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- 04/24/15--12:18: _Researchers cut dow...
- 04/24/15--13:09: _Associate Productio...
- 04/24/15--13:24: _Carnegie Mellon wag...
- 04/24/15--15:04: _Two nuclear launch ...
- 04/24/15--15:10: _Shields and Brooks ...
- 04/24/15--15:15: _Jon Krakauer tackle...
- 04/24/15--15:20: _Before it showed us...
- 04/24/15--15:25: _How maps packed wit...
- 04/24/15--15:30: _Why Turkey doesn’t ...
- 04/24/15--15:32: _Human rights activi...
- 04/24/15--15:35: _Armenians remember ...
- 04/24/15--15:40: _Are ‘signature stri...
- 04/24/15--15:45: _Obama: Review of ho...
- 04/24/15--15:50: _News Wrap: 10 arres...
- 04/25/15--08:48: _House GOP rebels bl...
- 04/25/15--11:07: _Will Israel’s new w...
- 04/25/15--11:28: _New species of Cost...
- 04/25/15--11:56: _How New York is bri...
- 04/25/15--12:57: _More than 1,400 dea...
- 04/25/15--13:17: _Accidental hostage ...
- 04/24/15--12:18: Researchers cut down procrastination by making it less fun
- 04/24/15--13:09: Associate Production Manager, Production Operations
- 04/24/15--15:04: Two nuclear launch officers face charges for illegal drug use
- 04/24/15--15:15: Jon Krakauer tackles campus rape in ‘typical’ college town
- 04/24/15--15:25: How maps packed with data help scientists fight malaria
- 04/24/15--15:30: Why Turkey doesn’t use the word ‘genocide’ for Armenia
- 04/24/15--15:32: Human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud shot dead in Karachi
- 04/24/15--15:35: Armenians remember victims 100 years since mass killings
- 04/24/15--15:40: Are ‘signature strikes’ on al-Qaida still necessary?
- 04/24/15--15:45: Obama: Review of hostage deaths may offer drone changes
- 04/24/15--15:50: News Wrap: 10 arrested in Italy for Vatican attack plot
- 04/25/15--08:48: House GOP rebels blame party leaders as contributions falter
- 04/25/15--11:28: New species of Costa Rican glass frog bears resemblance to Kermit
- 04/25/15--12:57: More than 1,400 dead after powerful earthquake devastates Nepal
- 04/25/15--13:17: Accidental hostage killing puts new spotlight on reliance on drones
The key to making online students focus on their course work may be making procrastination as unenjoyable as possible, according to a study out of Cornell University.
It’s a familiar problem to anyone with a deadline and a computer: the assignment is open on the screen, half-finished, but is quickly lost in a stack of web browser tabs. Upon rediscovery (with an accompanying pang of guilt), the procrastinator resolves to buckle down and type out the last few paragraphs — right after clearing the notification that just popped up and checking just one more website.
Richard W. Patterson, a Ph.D. student in policy analysis and management at Cornell, wanted to see if software could reduce procrastination and, as a result, improve students’ grades.
“People frequently fail to follow through on the plans they make: they fail to meet deadlines at work, finish assignments for school, go to the gym and deposit money in their savings accounts,” Patterson writes in the report titled “Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence From a Massive Open Online Course,” published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.
In higher education, Patterson writes, that failure to follow through can be seen in the number of students who enroll in a degree program but never graduate. His study looked specifically at online education, where completion rates are lower than face-to-face programs. MOOCs, in particular, have been sharply criticized for completion rates that sometimes register in the single digits.
Patterson’s report, written last November but released this month, examines the effects of different types of antidistraction software. His study looked at 657 students enrolled in a statistics MOOC offered by Stanford University. The students, all of whom agreed to download software that would track their activity online, were then separated into three groups, plus a control group.
Students in the group that tested a commitment tool set their own daily allotments for time they could spend on distracting websites such as BuzzFeed, ESPN and Facebook. If the students hit the cap during the course of a day, the software blocked them from the distracting sites, forcing students to give a new reason every time they wanted to unblock one.
On average, students allotted 2.7 hours per day to spend on distracting websites and went over that limit four times during the nine-week MOOC. Even though the software sent them a daily email at 6:45 a.m. reminding them of that limit and asking if they wanted to reset it, the average student only did so once.
Students in the reminder group received a notification with a link back to the course after every 30 minutes they spent on distracting websites. The notification triggered an average of 48 times for each student in that group.
Finally, students in the focus group were given the option to block access to distractions for 15, 30 or 60 minutes when they accessed the course. Students in that group activated that feature only 1.7 times on average during the MOOC, blocking distractions for 38 minutes.
Only students testing the commitment tool showed statistically distinguishable performance improvements. Compared to those in the control group, the students spent 24 percent more time on course work (or 5.5 hours), submitted 27 percent more homework assignments and were 40 percent more likely to finish the MOOC. Their grades were also 0.29 standard deviations higher than for students in the control group, which is “roughly the same difference in course performance observed between students with Ph.D.s or M.D.s and students with bachelor’s degrees,” according to the report.
Patterson said he approached the study expecting the results from the first group to produce the most promising results, as that software in some ways included features tested in the other two groups.
“With the commitment device, you’d get an email asking if you would like to reset your limit — so it kind of acted like a reminder,” Patterson said. “It also had the incapacitating effect once you reached your limit that the focus study session included, but it also included this goal aspect of setting your own limit. I have a feeling that might be the most effective — adding something important on top.”
The results suggest a second reason for why the commitment tool was the most effective of those tested: students in that group were 81 percent more likely than those in the control group to say the tool made procrastination less enjoyable. In other words, the software made wasting time a hassle, causing some students to go back to studying instead.
Yet the results also present some limitations to antidistraction software. Those most likely to benefit from software were those who in a precourse survey said completing the MOOC was “very” or “extremely” important to them, leaving the question of how to help students who lack self-motivation largely unresolved, Patterson said.
Patterson, who will this fall join the economics faculty at the United States Military Academy, said researching student behavior allowed him to face his own tendency to procrastinate.
“Certainly one of the fun things about doing a project like this is I got to work with, test the software and use it myself to see how I interacted with it and how it impacted my productivity,” Patterson said. “One of the things I noticed with this software is that there were things I thought I was spending a lot of time on that I wasn’t, and other things I thought I was spending a couple of minutes on that was sucking up a lot of time.”
Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.
PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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How much would you be willing to bet that a computer program could go toe-to-toe with professional poker players?
Carnegie Mellon University researchers have taken that wager. Computer science professor Tuomas Sandholm, alongside researchers Sam Ganzfried and Noam Brown, are dealing their poker-playing artificial intelligence, Claudico, into a “Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence” competition at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. Starting today, Claudico will be taking on poker professionals Doug Polk, Dong Kim, Bjorn Li and Jason Les in 80,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em over a two week period.
“Poker is now a benchmark for artificial intelligence research, just as chess once was,” Sandholm said. “It’s a game of exceeding complexity that requires a machine to make decisions based on incomplete and often misleading information, thanks to bluffing, slow play and other decoys. And to win, the machine has to out-smart its human opponents.”
The competition, funded by Rivers Casino and Microsoft, will see each of the four pros play poker against Claudico on laptop computers, which are connected to a computer at Carnegie Mellon that will be running the software. Each of the players will play 1,500 hands per day against Claudico over 13 days, totaling 20,000 hands each.
The event has taken precautions to eliminate the role of luck as much as possible. In addition to rotating players between the casino’s main floor and an isolation room to prevent comparing of cards, “players will be paired to play duplicate matches — Player A will receive the same cards as the computer receives against Player B, and vice versa,” the university’s press release describes.
“I hope we can stand up for humanity and take this computer down,” Polk, who has earned more than $3.6 million in live tournament earnings, said. “I know computers will eventually be able to beat humans. But I hope we can make them go a few more rounds after this before they do, like Kasparov did.”
Live streams of the games, plus an updating scoreboard, can be followed on the Rivers Casino event page.
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force is charging two nuclear missile launch officers with illegal drug use.
The cases at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were linked to a separate Air Force investigation of exam cheating by Minuteman 3 nuclear missile officers.
The Air Force announced Friday that a week ago it charged 1st Lt. Michael Alonso and 1st Lt. Lantz Balthazar with a range of drug offenses. Each will be reviewed at what the military calls an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding, to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a court martial.
A spokesman at Malmstrom, Josh Aycock, said no hearing dates have been set.
Another Malmstrom missile officer, 2nd Lt. Nicole Dalmazzi, was court-martialed in January on drug charges.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
So, the story we started out with tonight, David, that broke yesterday about two hostages killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, all sorts of second-guessing, third-guessing about this. Does the Obama administration need to rethink or get rid of this drone strike policy?
DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: I don’t think they should rethink it because of this.
When you have a drone policy, when you go to war, friendly-fire and accidents and tragedies are just endemic in the nature of the fog of war. In World War II, there was something called the Allerona train bombing, where American bombers accidentally killed 400 American POWs and British and South African POWs that were in Nazi control.
It was an accident. These sorts of things happen in these sorts of circumstances. And so the fact that two people were tragic — two innocents were tragically killed is what we should have expected, I think, and what we did expect. War is never perfect.
So, you know, I don’t think it should be cause for us to reevaluate. I think the fundamental issue that is worth reevaluating all the time is the equation between how we’re setting back al-Qaida or are we inciting others to join ISIS? And that’s a legitimate issue. I don’t know the answer to it. But it seems like that’s the big issue here.
The fact that a tragedy — a completely foreseeable tragedy happened that’s endemic in the nature of this sort of business happened doesn’t seem to me a cause to rethink.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Time to reevaluate, rethink?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist: I don’t think we have ever evaluated a thought about drones, quite frankly, Judy.
This is a perfect weapon for a 12-year war without any coherent explanation and without any conclusion to it. It’s a war, as James — General James Mattis, the former CENTCOM commander, pointed out recently in a speech, the only war since the American Revolution we have fought without a draft and we have fought it with tax cuts.
So, this is a great weapon because it removes the war. The war has been fought only by 1 percent of Americans, suffered only by 1 percent of Americans. And this takes all the carnage and all the killing. Is it effective, is it surgical, is it precise? By all those definitions, it’s a rather remarkable device.
But it spares us from ever seeing dead people, from ever seeing the wailing of the orphan, of the widow. And I think there’s — in a responsible democracy, there has to be debate and there has to be accountability, and there hasn’t been.
The president has accepted responsibility, as he should. But he says there’s going to be an investigation. We don’t know what it’s about. And I think there are serious questions about whether, in fact, in the — with hundreds of civilian deaths acknowledged over the use of drones, that whether in fact it has been an incredible recruitment device for ISIS and for al-Qaida.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
Well, I would say, what are their alternatives? It seems to me there are four alternatives. One, we don’t do anything, and we allow al-Qaida to have safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That seems to me hardly a great option. The second is, we have bombing campaigns with conventional bombs. That seems to me much messier.
The third is, we send in special forces. And this isn’t Hollywood. You are not going to send in six people. You’re going to send in hundreds of people. And they’re scared, and they’re doing massive assaults. It seems to me you’re going to have more casualties. Or drones. It seems to me, of these horrible options, drones is the least bad option.
MARK SHIELDS: I just — I really do think that this comes back to we have not had a debate about what we are doing there and what we ought to be doing.
If there is a commitment, a true commitment on the part of the nation, it isn’t something that’s just done like a video game. It is something that does, should involve the American people, not only in the debate, but in some sense of commitment as to what we’re about.
There has been no debate on this war. It’s just been turning it over to the president. And I think liberals have to acknowledge that, under a liberal Democratic president, that the number of drone attacks has increased dramatically. And we have become reliant upon it and we have resorted to it. It’s become the default means of United States military engagement in a very, very difficult area.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly is a — at least a debate in the short term. And the president saying today that we’re going to — that he’s going to reevaluate and look at whether any changes can be made.
But let me turn you to something else closer to home, but very much in the news this week, David, and that is the stories yesterday in your newspaper, The New York Times, and other news organizations about the Clinton Foundation, about money going to the foundation, about a uranium mining company, a Canadian company with donations, again, the head of the company giving money to the foundation, and then that company needing an OK from the U.S. government for the Russians to buy controlling interest.
What are we learning here about the Clinton Foundation and the charities they run?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it’s way more egregious than I expected.
I thought there were donations and people were giving money. But there were probably people giving money for the noblest of reasons to the foundation, some people not — apparently giving money not for the noblest of reasons. And this uranium story, where there’s a connection, where the secretary of state nominally sits on this government body which gives OKs to mergers with national security implications, and then a company deeply involved in that kind of merger giving lots of money in the opportune money to the Clinton Foundation, according to my newspaper, the foundation not reporting it really adequately, that’s reasonably stark.
Now, the defense is, she didn’t know, she wasn’t directly involved. Well, that’s completely plausible. But the fact is, you’re sitting on — as secretary of state, or you’re Bill Clinton running the foundation, and somebody’s giving you all this money and you know it has government implications, and that doesn’t ring all sorts of alarm bells?
Where’s the self-protection there? Where is the self-censorship or the self-thing, no, this is not right? And so I’m sort of stunned by it. I’m surprised by it. And, you know, the paradox of it right now is for Hillary Clinton’s president — or candidacy is, people think she’s a strong leader.
But the latest Quinnipiac poll suggests they don’t trust her, they don’t think she’s honest. They have these two thoughts in their minds at the same time. And it just seems, with the Clinton family, there’s going to be a lot of competence and a lot of great political talent and governmental talent, but you’re going to have a run of low-level scandals throughout the whole deal.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you see?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there’s two separate memories that Democrats have of the Clinton years, the golden Clinton years, the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the country for African-Americans, and Latinos, lowest unemployment rate in 40 years for — among women, the first — greatest surpluses and budget deficit — budget in the country’s history, first balanced budget in 50 years, I mean, just rather remarkable.
Then there’s the transactional part of the Clinton administration, sort of the darker part, the major donations and renting out the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, the briefings in the Map Room at the White House for businesspeople who contributed and meet their regulators, and, worst of all, the Marc Rich pardon, where his wife, Denise, who has since, let it be noted, renounced her American citizenship and gone to a tax haven, gave $201,000 to the Democratic Party, $450,000 to the Clinton Library, and $100,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
And, in return, apparently, she got a pardon for her husband, the fugitive financier, who is really one the sleaziest people on the planet.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, this is bad at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
MARK SHIELDS: This is the end of the administration.
But this is what it evokes, this kind of — the sense of the money and is their transactional politics. And I just think it comes now at a time when you have got to be totally transparent and get it out there, now amending their filings.
But I think this is — there is sort of dispirited feeling among Democrats. There’s enormous respect for her as a leader and her talents, but there’s a question of, my goodness, are we going to have more of this?
JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it mean for her campaign?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, for the Democratic Party, it should mean, let’s look around. Is this all we have got? Whether she’s strong or not, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Second, it re-raises the e-mail issue. Now it just — before, she could have some plausible case that the e-mails were destroyed because they were nobody’s business. But now, each time you get another scandal, you think, oh, that’s why she destroyed the e-mails, because she didn’t want — to hide.
And so it just brings that up again. And then they raised a lot of money. And Bill Clinton gave a lot of speeches. And she gave a lot of speeches. It’s very unlikely this is the last of the cases, this one uranium. And there’s the book coming out in a few weeks possibly detailing more of the cases. And so it will just be a steady theme, a subtheme of her campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: Let me just make one quick point.
And that is, Bill Clinton did get $500,000 for a speech — that’s a lot of money — in Russia. David goes for half of that. No, but…
DAVID BROOKS: Seventy percent.
MARK SHIELDS: Seventy percent.
But Ronald Reagan, when he left office in 1989, went to Japan, he gave two speeches of 20 minutes each for $2 million, $2 million, which is $4 million in today’s dollars, and $2 million contribution to the Reagan Library.
The difference? Nancy Reagan wasn’t secretary of state. Nancy Reagan wasn’t getting to run for president of the United States. I mean, George W. Bush has made a lot of money on speeches. But that’s what makes it unseemly. And that’s what makes Democrats nervous.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But one of the arguments the Clinton people are making, though, is it’s disclosed, that they have disclosed everything, and if they haven’t, they are going to get everything out there.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. They have got to get everything…
JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that take any of the bad taste…
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Transparency — I think, at some point probably, the president is going to — former President Clinton is going to do almost a grilling, explaining what the Clinton Foundation did.
But I think this is — it’s a time for transparency, but it’s also a time for accountability here. And I think it’s going to be a — to their advantage, this is April of 2015. If it were Labor Day of 2016 and she were the nominee, this would really be a serious blow.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the transparency thing?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it helps.
But the thing they don’t know is why people gave them the money. A lot of people were giving them millions of dollars. And some people did it probably because they believe in the foundation work, and they did it for beautiful reasons. A lot of people give money to these things and to presidential candidates because they want to be near the flame of power. They just want to be in the room.
They can go home and say, oh, I chatted with Bill Clinton. But some people give it because they are imagining a quid pro quo. I doubt there’s an actual quid pro quo. Mitt Romney said today it looked like bribery. I think that’s — there’s no evidence of that.
MARK SHIELDS: No.
DAVID BROOKS: But you want to plant the seed. And you have got an issue before the government. And you think, well, this is how government works in a lot of other countries. It probably works a little like this in the U.S., too, and therefore I’m going to plant the seed of goodwill, I will get in the room.
And there’s no quid pro quo, but it’s not great. And so there are all these people giving them money for all different motives, some of them good and some of them pretty bad.
MARK SHIELDS: Judy, just one quick thing — $93 million Sheldon Adelson and wife gave to Republican candidates in 2012.
And the Koch brothers are talking about raising $900 million. They are not altruists. I mean, they have an agenda. Make no mistake about it. That’s what we’re talking about with the dimension of money now in our politics, which is very much in the saddle.
And to Lindsey Graham and Hillary Clinton’s credit, they are the only two people I know running who say we need a constitutional amendment to change it.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. It would just say, quickly, there is a difference between an ideological agenda, which seems to me legitimate, and a business deal that you want to get ratified.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, OK. No, I’m not questioning — I would rather — I would take the second, quite frankly.
DAVID BROOKS: Interesting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You would take which?
MARK SHIELDS: I would take a business — I would take a business deal, rather than somebody who is making foreign policy for the United States.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Less than a minute.
I wanted to ask you about the Republican field. You have each got less than 30 seconds to tell me if you see anything settling out among the many Republicans.
DAVID BROOKS: The only thing I have seen this week is that Marco Rubio is shooting upward. He’s now — in the last two polls, he’s in number one place. And I think that’s because we were kind…
MARK SHIELDS: Thirteen.
DAVID BROOKS: He’s at 13 and 15.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
DAVID BROOKS: It’s basically unformed. It’s still sort of unformed. But we were kind to him, and he’s shooting right up there.
MARK SHIELDS: It was.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Cause and effect.
MARK SHIELDS: It was the Brooks boost, is what it was.
MARK SHIELDS: The Republican field right now is — there’s no leader. It’s a leaderless group.
But they’re all secretly praying that the Supreme Court will declare same-sex marriage legal nationwide, so they can get away from the issue. They — this is a killer issue for them. And they would love to be rescued by the John Roberts Supreme Court.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on that note, we thank both of you on this Friday night in April.
Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the newest addition to the PBS NewsHour bookshelf.
It is an all-too-familiar story in recent years. College women report sexual assaults and their struggle to find justice.
Author Jon Krakauer, best known for “Into Thin Air,” takes on this issue in his newest book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”
He talked with Jeff earlier this week at Busboys and Poets here in the Washington area.
JEFFREY BROWN: Jon Krakauer, welcome to you.
JON KRAKAUER, Author, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town”: Thanks.
JEFFREY BROWN: Let me start with the title, because I wonder, was Missoula a kind of case study for you standing for a large national problem or a very specific place with its own specific problems?
JON KRAKAUER: Well, it certainly has its own specific problems, but I — it stands for the larger problem.
Missoula is in many ways — it’s a beautiful place, but, in many ways, it’s a typical town. In fact, the rate of sexual assaults in Missoula is slightly less than the national average. It is not some outlier. This is an American town that has a problem that is, I think, fairly universal. It’s a college town and it exemplifies what is — what — something we need to look at.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so you dissected a series of cases in Missoula.
Give me an example that helps us understand the kind of problems that you see that are sort of endemic to this system?
JON KRAKAUER: Many people don’t realize that 85 percent of rapes are done by an acquaintance of the victim, someone often who knows the victim very well.
It’s not a stranger who breaks into your apartment. It’s someone you know and trust. The first case I read about in the book was a young woman who went to a party, drank a little too much to drive home, but wasn’t exceptionally drunk, was offered a couch to sleep on. She woke up in the wee hours with her best friend…
JEFFREY BROWN: Who she’d known for a long, long time.
JON KRAKAUER: … since first grade.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
JON KRAKAUER: She trusted him more than anyone in the world — raping her.
One of the cases I looked at was a gang rape of four football players taking advantage of a woman who was drunk. Being raped by your — someone you trust as much as Allison Huguet, the woman who was raped by her best friend, that’s in many ways more devastating than to be raped by a stranger. And research shows this.
JEFFREY BROWN: There are instances where things are followed up by authorities, and then others where they are not, right, where there are prosecutions in the end, or in some cases there are not. Other cases, they’re just badly…
JON KRAKAUER: Missoula became the focus of a Department of Justice investigation.
And among these 350 cases the DOJ looked at, they found that the Missoula prosecutors almost never prosecuted a case that involved drugs or alcohol. Well, drugs and alcohol are present in almost every acquaintance rape case.
So — and that’s common, too, because it’s so challenging to prosecute rape cases, especially a town — a college town like Missoula, with a very good football team, and football players are elevated — you know, they’re gods. To get a jury who will convict a football player in a place like that is very difficult.
So, the prosecutors can’t get convictions because juries all love the Grizz, the Grizzlies. So prosecutors become jaded. The police become lazy about investigating sometimes or resign, because, in Missoula, even when they give prosecutors sometimes signed confessions, the prosecutors wouldn’t prosecute.
So it’s this vicious circle, this self-fulfilling prophecy. And no cases are prosecuted unless they’re absolutely slam dunks, where there’s no question.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the end of the book, you write a personal note, and very personal, about your own experience of some — a young woman you knew, but you didn’t know that she had been raped and that she had had a very hard time living with it long after.
Did that make this sort of a mission for you to look, yes?
JON KRAKAUER: This began as very much a personal — I was so ashamed. This woman’s like a daughter to me. I was unaware of the trauma.
She had been raped in her teens, 10 years earlier, and had suffered from that trauma for the ensuing decade, until it finally — her life fell apart and she ended up in rehab.
JEFFREY BROWN: You’re a very well-known writer. You’re going into a different territory. And this has gotten a lot of attention. Let’s face it, right? There were reports, in fact, your book was kind of rushed ahead after what we’d seen at the University of Virginia.
JON KRAKAUER: Well, that — it wasn’t rushed ahead.
I had — actually, the book was delayed, because it was supposed to be due in September of 2014. And because I spent more time trying to fact-check and polish it, I didn’t turn it in until January. My critics have looked for ways to discredit me.
And one of them is that I rushed it, I didn’t do my homework, I was lazy, I phoned it in. I have never done more fact-checking. I have never done more meticulous reporting. I was very careful in this book. I certainly interviewed a lot of victims. And one of the rapists agreed to be interviewed.
But I relied on documents. I had police reports. I got a lot of stuff I wasn’t supposed to have, audio recordings of university adjudications. So this is no “Rolling Stone” fiasco. This is rock-solid evidence.
JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see any good coming from all the attention that this issue has gotten over the last few years?
JON KRAKAUER: Absolutely.
Some brave women started coming forward and saying, I have got nothing to be ashamed about. The guy who raped me should be ashamed. I’m going to use my name. I have suffered enough.
And that has emboldened other women. And there seems to be this sort of critical mass that I hope is happening, where it becomes more openly discussed. At least 80 percent of rapes in this country are not reported to the police. And I set out in this book to understand why. Why is it — what is it like for a victim that it makes them so reluctant to go to the authorities?
I mean, it’s grim. The way they were treated by police, prosecutors, their friends and peers, in a town like Missoula, these victims suffered just unbelievable abuse and harassment.
JEFFREY BROWN: What is it that makes you want to tackle a subject and write a book?
JON KRAKAUER: I don’t write a book unless it’s just got me by the lapels and won’t let go.
I’m drawn to kind of extreme situations, people who take things too far. This is a little different than that. This, I had — has that personal connection. And this was really difficult. I really feared, and I still fear, for how the victims I write about are going to be treated, the backlash they are going to face from this.
To my great surprise, Allison Huguet from the get-go said, “I want you to use my real name.”
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
JON KRAKAUER: But every woman who I wrote about who I had interviewed, to my surprise, said, “No, I want you to use my real name.”
I said no, and they said yes. And I think that’s great. These are courageous young women who agreed to let me use their stories.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Krakauer, thank you so much.
JON KRAKAUER: Thank you so much for having me on the show.
The post Jon Krakauer tackles campus rape in ‘typical’ college town appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a 25-year-old space telescope that’s provided an unmatched window to the universe, one that’s helped us understand origins of stars, nebulas and distant baby galaxies.
The Hubble was launched on the space shuttle on April 25, 1990. It’s sent back more than a million observations and amazing images, what have been called cosmic postcards. The latest was released by NASA yesterday: a cluster of 3,000 stars known as Westerlund 2.
Science correspondent Miles O’Brien is here with a birthday appreciation.
And, Miles, it is the birthday, and we’re celebrating. And yet it wasn’t so smooth at the beginning.
MILES O’BRIEN: Yes, 25 years, we’re celebrating, and, when it began, 25 years, one month from now, in May, it was a disaster.
How quickly we forget what they called spherical aberration. Essentially, Hubble was Mr. Magoo. It couldn’t see well and it needed some glasses. And so NASA was, of course, tremendously embarrassed by a mirror that wasn’t shaped entirely properly and it had fuzzy vision.
The 1993 Hubble repair mission, the first of five mission to upgrade and improve the Hubble, was such a critical mission. And when they were able to put what amounts to eyeglasses on Hubble, suddenly, it could see like we have never seen before into the distant reaches of the universe. But it started out a laughing stock.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we — we forget that that happened.
So, over the years, it sent back, as we said, so many images. What are some that stand out to you as the most significant?
MILES O’BRIEN: Well, time is short. I will give you my top three.
Pillars of Creation, now, this is iconic in every way. It’s made the cover of textbooks and magazines, and it’s something that on the one hand has great scientific significance, because it takes you to basically the nursery for stars. This is how stars are formed. And what Hubble is doing is, in a time machine kind of way, taking us back to the very origins of our universe and showing how it grew up.
And this is taking us back to the baby pictures. But what — the other reason I like it is that it was a tremendous way of engaging the general public. People look at this. You don’t have to be a scientist to look at this thing and be struck by its beauty and struck by the connection we all have to the universe.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s not the only one.
MILES O’BRIEN: No.
Number two on my list would 1994. And that is the newly sharpened vision of Hubble trained on Jupiter for the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet. It was a comet that broke apart, and we watched as impacted into Jupiter 21 times. This one particular is of the g impact, which was larger than 600 times the nuclear arsenal of our planet, huge, huge explosions, which we witnessed in real time, extraordinarily good luck for scientists, an amazing feat.
And, finally — and my are all kind of vintage Hubble images, but the Deep Field image back in 1995 — they took a little tiny piece of the sky, seemingly dark, 1/24-millionth of the sky, and did a longtime exposure on that with Hubble. And they came up with 3,000 objects that we’d never seen before, most of them that were galaxies.
So, you have to ask yourself, if that little darkened piece of the sky, 1/24-millionth, gave us 3,000 objects we’d never seen before, what does that tell you about how large and populated our universe, and, ultimately, could we really be alone?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Miles O’Brien, thank you.
MILES O’BRIEN: You’re welcome.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The speed and impact of the Ebola epidemic highlighted the need for better ways to quickly predict potential outbreaks. Researchers believe data can help in their fight other diseases like malaria.
Tomorrow is World Malaria Day, making it a good time to look at the potential.
NewsHour special correspondent Spencer Michels reports.
SPENCER MICHELS: Maps are nothing new. In one form or another, they have been around for centuries. These days, we use them in our cars, we use them to illustrate the news. Now scientists have found a powerful new way to use maps to attack disease.
Epidemiologist Hugh Sturrock is trying to stamp out malaria in parts of Africa, and from his campus cubicle at the University of California San Francisco, he is trying to make high-tech maps of the risk of outbreaks of malaria, maps that will be crucial to effectively fighting the disease, but will be easy to use in the field.
HUGH STURROCK, University of California, San Francisco: If we can understand and predict where diseases are most likely to occur, then we can target those high-risk areas. We were motivated to try to build a platform that would allow non-experts to generate risk maps themselves, essentially at the click of a button.
SPENCER MICHELS: Worldwide, between 600,000 and a million people, mostly young children, die each year from malaria. The disease is spread by female mosquitoes seeking human blood. Health workers need accurate maps showing on-the-ground conditions to know where to spray insecticide and where to stock clinics.
Sturrock’s maps for Swaziland in Southern Africa show where malaria cases have occurred, plus water conditions, temperatures and elevations. Until now, those facts have not been easy to analyze, even though the data has been collected.
HUGH STURROCK: There are more large-scale rainfall patterns and temperature variations and are really only available using sort of satellite information. We want to sort of bring all of that data to the hands of those people in the village.
SPENCER MICHELS: Sturrock’s maps rely on data, much of it photos, that have been, and still are, collected by NASA satellites circling the globe. But that information, 40 years’ worth, has languished in government vaults in South Dakota.
Now Google Earth Engine has acquired it, for free, and is working with the university and many others to put it to work. For several years, Google has been storing data, trillions of measurements, on thousands of computers that it owns. But, until recently, and, in fact, even now, using that data, making sense of it has been very difficult.
Sturrock, with the power of thousands of Google’s computers at his fingertips, is combining the satellite pictures with on-the-ground information, using algorithms.
REBECCA MOORE, Manager, Google Earth Engine: An algorithm is nothing more than a recipe.
SPENCER MICHELS: Computer scientist Rebecca Moore manages Google Earth Engine.
REBECCA MOORE: These scientists are saying, I will look at this kind of satellite imagery, and then I’m going to overlay where there have been outbreaks of malaria in the past, and where there have been mosquitoes in the past, and so on, and they mix that all together into a numerical recipe, and out comes a prediction.
SPENCER MICHELS: Those predictions and the maps that produce them point to where there’s a need for insecticide-treated bed nets to keep out mosquitoes. That’s the goal of Nothing But Nets, part of the U.N. Foundation.
Elizabeth Ivanovich, its global health officer, says that accurate on-the-ground information is a vital component of any risk map, and in parts of Africa, collecting that data has yet to occur.
ELIZABETH IVANOVICH, United Nations Foundation: A lot of work has gone on in Swaziland to get those data systems up to speed, so that you actually when a case occurs and when a death occurs and exactly the location that that is happening in.
And that’s just not the case in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially countries with a much higher burden of disease.
SPENCER MICHELS: But it’s not just fighting malaria that benefits from satellite data. Today, such information has become a hot commodity. Satellite pictures can provide evidence of environmental problems and clues to solving them.
Satellites record ships at sea, and the images, plus other data sent by ships, can point to overfishing and where it is happening. There’s dramatic satellite imagery of the growth of urban sprawl in Las Vegas, and the shrinking of Lake Mead, its water source, that could be used for planning.
The applications so far may be just the start of a host of uses for the mined data. In the public health field, the model of the malaria project could, Sturrock says, be used with Ebola and animals that are possibly spreading the disease.
HUGH STURROCK: It is possible to map cases of Ebola and to relate those to variables that are linked to the distribution of fruit bats.
There’s no reason why we can’t use a lot of that — those techniques and those models and that data.
REBECCA MOORE: It’s billions of megabytes of satellite imagery data. And never before has there been a technology platform that could allow scientists and government agencies to kind of mine that archive, right, and turn that into knowledge.
SPENCER MICHELS: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Spencer Michels in Mountain View, California.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Some perspective now on history and today.
Hrach Gregorian is an adjunct professor at American University and president of the Institute of World Affairs, a nonprofit organization that focuses on conflict analysis and post-conflict peace-building. And Soner Cagaptay is the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He’s the author of the recent book “The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power.”
Welcome to both of you.
Let me start with you, Hrach Gregorian.
1915, I just want to fill in a little bit of the history. The Ottoman Empire is collapsing. What led specifically to the killing of so many Armenians?
HRACH GREGORIAN, American University: Well, I think there was a general feeling that the Armenians were not to be trusted.
And even before that, there was a policy of Turkification by the young Turks dating back to 1908. And the Armenians were viewed as a threat to Turkish identity and Turkish security. And there were orders to rid the country of the community.
JEFFREY BROWN: For Turks, this history is tied to the creation — the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Turkish state.
SONER CAGAPTAY, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: Precisely.
This was the — World War I, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. And as the empire was collapsing, the government of the empire at that time decided to move the Armenians from eastern Turkey, where they lived, into Syria, so from one part of the empire to another part.
And the idea would be that they will away from the advancing Russian armies. The fear was that the Armenians would work with the Russian armies to undermine the empire. What happened next was a disaster. Thousands of — hundreds of thousands of people died, sometimes of famine and disease, but usually in the hands of irregulars, Kurdish irregulars and others who carried out attacks. And I think that’s really the pain — the core of the issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so to the core of the issue, is the extent of the killing disputed, or is it the intent, the intent, that word genocide?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Right. Right. It’s the intent. It’s not the extent.
The intent was to rid the country of Armenians. And it wasn’t a benign movement. It was under duress. And there was killing all along the way, killing and rape and pillaging and all kinds of massacres committed.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, again, is it a question of semantics over the word genocide?
SONER CAGAPTAY: A lot of people point at the sheer number of people who were killed and say that clearly this constitutes genocide. That includes many Armenians and people outside of Turkey.
But if you went to Turkey and asked the Turks what they thought, they would say that, while so many people died, you don’t see the Wannsee Conference equal of the smoking gun, the premeditated nature of this act.
And, therefore, the difference between being that of manslaughter and murder, that this is really not where — a case where intent is clear, I think that’s an argument that many Turks believe, as we saw earlier. But, of course, the question is, every death is a pain. And I think the Turkish government ought to apologize to the Armenians, so we can move forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the Turks do not dispute the number of Armenians, of victims?
SONER CAGAPTAY: The numbers are — I think there are people who will debate exactly what the precise number was, which is hard to say. The Armenian Patriarchate has different numbers. The Ottoman government has different numbers.
But that’s not really the issue, I think. As we said earlier, it’s not the extent of the death. It’s how they happened and whether they were premeditated that is at the crux of the issue.
JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your reading on why this has stayed in dispute for so long? What are the stakes here?
HRACH GREGORIAN: I think the stakes are quite substantial for the Turkish — for the Armenian people.
It’s a traumatizing event. It’s a defining event. And until it’s acknowledged and apologies are rendered, it will remain a defining moment. I think, for the Turkish government, there are three factors that prevent it from acknowledging and apologizing. The first is, it’s a shameful act and no government wants to admit to it.
The second is, there is some concerned about reparations and land claims. And the third is, there are — there are substantial nationalists, right-wing nationalists in Turkey that are violently opposed to such acknowledgment.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how strong are these factors? For example, the reparations issue, who’s pushing for that? What kind of claims would there be?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Yes. I think it’s difficult to know exactly.
I think, for the majority of Armenians now, 100 years hence, some of these claims, particularly the lands, are overblown. I don’t see Armenians living in Paris and New York and Los Angeles wanting to claim lands in Eastern Anatolia. It’s a symbolic thing, I think, more than anything else.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about as it’s seen from the Turkish side?
SONER CAGAPTAY: One issue is that these events happened in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire existed, and that empire exists no more. There is a new country called modern Turkey.
And a lot of Turks have a difficulty connecting their new country to an old empire. Although Turkey is out of the Ottoman Empire, there is no direct legal continuity. And people refute that. That’s one.
Second, many Turks, when you ask them about how they feel about the death of Armenians, they will say, maybe that happened, but you should also remember that 40 percent of Turks — Turkey is a country of 77 million people — have parents, 40 percent of parents who were expelled from the Balkans and from Russia because of their religion and brutalized during the process.
So, they fail to understand why there’s so much attention singularly on the Armenian suffering and not their own suffering. So perhaps the narrative has to be for the Turkish side, also about acknowledging their suffering, given that millions and millions of them were brutalized in the hands of Russians and the Balkan states.
JEFFREY BROWN: I wonder now, over 100 years later, do you see changes in the world attitude? You certainly see more world leaders speaking up recently. Do you see some, any possible changes of attitude here?
HRACH GREGORIAN: Well, I think there’s a greater propensity to acknowledge that this was an act of genocide.
Pope Francis having used that word explicitly, I think, is very important. And the fact is, Turkish newspapers today, one of the most important that my colleague will probably refer to, in bold Armenian letters, basically said, you know, we must acknowledge this.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, there are shifts happening?
SONER CAGAPTAY: I agree. I think we’re moving forward.
There are some really good positive signs. The Turkish prime minister expressed remorse for the descendants of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. There was a pretty important ceremony today in Istanbul at the Armenian Patriarchate attended by minister of cabinet of the Turkish government. That’s a first.
A Turkish newspaper which is as old as the republic itself, identified, therefore, with the very nature of the Turkish government or state, came out with an Armenian headline. There were Armenian demonstrators and ceremonies held in Istanbul today. These are things that could not have happened 10 years ago or even five years ago.
So, I think we are really at the crux of a better term of a relationship of Turks and Armenians, and slow movement, but nevertheless moving forward.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, very interesting, living History, right?
Soner Cagaptay and Hrach Gregorian, thank you both very much.
SONER CAGAPTAY: Thank you.
HRACH GREGORIAN: Thank you.
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Pakistan’s largest city has a well-earned reputation for terrorism and violence, but until the day it claimed her own life, Sabeen Mahmud was determined to show that there’s much more to Karachi. During a visit last month, she told me she was determined not to let fear paralyze the vibrant life that came naturally in a once thriving cosmopolitan city now wrecked by sectarian and ethnic tension.
Her coffee shop and performance space, T2F (The Second Floor), was designed to bring people together — for music, dance, art exhibitions and dialog, sometimes over divisive issues. Friday night featured a panel discussion titled “Unsilencing Balochistan,” about Pakistan’s restive western province. Mahmud, 40, was fatally gunned down as she left the event in a shooting that also left her mother critically injured.
Her mother, Mahnaz Fazil, was a teacher who encouraged Sabeen to pursue her dreams, which she did by defying many stereotyped expectations for young women in Pakistan. She played cricket competitively, protested on the streets for various human rights causes, entered the tech world as a 17-year-old and then left it all to start T2F, a thriving island of civilized discourse and culture.
That will stop now, but if Mahmud’s influence remains, not for long, say friends. “They silenced you but your voice will be heard for ever [sic],” wrote Tofiq Pasha Mooraj, a prominent Karachi media personality who took me to visit T2F.
Like so many others, he is shell-shocked as he eulogized Mahmud in a Facebook post: “You spoke up for what you believed. For the freedom of speech. For the freedom from oppression.”
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Throughout much of the world, today was a day of gathering and reflection, as many marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of mass killings, which eventually led to the deaths of more than one million Armenians.
Jeffrey Brown has the story.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was a somber ceremony on a cloudy, gray day in Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan. Government officials and foreign dignitaries marked 100 years since the first mass killings by Ottoman Turks in 1915, during World War I.
An eternal flame burned today at the heart of a memorial complex, surrounded by flowers honoring the estimated 1.5 million victims. The leaders of Russia and France took part, with President Francois Hollande rejecting those who refuse to call it genocide.
PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): France fights against nihilism, revisionism, the wiping out of evidence, because to ignore or pretend to ignore what happened in history is to repeat the massacres.
JEFFREY BROWN: In 1915, Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire, and was later absorbed into the Soviet Union. Today, an independent country, its border with Turkey, to the west, remains sealed. The Turkish government has always denied that what happened a century ago amounted to genocide.
Just yesterday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan again rejected the term.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister, Turkey (through interpreter): I have always said that we are ready to open our archives at every meeting I attended. In fact, I will take it a step further. I say, we’re ready to open our military archives. We have no fear, no worries on this subject. Our ancestors didn’t persecute.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Turks today upbraided Russian President Vladimir Putin for using the word.
And, last week, they recalled their ambassador to the Vatican after Pope Francis referred to it what happened as — quote — “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
There were protests today in Istanbul on both sides of the issue. But, around the world, demonstrators demanded that Turkey acknowledge what its Ottoman forebears did to Armenians.
WOMAN (through interpreter): I am here to remind that we are here, we didn’t die with the others. And to be able to grieve, we also need to be recognized to move on. It would allow Turkey to move forward if they recognized it, and it would allow us to create new relations together.
JEFFREY BROWN: Thousands rallied in the streets of Brussels, along a highway in Antelias, Lebanon, and through downtown Los Angeles, insisting that what happened 100 years ago be called by its real name.
President Obama did just that when he initially campaigned for the White House. He has not done so since taking office, referring instead to — quote — “mass atrocities” against Armenians.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on signature drone strikes and the controversy surrounding them, we turn to Greg Miller. He’s national security and intelligence reporter at The Washington Post.
Greg Miller, welcome.
So, we have said these drone strikes overall have decreased, but signature strikes still happening. Are they only in Pakistan, and under what circumstances are they used?
GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: Well, they’re mainly used in circumstances, as you outlined a few minutes ago, that — in which the agency believes that it has identified activity associated with al-Qaida, but doesn’t necessarily know the identities of those alleged militants.
And this revelation this week was the clearest indication we have gotten that these signature strikes continue. There’s been an expectation that they would diminish substantially as the U.S. troop presence got lower and lower in Afghanistan. They were often used as sort of a measure of troop protection to attack gathering militants who looked like they were heading for the border.
But the agency still regards this approach or this tactic as an important one.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it known how strict the rules are for when and where these are to be used?
GREG MILLER: Well, I mean, this whole — the disclosures of this week have renewed questions about the administration’s own policies and that it has implemented over the past several years and whether the government and the agency in particular are adhering to them, because one of the fundamental requirements has been a — quote — “near certainty” that no civilians would be harmed in any strike.
And here’s a case where the agency didn’t even know that there were two additional people inside this compound it targeted, let alone that one of them was an American.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s been reported these strikes overall have been pretty successful at taking out al-Qaida. But what’s not clear is — are the civilian casualties. What is known about how many civilian casualties there have been over time?
GREG MILLER: Well, right. And this has renewed a lot of pressure on the administration for answers to these kinds of questions.
The U.S. government has never — has never issued or disclosed publicly any numbers, whether of the total number of people that are believed to have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, let alone how many of those are civilians.
But, privately, U.S. officials will insist that number is really minuscule, maybe 1 or 2 percent. So we’re often relying on the estimates of independent organizations that use various methods of research to try to assemble this sort of data. It’s imperfect, but their numbers tend to be much, much larger, and typically — and typically end up counting hundreds of civilian deaths, along with perhaps 3,000 to 4,000 total deaths attributable to drones.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Greg Miller, just quickly, what would the administration say if they were — when they were asked, why use drones? Why not use conventional warfare?
GREG MILLER: Well, I have asked people this question as recently as today. And the answer remains, it’s just — as flawed as they are, as imperfect as they are, they’re still vastly superior to other options, which include sending troops into a place like Pakistan or using conventional aircraft that are a lot less precise generally and can’t study a target, track a target for near as long.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So when the president talks about making changes, making improvements, is there any understanding of what direction that might go in, what that means?
GREG MILLER: No, there’s no obvious direction. And some of the people I have talked to think that we have reached a point with this program where to tighten it any further would be equivalent to shutting it down, that they have reached the sort of limits of the level of risk that you can reduce.
I think there’s probably going to be some consideration over whether signature strikes need to continue. The al-Qaida threat has been so diminished, eradicated, suppressed in Pakistan, that I do believe there’s probably going to be a real argument over whether signature strikes are necessary any longer.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And then I guess there would be a question about whether drones would be used for other targets, like ISIS, Islamic State.
Greg Miller with The Washington Post, we thank you.
GREG MILLER: Thank you.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: fallout from the killing of two hostages, one American, one Italian, in a U.S. drone strike. It touched off new questions today about just how effective, and precise, drone warfare can be in fighting terrorists. It also led to calls for more information on how the hostages died.
For Italy’s lawmakers, the issue was topic A, with the foreign minister saying there are still questions about the death of Giovanni Lo Porto.
PAOLO GENTILONI, Foreign Minister, Italy (through interpreter): I want to assure you that Italy will find a way to honor the memory of Giovanni. We will work to acquire all the possible information on the circumstances that led to the tragic error acknowledged yesterday by President Obama.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Lo Porto and American Warren Weinstein died in a drone strike in January in Northern Pakistan. U.S. officials say it took many weeks to confirm they’d been killed.
In Pakistan today, the Foreign Ministry said the incident — quote — “demonstrates the risk and unintended consequences of the use of this technology that Pakistan has been highlighting for a long time.”
The hostages were killed by a so-called signature strike. These target suspicious activity, or a signature, indicating the likely presence of al-Qaida leaders. The U.S. has conducted drone strikes for years across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, though they have decreased significantly in more recent times.
Many of the attacks inside Pakistan are signature strikes in the semiautonomous tribal region of Waziristan, along the Afghan border.
Today, President Obama suggested revisions could be in order.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re going to review what happened. We’re going to identify the lessons that can be learned and any improvements and changes that can be made. And we’re not cavalier about what we do. And we understand the solemn responsibilities that are given to us.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House also said it’s working to streamline information given to the families of hostages.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Police in Italy today arrested 10 Pakistani and Afghan nationals with links to al-Qaida. They’re suspected of plotting attacks on the Vatican and in their home countries.
The men, including the group’s spiritual leader, were taken into custody during early morning raids. Eight others were being sought. Two of the suspects are said to be former bodyguards for Osama bin Laden.
In Sicily, two survivors of a migrant smuggling disaster had their first court appearance. One allegedly captained the boat that capsized, leading up to 900 deaths. The other is accused of being a crew member. The men are Tunisian and Syrian. Prosecutors said the captain rammed an overloaded trawler into a rescue vessel, touching off the disaster.
But defense lawyers said they have got the wrong men.
GIUSEPPE IVO RUSSO, Defense Lawyer (through interpreter): At the moment, according to the questions answered so far, we only have indications on the height, the skin color, and that’s it, of the captain and of another member of the crew. But there were another two people with the same skin color, with pale skin.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, British and German warships prepared to sail toward Libya, as part of stepped-up rescue efforts.
Greece came under fire from its European creditors at a meeting today in Latvia. Financial leaders of the 19-country Eurozone criticized Athens for delaying financial reforms, with a deadline just days away.
JEROEN DIJSSELBLOEM, President, Eurogroup: There are still wide differences to cover and to bridge on substance. And we are all aware that time is running out. Too much time has been lost in the past two months, and it is therefore clear that these discussions need to make significantly more progress.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Greece has to provide the list of reforms in order to receive another installment of bailout funds.
Ceremonies began today to mark the beginning of an iconic battle of World War I, at Gallipoli in Turkey. It started 100 years ago tomorrow. Today, families of soldiers who fought in the British-led invasion gathered alongside world leaders to remember the 130,000 who died in the campaign. Britain’s Prince Charles and Prince Harry were among those on hand.
Back in this country, Baltimore officials said that police made serious mistakes in handling a man who died in custody. Freddie Gray passed away a week after he was arrested and suffered a severe spinal injury.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts spoke this afternoon.
ANTHONY BATTS, Commissioner, Baltimore Police Department: We know he wasn’t buckled in the transportation wagon, as he should have been. No excuses for that, period. We know our police employees failed to give him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times. There are still many questions that we don’t have the answers to.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials say they’re still trying to determine how Gray was injured.
Comcast officially announced it’s dropping a $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable. The move had faced opposition from the Federal Communications Commission.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement today, “The proposed merger would have posed an unacceptable risk to competition and innovation.”
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts responded in an interview on CNBC.
BRIAN ROBERTS, Chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation: We respect their judgment, even if, you know, we didn’t get our case made the way we saw it. And I do think it’s best for us to move on. And that’s what we’re doing today, and we do it with, you know, genuine enthusiasm with the momentum of the company.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The deal would have put almost 30 percent of cable TV subscribers and 55 percent of broadband subscribers under one corporate roof.
And on Wall Street, stocks managed small gains. The Dow Jones industrial were up 21 points to close at 18080. The Nasdaq rose 36, and the S&P added four. For the week, the Dow gained nearly 1.5 percent, the Nasdaq rose 3 percent, and the S&P was up almost 2 percent.
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WASHINGTON — As he began his first re-election run in early 2013, tea party Rep. Thomas Massie had no trouble raising money from business interests.
Then came 2015.
The Kentucky Republican voted against returning John Boehner, R-Ohio, to the speaker’s job and opposed an effort by GOP leaders to avoid a standoff with President Barack Obama over immigration that threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.
In the first three months of 2013, Massie reported $46,000 rolling in from tobacco, trucking, health care and other industries. During the first quarter of 2015, Massie has collected just $1,000 from political action committees, which funnel contributions to candidates from business, labor or ideological interests. That money came from the conservative Eagle Forum.
Massie and some other conservatives say the reason their business contributions have fallen is simple: GOP leaders are retaliating for their defiance.
“Those who don’t go along to get along aren’t going to get as many PAC checks,” Massie said last week, using the acronym for political action committees.
None offers concrete proof that top Republicans are behind the contribution falloff. But they say the evidence is clear.
“I’m an engineer with a science background. I look at empirical evidence. If you have enough data points, you can prove something,” Massie said.
Conservatives point out that leadership has targeted them before, and they cite Boehner’s removal of some rebels from coveted committee assignments. In March, an outside group allied with GOP leaders ran radio and Internet ads accusing some House Republicans who opposed efforts to end the Homeland Security impasse of being “willing to put our security at risk.”
GOP leaders deny they have orchestrated an effort to deny business support to recalcitrant conservatives, arguing that they want to protect Republican-held seats. But they acknowledge that votes can have consequences with business groups whose political spending plays major roles in congressional campaigns.
“If they agree with what the speaker is trying to accomplish and you don’t support the speaker, why should they support you?” asked Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner ally.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that many GOP rebels are having a harder time raising cash from corporate interests, while others are not.
In a public show of disloyalty that party leaders scorn, 25 House Republicans voted against Boehner to be speaker last January, including one who voted “present.” Of the 24 expected to seek re-election next year, 15 saw their contributions from PACs fall between this year’s opening quarter and the same period in 2013.
For a few who did not file reports for the first quarter of 2013, this year’s data was compared with the earliest report from their 2014 campaign.
None of the 24 has received contributions yet this year from political committees run by Boehner and the other two top GOP leaders, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, according to FEC reports. The three leaders have donated to dozens of other House Republicans, chiefly those facing tight re-elections.
All except perhaps three of the 24 mutinous Republicans are in safe GOP districts and should breeze to re-election.
In the first quarter of 2015, maverick Tim Huelskamp of Kansas saw his contributions from political committees fall in half from the $35,000 he reported raising during that period in 2013. He says lobbyists have told him of a “do not give list” from top Republicans that names about 35 GOP lawmakers.
“Folks understood, `Hey, you may not get what you want if you’re helping the folks'” on the list, said Huelskamp.
Leading Republicans deny such a list exists.
“That is beyond conspiracy theory, because if someone was going to do the list, it would be me,” said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., a Boehner friend and frequent critic of his party’s insurgents.
Top Republicans say campaign contributions can vary over time for several reasons, including a preference by many donors to help incumbents in tight races or freshmen as well as lawmakers’ own money-raising efforts. They note that the first quarter of a nonelection year is early, with plenty of time for donations before the November 2016 election.
“You can blame failure on a lot of fathers,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP campaign organization.
Not all rebellious Republicans whose business contributions have dropped blame party leaders, and many have found ways to offset the smaller amounts they’ve raised from political committees.
Of the 24 House Republicans who opposed Boehner’s re-election, half have raised more this year than they did in early 2013 and 18 have fatter campaign treasuries than they did then.
Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., got 12 votes for speaker in January. His political committee contributions plummeted from $38,000 in the first quarter of 2013 to $3,000 this year.
But thanks to a huge jump in individuals’ donations, Webster raised $233,000 overall from January through March of 2015, nearly $100,000 more than in early 2013. He says he’s not aware of GOP leaders steering business money away from him.
“I would suspect if people like the job I’m doing, they’re going to give to us,” he said.
The post House GOP rebels blame party leaders as contributions falter appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
MARTIN FLETCHER: The biblical River Jordan — a rare freshwater resource in the Middle East. It forms the border between Israel and the West Bank and Jordan.
At this bend, about six miles from Jericho, it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth.
These pilgrims hail from Ballston Spa, upstate New York.
MARTIN FLETCHER: “How’s the water?”
KRISTIN MCCABE: “It’s cold!”
MARTIN FLETCHER: And shallow too.
MARTIN FLETCHER: “In the ’60s, the water level of the Jordan River was actually where we’re standing now.”
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “In wintertime it was this high.”
Gidon Bromberg is Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East, an environmental group.
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “Pilgrims, when they came here were under threat of being drowned by the strength, by the power of this river. Today, a mouse wheel will hardly turn with what’s left of this river.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: For decades, Israel and its neighbors diverted the Jordan’s flow to supply drinking water and water for crops. While the river is down 95 percent from its historical flow, there’s hope that someday, it could return to its former glory.
That’s because Israel today has more water than it needs — it’s gone from drought to water surplus in just a few years – impressive anywhere, but especially in the arid Middle East, one of the driest regions in the world.
For years, Israel’s water authority ran public service TV ads like this one.
Israel’s drying up, she says, as her face begins to crack. Save water!
Now the ads have been discontinued. Not needed anymore.
Through a combination of recycling, conservation, and most recently desalination technology — removing salt from salt water — Israel not only has plenty to drink, but potentially plenty to share. And that could be good news for easing tensions in a region where water is often the source of conflict.
Israel is already easily the world leader in water reuse — far outpacing the rest of the world, including the United States.
Across Israel, plants like this one in the desert town of Rahat treat wastewater instead of letting it go to waste. So-called grey water from the kitchen and bathroom as well as black water from sewage is filtered, cleaned, and reused for irrigation.
“Its a perfect little recycling ecosystem. The waste from the people of Rahat over there is treated here and then used to irrigate the fields nearby.”
But the real leap forward has been in desalination technology, vastly improving Israel’s ability to turn salty water into fresh drinking water.
In ten years, Israel has built five desalination plants along its Mediterranean coast. In Ashkelon, Ashdod, Sorek, Palmachim and Hadera.
Each cost around $4 hundred million dollars.
They’re privately owned and sell their water to the government, which sells it on to the people. Together the desalination plants provide up to 50% of Israel’s drinking water.
MARTIN FLETCHER: “The Israelis have achieved something extraordinary.
Five, six, seven years ago it was all about save water and bathe together, and now they’ve got more water than they need.”
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “It is remarkable. It’s been a slow process. So Israel’s leadership in treating sewage has taken place over the last fifteen years, but the breakthrough has been in the development of membrane technology for desalination because that breakthrough in technology dramatically reduced the costs of desalinating seawater.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: “From about one dollar a cubic meter to about forty cents.”
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “Exactly. To less than half the cost.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: Ten miles south of Tel Aviv, the Sorek plant, open only eighteen months, calls itself the world’s biggest seawater desalination plant of its kind. It can produce more than six hundred thousand cubic meters of drinking water a day — enough for one and a half million people, almost a fifth of Israel’s population.
Avshalom Felber is CEO of IDE Technologies which built the Sorek desalination plant.
MARTIN FLETCHER: “This is where the water from the Mediterranean enters the plant.”
AVSHALOM FELBER, IDE TECHNOLOGIES: “Exactly, underneath here is a deep pit, about 70 meters down where all this water is collected and it comes by gravity from the sea; it’s under sea level. The pumps here lift it here from this pit to the pretreatment area.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: From pre-treatment, the water moves through a series of smaller and smaller screens and filters. Then the water is piped into this complex of buildings where a fine membrane is used to remove the last bits of salt and other minerals.
MARTIN FLETCHER: “There’s about two thousand pressure vessels here that shoot water down through the membranes at a pressure of seventy atmospheres. Halfway down the water becomes drinking water.”
The desalinated water finally passes through these pipes to enter Israel’s water grid.
This tap is always open to check at every instant the quality of the water that Israelis will drink.
AVSHALOM FELBER, IDE TECHNOLOGIES: “Forty-five minutes ago this was seawater and now drink it and see how tasty it is.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: Still there are questions about its environmental impact — very salty water is a byproduct of the process, and it gets dumped back into the Mediterranean. Environmentalists say there’s not enough information to know the long-term impacts that might have on sea life.
And the process uses a lot of energy, around three percent of all of Israel’s annual electricity output.
As everything here is politics, Israel’s new water independence could yield political progress — though historically that progress has been slow.
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “The biggest problem is the mindset. It’s been all or nothing for the last twenty years. The negotiations in the peace process have either been we agree on all five final status issues of the peace process, water being one of them, but also Jerusalem, settlements, border, or we agree on nothing.
And therefore for twenty years we’ve agreed on nothing.”
Water’s often caught up in wider political debates. For example, we visited the planned West Bank Palestinian city of Rawabi, where construction stopped for a year and a half over disputes about water.
The Israeli prime minister cut through the red tape this year and promised to open the tap this spring.
Still, in the past, the Israelis have used water to prevent conflict.
In their 1994 peace accord, Israel agreed to provide Jordan with five percent of its annual water needs at no cost — and that’s been increased to about seven percent just because Israel can.
And water experts like Bromberg hope Israel’s government will use its current water surplus to extend the same generosity to the Palestinian living in the West Bank.
GIDON BROMBERG, ECOPEACE MIDDLE EAST: “We can move forward today, and every Palestinian can turn on the tap and have water flowing.”
In fact, the Israeli government has agreed in principle to sell the Palestinians 20 to 30 million cubic meters of its desalinated water, enough to supply drinking water to the West Bank for about eight months.
Water officials from both sides say they are eager to work together.
The head of the Israeli water authority’s desalination division, Avraham Tenne.
AVRAHAM TENNE, ISRAEL WATER AUTHORITY: “We, as the water people, we do speak together. We don’t have to wait to have committees to meet together. We meet many times, even during all kinds of wars, all kinds of conflicts that we have with them, water people are talking all the time. Meeting all the time. And sharing information all the time.”
Palestinian water minister Mazen Ghoneim.
MAZEN GHONEIM, PALESTINIAN WATER MINISTER: “We have nothing against the Israeli side. What we want exactly, just to help our people.”
MARTIN FLETCHER: Today Israel’s challenge is to do all it can to secure its water independence — and to use that independence to build bridges with its neighbors.
The post Will Israel’s new water technology yield political gain in the arid Middle East? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
— Discovery (@Discovery) April 21, 2015
While glass frogs are typically green, this species is unique in that it is uniformly lime green and has a distinctive DNA structure and tinny high-pitched mating call.
Researcher Brian Kubicki, along with Stanley Salazar and Robert Puschendorf, found six specimens of the amphibians in three separate locations in the Talamanca Mountain Range on the Costa Rica-Panama border.
They named the new species Hyalinobatrachium dianae (Diane’s Bare-hearted glass frog), in honor of Kubicki’s mother, Janet Diane, and wrote about the discovery in the February issue of Zootaxa.
The semitransparent glass frog, whose internal organs are easily seen, is common to the rainforests of Central and South America. This is the first time since 1973 that a new species has been discovered in Costa Rica, according to National Geographic.
As a result of the latest discovery, there are now 14 types of glass frogs in Costa Rica and 149 worldwide.
As the internet reacted to the Kermit look-alike, Disney released an official Q&A with the Muppet, in which Kermit responded to a range of questions about his amphibious doppelganger:
Is it true that you may be related?
Yes, we’re cousins. In fact, I’m related to every single frog in the world, and I’m close to most toads, too. The reason this new frog looks so much like me is that her mother and my mother are sisters. It’s a family resemblance. Googly eyes run in our family.
Read more from the Kermit Q&A here.
The post New species of Costa Rican glass frog bears resemblance to Kermit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Two years ago Karen been never had to walk to get someplace. She owned a car. She also had a corporate job in Atlanta and a house with a pool in the backyard. But today this single mother of two boys is unemployed and on the job hunt in New York City. They moved here for a better life but quickly ran out of money. And the one thing she needs right now to get back on her feet is what most of us take for granted.
KAREN BEEN: I feel that the internet will definitely be a catalyst in me getting out of the situation we are in. If you are looking for a job they want me to go online and fill out an application. There is no more hardcopies when it comes to resumes.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But it’s difficult for been to go online and send out her resume. She can’t afford the monthly internet bill, which costs around 60 dollars a month in New York City. So after school, the three make a beeline for the library. Been’s 11 year old son Ishan Siddiqui rushes to finish his homework before the library closes.
ISHAN SIDDIQUI: It was kind of difficult because sometimes in class I didn’t understand something and I wanted to go on the computer but I couldn’t go on it so I couldn’t research what I wanted to.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The Been family is one of 730 thousand households in New York that does not have internet in the home. The city says it’s doing its part to pull New Yorkers out of the digital dark, but it takes more than just having an internet connection. That connection has to be affordable too.
MAYA WILEY: The Internet today is really what railroads and roads were at the turn of the century; they’re our primary way both of doing commerce and for people to get connected to the economy, to get education.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Maya Wiley is a counsel to New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio. Her mission is to make high speed internet more accessible to New Yorkers, especially for people who can’t afford to pay for basic broadband. She considers it a social justice issue.
MAYA WILEY: No matter who you are and no matter your financial resources, you will be able to get online for free and get high speed Internet.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So the city is focused on rolling out free wireless like with these vans that double as mobile computer labs and Wi-Fi hubs. They’re usually parked in front of public housing apartments. The city is also expanding Wi-Fi underground and in public spaces like Madison Square Park. And later this year, the city will turn defunct pay phones into free wireless hubs. Public libraries are also joining in, lending out free hotspots—mobile devices that transmit a wireless signal—that low-income families can check out, much like books. Been and her sons took one home.
ISHAN SIDDIQUI: When the library closes on Friday, it closes really early, but when I go home I can finish doing what I want on the computer, and now when I study I get better grades.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But in neighborhoods where the city’s wireless programs don’t yet extend far enough, residents are literally taking measures into their own hands. A few times a week Robert Smith climbs to the rooftops of Red Hook, Brooklyn. With equipment and funding from the Red Hook Initiative — a community center that receives support from the — he installs tiny routers that beam out wireless signals. There are dozens of these throughout the neighborhood, essentially creating a blanket of free Wi-Fi.
ROBERT SMITH: Having Internet access just opens up a whole another world of opportunity, like people can obtain like a college level degree of education just from the Internet.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Smith has lived in public housing his whole life and says most of his friends can’t afford an internet bill. That’s because 60 percent of the residents in red hook live in low income public housing, where the average family’s income is just over $23,000.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: It’s ridiculously expensive here in the United States to have this basic thing in your house that makes possible every other aspect of life.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Susan Crawford is a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York City. She also served as President Obama’s special assistant for technology. She says people today expect to have internet access anytime – in the same way they expect water from a faucet or power from an electrical outlet, much like a public utility.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: In America, we’re in this weird moment, where although it feels like a utility to most Americans, and they need, they know they can’t have a house without it or business without it. It’s a luxury that actually is a utility.
HARI SREENIVASAN: A luxury, she says, because a handful of internet service providers—like Time Warner and Comcast—have cornered the market on broadband, leaving customers with fewer choices and higher prices—on average 30 and 60 dollars a month.
SUSAN CRAWFORD: That’s happened because of a lack of regulation. Doesn’t happen by magic. It happens because it’s in their interests to control markets and reap steady profits.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Although the Federal Communications commission officially classified broadband internet as a public utility this past February, it said that it would not get involved with pricing decisions. But there are other options. Several U.S. cities are now offering their own publicly-funded broadband services—cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, Wilson, North Carolina, Bristol, Virginia, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Cedar Falls, Iowa. The hope is that these services will attract new businesses and expand internet access to more people across the economic spectrum. But there are some who are critical of this new model.
JEFFREY EISENACH: When governments go into business and compete with the private sector, it’s just not their, it’s just not their forte.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Jeff Eisenach is with the American Enterprise Institute and studies policies that affect the information technology sector. He says that, although the government can play a role in bringing internet access to poorer Americans, public broadband services can’t keep up with the innovation that the private broadband industry offers.
JEFFREY EISENACH: The largest investors in the United States today, are America’s broadband companies. They’re AT&T and Verizon are always on the top, literally, the top of the list that the companies spending the most money. What you don’t want is government coming in and replacing all of the innovation, all of the dynamism, all of the growth, all of the technological progress that we’re seeing throughout the internet, including in the broadband market.
HARI SREENIVASAN: For her part, Maya Wiley says that while a public broadband model isn’t realistic for New York, the city can play a role in bringing free internet to its poorer residents, as well as bringing down the cost.
MAYA WILEY: We are the largest city in the country and one of the most diverse. That means we can’t just simply replicate a model from Chattanooga, Tennessee, even though it’s a wonderful model, we’re just very different.
When we take our pay phones and turn them into wireless hot spots, and they’re free hot spots, that is a form of competition for, say, Time Warner Cable that has subscribers that pay money for wireless service, right? That should help create some price pressure downward.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Wiley says there’s no one-size-fits all solution. The city is looking to expand red hook’s wireless mesh program to other communities. Wiley’s team also plans on working with private companies to create more free wireless…as it did with sprint for the library hotspots.
Karen been and her sons have had the device now for four months. She recently started taking EMT training classes, and now that she has internet in the house, she can easily do her assignments online. She’s hoping that internet access will give her the edge she needs to pass her certification test in June and, with any luck, to find a job.
KAREN BEEN: It wouldn’t be possible to pay 50, 60, 70 dollars a month for high-speed Internet. Definitely not. So having access to the web at home allows me to look for employment more freely.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Been is hopeful that the city’s wireless will soon open doors for her and her sons.
The post How New York is bringing Internet-deprived homes out of the digital dark appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
More than 1,400 people were killed in Nepal after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the South Asian country on Saturday, collapsing buildings including a 19th century tower in the capital Kathmandu and triggering an avalanche on Mount Everest.
The death toll from the quake, which was the country’s most devastating in 81 years, was likely to rise as reports from other rural areas of the country came in, deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam told the Associated Press.
The Nepalese government declared a state of emergency and appealed for international humanitarian assistance after the temblor, which struck just before noon local time, also triggered a landslide on Mount Everest. More than 1,000 climbers had gathered for the start of the climbing season, and at least 10 climbers were killed and dozens were injured, government officials said.
Ensuing aftershocks from the quake also jolted neighboring countries, killing 36 in northern India, 12 in Chinese Tibet, four in Bangladesh and two in the Nepal-China border, the AP reported.
Massive power outages were reported as the devastating quake left hundreds more injured and displaced and many were feared trapped inside the debris of toppled homes and other buildings.
“The house was shaking like crazy. We ran out and it seemed like the road was heaving up and down,” Shrish Vaidya, who was in his two-story house outside the capital Kathmandu with his parents, told the AP.
“I don’t remember anything like this before. Even my parents can’t remember anything this bad.”
Uddav Timilsina, chief district officer of Gorkha, a city near the quake’s epicenter, told the Wall Street Journal that more than half of the houses in the surrounding villages were damaged.
“It’s cold and windy so we are all sitting in the car listening to the news on FM radio,” Vaidya, 46, who runs an advertising agency, said. “The experts are saying it’s still not safe to go back inside. No one can predict how big the next aftershock will be.”
In the wake of the devastation, leaders around the world pledged support to the region.
India officials sent military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a search and rescue team with doctors would depart for the area on Saturday.
United States aid officials said the U.S. would send a disaster response team and at least $1 million in aid.
The post More than 1,400 dead after powerful earthquake devastates Nepal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — The accidental killing of two hostages in a U.S. operation against al-Qaida has put a new spotlight on the Obama administration’s reliance on drones in the battle against terrorism – and has also raised pressure on the White House to revise the nation’s oft-criticized strategy for dealing with abducted Americans and their families.
A day after President Barack Obama apologized and took responsibility for the deaths of American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto in a January strike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials said Friday that a nearly yearlong, interagency review of the hostage policy is to be completed this spring.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration is considering whether to create a “fusion cell” comprised of the FBI, Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community to ensure they are closely coordinating on rescue efforts and communication with families. The administration is seeking reaction to the idea from relatives of hostages, after several have complained about the government’s response in the past.
“These families are in a terrible situation – unthinkable to imagine what it would be like to have a loved one, a family member, being held against their will by a terrorist organization,” Earnest said.
The review won’t affect the longstanding U.S. refusal to offer ransom or other concessions for the release of hostages. “Paying ransom or offering a concession to a terrorist organization may result in the saving of one innocent life, but could put countless other innocent lives at greater risk,” Earnest said.
Obama ordered the review last summer as more Americans were abducted by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and other militant groups, and hostage families and lawmakers criticized the response.
The families’ anguish has been made worse by the fact that European governments routinely pay ransoms and their hostages are released unharmed. Meanwhile, kidnappers have killed several Americans, including Luke Somers, who was shot just as a U.S. rescue team was rushing to him.
“We’ve reached out to all of the hostage families to get their input,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said of the 82 families and former American hostages taken since 2001. “We want it from them, to see how we can do better, because we understand they’re the most important part of this.”
On Thursday, Elaine Weinstein thanked her congressional delegation from Maryland and some in the FBI for their “relentless efforts to free my husband.” But she also said, in a statement, “Unfortunately, the assistance we received from other elements of the U.S. government was inconsistent and disappointing over the course of three and a half years.”
“We hope that my husband’s death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families.”
The administration review has involved consultations with hostage experts from the U.S. and other countries as well as interviews with about two dozen former hostages and family members who have received updates and provided feedback on initial proposals, according to a senior official. That official, who did not have authorization to speak on the record, commented only on condition of anonymity.
The National Counter Terrorism Center is leading the review.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, complained about a lack of government coordination between agencies.
“Warren Weinstein did not have to die,” he said in a statement. “His death is further evidence of the failures in communication and coordination between government agencies tasked with recovering Americans in captivity – and the fact that he’s dead, as a result, is absolutely tragic.”
He said that in the lead-up to the trade of Taliban commanders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a Pentagon official was developing plans to recover not just Bergdahl but all Western hostages believed held in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, including Weinstein. Bergdahl was eventually traded in May 2014 for five former Taliban figures held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“Their planning did not include a 5 for 1 trade, as occurred, but rather a 1 for 7 exchange,” Hunter said, but the plan never came to fruition.
The complaints echo those of the parents of James Foley, a freelance journalist kidnapped in Syria in November 2012 who last August was the first American to be executed by Islamic State militants. John and Diane Foley have said the government uses its policy of not paying ransom or negotiating with terrorists to avoid answering families’ questions about the state of their loved ones. They said officials kept families in the dark.
“For one year, we didn’t really know where he was or whether he was alive,” John Foley said at a forum at the University of Arizona in February. “We had no one who was accountable for Jim, if you will,” his wife, Diane, added.
Likewise, the family of kidnapped aid worker Kayla Mueller, who was killed in what Islamic State militants said was a Jordanian airstrike in February, has said government policies were contradictory and prevented her from being rescued.
Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat who represents the suburban Maryland area that includes the Weinsteins’ home, has called for the creation of a “hostage czar” who would unify government efforts to free hostages and work with their families. “I feel like his country failed him in his greatest time of need,” he said of his constituent.
He said he planned to introduce legislation in a month or so that would create a panel led by the czar – someone empowered to reach across agencies and coordinate efforts to find and retrieve U.S. citizens held hostage and be the primary liaison with families.
The post Accidental hostage killing puts new spotlight on reliance on drones appeared first on PBS NewsHour.