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

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    TILL DEATH DO US PART monitor post courier

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper series that cast a spotlight on the deadly problem of domestic violence in South Carolina.

    Charleston’s Post and Courier won the Public Service Prize for its series titled “Till Death Do Us Part.”

    Jeffrey Brown has a look behind the work.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It grew into a major seven-part series documenting from many point of view, victims, law enforcement, and others, a huge problem in South Carolina and other states, domestic violence and abuse of women.

    Among the findings, more than 300 women were killed by men in the state over the past decade, making it, for several years, the most deadly state for domestic violence.

    Glenn Smith is one of the lead reporters who was part of the team. He joins me now.

    And congratulations to you first.

    I gather this all really began when members of your team saw some of these statistics and they jumped out at you. Tell us what happened.

    GLENN SMITH, The Post and Courier: Well, it was in the fall of 2013.

    The Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., they put out an annual ranking of the most dangerous states for women based on the rate of women killed by men. South Carolina came out at the top of the list. They put out a press release. It didn’t seem to attract much attention at all, and we started to wonder, why is that so? Why haven’t we paid more attention this?

    Looking back over a 15-year period, we have led the list three times and been in the top 10 every year that the list had been published. And we said, why — why is South Carolina so bad? What is driving this?

    JEFFREY BROWN: One of the things that you end up documenting in a lot of different ways is a kind of culture of violence or a culture of tolerance of violence. Tell us what struck you there.

    Well, I think, particularly in the upper part of the state, where it’s sort of in the Bible Belt, it’s not a tolerance of violence, so much as deeply religious held beliefs about the sanctity of marriage and women’s place in the home.

    Church — churches might be counseling victims to stay with their abuser, to keep the marriage together. So a lot of this stuff is just — it just stays behind closed doors and people don’t get help.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You and your colleagues talked to many, many women for this, and there are some powerful videos that you have included.

    GLENN SMITH: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: I want to show a short clip of one of them. This is a woman named Dolly Ritchie. She describes what happened to her with a man she was involved with.

    And, for our audience, I will just say it contains some graphic material.

    DOLLY RITCHIE: He was Mr. Charm at first and then he turned out to be Mr. Harm.

    And what started happening is that I noticed I could not talk to certain people. I had to keep my head down because that meant I was flirting if I dared to look at another man. I was continuously assaulted, at least three times a night. I was being raped.

    And whenever I complained about the treatment, I was threatened that I would be thrown up against the wall, and it would be best for me just to keep my mouth shut. The last month, I knew that if I didn’t get away from him, that I would — I would die. He would wind up killing me.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Was it hard to find these stories, or did women want to — want to tell what had happened to them, want to speak out?

    GLENN SMITH: It was very hard. It’s very brave of a woman like Dolly to come forward and tell her story like this. It’s just an unbelievably awful thing to have happen to you. And to be brave enough to share that with a wider audience is — yes, it wasn’t easy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You found that state and local governments were, well — and law enforcement, they weren’t taking strong action. There weren’t even tough penalties on the books to deal with this. Tell us a little bit about what you found.

    GLENN SMITH: Yes.

    Here in South Carolina, if you kick your dog, you beat your dog, you will end up in facing a maximum five years in prison. If you end up abusing your girlfriend or your wife on a first offense, you’re not going to face any more than 30 days in jail. Ends up we have something in the neighborhood of 36,000 criminal domestic violence cases every year, and the courts are clogged with them.

    It’s a misdemeanor offense in a lot of cases, in most cases, and the police, the prosecutors, there’s a lot of well-intentioned folks working on it, but kind of working in silos. And it just allowed this — abusers to get off more often than not.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so what kind of responses did you get to the series?  What impact did it have?

    GLENN SMITH: Well, we got a great response to the series right off the bat.

    We were kind of curious as to how lawmakers would receive it, because we called a lot of them out by name, and held them accountable for not taking more action over the course of a decade. There were just dozens of bills that had gotten introduced and just languished in committees and died for lack of attention.

    But when the series was published, the response was overwhelming. The state house speaker at the time, he appointed a special committee and said he wanted them to come up with a reform bill by the time the session started in January. The Senate’s judiciary chairman, he jumped right on it, came up with his own bill.

    Local groups — the Charleston police have done a magnificent job trying to build a family violence unit to tackle this stuff. The prosecutor’s office, she sent people to Massachusetts to learn the latest techniques for tracking abusers and protecting women. And it’s created a really large dialogue statewide on the issue.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Just recently, though, I think I saw that you have reported that some of these legislative efforts have stalled or seem to have stalled.

    GLENN SMITH: Well, the House has its plan for how to solve this, and the Senate has its plan, and they’re not all that far off, but they seem to want to be going in different directions on this, rather than one choosing the other bill to work on and getting it passed.

    There’s still some time left. It’s — it remains to be seen, what’s going to be coming of it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you very briefly, a relatively small newspaper you are to take on something this ambitious and, let’s face it, in an age where newspapers, most of them are shrinking.

    GLENN SMITH: Right, right.

    Well, I have got to say, I have worked at The Post and Courier for 15 years, and it’s just a great place where, from the top down, the belief is just that these stories matter, that good, thoroughly reported, in-depth journalism matters. So they gave us the time and resources.

    We also got a big boost on this when the Center for Investigative Reporting in California came along and offered to do some editing help and give us some guidance on other resources, so that — was really able to work with a crackerjack team there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Glenn Smith of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, thanks so much.

    GLENN SMITH: Thanks for having me on.

     

    The post Pulitzer-winning reports led to South Carolina domestic abuse changes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    MAKING THE GRADE monitor reading

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    GWEN IFILL: A growing number of states are promising to stop promoting students who haven’t learned to read by the end of third grade. It’s a controversial idea we first reported on two years ago.

    Tonight, special correspondent John Tulenko of Learning Matters Television, which produces reports on education for the NewsHour, returned to Ohio to see how that’s working.

    JOHN TULENKO: Two years ago, the city of Cincinnati and others across Ohio faced a major problem. On a national reading test, 60 percent of fourth-graders were failing, a gap that many we spoke with then feared would just grow wider.

    PEGGY LEHNER (R), Ohio State Senator: We don’t teach reading in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh grade. So if they haven’t learned that, they’re not going to learn it. And that’s just unacceptable.

    JOHN TULENKO: So, two years ago, Republican State Senator Peggy Lehner put a wall around fourth grade, passing legislation that promised to hold back any third grader who failed the state’s reading test. Ohio called it the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

    LINDA HISSETT, Teacher, Carson Elementary School: It’s now or never. We’re finished with passing kids along that are unable and unprepared to actually reach success at the higher grade levels.

    JOHN TULENKO: At the outset, third grade teacher Linda Hissett of Carson Elementary in Cincinnati welcomed the guarantee, and saw it as a solution.

    LINDA HISSETT: I had some students who are at a kindergarten-level reading, first grade-level reading, second grade. You know, I guess I just — I look at it with dismay.

    JOHN TULENKO: But Carson’s principal, Ruthenia Jackson, was wary of the guarantee. Some 40 percent of her students were in danger of being held back.

    RUTHENIA JACKSON, Principal, Carson Elementary School: The research shows that if you retain children over — it doesn’t help them down the line, because they’re just getting older, and then eventually they will get in high school, and they will just drop out. Who wants to be 17 in ninth grade? Nobody.

    JOHN TULENKO: No doubt, the reading guarantee had raised the stakes considerably for Ohio’s 125,000 third graders and their teachers. But how would it all turn out? Would the threat to hold students back spur schools to innovate? Just how many students would make it over the bar?

    What emerged in the end is a story with both good news and bad news, and we will tell it in that order.

    PEGGY LEHNER: The result was remarkable; 96 percent of our third graders passed the test this year.

    JOHN TULENKO: We returned recently to speak with Senator Lehner, who told us Ohio’s results have a simple explanation.

    PEGGY LEHNER: That kind of improvement is incredible. But that only came about because of a lot of hard work, a lot of attention to the importance of reading.

    JOHN TULENKO: Carson Elementary seemed to be a case in point. Ruthenia Jackson is still principal.

    So, two years ago, you were apprehensive.

    RUTHENIA JACKSON: Yes.

    JOHN TULENKO: How do you feel about the reading guarantee today?

    RUTHENIA JACKSON: Pretty good. It’s — and that’s because we’re making some gains.

    JOHN TULENKO: Reading scores here had risen 10 points, following changes made across the school. The entire staff had been reassigned to teach individual subjects. That way, the strongest reading teachers could concentrate on that.

    WOMAN: Let’s check that vowel before you write.

    JOHN TULENKO: Reading specialists were also brought in, with some $13 million Ohio set aside for schools.

    RUTHENIA JACKSON: Now we have two. One reading specialist works with those kids who we consider non-readers, and teaching them phonics.

    JOHN TULENKO: The second specialist focuses on kids just on the cusp of passing. For everyone else, local high school students were brought in as volunteer tutors. There were reading workshops for parents. Hundreds of books were sent to homes. And in the end, 94 percent of Carson’s third graders passed Ohio’s reading test and were promoted.

    WOMAN: All right, keep on reading.

    JOHN TULENKO: Good news for early supporters of the reading guarantee, like Linda Hissett.

    LINDA HISSETT: What we have started here is hugely different than how it was prior to three years ago. And the focus that they have on the reading and the intensity, it’s a totally different tone.

    JOHN TULENKO: But how different was it? Hissett’s third grade class still had struggling readers, more than a few. And we found the reading guarantee, which had promised to bring everyone up to grade level, had another side.

    LINDA HISSETT: To answer the question if the kids are more prepared, it’s very hard, because a lot of the kids that we actually educate, a lot of them will leave.

    JOHN TULENKO: Forty percent, in fact, while another 40 percent come in, all midyear. This revolving door, not unusual in urban schools, poses problems for the reading guarantee.

    RUTHENIA JACKSON: We get non-readers. We will get a third grader who — who’s never heard of a sound, cannot read.

    JOHN TULENKO: So, is it that the reading guarantee, it only works in a bubble?

    RUTHENIA JACKSON: Right. Exactly true.

    JOHN TULENKO: Was it any better in Carson’s fourth grade? Remember, under the guarantee, to get here, students first had to pass a test, prove they were ready.

    Fourth grade teacher Maria Cleveland.

    How many of your kids are actually reading at a fourth grade level?

    MARIA CLEVELAND, Teacher, Carson Elementary School: Probably 50 percent. But the reality is that kids are all over the place. They just aren’t ready for some of the things — I mean, you know, kids don’t know how to sound out words; they’re working on some phonics skills that they never received. It’s — it’s an eye-opener.

    JOHN TULENKO: And yet all of them passed Ohio’s reading test, and that could be the bigger problem.

    MARIA CLEVELAND: They get to take it multiple times, the same test. They get to take it in the fall. If they don’t pass it, they take it again in the spring. If they don’t pass it, they take it again in the summer. And now they have thrown in a new test.

    JOHN TULENKO: And how high was the bar? It turns out the score for promotion, advancing to fourth grade, was set below the mark that defines a proficient reader.

    PEGGY LEHNER: There are different scores, and here’s why. This is a very, very hard policy. Parents don’t want their kids retained; schools don’t want to retain them. It’s expensive to retain them, $10,000 a year.

    If we had set those at the exact same level, at that proficient level, which is, of course, where we want kids to be, this policy would have been dead within a year.

    LINDA HISSETT: I don’t think that that little window of promotable vs. proficient is really anything to discuss, because it’s — it’s too close. It’s like three questions.

    JOHN TULENKO: To Hissett, the lower pass score is a good thing because it gives students a cushion, which makes sense, she says, when the test is high-stakes.

    LINDA HISSETT: It’s an isolated day. Who knows what happened the night before? Who knows if they had sleep? Who knows if they even ate dinner? So, yes, if they have got the basic skills and they can at least get it close, it’s that little shadow of a doubt, that’s fine with me.

    JOHN TULENKO: But a big shadow of doubt still hangs over Ohio’s 96 percent pass rate. A close look at test documents reveals more on just how low the bar was set. Ohio will promote third graders even if they lag behind 85 percent of their peers nationwide.

    Aren’t you just setting those kids up for failure?

    PEGGY LEHNER: No, I think they’re getting help because we have focused this attention on reading. And the teachers are aware.

    MARIA CLEVELAND: That, to me — now it’s just — this is just my opinion — that, to me, would be a state issue, wanting to make it look like, you know, the kids are doing better.

    PEGGY LEHNER: Well, you know, if they want to take that attitude, fine. But what we’re trying to do here is so terribly important. It’s important that we do it right, and not try to do it all at once. That only invites failure.

    JOHN TULENKO: Ohio is on track to slowly raise the score for promotion until it matches the score for proficient. At the higher score, Ohio third graders will still lag behind roughly 75 percent of their peers nationwide.

    In Cincinnati, Ohio, I’m John Tulenko reporting for the NewsHour.

    The post Does Ohio’s third grade reading test miss its goal? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    From dresses made of horse hair, swan feathers and red roses, Enzina Marrari creates garments that bridge fashion design and sculptural art. Video produced by Slavik Boyechko and Travis Gilmour, Alaska Public Media

    Enzina Marrari designs dresses and garments using natural materials. Inspired by her chosen home of Alaska, she creates with wood and flowers, even feathers and horse hair.

    “My work is definitely experimental,” Marrari said. “I really love the idea of wearable fashion design or avant-guard fashion design that can be worn by a person, but they’re not intended to be worn every day.”

    While the designer wants her clothing to be surprising and out of the ordinary, she also chooses her models in a way that is atypical of the industry at large. In fact, Marrari uses their personalities as inspiration for her work.

    “I’m not sure if the model comes first or the idea. It’s pretty important to me to know who I’m working with and to make a connection with whom I’m working with,” she said. “I really feel that in the fashion industry, models are hangers for the clothing. The model is supposed to be hidden and shapeless so that the clothing speaks for itself and I don’t believe in that philosophy.”

    Local Beat is a weekly series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

    The post Bjork’s got nothing on this dress, designed with real swan feathers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S.-led coalition today launched 28 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State group targets. And, in Iraq, I.S. positions were struck in Anbar province, where the militants are strongest.

    NewsHour special correspondent Jane Arraf reports now from Anbar on a battle to reclaim Iraq’s largest province.

    JANE ARRAF: The latest wave of Iraqis fleeing the Islamic State group. This time, it’s in the Sunni heartland of al-Anbar province.

    Driven out of Tikrit, the group, also known as ISIS, has made a renewed push into western Anbar province and its capital, Ramadi. These families are the tip of a huge humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in Iraq’s biggest province forced out by the conflict, joining two million Iraqis already displaced.

    Fatima has moved three times since she left her home in Haditha in western al-Anbar last year, always just one step ahead of the fighting.

    FATIMA MAHMOUD AWADH (through interpreter): They were striking us with rockets. There were explosions in the houses. There were houses being hit during the airstrikes at night. Finally, we had to leave.

    JANE ARRAF: The Iraqi government sees these people as a potential security risk. ISIS has controlled large parts of Anbar for most of the year, and the government is wary of letting in people from ISIS strongholds.

    These people have managed to flee Ramadi and the ISIS onslaught. But they’re not safe yet. To actually get to Baghdad, they have to prove that they have a sponsor to vouch for them. The problem is that some of these families have now moved three and four times, and they have run out of relatives to stay with.

    When we met him, this Ramadi resident had been waiting here for two days in the hope someone would sponsor him. The government later said it would allow families to enter without a sponsor, but it would keep out young single men.

    Um Ibrahim saw two of her sons married just two days ago. The wedding party took place in a prefabricated trailer. She says tribal leaders and the Iraqi government have abandoned them.

    “This is the only thing we ever got from them,” she says, holding up a piece of chocolate. “I’m going to save it as a souvenir.”

    The Interior Ministry says it is concerned that ISIS operatives could be hiding among displaced people. In Baghdad, the Interior Ministry paraded the latest ISIS suspects. These, they say, have confessed to attacks against security forces and involvement in a bomb-making ring.

    On the floor, police have arranged the explosives they have captured from a site near Baghdad. They include bombs designed to detonate when a door is opened or when a car drives over them. The western edge of the battle against ISIS is in Iraq’s vast Anbar province, stretching from the edge of Baghdad all the way to the Jordanian, Saudi and Syrian borders.

    Just 35 miles from Baghdad is Fallujah, where U.S. soldiers and Marines in 2004 faced the fiercest urban fighting since Vietnam. The enemy then was al-Qaida. Now it’s a group even more difficult to fight. ISIS has reemerged near Garma, between Fallujah and the Iraqi capital.

    BRIG. GEN. SAAD MAAN, Iraqi Ministry of Interior spokesman: Now we achieved the first goal, which we prevent the enemy to target our people to Baghdad. The second step is to go forward to liberate the center of al-Garma.

    JANE ARRAF: But the day after Iraqi forces launched that offensive last week, they were pushed back by ISIS fighters.

    The battle in Anbar has stalled over the role of Shia militias in this tribal, almost entirely Sunni process. The U.S. is wary of getting drawn again into such a complicated process. It’s too dangerous even for the provincial governor to stay in Anbar. After surviving the latest assassination attempt in Ramadi, Suhaib al-Rawi spoke to us from an emergency office set up in Baghdad.

    GEN. SUHAIB AL-RAWI, al-Anbar Province, Iraq (through interpreter): The situation is critical. After the operations that took place in Tikrit, ISIS is focusing hugely on Anbar and Ramadi to create a morale boost with a victory there. The security forces are fighting fierce battles and suffering quite substantial losses. There are Iraqi and coalition airstrikes, but they are not enough.

    JANE ARRAF: Anbar is in the grip of war. This school is now an army outpost.

    At this forward operating base, soldiers pulling security are on alert for snipers and suicide bombers. Behind me is the city of Garma. The Iraqi army and its allies have been advancing forward and pushing ISIS back, until they’re now within about three miles from the city. Once they take Garma, they believe they can push on to Fallujah.

    JANE ARRAF: This Iraqi army colonel explains that they need to take Garma because it’s a main supply route for ISIS. ISIS fighters are like gangsters, he says.

    COL. ALI HUSSEIN AL-DURRAJI, Iraqi Army (through interpreter): We are trying to surround Garma because Garma is the access point. If we take Garma — and, God willing, we will take it — then ISIS will be locked in, finished.

    JANE ARRAF: After that, he says, is Fallujah, a city won and lost twice since 2003. Soldiers here are expecting this battle to be even tougher.

    Jane Arraf for PBS NewsHour near Garma, Iraq.

    The post Fleeing and fighting Islamic State forces in Anbar province appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    capitol compromise

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It took more than five months, but Senate negotiators finally came to agreement on the bill that had blocked Loretta Lynch’s path to confirmation as President Obama’s second attorney general.

    The hitch appeared in an entirely unrelated fight over access to abortion for victims of human trafficking.

    MAN: Mr. President? The majority leader.

    GWEN IFILL: Word of the deal came first thing this morning, on the Senate floor, from Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: I’m glad we can now say there is a bipartisan proposal that will allow us to complete action on this important legislation, so we can provide help to the victims who desperately need it.

    GWEN IFILL: The agreement also means the Senate will likely vote, McConnell said, in the next day or so on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.

    That was welcome news to Minority Leader Harry Reid.

    SEN. HARRY REID, Minority Leader: Let’s get out — get rid of this quickly. Let’s get Loretta Lynch confirmed quickly and move on to other matters.

    GWEN IFILL: The human trafficking bill and the nomination had been blocked for months. Initially, there was bipartisan backing for the bill that sets up a fund for victims of trafficking. But an impasse developed when Democrats objected to language that would expand prohibitions on abortion funding.

    Republicans, in turn, insisted they wouldn’t take up the Lynch nomination until the human trafficking bill passed. Today’s deal tweaks the abortion language in a way that both sides say they can accept. It also comes several days after President Obama blasted the delay of the Lynch nomination.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are times where the dysfunction in the Senate just goes too far. This is an example of it. It’s gone too far. Enough. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing.

    GWEN IFILL: The president nominated Lynch last November to replace Eric Holder. If confirmed, the career prosecutor from New York would become the first black woman to hold the office. The White House today called news of the Senate deal an encouraging sign.

    So what really broke the logjam?

    For that, I spoke a short time ago to two members of the Senate.

    We start with Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker.

    Senator Wicker, welcome.

    There seemed to be two arguments going on here in the Senate recently that you have reached an agreement about today, but one was about the human trafficking bill, one was about Loretta Lynch. What was the connection?

    SEN. ROGER WICKER, (R) Mississippi: Well, the connection is, actually, we needed to break the logjam on the trafficking bill, a very important piece of legislation, to protect vulnerable young Americans, and also people who will be trafficked into the United States.

    Senator McConnell had made it clear that the schedule would be the trafficking bill, then the Lynch nomination. And I think it was important for him to stand firm on that. And as it turns out, it broke the logjam. Both matters will now be considered, and we will be able to move on, I think, in a bipartisan fashion.

    GWEN IFILL: As you know, Democrats think that the Republicans were basically holding the attorney general’s nomination hostage for an abortion-related amendment included in this human trafficking bill. What’s your response to that?

    SEN. ROGER WICKER: Well, my response is that the Hyde language has been part of legislation for over three decades, and really this sort of came as a surprise that this would be thought of as an issue holding up a trafficking bill.

    As it turns out, here’s the upshot. The Hyde language was neither expanded nor diminished in this negotiation process. It is exactly as it has been over the decades. We have broken the logjam on the trafficking bill now. And, by the end of the week, I think we will have a new attorney general confirmed, and that issue will not be there to divide Americans anymore.

    So, I think it’s a good result. And, frankly, if Ms. Lynch has been instrumental in breaking a logjam on a very important trafficking bill, I have to feel like she would feel that it might actually have been worth the delay.

    GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that you would vote to confirm her?

    SEN. ROGER WICKER: I have made it clear. I thought she should — I think she should be brought to the floor. I think she will be confirmed, and I have made it clear all along that I will be a no-vote.

    But there are going to be plenty of votes for her confirmation, and there won’t be much of a dust-up over there. Because of her support of some of the president’s executive overreaches, I will be a no-vote. But she will be confirmed, and at the end of the day, the president will have a new attorney general.

    GWEN IFILL: We saw the Medicare doctors fix. We have seen a trade agreement reached, so far at least. It still has to work its way through the Congress. And now this. Is this a new day, a new day post-gridlock in the United States Senate?

    SEN. ROGER WICKER: Well, I think so. And also there’s an education bill that has come out of the Health Committee with strong support, not only from Chairman Alexander, but also the ranker member, Senator Murray.

    I actually think that our new majority leader, Senator McConnell, by being firm, but also by opening up the amendment process, has created an atmosphere where we’re going to see a lot more bipartisanship and a lot more legislation moving. And, frankly, as someone who is in charge of the Campaign Committee, I think legislative accomplishment and ending gridlock, I think that is good politics for both parties, and I think the American people are going to find it a bit refreshing.

    GWEN IFILL: Was it worth it to keep the nominee waiting this long?

    SEN. ROGER WICKER: Well, I’m sorry that it was held up so long. I’m sorry that a trafficking bill that should have been passed, frankly, by unanimous consent or a virtual unanimous vote was held up for some four weeks.

    But this is the sort of thing that sometimes happens in legislative bodies. The good news is that we have, I think, a very positive result. We will have a strong trafficking bill to move on to the House and to the president’s desk, and the president will have his nominee, with — with not an inordinate amount of delay, considering we’re trying to break a logjam.

    And I think now we have reached a point where we’re going to see a lot of bipartisan accomplishments.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, thank you for joining us.

    SEN. ROGER WICKER: Thank you for having me again.

    GWEN IFILL: And now we turn to Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

    Senator, thank you for joining us.

    In the end, what was the real disagreement over this human trafficking bill, in your view?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), Delaware: Well, Gwen, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was brought to the floor with the expectation that it would pass easily. It’s a broad bipartisan bill to strengthen protections for those who have been the victims of human trafficking.

    But there was some language stuck into the bill that deals with the coverage of the Hyde amendment to a new fund that would be created by act, a fund that comes from penalties paid by those who are convicted of being involved in sex trafficking. And that would be an unwarranted expansion of the Hyde amendment to a new pool of federal funds that many in my caucus thought was completely inappropriate.

    So, there was an injection of a partisan issue into what shouldn’t have been a partisan concern, the protection of those who have been victims of trafficking.

    GWEN IFILL: If that’s true, if that was the injection of a partisan issue, how did it end up holding up, tripping up whatever word you want to use for it, the nomination of Loretta Lynch for five-and-a-half months?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Well, I don’t see any connection, but the Republican majority leader said we wouldn’t move to consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch until the Trafficking Victims Protection Act cleared the floor.

    So we’re in the unacceptable position today, Gwen, of having this remarkable, qualified, capable nominee, who was nominated 174 days ago, who has now been sitting waiting for action on the floor longer than all seven previous nominees to be attorney general, and double — she’s been waiting longer than all seven before her, double that amount of time, because the trafficking bill has been holding it up.

    It has taken that long for us to clear Republican objections to making a responsible compromise that would allow us to move forward. There are rumors that the final deal has been reached, but we have spent all day today waiting to hear which amendments Republicans will insist on our voting on some time today or tomorrow before we can move to consider Loretta Lynch’s nomination.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, maybe — do you understand how your constituents might be watching this standoff and thinking they agree on this bill, they agree on its goals, but they can’t move forward? Does that send the wrong message?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Of course it does. It’s incredibly frustrating. It suggests that the Senate is having great difficulty moving forward on even simple bipartisan bills that should make it possible for us to strengthen protections for those who are victims of the heinous crime of human trafficking.

    It also means that the Republican majority in the Senate is having difficulty prioritizing. I think it’s a civil rights issue that we haven’t been able to move forward Loretta Lynch, an incredibly qualified nominee, to be attorney general, who’s previously been confirmed twice to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.

    GWEN IFILL: Why? Why is that a civil rights issue?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Because we have got pressing issues in the United States, Gwen. We have got issues all over this country of relationships between law enforcement and communities, where she would be particularly capable, particularly adept at helping resolve those longstanding and challenging issues.

    She’s also someone who has shown particular strength and skill in prosecuting corruption, in prosecuting human trafficking, in prosecuting gang activities. So she would be a talented and capable attorney general. She would be the first-ever African-American woman to serve in this position, but she also would, I think, bring a well-needed, a badly needed voice of calm and of bridge-building between many of America’s communities and the concerns of law enforcement.

    GWEN IFILL: Sounds like she has your vote. Does she have enough votes?

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: She’s absolutely got my vote. In fact, she came out of Judiciary Committee with a fairly strong bipartisan vote months ago.

    But it will be very close on the floor. I think at this point there are only five Republicans who have publicly expressed some support for her. So it’s my hope that having, finally cleared the hurdle of this trafficking victims act, that we will continue and move and confirm Loretta Lynch on a bipartisan basis.

    GWEN IFILL: Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, thank you very much.

    SEN. CHRIS COONS: Thank you, Gwen.

    The post Was the human trafficking compromise worth delaying vote on Loretta Lynch? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Migrants stand on a navy ship as they arrive in the Sicilian harbour of Augusta

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And joining me now is United Nations’ high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres. He’s in Washington meeting with State Department officials and members of Congress.

    Commissioner Guterres, thank you for joining us again to talk about this.

    How would you describe right now the scale of this migrant boat crisis facing Europe and the world?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: Well, I think it is a tragedy within a tragedy.

    We are seeing the dramatic evolution in Syria and Iraq. We are seeing a conflict that is causing the largest displacement since the Second World War. We have now four million Syrian refugees, more than 2.5 million people displaced inside Iraq, more than seven million people displaced inside Syria.

    And even those that live in the neighboring countries live in appallingly difficult conditions. And so we see more and more Syrians trying to come to Europe. And it really breaks my heart to see families that have lost their homes, lost members of the family, and have to risk their lives again in unseaworthy boats, under the control of terrible violators of human rights, smugglers and traffickers, and finally perish because there is not an effective rescue-at-sea operation in central Mediterranean.

    And that’s why we have been asking that Europe will have to assume the responsibility. To us, it was the case last year with Mare Nostrum to have an effective rescue-at-sea operation in central Mediterranean, to at least be able to respond in an efficient way to the needs of these desperate people.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, how much of the responsibility does lie with the European Union? Because, as you just noted, last year, the Italians had a very robust search-and-rescue operation under way. Now that has been scaled back to something much smaller by the E.U.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Unfortunately, many people in Europe were saying that the Italian Mare Nostrum was becoming a pull factor, was attracting people to cross.

    And the truth is that without Mare Nostrum, without an effective mechanism of rescue at sea, more people are coming in 2015 than in 2014, which shows that overwhelming majority of these people is not crossing out of hope or because they want a better life. They’re crossing out of despair.

    And so it is not because you don’t have a mechanism, an effective mechanism to rescue them that they will stop on the other side. Unfortunately, we’re having more people crossing and more people dying, and that is why it is so important to reestablish a robust mechanism of rescue at sea and then put up all the other measures that are necessary, crack down on smugglers and traffickers, promote more legal avenues to come legally into Europe, and address the root causes that force people to move in countries of origin, and creating better protection conditions in countries of transit, namely, Northern Africa, knowing that, for the moment, Libya, with a chaotic situation that Libya faces, will not be a partner for an effective operation of combined action to reduce this drama.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know there is this emergency meeting coming this Thursday. Do you expect the European countries to agree to do what you are asking?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, we hope so.

    We have to recognize that several European countries are doing a very good job. They are showing an enormous effort, receiving Syrians, and giving them excellent conditions. It’s the case of Germany. It’s the case of Sweden.

    And what we believe is that Europe needs to assume that responsibility collectively and to properly receive people, to see those that are in need protection, those that are economic migrants that only seek a better life, and, of course, they need to be respected, but they have a different set of rights, and guarantee a fair share of distribution within the European continent in order to be able to be much more generous in the European attitude towards refugees crossing the Mediterranean at the present moment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You started out by describing it as a crisis of — one refugee crisis in the middle of another refugee crisis, of course referring to Syria.

    We just learned in the last hour that a group of bipartisan United States senators have sent a letter to President Obama asking him to work with U.S. allies to create safe zones inside Syria for displaced people and to create a way for humanitarian aid to get in.

    Is this the kind of thing that would be helpful for Syria’s humanitarian — Syria’s refugee crisis?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: I think that to have corridors for humanitarian aid is a very positive thing.

    And we are doing a lot of humanitarian aid cross-border and cross-line inside Syria. And to create conditions for it to be much more developed would, in my opinion, be extremely important. To conceive the idea of a safe zone inside Syria to keep the refugees there, our experience in the past is not a positive one.

    Remember the safe zone in Srebrenica in Bosnia and the tragedy that has created, because how — who would guarantee the safety of that zone in the middle of a civil war with the characteristics of the Syrian civil war at the present moment? So, I think it’s very important to create more conditions for humanitarian aid to be distributed inside Syria.

    And more than that, what would be very important is to bring together those countries that have an influence in the parties of the conflict to understand that this is a war in which nobody is losing, everybody — nobody is winning, everybody is losing, and that there is now a threat not only to regional stability — let’s see what has happened in Iraq — but also to global peace and security and the terrorist threat for the whole world.

    So it’s high time for those countries that have an influence on the parties in the conflict to forget their differences, to forget their contradictions and to come together and put an end to this nonsense.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, you have been meeting on Capitol Hill with members of Congress. You had asked the United States to accept just a few thousands Syrian refugees. There has been pushback from, as we mentioned, some committee chairs, who were saying, how does the United States know they won’t be terrorists?  What is your answer to that?

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Well, the United States has the largest resettlement program in the world. We resettle in UNHCR about 100,000 refugees per year.

    And about 70,000 come into the United States. And they come from all over the world and from many areas where you have conflicts very similar to the Syrian one. And there are security checks that are implemented, both from our side and from the side of the American administration and other countries, Canada, Australia, other European cries, to guarantee that those that come are really people in need of protection.

    We are not here to give shelter to terrorists. We are here to give shelter to those that are the first victims of terrorism. And the first victims of terrorism today are the Syrians themselves.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Antonio Guterres, the U.N. commissioner for refugees, we thank you very much for joining us.

    ANTONIO GUTERRES: Thank you.

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    DEADLY JOURNEY MONITOR ship people drowned

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the migrant boat disaster in Europe which is feared to have claimed up to 900 lives. Today brought news of arrests and new details of the tragedy.

    Exhausted and still stunned, the 28 survivors of the Mediterranean’s worst ever migrant boat sinking arrived in Catania, Sicily, overnight.

    BARBARA MOLINARIO, United Nations Refugee Agency: They were very tired and very traumatized, of course. One of them was taken to the hospital. The others received medical attention. They had some new clothes distributed to them and had some food before being transported to the reception facility.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Among their number, the boat’s Tunisian captain and a Syrian crew member. Italian prosecutors took both into custody on suspicion of smuggling, reckless homicide and causing a shipwreck.

    Migrants who made it to shore say when the smugglers collided with a would-be rescue ship, terrified passengers rushed to the other side, causing their overloaded trawler to roll over. They also told humanitarian officials that hundreds of people were locked below deck.

    FLAVIO DI GIACOMO, International Organization for Migration spokesman: Almost everyone told that there were about 1,300. So we have to say that 800 people have died apparently at this point. Unfortunately, we must confirm that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The tragedy has thrust the migrant issue back into the spotlight, and the U.N. Refugee Agency is urging the European Union to adopt an emergency action plan.

    VOLKER TURK, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, United Nations Refugee Agency: Obviously, the devil is in the detail. We need to make sure that the asylum component and the protection of people component is one that is prioritized within these measures.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The crisis in the Mediterranean has intensified, as more people fleeing conflict and poverty pour into Libya from Western sub-Saharan Africa, from East African countries, including Eritrea, and even from war-torn Syria in the Middle East.

    Some Syrian refugees travel to Turkey, then to Sudan, and then cross-country to Libya, itself beset by civil war. The United Nations has asked developed countries to shelter 130,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.

    In February, the State Department announced the U.S. response.

    JEN PSAKI, State Department spokeswoman: The United States has admitted 524 Syrians since 2011. We’re likely to admit 1,000 to 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement in fiscal year 2015 and a somewhat higher number, though still in the low thousands, in fiscal year 2016.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans, led by Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, are resisting even that number. In a January letter, he and two other committee members wrote — quote — “The lack of a thorough security screening process can result in individuals with terrorist ties exploiting the refugee program to resettle in the U.S. homeland.”

    Meanwhile, the migrant sailings go on. On Monday alone, more than 600 people were rescued in separate incidents. They included nearly 100 Palestinian and Syrian nationals packed aboard a luxury yacht.

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    Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 6.18.57 PM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Elsewhere today, a court in Egypt sentenced the ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison. He was found guilty in the killings of protesters in 2012. Morsi and about a dozen other Muslim Brotherhood defendants stood in a soundproof cage as the court made its pronouncement. It was the first verdict against Morsi since the military overthrew him in 2013.

    GWEN IFILL: The Boston Marathon bombing trial took up the question today of whether to impose the death penalty on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He’s already been convicted of the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260.

    Today, a prosecutor showed a photo of Tsarnaev making an obscene gesture in his jail cell. She said it proves he is unrepentant and unchanged.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation in the case of a Baltimore man who died in police custody. Freddie Gray was arrested April 12 and died Sunday from a severe spinal injury. Six white officers involved in Gray’s arrest have been suspended with pay, pending an investigation.

    GWEN IFILL: Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Michele Leonhart announced today she is stepping down. Attorney General Eric Holder praised her years of service to the agency, but she came under fire from both parties in Congress after reports surfaced that DEA agents attended sex parties with prostitutes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A full-scale recall is now under way for all products from Blue Bell Creameries. They’re being pulled from shelves in 23 states and overseas because they could be tainted with listeria.

    Overnight, the Texas company expanded an earlier recall after the deadly bacteria turned up in ice cream at two plants.

    JOE ROBERTSON, Blue Bell Creameries Spokesman: Originally, in this facility, we had positive tests on some snacks. And we thought it was isolated to one machine in one room. And so we shut down the machine and closed off the room. And what this — the positive test on the cookie dough half-gallon did was let us know that it was in other areas of the plant also.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So far, federal health officials have linked the contamination to three deaths in Kansas. It’s the first recall in Blue Bell’s 108 years of operation.

    GWEN IFILL: The state of California may have encountered a roadblock as it tries to conserve water in the face of extreme drought. A state appeals court ruled Monday that San Juan Capistrano’s multi-tiered water rates are illegal. The pricing structure makes major users pay more, to promote conservation. Two-thirds of the state’s water districts use similar rate plans.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Wall Street struggled to make headway today, as major companies turned in a mixed batch of earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 85 points to close back near 17950. The Nasdaq rose 19 and the S&P 500 slipped three.

    And the world’s fastest passenger train set a new speed record today in Japan. The magnetic-levitation train, or maglev, reached 375 miles an hour on a test track near Mount Fuji. It uses powerful magnets to hover just above the rails. Japan aims to build a 250 mile maglev link between Tokyo and Osaka. There’s already one in Shanghai, China.

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    BOMBING ENDS monitor

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    GWEN IFILL: Saudi Arabia abruptly announced an end today to a month-long air campaign against Shiite rebels in Yemen. The Saudis and their Sunni allies said they will focus on political efforts, but continue military action as needed.

    At the same time, a senior rebel leader said a political accord is almost ready.

    Meanwhile, the White House explained its decision to send in the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: The movement of the — of this particular aircraft carrier would augment the American military presence in the Gulf of Aden, and would send a clear signal about our continued insistence about the free flow of commerce and the freedom of movement in the region.

    GWEN IFILL: That effort could also include intercepting Iranian vessels trying to ferry weapons to the rebels.

    For more on all this, we turn now to our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner.

    Margaret, what was behind Saudi Arabia’s decision to suspend whatever it is they were doing, their military action?

    MARGARET WARNER: Gwen, U.S. officials believe that it was basically a cost-benefit analysis by the Saudis, that in fact the costs were outweighing the benefits.

    That is, this has been going on a month. They have been heavily criticized internationally for a lot of civilian deaths. They have not achieved two of their three main objectives, which was to roll the Houthis back north. That didn’t work upon. And to restore the President Hadi to power, which they have not been able to do, and that that was going to require a ground campaign, which they don’t have the assets to do despite what they spend on military hardware, and no one was willing to help them, including the Pakistanis.

    Secondly, and very importantly, the U.S. was really pressing them hard. The U.S. was concerned about all the civilian casualties. The U.S. intelligence view is, they had an objective, but they never really had a plan. They never thought through how to do it. And the U.S. was very, very concerned that all this chaos is giving al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and other really extremist terrorist groups more room to operate.

    And a senior intelligence person told me today that in fact AQAP operations have increased in this month. So, from a U.S. perspective, it was time to roll this back, freeze this in place, and try to get a political dialogue going.

    GWEN IFILL: You said that Saudi Arabia didn’t achieve its goal of rolling back the Houthis. Yet they announced this afternoon that they are going to also step back, that some sort of accord has been reached?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, there is. And I have just confirmed this with both U.S. officials and people close to the Saudis.

    There is a commitment on the part of both the Houthis and the Saudis to get back to some sort of political dialogue, which originally was under the umbrella of the U.N. and the Gulf Cooperation Council and so on. Now, U.S. officials think it’s for real, though they are very cautious about this.

    But, apparently, a White House statement is about to come out applauding the Saudi decision and saying — applauding the chances for political dialogue, and, most important, talking about the possibility of resuming humanitarian aid.

    GWEN IFILL: You’re always ahead of the curve on these things, Margaret, but I want to ask you about one more thing, and that is Iran’s role in all of this. They always seem to be in the middle of every conflict.

    MARGARET WARNER: And they are indeed, Gwen.

    Do you know that it was this morning that the Iranians put out a little notice statement in which they predicted the Saudis were about to suspend their air campaign? This is hours before the Saudis did it. So they knew something everybody else didn’t know.

    Secondly — and I don’t know if we can say that they have been encouraging the Houthis to go to political dialogue. Certainly, the U.S. has been working the Saudis hard. I’m prepared and I could not confirm that there has been any kind of tacit or whatever communication here because, obviously, also, the U.S. is being very critical of Iran for moving ships in the area and are they moving weapons and so on.

    And, of course, this all gets tangled up with the Iranian nuclear talks. And part of reason the U.S. got sucked into this in the first place, if you look at the timing, March 26, this was just as they were neither a deal with Iran and they wanted to assure their Gulf partners that, no, no, the U.S. isn’t abandoning them.

    You can figure Iran is playing a major role here, both overtly and as a sort of, yes, motivation.

    GWEN IFILL: It is a tangled web, as always.

    MARGARET WARNER: As always.

    GWEN IFILL: Margaret Warner, thank you.

    MARGARET WARNER: Always a pleasure.

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    The landscape of the Everglades National Park, home to many endangered and rare plants, is seen from the air on March 16, 2015 in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The landscape of the Everglades National Park, home to many endangered and rare plants, is seen from the air on March 16, 2015 in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — With swampy wetlands and alligators as his backdrop, President Barack Obama will use a visit to Florida’s Everglades to warn of the damage that climate change is already inflicting on the nation’s environmental treasures — and to hammer political opponents he says are doing far too little about it.

    Obama’s trip to the Everglades on Wednesday, timed to coincide with Earth Day, marks an attempt to connect the dots between theoretical arguments about carbon emissions and real-life implications. With his climate change agenda under attack in Washington and courthouses across the U.S., Obama has sought this week to force Americans to envision a world in which cherished natural wonders fall victim to pollution.

    In Florida, rising sea levels have allowed salt water to seep inland, threatening drinking water for Floridians and the extraordinary native species and plants that call the Everglades home. Christy Goldfuss of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality said without stepped-up action, Joshua Tree National Park could soon be treeless and Glacier National Park devoid of glaciers.

    “Regardless of the political debate, there are decisions being made in communities in Florida and across this country to make changes to the way they live as a result of climate change,” Goldfuss said.

    Those political overtones were impossible to avoid.

    Gov. Rick Scott has attracted national attention over his resistance to acknowledging man-made causes of climate change head-on. “I’m not a scientist,” the Republican famously claimed when asked about climate predictions that show Florida to be one of the states most threatened by rising seas and stronger storms.

    Yet it was allegations by some former state employees that Scott’s administration banned them from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” that drew the strongest protest from the White House. Scott has denied any such policy, and on Tuesday he accused Obama of cutting millions in his budget for repair of an aging dike around Florida’s largest freshwater lake.

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest said denying the reality of climate change constituted failure of leadership and a grave disservice to future generations. He said Obama’s commitment to the Everglades measures up well compared to a governor who “has outlawed employees in the State of Florida from even uttering the word ‘climate change.'”

    “It’s a little rich for someone who has made that declaration that somehow the president has not been sufficiently committed to defending the Everglades from the causes of climate change,” Earnest said.

    Ahead of Obama’s visit, Scott sought to put the blame on Washington and Obama in particular for leaving the state on the hook for the Everglades’ repair, even though it’s Congress — not Obama — who controls the federal purse strings.

    “Our environment is too important to neglect and it’s time for the federal government to focus on real solutions and live up to their promises,” he said in a statement.

    It was unclear whether Scott would be on the tarmac Wednesday to greet the president upon his arrival, although the White House said they had extended the traditional invitation. While in Florida, Obama was to speak at Everglades National Park and to go on a tour — weather permitting.

    Unable to persuade Congress to act on climate, Obama has spent much of his second term pursuing executive actions to cut carbon greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and abroad. Yet even as Obama looks to his legacy, climate issues are shaping up to take on their own role in the burgeoning 2016 presidential campaign, in which two Florida Republicans — Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush — are either running or actively considering it.

    The vast wetlands of the Everglades fuel the region’s tourism economy and drinking water supply. Now roughly 1.4 million acres, the park comprises most of what’s left of a unique ecosystem that once stretched as far north as Orlando.

    Yet damage that started early in the 20th century, when people drained swamps to make room for homes and farms, has only grown more alarming as sea levels rise. Researchers fear by the time the water flow is fixed, the Everglades’ native species could be lost to invasive plants and animals.

    Florida and the federal government have partnered on a multibillion-dollar fix, but the effort has languished amid legal challenges and congressional inaction.

    Meanwhile, South Florida’s local officials say they’re already shouldering the burdens of rising sea levels. One Miami suburb frustrated by the state and federal governments’ inaction on climate has proposed — not entirely as a joke — that South Florida become its own state.

    Kay reported from Miami.

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    Add Tennessee and Kansas to the list of states that have been warned by the Obama administration that failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act could jeopardize special funding to pay hospitals and doctors for treating the poor.

    Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Kansas risk losing special federal funding to pay hospitals and doctors for treating the poor.

    Add Tennessee and Kansas to the list of states that have been warned by the Obama administration that failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act could jeopardize special funding to pay hospitals and doctors for treating the poor.

    The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services confirmed Tuesday that it gave officials in those states the same message delivered to Texas and Florida about the risk to funding for so-called “uncompensated care pools” — Medicaid money that helps pay the cost of care for the uninsured.

    The letter to Florida officials last week drew the ire of Republican Gov. Rick Scott who said the federal government should not link the $1.3 billion in uncompensated care funding with the state’s decision not to expand Medicaid. He has threatened a lawsuit against the Obama administration if it cuts off the funding, which is set to expire June 30.

    The Texas funding is scheduled to end in September 2016. Officials there have also expressed indignation at what they perceive to be coercive pressure and talked about joining Scott’s lawsuit.

    Kansas Medicaid officials said they received about $45 million this year in federal funding for their state uncompensated care program, which began in 2013 and is slated to continue through 2017.

    Tennessee Medicaid spokewoman Kelly Gunderson said her state gets over $750 million in federal funding to cover uncompensated care.

    The first message was delivered in an April 14 letter from Vikki Wachino, acting director of the Center For Medicaid and CHIP Services, to Florida Medicaid officials. She said that expanding Medicaid coverage is a better way to help residents get access to health care than an “overreliance on supplemental payments” to providers through a program called the Low Income Pool, or LIP.

    “Medicaid expansion would reduce uncompensated care in the state, and therefore have an impact on the [Low-Income Pool], which is why the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June,” she wrote.

    CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said Tuesday the Obama administration wants to apply similar principles to all the states that receive such funding, whether or not they expanded Medicaid.

    “We’ve been in contact with those states that have uncompensated care pools and reiterated that we look forward to an ongoing dialogue to develop a solution that works for patients, hospitals and the taxpayer,” he said. “We told states that our letter to Florida articulates key principles CMS will use in considering proposals regarding uncompensated care pool programs in their states, but that discussions with each state will also take into account state-specific circumstances.”

    CMS officials confirmed they have also reached out to states that expanded Medicaid about the future criteria for the funding, including California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Hawaii and New Mexico.

    Each state has negotiated its own program with the federal government to pay providers for treating the uninsured. But the programs differ in scope, funding and length of time remaining.

    Judy Solomon of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the special federal funding that some states negotiated for uncompensated care was never supposed to last indefinitely. The need for the funding changed dramatically as millions of people gained health coverage under the health law, she said.

    “These demonstration programs are at the discretion of the Secretary of HHS and there is no entitlement to any state or providers to continue these funding arrangements when they expire,” Solomon said, adding, “The need for uncompensated care funding is changing dramatically.”

    Arizona Medicaid spokeswoman Monica Higuera Coury said her state, which did expand Medicaid, was also told that the special funding would begin to be phased out this year. Arizona receives a maximum $137 million a year to offset uncompensated care costs at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “We are looking forward to working with …CMS to put a transition plan together that moves us away from total reliance on the [funding] while still protecting this very important safety net for our children,” she said.

    Some experts were surprised the Obama administration linked Medicaid expansion to the special funding because of the potential legal issues.

    “No one would be shocked to hear that states don’t need the money because uncompensated care has dropped … but saying you are taking away this money because you are not expanding is trickier,” said Charlene Frizzera, a senior advisor at consulting firm Leavitt Partners. “People are shocked that CMS has done that.”

    But Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center For Children and Families, said the administration was simply acting as a steward of taxpayer money.

    “I wouldn’t call it hardball, but rather responsible policy and fiscal oversight to ensure that federal tax dollars are spent in the most effective way,” she said. “When coverage is available to reduce the number of uninsured people … and states refuse those funds, why should the federal government provide them with unauthorized funding to put a Band-Aid on it?”

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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    Forty-three dinosaur egg fossils were excavated in Heyuan, China, on Monday afternoon. Video by CCTV.

    The city of Heyuan in the Guandong province of China is considered the “Home of Dinosaurs.” Since 1996, nearly 17,000 dinosaur eggs have been discovered beneath the city’s mountain terrain. On Sunday, that number grew when construction workers unearthed, by happenstance, 43 fossilized dinosaur eggs.

    It’s too soon to tell which species of dinosaur these eggs belong to. The largest was 5 inches in diameter, and 19 were fully intact. According to The Verge, previously found eggs were 65 to 89 million years old.

    The Heyuan Museum holds the city’s collection of dinosaur eggs, 11 fossilized skeletons and almost 200 footprint fossils. But museum deputy director Huang Zhiqing told CNN that this was the first time fossils were unearthed in the city center.

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  • 04/22/15--09:16: Media Asset Manager
  • PBS NewsHour is seeking an experienced and enthusiastic individual responsible for the management of digital media news assets for PBS NewsHour. Primary responsibilities include participating in newsroom planning meetings, creating metadata records and datasets on video footage, monitoring daily news footage needs of newsroom, and coordinating with staff producers and editors over the development and maintenance of frequently used clips, shots and elements. College degree and a minimum of three to five (3-5) years experience working in a similar role in a newsroom environment, television preferred. Experience with Avid, Final Cut and Adobe Creative Suite functionality highly preferred. Experience in library services or video journalism is a plus.

    Send your cover letter, resume and salary requirements to hr@weta.org or visit our website at www.weta.org for the full job description and on-line application. To confirm that a WETA or PBS NewsHour job posting is under recruitment, please visit our websites for our current job postings list: www.weta.org and www.pbs.org/newshour/.

    WETA is an Equal Opportunity Employer D/M/F/V.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on clean energy after a tour of a solar power array at Hill Air Force Base, Utah April 3, 2015. Photo by  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    As a senator and presidential candidate, President Barack Obama referred to 1915 mass killings in Armenia as “genocide,” but since taking office has never used the description. Photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to fulfill a campaign promise and use the politically fraught term on the 100th anniversary of the killings this week. Officials decided against it after opposition from some at the State Department and the Pentagon.

    After more than a week of internal debate, top administration officials discussed the final decision with Armenian-American leaders Tuesday before making it public.

    “The president and other senior administration officials have repeatedly acknowledged the historical fact that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred and marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday. “As we have said in previous years, a full frank and just acknowledgment of the facts is in all of our interests, including Turkey’s, Armenia’s and America’s.”

    As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama did describe the killings of Armenians as “genocide” and said the U.S. government had a responsibility to recognize them as such. As a candidate in January 2008, Obama pledged to recognize the genocide and at least one of his campaign surrogates — the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power — recorded a nearly five-minute video at the time imploring Armenian-Americans to vote for Obama precisely because he would keep his word on the issue.

    Obama has never used that description since taking office, mainly out of deference to Turkey, a key U.S. partner and NATO ally, which is fiercely opposed to the “genocide” label.

    But Obama has never used that description since taking office, mainly out of deference to Turkey, a key U.S. partner and NATO ally, which is fiercely opposed to the “genocide” label.

    Tuesday’s announcement, accompanied by word that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will attend a ceremony in Armenia on Friday to mark the anniversary, was made shortly after Secretary of State John Kerry met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington.

    In brief comments to reporters at the State Department, neither Kerry nor Cavusoglu mentioned Armenia or the upcoming April 24 anniversary.

    The White House later said National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with Cavusoglu and encouraged him to take “concrete steps to improve relations with Armenia and to facilitate an open and frank dialogue in Turkey about the 1915 atrocities.”

    Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide. Turkey, however, denies the deaths constituted genocide and says the death toll has been inflated.

    Several U.S. officials said there had been a sharp internal debate over whether to use the 100-year anniversary to call the killings “genocide” and make good on the president’s campaign promise, particularly after Pope Francis used the term earlier this month. That comment by the pope prompted an angry response from Turkey, which recalled its ambassador to the Vatican over the matter. Several European governments and parliaments are also expected to use the word in discussions of the events 100 years ago.

    Some at the State Department, particularly those who deal directly with Turkey and its neighbors in the Middle East, as well as at the Pentagon, argued against using the word, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

    Historians estimate up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks, an event widely viewed by scholars as genocide.

    They said the damage it would cause to U.S.-Turkey relations at a critical time, notably when Washington needs Ankara’s help in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, would far outweigh the immediate benefits. The safety of U.S. diplomats and troops in Turkey was also a consideration, the officials said.

    On the other side, officials at the White House and State Department who deal more directly with human rights issues, including Power, wanted the president to use the word “genocide,” the officials said. Asked if there was an internal rift on the issue, one senior official involved in the discussion said simply “yes.”

    That official noted that alienating the Turks at this point in Obama’s presidency would mean accepting that the U.S. investment in good relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had failed. That relationship has been fraught with difficulty in recent years over human rights concerns, among other issues.

    Schultz, questioned by reporters about the decision aboard Air Force One Wednesday on a trip to Florida, said Turkey plays an important role “in frankly acknowledging the facts of 1915,” as well as in helping confront current atrocities in Iraq and Syria. He said the U.S. will continue to encourage Turkey to foster a constructive relationship with Armenia.

    “I know there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year. We understand their perspective, even if we believe that the approach we’ve taken in previous years remains the right one,” Schultz said.

    Negative reaction to the announcement was intense from both the Armenian-American community and members of Congress who have championed the Armenian cause.

    Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said he was “deeply disappointed” by the president’s decision.

    “The United States has long prided itself for being a beacon of human rights, for speaking out against atrocity, for confronting painful chapters of its own past and that of others,” said Schiff. “This cannot be squared with a policy of complicity in genocide denial by the president or Congress.”

    The head of one of the Armenian-American groups briefed on the decision by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes went further.

    “President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace,” said Ken Hachikian, the chairman of the Armenian National Council of America. “It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust.”

    The post Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings ‘genocide’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 6, 2011. The IRS would have to suspend tax audits, the Small Business Administration's processing of loan applications would be halted and National Parks would close if the federal government is forced into a partial shutdown because of the budget impasse in Congress. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands in Washington, D.C. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The IRS’ overloaded phone system hung up on more than 8 million taxpayers this filing season as the agency cut millions of dollars from taxpayer services to help pay to enforce President Barack Obama’s health law.

    For those who weren’t disconnected, only 40 percent actually got through to a person. And many of those people had to wait on hold for more than 30 minutes, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Wednesday.

    The number of disconnected callers spiked just as taxpayers were being hit with new requirements under the health law. Last year, the phone system dropped 360,000 calls, Koskinen said.

    For the first time, taxpayers had to report whether they had health insurance last year on their tax returns. Those who received government subsidies had to respond whether they received the correct amount. People without insurance faced fines, collected by the IRS, if they did not qualify for an exemption.

    A new staff report by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee criticized the agency’s spending priorities. The report said the IRS diverted $134 million in user fees that had been spent on customer service last year to other areas this year.

    “It looks to me like you’re purposely harming taxpayers,” Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota told Koskinen at a hearing Wednesday.

    Koskinen said the user fees were spent on computer upgrades to implement the health law as well as a new law requiring foreign banks to report information about U.S. account holders.

    He said budget cuts approved by Congress left him no choice. The agency’s budget has been cut by $1.2 billion since 2010. It now stands at $10.9 billion.

    “Customer service, both on the phone and in person has been far worse than anyone would want,” Koskinen told the Ways and Means oversight subcommittee. “It’s simply a matter of not having enough people to answer the phones and provide service at our walk-in sites as a result of cuts to our budget.”

    Republicans in Congress adamantly oppose Obama’s health law, so some have been working to starve the IRS of funds just as its role in implementing the law ramps up.

    “It’s simply a matter of not having enough people to answer the phones and provide service at our walk-in sites as a result of cuts to our budget.”

    It won’t work, Koskinen said. The IRS is required by law to help implement the health program and the foreign reporting law, leaving the agency with few other places to cut. He said the agency requested a total of $600 million over the past two years for computer upgrades to deal with the new laws.

    “In both years the Congress gave us zero dollars so we had no choice but to look elsewhere,” Koskinen said. “We funded the statute that we are required to implement.”

    The IRS has spent more than $1.2 billion implementing the health law. This year, the agency is scheduled to spend an additional $533 million, said the Ways and Means report.

    Each year, millions of Americans call the IRS with questions about filling out their tax returns. Last year, 39.9 million people called.

    When too many people call at once, the IRS system hangs up on callers at the beginning of their calls, rather than have them wait on hold for an hour or more. The agency refers to these hang-ups as “courtesy disconnects,” according to the Ways and Means report.

    Koskinen warned at the beginning of the year that phone service would suffer this year because of budget cuts. He said the agency, which has around 90,000 employees, is down 13,000 workers since 2010.

    Republicans in Congress have also been at odds with the IRS since 2013, when agency officials acknowledged that agents had inappropriately singled out conservative political groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status.

    The controversy has sparked investigations by the Justice Department and several committees in Congress.

    “As a result of the IRS’ blatant misconduct, Congress significantly reduced the agency’s budget,” said the report by Ways and Means Republicans.

    But Rep Peter Roskam, R-Ill., said Congress did not cut funding for taxpayer services. He said that decision was made by the agency.

    “The amount of money Congress appropriated to the IRS for taxpayer assistance was the same this year as last year, but the level of service has decreased drastically,” said Roskam, who chairs the oversight subcommittee. “So what happened? The IRS made the decision to move money away from taxpayer assistance.”

    Roskam and other Republicans complained that the IRS spent $60 million on employee bonuses last year while it was cutting customer service. The IRS also allows employees to spend nearly 500,000 hours a year working on union activities while being paid by the agency, he said.

    Koskinen defended paying performance bonuses, saying they improve productivity. He said federal law requires the IRS to allow workers to engage in union activities while getting paid.

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    bourbon

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For some time now, bourbon has been back with a boom. Domestic whiskey sales are up 40 percent in the past five years. Some high-end brands, like one called Pappy Van Winkle, can fetch big money, up to $1,000 or $2,000 a bottle or more, depending on its age.

    And as prices rose, there was also a bourbon heist in Kentucky that authorities have been trying to solve that has now attracted national attention.

    Yesterday, a big crack in the case.

    Jeffrey Brown explains.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Call it the case of the missing cases. It goes back at least to 2008 and included a 2013 high-profile theft of some 200 bottles of the much-valued Pappy Van Winkle from a locked and supposedly secure distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Those bottles had an estimated retail value of $25,000.

    Yesterday, authorities said it was an inside job, part of an organized crime ring, and indicted nine people for stealing more than $100,000 worth of whiskey overall.

    Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton has been pursuing this case and joins us now from Louisville.

    So, Sheriff Melton, an inside job. How do you steal so much bourbon for so long?

    PAT MELTON, Sheriff, Franklin County: Well, obviously, Toby Curtsinger as a senior employee of Buffalo Trace distillery. Sean — Searcy was a senior employee of Wild Turkey distillery. They both had the access to where the bourbon is stored and both worked on loading docks and in transporting moving the bourbon.

    So it was actually — you know, you trust your employees. And they had the opportunity to do it. And I think it was a continued pattern of behavior. That’s why we invited them for working with our commonwealth attorney’s office, Larry Cleveland and Zach Becker. We indicted them for engaging in organized crime.

    JEFFREY BROWN: This is high-end bourbon, as we said. Explain for our non-bourbon connoisseurs, what makes it so valuable?

    PAT MELTON: You know, Pappy has instilled the hearts and minds of America. And it’s just — it’s a high-end bourbon. People go crazy about it.

    This week, they have been releasing some of the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. And some stores may have one, two, three, or four, or five bottles, and you may have 200 or 300 or 400 people waiting for a chance to get one bottle of it. And it’s the Pappy Van Winkle. It’s a family recipe and it’s just — it’s highly sought after. I had no idea it was that highly sought after bourbon.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You had no idea yourself?

    PAT MELTON: No, no, absolutely not.

    I don’t even have a bottle myself. So, I would love to one. But, yes, it has really captured this story back two years ago. I never would have dreamt in a million years that it would have been as big as it is and gain all the national attention it’s gotten.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so do you know what the thieves did with it, who they sold it to, and how much in the end were you able to recover?

    PAT MELTON: Well, we recovered approximately $100,000 worth of bourbon, either from either Wild Turkey and/or Buffalo Trace.

    We have actually got 25 bottles in our evidence room right now of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. And then we have also got 18 barrels of bourbon as well, one of those an $11,000 barrel of Eagle Rare 17-year-old bourbon. We have got the contents from another barrel of 17-year-old Eagle Rare bourbon.

    And then we have got 16 other barrels. We’re still looking for several barrels and there are still nine barrels of the Eagle Rare bourbon missing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And this was described as an organized syndicate, involved not only bourbon, but I read anabolic steroids. I also gather that there was some connection to a softball league or something, some of these people were connected, that allowed you to break the case?

    PAT MELTON: Yes, that’s how the enterprise went.

    Toby Curtsinger was the ringleader of this group. And we had two different sides. We had a steroid side and then you had a bourbon side, where it went. And then by working with those and working with that — with this case, we started — when this case first started, we recovered five barrels of bourbon, which is a lot.

    It’s 48 gallons each barrel. And they are about $3,600 to $6,000 each on the value of those. We wound up with over 18 barrels, contents of a 19th one. And we’re still recovering barrels. As a result of the release yesterday and today, we have got calls today and we anticipate recovering even more stolen bourbon.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sheriff Pat Melton of Franklin County, Kentucky, thanks so much.

    PAT MELTON: Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

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    studentreportinglab

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This month we have been bring you stories from high school students around the country reporting on how the concept of school safety is evolving.

    Tonight, we travel to the town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where a potential attack by students was foiled one year ago.

    As part of our ongoing Student Reporting Labs series called The New Safe, student television network correspondent Nick Weiss investigates what inspired a handful of brave students to take action.

    NICOLE MALINOSKI, Principal, Cedar Crest High School: You know, the first thing I do when I wake up every morning is think about the safety and security of all students here. It’s actually even before education, just because of school safety, how it’s been in the media and, unfortunately, you know, things that have happened over the last number of years.

    I was actually out of the building the day that this occurred and I received a text message from Ms. May, who’s an assistant principal here. She asked me if I could call ASAP. She had something very important to discuss with me.

    NICK WEISS, Correspondent, Student Reporting Labs: What Ms. May was calling about was a threat made by two students in March of 2014 to walk through these halls gunning down students.

    NICOLE MALINOSKI: I have to thank and applaud the students who came forward and shared that information with Ms. May, because, if it wasn’t for them, who knows what would’ve happened here.

    MATTHEW GARRETT, Cedar Crest High School student: I mean, I knew it was a threat, and I knew that if I didn’t do something and if like my fellow students didn’t do something, it could’ve been a pretty big tragedy.

    I sat at the one kid’s lunch table. At first, it was kind of like –he would kind of like bring it up every now and again, but like it wasn’t a recurring thing. Then it escalated pretty quickly, and things were said and items were shown, that just I knew it was a serious threat.

    A couple weeks later, he started bring this, like, school shooting thing up and he would joke about it a little bit, and I was like, oh, whatever. I mean, I just let him go. And then, like a month or two, it kind of like disappeared and, like, it didn’t come up. Then, he came with a map and was like, yo, guys, look at this, this is what I’m going to do. And I was like, dude, that’s — that’s too far.

    NICOLE MALINOSKI: A lot of students looked at that as just a joke. The weekend prior to us receiving this information, there was an incident that happened outside of school that prompted some students to put two and two together, and made them think that this might really happen. That incident made it real for a lot of individuals that, yes, it could happen here.

    NICK WEISS: After Matt and a few other students reported the threat to Ms. May, an investigation took place that led to the arrest of the two potential shooters. It was after this incident that the seriousness of the situation was revealed to the public, causing the spread of various rumors.

    MATTHEW GARRETT: I heard everything from, like, they had guns already in the school, to he actually shot somebody, and just some really wacky ones.

    NICK WEISS: The students and parents of Cedar Crest put the responsibility of safety on district police officers Kristen Houck and Justin Schlottman, but, as Matt has shown, a gun and a badge aren’t always the first lines of defense.

    JUSTIN SCHLOTTMAN, Police Officer, Cornwall-Lebanon School District: I feel they did the right thing. They took some concern for the lives of their fellow students. There’s no perfect scenario. If nothing was said, what — you know, you can sit there and go through your mind what could’ve happened, what would’ve happened.

    We reacted accordingly and made sure all the students were safe. You do your best to prepare for it. Having a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach is more beneficial. It’s almost like the school’s your community, and I’m only one person. I only have one set of eyes, and we can’t be everywhere all the time.

    But you — the students, they’re all over the place. Those are extra sets of eyes. Those are extra people in your community that are able to see what’s happening. You know, some people might be afraid to say stuff. And it happens out on the street. It’s not a bother. I would rather investigate something and find out it’s false, rather than it be, you know, somebody not say something, something terrible happen here, and that person has the guilt of, oh, I could’ve said something, but I chose not to.

    It’s a form of community policing, and it’s not snitching. It’s doing the right thing.

    MATTHEW GARRETT: Everyone needs to pitch in to keep everyone else safe. It just goes to show that, like, one comment can just ruin your life. And I feel like it wasn’t blown out of proportion, because a lot of people make threats. You got to address them, because sometimes they will actually turn out to be a real incident. And then you’re the one that just shrugged off a threat, and let it happen, and you have to live with that then for the rest of your life.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Because Matt Garrett stepped forward and blew the whistle, the students that planned the attack were later tried and convicted of criminal attempt and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and terroristic threats.

    For more reports like this, please visit PBSNewsHour.org/thenewsafe.

     

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: the newest addition to the NewsHour bookshelf, women in war.

    They were an elite band of sister soldiers deployed on insurgent-targeting night raids with one of the toughest special operations units in Afghanistan, the Army Rangers. Their story is recounted in “Ashley’s War,” a new book by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

    Margaret Warner recently talked with Lemmon at Busboys and Poets, a bookstore in the Washington area.

    MARGARET WARNER: Gayle Lemmon, welcome.

    You profile some remarkable women in this book, but first explain what the theory was behind creating these all-female teams that went out on some of the riskiest missions in the Afghan war.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, Author, “Ashley’s War”: They were the cultural support teams, which were created to fill a security breach, which is that American soldiers could not go into quarters that were inhabited by women. Right?

    So, to have a sense of what was happening in the women’s rooms and among women and children, you really needed female soldiers. And so, in 2010, Admiral Olson, who was then the head of Special Operations Command, had this idea. A little bit later, Admiral McRaven, then running Joint Special Operations Command, actually says, we need these female out there with the Ranger regiment and the other special operations teams.

    And by the start of 2011, there was a recruiting poster that said, female soldiers, be part of history. You know, come support special operations on the battlefield.

    MARGARET WARNER: Part of the theory, too, was that the women knew a lot, if anyone would ever talk to them.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: That’s right.

    Basically, the idea was that half of the population was out of reach and that you needed female soldiers to have access to that half of the population. General McChrystal and others would talk about, they did not want to cause offense to Afghan men by having American forces talk to their women.

    And really they knew that if you were going to get information from the Afghan women, it had to be through American women who were on the ground getting it. And so that’s why these teams were formed.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, this was still at a time in which Defense Department regulations barred women from serving in what they called combat units. How did they get around that?

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, it was perfectly legal to attach women to special operations units, even if they couldn’t officially belong to them. And so that is what they were. They were enablers who were attached to special operations teams.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, what kind of women were attracted to this?

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: What has been so fascinating is that they’re so different. Right?

    You had a West Point track star. You had a former FBI interrogator who had served in Bosnia. You had another West Pointer who had played football all four years of high school. You had this whole variety of people. And what they had in common was, A, an intense athleticism, B, a really hidden sometimes, and sometimes at the forefront, intensity about them.

    MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: And, third, this real desire to serve something larger than themselves and to be as close to the heart of what was happening in the Afghan war, where they could make a difference, as they possibly could.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, the title, you called this “Ashley’s War” for Ashley White, a 1st lieutenant, the first woman team member who was killed in action.

    How did she epitomize the qualities that you’re saying a lot of these women shared?

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: She really was, as people told me in interview after interview, the best of us, right?  That was how they would describe her.

    And I think that is why she meant so much to them. She was this sort of quiet soldier who wouldn’t talk to you about anything she was capable of, but would then get up and climb the rope in full kit and come back down once or twice and sort of then look down on the ground and kind of shuffle away and apologize for only having used her arms when she did it, right, because she hadn’t done it the way they had explained.

    She was just the kind of person who made people want to be better because they feel selfless, they were quiet, they were kind, and they were fierce. And I don’t think we see that kind of hero among us very often.

    MARGARET WARNER: Now, the physical demands, making the cut wasn’t easy, just physically.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Right.

    They called the assessment and selection 100 hours of hell. And it was really a physical test, but it was also a mental test. Can you get through this and can you still remain part of a team?  Because they were all in the tent together and they were all part of a team?

    And so I think, for them, you know, it was something they had always wanted to do. Right?  So many of these soldiers had hungered to be part of a team like that and they had never had the opportunity before, which made it even more important and really probably the best thing they had ever done in their careers and for some in their lives.

    MARGARET WARNER: It struck me when they got in the field, and they were broken up — you’re with unit A, you’re with unit B — that there was a kind of social isolation for them. They weren’t really part of the special ops teams, so after hours, what was that like?

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Well, some special ops teams really did embrace them, and so they would watch bad TV together or listen to music together, right?

    But most of the time, they were with one or another in the gym, watching movies or working out. Right?  That was sort of the only options, and then you go to war. But the thing that was so interesting is their officer in charge really worked hard to keep them all together. They would have weekly e-mails. They would have video conferences. They would really share what they were learning out there because, it’s true, there were maybe two of them at any one base. Right?

    There weren’t 25 or 30 to go and share stories with, absolutely.

    MARGARET WARNER: How well were they accepted by their male — they were not counterparts — the special ops troops, and the commanders?

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: I would say, first of all, this is year nine or 10 in one of America’s longest wars. Right?

    So, by the time that they arrived, people had never been ready to see women go out on missions, but they had had all kinds of other capabilities come. And so a lot of them said, listen, we may not want women to be Rangers, but if you can come out here and prove yourself every night, we will be glad to have you.

    What they had to do was to prove that they could deliver every single night. And I think every single one of them felt that pressure to perform, and to perform at the top of their capabilities.

    MARGARET WARNER: So they did get information that was incredibly valuable to save lives

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

    One soldier one time had a woman say, you’re actually looking for the guy who is over there. And it was accurate. Another soldier had a daughter of one of the people involved in the situation tell her that there are IEDs not too far from where they’re standing. Right?

    All of this actually does make a difference.

    MARGARET WARNER: They didn’t want to leave their CST unit or the excitement of what they were doing.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: You know, when I first began this project, you could see what an adjustment it was.

    They had gone from a job they loved. I mean, they would have done that job day in, day out, year in, year out, for as long as they could have, because they loved the men that they were working with. They had immense respect for what they did every single night, the sort of very hard-charging, ground-pounding elite fighters, Ranger regiment and other special operations teams.

    They appreciated the fact that those guys had given them a shot, right?  And they felt like that mission mattered, that they could save lives, they could help Afghan women and children stay away from everything else that was happening at a very difficult moment. They could be the softer side of the hardest side of war.

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, Gayle Lemmon, a really interesting book. Thank you so much.

    GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON: Thank you.

     

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Next to Nicaragua and a massive project to connect the hemispheres with another canal that’s stirring up controversy.

    Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: They came by the busload. They piled into cattle trucks. They came by horse and mule from miles around for a rally that likely tripled the population of the dusty little town of Los Chiles.

    At stake was Nicaragua’s sovereignty, they chanted, sold to the Chinese. The object of their protest is a shipping canal to be built by a Chinese company. As described in this video dubbed from Chinese into Spanish for Nicaraguans, it would stretch 170 miles across the country to connect its Pacific coast to the Caribbean and thus the Atlantic.

    It’s not a new idea. The Americans once considered it. This map from 1870 shows a proposed route for a shipping shortcut between the Earth’s hemispheres. In the end, the U.S. Congress opted to build in Panama.

    Nicaragua’s waterway will dwarf the Panama Canal, three times as long and twice as deep. Cost estimates range from $50 billion to $100 billion.

    BILL WILD, HKND Group: It is by far the largest earth-moving project ever attempted in the world.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The project’s chief engineer is Bill Wild, an Australian veteran of many big builds, but nothing approaching this one.

    BILL WILD: There will be two large port facilities, one at either end of the project, hydroelectric schemes, and a number of other parts of the project. So, overall, it’s an incredibly exciting and large and challenging engineering project.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Protesters have a very different view. They fear the canal will confiscate land and livelihoods here. A new law gives the project eminent domain over land and waterways anywhere in Nicaragua.

    Yader Sequeira farms this small plot of land with his grandfather.

    YADER SEQUEIRA, Farmer (through interpreter): This is the place I was born, where I was raised. And I hope, with God’s help, we won’t have to leave, because we don’t have anywhere else to go.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Protesters like Danilo Lorio say they have been harassed, or worse, at other rallies.

    DANILO LORIO (through translator): We have been censored, threatened, not only our human rights and political rights violated. Also, many of us have been jailed and have legal hassles.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Human rights groups have also alleged violence and intimidation. And environmental groups have sounded the alarm. They say the canal would imperil wetlands, wildlife and, critically, Lake Nicaragua, the region’s largest source of freshwater.

    Victor Campos is with the Humboldt Center.

    VICTOR CAMPOS, Humboldt Center (through translator): The sedimentation that is going to result from it is going to change the chemistry of the water, which will have a major impact. You will have 500 million cubic meters of material extracted.

    MAN (through translator): We cannot stay in the minority. We have to become a majority to fight Daniel Ortega every day with nonviolent means.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Although protests and opposition have grown in recent months, surveys still show a majority of Nicaraguans support the canal, which has been championed by the country’s president, Daniel Ortega. He sees it as this country’s ticket out of poverty.

    Nicaragua’s six million people are about the poorest in the hemisphere. Only Haitians are worse off. And Telemaco Talavera, who heads the canal project for the government, says that will soon change, with tens of thousands of construction and permanent jobs.

    TELEMACO TALAVERA, Nicaragua Canal Commission (through translator): It’s going to generate direct and indirect employment and it’s going to double the gross national product. It’s also going to attract other kinds of foreign investments in agro industries, animal husbandry and artisanal products, all contributing to an integral concept of national development.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As for environmental issues, he insists the canal will actually slow global warming by allowing more efficient shipping. And locally, he says, remove poverty, and you remove much of the real threat, deforestation by poor people, mostly for cooking fuel.

    TELEMACO TALAVERA (through translator): So the net environmental impact of this project will be an improvement.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Have you ever had to manage the water balance of a body of freshwater that large?

    BILL WILD: Industry manages those sorts of things all the time. I have no doubt that you can manage the loss of water and quantify the loss of water through a lock system.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: And the salinity?

    BILL WILD: The salinity, there are a number of methodologies for managing salinity.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Proven?

    BILL WILD: Proven, yes.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: As for people being displaced, he says, the company will go beyond just relocating them to new land and homes.

    BILL WILD: We are committed to providing equivalent or better livelihood for everyone we displace, and that’s an absolute commitment.

    ANDREAS SEQUEIRA, Farmer (through translator): I don’t believe much of that, don’t believe it.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Farmer Andreas Sequeira says he was displaced during the civil war in the ’80s. The land he was given back was a fraction of what he had, he says.

    ANDREAS SEQUEIRA (through translator): They confiscated our land before, and, later, they said they would give us our land back. But they never did.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Critics allege the deal, a no-bid contract, was rammed through a rubber-stamp parliament and courts by President Ortega, the one-time communist rebel, now firmly allied with big business, they allege.

    And critics note that foreign investors keep much of the profits for several decades, and the developers aren’t liable for environmental damages or even if the canal is never built, which some say is likely.

    Professor Maria Lopez Vigil calls the whole thing a ploy to create real estate speculation.

    MARIA LOPEZ VIGIL, Central American University (through translator): There has not been one study on feasibility in terms of environment, financing, actual profits. They are going to expropriate thousands of properties from campesinos under the banner of tourism.

    BILL WILD: Chairman Wang has put together a very strong team. I mean, we have McKinsey doing the feasibility, the technical feasibility studies. And ERM is doing the environmental assessment, the ESHA.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Bill Wild insists these studies by reputable global consultants have shown the canal is feasible, though his company has yet to fully disclose the details of its environmental reports.

    And despite a groundbreaking ceremony shown last December on Nicaraguan TV, in which Chairman Wang Jing appeared alongside the president’s son, Wang has not revealed where he will get the private capital needed to build the canal. He has said it will be built by 2019.

    There may or may not be a deficit in funding, but few argue there is one of trust.

    I’m Fred de Sam Lazaro for the PBS NewsHour in Los Chiles, Nicaragua.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Fred’s reporting is a partnership with the Under-Told Stories Project at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

    The post Mega canal project threatens to uproot Nicaragua’s farmers, imperil wetlands appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    SHAKY GROUND  monitor fracking

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For several years now, there’s been a sharp increase in the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma. And many observers have said the rise in oil and gas drilling is responsible for much of it.

    Throughout the energy boom, Oklahoma’s state government has not bought into that answer, until now.

    Gwen looks at what’s known, and what’s changing, in the state.

    GWEN IFILL: These are often smaller earthquakes, registering a magnitude of three or higher. But, on YouTube, you can see their impact, as residents capture the moments when the quakes hit, at a warehouse in Prague, Oklahoma, or a college campus bar in Norman, even at home watching television.

    This new map shows just how frequently they hit in Oklahoma, 585 last year, compared with 109 in 2013. Before 2008, there were just two a year.

    Yesterday, state officials acknowledged the quakes are likely caused by disposal of wastewater that’s a byproduct from oil drilling and sometimes fracking. Nationwide, more than 100,000 such wells are in operation.

    Joe Wertz has been reporting on this for StateImpact Oklahoma, a project of NPR member stations.

    Joe, the government of Oklahoma, and in particular the Oklahoma Geological Service, they have not always admitted that there’s a connection between these wells and these earthquakes.

    JOE WERTZ, StateImpact Oklahoma: Yes, that’s right.

    So, you know, why federal and university seismologists and scientists have been more definitive on the link to oil and gas activities and these earthquakes, the state — state agencies, state officials have been less decisive and have, you know, up until pretty recently, spoken a lot more about natural earthquakes and talked about natural causes for these earthquakes.

    GWEN IFILL: This is not limited to Oklahoma, though. There are other states affected by this, right?

    JOE WERTZ: That’s right.

    There’s lots of states that are getting these so-called induced earthquakes, Oklahoma certainly, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Ohio. A lot of states have had these earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity, Oklahoma among the most. And that’s sort of where the researchers are focusing all of their study on, on finding out what’s going on in Oklahoma and applying that sort of to other states.

    GWEN IFILL: We saw some pictures just now of some of the shaking and the damage, but describe the scale of these earthquakes. When we think about earthquakes back East here, we think of big — a lot of wide-scale destruction and collapse. Is that what we’re seeing here?

    JOE WERTZ: No.

    It’s important to note that most of these quakes are relatively small. Most, you don’t even feel. So you were talking about magnitude-3.0 earthquakes earlier in the — coming up to this. And that’s really the threshold at which most people can feel it. So, prior to 2013, we averaged less than two of those a year. In 2013, we were getting two of those a week.

    Now we’re averaging about two of those every single day. So they are relatively small, but people can feel them. Now, in 2011, we did get a 5.6, 5.7 that some scientists have linked to oil and gas activity, and that did cause damage. That injured two people, damaged a lot of homes and businesses, toppled a tower at a nearby university.

    So while there’s not the sort of widespread destruction you might see in a plate, you know, tectonic-style that would see in California, people are noticing cracks in their homes and cracks in their walls and foundations and have experienced some damage.

    GWEN IFILL: Has there been a lot more of this type of drilling that has caused this? Is that what we’re seeing now, that this has been a new technology which has brought on this damage?

    JOE WERTZ: So, disposal wells have been around a long time. And they’re really integral to the oil and gas production process.

    In Oklahoma, you get a lot of water when you drill for oil and gas. It just comes up with the oil and gas. And if you’re an oil and gas company, you don’t want oil — or you don’t want that water. You want the oil and gas. You have got to do something with that water.

    And you inject it deep underground in these wells to keep it out of the drinking water. You don’t want it getting out near the surface. So, the safest place to put it, historically, has been deep underground in these wells. So the technology for a disposal well is nothing new.

    Now, there’s been a big boom, drilling boom in Oklahoma in recent years, lots of oil and gas activity, so you do see a big spike in water production, along with the oil and gas production.

    GWEN IFILL: And let’s be clear. This isn’t necessarily caused — in fact, mostly caused by hydraulic fracturing, which is the fracking debate we have been having.

    JOE WERTZ: Yes, that’s right.

    The fracking, combined with horizontal drilling, is certainly something that’s been relatively new to the oil and gas industry, at least in widespread use. But, no, scientists say most of the earthquakes in Oklahoma, this big surge of earthquakes that we have seen, is really tied to wastewater injection.

    And while you do get some of this wastewater when you frack and use water and fluid in the fracking process, it’s still a relatively small portion of the total wastewater that has to be disposed of in Oklahoma. It’s pretty small.

    So, it’s a part of the equation, but a relatively small one.

    GWEN IFILL: So, assuming that we have agreed on what the cause is, do the oil and gas industry, does the governor, does anybody agree on what the solution is? Can you just cap these wells?

    JOE WERTZ: No, nobody agrees on what the solution should be. You can’t really just cap the wells. I mean, you could cap the wells. Technologically, that’s not difficult to do.

    There’s a couple of questions. One, the oil and gas industry doesn’t want a moratorium on these disposal wells. They’re really key to producing oil and gas. Seems unlikely that regulators or lawmakers here would impose any sort of widespread ban on disposal wells.

    The question is, what — are there wells, a certain type of well, a certain area that might be riskier? And that’s really what regulators are trying to hone in on. And they’re hoping that scientists will give them some more details on that. And so that’s where they hope the science will head, is to give them more direction on maybe there are certain wells that are riskier, and they could focus their regulatory efforts on a smaller number of wells.

    GWEN IFILL: Joe Wertz of NPR’s StateImpact Oklahoma, thank you so much.

    JOE WERTZ: Thank you so much.

    The post Oklahoma links earthquakes to oil and gas industry wastewater appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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