

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    GWEN IFILL: Today’s revelations have spurred serious concerns over safety and flight protocols, ranging from cockpit access and security to pilot training.

    NewsHour aviation specialist Miles O’Brien joined me a short time ago to talk about all of us this via Skype.

    Miles, thanks for joining us.

    It seems the question that everyone is asking tonight is, how could this happen?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Yes. It’s probably more in the realm of psychiatry and psychology than aviation in some respects.

    But you have to look at the big picture here, Gwen, and the system that is facing tremendous demand and a lot of cost pressure. A lot of pilots are required to fill these seats and fly these aircraft. There’s a pilot shortage most everywhere you look in the world right now. Meanwhile, the pay for pilots is very low. So there’s a lot of pressure on the airlines to get people in these seats quickly.

    And you have to ask the question if the whole vetting process, which we have relied on for generations in aviation, if that has somehow been short-circuited and we just don’t know the people flying airplanes as well as we used to.

    GWEN IFILL: Describe the rules for cockpit access normally.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, since 9/11, everything changed, of course. We reinforced the cockpit door. And it’s not anything you can easily barge through. That’s the design.

    The way it works is, when you go out, the person behind the locked cockpit door really has all the authority. You have to acknowledge somebody trying to come in and unlock the door. There is a component of this, though, that does afford access to the cockpit if there was an incapacitated crew.

    If both crew members or one crew member were passed out and unable to respond, through a series of steps, you could gain access to the cockpit, but as long as the person on the other side of the door in the flight deck doesn’t want somebody in, you can keep them out.

    GWEN IFILL: You started talking about this being almost a psychological exercise. What does the age and experience level of this pilot have to do with this investigation? We know he’s 28 years old. We know he had a lower-than-normal flying record. But does that mean anything as they begin to get to the bottom of this?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, you know, there’s no black box for the human being, and I’m not equipped to psychologically analyze what might or might not have been going on inside this person’s mind, but I do know this, that the industry has remained safe over the years through a long, slow apprenticeship.

    And that has been sped up in recent years. And concurrent with that, there’s been tremendous pressure on the airlines to make a buck. It’s a very difficult business. And there’s a lot of pressure to keep the salaries of pilots low. So you have to wonder, you know, is the process not selecting the best people for the job? And are we, in fact, not training them quite up to standards we prefer because it’s, frankly, cheaper?

    GWEN IFILL: And it’s a self-policing question about whether a pilot who has responsibility for so many lives is in the mental state to fly.

    MILES O’BRIEN: Exactly. I mean, basically, when you get hired at an airline, they do a psychological test. And that’s the last you get of a psychological test. The first-class medical done by medical examiners every six months doesn’t include a psychological test. They might say, hey, how you doing, that kind of thing, but nothing much more beyond that.

    So, the system took care of itself. Back in the days, we had three-person crews. We had largely military crews. There was a sieve, a vetting process which really distilled who ended up in the cockpit. And there were fewer cockpit seats to fill, after all, which took care of this situation. So, now that this is a different environment, the airlines and the regulators perhaps need to look at a psychological component and vetting these people in a different way.

    GWEN IFILL: So, now that we have seen this crash site, which is horrific, and so many little pieces, how does the investigation proceed going forward?

    MILES O’BRIEN: Well, we have the big pieces.

    If you had to pick one black box to find, the cockpit voice recorder in this case is the one. So I think, you know, some of the key information that we need is in there. It would be nice to have the flight data recorder just to corroborate what we have heard about control inputs by the remaining flight crew member, but this goes back to an ongoing issue in the industry.

    We have the capability, the technology. There’s no reason why when a plane is nonresponsive for as long as 10 minutes that we can’t somehow get a view inside that cockpit, cameras in the cockpit, and streaming data from the aircraft so we know what’s going on. There’s no reason not to do this, except for money.

    And, once again, that brings us back to our theme.

    GWEN IFILL: Miles O’Brien joining us by Skype, thank you so much.

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

    The post How well do we know the pilots who fly our planes? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A black box voice recorder from the German Airbus operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget Airbus A320 crash is seen in this photo released March 25, 2015 by the BEA, France's Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (Air Accident Investigator). Photo by BEA/Handout via Reuters

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: The recovery of bodies and wreckage from downed Germanwings Flight 9525 continued today, as investigators announced a startling finding, that the pilot in control of the plane when it crashed into mountainous terrain did so intentionally; 150 people lost their lives.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News filed this report from near the crash site.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: Threading their way through alpine pass, these are the relatives of those who died in these mountains two days ago. They want to be close to their loved ones’ last living moments, however awful those moments are. The countryside here is remote and splendid, though now scarred by disaster.

    And no one here is calling this an accident anymore. This was always going to be really difficult journey for these families to make, made even more difficult by the revelation that the co-pilot appears to have crashed the plane deliberately, killing himself and 149 other people. It was this mangled cockpit voice recorder which gave up his secret. It seems the co-pilot locked the captain out of the cabin and then steered the plane into its final descent.

    The prosecutor handling this investigation talking of deliberate intent to destroy the aircraft.

    BRICE ROBIN, Marseille Prosecutor (through interpreter): The most plausible and possible interpretation for us is that the co-pilot refused to open the door to the cockpit to the flight captain and activated the button to start the descent.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: The prosecutor described the flight’s final 10 minutes. He said the captain left the cockpit, perhaps to use the bathroom, leaving the co-pilot alone at the controls to start the plane’s descent.

    The captain is heard pleading to be let back in, but there is no response, the only cockpit noise, the sound of the co-pilot breathing normally, with passengers heard screaming just before the moment of impact.

    The co-pilot was Andreas Lubitz, a 28-year-old German, relatively junior with over 600 hours of flying experience, not on the police radar and, we are told, with no known link to terrorism. Cockpit doors have been strengthened since the September the 11th attacks, but this Airbus video shows how flight crew should be able to open the door from the outside on a keypad, though, crucially, that code can be overridden with a lock switch inside the cockpit for up to five minutes, and that’s what experts believe happened on Tuesday morning.

    This was as close to the crash site as relatives reached today, the national flags of those killed unfurled in honor of the missing dead.

    The post Cockpit voice recorder captures dramatic descent of Germanwings flight appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Filmmaker Ken Burns will chat with PBS NewsHour over Twitter at 8 p.m. EDT Monday, just before the premier of the film "The Emperor of all Maladies" on PBS. Follow the chat at #NewsHourchats. Photo by Gus Ruelas/Reuters

    Filmmaker Ken Burns will chat with PBS NewsHour over Twitter at 8 p.m. EDT Monday, just before the premier of the film “The Emperor of all Maladies” on PBS. Follow the chat at #NewsHourchats. Photo by Gus Ruelas/Reuters

    “What is it that I am fighting?”

    When Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist and hematologist, was asked this question by a patient, he was struck by his own inability to answer. He realized that, despite cancer’s vast impact and the centuries-long search to find a cure, we actually know very little about the disease.

    Mukherjee set out to change that with his book, “The Emperor of All Maladies,” which treated the disease as a biographical subject. Now, acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns has brought Mukherjee’s book to film in the upcoming series “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” airing on PBS March 30, 31 and April 1 (check local listings).

    Each of the series’ three parts chronicles a different chapter in the history of cancer, and tells the story of a different individual who has battled the disease. The project was particularly personal for Burns, who lost his own mother to cancer at age 11.

    “I watched her suffer and struggle with this awful disease, forever creating for me a desire to explore the past and to listen deeply to the stories that we all have to tell,” Burns has said.

    “Treating cancer is one of the most significant human challenges we’ve ever faced,” says Mukherjee, “This project will provide the public with a clearer vision of where we are in this extraordinary journey.”

    Before tuning in to the premier of “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” on Monday, join PBS NewsHour for an exclusive Twitter chat with Burns (@KenBurns) to discuss the making of the series and what he learned in the process. Follow the discussion Monday from 8-9 p.m. EDT using #NewsHourChats.

    The post Join PBS NewsHour to discuss ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ with Ken Burns appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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