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

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    TARGET YEMEN_monitor_yemen map chip flag mosque target

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    GWEN IFILL: Fighting raged across Yemen today on land and in the air, in the countdown to a cease-fire.

    In recent weeks, more than 1,400 people have been killed, and 150,000 forced to flee, in what’s become a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

    MARGARET WARNER: Hours before the truce was to begin, Saudi armored vehicles moved toward the border, after clashing with Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels. There was no indication that any ground assault was imminent.

    Meanwhile, a Houthi television channel showed the apparent wreckage of a Moroccan F-16 fighter jet, part of the Saudi-led aerial coalition. The Houthis said they shot it down, and showed what was purported to be the pilot’s I.D. card. Still, the bombing continued, with reports of a major coalition airstrike on a weapons depot in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.

    Marie-Elisabeth Ingres of Doctors Without Borders is in Sanaa, and says conditions are growing ever more dire.

    MARIE-ELISABETH INGRES, Doctors Without Borders: The health system in general, it is collapsing. Because we didn’t receive any drugs for the chronic disease, for example, and because of the fuel, we have hospitals, some private clinics, they are not able now to run like before.

    MARGARET WARNER: The same is true in the port city of Aden, where heavy street fighting raged today between Houthis and loyalists of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, now in exile in Saudi Arabia.

    MOHAMMED AMIN (through interpreter): We are living under siege, surrounded by these Houthis, no water, no electricity. The sewage is overflowing. Our children’s bellies are swollen and we have no medicine. We have nothing.

    MARGARET WARNER: All this came as the clock ran down toward a five-day humanitarian cease-fire between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, who have some backing from Iran.

    On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted the Saudis in a speech.

    PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI, Iran (through interpreter): Saudi Arabia is a government that doesn’t understand and is not aware of the political situation of the region and the world and is a total beginner. It is trying hard to prove itself after many years.

    MARGARET WARNER: The new Saudi king, Salman, has shown a more aggressive regional stance during his four months on the throne. And the efforts of the Sunni powers in the region, led by the Saudis, to counter Shiite Iran will be a top issue this week at a Gulf nation summit hosted by President Obama, also on that agenda, the U.S.-led talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, and the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State group.

    Last Thursday, King Salman had told Secretary of State Kerry that he would attend. But, over the weekend, Salman and the king of Bahrain said they wouldn’t be on hand, sending other officials in their place. That left State Department spokesperson Marie Harf today to deny it’s a snub of Mr. Obama, triggered by Saudi concerns over the president’s pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.

    MARIE HARF, State Department Spokeswoman: King Salman made this decision, given what’s going on in Yemen. He’s sending the crown prince and the deputy crown prince, who are fully empowered. They run intel, they run defense, they run a lot of the areas that we’re actually going to be talking about in detail at Camp David. So we believe that the right mix of people will be there.

    MARGARET WARNER: Right mix or not, the meetings begin Wednesday at the White House before moving to Camp David.

    The post Yemen clashes intensify ahead of humanitarian cease-fire appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    ARCTIC DRILLING  monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama administration has essentially cleared the way to allow Royal Dutch/Shell to begin drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer. It’s one of the most consequential and long-awaited drilling decisions from the government. Shell is seeking approval to drill in the American portion of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.

    Environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of doing so. Estimates show there may be as much as 22 billion barrels of oil and 93 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the area.

    Reporter Coral Davenport covers all this for The New York Times, and she joins me from its Washington bureau.

    Coral Davenport, welcome.

    Let’s — help us understand a little better what area we’re talking about. Exactly where is it, how large is it, what does it look like?

    CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times: Judy, it’s a very big portion of the Arctic Ocean.

    The part that they’re looking at, where Shell’s leases are, are about 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. It is a pristine, untouched area. It is home to habitats of several rare species, large mammals, migrating habitats for whales, feeding habitats for walrus.

    It’s also a very treacherous area, extreme storms, waves of up to 50 feet high, completely frozen over with ice in the winter. So this is a very remote, very treacherous, almost completely untouched area.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, understanding the environmental objections, we know Shell has had difficulties in the past with some drilling in similar circumstances. What has Shell said it’s going to do to protect the environment?

    CORAL DAVENPORT: So, this is not the first time the administration has given a go-ahead to Shell to drill in the area. It gave a permit to Shell to start exploring to see what’s in the area.

    They went in, in summer of 2012. They were plagued that whole period with safety problems, operational problems. They had two rigs that went to ground that had to be towed away. The administration said that they wouldn’t reissue a permit to Shell until they had gone back, assured that they would upgrade their safety and operations procedures.

    In the meantime, the administration had also put forth new drilling safety regulations that anyone drilling will have to follow. Environmental groups of course still say, despite all these promises, all these assurances and new regulations on the part of the administration, this area is just so treacherous to drill and so pristine that they fear that it’s still an accident waiting to happen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what else should we know about why the administration has agreed to do this?  Oil prices are certainly down. The supply is up.

    What is the administration saying is a rationale?

    CORAL DAVENPORT: Well, some of this is built in.

    These areas, these federally owned portions of land were sold by the Bush administration to be drilled, to be leased. And so Shell paid for its lease to drill during the Bush administration. They applied for a permit to use that lease to go in and drill it.

    If the Obama administration had ignored that permit or had, you know, just completely thumbed it down or denied it, Shell absolutely would have sued. If they were to have taken away the permit, they would have to give Shell back the money that it had paid for it, so some of this was just a matter of the Obama administration had to deal with what was on its plate.

    Again, nonetheless, environmental groups are surprised and saying, could it have found some kind of way not to do this?  It really is still a very striking — striking piece of this president’s environmental legacy.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But this does, Coral Davenport, this essentially clears the way for this to happen. And we understand this summer, there is not much else that could take place in the meantime in the courts or elsewhere to stop this?


    To be clear, what the administration gave today was a conditional approval. They cleared the last — sort of second-to-last and certainly the last major hurdle for Shell to move forward. It gave it on condition that Shell made sure it gets the rest of some of its local and state-level permits. The company has said it’s moving forward with doing that. That will be the absolute final.

    But people I have talked to said this is just sort of 95 percent of the way there. And the big piece that everyone was waiting for to see which way it would go was this decision by the Obama administration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. It’s a story that everyone is — I know is watching.

    Coral Davenport with The New York Times, thank you.

    CORAL DAVENPORT: Thanks so much, Judy.

    The post Obama administration clears hurdles for drilling off Alaska coast appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 6.33.16 PM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The death toll rose to at least five today after a line of tornadoes ripped across five states on Sunday. Two people were killed in Nashville, Arkansas, and two others died around Van, Texas, 70 miles from Dallas, where three people were still missing.

    People in Van spent the day picking up the pieces after nearly a third of the town was damaged or destroyed, including as many as a hundred homes. Scores of people were injured.

    MAYOR DEAN STONE, Van, Texas: It’s a terrible thing for a city to come out like we did, but it’s a great thing the way the people have responded. We were here last night when it hit. We were here all night and we’re still here, and a bunch of them still are. We lost a lot of good properties, but it’s just something that you never expect, but we will be working on it diligently.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Another death in Texas was blamed on flooding in Corsicana after 11 inches of rain fell over the weekend.

    GWEN IFILL: The National Football League has suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the four games next season. That follow league findings that Brady was — quote — “at least generally aware” that game balls were being deflated below standards. The Patriots will also pay a $1 million fine and forfeit two draft picks.

    Residents of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, paid tribute today to two police officers killed over the weekend. Liquori Tate and Benjamin Deen were shot to death Saturday night during a traffic stop. Four suspects have been arrested. Initial court appearances were this afternoon.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Jail records in Baltimore are raising more questions about how city police handle suspects. That follows the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury after his arrest and died. The Baltimore Sun reports that, since mid-2012, nearly 2,600 detainees were brought to jail with injuries too severe for them to be admitted.

    GWEN IFILL: And the United States was forced to defend its record today on the use of force by police. The U.N. Human Rights Council cited high-profile cases involving the deaths of black suspects. It also pressed for abolishing the death penalty and closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: European Union officials are now offering a plan for distributing the wave of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East. And the E.U.’s foreign policy chief laid out a separate plan today to cut off the flow of migrants.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: In the calm seas of the Mediterranean, another boatload of desperate migrants seeking sanctuary in Europe.  Around 800 of them drowned last month, forcing Britain and its E.U. partners to treble the search-and-rescue effort.

    This afternoon, the E.U.’s top diplomat appealed to the U.N. Security Council to back a new U.N. resolution authorizing force.

    FEDERICA MOGHERINI, Foreign Policy Chief, European Union: The crucial thing for the European Union is destroying the business model of the trafficking and smuggling organizations, making sure that the vessels cannot be used again, making sure that the assets of these organizations are destroyed.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: But the Russians might veto a resolution. Destroying fishing boats would also mean destroying legitimate livelihoods. If a ship is flagged, you need the flag state’s permission to sink it, while traffickers can replace rubber dinghies easily and at little cost.

    And though this man purports to be Libya’s prime minister, he is not internationally recognized as such.

    PETER ROBERTS, Royal United Services Institute: There are two warring parties in Libya, so which one do you broach? And if you approach one and not the other, you get into debates.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: Well, are you saying this resolution is impractical?

    PETER ROBERTS: Hugely impractical.  It’s impractical and probably not deliverable by the military in any shape or form.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN: But the alternative to sinking ships isn’t easy either. Follow the criminal money chain across Africa, end the continent’s wars, invest in its people, so that they no longer want to leave.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, in Asia, well over 1,000 refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia during the past few days.

    Many are Rohingya Muslims fleeing discrimination in Myanmar. Authorities estimate 25,000 people attempted the voyage from January through March, twice as many as a year ago.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, lawyers for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rested in the penalty phase of the trial. Their final witness was Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote “Dead Man Walking.” She’s met with Tsarnaev, and she says he appears genuinely remorseful.  Closing arguments are Wednesday.

    GWEN IFILL: Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced today to three-and-a-half years in federal prison in a high-profile leak case.  He’d been convicted of telling New York Times journalist James Risen about a plan to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called today for a task force to investigate nail salons and for health regulations to safeguard salon workers. A New York Times series last week found many manicurists are being forced to work long hours, amid toxic chemicals, for surprisingly little pay.

    GWEN IFILL: General Motors now confirms at least 100 people have died in crashes caused by faulty ignition switches in its vehicles. The announcement today said their families will be offered at least $1 million each in compensation. Another 184 people who were injured in crashes are also eligible for payments.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And on Wall Street, stocks could not maintain Friday’s rally. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 86 points to close near 18100. The Nasdaq fell 10 points, and the S&P 500 dropped nearly 11.

    The post News Wrap: Death toll rises after tornadoes hit five states appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton salutes the crowd before speaking on behalf of Kentucky's Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes during a campaign event at The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky October 30, 2014. Grimes is running against current Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by John Sommers II/Reuters

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, seen here at a Democratic campaign event during the 2014 midterms, appeared at more than 220 paid events during his wife’s tenure as Secretary of State, earning nearly $50 million, according to a review of State Department documents and Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosure forms by The Associated Press. Photo by John Sommers II/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — State Department officials under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton moved quickly when aides to Bill Clinton asked them in March 2010 to approve plans for the former president to address clients of a British bank under investigation for violating international sanctions. Within four days, the department’s ethics office signed off on the request — as it did for hundreds of others from the former president during his wife’s four-year tenure leading the agency.

    Its standard response, fired off in a short memo: “We have no objection.”

    That decision remained unchanged even after the Justice Department announced just months later, in August 2010, that London-based Barclays Bank agreed to pay nearly $300 million in penalties for violating financial sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Burma. The long-running case had hardly been secret: Barclays had openly acknowledged in its annual reports — as recently as the same month as Clinton’s 2010 request — that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and others for sanctions violations, and it cautioned that the impact on its profits “could be substantial.”

    By the end of January 2011, Clinton had mingled with top Barclays clients at a private dinner in Davos, Switzerland and at a conference in Singapore — and collected $650,000 in fees for his work.

    During Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure as the top U.S. diplomat, lawyers and other ethics officials in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser gave near-blanket approval to at least 330 requests for Bill Clinton’s appearance at speeches, dinners and events both in the U.S. and around the globe. More than 220 paid events earned the family nearly $50 million, according to a review of State Department documents and Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosure forms by The Associated Press.

    Now, as Hillary Clinton moves forward with her presidential campaign, the ease with which her husband was repeatedly cleared to address companies and governments around the world highlights the potential ethical complications that are likely to intensify if she becomes the country’s next president.

    “It’s politically going to be very treacherous,” said Jan Baran, head of the government ethics group at Washington law firm Wiley Rein LLP, who served as general counsel to the Republican National Committee.

    The State Department and financial disclosure documents show the agency sped through Bill Clinton’s steady stream of requests for events while rarely raising concerns about potential conflicts. At the same time, the agency’s ethics office, which had primary responsibility for the decisions, was hobbled by “strained program operations,” according to a September 2012 report by the Office of Government Ethics, the top U.S. ethics agency.

    State Department ethics officials also gave quick approval to Bill Clinton’s $200,000 appearance in Florida for British-based HSBC in 2011 despite a 2012 money-laundering settlement with federal prosecutors. Five U.S. events in 2011 and 2012 netted the former president $840,000 from UBS Bank less than two years after the Swiss bank had acknowledged a massive tax evasion scheme. The banks declined to comment about their dealings with the former president.

    The State Department also green-lighted requests by several foreign governments to hire the former president, despite the potential complications for his wife’s international diplomacy.

    The former president was paid $600,000 to appear at a government-sponsored event in the United Arab Emirates in December 2011. The State Department also approved a 2010 Clinton event in Bangkok co-sponsored by a Thai government energy ministry and state gas firm.

    The Clinton campaign declined to comment. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said last week the agency was unaware of any actions taken by Hillary Clinton that were influenced by Clinton Foundation donations or by Bill Clinton’s event or consultancy fees.

    The State Department’s scrutiny, which went beyond the standard ethics requirements for all federal officials, was a voluntary process agreed to by both Clintons to avoid “even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” according to a January 2009 memo sent by David Kendall, Bill Clinton’s personal lawyer, to Jim Thessin, who oversaw the vetting in the State Department. Clinton’s office agreed to provide the names of organizations hosting the former president at least 14 days before the event, according to the memo. Lawyers at the agency would then aim to complete their review within five days.

    Only a handful of proposed arrangements appear to have been rejected. A consulting contract with Saban Capital Group Inc., a firm headed by major Clinton donor Haim Saban, was rejected because of what the State Department deemed as Saban’s active involvement in foreign affairs, particularly the Middle East.

    On Thursday, Saban hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s campaign at his Beverly Hills home, raising at least $1.2 million from 450 attendees.

    The post U.S. approved most Bill Clinton speech requests within days while HRC was Secretary of State appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A magnitude 7.3 earthquake that shook Nepal early this morning killed dozens of people, triggered landslides in the Himalayas near Mount Everest and brought down buildings already weakened by last month’s devastating tremblor.

    The new earthquake was centered 47 miles east of Kathmandu, and represents the largest aftershock to date since the 7.8 quake that struck April 25, killing more than 8,000 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center had reported 42 deaths and 1,117 injuries by late afternoon, according to the New York Times. Officials warn that the toll could rise.

    Tremors from Tuesday’s quake could be felt as far away as Bangladesh and New Delhi. Witnesses reported seeing rocks and mud crashing down remote hillsides. Aid workers in helicopters reported severe damage to villages.

    This comes as many had finally returned to their homes and apartments after camping outside in tents after the first quake. Anup Kaphle, senior foreign editor at Buzzfeed, has been reporting from Kathmandu on collapsed buildings, continued aftershocks and villagers waiting for aid:

    And the aid group Doctors for Nepal posted this image of a landslide near the Everest region on Twitter:

    The earthquakes are a result of the India plate converging with the Eurasia plate, thrusting the Himalayan mountains upward, according to USGS.

    The post Another powerful earthquake hits Nepal, kills dozens appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Question: I love your articles about artificial talent shortages (e.g., “The Talent Shortage Myth and Why HR Should Get Out of the Hiring Business“). Stupid offers are certainly one thing that companies seem to do more often than not these days. Another seems to be publishing job descriptions with unreasonably long lists of “requirements” crossing multiple knowledge domains that take years of experience to acquire. These companies “prefer” candidates with multiple certifications and advanced degrees, and yet still expect candidates to be under 50! Go figure.

    It’s also stupid when they re-run the same job ads week after week, looking for the “perfect” candidate under 50. I’m an “older” worker who has gained experience across accounting, finance, operations, IT and project management domains that demonstrates my ability to learn and be adaptable — and I still can’t catch a break finding employment.

    Perhaps you could comment on those type of situations. I’m sure it would resonate with the older crowd.

    Nick Corcodilos: Someone recently commented on one of my columns with a story about an engineering manager who was talking to an engineer. The manager expressed surprise that the talented, highly skilled engineer was unemployed. The engineer cited statistics about how the labor force participation rate is down because employers are making ridiculous demands (the “purple squirrel” phenomenon) — and suggested that the “talent” is giving up.

    The engineer in the story said of the engineering manager: “He looked at me with a WTF-are- you-talking-about? ‘My HR people tell me there’s a shortage of qualified people!’”

    Many managers are clueless. They really believe that, among the legions of talented older workers “on the street,” none are suited to any job today.

    Those job descriptions — larded with unreasonable keywords and “requirements” — are the result of marketing campaigns by LinkedIn and job boards. “Search for any list of qualifications you want – that candidate is in our database! Just keep looking!”

    This triggers even more ridiculous demands by employers, ludicrous “searches,” and then complaints that they can’t find the perfect hires. Employers are shooting themselves in the foot at the behest of job boards – and they’re paying for the privilege.

    Meanwhile, older workers who can do the job remain mysteriously unemployed! The problem folks like you face is that employers don’t try to map your skills and abilities against their objectives. They try to map your keywords against their keywords. The matches are never good enough — but no one points out to these employers that it’s not keywords they’re going to hire!

    The best thing you can do is take control of the discussion, grab the felt-tip marker, go to the whiteboard, and explain it to those foolish hiring managers. (Don’t even bother with HR. If you’re going to interviews with personnel jockeys, all bets are off.) Managers need someone who can explain it to them. The smart ones – their eyes will light up. They might even hire you.

    Don’t wait for anyone to figure out what to do with you. Assess the employer’s needs, probe their objectives, grab the marker and go to the board and show them how you’ll get them where they want to go.

    Let everyone else diddle the keywords.

    Dear Readers: How can older workers show employers that there’s no talent shortage? And what do employers need to do so they can hear this message?

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

    The post Ask the Headhunter: Silly things employers do to bypass older workers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chipotle Becomes First Non-GMO US Restaurant ChainLast week, Panera Bread announced that it will be removing more than 150 artificial ingredients from the items on its menu. The restaurant chain follows Chipotle and Kraft as the latest company to jump on the menu-makeover bandwagon.

    Allison Aubrey, who covers food and nutrition for NPR, and Michael Moss, author of the book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” recently joined Gwen Ifill to discuss some of the forces driving this trend.

    “The reason why these companies are making these changes now is that they’re talking to their customers, and consumer sentiment has really changed,” Aubrey told Ifill.

    “Much of what this is about are these food giants trying to regain the trust of customers who are caring more and more about what they put in their bodies and caring less and less for some of the strategies we have seen from the processed food industry over the years,” Moss agreed.

    To what degree is consumer pressure contributing to brands’ decisions to strike artificial additives, GMOs and more from their menus and ingredients lists? What factors sparked the natural food revolution? How great are the health risks posed by these ingredients, and what is the impact (both economic and in terms of taste) of these changes?

    Join a Twitter chat on this topic Thursday, May 14, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. Aubrey (@AubreyNPRFood) and Moss (@MichaelMossC) will both share their insights. Follow along and chime in using #NewsHourChats.

    The post Twitter chat: What’s behind the push to remove artificial ingredients from restaurant menus? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An official from the University of Virginia has filed a libel suit against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and Sabrina Erdely, alleging that they portrayed the university community as being indifferent about gang rape on campus, Reuters reported.

    An official from the University of Virginia has filed a libel suit against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and Sabrina Erdely, alleging they portrayed the university community as being indifferent about gang rape on campus, Reuters reported.

    Updated on May 12 at 4:30 p.m. EST | An associate dean of students at the University of Virginia has filed a $7.5 million libel lawsuit against Rolling Stone, claiming the magazine portrayed the school official as the “chief villain” in its now-retracted story of a gang rape on campus.

    Nicole Eramo filed the multi-million dollar lawsuit Tuesday, which states that Rolling Stone’s November 2014 article personified her as indifferent to a student’s sexual-assault claim about a fraternity gang rape and discouraged the alleged victim, identified as “Jackie” in the story, not to share her account with others.

    The lawsuit was filed in Charlottesville, Virginia and also named the magazine’s parent company, Wenner Media, and the story’s reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, in the lawsuit.

    “To personify the university’s alleged insitutional indifference to rape, Erdely and Rolling Stone cast Dean Eramo, who met with and counseled Jackie (the alleged rape victim), as the chief villain of the story,” the lawsuit said, adding that the story’s claims are “not only clearly false, but they are defamatory per se.”

    The story, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” was subsequently debunked after the Washington Post, among others, questioned the events laid out in Jackie’s account.

    In December, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana apologized for “discrepancies” in the story, adding that the magazine’s “trust in [Jackie] was misplaced.”

    Rolling Stone then commissioned an independent review, conducted by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, to heavily scrutinize the story, which drew nationwide attention. The 13,000-word report concluded that the story was a “journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

    A separate investigation by Charlottesville police concluded in March that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the sexual assault took place.

    Read Eramo’s full complaint, provided by the Washington Post, below:

    Era Mo Rollingstone Complaint

    The post UVA official sues Rolling Stone for libel over debunked campus rape story appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Photo by Flickr user Thomas Favre-Bulle

    Photo by Flickr user Thomas Favre-Bulle

    For most children, swearing in school, throwing Skittles on a bus or walking around without a hallpass would get them sent to the principal’s office. But in the Jefferson Parish School District of Louisiana, many of these misbehaviors have resulted in arrest.

    A new report from the Southern Law Poverty Center found that schools and police are using a revised state statute to arrest students “under the charge of simple battery for horseplay and typical student roughhousing and fighting.” The report also finds that roughly 80 percent of students arrested in the 2013/2014 school year were African-American, though they only account for 40 percent of Jefferson Parish’s student population of 45,914.

    The report comes three years after the SPLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. An investigation has since been underway, looking at the high number of black students being arrested for minor rule breaking in that specific school district.

    Jefferson Parish School District isn’t the only one to allow police to guard schools and make arrests. But SPLC believes they have abused their power. According to them, police made 706 school-based arrests and received 923 law enforcement referrals at that particular school distrcit. By comparison, the East Baton Rouge Parish has a student population of 42,985. That same year, police made no school-based arrests there and received only 170 law enforcement referrals.

    The report argues:

    JPPSS’s policy and practice of arresting students and referring them to law enforcement for minor student misbehavior violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because: (1) the practice disproportionately affects African American students, who, although comprising only 41% of the Jefferson Parish student body, account for 80% of all school-based arrests; (2) the practice is not necessary to meet any educational goals and instead has devastating consequences for students; and (3) there are equally effective, less discriminatory alternatives for preventing and responding to minor student misbehavior.

    Several arrests were pinned to “Interference with an Educational Facility.” One such instance in the report says that a 14-year-old girl went outside of her school in March where she began yelling and cursing after a parent-teacher conference. Police told her to stop shouting, or she would be arrested. When she continued to remain emotional, she was arrested and kept overnight in a juvenile detention center.

    On a different occasion, a 15-year-old boy and other students threw Skittles at each other on a bus. The 15-year-old was arrested the following day at school for “simple battery” and “interference with an educational facility.” He was then left in a juvenile detention center for six days.

    Another instance, also from March, details the arrest of a 10-year-old African American autistic girl who police handcuffed face-down on the ground, after she disrupted her classroom by climbing on top of tables and out a window onto a tree.

    Beth Branley, a spokeswoman for the school district, said in a statement Friday, “We are aware of and are very concerned by these allegations. We pledge to work closely with those agencies involved to quickly resolve any issues that we identify. We are committed to ensuring that our students have a safe, healthy environment and are treated equably at all schools.”

    The post Report: disproportionate number of black students being arrested in one Louisiana school district appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A pedestrian walks past a sign reading "All are Welcome" at Brown Street United Methodist Church in downtown in Lafayette, Indiana March 31, 2015. Indiana's Republican Governor Mike Pence, responding to national outrage over the state's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said on Tuesday he will "fix" it to make clear businesses cannot use the law to deny services to same-sex couples. Photo by Nate Chute/Reuters

    The number of Americans who consider themselves Christian fell to 70.6 percent from 78.4 percent in recent years, according to a new poll. Photo by Nate Chute/Reuters

    Fewer Americans identify as Christian, a Pew Research Study recently found. While the change in affiliations crosses nearly all demographics, the Millennial generation appears to be driving the growth.

    More than 35,000 Americans were surveyed for Pew Research Center’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study. The data, from 2007 to 2014, found that while the U.S. is still overwhelmingly Christian (about 7 in 10 Americans), the number of those who consider themselves Christian fell to 70.6 percent from 78.4 percent, and the number of those who are not affiliated with any religion rose percent to 22.8 percent from 16.1 since 2007. Within Christianity, the number of mainline Protestants and Catholics both fell 3.4 and 3.1 percent respectively, while the number of evangelicals rose slightly. The share of those who are affiliated with non-Christian faiths — including Muslims and Hindus — has risen slightly since 2007, to 5.9 percent from 4.7 percent, the study found.

    Pew also found that the drop in Christian-affiliated Americans crossed nearly all demographics. The pattern could be seen across all genders, races and education levels. However, one demographic that stood out was an group. As Millennials replace previous generations, they bring with them their low religious affiliation: 34 percent of older Millennials and 36 percent of younger Millennials consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.

    At the same time, Millennials are not the only age group to be losing their religious affiliations. “people in older generations are increasingly disavowing association with organized religion,” the report read. “Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years. Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as religious ‘nones’ in recent years.”

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    GWEN IFILL: And finally tonight: An art photographer returns to his roots to capture how Americans live today.

    Jeff is back with the latest selection from our NewsHour Bookshelf.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Can a sense of community still be found in America today?

    Photographer Alec Soth went looking for it.

    ALEC SOTH, Photographer, “Songbook”: I was in Cleveland. And so I was at this old supper club. And I walked in there and it was like walking into the past.

    Look at the faces of all three of these people. I mean, those faces could be from 60 years ago. So, I needed to make a picture of this couple having this date.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Camera always ready, Soth spent two years crisscrossing the country, from a bar in Upstate New York, to a high school prom in Ohio, to a motel parking lot in Florida; 73 photos from that road trip are now featured in a collection call “Songbook” and have been shown in exhibitions in San Francisco, New York and Soth’s hometown of Minneapolis.

    Soth is known for both large-scale landscapes and intimate portraits. In 2004, in a project called “Sleeping by the Mississippi,” he documented the life and land along the river.

    Six years later, in “Broken Manual,” he focused on people who retreat from civilization. Now he wanted to see if and where Americans still come together, inspired in part by the book “Bowling Alone.”

    ALEC SOTH: The sense of the death of community culture, that sort of civic organizations and community life is fading.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Soth, it turns out, isn’t much on bowling, but he’s a ping-pong fanatic, as I discovered in his Saint Paul studio. He had started out near here as a photographer for a small local newspaper and says that with “Songbook” he wanted to return to those roots.

    ALEC SOTH: I had this idea, and I called up — it was actually on my birthday. I called up this friend of mine who had worked as a reporter for years and said, as a present, will you go out with me and we will do a news story, a sort of pretend news story?

    JEFFREY BROWN: What were you after?

    ALEC SOTH: A more sort of lyrical approach to the news. And we were after this sense of community life.

    And what we found was that, you know, community life, of course, still exists in many different ways. And I was actually reinvigorated about how diverse and crazy America is, because there’s this stereotype that everything has become strip malls and Wal-Mart. And, of course, that’s true, you know, to a large extent.

    But you just drive off the freeway a couple miles, and there’s, you know, just so much richness there and so many stories.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For the book, Soth removed the reporter’s notes, letting viewers devise their own stories.

    ALEC SOTH: Here’s a picture of a finger pointing at a key.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a wall of keys.

    ALEC SOTH: I’m using the flash to illuminate this one key that almost — to me, it almost looks like a crucifix at this point.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Exactly. Yes.

    ALEC SOTH: Well, it has this kind of like E.T. quality, sort of like touching the light. And that kind of business, you can’t do that in straight news, so I think that that lends a mystery to it. And so a viewer, not having all the information, just creates a story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: There is also though in the book a sense of nostalgia, right?

    ALEC SOTH: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And some sense of loneliness.

    ALEC SOTH: The book is called “Songbook,” which kind of refers to the “Great American Songbook.”

    And I was also thinking, like, the greatest generation. You know, it’s like all this — all the great stuff happened in the past.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It all happened. It’s all done.

    ALEC SOTH: Yes. And of course that’s romanticized, to a large extent, but there is definitely some truth to it as well, that we’re — and particularly with digital culture, we’re all on our little devices in our rooms.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In some of Soth’s photographs, the subject is turning away from the camera, like this one taking in a magician’s shop in Colon, Michigan.

    ALEC SOTH: The owner took me into the backroom with these little cabinets where he keeps his tricks. And there was this moment where he turned away. And his palm was exposed. And that makes me think of, like, hiding a trick up your sleeve. But it is — you know, it’s a completely mysterious picture.

    JEFFREY BROWN: But this one of course does evoke a sense of loneliness.

    ALEC SOTH: Absolutely, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He’s standing in a corner.

    ALEC SOTH: Absolutely. That’s the lyrical nature of it, is that I’m creating my own world. I’m creating my — the emotional tone to these pictures.

    JEFFREY BROWN: His own world and a portrait of the one we share.

    From Saint Paul, Minnesota, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

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    Struggling in america monitor

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    GWEN IFILL: Next: the story of those who helped America in war, but struggled when given the chance for a life here.

    Afghans who served as military interpreters qualify for a special visa program. But, for years, getting that visa was a long and complicated process. That left many applicants in limbo, forced to hide from the Taliban while waiting for approval.

    Congress streamlined that process in 2013, and more than 15,000 Afghans and their families came to the U.S. with green cards.

    But, as special correspondent Sean Carberry reports, once they arrived, they faced a whole new set of hurdles.

    SEAN CARBERRY, Special Correspondent: This is 26-year old Aminullah Sayed. The Kabul native spent seven years accompanying U.S. forces into battle. He worked as an interpreter in some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. It took him years to navigate the convoluted visa process. He and his wife and son finally arrived in the U.S. in late February.

    Since then, Sayed has spent much of his time walking around his new home of Woodbridge, Virginia, looking for a job. He looks for places like this moving company that have “help wanted” signs out front.

    He has to walk because he doesn’t have a car. Like most Afghan interpreters when they arrive, he was provided an apartment that is paid for, for three months. He also has food stamps and Medicaid, but he has to find a job quickly before his rental assistance runs out.

    Sayed spends about 20 minutes inside filling out a job application to be a moving assistant.

    AMINULLAH SAYED, Former U.S. Military Interpreter: I hope they call me, because I have been filling out many applications to the stores like Wal-Mart, their applications, Dollar Tree, General Dollar, other stores when I see hiring sign posted there.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Sayed has received job search training through Catholic Charities, one of nine agencies contracted by the U.S. government to provide assistance to refugees.

    Resettlement organizations are required to find initial housing for refugees. They assist people like Sayed with signing up for benefits and finding a job. About 70 percent of Afghan interpreters come to the U.S. with the assistance of a refugee agency. They are provided the same benefits as refugees fleeing violence in Syria or South Sudan.

    Sayed is approaching the end of his period of rental assistance and will soon have to support himself.

    AMINULLAH SAYED: I’m really depressed because of that, what will happen. My kids will be on the street, so I don’t want them to have that, to be on the street. If I find a job now, it’s OK. If I don’t, then that’s the question. Who will support, and who will help?

    SEAN CARBERRY: One person trying to help is U.S. Army Reserve Captain Matt Zeller. He’s the founder of No One Left Behind. It’s a nonprofit that provides assistance to interpreters in the D.C., area.

    CAPT. MATT ZELLER, No One Left Behind: These guys are veterans. They did tours of combat, just like we did.

    SEAN CARBERRY: This is a personal cause for Zeller. While on a mission in Afghanistan, his interpreter picked up a gun and killed two Taliban who were ambushing their position.

    CAPT. MATT ZELLER: He literally saved my life. To me, he’s — you know, he’s an American veteran, and we ought to be taking care of folks like we do our other fellow veterans.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Zeller helped get his former interpreter, Janis Shinwari, to the U.S. a year-and-a-half ago. Now Shinwari and other Afghan volunteers spend their weekends visiting thrift shops like Pender Methodist in Chantilly, Virginia.

    MAN: Couches and dining tables and some dishes.

    MAN: OK.

    SEAN CARBERRY: The shop donates furniture and kitchen supplies that Zeller and his team deliver to newly arrived interpreters.

    Zeller says the first person No One Left Behind helped was an interpreter named Ajmal. He once served as translator to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

    CAPT. MATT ZELLER, U.S. Army: When we found Ajmal, he was living homeless on the streets of San Francisco with his wife, his 4-year-old son, and his 2-year-old daughter. We flew them out to Maryland so that he could be closer to people that he knew, helped him find an apartment, furnished that home, helped him get a job, bought him a car, and it sort of snowballed from there.

    SEAN CARBERRY: More than a year after arriving in the U.S., Ajmal is now doing well and volunteers for No One Left Behind. Zeller says he shouldn’t have to do this work. He argues the U.S. government and relief agencies should be providing more of a safety net.

    Interpreters we spoke with all said they are eager to work and provide for their families, but they wish they had a few more months of assistance to find work and get on their feet here.

    Larry Bartlett is director of refugee assistance programs at the State Department. He acknowledges that it’s a tough transition for Afghans.

    LAWRENCE BARTLETT, U.S. State Department: It’s a program that allows people to arrive, but then expects them to become self-sufficient economically.

    SEAN CARBERRY: And do so quickly. With the surge in processing of visas for Afghans, and the greater numbers of refugees fleeing violence around the world, resources are stretched.

    LAWRENCE BARTLETT: There’s a bit of a tension, because the federal funding for this program is limited, and the needs of the population, as the needs of refugees who are recently resettled here, are perhaps greater than the federal funding can allow.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Bartlett says there is no talk of extending additional benefits to Afghan interpreters, though, as hard as it is initially, many Afghans are succeeding in the U.S., such as Shinwari, Zeller’s former interpreter. He struggled initially, but he says he happy with his life in America.

    JANIS SHINWARI, Former U.S. Military Interpreter: I like it, nice place. And the important thing, we — we are secure. We don’t have to be live under fear, like we did in Afghanistan. We have fun because we help people from Afghanistan and Iraq.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Today, they are delivering furniture to a newly arrived family in Riverdale, Maryland. This is where Ajmal lives, along with a number of other Afghan families. He says it’s not a good place to live.

    SEAN CARBERRY: So, do you feel safe living here?

    AJMAL FAQIRI, Former U.S. Military Interpreter: No. We left Afghanistan because we thought we were going to safe. And if a person comes to your apartment, and the drug dealers keep bothering you, is it safe?  I’m not calling it safe.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Apartments have water leaks, roaches, mice, and mold, often in bedrooms that families share with their kids. Ajmal and others say they weren’t expecting luxury when they arrived, but they often left nicer homes in Afghanistan.

    AJMAL FAQIRI: I have noticed about almost 10 families, they left back this country.

    SEAN CARBERRY: They went back to Afghanistan?

    AJMAL FAQIRI: Yes, they went back to Afghanistan, approximately 10 families.

    SEAN CARBERRY: Ajmal says there was one man who left when the rent support ended and he hadn’t found a job. He told Ajmal he’d rather die in Afghanistan than suffer here. At least the grave is paid for in Afghanistan, he said.

    Still, despite the hardships that many Afghans face here, there are thousands more seeking visas in hopes of a better life in America.

    For the PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C., I’m Sean Carberry.

    GWEN IFILL: Aminullah Sayed, the Afghan translator we profiled at the beginning of that story, found a job with a moving company. He makes more than the Virginia minimum wage, but not enough to cover his family’s rent. So he’s looking for a second job and a cheaper apartment.

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    LOSING OUR RELIGION  monitor  religion

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to surprising new findings about our changing religious landscape, and how and if we believe.

    Jeffrey Brown has our conversation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. remains an overwhelmingly Christian country. That hasn’t changed, but a new survey shows a significant drop in the number of Americans who identify as Christian.

    The survey was done by the Pew Research Center. It showed that, in 2007, 78 percent of Americans identified as Christian. By last year, the percentage had dropped to under 71 percent. Those years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, from 16 to nearly 23 percent.

    The largest drop was in mainline Protestant denominations, but the number of Catholics also fell. Several non-Christian religions, Islam and Hinduism, saw modest gains.

    Alan Cooperman is here. She’s the director of religious research at Pew. Also with us is Reverend Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

    And welcome to both of you.

    And, Alan Cooperman, let me start with you.

    One aspect of this that might surprise people is just how widespread this drop is. Did that strike you?

    ALAN COOPERMAN, Pew Research Center: Absolutely, Jeff.

    I mean, I think the important thing for people the realize is, this is really widespread, broad-based social change. It’s taking place not just in the big cities or in the Northeast. It’s taking place in every region of the country, including in the Bible Belt, among men and women, among blacks, Latinos and whites, among older people and younger people, and among people with college degrees and those with only high school degrees.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, Dr. Jones, what — does it jibe with what you see happening around you? Are you surprised at all?

    REV. SERENE JONES, President, Union Theological Seminary: Yes, it’s surprising to see the statistics lay it out so clearly, but, on another level, it’s not surprising at all. It’s exactly what we all look around when what we see in New York City or — I’m from Oklahoma — when I walk through the fields of the small town I grew up in. It’s the reality of the U.S. we live in today.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Tell me a little bit more. What do you think explains it?

    REV. SERENE JONES: Well, it’s very interesting.

    At Union Theological Seminary, we’re seeing the unaffiliated, this now growing group, fastest growing group, actually walking through the doors of seminary. So I have occasion quite often to talk to them about why they have left religious communities and what it is about spirituality in general that seems to still attract them.

    And I think one of the reasons why we’re seeing the bigger drop in the mainline than we are in the evangelical, for instance, is that, in a lot of mainline communities, the line between what it means to be in the church and out of the church is a very fluid line. And we see the unaffiliated, you know, perhaps coming back to church once or twice a year, not quite sure what they think about religion, whereas, in evangelical communities, that demarcation is much sharper and the pressure not to leave the community is greater.

    I think it’s interesting in a mainline context to ask, what are the incentives to stay? And I think it’s causing the mainline churches to do a lot of soul-searching, first of all, to figure out why people are leaving, but secondly to ask this really interesting question: Is it always bad that churches shrink? And those are sort of interesting political and theological questions that the survey doesn’t touch upon, but I think we’re being prompted to deal with.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask Alan Cooperman about what the survey does touch on, the unaffiliated, this rise, because it too is fairly widespread, right? We have a graphic of age demographics. Tell us about that.

    ALAN COOPERMAN: Well, it’s especially concentrated among younger generations.

    So, while it’s true that it’s taking place amongst older adults, as well as among younger adults, it’s really startling. Among the youngest millennials, 36 percent are unaffiliated, whereas, in the country as a whole, it’s down 23 percent. Among older generations, it’s a much smaller percentage.

    And so a lot of what’s happening, Jeff, is what we call generational replacement. It’s a nice way of saying that the older generations, which were very heavily Christian, are passing away, and they’re being replaced by younger cohorts that are far more unaffiliated, not only than older generations are today, but than those older generations ever were.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And let me stay with you, because this is another question that follows. Is this an affiliation or denominational-type issue, or is it an issue of actual religious faith? How much do we know about that distinction?

    ALAN COOPERMAN: Oh, these labels matter.

    Now, of course, within every religious group, and within every group of people who identify themselves as Christians, there is a spectrum. There are people who are — who don’t believe and there are people who are very strong believers. There are people who attend church regularly and people who seldom or never go. Within every group, there is a spectrum.

    But, for sure, Jeff, those who are unaffiliated are much less likely to attend religious services. They pray less often. Religion is less important to them. And there are also political concomitants. For example, the unaffiliated as a whole lean almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelical Protestants lean Republican.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Serene Jones, you asked that question about how much this matters to particular churches and particular denominations. What do you — can you begin an answer here for us?

    REV. SERENE JONES: Well, it’s a challenge to all the denominations, the mainline in particular that I’m most familiar with at Union, to ask why this drift is happening.

    But I think one of the biggest challenges when asking that question is to say, look, religion is not like going to — you know, it’s not a campaign. It’s not a sport event. It’s not about numbers. It is, though, interesting to look at demographics and say, what do they tell us about the world in which these religious communities find themselves?

    And one of the interesting things I’m seeing at Union — and the demographics in the new study bear this out — is the religiously unaffiliated are growing in numbers, but we’re also seeing an uptake in the numbers of Pentecostal and charismatic black and brown Christians coming to seminary.

    So at the two ends of the spectrum, we see growth, where in the middle we’re seeing a flattening and at times a decline. So what does it mean that, at both of these that would appear to be different ends of the religious spectrum with expression — with relationship to the way they express their faith, are both sort of taking ahold of this younger generation?

    JEFFREY BROWN: You know, Alan Cooperman, I want to ask you about a separate Pew study I saw slightly earlier, but it suggests that this U.S. path differs from the rest of the world. And other surveys suggested that the world is becoming more religiously affiliated.

    ALAN COOPERMAN: Yes, the United States is on a path that in some ways looks similar to what’s happened in Western Europe, what’s happened in other parts of the developing world, where secularization has been taking place, where the unaffiliated are growing.

    But you’re absolutely right. The fastest growing parts of the world, in terms of population, are places like sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and these are places where almost everybody identifies with a faith. And so they are somewhat contrary trends. On the one hand, the world population as a whole is over time becoming, if anything, more religiously affiliated, while Western Europe and the United States are becoming less.

    And that does raise very interesting questions. Will we be able to understand each other in the future?

    JEFFREY BROWN: And, very briefly, do you expect what you see happening, the trends here in the U.S., to continue?

    ALAN COOPERMAN: Well, on demographic grounds, yes.

    Of course, there’s a great deal that I don’t pretend to be able to predict, but when we see the younger generations increasingly unaffiliated and even the younger millennials more unaffiliated than older millennials, I see no reason to think that this, at least in the immediate future, going to turn around. Fifty years from now, 100 years from now, I can’t possibly know.

    JEFFREY BROWN: We will talk then.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Alan Cooperman and Dr. Serene Jones, thank you both very much.

    ALAN COOPERMAN: Thank you, Jeff.

    REV. SERENE JONES: Thank you.

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    thinking machines

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    GWEN IFILL: Now we continue our series about artificial intelligence, A.I., where computers are able to make intelligent decisions without human input.

    As computing power gets stronger and people continue to generate massive amounts of data, A.I. is making its way into the marketplace and into your doctor’s examination room.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the latest in series on breakthroughs in invention and innovation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Advances in artificial intelligence continue to push the boundaries between science fiction and reality, like this brain-controlled device at the University of Minnesota. It enables users to fly a model helicopter with only their thoughts. The hope is it will soon help disabled people to operate robotic arms.

    But you don’t need to be in a university lab to find A.I. It’s all around us.

    MAN: What’s the fifth planet from the sun?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Helping us search for information. 

    WOMAN: Jupiter is the fifth planet orbiting the sun.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Our smartphones use A.I. to navigate us, choosing the least congested traffic routes. Even the U.S. Postal Service uses it to sort mail. And on Wall Street, autonomous machines help make major financial decisions.

    RAY KURZWEIL, Inventor/Futurist: At least 90 percent of the financial transactions are guided in one way or another by artificial intelligence.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ray Kurzweil directs Google’s engineering lab, but spoke to us in his capacity as an independent inventor. He’s convinced that A.I. programs are already on track to solve many of the problems vexing mankind today.

    RAY KURZWEIL: They’re helping us find a cure for disease, helping us diagnose disease, analyzing environmental data to help us clean up the environment. Virtually every industrial process is a combination already of human and machine intelligence.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Large tech firms are betting big on the promise of A.I. Last year, Google paid $400 million to acquire DeepMind, a London startup specializing in deep learning. Facebook is raising eyebrows as it continues to pluck A.I. talent. And IBM is investing $1 billion to grow its Watson division, based out of new headquarters in New York’s Silicon Alley.

    Remember Watson, the supercomputer which beat a pair of “Jeopardy” game show champions in 2011?

    MAN: Watson?

    COMPUTER: What is Jericho?

    MAN: Correct.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, in the four years since, IBM has sped Watson up 24-fold. What used to be a room full of computing machines can now fit into a pizza box, all accessed from the cloud.

    You could say these are the brains that power Watson, but since all the data lives on the cloud, it’s hard to visualize.

    GURUDUTH BANAVAR, IBM: What you see is how Watson works.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Guru Banavar is vice president of cognitive computing at IBM.

    GURUDUTH BANAVAR: Watson has come a very long way.

    We have taken some of the underlying technologies that helped us win the “Jeopardy” game show, and applied it in many domains that matter, like health care, education, business decision-making.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Last month, IBM Introduced Watson Health, its entry into the personalized health care space. The idea is to use Watson’s A.I. to make sense of vast troves of health data to deliver tailored information to physicians, insurers, researchers and hospitals.

    GURUDUTH BANAVAR: The difference between any data that previously we were able to analyze and the new data that are — we have to apply artificial intelligence techniques to is that the new data is natural language. It’s just written in English. Computers have never been able to understand natural language.

    Typically, these are very high-end, complex information that’s published by scientific researchers, and now Watson is able to read those.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: At the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mark Kris, a thoracic oncologist, is leading a team that is teaching Watson how to diagnose cancer.

    DR. MARK G. KRIS, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: We needed some way to help doctors deal with the deluge of information that’s available now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Watson is being trained to sort through reams of information about the patient, the most current medical research, and get it to the doctor to help make a decision, all at a pace beyond humans.

    DR. MARK G. KRIS: Our kind of idea here though is that this system is going to be like what we kind of call a learned colleague.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: A colleague that can assist with instant diagnoses and recommended courses of treatment. The recommendations are highly personalized based on a patient’s unique genetic makeup.

    DR. MARK G. KRIS: The person I’m asking about is a 55-year-old man who already has had surgery for his lung cancer. It was discovered that this cancer had spread to lymph glands that were nearby.

    So, the first thing this system does is, it shows all the different treatments that are recommended. And then now I ask what kind of chemo to give, and it points to a chemo regimen, two different drugs. And if I want the more information about exactly why this decision was made, there’s a little button right next to this chemo choice that takes you to the medical literature and some key publications about this regimen, the benefits it can give, and why that choice was made.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Bob Wachter is associate chair at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School and author of a new book, “The Digital Doctor.”

    DR. ROBERT WACHTER, University of California, San Francisco: In some ways, ironic that computers will probably be best at low-level tasks, pretty simple algorithmic stuff. I have a runny nose and a cough and a low-grade fever. What should I do? And high — very high-complexity stuff, like, I have an unusual form of lung cancer and I have these genetic mutations, and what should I do?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But Wachter says where computers and A.I. still struggle is in the middle.

    DR. ROBERT WACHTER: A lot of medicine kind of lives in that middle ground, where it’s really messy. And someone comes in to see me and they have a set of complaints and physical exam findings all that. And it could be — if you look it up in a computer, it could be some weird — it could be the Bubonic plague, but it probably is the flu.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Wachter is also concerned about fatal implications that can result from an over-reliance on computers. In his book, he writes about a teenage patient at his own hospital who barely survived after he was given 39 times the amount of antibiotics he should have received.

    DR. ROBERT WACHTER: So, in two different cases, the computers threw up alerts on the computer screen that said, this is an overdose. But the alert for a 39-fold overdose and the alert for a 1 percent overdose looked exactly the same. And the doctors clicked out of it. The pharmacists clicked out of it. Why? Because they get thousands of alerts a day, and they have learned to just pay no attention to the alerts.

    Where the people are relegated to being monitors of a computer system that’s right most of the time, the problem is, periodically, the computer system will be wrong. And the question is, are the people still engaged or are they now asleep at the switch because the computers are so good?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That’s one of many ethical questions facing scientists, and society, as artificial intelligence continues its rapid advance.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan in New York.

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    Protesters rally outside the hotel where Obama is participating in a Democratic National Committee (DNC) event in Portland, Oregon

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    GWEN IFILL: As battles sort itself out, we begin our own series of conversations at what’s at stake in the debate over trade.

    First tonight, a leading voice for labor. Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Its membership includes 56 unions representing more than 12 million workers in the United States.

    Welcome, Mr. Trumka.

    Your side won the day today, but you heard the White House is calling it a procedural snafu. Where do things stand tonight?

    RICHARD TRUMKA, President, AFL-CIO: Well, I think it’s an indication that this agreement is not worthy of the American people and the American worker, that they do not want to pass this thing with an up-or-down vote, that members of Congress want to be able to say, this is where it needs to be fixed. Let us help you fix it.

    So, I think we’re in the position where if the president would go along with that, we could fix this agreement and make everybody a winner, all the American public and everybody else.

    GWEN IFILL: Was today’s vote really about the nuts and bolts of the deal itself, or was it just about this idea of fast tracking it, of greasing the skids?

    RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, the first vote was about fast track

    And if you wouldn’t mind, I will elaborate on that just a bit. Congress has the constitutional authority to do trade deals. They can delegate that to the president. In this specific instance, it makes absolutely no sense, because the only way Congress has to control the agreement whenever it’s delegated is to give the president negotiating objectives and then come back and make sure he’s met them and voted up or down.

    In this instance, the agreement’s almost totally negotiated before they give him any objectives, and they will come back with a bad agreement. We know a little bit about what’s in it, though it has been kept very secret. And they will have to vote it up or down. They won’t be able to change it. No one is willing to do that, in light of what’s happened and the history of all the other trade agreements that have cost us jobs and encouraged outsourcing.

    GWEN IFILL: Your concerns are about transparency. Your concerns are about enforcement. Your concerns are about whether, as you just mentioned, jobs will go away. The president says the unions are stuck in the past, that this is an old fight that has already been won, in part because any of the jobs that were going to go to Asian nations already have.

    RICHARD TRUMKA: With all due respect to the president, it’s he that’s stuck in the past.

    This is a NAFTA-style agreement. What we wanted was what he promised. That’s a new type of trade agreement that would protect American jobs and grow the economy and let everybody win from a trade agreement, and not just Wall Street. This agreement is patterned after CAFTA and NAFTA, and, as a result, not us stuck in the past.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, their argument, of course — I’m going to just be the devil’s advocate here — is that the North American Free Trade Agreement, the one you just referenced, that that was a different time and it was a different place and that this — our technology and where we are in the world now allows us to enforce the kinds of promises that maybe you feel were not kept at that time.

    RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, first of all, the rules are the rules.

    And if you use the same old rules that you did under NAFTA, you will get the same results now, regardless of a different period of time. Second of all, you’re right. They didn’t enforce those rights. And there’s nothing in this agreement that will give them more rights, more ways to enforce workers’ rights and environmental rights and to protect the American public, the American worker and the American environment.

    In fact, this will encourage and give opportunity to foreign investors to attack our laws in ways that no U.S. citizen has. It’s specific to corporations and special secret tribunals that they get to access and no American does. That’s just not right. It’s not good for the country. It’s one of the old, tired features of NAFTA, and it’s something that should be changed to modernize it and bring it into today’s economy.

    GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you about who you represent now, which is very different than it used to be.

    Less than 10 percent of your membership are in manufacturing, and that’s what you’re talking about here. Why such a fierce pushback?

    RICHARD TRUMKA: Well, because it’s a bad trade agreement. It will hurt everybody in the economy.

    It doesn’t just hurt industrial workers. It hurts professional workers. It hurts teachers. It hurts public workers by doing away with the tax base. Look, since 2000, we have lost 60,000 factories. When a factory closes down in the community, the tax base goes away, the high-paying jobs go away. They’re replaced with either low-paying jobs or no jobs at all. That means there’s less revenue for government to operate on, less services for the general public, and the entire community loses.

    That’s why this is so important. Look, Gwen, this is going to cover 40 percent of the world’s economy. And it has a docking provision where they’re going to be able to add other countries to this, which means it may be the last trade agreement ever negotiated by the United States.

    That’s why it’s so important for us to get it right, to get those rules right, because those rules will decide who wins and who loses. Under NAFTA and CAFTA, workers lost. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

    GWEN IFILL: Is it true the AFL-CIO felt so strongly about this that it threatened members of Congress to withhold congressional fund-raising or donations if they didn’t vote against this?

    RICHARD TRUMKA: It’s simply not the case.

    What we said is, we’re not going to give out any money. We’re going to use it to fight this fight, so that we can actually put on a real campaign to protect the American public and the American people and, quite frankly, some of the Democrats from themselves.

    This is a bad deal. This will hurt our economy. This will hurt our communities. It will hurt our country, and it shouldn’t be done in a fast track manner, where you only get to vote it up or down after it was negotiated in secret.

    GWEN IFILL: So you’re protecting Democrats from themselves by withholding support?

    RICHARD TRUMKA: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the last part.

    GWEN IFILL: You’re protecting Democrats from themselves by withholding support?

    RICHARD TRUMKA: We’re not withholding support.

    We have closed our PACs to use the money that we have in them to be able to fight this fight. Whenever we’re done, we will open up things again and our friends will be our friends and things will go back to normal, but, right now, we need every resource that we have to fight this.

    The president has all the business community behind him. He has Wall Street behind him. Fortunately for us, he doesn’t have the American public behind him. And so we’re using all of our resources to fight this fight, so that we can get a bill that really does help every American worker out there and not encourage low wages and outsourcing.

    GWEN IFILL: Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, thank you for joining us.

    RICHARD TRUMKA: Gwen, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.

    GWEN IFILL: We plan to have a conversation with a strong supporter of the trade pact later this week

    The post Why labor unions oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    TRADE WARS monitor TPP crates

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    GWEN IFILL: One of the president’s remaining top legislative goals is to get a major new trade accord with Asia. But he suffered a stinging defeat today in the opening battle to gain the authority to speed a deal through Congress. The magic number to start a full Senate debate was 60 votes. But, in falling short, it showed just how polarizing the disagreement over international trade really is.

    MAN: On this vote, the yeas are 52; the nays are 45.

    GWEN IFILL: In the end, trade politics put the president at odds with many in his own party and in line with most Republicans.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: We’re talking about President Obama’s top priority, his top legislative priority, and one of the most important bills in this president’s service as president of the United States of America.

    SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) New York: We know the global economy is a rough sea. And Republicans are asking us to pass a trade package that forces the American worker to navigate those waters in a leaky boat. We want to plug up those leaks.

    GWEN IFILL: The result, at least for now, is that the Senate has blocked renewal of the fast track negotiating authority that Mr. Obama wanted. That would allow Congress to approve, but not amend, future trade deals.

    It’s deemed vital to winning passage of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. TPP, as it’s known, would include 11 mostly Asian nations that, together with the U.S., account for some 40 percent of the global economy. Supporters say it would bring greater prosperity by removing tariffs and other barriers and opening trade.

    The president visited the sportswear manufacturer Nike last week, which announced the deal would create allow them to create 10,000 American jobs.

    MARK PARKER, CEO, Nike: The future of Nike and this country depend not only on what we make, but how we make it. And we want to get to the future faster.

    GWEN IFILL: But opponents, including most Democrats, have a litany of complaints. Only one Democrat voted with the president today. They argue the trade pact would actually cost American jobs and fail to include enough environmental or labor protections.

    Some public health groups say the agreement would also delay introduction of low-cost generic medicines. There are also concerns it doesn’t adequately address currency manipulation. And some on both sides of the aisle say the deal might give foreign corporations too much power to challenge U.S. laws.

    Opponents also say the White House has kept the details of the negotiated plan secret.

    Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spoke on NPR this morning.

    SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) Massachusetts: I have been able to go to a special secured room. I can’t take any electronic devices, no computer, no iPhone. I can’t even walk out with paper notes. I can go and read about the agreement, but I cannot come out in public and talk about any of the specifics.

    GWEN IFILL: The president took on Warren directly in a Yahoo! News interview last week.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So, when you take off the concrete arguments that are being made, there’s no — there’s no logic that I think a progressive should embrace that would make you opposed to this deal.

    GWEN IFILL: But as the fast track vote went down in flames today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed it repeatedly as a — quote — “procedural snafu.”

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: What I’m confident is that the — that a no-vote on this procedural situation shouldn’t be interpreted as a change in position on the substance of the bill.

    GWEN IFILL: Supporters of the bill say they will regroup, but it’s unclear for now what their next step will be.

    After the vote, President Obama met with Senate Democrats this afternoon to discuss what happens next.

    The post Democrats freeze fast-track authority for Asia trade deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People walk along the debris of the collapsed houses after a fresh 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, in Sankhu

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    GWEN IFILL: Donatella Lorch, a freelance journalist living in Nepal, told us earlier today via Skype how she rode out the latest earthquake.

    DONATELLA LORCH, Freelance Journalist: It was just before 1:00 p.m. here in Kathmandu, and my husband and I were having lunch on the top-floor terrace, so we were on the fifth floor of this building in downtown central Kathmandu overlooking the former royal palace.

    And then it started — the table started moving, and then it started swaying. And it slowly — the whole building started swaying back and forth, rolling in all different directions. And that’s when the screams started, both from the street and from the other diners. And everyone got up and started running toward the stairs. And my husband grabbed me by the hand and he said, don’t. He said, it’s a really narrow staircase. It’s a rickety staircase next to two very straight walls, and if they collapse, we’re done for.

    So, we just held hands and splayed our feet and tried balance ourselves. And what seemed like an eternity apparently was only about 25 seconds, but it seemed way longer than that. Kathmandu has calmed down a lot within 10 days. The districts that were very hard-hit were either extremely poor or under very bad construction on mud and clay areas.

    The problem with the outside of Kathmandu is that it is carpeted destruction. It is everywhere. It is through the hills, it’s through the valleys. It’s entire villages and hamlets and these sheer mountain cliffs that have been — have crumbled, that have been destroyed, that have been — I mean, if you drive the paved roads east, and there’s only really one or two paved roads east, it’s not — it’s like walking — it’s driving 40 kilometers of utter destruction.

    It is worse than Mogadishu in 1993, 1994, 1995. And in addition to that, there’s landslides. So getting aid out has been very difficult and very complicated. And they have been able to get the aid out to the big towns and to near the big towns, but they were just getting a bit of a grasp on it. Many people still had not received even tarps from the April 25 earthquake because they’re so far removed. You had to — like, their villages were two or three landslides away from where the truck could go, and then everything had to be carried by hand.

    And it’s — I have heard the landslides are very bad now, the new landslides. It’s been raining very heavily for the past three, four nights. Villagers — I heard the villagers say that there’s huge cracks in the upper mountains and the high-level villages, which makes them very prone to landslides.

    And with this rain, it’s even worse. There have been landslides reported near the town of Lankton, which was buried in landslides. A little bit further south of that, the big, large town called Dhunche, and that has been hard-hit by landslides today as well.

    As a matter of fact, just before coming to this interview, I was putting my son to bed, and he grabbed my hand and put his head under the pillow. And I said, “Well, what are you doing, Lucas? I have to go to do this interview.”

    And he said, “But, momma, it’s an earthquake, it’s an earthquake.”

    And I said, “No, you’re just thinking it’s an earthquake.” It’s because a door had slightly slammed.

    You’re always — I wake up in the middle of the night, and that’s really the worst times, where I lie awake for hours thinking, is it going to happen?  Are we going to have another one?  And we slept outdoors for two weeks, but, like everyone else, you have to get back indoors. You have to get back to a settled life.

    The monsoons are — it’s already pre-monsoon time right now. And it’s raining very heavily on and off, which means that the big, heavy rains are right around the corner. And it’s going to be really grim for everybody.


    The post Nepal suffers ‘carpeted destruction’ and lingering fear after second quake appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People walk past a collapsed building after a fresh 7.3 earthquake struck, in Kathmandu

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    GWEN IFILL: In Nepal, a U.S. military helicopter carrying six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers has been declared missing. The aircraft is believed to have gone down while ferrying supplies to earthquake victims.

    This news comes in the wake of another devastating quake today, which killed dozens of people in addition to the already thousands killed a few weeks ago.

    John Sparks of Independent Television News reports.

    JOHN SPARKS: They were debating a bill in parliament when the earthquake struck. Measuring 7.3, it shook the chamber floor and house members and their staff fled for the exits.

    They joined their fellow citizens pouring out onto the streets and alleyways of the Nepalese capital, an instinctive act, this, a bid for survival, and they had every reason to feel scared for themselves and their loved ones.

    SUNITA MANANDHAR, Hotel employee: I’m trying to call to my room. I’m worried for my family.

    JOHN SPARKS: They have been here before; 17 days ago, a powerful quake ripped through central Nepal, toppling buildings and claiming the lives of more than 8,000. Some thought this gate was about to come down on them, the community terrorized for a second time.

    The epicenter of this quake was located 50 miles to the east, but the seismic waves were strong enough to topple this five-story structure in the capital. And, inevitably, there have been casualties. The authorities says dozens of people have died and more than 1,100 have been injured.

    At an emergency cabinet meeting tonight, the prime minister begged the international community not to abandon Nepal.

    SUSHIL KOIRALA, Prime Minister, Nepal (through interpreter): I urge all those who have worked tirelessly on the relief and rescue missions to once again extend your helping hand.

    JOHN SPARKS: And the need is great. Today’s earthquake set off avalanches and landslides, multiple rockfalls blocking roads and destroying villages in areas already damaged by the first quake.

    The government says it has sent out helicopters to help, but it’s a process that’s going to take time. Nepal was starting to put itself together again, but the normal routines will have to wait; 6,000 people are expected to sleep under canvas at this spot in Kathmandu tonight, because they do not feel safe indoors. It is a cruel setback, a psychological blow after several weeks of hardship.

    The post Nepal’s second major earthquake in weeks sets back recovery appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin as U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft (L) watches at the presidential residence of Bocharov Ruchey

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    GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State John Kerry met face-to-face today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but there was little sign of easing tensions. Top officials from both countries sat down in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

    The agenda was topped by divisions over Ukraine, Syria and other issues. Opposition activists in Moscow reported at least 220 Russian soldiers have died in the Ukraine conflict. The Kremlin denies its troops are even fighting there.

    Iran drew a warning from Washington today, after announcing its warships will escort a cargo ship to Yemen. The Iranians said they’re sending humanitarian aid, not weapons for Shiite rebels. The rebels are fighting a government backed by Saudi Arabia. But White House officials said if Iran really wants to help Yemen, it should work with the U.N.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: Iran understands that they can’t afford to play games with humanitarian assistance to people who are in dire need, like those we see in Yemen. And the Iranians know as well as anyone that a political stunt to defy their regional rivals outside the U.N. system is provocative and risks the collapse of the U.N.-led humanitarian cease-fire.

    GWEN IFILL: That cease-fire officially took effect this evening, after fighting flared for much of the day. A new wave of Saudi-led airstrikes blasted Houthi rebels across the capital city of Sanaa. Heavy fighting also continued in the country’s south.

    U.N. refugee officials warned today that thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar are stranded at sea. They say many were abandoned in rickety boats after Thailand cracked down on smuggling operations. Now they’re trying to reach Malaysia and Indonesia.

    Jeffrey Savage is with the U.N. Refugee Operation In Indonesia.

    JEFFREY SAVAGE, United Nations Refugee Agency: They have been stuck out at sea for weeks, for months. They have been held on these ships, and then the smugglers just deserted them and left them with very little food, very little water, no fuel for the engines. And they have been drifting.

    So, it’s something that really is a massive humanitarian crisis waiting to happen.

    GWEN IFILL: Many of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar trying to escape severe discrimination.

    Back in this country, a prosecutor in Madison, Wisconsin, announced he will not charge a white policeman who killed a biracial man last march. Police said 19-year-old Tony Robinson was unarmed, but was shot after he punched the officer. The district attorney said today the use of force was legal, and he urged the community to remain peaceful.

    ISMAEL OZANNE, District Attorney, Dane County: I am reminded that true and lasting change doesn’t come from violence, but from exercising our voices and our votes.

    GWEN IFILL: Tony Robinson’s family has criticized the prosecutor, and called today for a new march to the state capitol.

    “Rolling Stone” magazine now faces a defamation suit for a discredited story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The school’s associate dean of students sued today for $7.8 million. Police have said they found no evidence that the alleged rape occurred, and a Columbia University review cited “Rolling Stone” for extensive journalistic failings.

    In economic news, telecommunications giant Verizon will buy AOL for $4.4 billion. The move is expected to turn the nation’s largest wireless provider into a major player in mobile video and advertising. AOL’s holdings include The Huffington Post and TechCrunch.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 37 points to close below 18070. The Nasdaq fell 17 points and the S&P 500 slipped six.

    The New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady are going to fight NFL penalties for using underinflated footballs. Brady’s agent says he will appeal his suspension for four games at the beginning of next season. And Patriots owner Bob Kraft said he will challenge the million-dollar fine imposed on his team and the loss of two draft choices.

    And it’s confirmed: President Obama will build his presidential library on the South Side of Chicago. His foundation announced today the complex will rise on parkland near the University of Chicago. Both the president and Mrs. Obama once worked at the school, and while she is a native, he launched his political career there.

    The post News Wrap: Kerry and Putin meet in Russia to discuss Ukraine, Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Migrant bird or summer freeloader? Wild black-crowned night-heron have invaded the Smithsonian National Zoo each summer for over 100 years -- and scientists are just beginning to unravel where the birds are during the rest of the year. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo

    Migrant bird or summer freeloader? Wild black-crowned night-heron have invaded the Smithsonian National Zoo for more than 100 years — and scientists are just beginning to unravel where they are the rest of the year. Courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo

    Black-crowned night herons could write the book on squatter’s rights.

    Each spring for more than a century, a wild pack of these birds has descended on Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. These days, the herons hang around the zoo’s bird house, where they use slender, charcoal-colored bills to nip up fish thrown by the keepers. It’s the only known rookery, or breeding colony, for black-crowned night-herons in the region. But the summer visits predate the construction of the bird house, which arrived in 1928, suggesting that the birds nest here for more than just the digs. An even bigger question revolves around where the migratory herons go in the autumn after their breeding season concludes.

    So we took a field trip to the zoo, where we learned about a new project that’s trying to solve this mystery.

    “If you don’t know where [migratory birds] are going, then it’s almost impossible to protect them or do conservation,” said Pete Marra, head of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. “So we started putting transmitters on [the herons’] backs, which talk to satellites and tell us almost on a daily basis where these birds go.”

    Black-crowned night herons wait for fish breakfast to be served by keepers at the Smithsonian National Zoo.  Photo by Colleen Shalby/PBS NewsHour

    Black-crowned night herons wait for fish breakfast to be served by keepers at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Photo by Colleen Shalby/PBS NewsHour

    Conservation isn’t exactly an urgent issue for black-crowned night herons — their numbers are plentiful. But that hasn’t always been true. At the turn of the 20th century, these herons were almost hunted to extinction. Each bird carries a long elegant feather on its head, known as a filoplume, which was a popular addition to ladies hats during Edwardian Era and Jazz Age.

    The satellite trackers look like tiny rectangle backpacks, slung over the heron’s shoulders. Each tracker weighs less than 5 percent of the bird’s body weight; otherwise it would be too heavy. The devices beam daily updates on the bird’s whereabouts.

    Over the past three years, Marra and his colleagues have monitored four to five birds with the tracker backpacks. They’ve learned that the birds set many courses, but most fly to Florida for their winter sojourns. One flew as far as The Everglades — nearly 1,100 miles from D.C. Marra suspects that the birds return each year because the zoo rests on a high point that provides a good vantage for foraging in different directions.

    Satellite tracking devices trace the migratory routes of black-crowned night herons from the Smithsonian National Zoo to winter roosts in Florida. Courtesy of Pete Marra/Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

    Satellite tracking devices trace the migratory routes of black-crowned night herons from the Smithsonian National Zoo to winter roosts in Florida. Courtesy of Pete Marra/Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

    Satellite tracking devices mark the daily locations of black-crowned night herons during their summer breeding season at the Smithsonian National Zoo (left panel; yellow dots) and during their winter sojourns in Florida (middle and right panel, red and green dots). Courtesy of Pete Marra/Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

    Satellite tracking devices mark the daily locations of black-crowned night herons during their summer breeding season at the Smithsonian National Zoo (left panel; yellow dots) and during their winter sojourns in Florida (middle and right panel, red and green dots). Courtesy of Pete Marra/Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

    If you’re in D.C. and want your own up-close-and-personal viewing of the black-crowned night herons, head to the Smithsonian National Zoo bird house around 8 a.m. or 2 p.m. any week day or weekend. That’s when the zoo keepers feed the birds.

    Or if you live too far away, check out our video interview with Dr. Marra, that we livestreamed today on Periscope.

    The post Smithsonian’s mystery of the black-crowned night herons solved by satellites appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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