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

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    A police car guards the railroad tracks after an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Amtrak derailment this week has set in motion a series of questions and examinations about safety systems for the country’s railroads, and whether there’s been adequate funding and necessary technology committed to doing so.

    Eight people were killed and more than 200 injured when the train left the tracks in Philadelphia at a speed of more than 100 miles an hour.

    Sarah Feinberg is acting administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration. It’s an agency within the Department of Transportation that promotes safe rail transportation.

    Ms. Feinberg, welcome to the NewsHour.

    A lot of conversation, as we were saying, about whether this accident could have been prevented with some sort of safety mechanism. Is there a mechanism or a device or a system that could have prevented it?

    SARAH FEINBERG, Acting Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration: Well, thanks for having me, Judy.

    You know, we don’t know the cause of the accident yet. The NTSB is the lead investigative agency into what caused this accident. We will know more soon. But to the extent that speed could have been a factor here or was a factor here, we know that positive train control can have a huge impact on speed and can really keep trains from going over speed.

    So it’s a really important technology that needs to get implemented along the country’s rail system.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why isn’t it implemented? If it’s known that it could make a difference in a situation like this, why isn’t it in all passenger trains?

    SARAH FEINBERG: Well, the Congress passed a law requiring it to be implemented by December 31 of 2015, so the end of this year.

    Amtrak has said that they reach that — that they will meet that deadline. Other commuter railroads and freight rails have said that they will have trouble meeting that deadline. It’s an incredibly expensive and complicated technology, but it is a game-changer in terms of safety, and so we are really pushing railroads to work as hard as they possibly can to meet that deadline.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, it’s our understanding from reports today, including one in The New York Times, that part of the issue is that the railroads have not had access to broadband wireless technology that would enable them to get this system in place. And that’s something that Congress initially denied them access to.

    Explain that for us.

    SARAH FEINBERG: That’s right.

    Well, there are a lot of really complicated factors here and a lot of challenges facing the railroads as they attempt to implement this technology. One, as you mentioned, is spectrum. So, the railroads literally have to buy spectrum, sometimes from spectrum hoarders or spectrum speculators.

    They need that spectrum in order for the technology to literally run along the rails and work. But another challenge is expense. It’s a very complicated technology. It requires literally the train to be able to talk to the wayside detector and the wayside detector to be able to talk back and control the speed of the train, make the train take actions if the engineer isn’t taking appropriate actions.

    So there are a lot of challenges facing the railroads in implementing this technology, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be pushing them to do it anyway.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, as someone who is — I know you have only been in this position a short time.

    Americans, I think, are familiar with how much the government — lengths the government goes to make sure through the FAA and other agencies that flying is safe. Do you think, by contrast, that there hasn’t been enough focus on safety in our railroads?

    SARAH FEINBERG: Well, I’m so glad you brought that up, Judy, because I think about that often.

    It is incredibly safe to fly in an airplane. It’s also incredibly safe to ride on a train. You know, 300 million Americans have traveled the Northeast Corridor in recent years. It’s incredibly safe to be on a train. But, that said, the individuals that were on this train on Tuesday night put their lives in the hands of an engineer that they have to assume will never make a mistake, will not have a medical event, will not have some sort of issue in the cab.

    And rail travel is incredibly safe, but why would we not implement a technology that can take a human factor or human error off the table?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as we understand it, only one person required to be in that as engineer, whereas, on an airplane, it’s two people.

    SARAH FEINBERG: Well, and there’s a debate that goes back and forth on that. There is one theory if you add more people to the cab, that can possibly distract the engineer.

    You also don’t want personal conversations happening in the cab, when an engineer needs to be really, solely focused on operating that train. So that debate goes back and forth, but it’s something that we’re constantly looking at the FRA.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sarah Feinberg, acting administration — administrator at the Federal Railroad Administration, we thank you very much.

    SARAH FEINBERG: Thank you, Judy.

    The post Railroads face challenges implementing safety technology appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And in other news today, the National Transportation Safety Board said the engineer of the derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia was — quote — “extremely cooperative” in an interview. Brandon Bostian said to them that he wasn’t tired or ill and didn’t have any problems with handling the train.

    Today, the last damaged railcars were removed from the site, paving the way for crews to replace the damaged tracks. Service will remain suspended at least through Monday on this heavily-traveled Philadelphia-to-New York route. We will talk with the head of the Federal Railroad Administration right after this news summary.

    U.S. military officials have found the wreckage of the Marine helicopter that went missing Tuesday in Nepal, likely killing all eight on board. The chopper went down about 50 miles east of Kathmandu in an area hit hard by the latest earthquake. Six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers were on a relief mission.

    The U.S. commander in Nepal, Lieutenant General John Wissler, said, despite the losses, aid efforts will go on.

    LT. GEN. JOHN WISSLER, U.S. Marine Corps: It will not affect the ongoing mission, other than the fact that we will continue to mourn the loss of and observe the sacrifice of the great soldiers from Nepal and our Marines who lost their lives, but we will continue executing relief just as we have done throughout the day today.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Obama expressed condolences to the families of the crash victims and said the Marines represent a truth that guides our work around the world. He made the remarks during the National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service outside the U.S. Capitol. It’s part of National Police Week.

    The president met with the families of fallen policemen and pledged to honor their memories. The annual ceremony takes place amid tensions between police forces and communities across the country.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can work harder as a nation to heal the rifts that still exist in some places between law enforcement and the people you risk your lives to protect. We owe it to all of you who wear the badge with honor, and we owe it to your fellow officers who gave their last full measure of devotion.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Last year, 131 police officers in the United States died in the line of duty.

    Islamic State militants waged a fierce battle in Iraq today, in the end raising their black flag over the main government compound in the city of Ramadi. Government forces fought from trenches in the streets, but were forced to withdraw from the compound after three near-simultaneous attacks. Other parts of the city are also under Islamic State control. At least 10 police were killed during the attacks.

    In Burundi, the government said it has restored order after Wednesday’s attempted military coup fizzled. The president returned to the capital today, where he was met by crowds of supporters celebrating in the streets. Government forces arrested some of the members behind the failed coup. But there was still the possibility of renewed clashes, as protesters vowed to revive demonstrations against the president, whose bid for a third term they call unconstitutional.

    Police in Mozambique have seized nearly 1.3 tons of ivory and rhino horns. They were found at the home of a Chinese national on the outskirts of the capital of Maputo. He was arrested Tuesday. The cache included 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns. Officials estimate that’s equivalent to the slaughter of 235 animals. Virtually all ivory and horn trade is banned worldwide to protect the animals from extinction.

    Blue Bell Creameries, based in Texas, is laying off more than a third of its work force after a series of listeria illnesses were linked to its ice cream. All of its plants remain closed, and more than 1,400 people will lose their jobs.

    On Wall Street, stocks ended the day mostly higher. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 20 points to close at 18272. The Nasdaq fell two points and the S&P 500 gained a point. For the week, the major indexes each gained a fraction of a percent.

    The post News Wrap: Wreckage of Marine helicopter found in Nepal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Boston Marathon bombing survivor Karen Brassard speaks to the news media in front of the federal courthouse in Boston

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death today; 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted by a federal jury last month of the April 2013 bombings that killed three bystanders near the finish line of the annual race.

    Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, later killed a policemen during a manhunt. The elder Tsarnaev died in a gun battle with police. The jury chose death over the only other option, life in prison without possibility of release.

    After the penalty was announced, the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution and a bombing victim spoke.

    CARMEN ORTIZ, U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts: Today, the jury has spoken, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will pay with his life for his crimes. Make no mistake. The defendant claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. This wasn’t a religious crime and it certainly doesn’t reflect true Muslim beliefs. It was a political crime designed to intimidate and to coerce the United States.

    KAREN BRASSARD, Boston Bombing Survivor: Today feels different only because it’s — it is more complete, I guess, is how I’m going to say it. I know that there is still a long road ahead. There’s going to be many, many, many more dates ahead, but right now it feels like we can take a breath.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In a statement released shortly after sentencing, the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, said: “No verdict can heal the souls of those who lost loved ones, nor the minds and bodies of those who suffered life-changing injuries from this cowardly attack. But the ultimate penalty is a fitting punishment for this horrific crime.”

    For more, we turn to Emily Rooney of WGBH-TV in Boston. She has been reporting on the trial throughout.

    Emily Rooney, you have been reporting on this trial. We want to — help us understand how the jurors were asked to reach this decision. They were asked to look at 12 different factors. Is that right?

    EMILY ROONEY, WGBH-TV: Well, it was a very complex jury slip, as they call it. It was 24 pages long. The first part of it was fairly simple. It was what they call gateway factors. Could they establish he was 18 years or older at the time of the crime?

    But it got more complicated, because, as the form went along, it aggregated. So, once you had determined something, then you had to add that and carry it through all the way. Then there were these aggregating factors, mitigating factors.

    But the key was, Judy, they only had to decide on one of the counts. All 12 jurors had to only agree on one of the counts if the death penalty were to be applied. It turns out they agreed on more than one, so it was automatic.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have a sense from having listened to the arguments during this entire sentencing phase of what the strongest arguments were?

    EMILY ROONEY: You know, I have to say I was incredibly impressed by both sides. The prosecution had the advantage of going first and then they had the advantage of going last. The defense came in between.

    You know, Judy Clarke, who argued for the defense, said, we will never know. There are answers that we will never have as to why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev did this, but she argued that he never would have done it had it not been for his older brother. On the other hand, you know, the prosecution argued that he had a conscience of his own, and we could tell by the things that he wrote inside that boat that night that he intended to do this.

    And the prosecution said one other thing to sort of I think mitigate people’s concerns about he wanted to die a martyr. He said, he’s not dying the way he wants to die. He’s going to die the way he deserves to die.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we know that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, at least it has been reported, has throughout this trial shown very little emotion, little remorse about what happened. Is it believed — from talking to lawyers, is it believed that that makes a difference as jurors decide on the sentence?

    EMILY ROONEY: Well, as you can imagine, Judge George O’Toole, who presided over this trial, told the jurors specifically they could not take that into consideration. A defendant’s demeanor, his actions in court had nothing to do with this.

    But it would be hard not to. The only emotion he showed at all was when, one, that his aunt from Russia was on the stand, and he wiped away a tear. He blew her a kiss. He didn’t engage with any of the victims. I only saw him once when Jessica Kensky, who had lost both legs, rolled by him in a wheelchair. He took a quick glance to see her stumps poking out.

    I saw him once look over at the jury during the time that Judge George O’Toole was charging them. But, for the most part, Judy, he was laid back, he slumped in his chair, he pulled at his beard, he didn’t look around the room, he wasn’t curious who was there.

    We will never know whether his attorneys advised him to do that, advised him not to do that. They haven’t said.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And we just heard, Emily, from one of the family members of one of the victims. Is there — are you getting a sense of what the other relatives of the victims are saying after in reaction?

    EMILY ROONEY: We have gotten to know a lot of them fairly well, as you can imagine.

    There are some who are — nobody — nobody is celebrating. Nobody is throwing up the balloons, but there are people who are greatly, greatly relieved, like Liz Norden, who lost — whose lost two sons each lost a leg. She feels justice was served.

    We have heard from Michael Ward. You could still see the anger. He was seething as he took the podium for a few minutes. He, too, feels justice was served. There are other people, like the family of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was in court today, but they did not want this. They wanted to move on and have him sentenced to life in prison because they didn’t want a prolonged and protracted appeals court situation, which eventually we will have.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, I know you can’t speak for an entire city, but is there a way of reflecting how Boston feels about this?

    EMILY ROONEY: It’s very emotional for everybody.

    I unfortunately couldn’t be there today, but the tension around this today was — and I think people felt like — you know, Judy Clarke said, well, he’s going to die in jail. It just — it only matters how. And I think how he does die matters to everyone.

    And I think there’s a lot of private feelings about this. Some people are expressing it openly, oh, he got what he deserved. Other people, I think, are just keeping it to themselves and feeling like the jury really didthe right thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Emily Rooney with public station WGBH in Boston, we  thank you.

    The post Boston bombing victims react to Tsarnaev death sentence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    STEPHEN FEE: Key West is a place where people generally come to relax. And the draw’s pretty obvious — white sand beaches, quaint architecture, the wildlife.

    But relaxing isn’t on Jessica Brown’s agenda today. She’s a field inspector with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. And since it rained yesterday, she’s got her work cut out for her.

    JESSICA BROWN, FLORIDA KEYS MOSQUITO DISTRICT: “Garbage cans, as long as they’re turned over, they’ll be good.”

    There are 45 species of mosquito that thrive in the often-humid Florida Keys. Brown’s job — peck around peoples’ backyards, clear out standing water, and use tiny pellets and even larvae-gobbling fish to kill mosquitoes before they turn into adults.

    JESSICA BROWN, FLORIDA KEYS MOSQUITO DISTRICT: “So mosquitoes could — depending on how long the water sits — lay their eggs and have a really big problem.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Her work’s part of a $10 million dollar a year effort by the Keys Mosquito Control District — which covers all of Monroe County in southern Florida — to kill off as many of the flying bloodsuckers as possible. Because they’re not just a nuisance.

    LOCAL NEWS ANCHOR: “Health officials find 39 cases of dengue fever in the Keys.”

    In 2009, an outbreak of a mosquito-borne disease called dengue fever struck the Florida Keys, the first local resurgence of the virus since the 1940s.

    AILEEN CHANG, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI HEALTH SYSTEM: “Dengue’s really nasty when you get it. You know, you get a high fever. You get a rash all over. Bone pain. They call it break bone fever because it hurts so bad.”

    STEPHEN FEE: There were a few dozen cases and no fatalities, but the outbreak prompted mosquito control officials in the Keys to consider an experiment that’s never been tried in the US before — releasing potentially millions of genetically-modified mosquitoes to kill the species that carries dengue and other dangerous diseases.

    STEPHEN FEE: “But the the idea of genetically modified bugs flying around this traditionally fiercely independent community has many residents in the Keys up in arms.”

    LOCAL RESIDENT: “We are humans and we don’t like being treated like guinea pigs.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Public meetings here in the Keys have exposed a deep divide between mosquito control officials and some residents who worry that the genetically modified — or GM — mosquitoes could somehow make them sick.

    LOCAL RESIDENT: “I am being told what to do. And I am being at risk for a mosquito biting me.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “Is there any risk to my health if I get stung by a mosquito with a genetic modification like this?”

    MICHAEL DOYLE, FLORIDA KEYS MOSQUITO CONTROL DISTRICT: “There’s no evidence of any risk at all at this point.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “But no evidence of risk is different from the presence of risk, right?”


    STEPHEN FEE: Michael Doyle is executive director of the Keys Mosquito Control District and says the risk of dengue fever far outweighs any risks from genetically modified mosquitoes.

    MICHAEL DOYLE, FLORIDA KEYS MOSQUITO CONTROL DISTRICT: “The last thing we want people to do is to be concerned about coming down here and getting something. And so we’re doing everything we can to make sure that never happens.”

    STEPHEN FEE: The mosquitoes that carry dengue fever — called aedes aegypti — are tough to kill. They’re immune to many insecticides and breed in sometimes hard to reach places, like underneath houses or in the leaves of plants like bromeliads.

    So instead of sprays or pellets that don’t reach those places, officials in the Keys turned to a UK firm called Oxitec — their scientists have developed a method to alter the mosquitoes’ genetic code to kill them off. Or at least kill lots of them.

    DERRIC NIMMO, OXITEC: “We’ve inserted two genes into this mosquito. One gene is a self limiting gene and the other gene is a marker. Now the marker can identify where these genes are inserted and the other one is the one that causes the offspring to die.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Scientist Derric Nimmo oversees Oxitec’s proposed Keys trial. He and his colleagues are able to tinker with the genes of male mosquitoes.

    DERRIC NIMMO, OXITEC: “Those males have one job. They go and find a female. And they pass on their genes. And they pass on the Oxitec gene along with their own genes. Now the offspring that inherit those genes, they die. And if you release enough of the Oxitec males over a long enough period of time, you can get a crash of the mosquito population.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Oxitec says their method is both effective and safe. They’ve conducted small studies in the Cayman Islands, Brazil, and Panama — places where dengue is endemic — and were able to reduce the population of mosquitoes that can carry dengue.

    And they say those experiments didn’t harm anyone.

    With that in mind, the five elected mosquito control officials in the Keys decided to pursue their own GM mosquito experiment in the small island neighborhood of Key Haven. And Oxitec agreed to conduct the trial for free — a trial that has yet to begin.

    Initially, Florida Keys businessperson Mila de Mier says that all sounded great to her.

    MILA DE MIER: “I say, ‘Wow! This is fantastic. This is a really, really great idea. Be able to fight mosquitoes with another mosquitoes. What a great concept.’ And obviously I don’t like mosquitoes biting my kids or my dogs.”

    But de Mier says the more she considered it, she felt the science was too new, and not enough was known for her to feel comfortable with GM mosquitoes in her community, despite Oxitec’s safety assurances.

    De Mier started an online petition against the mosquito trial that’s gathered 150 thousand signatures from around the world.

    MILA DE MIER: “I do not want my kids to be laboratory rats. I don’t want my kids to be guinea pigs. Why? Because this is a brand new technology. You get these mosquitoes, you release once and for all and then let’s experiment to see what happens.”

    University of Florida professor Phil Lounibos has studied mosquitoes and the diseases they carry for over forty years. He’s not involved with the proposed GM experiment in the Keys.

    PHIL LOUNIBOS, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: “We believe, those of us who have worked with mosquitoes, that the probability of something going wrong is not very high.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Lounibos is convinced the trial would be safe — but he questions its effectiveness. He says other mosquito species can carry dengue, and the local bugs could evolve to outsmart the genetically modified males.

    PHIL LOUNIBOS, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: “In the absence of dengue, the absence of a really significant threat of dengue, I see the Oxitec implementation in the Keys in the context of strong public opposition to be inappropriate.”

    STEPHEN FEE: Globally, dengue has surged 30-fold in the past 50 years, and increased travel from endemic areas along with warmer temperatures means the threat is spreading.

    I asked de Mier what might happen if she blocks the trial and there’s another, more serious dengue outbreak in the Keys.

    STEPHEN FEE: “Do you worry that someone would call you up and say, ‘Mila, you stood in the way. You did this.’ Do you — do you worry about that?”

    MILA DE MIER: “No.”

    STEPHEN FEE: “Why?”

    MILA DE MIER: “No because to be honest with you, I think the — that people have to agree. And at this point again, we are free of dengue for five years. We are, I think, as a citizen, as a mother and a taxpayer, I think these are my rights and the whole community right to choose. Do we want to be part of these tests or no?”

    STEPHEN FEE: “Did you ever think maybe we should just go out and get everybody in Key Haven to just sign a piece of paper that says, I’m okay with this?

    MICHAEL DOYLE, FLORIDA KEYS MOSQUITO CONTROL DISTRICT: “Every person? No. Because there’s no way you can get 100 percent of people to agree to anything — that’s you know putting in a road, putting a bridge, you’ve got someone who’s going to disagree with it.”

    STEPHEN FEE: The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine — which approves any genetic modifications to animals — will have the final say over whether or not the Oxitec mosquito trial in the Florida Keys proceeds. An FDA spokesperson told us there’s no timeline for when that might happen.

    The post Can genetically modified mosquitoes curb Dengue fever? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and US Secretary of State John Kerry speak following a joint news conference following meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing May 16, 2015. The United States and China clashed over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea on Saturday, as China's foreign minister asserted its sovereignty to reclaim reefs saying its determination to protect its interests is "as hard as a rock". REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool - RTX1D6XJ

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State John Kerry speak following a joint news conference following meetings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing May 16, 2015. The United States and China clashed over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea on Saturday, as China’s foreign minister asserted its sovereignty to reclaim reefs saying its determination to protect its interests is “as hard as a rock”. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool

    BEIJING — The United States and China held firm Saturday to deep disagreements over increasingly assertive Chinese activity in disputed areas of the South China Sea, as Beijing politely but pointedly rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for it to reduce tensions.

    After meeting in the Chinese capital, both Kerry and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed the importance of dialogue to resolve the competing claims, but neither showed any sign of bending in their positions over Chinese land reclamation projects that have alarmed the United States and China’s smaller neighbors. The U.S. and most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations want a halt to the projects, which they suspect are aimed at building islands and other land features over which China can claim sovereignty.

    “We are concerned about the pace and scope of China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea,” Kerry said, urging China to speed up talks with ASEAN on binding guidelines on how maritime activity in disputed areas should be handled. “And, I urged China, through Foreign Minister Wang, to take actions that will join with everybody in helping to reduce tensions and increase the prospect of diplomatic solutions.”

    “I think we agree that the region needs smart diplomacy in order to conclude the ASEAN-China code of conduct and not outposts and military strips,” Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Wang.

    But Wang signaled that while China was prepared to talk, it would not back down on the construction which he said “is something that falls fully within the scope of China’s sovereignty.”

    “The determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock, and it is unshakable,” he said. “It has always been our view that we need to find appropriate solutions to the issues we have through communications and negotiations that we have among the parties directly concerned with peaceful and diplomatic means on the basis of respecting historical facts and international norms. This position will remain unchanged in the future.”

    Wang added that the differences between China and the U.S. could be managed “as long as we can avoid misunderstanding and, even more importantly, avoid miscalculation.”

    The Chinese claims and land reclamation projects have rattled the region where South China Sea islands and reefs are contested by China and five other Asian governments and activities have led to clashes, accompanied by nationalistic protests and occasional serious diplomatic implications.

    The U.S. says it takes no position on the sovereignty claims but insists they must be negotiated. Washington also says ensuring maritime safety and access to some of the world’s busiest commercial shipping routes is a U.S. national security priority.

    China has bristled at what it sees as U.S. interference in the region and wants to negotiate with the ASEAN countries individually, something those much smaller nations fear will not be fair.

    In one disputed area, the Spratly Islands, U.S. officials say China has reclaimed about 2,000 acres of dry land since 2014 that could be used as airstrips or for military purposes. The U.S. argues that man-made constructions cannot be used to claim sovereignty.

    Obama administration officials have declined to comment on reports that it may deploy military assets, or that it is considering a demonstration of freedom of navigation within 12 nautical miles of the islands’ notional territorial zone. But they have said many of the features claimed by China in the disputed Spratlys are submerged and do not carry territorial rights, and said that China cannot “manufacture sovereignty.”

    Despite the clear disagreements over the South China Sea, Kerry and Wang said they were on track to make progress in other areas, notably on climate change, the fight against violent extremism and preparations for the next round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in June and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington in September. They expressed pleasure with their cooperation in the ongoing Iran nuclear talks, their solidarity in trying to denuclearize North Korea and combat diseases such as the deadly Ebola virus.

    Kerry will wrap up the China portion of his Asia trip in meetings with Xi, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and the country’s top military officer.

    On Sunday, Kerry heads to Seoul where he will be meeting senior South Korean officials and deliver a speech on cyber security and related issues.

    Kerry will return to Washington after delivering a speech on a proposed Trans-Pacific trade agreement in Seattle on Tuesday.

    The post U.S., China still at odds over South China sea dispute appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    KARLA MURTHY: Loredana Quadro left Italy 19 years ago to pursue a career in science here in the U.S.

    LOREDANA QUADRO: The United States was always seen as the place to be a scientist because there were a lots of opportunities.

    KARLA MURTHY: So was it your dream to, you know, one day have your own lab?

    LOREDANA QUADRO: Of course. Of course.

    KARLA MURTHY: Quadro has now been running her own lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey for almost 10 years. And Quadro has now been running her own lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey for almost 10 years. And she’s built her career on answering a very specific question: How vitamin A is absorbed by embryos and understanding that basic function could ultimately help prevent birth defects.

    LOREDANA QUADRO: When you actually understand or think you might have understood a little tiny thing that is going on into a cell. It’s really rewarding.

    KARLA MURTHY: But now, all of her years of work is in jeopardy. Like many scientists working at a university, she depends on grants from the Federal Government to run her lab. They pay for everything from supplies to her team of researchers. If Quadro doesn’t get a new grant by July, she’ll be out of money.

    KARLA MURTHY: So you’re in danger of losing your lab.


    KARLA MURTHY: The National Institutes of Health, the NIH, is the single largest funder of biomedical research in the world. but over the last 13 years, the NIH budget has actually declined more than 22 percent in terms of purchasing power.

    And tighter budgets have meant that getting one of these coveted grants is even more difficult. In the past, a third of all grants submitted were funded. Today it’s about a sixth of all grants. And many say this hypercompetitive atmosphere is threatening not only the careers of promising scientists but the advancement of scientific breakthroughs.

    LOREDANA QUADRO: It’s very stressful

    KARLA MURTHY: Quadro says that she’s constantly worrying about money. She estimates that she spends about 80 percent of her time working on grants.

    KARLA MURTHY: How does having to focus on grant writing, how has that affected your work in the lab.

    LOREDANA QUADRO: I don’t work in the lab. I can’t because I have to work on grant writing most of the time.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: People who could be doing experiments are instead writing, rewriting, submitting, resubmitting, trying to get that grant. And what a terrible waste of talent

    KARLA MURTHY: Dr. Francis Collins is the director of the NIH and has been pushing for more research funding.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Whether it’s in cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, basic science, clinical applications, we’re at a remarkable moment scientifically. But paradoxically we’re at about the worst moment we’ve been to support that, at least in this country.

    KARLA MURTHY: One would think that when you’re in an environment that’s this competitive for dollars, that only the best of the best science is gonna get funded.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Turns out that’s not true. Cause we can look back now, can we actually say that the top sixth was better than the next sixth? Turns out we can’t. You can’t tell them apart. So what does that say? That says we’re leaving half of the great science on the table that’s coming to us now ’cause we can’t find the funds for it.

    KARLA MURTHY: Dr. Collins recently testified before a House Appropriations Committee, asking for a three percent increase to the NIH’s budget, enough money for 1,200 new grants. But Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole warned that while everyone supported biomedical research, a big increase to the NIH was not likely.

    TOM COLE (R-OK): Given the reality of funding allocations, we might not be able to do everything that the administration is proposing

    FRANCIS COLLINS: Science is not a 100-yard dash. It’s a marathon. And what that means is that the science we’re not doing today, because we don’t have the resources, is hurting our future 10, 15, 20 years from now in ways that we don’t even know.

    KARLA MURTHY: Why should it be, you know, the government’s responsibility to be the primary funder for biomedical research? Why not foundations or private industry?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: Private industry, frankly, is not going to do that. Their stockholders are expecting a return on that investment, and increasingly expecting that return to happen quickly in a matter of a couple of years.

    KARLA MURTHY: And Dr. Collins says that philanthropy funds only a tiny fraction of research compared to the NIH and often has a narrow focus on specific diseases.

    JUDITH STORCH: He left academia.

    KARLA MURTHY: Judith Storch is a colleague of Loredana Quadro’s at Rutgers. She’s been a scientist for more than three decades and has seen the dramatic change in the competition for science funding over the years. Her lab is just downstairs from Quadro’s, where she studies how lipids move around in cells. Although it hasn’t been easy, she’s been consistently funded during her career. She says having years of experience can give senior scientists like her a leg up.

    JUDITH STORCH: Part of the reason I think it’s easier for a senior investigator to get funded than a junior investigator is because we have a track record.

    KARLA MURTHY: And some in the next generation have decided to drop out altogether.

    JUDITH STORCH: We have graduate students that decide not to finish, we have graduate students who finish and then go and do something entirely different. But people are opting out like crazy.

    KARLA MURTHY: Including Lesley Wassef-Birosik. She was Quadro’s first postdoctoral fellow and came to the U.S. from Australia in 2006. But after seven and a half years in Quadro’s lab, she decided to switch careers. She’s now working as a medical writer.

    KARLA MURTHY: I mean, that’s a big decision, to change course like that?

    LESLEY WASSEF-BIROSIK: Yeah. It was a tough decision. I thought I could do it. But I was very naive. I didn’t see how hard it was to get a grant. And no matter who you spoke to, no matter which lab you spoke to, everyone would say, “It was tough.”

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: What wakes me up at night is this next generation and what’s happening to them. And they’re invariably excited about the science that they’re doing, but invariably anxious about where there’s a future

    KARLA MURTHY: The environment for science funding has left some questioning whether the United States will remain the same worldwide leader in science research that attracted Loredana Quadro and so many others here.

    A recent survey of scientists in the U.S. by advocates for more funding found that 18 percent were considering leaving the country to pursue their careers.

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: We are still the leader, but not by a lot. And I can’t help but point to China in particular. In another four or five years, they will be spending more in absolute dollars than we are. And the consequences are already apparent. China filed more patents in biomedical research last year than the United States did.

    KARLA MURTHY: I mean, if there is a biomedical breakthrough in China, won’t I still, as a citizen here, benefit?

    DR. FRANCIS COLLINS: But it’s the country that is in the lead that is gonna have lots of the most immediate consequences. Research that goes on in the U.S. has the highest likelihood of influencing our medical care in the short run. It also is the country that’s gonna have the greatest economic benefit.

    KARLA MURTHY: Dr. Collins points to the Human Genome Project, which he led before becoming direcro of the NIH. A study estimated that each dollar invested led to $178 in economic benefit for the U.S., including jobs, tax revenues, and additional funding for genome research.

    To help scientists with funding, the NIH is experimenting with different models of funding, grants specifically geared towards younger scientists and allowing investigators to re-submit grants multiple times.

    But for Loredana Quadro, time is running out.

    She has received some bridge funding from her university and continues to work on grants, including to the NIH.

    KARLA MURTHY: Would you ever consider leaving this field?

    LOREDANA QUADRO: It’s a very difficult question. If somebody doesn’t get funded for five years, you are automatically out of the picture. It would be very tough to go back in. And if this happens, I will have to make a decision.

    The post Will declining funding stunt scientific discovery in the U.S.? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The White House said Saturday U.S. commandos  killed a senior Islamic State leader, captured his wife and confiscated ISIS computer data in an overnight raid in Syria. Photo via Getty Images.

    The White House said Saturday U.S. commandos killed a senior Islamic State leader, captured his wife and confiscated ISIS computer data in an overnight raid in Syria. Photo via Getty Images.

    U.S. special forces killed a senior Islamic State commander during a raid overnight Friday in eastern Syria, the Pentagon said Saturday.

    The White House identified the militant as Abu Sayyaf and said commandos also captured his wife, Umm Sayyaf, and freed a young Yazidi woman who appears to have been held as a slave by the couple.

    While the raid involved a “fairly intense firefight,” including hand-to-hand combat, according to the Associated Press, no U.S. forces were killed or injured in the operation, National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Saturday.

    Sayyaf was a senior ISIS leader who was involved in the terrorist organization’s military activity and oversaw its illicit oil and gas operations, which allowed the group “to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians,” the NSC said in a statement. 

    Umm Sayyaf is currently in U.S. military detention in Iraq, and officials said they intend to reunite the Yazidi woman with her family as soon as possible.

    “We suspect that Umm Sayyaf is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities, and may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young woman rescued last night,” Meehan said.

    During the raid, officials said they also confiscated “reams” of ISIS computer data, according to news reports.

    The U.S. estimates that about a dozen ISIS fighters were killed but said no civilians were wounded, the AP reported.

    A U.S. defense officials said the raid was conducted by a team of Army Delta commandos who flew from Iraq into eastern Syria aboard V-22 Osprey aircraft and Blackhawk helicopters, the AP reported.

    While U.S. forces have been striking ISIS militants in Syria for months, this was only the second time troops have carried out a ground raid, the AP reported. The first operation was aimed at rescuing Americans held hostage, but was unsuccessful.

    The post U.S. special forces kill senior ISIS commander in Syria raid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a meeting with China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China, May 16, 2015. Kerry expressed hope that the Iran nuclear deal would send a positive message to North Korea to restart talks over its own atomic program. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds a meeting with China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, China, May 16, 2015. Kerry expressed hope that the Iran nuclear deal would send a positive message to North Korea to restart talks over its own atomic program. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters.

    BEIJING — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he is hopeful that the successful conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran will send a positive message to North Korea to restart negotiations on its own atomic program.

    Speaking at a joint news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, Kerry said he believed an Iran agreement could have “a positive influence” on North Korea, because it would show that giving up nuclear weapons improves domestic economies and ends isolation. He stressed, though, that there was no way to tell if North Korea’s reclusive leadership would be able to “internalize” such a message.

    “I am sure Foreign Minister Wang would join me in expressing the hope that if we can get an agreement with Iran, … that agreement would indeed have some impact or have a positive influence” on North Korea, Kerry said.

    Although Wang did not appear to respond, Kerry explained that an Iran deal could help in showing North Korea how “your economy can do better, your country can do better, and you can enter into good standing with the rest of the global community by recognizing that there is a verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization for weaponization, even as you can have a peaceful nuclear power program.”

    “Hopefully that can be a message, but whether or not DPRK is capable of internalizing that kind of message or not, that’s still to be proved,” he said, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    International negotiators are rushing to finalize a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of June under which Iran’s program would be curbed to prevent it from developing atomic weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled its economy.

    Nuclear talks with North Korea, which has already developed atomic weapons despite previous attempts to forestall it, broke down three years ago as it has continued atomic tests and other belligerent behavior, including ballistic missile launches.

    North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and is now believed to have at least 10 such weapons despite some of the toughest international sanctions in existence. It conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, and U.S.-based experts forecast that it could increase its nuclear arsenal to between 20 and 100 weapons by 2020.

    Kerry travels on Sunday to South Korea, where North Korea will be a major topic of discussion.

    He said the United States will continue to work with its partners “to make it absolutely clear to the DPRK that their actions, their destabilizing behavior is unacceptable against any international standard.”

    The post Kerry: Iran nuclear deal could have ‘positive influence’ on North Korea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (L), U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (C) and Secretary of State John Kerry testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 11, 2015. Despite major setbacks, the U.S. has maintained that its military operations against ISIS is working. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin Dempsey (L), U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (C) and Secretary of State John Kerry testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “The President’s Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts” on Capitol Hill in Washington March 11, 2015. Despite major setbacks, the U.S. has maintained that its military operations against ISIS is working. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON– Despite major new setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. military command leading the fight against Islamic State militants insists that its strategy is working and that the militants’ takeover of a key oil refinery and a government compound are fleeting gains feeding an IS propaganda machine.

    “We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the international campaign fighting IS. “Daesh” is the Arabic acronym for the militant group that swept into Iraq from Syria last June and swiftly took control of much of Iraq’s north and west.

    Even as Weidley spoke to reporters by phone Friday from his headquarters in Kuwait, IS militants were defying his description of them as a force on defense. Iraqi officials said IS fighters had captured the main government compound in Ramadi, the capital of battle-scarred Anbar province. Other officials said they had gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery, a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq’s future and a potential source of millions of dollars in income for the militants.

    The battle to push IS out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which some had hoped would begin this spring, now seems a more distant goal.

    The Pentagon insists that it knew when it began a bombing campaign in Iraq in August 2014 that it could take years to force the Islamic State group out of the country, and while the militants have conceded some ground in recent months, including the northern city of Tikrit, they have proven remarkably resilient.

    Just over 3,000 U.S. troops are training and advising Iraqi forces and providing protection for U.S. forces and facilities. Weidley said there is no move afoot to either expand the U.S. presence or ask the Obama administration for authority to put U.S. troops close to the front lines of combat.

    The White House said Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday to reaffirm U.S. support in light of the attacks on Ramadi. It said Biden promised expedited security help, including delivery of shoulder-fired rockets and other heavy weaponry to counter IS car bombs.

    Weidley appeared to be pressing his own “information campaign” designed to counter the militants’ message of defiance. While conceding the militants’ were managing “episodic control” of certain terrain in Iraq, he insisted their advances were minor and unsustainable.

    The State Department offered a similar assessment. “There will be good days and bad days in Iraq,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said. “ISIL is trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi. We’ve said all along we see this as a long-term fight.”

    Weidley said IS fighters had launched a complex attack Friday on Ramadi as part of an effort to “feed their information and propaganda apparatus.” He said he could not confirm how much of the city had been lost to IS on Friday or what percentage remains in Iraqi control. He said his command had seen Islamic State social media postings of photos that depict a successful Ramadi offensive.

    “This is similar to the (techniques) they’ve used in the past where they’ve conducted attacks trying to gain social media gains by taking photos and documenting small-term gains and then using it for propaganda purposes,” Weidley said, adding that IS was inflating the importance of its success.

    “We’ve seen similar attacks in Ramadi over the last several months for which the ISF (Iraqi security forces) have been able to repel, and we see this one being similar to those,” he said, adding that the U.S. is confident the Iraqi government will be able to take back the terrain it has lost in Ramadi.

    Weidley called Ramadi a “critical city,” which appears to stand in contrast to remarks last month by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    Dempsey said Ramadi was not central to the future of Iraq and said its potential loss “won’t be the end of the campaign” against IS. He also said the Beiji oil refinery, the site of fierce battles between militants and Iraqi forces, was a “more strategic” target for IS.

    In Ramadi, Iraqi troops were forced to withdraw during an attack in which three suicide car bombs killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more, said Mayor Dalaf al-Kubaisi. The mayor said the militants raised their black flag over the captured government compound, which houses provincial and municipal government offices.

    Anbar provincial councilman Taha Abdul-Ghani said the militants killed dozens more captured security forces in the city as well as their families, without providing an exact figure. He said Iraqi and coalition warplanes were bombing the militants inside the compound.

    Weidley’s command said Friday in its daily summary of U.S.-led bombing in Iraq that coalition planes conducted 12 airstrikes in Iraq overnight Thursday. These included one airstrike near Ramadi that hit an IS headquarters. Four airstrikes near Beiji hit IS fighting units, destroying two fighting positions and a building, the U.S. military said.

    The post Despite setbacks, U.S. says military strategy against ISIS is working appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Chicken farms must convert to cage free in California

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The U.S. is in the grip of the worst bird flu epidemic in the nation’s history. The outbreak is creating a crisis for farmers: How to safely destroy infected birds and how to keep egg prices from sky rocketing in the process.

    Associated Press reporter David Pitt has been covering the story and joins me now via Skype from Des Moines, Iowa.

    David, just a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about how bad this was, but it hasn’t gotten any better. We haven’t figured out exactly how the transmission’s happening or how many birds will be affected.

    DAVID PITT, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right. It does still seem to be spreading. The hardest-hit states are Minnesota, where most – you know, a lot of the turkeys in the United States are raised.

    And Iowa, the leading egg producing state. So both states have seen increased cases in the last few days. So we are seeing it spread still.

    And as you said, the big priority, I think, for those who study this problem or to try to figure out how to keep it from spreading and how it is spreading, and then stop it if possible.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what are the market effects now? I mean, this has just gone on long enough where we can – are we seeing prices increase?

    DAVID PITT: We are. The last story that I did a few days ago reflected carton-egg prices going up about 17 percent or so in the Midwest.

    The biggest impact so far has been eggs used for ingredients and things like mayonnaise and cake mixes and those kinds of things. The broken-shell egg market.

    And that’s because a lot of the chickens that are laying the eggs in Iowa that are dying from this disease are the type of chickens that lay eggs for that market.

    So that market is seeing about a 60-some percent increase, a little over 60 percent. Which may result in the price of some food items going up.

    But obviously eggs are a small portion of what goes into a cake mix or what goes into mayonnaise, so you won’t see a direct proportional increase. But there will be an increase.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about other sort of deli meats or turkey or hens?

    DAVID PITT: Right. The turkey market – I think the young tom breast meat, which is used for deli meat, was up something like 10 percent. And the turkeys used for roasting at home are up slightly less than that, around three or four percent, the last time I looked.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. And have farmers figured out how to most safely dispose of this so that the virus isn’t spreading elsewhere, even in the disposal process?

    DAVID PITT: Yeah, I think – I think they have criteria they really need – they have to follow, the federal government really comes in and establishes how the disposal takes place. I mean, farmers work with them.

    And the state agriculture departments typically step in as well and work with the federal government. And it’s usually – they’re composting the birds either in the barns, composting them on the farm.

    In some cases, they’re burying them in large trenches. And they’ve now in Iowa at least moved in some equipment to burn the – the left birds that need to be disposed of in incinerators.

    There’s some effort to try to find landfills that might accept some of them as well.

    So those are the methods they’re using. Obviously, biosecurity is something they’re stressing a lot so people don’t track into different barns, and they’re trying to stop it that way.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Give us some perspective. When we say the largest of avian flu outbreak in the country’s history, and we’re talking about millions of birds.

    Obviously, there’s hundreds of millions of birds that exist in the United States that are producing eggs and so forth. But how bad is this?

    DAVID PITT: Well, we have so far seen in Minnesota alone 88 million turkeys – or 5 million turkeys, I mean. 5.8 million turkeys. And that — in Iowa, we have about 26 million birds, 23 million of those are the type that lay eggs. The entire country has about 300 million chickens laying eggs.

    So, you can see it’s still somewhat of a small percentage of the total, but it is getting to the point where we are seeing an impact on the market and availability of the product.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. David Pitt of The Associated Press, thanks so much.

    DAVID PITT: Thank you.

    The post Egg prices rising as U.S. confronts worst bird flu outbreak on record appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture. Amid pressure of losing its World Heritage status, the government has decided to expand areas subject to curbs on shipping. Photo by HO/Great Barrier Reef National Park Authority/Reuters.

    A tourist swims on the Great Barrier Reef in this undated file picture. Amid pressure of losing its World Heritage status, the government has decided to expand areas subject to curbs on shipping. Photo by HO/Great Barrier Reef National Park Authority/Reuters.

    Australia will widen curbs on shipping around the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to protect the endangered coral system, the government said Saturday.

    The new plan designates an additional 565,000 square kilometers (218,000 square miles) of the Coral Sea to curbs on shipping, a 140 percent increase, Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss said in a statement.

    The decision comes as the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral system in the world — which stretches more than 1,400 miles along the Queensland coast of Australia and is home to thousands of marine species — may lose its World Heritage Site status.

    Amid growing international concern over the reef’s future, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also said it may add the coral reef to its list of World Heritage sites that are in danger.

    The Great Barrier Reef has already lost 50 percent of its coral cover over the past 30 years and continues to face environmental risks from oil and gas mining, pollution, coastal development, climate change and commercial fishing, the Guardian reported.

    The reef also faces threats from coal, particularly the coal mining in Queensland, the country’s largest coal-producing state.

    “Our new measures enhance protection for the Coral Sea-as well as the adjacent Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area- by helping ships traverse the region safely and avoid potentially hazardous areas,” Truss said.

    UNESCO will make its final decision on whether to list the reef as in danger next month.

    The post Australia to expand shipping curbs around Great Barrier Reef appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the Diaoyutai State Guest House on May 16, 2015 in Beijing, China. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is urging China to halt increasingly assertive actions it is taking in the South China Sea. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon - Pool/Getty Images.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) speaks with China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi at the Diaoyutai State Guest House on May 16, 2015 in Beijing, China. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is urging China to halt increasingly assertive actions it is taking in the South China Sea. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon – Pool/Getty Images.

    BEIJING — Despite pressure from the United States, China is not backing down from claiming controversial territory in the South China Sea as its own.

    Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Saturday, hoping to reduce tension between China and several other Asian nations — including Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — that all claim territory in the pivotal patch of the Pacific Ocean that is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

    While the U.S. has not taken an official position in the dispute, Sec. Kerry called for a diplomatic resolution, emphasizing the need for increased dialogue to resolve deep disagreements over Chinese activity in disputed areas of the South China Sea.

    Here are five things you should know.

    1. Location, location, location

    The geographic location of the South China Sea is strategically important. It links the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and is a critical shipping channel — about half the world’s merchant ships pass through it. Keeping the South China Sea open for commercial navigation is a top priority for both the United States and China.

    But stakeholders have differing views when it comes to military navigation. If China controlled the sea, it would likely limit the military navigation of foreign countries.

    According to the latest Pentagon report on China’s military, there is also evidence that China is expanding a corps of nuclear submarines based in Hainan, an island at China’s southern tip, in the northern portion of the South China Sea.

    Should a country like the United States have open military access to the area, for example, China has concerns that any military installations could be vulnerable to potential attack.

    China is looking to expand its maritime interests and capabilities; it wants the ocean for access, power and defense. The United States is hoping to keep the South China Sea free of any restraints so it can continue to operate in the area and contain China’s expanding presence. Photo by Tracy Wholf/NewsHour.

    China is looking to expand its maritime interests and capabilities; it wants the ocean for access, power and defense. The United States is hoping to keep the South China Sea free of any restraints so it can continue to operate in the area and contain China’s expanding presence.
    Photo by Tracy Wholf/NewsHour.

    2. It’s rich in energy reserves 

    Experts believe there are valuable fossil fuels in the South China Sea, but estimates vary depending on which country’s analysts you ask.

    According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hydrocarbon reserves in the South China Sea amount to 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

    Eleven billion barrels is a relatively small oil reserve — at China’s current rates of oil consumption, it would only power the country for about three years. But the natural gas deposit is considerable, enough to to power China for more than 30 years at current rates, although China’s energy demands are constantly growing.

    Until sovereignty claims are resolved, the region will remain a hot bed of conflict where any wrong move could be interpreted as an aggressive one, but war is highly unlikely.  Photo by Tracy Wholf/NewsHour.

    Until sovereignty claims are resolved, the region will remain a hot bed of conflict where any wrong move could be interpreted as an aggressive one, but war is highly unlikely.
    Photo by Tracy Wholf/NewsHour.

    3. Fishing boats caught in the fray

    Fishing in the South China Sea is a big business. Some estimates indicate up to 10 percent of the world’s ocean-caught fish come from the region. The industry also employs millions across the region.

    But fishing vessels are also a source of conflict. A prime example is the current situation in the Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground less than 130 miles off the Philippine coast. In 2012 the Philippine Navy discovered a Chinese vessel engaged in illegal fishing in the area. Before the Philippines could take any action, two Chinese surveillance ships came to the aid of the vessel and blocked access to the shoal.

    The Chinese have fiercely guarded the area and have prohibited access to non-Chinese boats ever since. Similar standoffs have happened with Vietnamese fishing vessels, which have been bumped and rammed by Chinese ships in contested waters.

    Philippine coastguard personnel prepare to board a ship during a simulation of a sea jacking scenario as part of the combined Philippine-Japan maritime exercise off Manila bay, in the mouth of South China sea on May 6, 2015. Photo by TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images.

    Philippine coastguard personnel prepare to board a ship during a simulation of a sea jacking scenario as part of the combined Philippine-Japan maritime exercise off Manila bay, in the mouth of South China sea on May 6, 2015. Photo by TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images.

    4. Military conflict is unlikely, but accidents happen

    Despite the abundance of sovereignty claims in the waters, war over this portion of the Pacific Ocean is unlikely.

    A more likely scenario might be an accident that triggers a military reaction.

    An accident similar to the 2001 EP3 incident, when a U.S. reconnaissance plane and a Chinese fighter jet collided in midair over the South China Sea, is more likely than a naval accident, according to some analysts.

    Filipino environmental activists display placards during a rally outside China's consular office in Manila on May 11, 2015, against China's reclamation and construction activities on islands and reefs in the Spratly Group of the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines. Photo by JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images.

    Filipino environmental activists display placards during a rally outside China’s consular office in Manila on May 11, 2015, against China’s reclamation and construction activities on islands and reefs in the Spratly Group of the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines. Photo by JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images.

    5. China signals it will not back down

    China has claimed the majority of the South China Sea for centuries and will not relinquish what the country says is its sovereign right to protect and defend Chinese territory.

    Chinese officials insist the country’s primary goal in the South China Sea is to preserve stability and claim the best resolution to various disputes would be joint-development projects to cultivate valuable resources found in the sea.

    “The determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock, and it is unshakable,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. “It has always been our view that we need to find appropriate solutions to the issues we have through communications and negotiations that we have among the parties directly concerned with peaceful and diplomatic means on the basis of respecting historical facts and international norms. This position will remain unchanged in the future.”

    Every action, including land reclamation projects on disputed islands in the South China Sea, is considered legal and in accordance with international law, Chinese officials say.

    Angered by Chinese actions in the disputed waters, the Philippines filed a case at The Hague over sovereignty claims in the region.

    The case will be heard later this summer, but China has so far refused to participate in the arbitration, saying that the dispute should be resolved bilaterally.

    The post 5 things you should know about the South China Sea conflict appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For 15 years, the U.S. war on drugs in Colombia has relied on crop dusting to kill the plants used to produce cocaine.

    But this week, Colombia’s government announced it is phasing out the U.S.-led program.

    So, how will this shift in policy affect the relationship between the two countries?

    Joining me via Skype from Bogota, Colombia, is Juan Forero, the South American bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.

    So, give us a little bit of background for people just waking up to this story. What is the program that we’ve been doing and why has it been so important?

    JUAN FORERO, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: It was 15 years ago what was called “Plan Colombia”, which was a U.S.-funded, initially a big U.S.-funded program began, and it basically entailed used crop dusters to hit coca.

    And so, this was a very controversial program when it began. There was a lot of criticism, but this was approved in the Bill Clinton administration and it was 15 years ago, it was in December of 2000, when crop dusters just hit industrial sized fields of coca all across Colombia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So, recently, the World Health Organization says that the chemical being used to keep that coca down could possibly cause cancer. Is that right?

    JUAN FORERO: Yes, exactly. There is a research arm of the World Health Organization which said that it could possibly cause cancer in humans.

    So that caused quite a controversy here in Colombia, although there had been criticism about fumigation for many, many years.

    I think part of the issue though, part of the reason, the big part of the reason why this is finally coming to a close is because of political reasons.

    You know, in other words, this thing just served its cycle. It did what it had to do in the minds of some, and now, it’s time to try something else. And that’s because of new political realities in Colombia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are the alternatives here to spraying? I mean, the people who could manually eradicate all these crops. Some of those soldiers have died because they stepped on land mines.

    JUAN FORERO: Look, it’s pretty horrific. You have had about 200 deaths over the last 10 years, and most of those are soldiers.

    Some of them are civilians were paid to eradicate. And that’s because the rebels that control some of these coca fields have put land mines in those field. So, that’s basically almost stopped manual eradication.

    But really, the answer to resolving the coca issue is bringing the state into some of these regions. Colombia is a very large country.

    It’s about twice the size of France. And you have all these far-flung regions that really aren’t part of the state. The state needs to bring in roads and hospitals and schools.

    There really are two Colombias. You need to bring in the state and almost everybody actually pro-fumigation, anti-fumigation, is in agreement with that.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what happens to the farmers that seem to be caught in the middle here.

    On the one hand, you’ve got government saying don’t grow coca. On the other hand, you have the rebels who sometimes make their money off of the cocaine industry.

    JUAN FORERO: Yes, exactly. I was in Putumayo state just the other day and I was talking to a lot of these farmers and I know them because I had been there a few months before in a particular area where I’m seeing more coca.

    And some of these farmers are saying, look, I mean, the guerillas are telling us to grow coca, and when the guerrillas tell you to grow coca, I mean, that’s pressure tactics.

    And so, you know, they definitely are caught in the middle. If they grow they have the spray planes come or eradicators come, and if they don’t grow they could be in a bind with the people who count on that coca for money.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what is the relationship between the United States and Colombia like in the context of this? And you also said there’s kind of new political realities on the ground?

    JUAN FORERO: Well, I think over this, they clashed, because I think the counter-drug officials in the U.S. government are very much wholeheartedly supportive of fumigation, so they didn’t want it to end.

    But the political realities are different in Colombia. When this program began, Colombia was in a really, really tough state.

    Certainly, the Colombia that you have today 15 years later is a different country. It’s very dynamic, a growing economy. There’s a lot of good things that are happening here.

    And right now, one of the big things that’s happening is that the government is in the midst of peace talks with the guerillas. That would end a very long conflict.

    And the government’s point of view is that fumigation is really a kind of militaristic approach in regions that are now peaceful.

    What they want to do is win hearts and minds and you don’t do that by fumigating them, by dropping defoliant on top of these people.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Juan Forero, the South American bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, joining us via Skype from Bogota, Colombia, thanks so much.

    JUAN FORERO: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

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    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton depart the former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo's funeral in Manhattan, New York January 6, 2015. A new report shows the Clintons together earned over $30 million in speaking fees and book royalties since January 2014. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton depart the former Governor of New York Mario Cuomo’s funeral in Manhattan, New York January 6, 2015. A new report shows the Clintons together earned over $30 million in speaking fees and book royalties since January 2014. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton reported Friday that they earned more than $30 million combined in speaking fees and book royalties since January 2014, putting them firmly within the upper echelon of American earners as the former secretary of state seeks the White House again.

    Clinton’s presidential campaign reported the income in a personal financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday night. The report, required of every candidate for the White House, showed the couple amassed more than $25 million in speaking fees and Hillary Clinton earned more than $5 million from her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices.”

    The earnings put the couple in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of all Americans.

    While Clinton has begun her second campaign for president by casting herself as a champion for middle-class voters, she’s long drawn criticism from Republicans about the wealth she and Bill Clinton have generated since he left the White House. That includes their ability to command six-figure fees for delivering speeches to corporations and trade groups, which the report lists in detail.

    The finances behind the family’s charitable foundation have also generated scrutiny because of its acceptances of donations from foreign governments.

    During last year’s book tour, Clinton told an interviewer her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House, which Republicans said showed a lack of understanding of the needs of typical families.

    Liberals have also questioned whether Clinton is too closely tied to Wall Street, pointing to her days representing New York in the U.S. Senate. They are also wary she might not aggressively seek to regulate the nation’s financial industry and serve as an adequate bulwark against economic inequality.

    The FEC filings show that the couple earned more than $25 million for more than 100 paid speeches between January 2014 and May 2015. That is an average fee of about $250,000 per speech.

    Clinton was paid to speak to financial firms such as Deutsche Bank and Ameriprise Financial, trade groups like the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Advanced Medical Technology Association, and tech companies such as Salesforce.com and Cisco. One of her final paid speeches was delivered in March to eBay, which paid her $315,000, the records show.

    During a speech in April 2014, a woman tossed a shoe at Clinton while she addressed the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries meeting in Las Vegas. Her fee for that event was $225,000.

    The filing lists more than four dozen speeches from the former president, including appearances during the past week with Univision and Apollo Management Holdings in New York and the American Institute of Architects in Atlanta.

    In an interview with NBC News earlier this month, Bill Clinton defended the speaking fees. “I gotta pay our bills,” he said. “And I also give a lot of it to the foundation every year.”

    Reacting to the filing, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the “staggering amounts of income” from the speaking fees raise ethical questions for the couple, create potential conflicts of interest and show “how out-of-touch they’ve truly become.”

    The report also lists assets of between $5 million and $25 million in a mutual fund managed by Vanguard that the Clintons set up in the past year. The couple did not earn any capital gains during the period and paid an effective tax rate of more than 30 percent in the 2014 tax year, said a Clinton campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the report.

    It also shows the Clintons paid off their mortgage. Clinton does not list any liabilities in the latest filing; in 2012 she reported a 30-year mortgage on a personal residence valued at between $1 million and $5 million.

    Clinton last filed a financial disclosure report during her final year as Secretary of State in 2012, when she reported that her and her husband’s wealth was estimated between $4 million and $20 million.

    Much of that income came from the lucrative speeches and appearances made by Bill Clinton around the world. A recent Associated Press review of the Clintons’ disclosures and State Department records found that Bill Clinton had been paid at least $50 million for his appearances between 2009 and 2012, the four years that Hillary Clinton served as the nation’s top diplomat.

    Federal candidates are required to file personal financial disclosures within 30 days of announcing their candidacy or on May 15. Several Republican candidates in the race filed a request for an extension to those deadlines.

    Each disclosure form lists candidates’ assets and liabilities, and provides a snapshot of their annual income. But federal rules allow those figures to be reported in wide ranges instead of specific amounts – allowing candidates, for example, to report a large asset as worth between $1 million and $5 million.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For some perspective on the raid, I’m joined by Doug Ollivant in Washington, D.C. He was the director for Iraq in the National Security Council in the Bush and Obama administrations. He is a senior national security fellow at the New America Foundation and a partner at Mantid International.

    So, what do we know about this individual? Why was he such a high-value target?

    DOUG OLLIVANT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, there are many things we don’t know about this individual.

    Now, presumably, the U.S. intelligence knows the function that he is performing in the organization. He’s evidently very tied into financing, oil sales, and the like. But exactly who he is, we’re not sure.

    Abu Sayyaf, his nickname meaning “father of Sayyaf.” We don’t know who Sayyaf is. Presumably his son, but we don’t know how old or what he does.

    And we seem confused where he comes from. The United States seems to think he’s Tunisian, but we have had reports out of the region saying he’s an Iraqi from Mosul, and before that, from Saudi Arabia.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. One of the interesting things that I found was that this was one of the first times that I’ve heard about U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, and they were launched from Iraq.

    DOUG OLLIVANT: That’s right. So, this is the first time that we know of that U.S. Special Forces have gone into Syria with the intent of killing or capturing enemy combatants. We know that there was the attempted raid to rescue hostages, such as James Foley before. This is the first time they’ve gone forward to conduct combat and try to kill and capture people.

    And it was launched from Iraq. In the past, Iraq has been very circumspect about allowing attacks to be launched outside its borders into another country. Evidently, the existence of the Islamic State has changed their mind on that point.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Critics of the administration point out that is this or is this not a coincidence that this news is happening around the same time that Ramadi, a city in Iraq, is fallen into ISIS fighters?

    DOUG OLLIVANT: Well, it’s certainly convenient for the administration that the news is turning to this raid rather than the very real dangers in Ramadi. On the other hand, the news this morning seems to be that Ramadi is just a little bit better. Some buildings have been recovered in the city. Reinforcements are flowing from Baghdad.

    So, there’s a very real contest in Ramadi and we need to take it seriously. And the Islamic State clearly had some good days the past day or two, but we’ll also see how Ramadi ends up.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There is also the storyline about Palmyra, another — I don’t know if it’s a U.N. heritage world site right of the top of my head — but another important site culturally that is threatened by ISIS’ advance.

    DOUG OLLIVANT: A very beautiful set of roman ruins. I believe it is a UNESCO heritage site, and it’s being very much threatened by ISIL as well. This is also important because we’re seeing conflict between the Syrian regime, the Assad regime, and ISIL directly. Many people have pointed out there are many place where’s the two don’t fight each other.

    Well, this is a case where they are, and perhaps we’re seeing the dynamics between the Assad regime and ISIL changing as they’re now in combat on this front.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: In this larger narrative, how important is the killing of any single individual in the leadership ranks?

    DOUG OLLIVANT: Look, the killing of any single individual never really matters in any organization. You know, we’ve — we’ve heard him described as the chief financial officer of ISIL in Syria. If you take out the chief financial officer of any corporation in America, his junior, one of his underlings, is going to step up, take his place, step into that role. The Islamic State is going to do something very, very similar.

    That said, it never hurts to take out a senior leader and importantly, the intelligence that was gathered from this raid, the things that his wife knows, the data, the laptops, the thumb drives — all this intelligence that’s gathered in the raid may be very important.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Douglas Ollivant, joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

    DOUG OLLIVANT: Thank you, Hari.

    The post Inside the U.S. raid that took out a key ISIS leader in Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Torn posters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi  that read, "To be on trial... No reconciliation without justice, no justice without retribution, no punishment without trial" are seen in Tahrir Square in Cairo September 26, 2013. Morsi was senteced to death by an Egyptian court Saturday. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

    Torn posters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that read, “To be on trial… No reconciliation without justice, no justice without retribution, no punishment without trial” are seen in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Sept. 26, 2013. Morsi was sentenced to death by an Egyptian court on Saturday. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

    An Egyptian court sentenced to death deposed president Mohammed Morsi on Saturday for his role in a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak.

    Morsi was given the death sentence along with more than 100 others, the latest in a series of mass rulings against opponents of the regime of current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In one ruling in April 2014, nearly 700 people were sentenced to death. Just weeks earlier, more than 500 were given death sentences in a separate case, though most were later commuted to life in prison.

    Like all death sentences in Egypt, the decision must be referred to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority, for consideration. The Mufti is scheduled to make a ruling by June 2. Such rulings are considered non-binding and would not necessarily affect the court’s decision. The sentences are also open to appeal through Egypt’s judicial system. 

    The ruling prompted condemnation from international human rights groups.

    In a statement, Amnesty International decried the decision, saying that the sentencing “after grossly unfair trials shows the deplorable state of the country’s criminal justice system.”

    Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, called the trial a “charade based on null and void procedures.”

    The case against Morsi centers on a prison break that took place during the height of the 2011 protests against Mubarak. Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members had been arrested and held for several days at Wadi al-Natrun prison.

    On Jan. 28, 2011, in the midst of the revolt, armed men took over the prison and released thousands of inmates, including Morsi.

    Among those sentenced Saturday were about 70 Palestinian citizens, who Egyptian prosecutors alleged entered Egypt through tunnels from the nearby Gaza Strip and took part in prison breaks, according to The New York Times.

    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the ruling “a crime against the Palestinian people,” Haaretz reported.

    Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, took power in 2012. One year later, following widespread protests demanding his removal, Morsi was ousted in a military operation.

    After Morsi was removed from power, the government began a major crackdown on political dissent, killing or arresting thousands of people, including many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Last month, in a separate case, Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing of protesters in 2012.

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    Emergency workers look through the remains from the wreck of the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last week  May 13, 2015. Amtrak could face a $200 million payout to crash victims, but that may be too low to cover the costs of eight lives lost and more than 200 injured. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Emergency workers look through the remains from the wreck of the Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia last week May 13, 2015. Amtrak could face a $200 million payout to crash victims, but that may be too low to cover the costs of eight lives lost and more than 200 injured. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON– For the first time, Amtrak could face a $200 million payout to train crash victims — the limit set by Congress. But that may be too low to cover the costs of the eight lives lost and more than 200 people injured in last week’s derailment in Philadelphia.

    That payout cap for a single passenger rail incident was part of a late effort in 1997 to pass a law that would rescue Amtrak from financial ruin and help it one day become independent.

    Adjusted for inflation, which the law does not consider, that amount would be just under $300 million now. And Amtrak is still far from independent.

    An Associated Press review of past cases found that Amtrak never before has been liable for a $200 million payout for a single passenger rail incident. The Philadelphia crash could be the first time the liability ceiling — designed specifically for Amtrak — would actually apply to the railroad.

    It’s not known how high the costs of victims’ deaths and injuries from Tuesday’s crash will run.

    The train, which left Washington headed to New York, was moving at more than twice the speed allowed on a curve when it derailed not long after it stopped at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Investigators haven’t determined why the train was traveling so fast.

    On Friday, an Amtrak employee filed the first lawsuit, asking for more than $150,000 in damages. Amtrak employees are not limited by the $200 million cap because it only applies to passengers.

    “I don’t think Amtrak has ever faced a situation like this, and since they own the Northeast Corridor, they’re 100 percent on the hook,” said Frank Wilner, author of the book, “Amtrak: Past, Present, Future.”

    Using past passenger rail accidents as a guide, some lawyers expect damages from the crash to be similar to a 2008 accident in Los Angeles, which resulted in a $200 million payout to victims. In that crash, the train’s engineer was texting and didn’t stop at a red signal when the train collided head-on with a freight train, killing 25 people and injuring more than 100.

    The money was paid to victims by Metrolink, which provides commuter rail service in Southern California, and Veolia Environment, a French company that operated the rail service at the time.

    A judge divided the $200 million among the victims, with sums between $12,000 and $9 million. In some cases, lawyers said the amounts were far less than the projected costs of medical care needed as a result of the crash.

    Paul Kiesel, a Los Angeles attorney who represented victims from the 2008 crash, said $200 million “can be just a drop in a bucket to compensate people who are the victims of passenger rail collisions in America.”

    But Kiesel said he is not aware of another passenger rail incident in which the $200 million cap has been a factor.

    Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said he was unable to say whether Amtrak had ever paid $200 million in damages for a single passenger rail incident.

    Among the almost 20 victims from the Philadelphia crash still in the hospital, five are in critical condition.

    It’s difficult to put a price on a person’s life, said Howard Spier, a Miami-based lawyer and former president of the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys. But the people traveling on the Amtrak train that crashed last week are typically successful, he said.

    “The more you’ve got going on in your life, the more your damages are worth,” Spier said.

    Though passenger rail crashes that lead to $200 million victim settlements have been rare in America, liability has long been a concern.

    “Limits on liability are essential for our economic future,” former Amtrak president Tom Downs told Congress in 1996.

    In 1997, the year the liability cap was passed, Amtrak faced bankruptcy, and Congress had been trying for three years to come up with a plan to turn the struggling rail line into a profitable company without government subsidies.

    Among issues challenging Amtrak financially were liability for all accidents involving Amtrak, even if they weren’t Amtrak’s fault. Establishing a cap on damages would help Amtrak purchase insurance at a reasonable cost.

    At the time, Amtrak had about $200 million in liability insurance, government auditors said in a 1995 report. It was facing lawsuits totaling more than $200 million for a range of incidents.

    A $200 million limit on liability for passenger rail accidents was added to a compromise bill at the end of the debates.

    “That is what we are trying to do, is have some sort of quantifiable limit so we will know what the costs would be in the most extreme circumstances,” then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor.

    Democrats supported the $200 million cap, too.

    “Amtrak passengers will have to bear a limit on Amtrak’s liability to them, much the same way that the airlines limit their liability to passengers,” said then-Sen. Earnest Hollings, D-S.C.

    Airlines do have a cap, but it’s not the same as what Congress created for passenger railroads.

    An international aviation convention established a per-passenger cap on damages at about $160,000. If an airline is proved negligent in court, victims’ families can sue for more, unlike the families of passenger rail victims.

    In 2010, some California lawmakers moved to increase the cap to $500 million, but the rail industry successfully lobbied against the measure.

    “Now you have people with serious injuries that may not be compensated from Amtrak for all their losses,” said Connecticut attorney George Cahill, who is representing one of the passengers injured in the May 12 crash.

    The post Amtrak could pay no more than $200 million to crash victims appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush arrives to speak at the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, May 16, 2015. The GOP prospects agree that America should take tougher action against its enemies. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters.

    Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush arrives to speak at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, United States, May 16, 2015. The GOP prospects agree that America should take tougher action against its enemies. Photo by Jim Young/Reuters.

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Republicans wooing Iowa’s most active party members called Saturday for a stronger presence in the world but ran the gamut in tone and just how tough to get with America’s enemies.

    On Armed Services Day – and a day the Obama administration reported killing a senior Islamic State leader in Syria – most of the nearly dozen GOP presidential prospects at a state party dinner called for a more confrontational stance toward Iran.

    Former Sen. Rick Santorum’s answer for handling Iran, one of four countries on the U.S. list of nations accused of repeatedly supporting global terrorism, was to “load up our bombers and bomb them back to the seventh century.”

    Earlier in the day, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush praised U.S. commandos who had reportedly killed the IS leader, described as the head of oil operations for IS. Bush gave no credit to Obama, whom Bush accused of allowing the rise of IS by pulling back U.S. forces from Iraq.

    “It’s a great day, but it’s not a strategy,” Bush told reporters in eastern Iowa.

    Although Bush joked lightly about the confused statements he made in recent days about whether he would have ordered the attack in Iraq in 2003, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the GOP gathering Saturday night that it was a “valid question” to ask presidential candidates whether they would have invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein.

    “We have to question: Is Iraq more stable or less stable since Hussein is gone?” asked Paul, who espouses some of the hands-off foreign policy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tried to reject any assertion that the existing problems in Iraq were the result of the Republican president who ordered the invasion, Bush’s brother George W. Bush.

    “The person I blame is Barack Obama, not George W. Bush,” said Graham, who criticized Obama for keeping a campaign promise to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. Of George W. Bush, Graham said, “He made the best decision he could.”

    Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as did others, accused Obama of not taking the threat of Islamic State militants seriously. Perry pointed to claims by the militant group, disputed by terrorism experts, that it was behind the assault on a Texas cartoon contest that featured images of the Prophet Muhammad.

    “You see ISIS showing up in Garland, Texas,” Perry said. “You realize this is a challenging world we live in.”

    Aside from the nuances on Republican policy toward Iran and IS militants in Iraq, the GOP presidential prospects were united in taking jabs at Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. They linked Clinton to Obama and mocked her for not fielding more questions during her campaign events.

    Former business executive Carly Fiorina said that if Clinton is going to run for president, “she is going to have to answer some questions.” Paul joked about whether Clinton “ever takes any questions.” Earlier in the day Bush said he had taken between 800 and 900 questions, compared to a handful by Clinton.

    In one of the more specific broadsides against Clinton, Fiorina said the former first lady must not be president because “she is not trustworthy, she lacks a track record of leadership and her policies will crush the potential of this nation.”

    Others who spoke at the Des Moines event, which roughly 1,300 Iowa Republicans attended, were former surgeon Ben Carson, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, businessman Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

    Walker, who appeared at an afternoon fundraiser for a Des Moines area county official, called for a stepped-up fight against terrorism.

    Having recently visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Walker called the Obama administration’s foreign policy to “draw a red line in the sand and allow people to cross it.” Instead, he suggested that the United States “take the fight to them.”

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    WASHINGTON — A dozen years later, American politics has reached a rough consensus about the Iraq War: It was a mistake.

    Politicians hoping to be president rarely run ahead of public opinion. So it’s a revealing moment when the major contenders for president in both parties find it best to say that 4,491 Americans and countless Iraqis lost their lives in a war that shouldn’t have been waged.

    Many people have been saying that for years, of course. Polls show most of the public have judged the war a failure by now. Over time, more and more GOP politicians have allowed that the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq undermined Republican President George W. Bush’s rationale for the 2003 invasion.

    It hasn’t been an easy evolution for those such as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for the war in 2002 while serving in Congress. That vote, and her refusal to fully disavow it, cost her during her 2008 primary loss to Barack Obama, who wasn’t in the Senate in 2002 but had opposed the war.

    In her memoir last year, Clinton wrote that she had voted based on the information available at the time, but “I got it wrong. Plain and simple.”

    What might seem a hard truth for a nation to acknowledge has become the safest thing for an American politician to say – even Bush’s brother.

    The fact that Jeb Bush, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination in 2016, was pressured this past week into rejecting, in hindsight, his brother’s war “is an indication that the received wisdom, that which we work from right now, is that this was a mistake,” said Evan Cornog, a historian and dean of the Hofstra University school of communication.

    Or, as Rick Santorum, another potential Republican candidate, put it: “Everybody accepts that now.”

    Santorum didn’t always see the war that way. He voted for the invasion as a senator and continued to support if for years. Last week, he mocked Jeb Bush’s reluctance to give what now seems the obvious answer when he was initially asked to reconsider the war in light of what’s known today. “I don’t know how that was a hard question,” Santorum said.

    It’s an easier question for presidential hopefuls who aren’t bound by family ties or their own congressional vote for the war, who have the luxury of judging it in hindsight, knowing full well the terrible price Americans paid and the continuing bloodshed in Iraq today.

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz weren’t in Congress in 2002 and so didn’t have to make a real-time decision with imperfect knowledge. Neither was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who served an earlier stint in Congress.

    All these Republicans said last week that, in hindsight, they would not have invaded Iraq with what’s now known about the faulty intelligence that wrongly indicated Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in an interview Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” summed up that sentiment: “Knowing what we know now, I think it’s safe for many of us, myself included, to say, we probably wouldn’t have taken” that approach.

    Those politicians didn’t go as far, however, as war critics such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a declared Republican candidate who says it would have been a mistake even if Saddam were hiding such weapons. Paul says Saddam was serving as a counterbalance to Iran and removing him from power led to much of the turmoil now rocking the Middle East.

    Former President George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, still maintain that ousting a brutal and unpredictable dictator made the world safer.

    In his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points,” Bush said he got a “sickening feeling” every time he thought about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and he knew that would “transform public perception of the war.”

    But he stands by his decision.

    The war remains a painful topic that politicians must approach with some care.

    Jeb Bush, explaining his reluctance to clarify his position on the war’s start, said “going back in time and talking about hypotheticals,” the would-haves and the should-haves, does a disservice to the families of soldiers who gave their lives.

    Cornog, the historian, said even if a majority of Americans have turned their backs on the war, many never will.

    “I think if I had lost a loved one in that war I would be unwilling to say it was a futile effort or destructive of America’s security,” he said. “How we interpret it depends on how we are invested in the question at hand.”

    When he finished withdrawing U.S. troops in December 2011, Obama predicted a stable, self-reliant Iraqi government would take hold. Instead, turmoil and terrorism overtook Iraq and American leaders and would-be presidents are struggling with what to do next. The U.S. now has 3,040 troops in Iraq as trainers and advisers and to provide security for American personnel and equipment.

    For the most part, the public and the military – like the politicians – are focused less on decisions of the past than on the events of today and how to stop the Islamic State militants who have overrun a swath of Iraq and inspired terrorist attacks in the West.

    “The greater amount of angst in the military is from seeing the manifest positive results of the surge in 2007 and 2008 go to waste by misguided policies in the aftermath,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Monsoor, a top assistant to Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad during that increase of U.S. troops in Iraq.

    “Those mistakes were huge and compounded the original error of going into Iraq in the first place,” said Monsoor, now a professor of military history at Ohio State University. “There’s plenty of blame to go around. What we need is not so much blame as to figure out what happened and use that knowledge to make better decisions going forward.”

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    Photo Essay From The Diaconesses Hospital, Maternity Department, In The 12Th District Of Paris, France. Photo Essay From The Diaconesses Hospital, Maternity Department, In The 12Th District Of Paris, Franantenatal Class With A Midwife. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)

    A class on childbirth techniques is shown taking place at Diaconesses Hospital, Maternity Department, in Paris, France in 2009. Elisabeth Bing, who pioneered natural childbirth techniques and co-founded Lamaze International died on Friday in her New York home. Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

    Elisabeth Bing, the natural childbirth pioneer who co-founded Lamaze International died on Friday in her New York home. She was 100.

    “Our founder and the mother of childbirth education in America lived a very full life,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page. “She will be remembered for her perseverance, her love of families, and her deep desire to help others.”


    Lamaze International co-founder Elisabeth Bing. Credit: Lamaze International

    Known as the “mother of Lamaze,” Bing emphasized breathing and relaxation techniques as one way of easing the pain and anxiety of delivery. She authored the book “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” in 1967.

    Today, an estimated quarter of American mothers-to-be and their spouses attend Lamaze classes each year, according to the New York Times. Lamaze International has about 2,000 childbirth educators located around the world.

    A trained physical therapist, Bing became interested in childbirth in the 1950s, at a time when expectant mothers were often heavily medicated during childbirth and fathers were usually absent from the delivery room, according to the Associated Press.

    Bing wrote in a 1990 article in Lamaze Parents’ magazine about a personally pivotal moment in her career, when her own mother observed one of her childbirth classes:

    While my mother was watching my class, she suddenly spoke up near the end of the session and said, ‘I wish someone had told me all about labor and delivery, and I wish they had taught me to use my body correctly. I did not know how to help myself. And I wish someone had shown me how to relax. Nobody told me anything beforehand,’ she added. ‘I was frightened and helpless and very lonely.’

    In a 2000 interview with the Journal of Perinatal Education, Bing said she was encouraged by the doctors who supported her during her initial advocacy for childbirth techniques that gave pregnant women more agency over their own bodies.

    “These doctors were prepared to stick their necks out even though there was a lot of opposition from their colleagues at that time to ‘this crazy fad,'” she said. “I think they were uneasy about the overmedication of women and they probably had the same feeling that we had — that there must be better ways.”

    Lamaze International’s president, Robin Elise Weiss, told the AP on Saturday that Bing’s continued influence in delivery rooms across the country cannot be overestimated.

    “Even if people haven’t heard her name,” she said, “she’s impacted how they give birth.”

    The post ‘Mother of Lamaze’ Elisabeth Bing dies at 100 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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