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

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    Hhooded seal, copyright Doug Allan/naturepl.com

    The male hooded seal inflates its nasal cavity which appears like a big red bladder at the top of its head. It’s used as an acoustic device to ward off hostile species. Photo by Doug Allan/naturepl.com

    Go to any zoo that boasts having a giant panda, and you’ll see its cute face plastered on everything from T-shirts to key chains. But imagine going to the zoo and being welcomed with a banner featuring a big ol’ flabby hooded seal with its flaring red nostril. (See above.)

    Ugly AnimalsOnly in an alternate universe, right?

    Not necessarily, thinks Simon Watt. He’s the founder of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a UK-based group that uses comedy to promote awareness of endangered, aesthetically challenged animals.

    The hooded seal is just one of 60 animals included in his book, “Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas,” out today, which profiles exceptionally unattractive endangered animals and offers advice and how to protect their habitats.

    bald-headed uakari copyright Evgenia Kononova, Wikimedia Commons

    Bald-headed uakari, Photo by Evgenia Kononova, Wikimedia Commons

    Watt, a biologist and comedian, wrote the book as part of his work with the comedy troupe to promotes conservation awareness by joking about animals that are unlikely to be mascots for animal protection organizations.

    At a typical event, Watt and other comedians will each represent an ugly animal and try to convince the audience to vote for it as their city’s mascot. Past winners have included the big-nosed proboscis monkey, the wrinkled titicaca water frog and the naked mole rat, whose name serves as its description.

    Titicaca water frog, copyright Pete Oxford/naturepl.com

    Titicaca water frog, photo by Pete Oxford/naturepl.com

    The pink, viscous glop on the front cover of “Ugly Animals” — aptly called the blobfish — is the society’s official mascot.

    Watt thinks that being able to laugh at how strange these animals appear helps people appreciate how biologically interesting they are.

    “No one seems to like slugs, but the more I learn about them, the more I love them,” he said. “These things are filled with stories; they’re all incredible in their own way.”

    prickly redfish, copyright Fran.ois Michonneau, Wikimedia Commons

    Prickly redfish, photo by François Michonneau, Wikimedia Commons

    Jokes aside, aesthetics really do determine which animals receive the most attention from conservationists and researchers. A minority of endangered mammal species gets exposure for fundraising efforts, and — assuming equal economic value — cute animals have more studies devoted to them.

    Ernest Small, a research scientist with Canada’s Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, says that studies favoring attractive animals receive the most funding.

    “Researchers, professional biologists and conservationists understand if that are they going to devote their life to something that is really unattractive or not of economic value they’re going to have a lot of difficulty getting financial support for their work,” he said.

    olm, copyright Wild Wonders of Europe/ Hodalic/naturepl.com

    Olm, photo by Wild Wonders of Europe/Hodalic/naturepl.com

    But more important than putting conservation focus on individual species, Small said, is the importance of protecting the ecosystems that support a diversity of life.

    This means that using iconic animals for conservation can have practical benefits. According to Colby Loucks, Deputy Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Wildlife Conservation Program, when attractive animals bring in money, other less charismatic animals living in the same habitat are protected as well.

    “Conserving habitat for a cute and cuddly-looking animal like the panda also conserves habitat for many less ‘cute’ wildlife that shares its home, such as the really funky looking takin or the Chinese giant salamander — the largest salamander in the world,” he said.

    Chinese giant salamander, Photo by By J. Patrick Fischer via Wikimedia Commons

    Chinese giant salamander, photo by By J. Patrick Fischer via Wikimedia Commons

    Loucks and Small both appreciate the work of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, because given the current rates of extinction, conservationists need a good laugh. According to a report released by the World Wildlife Fund last year, the world’s vertebrate population declined by 50 percent since 1970. And the problem may be even larger than we can track, because known endangered species make up a tiny fraction of all the species that have been identified.

    This large population decline is being termed as the “Sixth Extinction,” the first mass extinction in history to be driven by man-made factors including loss of habitat and human exploitation.

    Chinese water deer at Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable, copyright William Warby, Wikimedia Commons

    Chinese water deer at Whipsnade Zoo, photo by William Warby, Wikimedia Commons

    Loucks points out that because inhabitants of the Earth depend on similar environments, the fate of humanity is intertwined with that of the most obscure, unappealing animals as well.

    And by using entertainment, Watt hopes that recognizing the unique qualities of those animals can foster a new appreciation for biodiversity.

    “Honestly, I feel less revulsion than fascination because a lot of these animals are species I’ve never heard of,” said Watt. “It’s almost like an alien race on Earth.”

    “Ugly Animals: We Can’t All Be Pandas,” is published by Trafalgar Square Publishing.

    The post Using humor to protect ‘ugly’ animals, because they can’t all be as cute as pandas appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Undefeated WBC/WBA welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) of the U.S. and WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines face off during a final news conference at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, the fight of the century that is much a business deal as it is a brawl, one that’s now the richest match in history.

    One fighter is 38 years old. His opponent is 36, both older than what used to boxing’s prime. But age doesn’t seem to diminishing any interest in the event tomorrow night in Las Vegas.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The two are considered the best fighters of their generation.

    MAN: Pacquiao?!

    JEFFREY BROWN: Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao is already a national hero in his native Philippines, even a member of its congress.

    Floyd “Money” Mayweather is undefeated, the highest paid athlete in the world. Saturday’s fight is nearly a decade in the making, with competing camps, lawsuits, rival promoters and warring cable networks all stopping the bout before it started, until now.

    Wednesday afternoon, amid only-in-Vegas fanfare, the two fighters came out to meet the press. But this first encounter more boardroom and button down than bedlam.

    MANNY PACQUIAO: I am expecting a good fight, a good fight and a victory.

    FLOYD MAYWEATHER: Well, you guys came out here to see excitement. That’s what both competitors bring to the table.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Also on that table, a mountain of cash. Mayweather, the favorite, and Pacquiao will split about $300 million. You heard that right, $300 million. Pay-per-view TV will cost $100, and the very few tickets on sale?

    JASON ROHLOFF, StubHub: We have tickets that range up to over $100,000.

    DAVID LYTLE: Twenty-seven hundred a piece for some high seating. I’m going to bring some Kleenex, get the blood out of my nose, but we’re going to be alright.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But this once-in-a-generation hype and time frame may speak to a larger problem for the sport of boxing, as it’s lost the day-to-day fans it once had. Earlier this week, we met up-and-coming fighter Dusty Harrison-Hernandez at Old School Boxing Gym, just outside Washington.

    DUSTY HARRISON-HERNANDEZ: As much as people want to say boxing is alive, which it is, because Floyd’s making the biggest payday out of any other fighter. The money is there, but it’s not the same as it was when it comes to the fans. There aren’t that many American superstars left in boxing. And I think that’s a major problem.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Both fighters on Saturday rose to stardom from rough beginnings, seeing boxing as a path away from hard lives. That’s true for most fighters, says Dusty.

    DUSTY HARRISON-HERNANDEZ: Sometimes, I see people who are like, oh, I’m tired of that sob story in boxing, but that’s the story in boxing. People don’t box that don’t have to. At one point, for probably 95 percent of boxers, it was a way out. Not too many people choose boxing.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But the 20-year-old undefeated professional has. He is trained by his father, Buddy Harrison. And even with boxing’s problems, he sees growth in his gym.

    BUDDY HARRISON: Every time dusty fights, if it’s televised, that Monday, people are showing up here. They want to sign up. People see a local guy that didn’t have a lot make it, they want to do it, too.

    JEFFREY BROWN: A closer look now at the big fight and the sport itself. Jeremy Schaap is covering it for ESPN. He is the author of “Cinderella Man,” a book about former heavyweight champions James Braddock and Max Baer.

    And he joins us from Las Vegas.

    Well, Jeremy Schaap, first, for the non-boxing fans, why is this such a big deal?

    JEREMY SCHAAP: This is a big deal because it’s boxing’s Super Bowl. And boxing hasn’t had a Super Bowl in a long time.

    Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are the two most famous fighters on the planet. And for the better part of the last decade, they have been the two best fighters on the planet. There has been so much anticipation about this fight. There have been so many stalled negotiations over the years, that interest in this fight was building up even as most people didn’t expect to ever see it happen.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Floyd Mayweather, start with him, considered one of the greatest fighters of all time, but also a man shadowed with a lot of personal issues, including a history of domestic violence.

    JEREMY SCHAAP: Floyd Mayweather, as you said, has a long history of domestic violence, a long history of abuse towards women.

    And I would say, coming into this fight, it is a bigger issue for the public than it has ever been before, although this is an issue that goes back the better part of 15 years with Floyd Mayweather. Of course, there was a national dialogue last year sparked with the Ray Rice incidents and other incidents in the NFL.

    So, right now, there is more scrutiny, there is more attention on Floyd Mayweather’s criminal history and the myriad accusations against him going back, as I said, to the year 2001.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And Manny Pacquiao, for his part, a national hero in the Philippines, a congressman, a lot riding for him.

    JEREMY SCHAAP: Well, there is a lot at stake for Manny Pacquiao. This is the fight he has wanted tore a long time. This is the fight that all the boxing fans on the planet wanted that could cement his legacy.

    He hasn’t been as invincible as Floyd Mayweather. Floyd Mayweather is 47-0. Manny Pacquiao lost a couple of fights in the last few years, although he has won his last three. I would say that Manny Pacquiao actually has nothing to lose here. A victory would surprise most people, but not shock people. Floyd Mayweather’s entire legacy as an undefeated champion is on the line here.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, in the larger picture, we have got one really, really big night with a lot of money, a lot of attention, but in the larger picture, a sport that, what, continues in decline?

    JEREMY SCHAAP: Well, I think we have to make the distinction between boxing’s popularity in the U.S. and globally.

    Outside of the U.S., boxing enjoys arguably as much popularity as it has ever. But in the U.S., there’s no question the sport is not a mainstream sport that it — the way that it was 50 years ago, the way that it was 100 years ago.

    Outside of Pacquiao and Mayweather, the names of even the top fighters are unknown to most American sports fans. Boxing was a sport for a long time that was a sport of the masses in the U.S., and American kids were exposed to it from a very young age. That is not the case anymore. It’s a tough sport, it’s a dangerous sport, and it is a sport that is traditionally drawn from the American underclasses who didn’t see other opportunities.

    There are no scholarships for boxing. There are limited opportunities, as I said, to make money in this sport. All the money seems to accrue at the very top for the best fighters, the biggest managers, the biggest promoters. So we are not developing boxers the way that we once did. And this fight is not going to change that.

    It’s a marquee event. People are going to come to it for one night, for Saturday night. But after that, it’s a big question really whether it will have any sustainable impact on the sport.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jeremy Schaap, thanks so much for joining us.

    JEREMY SCHAAP: My pleasure.


    The post Will the Pacquiao-Mayweather match revive American interest in boxing? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    So, gentlemen, story today leading the program, Mark, of course, is Baltimore and these, what some people will say, are stunning charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.

    Is it your sense — there was celebrating in the streets, but is it your sense that this raises confidence in our justice system?

    MARK SHIELDS: It — certainly among the people immediately in the crowd today and I think probably across the city of Baltimore, but we know that it’s been swift. The action’s been swift.

    But, obviously, the police officers are innocent until they get their day in court. But it was done so quickly. And the state’s attorney showed a great command of the facts today and spoke about an independent investigation she conducted, didn’t reveal many details about that.

    But, right now, the charges — any charge of inaction or indifference is not sustainable.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How did it seem to you?

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, aggressive, fast.

    She certainly gave you an impression of what happened, which was that they basically let this guy bounce — they cuffed him and let him bounce around the back of this truck for a little while, which is almost nauseating in its indifference to a human being. And so, if that’s the case, it is a dehumanizing thing they did.

    And so it is — probably rings true for a lot of people, people who feel disrespected. And so I think it’s aggressive and a sharp maneuver. I guess I have one question. The fact — what the police union raised, I haven’t really thought about this, but it is an issue, the fact that she’s married to a guy who is a politician in the area.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean the state’s attorney.

    DAVID BROOKS: The state’s attorney.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Marilyn Mosby.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: She’s been in this office two months.

    DAVID BROOKS: Yes, yes.

    I have — as I think about husbands and wives who both have prominent roles, obviously, we want that to happen.

    Whether you could accuse her of feeling political pressure, I don’t know. We will see how she conducts herself over the next month.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, what…Go ahead.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. She was independently elected. And it has been raised. She beat a longtime incumbent.

    The thing about Baltimore that hits me, Judy, is, this isn’t the classic deprivation, bigotry story, where there’s the hate-filled white segregationist power structure oppressing the black — this is an African-American city, and this is a city with a black mayor, a black state’s attorney, a black police commissioner, a black city council president.

    And what we’re talking about is not the power structure politically oppressing people. We’re talking about the indifference toward poverty and toward a situation of really deprivation in this country that essentially went undebated in the election of 2012.

    You remember the mantra of the election was middle class, middle class, middle class. We haven’t talked about poverty. This is the first really major city riot in the United States in the 21st century. Cincinnati in 2001 had four nights of rioting after a police officer killed an unarmed 19-year-old black male on traffic citations.

    And, no, I think this is different from the others, from North Charleston. I think it’s different from Cleveland and Tamir Rice. I think it’s forcing us to really address and go through the debate of what are we going to do about this.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, the president said, David, this week, the country — we as a country have to do some soul-searching.


    Well, I would agree with soul searching. I disagree with indifference. And so I do think we — the problem is not that we don’t care. We don’t know what to do. And so if you look at poverty spending, we spend about $14,000 — more than $14,000 per person in poverty.

    If we just took that money and handed it to a family of four in poverty, they would suddenly have an income twice the poverty level. So, we spend a fair bit. Baltimore in 2011 had the second highest spending per pupil in its educational system of all the top 100 cities in America, $15,000 per kid.

    So there’s a lot of spending there. The neighborhood where Gray was from, Sandtown, had a massive urban renewal project over the last 20 years led by then Mayor Kurt Schmoke and then by Rouse, a big developer in Baltimore. They put well over $100 million into that neighborhood trying to fix it.

    And, as we just heard, now it’s a neighborhood where there’s no grocery store.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Hari’s piece.

    DAVID BROOKS: And it’s a neighborhood where half the kids on any given day, the absentee rate in high school is 50 percent.

    And so we have tried a lot of stuff. And those efforts are not failures. They have helped. They have alleviated a lot of suffering. But we just don’t know how to — we can cushion poverty. We don’t know how to take concentrated areas of poverty and lift them in any real way.

    MARK SHIELDS: I just — I think it has gone undebated in the country. It wasn’t debated.

    Show me where it was brought up in any of the debates, where — presidential candidates saying…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The presidential campaign.

    MARK SHIELDS: … what I’m going to do. I’m going to do something seriously about it.

    And I do look and commend the efforts. And I think what happens too often in this debate is, one side said, my goodness, if they would only be moral people and go to work every day and not drink and not smoke, everything would be OK, and be devoted family people, the moral solution.

    The other side says, more money is the answer. I mean, we have seen the deindustrialization, the hollowing out of American major cities. We saw an African-American migration to the north for jobs. We saw it in Detroit. We saw it in Chicago. We saw it in Baltimore. There is no Bethlehem Steel. There is no more GM plant. There is no more Western Electric in Baltimore. Those jobs are gone. And in its place, I don’t know what the economic hope is.

    DAVID BROOKS: Right.

    Well, I agree there’s — the truth is, it’s both.

    MARK SHIELDS: It is.

    DAVID BROOKS: The family breakdown is a catastrophe. The deindustrialization is a catastrophe.

    And I agree there have to be jobs. But there has to be some sort of social structure repair. When Gray apparently, according to the Washington Post piece, grows up, his mom is a heroin addict, apparently can’t read, he’s four grades below, he’s arrested 12 times already at this point in his life, where half the people aren’t showing up to high school, there’s a whole melange of things that are part economic, part cultural.

    And, to me, the only response — and I give Obama credit, though I’m not sure he followed through aggressively. He talked during the campaign, his first campaign, about taking a lot of Harlem Children’s Zones and transplanting them around the country.

    Harlem Children’s Zone is a thing in Harlem run by a guy named Geoffrey Canada where they do everything. There’s schools. There’s Boys and Girls Clubs. There’s mentoring. We don’t know what works, so you just try everything all at once in a geographic zone. And that has shown some promise.

    Obama and the administration has spread it around, but not as aggressively as I think we could. And spreading that model around, it seems to me, at least one model that’s plausibly successful.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot more to think about here certainly than beyond what happened with these police officers. No easy answers.

    You mentioned the presidential campaign, Mark. Chris Christie not implicated today, but one of his top people was, has now been charged in this — what turned out to be a political decision to shut down the bridge. What does that mean for Chris Christie?

    MARK SHIELDS: The great thing about governor — we like governors for president. Four of the five elected before Barack Obama were governors, Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Reagan.

    But it’s tough to run as a governor, because you can boast about everything good that has happened in the state, but you get blamed for everything bad. These were his appointees. This was done to close down the bridges to just really inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people and families, to make it difficult, just as an act of political punishment against a mayor, a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Governor Christie in 2013.

    When you do something like that and you’re a staff person who has appointed to the governor, you are doing it because you think it’s going to please the governor. You’re doing something on his behalf.

    Is Chris Christie directly involved?  No, but this is the kind of black eye that tarnishes him, that makes him stay home. Seventy percent of the people in New Jersey right now in the Quinnipiac poll want him to resign the governorship if he runs for president.

    This is a man who, 2012, was the most coveted endorsement in the country for Republicans. They were all chasing him for the prom. Now he’s really a lonely figure out there.

    DAVID BROOKS: Among Republican primary voters in the early polls, he has very high negatives. And so I wouldn’t bet on him, but I don’t think this finishes him off.

    It’s unsavory, what happened. But there are a lot of politicians who have survived unsavory things. The Clintons have survived unsavory things. You can survive if you can offer the goods. And so what he’s doing now is, he’s going up to New Hampshire doing town hall after town hall. And we have seen candidates use town hall to rebuild their campaigns. I wouldn’t bet on it, but he’s not unskilled politically. So, I wouldn’t count him out, but I wouldn’t bet on him.

    MARK SHIELDS: I agree on the town halls.

    I would just say one thing, Judy. Nine times, the credit rating of the state of New Jersey has been lowered, lowered since he has been governor. And that’s a tough one to fight back from. It really is. It plays into the narrative of New Jersey as a state that has been afflicted by chronic corruption, too.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, on the other side of the political ledger, you mentioned the Clintons.

    Hillary Clinton had at least a quieter week, but still new information about whether her foundation should have disclosed, charity should have disclosed money that was coming in. And now, David she has a challenger, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont. Does this up Hillary Clinton’s chances?

    DAVID BROOKS: Finished. She’s over.


    DAVID BROOKS: No. In some ways, I think Sanders will have a following. There’s a yawning need for a real progressive.

    He certainly is that. And if you look at the candidates who get, like, youth cult followings, they are like Bernie Sanders, they are like Rand Paul, Eugene McCarthy. They’re sort of older guys. They’re a little crusty. They seem authentic. They are authentic. And they get weird youth followings. So, I think he will get something like that.

    But in realpolitik terms, if you’re going to have a challenger, you want one who can’t win. And that’s Bernie Sanders.

    MARK SHIELDS: I think Bernie Sanders is serious. I love Bernie Sanders for this reason.

    The first time he ran for the United States Senate, he got 2 percent of the vote in Vermont.  Next time, he got 1 percent when he ran for governor. And he became the first independent elected in 40 years. A, he believes what he says. Gene McCarthy was 51 when he ran for president. He wasn’t old and crusty.


    MARK SHIELDS: But he…

    DAVID BROOKS: He seemed old to me at the time.


    MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. You were very young and crusty.


    MARK SHIELDS: But he is — he represents a constituency that has been unrepresented in American politics, and that is the disheveled constituency.


    MARK SHIELDS: And I want to tell you, I’m with him. He is not blown-dry. The hair is not done. His clothes are not…But he’s the real deal. And I’ll tell you…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: He may appreciate…

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, he’s going to raise the money issue. And Hillary Clinton, given what’s happened in this campaign, she may very well be forced to become a reformer, a true reformer on campaign finance because of the Clinton Foundation and Bernie’s pressure. And I think he will be somebody to be reckoned with.

    DAVID BROOKS: He could decimate the dry cleaning industry if people start following his model.


    DAVID BROOKS: No, I think he will be serious and he will force her to the left.

    And we have seen even this week her comments on crime. It used to be, when her husband was running, Democrats had to prove they were tough on crime. Now they have to prove they’re tough on incarceration. And so you see her shifting in these ways.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.


    The post Shields and Brooks on Baltimore police problems, Bernie Sanders’ election entrance appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a first for Indiana, the state’s legislature this week passed a bill permitting drug users in areas with health outbreaks to trade used needles for clean ones. It’s in response to an HIV outbreak of historic proportions.

    Sarah Varney has our report from Austin, Indiana, near the Kentucky border.

    This story was produced in collaboration with our partner Kaiser Health News.

    WOMAN: Jesus loves you, you know.

    SARAH VARNEY, Kaiser Health News: Local churches in Austin, Indiana, have taken to the streets to reclaim their neighborhoods from a drug-fueled HIV epidemic that has decimated this all-American town.

    Over the last month, this prayer walk has grown from a handful to hundreds. Austin is a largely white town of some 4,000 people, proud of its country roots and manufacturing plants that have held on despite hard times and growing poverty. It’s a place where everyone knows everyone else, but few families have escaped drug addiction.

    HIV cases had been few and far between in this rural patch of southern Indiana. But, in January, the number of confirmed cases jumped to 11, then to 40, and now more than 140 people are infected. It’s the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history and the largest seen in rural America in many years.

    Dr. William Cooke is Austin’s only physician. He says the conditions for an outbreak have been ripe for a decade.

    DR. WILLIAM COOKE, Foundations Family Medicine: We had a high incidence of drug use. That started off as just painkillers, people sharing their prescriptions with each other, buying prescriptions, that sort of thing. And then somewhere around 2010, 2011, that took a turn towards I.V. drug use.

    SARAH VARNEY: A prescription painkiller called Opana had been reformulated, and addicts found they now needed to inject it to reach a euphoric high.

    DR. WILLIAM COOKE: In the county, it wasn’t surprising that HIV came in next.

    SARAH VARNEY: Cooke says his pleas for resources and financial help went unanswered, until the number of HIV cases spiked. Then the response was swift.

    DR. JEROME ADAMS, Indiana State Health Commissioner: This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

    SARAH VARNEY: State and federal public health officials descended upon the town. They helped set up a testing and drug counseling clinic, deployed a mobile van, and started tracking down those who shared needles or had sex with infected residents.

    Public health officials urged Republican Governor Mike Pence to set aside his opposition to needle exchanges, which he has said condone drug abuse and had long been illegal in Indiana. Using his executive authority though, Pence agreed to a short-term emergency needle exchange site in Scott County, where addicts can pick up clean syringes.

    Scott County public health nurse Brittany Combs says that practice has been shown to stop addicts from sharing old needles that can spread HIV and often can keep discarded needles off the street.

    BRITTANY COMBS, Public Health Nurse, Scott County Health Department: So, we give them enough needles to last a week because we want them to keep coming in every week. Every single time somebody comes in, they get substance abuse treatment education. They get harm reduction education, and that’s our goal, is to get them to come back, keep coming back, and then they trust you more.

    SARAH VARNEY: More than 7,000 syringes have been handed out so far. But with the emergency needle exchange program set to expire, the Republican-dominated legislature voted to allow syringe programs for all high-risk regions in Indiana.

    The evidence that needle exchanges can prevent new HIV infections has done little to sway frightened neighbors, who complain that the town’s ditches, trash cans and playgrounds are awash in blood-stained syringes.

    EMMA JONES: Like, over there at the apartment buildings, you find them everywhere, everywhere laying around. My sister there, she found one in her son’s yard. And that’s her grandson. See? Little kids are even talking about the needles, four years old.

    SARAH VARNEY: Emma Jones says the outbreak has brought shame upon her town and spread false rumors about how HIV is contracted.

    EMMA JONES: It’s been a problem at school, because my little girl’s playing tennis one day, and they came in with another team to play them. And the other girls didn’t want to play with — with them. They said that the balls had HIV in them.

    SARAH VARNEY: Kris Hunley says he used to be part of the problem. Hunley has stopped using intravenous drugs and is HIV-free. But he says even those addicts who have HIV are driven more by their cravings than a need to take care of themselves.

    A lot of people who deal, but are dealing to use.

    KRIS HUNLEY: Well, they’re destitute and hopeless. And, actually, they’re just worried about keeping themselves from being sick, you know? They see all this going on, but, at the same time, they’re still hung with a stronghold of addiction, and they’re not paying any attention.

    SARAH VARNEY: The town has clashed over the right way to respond, with neighborly love for those addicted vs. a desire to arrest them or run them out of town.

    DONALD SPICER, Chief, Austin Police Chief: It’s going to be the mobile home here on the left. We made four arrests here last week, a grandmother and two grandchildren that were arrested out of that house.

    SARAH VARNEY: Austin Police Chief Donald Spicer Says people need help, but he has a job to do. He’s made 30 drug-related arrests in the last three months. Still, he’s well aware that fed-up residents want him to do more.

    DONNIE ESTEP: They will sell their drugs there on the street. Prostitution. I mean, these people dealing with these drugs are so bad, they just as soon to kill you as look at you

    DONALD SPICER: We can’t just kick a door down because we think you’re dealing drugs. We must prove you’re dealing drugs, establish probable cause, make the arrest, then prove in a court beyond a reasonable doubt that that’s what they were doing.

    SARAH VARNEY: For now, in Austin’s neighborhoods where residents are pushing back against drug dealers, tensions are high.

    TAMMY BREEDING: I know where they go, what they do.


    SARAH VARNEY: You know that…

    TAMMY BREEDING: Yes. That’s one of your — another local drug heads.

    SARAH VARNEY: Tammy Breeding homeschools her children. She says dealers sell drugs on her street and drug-addled prostitutes flag down cars. The sign on her lawn and the gun on her hip, she hopes, will warn them off.

    TAMMY BREEDING: I’m taking back my community. I’m taking back my streets. If you don’t like it, take your drugs and take yourself and go elsewhere.

    SARAH VARNEY: But that’s exactly what health officials fear, that infected addicts and even truckers traveling along Interstate 65 who hire local prostitutes will carry the virus far and wide. They’re worried it could spread quickly, because the same conditions here in Austin can be found in many towns across America.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Sarah Varney in Austin, Indiana.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The rifts in Baltimore exposed by the Freddie Gray case go far beyond just police and justice.

    Hari Sreenivasan brings us the story from a neighborhood that was struggling before the unrest with gang violence and hunger.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: On this Thursday, schoolchildren at Matthew Henson Elementary helped unload boxes of donated food from local food banks and grocery stores. The kids stacked them, carted them and stored them in what has become a too common post-riot ritual in this Baltimore community: food distribution.

    The fist-bumping Orioles fan is Dr. Marvin Cheatham, a retired civil rights leader and current head of the Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association.

    MARVIN CHEATHAM, President, Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association: You can’t point fingers at anyone specifically, but for 25 years, at least, this community has been neglected.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Since the rioters destroyed at least four convenience stores in the neighborhood, it has been that much harder for people here to get the basics.

    MARVIN CHEATHAM: No meats, no vegetables, no fruits, no poultry, no fish, none of that. You can buy potato chips and pretzels and cigarettes and soda, but no real food.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s because convenience stores are the only stores nearby. These streets are already part of what the Department of Agriculture calls a food desert, a place with low-income populations that have little access to fresh foods and a grocery store. One in five people in Baltimore lives in a food desert.

    MARVIN CHEATHAM: We have 15 liquor stores in our area.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And not one grocery store?

    MARVIN CHEATHAM: Not one grocery store.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: At nearby St Peter Claver Church, Pastor Ray Bomberger is feeling the surge of need from his neighbors. They are hungry.

    REV. RAY BOMBERGER, St. Peter Claver Church: There’s always need in this neighborhood, in this area. There’s always need, but now it’s like everybody.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The supply of donations and the demand for food has ebbed and flowed since the Monday riots.

    REV. RAY BOMBERGER: Most people here live day to day. And, you know, they can’t afford to stockpile food. And so, at the end of the day, if that is gone, then they have no place to go. They need somewhere.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The pastor knows the handouts are a short-term solution.

    REV. RAY BOMBERGER: What this needs to drive us to really seek out and address those basic fundamental needs that underlie all the difficulties.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: He sees the deeper issues that underlie the recent unrest, issues that these men are trying to address head on.

    MUNIR BAHAR, 300 Men March: I know there’s a lot of attention here on Freddie Gray, but don’t forget what we living and what we must continue to fight to decrease.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This is the weekly gathering of the 300 Men March group, a 2-year-old men’s organization focused on stopping gun violence in Baltimore.

    MUNIR BAHAR: Men need to get off the couch and step outside and be more accountable for what’s going on in their neighborhood. Women have a role too, but, historically, in Baltimore, men have been neglectful in their roles, in my opinion.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We caught up with Munir Bahar at the abandoned building he converted to a fitness and health center for kids and adults alike, to find out how they plan to tackle these underlying problems.

    MUNIR BAHAR: We canvass high-crime neighborhoods. And what we do, we call it the street engagement operation. And we go out every Friday night June through October, every Friday night to engage all the young guys that we see outside, and we deliver that primary message. We got to stop killing each other.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: They say their focused approach already brought crime down for a summer in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, and the goal is to scale up and go citywide to reduce killings.

    MUNIR BAHAR: What happened to Freddie Gray, it’s paramount that we get to the bottom of it, but that’s one issue, and we have nine other issues that are equally as important.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Since Tuesday, there have already been fourteen shootings and homicides are up 25 percent this year. Bahar says the focus on police-on-black crime misses a larger fact.

    MUNIR BAHAR: I can tell you, as a young black man, I know, as most young black men know, the chances of you getting killed by another black man far outnumber the chances of you getting killed by police.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In the wake of the riots, 300 men took on a new role, standing between protesters and police.

    MUNIR BAHAR: We want to see peace between everybody, and so that’s a — an effort to sort of protect the protester from getting themselves hurt and possibly getting themselves killed.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Bahar says, regardless of whether the Baltimore police officers are found guilty or innocent of Freddie Gray’s death, his organization doesn’t stand with the protesters or the police. They stand for and are trying to create a peaceful community, and hopefully a less hungry one.

    Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour, Baltimore.

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    Police line up at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Maryland

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to the events in Baltimore and the decision by the top prosecutor there to charge six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.

    Joining me to discuss those charges are David Harris, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and the author of the book “Profiles in Justice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work.” And Debbie Hines, she is a former Baltimore prosecutor who today practices law in Washington, D.C.

    And we welcome you both.

    Debbie Hines, let me start with you. As someone who was a prosecutor formerly in Baltimore, what was your reaction when you heard about these charges today?

    DEBBIE HINES, Former Baltimore Prosecutor: Well, I think my reaction was the same as everyone’s reaction. It was just total shock and surprise. I’m pleasantly pleased that prosecutor Mosby came out, did her own investigation, and came to the conclusion that she came to.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you the same question, David Harris. What was your reaction when you heard, and how unusual is it to see police officers charged this way by a prosecutor without a grand jury?

    DAVID HARRIS, University of Pittsburgh School of Law: Well, it’s unusual to see police officers charged at all. To be charged without a grand jury, that’s a common thing, actually, in the jurisdiction of Maryland. Prosecutors can swear out an information, and that allows them to charge based simply on their own sworn statements.

    I was surprised, too, by the swiftness with which the whole process moved. And I think that is really one of the big takeaways here. No longer are we seeing prosecutors and police departments wait and wait and sit on their findings for long periods of time. We are seeing a swiftness and a sureness that I think we wouldn’t have seen a year ago.

    And I attribute that all pretty much to the post-Ferguson change in atmosphere.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Debbie Hines, are you seeing a change, the same sort of change David Harris talks about?

    DEBBIE HINES: I’m hoping we’re seeing a change. I think it might be a little premature to say that we are seeing a change.

    I think that, in Baltimore, the circumstances are such, because of the prosecutor herself, who is new. She hasn’t been entrenched into the system, and I think she did what was the right and the fair thing. But I’m just hoping this will be the trend to start, but I think it’s a little too soon to actually say that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Harris, how strong would you say the case is, based on what we heard today from the prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby? She laid out some very specific details in the description of what happened on the day Freddie Gray was arrested.

    DAVID HARRIS: Yes, and a lot of charges against all six police officers, including two homicide charges of depraved heart second-degree murder and some manslaughter charges.

    It is going to be a difficult case to prove, I think. Any case against a police officer is a difficult one to make. The jury comes into the jury room with the idea that the police are given the benefit of the doubt, that they’re the good guys, and that has to be overcome in any case.

    Here, we have got substantial questions about the mechanism of the injury, how did it happen, who was responsible for it? Because you notice the prosecutor, she said, he suffered a neck injury, a very severe injury. She didn’t say somebody did that to his neck.

    That indicates to me that the mechanism of the injury, how it was caused, that will be a central, a sort of core part of the proof she will need to bring. And I expect this will be a tough one. It won’t be easy, and I have to say that the people who are celebrating this as a victory, they may be celebrating too early. These are always tough cases.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should clarify that there was actually only one charge of second-degree murder, against the officer who was driving the van.

    Debbie Hines, what about you? Do you agree this is a tough case to prove or does it look like the prosecutor has made a strong case here? We — of course, the attorney for the police union is saying the police didn’t — are not responsible for Freddie Gray’s death. He called it an egregious rush to judgment.

    DEBBIE HINES: Well, I think the only charge that I have seen from what she’s laid out that might be difficult is second-degree murder, particularly the charge that it’s coming under, the depraved heart standard, because it’s a little different.

    It’s not necessarily that you have to prove that someone did something, as opposed to they didn’t do something that put someone in a position of endangerment of their life. So I think that charge is going to be a little difficult to prove. But, as to the man involuntary manslaughter charges, I think it fits within the textbook definition of manslaughter, not that you — it’s an intentional killing, but not that you so much, but you didn’t intend what you should have done.

    In this case, they totally criminally neglected Freddie Gray. So, I think that those charges might be a little easier to prove than the actual one second-degree murder charges. And, of course, the other ones are just assault charges.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just to clarify, the depraved heart part of the second-degree murder charge, you’re saying that’s a different standard?

    DEBBIE HINES: Oh, yes, a second-degree murder charge is a much higher standard. Now, it’s not first-degree, where first-degree is the highest form and requires premeditation.

    It requires no premeditation, but it does require that you did something that you consciously knew would seriously and recklessly endanger someone’s life. So, the facts that she is showing to come out is actually the driving getting out of the van, seeing the condition that Freddie Gray was in at that time and doing nothing. That’s the fact that she — or at least the alleged fact she’s going for on that charge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David Harris, as someone who’s looked at police charged with misconduct in many different kinds of circumstances, how do you expect this to unfold?

    DAVID HARRIS: Well, we’re going to learn a lot more in the coming days than we actually know now.

    What we know now is that there were charges and we have an outline of the facts, according to the prosecutor. It’s important to remember we have only really heard this side of the story. And we always hear more than one side when a case gets to court. So we will learn a lot more. We will learn the content of the medical examiner’s report. We will learn more detail about the police investigation.

    And that will really tell us how difficult a case it will be. I agree that the second-degree depraved heart charge will be the toughest one. It requires proof, not of intentional killing, but of extreme recklessness, knowing that there’s a big risk to somebody’s life and taking that risk anyway.

    And when we know more about what the case looks like in its details, we will have a better idea of how likely it is that the prosecutor can prove that. Right now, she says she has probable cause to proceed. That’s the right standard for this time in the case, and she’s going forward. So what will happen is, we will get a fuller picture, we will get both sides and eventually the case will come to court.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We thank you both, David Harris and Debbie Hines.

    DEBBIE HINES: Thank you.


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    Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby speaks on recent violence in Baltimore

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby was grim-faced as she emerged from Baltimore’s landmark War Memorial building.

    MARILYN MOSBY: The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation coupled with the medical examiners determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide, which we received today has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In all, she said, six police officers will have to answer for their actions in the death of Freddie Gray.

    MARILYN MOSBY: I assured his family that no one is above the law and that I would pursue justice on their behalf.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mosby said there was no justification for gray’s arrest in the first place — and that his knife was not an illegal switchblade, as police had claimed.

    She laid out a detailed time-line of the events of April 12th.

    According to Mosby, Gray first ran from police at the intersection of Baltimore’s north avenue and Mount Street.

    A few blocks away, he surrendered and was handcuffed, his complaints he could not breathe, ignored.  Next he was loaded into a transport van, where Mosby said officers did nothing to keep him from being thrown around.

    MARILYN MOSBY: At no point was he secured by the seat belt while the wagon contrary to a BDP general order.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: At the first stop, officers put gray in so-called flex cuffs and leg shackles, but again, no seat belt.  Mosby said that’s when the crucial moment came.

    MARILYN MOSBY: Following transport from Baker Street, Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD police wagon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Then, at Mosher Street and Fremont avenue, Mosby said, the van’s driver checked on gray, but ignored his pleas for medical aid.

    Again, at Dolphin Street and Druid Hill avenue, two officers did nothing for gray — according to investigators — even though he kept saying he could not breathe.

    MARILYN MOSBY: Despite Mr. Gray’s appeals for a medic, both officers assessed Mr. Gray’s condition and at no point did either of them restrain Mr. Gray per BPD general order, nor did they render or request medical assistance.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The van was then called to pick up a second prisoner. By that point, Gray was unresponsive, but, the prosecutor said.

    MARILYN MOSBY: Despite Mr. Gray’s seriously deteriorating medical condition, no medical assistance was rendered or summoned for Mr. Gray at that time by any officer.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: When the van finally arrived at Baltimore’s Western District Police Station, Gray’s condition had worsened, significantly.

    MARILYN MOSBY: Mr. Gray was no longer breathing at all. A medic was finally called to the scene where upon arrival a medic determined that Mr. Gray was now in cardiac arrest and was critically and severely injured.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Gray was rushed to a local hospital for surgery. He died one week later.

    The case touched off days of protests demanding the officers be prosecuted. Mosby’s response today followed an investigation by police — and a separate probe by her own office.

    Alone among the six, the driver of the van — Officer Ceasar Goodson — was charged with second degree murder. He’s also accused of manslaughter and other crimes.

    Lieutenant Brian Rice is accused of manslaughter, along with assault, misconduct and false imprisonment.

    Officer William Porter and Sergeant Alicia White face similar counts as do officers Edward Nero and Garret Miller – involved in Gray’s initial arrest. But they escaped manslaughter charges,

    Gray’s family welcomed the announcement.

    RICHARD SHIPLEY: We are satisfied with today’s charges. These charges are an important step in getting justice for Freddie.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Baltimore Police Union said the six officers charged were not responsible for Gray’s death.

    MIKE DAVEY, Attorney, Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3:  We believe that the actions taken today by the state’s attorney are an egregious rush to judgment, and we have grave concerns about the fairness and integrity of the prosecution of our officers.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: While Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was “sickened” by the findings…

    MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE, Baltimore: To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear. There is no place in the Baltimore City Police Department for you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, at the White House, President Obama called for justice to be served.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is absolutely vital that the truth comes out on what happened to Mr. Freddie Gray.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: on the street, most people welcomed the announcement of charges, in the wake of Monday’s riots and the deployment of the National Guard.

    WOMAN: Oh I’m feeling amazing, today is a vast differences from what we saw on Monday. Today’s there’s celebrating the news that came down from Marilyn Mosby and we’re really proud of her.

    MAN: I’m relieved that some justice had come out of this situation because it was going to get crazy because we’re tired.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Mosby addressed those hopes and fears in her statement today, and called for the city to stay calm…

    MARILYN MOSBY: I urge you to channel the energy peacefully as we prosecute this case. I have heard your calls for “no justice, no peace.” however, your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, crowds gathered again this afternoon, and organizers said a Saturday protest will now be a victory rally.

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    NASA's Opportunity Mars rover captured this mosaic of the dusty Martian landscape, with its tracks visible to the right. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

    NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover captured this mosaic of the dusty Martian landscape, with its tracks visible to the right. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

    One day, space explorers might stroll along the red rocks of Mars. But radiation exposure during the trip may wipe away their memories of home.

    A new report says that cosmic rays can change the physical architecture of the mind’s nerves, harming the brain regions that govern memory.

    Cosmic rays, comprised of high-speed atomic particles, blanket the Milky Way galaxy. The radiation constantly bombards our planet, but the Earth’s magnetic field and its atmosphere save us from the most dangerous rays.

    People who venture into deep space aren’t so lucky, as cosmic rays can easily penetrate a spaceship’s metallic hull or a space helmet. So before NASA sends anyone into deep space, they want to figure out the possible long-term ramifications of exposure to cosmic radiation.

    One item of concern is radiation-induced memory loss, says cancer researcher Charles Limoli of the University of California Irvine, who led the report published May 1 in Science Advances. Cancer radiotherapy can impair human memory and spawn dementia, which is what drew Limoli’s team to the research.

    “Upon penetrating the body, these charged particles leave tracks of damage on the same scale as neurons,” Limoli said. “So we reasoned that [cosmic] irradiation might elicit long lasting structural changes in neurons that would lead to cognitive impairment.”

    Digitally reconstructed images of rodent frontal lobes have more nerve branches (green lines) and connections (red dots) without “cosmic” radiation exposure (left panel).

    Digitally reconstructed images of rodent frontal lobes have more nerve branches (green lines) and connections (red dots) without “cosmic” radiation exposure (left panel). Image courtesy of Science Advances.

    To test this idea, Limoli’s team exposed mice to short bursts of high-energy particles, and then six weeks later, checked the rodent’s ability to remember the locations of toys. Rodents exposed to radiation wandered aimlessly, losing their ability to distinguish between old toys and newer ones placed in an arena.

    Limoli’s team wanted to know why, so they looked closer at the nerve cells inside the frontal lobes that interact with other parts of the brain to create memories. They found that cosmic rays melted nerve endings, known as dendritic spines.

    “The reductions in spine density disrupted neurotransmission and correlated with cognitive decline,” says Limoli.

    Prior work on cosmic rays generated a similar drop in the mental prowess of rodents, but many of those studies used radiation levels that are three to four times higher than what is typically detected in deep space, said astrobiologist Peter Guida of Brookhaven National Laboratory. “But [Limoli’s] study used ‘space relevant’ doses of charged particle radiation.”

    Many questions remain. Will these trends apply to humans? And if they do, how will NASA protect astronauts?

    Some scientists recommend using heavy-duty plastics or building generators that can recreate the magnetic fields found on Earth. Arguably, the wildest suggestion is using poop as a cosmic ray shield.

    But for now, NASA has asked Limoli to lead a nationwide, $9 million effort to look into how cosmic radiation might affects astronauts’ cognition.

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    6th February 1956: Four-year-old Italian child prodigy Gigino Solana, who possesses an amazing memory and a working knowledge of the sciences. (Photo by Enzo Graffeo/BIPs/Getty Images)

    Four-year-old Italian child prodigy Gigino Solana, who possesses an amazing memory and a working knowledge of the sciences is seen here in a photograph from Feb. 6, 1956. Child prodigies and their autistic family members share a genetic link, according to new research findings. Credit: Enzo Graffeo/BIPs/Getty Images

    Child prodigies and their autistic family members may share a genetic link, according to findings published online for the April issue of Human Heredity.

    “We were very excited,” lead researcher Joanne Ruthsatz of Ohio State University told PBS NewsHour about the discovery.

    “It was like, here it is, here’s the autism and the prodigies together and they have a significant peak on chromosome 1, where they are significantly different than their non-affected family members.”

    For the study, Ruthsatz and her colleagues from Ohio State University, as well as researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus looked at snippets of DNA from five child prodigies and their autistic family members. They found something similar on chromosome 1, the first of 46 chromosomes that humans typically possess.

    “This finding suggests that a locus on chromosome 1 increases the likelihood of both prodigy and autism in these families,” the study said.

    Each of the prodigies in Ruthsatz’s latest study had between one and five family members diagnosed with some form of autism.

    Now that the researchers have found this similarity, they are in the midst of having a full genome sequencing done to see what in a genius’s DNA may prevent him or her from becoming autistic.

    Ruthsatz told PBS NewsHour that she believes prodigies may produce a protein that helps them hold back the deficits of autism and allow their talents to shine through.

    This hunt for protective genetic mutations is part of a fairly new movement in genetics research. Before, investigators focused on the bad genes that cause disease, not the good ones that may thwart the bad.

    Toward the end of 2014, The New York Times wrote about this new research trend and the work of The Resilience Project. The project and others like it have been looking for protective mutations in order to develop drugs to mimic their behaviors and combat diseases like early-onset Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

    Ruthsatz hopes to complete the full genome sequencing in a few months and find the protective prodigy protein she has been searching for since the late 1990s.

    “If we find the prodigy gene… it will be published immediately,” Ruthsatz said.

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    Protesters hold a picture depicting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie outside the U.S. District Court following the guilty verdict of David Wildstein in Newark, New Jersey May 1,2015. Wildstein, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Friday pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the George Washington Bridge closure scandal, delivering another blow to Christie's image at a time when he is trying to get his presidential campaign off the ground. Photo by Andrew Kelly /Reuters.

    Protesters hold a picture depicting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie outside the U.S. District Court following the guilty verdict of David Wildstein in Newark on May 1,2015. Wildstein, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Friday pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the George Washington Bridge closure scandal. Credit: Andrew Kelly /Reuters

    NEWARK, N.J. — The charges handed down against three former allies of Gov. Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal provide mixed news for the Republican governor as he tries to regain momentum in support of an expected presidential bid.

    Christie appears to have been cleared of any allegations that he personally participated in a scheme to shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. But the charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey still hit close to home: His former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and his former top appointee to the authority that controls the bridge, Bill Baroni, have both been indicted. David Wildstein, another ally, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy.

    The charges also return focus to a famously bruising political style associated with Christie’s administration. The documents unveiled Friday paint the trio as vindictive and petty bullies who plotted – and then covered up – a scheme to gridlock the town of Fort Lee to punish its Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.

    State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat and co-chairman of a legislative committee investigating the scandal, said that with Wildstein’s guilty plea, “the people of New Jersey have more reason to be skeptical of Gov. Christie’s leadership style built upon bullying and retaliation.”

    Christie’s aides and backers hope the developments will allow the governor to put this chapter behind him less than a year before the first presidential primaries, even as legal proceedings have just begun. In many ways, the outcome was the best he could have hoped for – little new information and no names mentioned beyond those Christie had already cut ties to.

    “Today’s charges make clear that what I’ve said from day one is true, I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act,” Christie said in statement. “The moment I first learned of this unacceptable behavior I took action, firing staff believed to be accountable, calling for an outside investigation and agreeing to fully cooperate with all appropriate investigations, which I have done.”

    In early voting states, Republican strategists and activists largely shrugged off the latest step in the scandal.

    “Nobody’s paying any attention in New Hampshire,” said Steve Duprey, a Republican national committeeman who was a top adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. “I think everyone’s accepted the governor’s explanation and, barring a bombshell that contradicts what he’s said in the past, people want to hear what he’d want to do as president.”

    Fergus Cullen, a former chair of the state’s Republican Party, said he thought it was unlikely that the perceptions of most New Hampshire voters would change.

    “People have already made up their minds as to whether they think it’s a deal or not,” Cullen said. “I don’t think it’s going to harm his ability to compete and to win here at all.”

    But Iowa’s Pete Rogers, chair of the Marshall County Republicans, said the developments in the case had not helped Christie in the leadoff caucus state.

    “I would say, personally, Iowa likes its politics a little cleaner than what one expects from Chicago or the East Coast,” said Rogers, who doesn’t think Christie will have much traction in Iowa.

    In Durham, New Hampshire, Diane Cole, 53, who attended Christie’s town hall meeting at Shooters Pub during his visit to the state last month, said the day’s events were “good news” for Christie, whom she’d never thought had been involved in the bridge scheme.

    Cole, who lived in New Jersey in the 1980s, described the trio’s alleged actions as “a very Jersey mentality move,” but she said it didn’t rock her support for the governor.

    “I think it’s very unfortunate, but I think it speaks volumes about their passion and their belief in him,” she said.

    The post What do ‘Bridgegate’ charges mean for Christie’s White House hopes? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Capitol Hill police officer walks up the steps of the Senate chamber on January 21, 2015. Capitol Police officers have left their weapons unattended and unsecured at least three times this year. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    A Capitol Hill police officer walks up the steps of the Senate chamber on January 21, 2015. Capitol Police officers have left their weapons unattended and unsecured at least three times this year. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    U.S. Capitol Police officers have left loaded guns unattended and unsecured at least three times since the beginning of the year, according to a report published Friday by the Washington, D.C.-based newspaper Roll Call.

    Most recently, on April 16, a janitor cleaning the Capitol Police headquarters discovered a loaded firearm that had been left in plain view, according to a police report obtained by the publication.

    In a March 24 incident, a child discovered a loaded handgun in the bathroom of House Speaker John Boehner’s suite in the Capitol building.

    On Jan. 29, a member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s security team left his Glock handgun and ammunition clip wedged in the toilet seat cover dispenser of a bathroom stall in the Senate office space portion of the Capitol Visitor Center. The weapon was later discovered by a CVC employee.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    The Capitol Police’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended six days of unpaid suspension for the officer from McConnell’s security detail. The other two incidents are still under investigation.

    The revelations have prompted some lawmakers to call on the Capitol Police to reevaluate their training and security protocols.

    House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, told Roll Call that he wants Capitol Police to “retrain everyone that carries a gun.”

    “The fact that dangerous weapons were left in the open, potentially within reach of the general public, is unacceptable,” Committee on House Administration Chairwoman Candice Miller and Ranking Member Robert Brady said in a joint statement.

    “We will be looking for a full briefing on these incidents, how they happened, what corrective action has been taken, and how we hopefully do not have similar instances in the future,” the pair said.

    The Committee on House Administration monitors the Capitol Police, an agency whose duties range from protecting legislators to enforcing traffic regulations around the Capitol building.

    Reports of the misplaced weapons come at a moment of flux for department’s leadership.

    On April 10, sources close to Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine told reporters that Dine had handed in a letter of resignation following morale problems in the department and questions about Dine’s handling of several high-profile incidents. In mid-April, Assistant Chief Daniel B. Malloy also announced his retirement, which took effect April 30.

    Reports of the misplaced guns come on the heels of a series of security incidents on Capitol Hill, including an April 11 suicide on the west front of the Capitol building and criticism of the Capitol Police’s conduct in allowing a gyrocopter to land on the Capitol lawn.

    The post Report: Capitol Police left guns unattended three times in 2015 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Protesters demanding justice for Freddie Gray, hold signs while marching past a police vehicle through Baltimore, Maryland May 1, 2015. Tensions in places like Baltimore and Ferguson have raised attention to the long-running economic, education and security troubles in underprivileged neighborhoods, a challenge to the 2016 presidential candidates. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters.

    Protesters demanding justice for Freddie Gray, hold signs while marching past a police vehicle through Baltimore, Maryland May 1, 2015. Tensions in places like Baltimore and Ferguson have raised attention to the long-running economic, education and security troubles in underprivileged neighborhoods, a challenge to the 2016 presidential candidates. Credit: Adrees Latif/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — In a presidential campaign where candidates are jockeying to be champions of the middle class and asking wealthy people for money, the problems facing the poor are inching into the debate.

    Tensions in places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, have prompted candidates to explore the complicated relationship between poor communities and the police, and the deep-seated issues that have trapped many of the 45 million people who live in poverty in the United States.

    But addressing the long-running economic, education and security troubles in underprivileged neighborhoods is a challenge with few easily agreed upon solutions.

    A frustrated President Barack Obama challenged the nation to do “some soul-searching” after riots in Baltimore followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody. There have been other deadly altercations between police and black men or boys in Ferguson, New York’s Staten Island, Cleveland and North Charleston, South Carolina.

    “I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities,” Obama said. “But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could.”

    To some of the Republicans running to replace Obama, his call for spending more money in poor areas underscores the problem with many current anti-poverty programs. The GOP largely opposes new domestic spending and party officials often say federally run programs are bloated and inefficient.

    “At what point do you have to conclude that the top-down government poverty programs have failed?” said Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and expected presidential candidate. “I think we need to be engaged in this debate as conservatives and say that there’s a bottom-up approach.”

    Republicans have struggled in recent years to overcome the perception that the party has little interest in the plight of the poor.

    Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, was criticized for saying he was “not concerned about the very poor” and that it was not his job to worry about the 47 percent of Americans who he said “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.”

    More than 60 percent of voters who made less than $30,000 per year backed Obama over Romney in that campaign, according to exit polls.

    Blacks and Hispanics, who overwhelmingly backed Obama in the past two presidential elections, are most likely to be poor. According to the census, about 27 percent of blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics were poor in 2012, compared with 12.7 percent of whites.

    Bush has been among the most vocal Republicans discussing the need to lift the poor out of poverty and reduce income inequality, though he has yet to flesh out many of his policy proposals. He has been most specific about the need for greater educational choices and opportunities. Bush frequently cites his work in Florida, where he expanded charter schools, backed voucher programs and promoted high testing standards.

    Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has long called for overhauling criminal sentencing procedures that he says disproportionately imprison low-income black men. He has promoted “economic freedom zones” where taxes would be lowered in areas with high long-term unemployment in order to stimulate growth and development.

    Paul, who has made a point of reaching out to black communities, has drawn criticism for comments he made during the Baltimore unrest. In a radio interview, Paul said he had been on a train that went through the city and was “glad the train didn’t stop.”

    Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also has talked frequently about the poor. His anti-poverty proposals include consolidating many federal programs to help the poor into a “flex fund” that states would then manage.

    Democrats, too, are trying to incorporate plans for tackling poverty into economic campaign messages that otherwise center on the middle class.

    Following the Baltimore turmoil, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a plea for criminal justice changes that could aid urban communities. Among her ideas: equipping every police department with body cameras for officers. She said the unrest was a “symptom, not a cause” of what ails poor communities and she called for a broader discussion of the issues.

    Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination, has been at the center of the discussions about Baltimore’s issues. He was mayor from 1999 to 2007 and enacted tough-on-crime policies.

    While O’Malley is not backing away from those practices, he is trying to put criminal justice issues in a larger context. He wrote in an op-ed that the problem in Baltimore and elsewhere is as much about policing and race as it has about “declining wages and the lack of opportunity in our country today.”

    In some places that have dealt with recent unrest, residents say they welcome the campaign discussions on poverty and policing, but hope the issues will not fade away when the next big campaign focus arises.

    “Hopefully these protests are something they’ll wrap themselves around, and we can make sure these issues get addressed,” said Thavy Bullis, a Baltimore college student.

    The post Problems facing the poor inch into 2016 presidential race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 21:  A young man wears a shirt with the message 'Justice For Freddie' in the Sandtown neighborhood where he lives April 21, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray was a 25-year-old black man who lived in this neighborhood and was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    A young man wears a shirt with the message ‘Justice For Freddie’ in the Sandtown neighborhood on April 21, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    On NewsHour Weekend Saturday, we bring you “Sandtown by the Numbers,” a special series of reports on life in Sandtown-Winchester, the impoverished Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up and was arrested on April 12.

    Gray sustained a spinal injury while in police custody, and eventually succumbed to his injuries a week later.

    On Friday, Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and Maryland’s state attorney said charges would be brought against the six officers involved in his arrest.

    Last week, much of Baltimore was consumed by peaceful protests as well as increasingly violent riots as criticism emerged over the police officers’ alleged conduct upon arresting the 25-year-old.

    While Gray’s death initially sparked the demonstrations, protesters also expressed frustration over a lack of economic opportunity as well as entrenched inequality among community members living in many of Baltimore’s once-vibrant neighborhoods.

    Here’s a look at what life is like in Sandtown according to statistics:


    Poverty in Sandtown. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The poverty rate in Sandtown is over 30 percent, according to the most recent statistics available. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend


    The unemployment rate in Sandtown is over three times the national average, according to the most recent statistics available. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The incarceration rate in Sandtown is significantly higher than the national average, according to recent statistics. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The incarceration rate in Sandtown is significantly higher than the national average, according to recent statistics. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The juvenile arrest rate in Sandtown is much higher than the national average. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The juvenile arrest rate in Sandtown is much higher than the national average. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    Life expectancy at birth in Sandtown is more than a decade less than the national average, according to recent statistics. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    Life expectancy at birth in Sandtown is more than a decade less than the national average, according to recent statistics. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The teen birth rate in Sandtown is over 100 births per 1,000 people, compared to the national rate of just over 26. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The teen birth rate in Sandtown is over 100 births per 1,000 people, compared to the national rate of just over 26. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The infant mortality rate in Sandtown is more than three times the national average. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The infant mortality rate in Sandtown is more than three times the national average. Credit: Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    The post Life in Freddie Gray’s childhood neighborhood by the numbers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles before delivering the keynote address at the Women in the World summit in New York April 23, 2015. An AP-GFK poll found Americans have a more favorable view of Clinton than any of her potential Republican rivals in the 2016 presidential campaign., but few see her as honest.  Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters.

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton smiles before delivering the keynote address at the Women in the World summit in New York April 23, 2015. An AP-GFK poll found Americans have a more favorable view of Clinton than any of her potential Republican rivals in the 2016 presidential campaign., but few see her as honest. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON– Americans are more likely to have a favorable view of Hillary Rodham Clinton than any of her potential Republican rivals in 2016’s race for the presidency, even though few see the former secretary of state as honest, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

    Five things to know about public opinion on Clinton:


    According to the new Associated Press-GfK poll, just 37 percent of Americans say the word “honest” describes Clinton very or even somewhat well, while 61 percent say it describes her only slightly or not at all well. Even among Democrats, 4 in 10 think the word “honest” describes Clinton slightly or not at all well, while 6 in 10 independents and 9 in 10 Republicans say the same.

    On the other hand, 61 percent of Americans describe Clinton as “strong” and 56 percent say she is “decisive.”

    Women are significantly more likely than men to say each of these words, along with “inspiring” and “likable,” describe Clinton at least somewhat well.

    The poll comes after Clinton has weathered criticism over her use of a private email account run from a server kept at her New York home while serving as secretary of state, and amid questions about foreign donations to the family’s charitable foundation and whether that money influenced her work at the State Department.


    Despite apparent distrust for Clinton, her overall ratings remain the strongest in the emerging presidential field and are essentially unchanged since two AP-GfK polls conducted last year. Forty-six percent of Americans express a favorable view of Clinton, slightly more than the 41 percent who express a negative opinion. Eight in 10 Democrats have a favorable view of Clinton, while 8 in 10 Republicans have an unfavorable opinion. Among independents, 27 percent expressed a favorable view and 39 percent have an unfavorable view, while 29 percent don’t know enough to say.

    Most polls showed Clinton with a much higher favorable rating while she was secretary of state. Opinions of her have become more polarized as she has re-entered partisan politics, as they were when she vied for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.


    Clinton said last month that she used a personal account out of convenience. She deleted about 30,000 emails that she has described as personal in nature and has declined requests from congressional Republicans to turn over her server for an independent review.

    The survey suggests that many Americans aren’t buying Clinton’s explanation: A majority said they believe she used a private address to shield her emails from transparency laws and that they think she should turn her server over to a third party for further investigation.

    At the same time, the public is split over whether her email usage is a significant issue for her presidential aspirations: Just a third – 32 percent – said it was a major problem, 36 percent rated it a minor problem, and 31 percent said it’s not a problem at all. Only 20 percent said they’re paying very close attention to the email story.

    Opinions on the email story are highly polarized, with 7 in 10 Democrats saying Clinton has done enough to comply with government transparency laws already and 8 in10 Republicans saying she should turn her server over for further investigation.


    Clinton’s ratings top those of every other Republican candidate in the poll, all of whom are less known than the former secretary of state and nearly all of whom have at least slightly more negative than positive ratings. The only exception is Dr. Ben Carson, given a favorable rating by 15 percent of Americans and an unfavorable one by 12 percent, while 7 in 10 said they didn’t know enough to say.

    Jeb Bush, the most well-known of Clinton’s potential Republican rivals, is viewed favorably by 29 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 36 percent.

    Many other top Republicans remain unknown by a significant proportion of Americans, including Marco Rubio (unknown to 48 percent), Ted Cruz (unknown by 49 percent), Rand Paul (unknown to 43 percent) and Scott Walker (unknown to 64 percent).


    Despite Clinton’s dominance in the early primary field and mostly positive ratings among Democrats, the survey suggests that some in her party would be open to a challenger.

    Among Democrats, only 34 percent said they were excited by her candidacy while 36 percent described themselves as merely satisfied. Another 19 percent said they were neutral, and 9 percent were disappointed or angry about the idea.

    “I wish there was somebody else,” said Kenneth Berger of New York City. “She always has a problem.”

    The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

    Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

    This article was written by Emily Swanson and Lisa Lerer of the Associated Press.

    The post Poll finds Clinton tops GOP rivals in favorable ratings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Police officers march at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Maryland

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: For the latest from Baltimore, we are joined once again tonight by Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun.

    So, what’s the timetable for the prosecution? The charges came down very quickly.

    What kind of a timeline are we looking for now that we know that these six officers are out on bail?

    LUKE BROADWATER, BALTIMORE SUN: Well, felony charges in Maryland have to go before a grand jury.

    So, a grand jury is going to have to hear these charges. Obviously, that’s a one-side situation where only the prosecution gets to present evidence.

    That will have to happen within 30 days. If the grand jury decides to bring charges against the officers, then they will have an arraignment.

    So, we could see that all within the next month.

    And after they’re arraigned, then we’d likely see what they want to plea or go to trial. So we could — we could be — you know, trials in Baltimore notoriously take a long time.

    I mean, we see postponements all the times. We’ve seen cases that drag on for years and years and years.

    But I think with the high-profile nature of this one, I think we will be seeing these cases in court pretty quickly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, three of the six police officers involved were African Americans.

    How is that affecting how this story is consumed, perceived on the streets of Baltimore?

    LUKE BROADWATER: I would say it makes very little difference.

    Almost everybody I talk to on the street says it doesn’t matter to us whether the officer is white or black.

    What matters to us is that we get justice in the case.

    I think, potentially, especially when we’re talking about big, national cases, the race of the officers seems very important to maybe people who are looking in from the outside.

    But on the ground here, I found almost entirely people say that does not matter at all to them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, as this — you know, as you pointed out, that this case could drag on for months or possibly longer, is the city equipped to handle another flare-up or another round of tension given what they’ve experienced over the past couple of weeks?

    LUKE BROADWATER: Well, as we saw on — I would say only one day this week did we really need the National Guard, and that was on Monday.

    That was the day all hell broke loose and the day of the riot.

    That day, definitely, there were a lot of police that were needed to keep order in Baltimore.

    Since that day, there has been no violence at all related to the protest of the Freddie Gray case.

    What there has been is a lot of violence that has nothing to do with the Freddie Gray case, and that is the normal violence that there is in Baltimore.

    I mean, I think we’ve had 17 people shot since the National Guard arrived. We just had a store owner robbed and killed.

    So, we are seeing violence, but it’s not– it’s not from the protesters.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun — thanks so much for joining us.

    LUKE BROADWATER: Thank you.

    The post Is Baltimore better equipped to handle unrest should tensions rise again? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 2, 2015. Kerry's visit to Sri Lanka is the first by a U.S. Secretary of state in a decade. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Reuters

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 2, 2015. Kerry’s visit to Sri Lanka is the first by a U.S. Secretary of state in a decade. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Reuters

    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday championed the new Sri Lankan government’s push for democratic reform and promised closer ties with the strategically located Indian Ocean nation.

    “In this journey to restore your democracy, the American people stand with you,” said Kerry, on the first visit to the island in a decade by the top U.S. diplomat.

    Kerry met with President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. On Sunday, he planned to see leaders from the Tamil minority.

    Sri Lanka’s government is determined to end years of international isolation linked to its long war with Tamil separatists, so it really rolled out the red carpet for Kerry. He entered the Foreign Ministry under a welcome sign bearing his image and was greeted by musicians playing horns and drums and dancers in silver breastplates as he proceeded down a long crimson rug.

    “We intend to broaden and deepen our partnership with you,” Kerry said.

    He said the countries would start an annual partnership dialogue and that U.S. officials would provide technical assistance to Colombo on a range of matters, including anti-corruption efforts and returning stolen assets.

    Samaraweera said that Kerry’s visit “signifies our little island nation’s return to the center stage of international affairs.” The minister said Sri Lanka would become a “full-fledged parliamentary democracy” and an “investor’s paradise.”

    The last American secretary of state to come to Sri Lanka was Colin Powell, in early 2005 after the Indian Ocean tsunami. That was before fighting intensified between Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who wanted to create an independent state. The military crushed the rebels in 2009 in a final offensive that left tens of thousands dead and the two sides trading accusations of war crimes.

    The president at that time, Mahinda Rajapaksa, tightened his grip on power, weakening democracy and the rule of law and damaging Sri Lanka’s reputation internationally.

    In January, however, Sirisena shocked Rajapaksa in a close election after pledging to overhaul a system widely seen as autocratic and suffocating for minorities.

    This past week, the parliament voted nearly unanimously to endorse Sirisena’s proposals to clip the powers of the president that Rajapaksa had expanded significantly.

    Encouraged by the new atmosphere, the United States helped in postponing for six months the publication of a U.N. inquiry into possible war crimes by Sri Lanka. The U.N. human rights chief is among those expected to visit the country soon.

    U.S. officials have voiced optimism about the changes, saying they do not want to interfere with a “domestic-led process of reconciliation” underway.

    Some human rights campaigners believe the U.S. is congratulating Sirisena too soon.

    Kerry’s trip is “being read locally as an increasing stamp of approval for the new government,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. He criticized the trip for not including a planned visit to the Tamil-majority north and said he viewed the omission as “an indication that the U.S. no longer really cares about the massive rights abuses that occurred there and the rights issues which are still relevant today.”

    Kerry, in a speech late Saturday, addressed the need for justice and equality for the Tamils – even about claims of war crimes and crimes against humanity by government forces.

    Suppressing old grievances will not eliminate them, he said, and denying people a chance to express their objections through the law means they will try to do so outside the law.

    “It will be harder, not easier, to move forward,” Kerry said. “True peace is more than the absence of war,” he added, and “requires policies that foster reconciliation, not resentment.”

    The U.S. can gain from better relations with Sri Lanka.

    American exports to Sri Lanka totaled $314 million in 2013, the last year for which the U.S. Trade Representative offers figures. That was 40 percent higher than the previous year, but still far below the potential value offered by a market of more than 20 million Sri Lankans, who on average have significant more spending power than their neighbors in India.

    Sri Lankan exports to the U.S. were about $2.5 billion in 2013.

    On a strategic level, Sri Lanka’s location along the maritime route between the manufacturing hubs of East Asia and the growing consumer markets of Africa and the Middle East present the United States with a compelling case for tightening ties.

    Rajapaksa had cultivated close relations with China, which provided financing for huge infrastructure projects amid allegations of Sri Lankan government corruption. Sirisena has pushed to recalibrate his predecessor’s strongly pro-China policies and conduct a review of major Chinese projects.

    The post In policy shift, Kerry pledges closer relationship with Sri Lanka appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Wisconsin Governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at a forum in Waukee, Iowa, April 25, 2015.  Two other Midwestern GOP governors are considering seeking the nomination as well, though neither has Walker's visibility. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    Wisconsin Governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at a forum in Waukee, Iowa, April 25, 2015. Two other Midwestern GOP governors are considering seeking the nomination as well, though neither has Walker’s visibility. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters

    Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has emerged as a force in the 2016 White House contest. It’s a position two other Republican governors from the Midwest, lesser known but similarly ambitious, undoubtedly would like to be in.

    Like Walker, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan have strong resumes and political successes in states where the GOP often struggles. They offer a distinct form of pragmatic politics that differs sharply from that of their combative counterpart in Wisconsin.

    Kasich has taken steps toward a presidential bid, emboldened by the absence of a clear front-runner and by warm reviews from appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The 62-year-old former congressman was in Washington to sound out prospective staff and gauge establishment support soon after setting up a political organization to facilitate his national ambitions.

    “I didn’t fall off a turnip truck,” Kasich said at a Capitol Hill news conference. He cited his 18 years in Congress, a subsequent decade in the private sector and his current status as a two-term governor. “I’m more experienced than anybody in the field.”

    Snyder recently began his first national tour since allies created a nonprofit organization to broaden his profile. Almost unknown outside Michigan, the former business executive made two private appearances at an April gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, attended the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner and appeared in Southern California this past week.

    “Could he be a presidential candidate?” asked former Michigan GOP chairman Bobby Schostak, who’s leading the pro-Snyder nonprofit group. “That’s something time will tell – although obviously not a lot of time.” He said “there’s room for a candidate like him, notwithstanding the size of the field.”

    The first debate comes in just four months, and the contest for the Republican nomination is well underway.

    The early establishment favorite, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is raising money and trying to line up backers. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have joined the race. Walker and others are expected to follow suit.

    Kasich and Snyder have been afterthoughts in the early scramble for money and attention. Yet supporters note that both offer strong backgrounds and a recent record of economic success in important states.

    “A resume isn’t enough,” said veteran Republican strategist Kevin Madden, when asked about the Midwestern governors. “You have to demonstrate you have the ability to break out of the pack with big ideas that inspire and help you build a broad coalition of supporters.”

    Kasich led the House Budget Committee, flirted with a presidential bid before the 2000 election and hosted a Fox News show. Still, he is only slightly better known nationally than Snyder, a certified public accountant.

    The 56-year-old Snyder cast himself as “one tough nerd” in his rise to political prominence in Michigan. Kasich is known for his frenetic, unfiltered personality that is both an asset and liability at times.

    Further, their tendency to favor pragmatism over ideology puts them at odds with tea party supporters who hold outsized influence in the presidential primary process.

    Kasich expanded Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. He criticizes those who demonize President Barack Obama and emphasizes the need to care for the mentally ill and drug addicts. Snyder also expanded Medicaid, largely avoids attacking rivals, and is in the midst of a fight to increase Michigan’s sales tax to help upgrade the state’s infrastructure.

    Should they run, Kasich and Snyder would compete for the same group of independent-minded voters who might be drawn to Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, considered more moderate than most in the pack.

    Kasich shrugged off Walker’s early popularity among prominent donors.

    “I’d love to have everybody’s support, but I’ve learned in my lifetime that if you can get enough people, then you can be effective,” Kasich said last week in Washington. “I am moving forward.”

    This report was written by Steve Peoples and David Eggert of the Associated Press.

    The post With Walker’s success, other Midwest govs eye 2016 GOP nomination appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, appear with their baby daughter outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, in London, Britain May 2, 2015. The Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a girl on Saturday, the couple's second child and a sister to one-year-old Prince George. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

    Britain’s Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, appear with their baby daughter outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, in London, Britain May 2, 2015. The Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a girl on Saturday, the couple’s second child and a sister to one-year-old Prince George. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

    It’s a girl!

    Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, gave birth to a baby girl Saturday morning, Kensington Palace announced.

    Unofficial Town Crier Tony Appleton announces The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a girl outside St. Mary's Hospital in London, England on May 2, 2015. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

    Unofficial Town Crier Tony Appleton announces The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to a girl outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London, England on May 2, 2015. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

    And true to form, swelling throngs of enthusiastic well-wishers (and droves of international press) who began congregating outside of St. Mary’s Hospital in Central London earlier in the week were brimming with national pride.

    Royal fans celebrate the news the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have given birth to a baby girl at St Mary's Hospital on May 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

    Royal fans celebrate the news the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have given birth to a baby girl at St Mary’s Hospital on May 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

    According to the palace statement, the princess was “safely delivered” at 8:34 a.m. local time, weighing 8 pounds 3 ounces.

    The unnamed newborn is fourth in line to the thrown behind her grandfather, Prince Charles; her father, Prince William; and her 21-month-old older brother, Prince George.

    Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, holds her baby daughter outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital, in London, Britain May 2, 2015. The Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William, gave birth to a girl on Saturday, the couple's second child and a sister to one-year-old Prince George. REUTERS/John Stillwell/pool

    Britain’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, holds her baby daughter outside the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, in London, Britain May 2, 2015. The Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William, gave birth to a girl on Saturday, the couple’s second child and a sister to one-year-old Prince George. REUTERS/John Stillwell/pool

    It’s unclear when the palace will announce the name of the baby. Prince William’s name wasn’t announced until a week after his birth, and Prince George’s name was revealed two days after he was born.

    Contenders for the princess’s moniker include the bookmaker-favorite, Alice, the crowd-pleasing Diana, and the ultra-royal Elizabeth, among others.

    Royal fans celebrate the announcement that Catherine, Duchess Of Cambridge has given birth to a baby girl, outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital on May 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

    Royal fans celebrate the announcement that Catherine, Duchess Of Cambridge has given birth to a baby girl, outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital on May 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

    Both Catherine and her new daughter are “doing well,” the palace said, and as Prince William left the hospital briefly to pick up his son, he told the waiting crowds they were “very happy,” according to news reports.

    Royal enthusiasts sit outside the Lindo wing of St. Mary's Hospital where Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton gave birth to her second child on May 2, 2015. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

    Royal enthusiasts sit outside the Lindo wing of St. Mary’s Hospital where Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton gave birth to her second child on May 2, 2015. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

    The post Photos: Hysteria surrounds Britain’s newest royal baby appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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