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

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    FISH VS NUTS monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our continuing coverage of the drought in California.

    Farmers are preparing for state-ordered cuts in water use to take effect this week. They are expected to affect agriculture and people in the watershed of the San Joaquin River, which runs from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to San Francisco Bay. It’s a primary source for farms and communities.

    There are already battles over who’s using too much water.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at what you might call an omega-3 food fight among producers of well-known healthy so-called superfoods, part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense, which airs every Thursday on the NewsHour.

    PAUL SOLMAN: California salmon are under siege these days, and not just from bears hungry for heart-healthy fatty acids.

    MIKE HUDSON, Small Boat Commercial Salmon Fishermen’s Association: Last year, all our wild spawning salmon have died.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Commercial fisherman Mike Hudson has seen this before, most recently in 2008, when California’s multibillion-dollar salmon industry suddenly and totally collapsed.

    WOMAN: Just a short time ago, fishing regulators in Seattle voted to completely shut down California’s salmon season.

    MIKE HUDSON: If you wanted to see some grown men cry, you could have just come to California. We were totally shut down. We were not allowed to work.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Then, as now, California was in the midst of a multiyear drought, leaving rivers too shallow and warm for adult salmon to spawn, baby salmon to survive. But there’s a new reason for the disappearing fish, says environmental advocate Adam Scow.

    ADAM SCOW, California Director, Food and Water Watch: In the last few years, we’re seeing record-high levels of production for almonds, pistachios, walnuts, in some of the hottest driest parts of California.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Hundreds of thousands of acres of thirsty nut trees, one gallon of water per almond, five gallons per walnut, requiring the diversion of well over a trillion gallons of freshwater to the Southern Central Valley.

    ADAM SCOW: The Westlands water district is the single largest irrigation district in the United States. Ten percent of the state’s water is now going to almonds alone. As we have seen the west side almond boom grow, we have seen fish populations decline.

    PAUL SOLMAN: That’s because water pumped from California’s dams in the north to farms in the south is water diverted from the river delta that flows into San Francisco Bay, ferrying baby salmon to the ocean.

    MIKE HUDSON: Last year, the Sacramento River stopped flowing to the ocean because of, A, the drought and, B, the water diversions. When these pumps turn on, the water flow in the delta goes in the wrong direction, the fish get misled to thinking that they’re going towards the ocean, when they’re actually going to the south delta, where the hot water is, and that’s where they get killed.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But wait a minute, says walnut farmer Brent Barton. What about the water rushing through his own farm right now?

    BRENT BARTON, Walnut Farmer: That’s about four times the natural flow, and the excess is going out the delta, going out to the ocean.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And it’s going out to the ocean because?

    BRENT BARTON: My understanding is that there’s a few thousand salmon that they’re releasing this water for. For the last four years, we have had these ridiculous fish releases going on. We have drained the reservoirs.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Barton’s family has been growing walnuts in California for over a century, ever since his great grandfather Perry Barton migrated from Illinois to the town of Escalon in the Northern Central Valley.

    Brother Don Barton handles the business end of the operation, and business has been booming.

    DON BARTON, GoldRiver Orchards, Inc.: Over the last 12 years, production in California has doubled, responding to tremendous demand for our product around the world.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Especially from Asia, where the very shape of walnuts has appeal.

    Do some Chinese actually think that, because the walnut looks like a brain, it’s good for the brain?

    DON BARTON: Yes, they do. But now the great thing is that these studies that have been published just in the last few years are proving that to be true, everything from heart health, ability to reduce blood pressure, antioxidants that have an impact on breast and colorectal cancer, bone health, brain health, and so demand has just skyrocketed.

    PAUL SOLMAN: As for the supposedly exorbitant water use per nut, farmers like the Bartons reiterated what we have reported before. Per ounce of protein, it’s a lot less water than, say, raising beef.

    But, as demand climbed over these last dozen years, so did diversions from the delta, up 50 percent, from four to more than six million acre feet a year.

    MIKE HUDSON: If you imagine what a football field looks like, and then you build a water column that’s 6.5 million feet tall on the top of a football field, and you lay that on the side, it ends up in Denver, Colorado. That’s how much water we’re diverting from the delta.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Annually.

    But, as California has been drained by drought, some farmers have suffered cutbacks from the dams and aqueducts that distribute water. And just as environmentalists blame nut farmers for bleeding the fish dry, the farmers cry foul on the fish and on the feds.

    DON BARTON: Farmers in California have seen significant reductions in water since the 2009 congressional action which forced the Army Corps of Engineers to release huge amounts of water into the ocean for fish purposes. And when that occurred, the whole game changed, particularly for those guys in the southern part of the valley.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Ah, yes, water to the southern part of California’s Central Valley, long a subject of strife. The movie “Chinatown” centered on diverting water for urban use, without which Hollywood itself might never have flowered.

    ACTOR: Now, remember, we live next door to the ocean. But we also live on the edge of a desert. Los Angeles is a desert community.

    PAUL SOLMAN: But it’s not just communities like L.A. or, as recently featured in The New York Times, say, Rancho Mirage. Four times the water used by communities goes to making the desert bloom.

    The farmers grow annual crops, like fruits and vegetables, crops farmers can choose not to plant during droughts. But, increasingly, they have grown perennials, trees that, without water, will simply die, citrus trees, nut trees, and thus the backlash up and down the valley, and the protest signs lining the interstate.

    DON BARTON: If we don’t have water, we don’t have a business, we don’t have a livelihood, a way to continue to provide for our family.

    PAUL SOLMAN: To which fisherman Hudson has a nearly identical response.

    MIKE HUDSON: Our salmon fishery supports tens of thousands of good family, wage-paying jobs. That’s not only the fishermen like me, but it’s the wholesalers on the end of the dock that have people working for them, the people that work at the ice docks, the fuel docks. You know, it’s always the fight between farmers and fishermen and so forth. But I tell you what. We fish sustainable these days.

    PAUL SOLMAN: Is this basically a fight between fish farmers and nut farmers?

    DON BARTON: I would argue that this is a fight for the livelihood of farming families who have been doing this for generations.

    ADAM SCOW: It would be more convenient for them if the fish were extinct, which will happen if things continue as they are.

    PAUL SOLMAN: And, of course, more convenient for the fish and fishermen if the Central Valley would return to growing non-tree crops.

    But, for now, the fish farm food fight continues, at least until the rains return.

    This is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting for the PBS NewsHour, up and down the state of California.

    The post Fishermen and farmers fight over water in California appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    UNDER THE DOME   monitor capitol dome

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    GWEN IFILL: The fight over the president’s push for speedy action on an international trade bill moved a critical step forward today, but the Senate spent much of its day today still locked in disagreement over the outcome.

    SEN. SHERROD BROWN, D-Ohio: We’re fast-tracking this whole idea of a fast-track process. Why is that good for our country? Why is that good for our workers? Why is that good for our small manufacturers and the supply chains of all these big industries? Why is that good for our communities?

    We have waited eight years, and this has to be done today, Mr. President? Eight years, we have waited for this, and we have one full day of debate, and then the majority leader shut down the debate.

    SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Our nation’s economic health and prestige are on the line here today. The TPA bill is the only way Congress can effectively assert its priorities in our ongoing trade negotiations. It’s the only way that we can ensure that our trade negotiators can reach good deals with our trading partners.

    And it’s the only way we can ensure that our pending trade agreements even have a shot at reaching the finish line.

    GWEN IFILL: The president scored a narrow victory, as the Senate voted to move the legislation ahead, by only two votes. He called it a big step forward, but there were strings attached.

    Joining us to talk about what happened behind the scenes, and what’s up next, as Congress prepares to leave for a break, is political editor Lisa Desjardins on Capitol Hill.

    So, Lisa, tell us the significance of that vote today.

    LISA DESJARDINS: It was hugely significant, Gwen.

    In one way, this debate over trade does cast unions against large international U.S. corporations. But on a larger sense, getting past that simplistic view, it’s about the future of world commerce and the U.S. role in it. How much do you think free trade helps this country? How much does it hurt it?

    And that all collided in a very dramatic scene on the Senate floor today. This bill needed 60 votes today. And if you look at the video of what was happening, you pay attention to that one group of people there just near the desk, you can see the blue jacket. That’s Maria Cantwell. She’s a Democrat who supports free trade in general. Look for the moment when she votes yes.

    You see Mitch McConnell there convince her to vote yes. And, Gwen, in part, that’s the string you were talking about over the issue of the Export-Import Bank. Without getting to deep into it, that’s a bank that supplies loans to many American companies, including Boeing, which is in Ms. Cantwell’s district. And that was something she insisted be part of this deal, that there would be a vote to renew the Export-Import Bank, which it would otherwise expire in June.

    So we’re seeing a number of trade issues collide at one time today.

    GWEN IFILL: There were reports that the president even called people like Senator Cantwell in the Cloakroom to try to do a little arm-twisting there at the end.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. There were calls made late last night late into the night from the White House.

    And all day today, there was definitely some real arm-twisting. In the end, this bill, the fast-track trade authority, got 60 votes. And what that does is, that really clears the way for the president to get fast-track authority approval in the Senate, which ultimately could lead to this large Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that many people are watching closely.

    But, Gwen, one caution. This was a huge hurdle that the president got over today in his trade agenda today, but he faces another big one in the House, where this fast-track authority also faces some very rocky cliffs.

    GWEN IFILL: The — I want to talk about something else which the Senate has been taking up, and that is the question about privacy, security, surveillance, the NSA surveillance, which we saw Rand Paul take over the floor of the House for about 10 hours yesterday. Did that make — was there any movement on that today?

    LISA DESJARDINS: There wasn’t, Gwen, but it’s something we need to watch carefully over the next 24 hours, maybe even over the next two or three hours, because the truth, is, the way it stands right now, that some key provisions of the Patriot Act, including that provision allowing bulk collection of phone data, those are set to expire at the end of the month.

    With the Senate, as you said, getting ready to leave town, they need to deal with it if those provisions are going to stay intact, if the Patriot Act will live. Now, what the problem is, is that the House has passed a version that excludes that phone metadata power.

    There’s great debate in the Senate whether intelligence agencies need to have that kind of broad power or not, and it seems, Gwen, at this moment, there aren’t votes for any kind of deal, whether to drop that collection ability or to just pass a temporary two-month extension. Neither one has enough support to make it in the Senate at this moment.

    So we know that the Senate Intelligence chairman, the Associated Press reports, is trying to work out a compromise. Stay tuned. This could easily go into the weekend.

    GWEN IFILL: And we’re still waiting on action on transportation and other issues as well.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. That’s right.

    GWEN IFILL: Lisa Desjardins for us up on Capitol Hill tonight, thank you.

    LISA DESJARDINS: You got it.

    The post Obama’s trade bill narrowly clears Senate, but then hurdles remain appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An image of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara is seen on a street in Havana

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials from the U.S. and Cuba resumed talks today in Washington. They’re trying to iron out the details of reestablishing diplomatic relations, which were broken off more than 50 years ago.

    At issue today, what it will take to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals? In December, Presidents Obama and Castro announced that they reestablish ties. And meeting in Panama, they reaffirmed that commitment.

    Our own Jeffrey Brown is in Cuba all this week, reporting on what the opening up of that country means for them. And chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has been following the progress of the talks here.

    And we welcome both of you.

    So, Margaret, you have been following these talks. What’s the latest?

    MARGARET WARNER: The latest is, Judy, that they have wrapped up for the day and there is still no deal. Now, this is the fourth time they have met over the fairly confined issue of opening up embassies in each other’s capitals. And it’s proved tougher than they thought.

    That said, apparently, things went encouragingly enough today that the two negotiators, Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary, and her counterpart from Cuba, are having back-to-back news conferences tomorrow morning here in Washington. But then Ms. Vidal is returning to Havana.

    There is some concern among U.S. officials that Cuba may be dragging its feet here a bit. Cuba has gotten what it wanted here, which was to have the president take it off the state sponsors of terrorism list and also help in finding a U.S. bank that was willing to handle Cuban money for the interests section.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    MARGARET WARNER: The U.S., however, has not gotten satisfaction on what it wants to reopen an embassy, which is that U.S. diplomats can travel around the country to Cuba, two, that they can receive equipment and documents and secure containers.

    And, then, three, President Castro threw in a new issue last week, in which he was very critical of these pro-democracy programs that the U.S. runs out of the interests section, which trains independent journalists, for example.

    So if you look at what’s tying those issues together, there is a bit of paranoia on the part of the Cuban government officials that the U.S. is going to use this access to stir up dissent in Cuba. And though President Obama says it’s not going to try to change the political system in Cuba, given the history, there is perhaps understandable concern on the Cubans’ part.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it’s not just the opening of the embassy.

    MARGARET WARNER: No.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s what would happen with that embassy being there.

    So, Jeff, you have been in Havana for the last few days. Are people talking about it? Are they aware of these negotiations going on and what are they saying about it?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, very much so, Judy. Everyone’s paying attention here.

    Even today, just talking to people on the street, they were aware of watching the news and following even these talks that Margaret’s talking about in Washington. And everybody talks about what happened since December. Any number of people said they never expected this kind of thing to happen in their lifetimes.

    Everybody talks about it with real hope, actually, caution, but hope. And the hope is really around two important things, the economy. The economy is really bad here. People are — people scrounging for a living. They’re hoping that the opening can make a real difference. We heard that from any number of people.

    The other thing is just the sense of isolation. Remember, this is how people have lived with the embargo and with this isolation from the U.S. and from much of the world for so long that we hear about the possibility for opening that up.

    Here’s a couple of people, some clips of some people we talked to just in the last day or two. One is a woman who runs a small craft shop, which is, of course, in itself, another sign of what’s happening here in Cuba, opening up a little to the private Margaret. And the second is a young man who’s an athlete who’s interested in travel and he thinks maybe there will some hope for that.

    What do you think about U.S. and Cuba relations now?

    MADELINE SUAREZ: I think it’s perfect. It’s amazing, this opportunity that we have here to meet people that, for 56 years, we haven’t been in touch with each other. So it’s beautiful to know each other and start relationships.

    MAN (through interpreter): For many years, we have thought this should be resolved. It is very good to improve relations, so that everything flows better. The society improves, the blockade, all these things that have been affecting us many years.

    JEFFREY BROWN: You hear the optimism, but also there is real caution about what exactly is going to happen, how fast it can — it will happen and how far it will go.

    And I should say, one thing that ties a lot of this together is the Internet. Everybody talks about how disconnected this place is, whether you’re just trying to communicate around the world or whether you’re trying to have a business. And we feel it here. You’re very disconnected. Opening of the Internet would be a real opening in this — for this island.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Margaret, listening to what these people are saying, are these expectations that can be fulfilled by these talks, these negotiations?

    MARGARET WARNER: Well, down the line, yes, Judy, but it’s interesting that they focused on a couple things that in fact either Congress or the president has eased restrictions on.

    So, one is Internet/telecommunications. Congress decided a number of years ago. It was sort of all a part of, let’s expose the Cuban people to more information. So the president then announced that restrictions — any restrictions on American companies going down, you know, Verizon, AT&T, whoever, to help set up a real infrastructure for the Internet would be relaxed and these American companies could do it.

    But, as Jeff indicated, only 5 percent of this island even has Internet penetration, only 5 percent of its citizens. And so American companies who — and they desperately need foreign investment, on the other hand, to help the economy. Well, American companies have said, we can’t run a business out of here without high-speed Internet access.

    And the Cubans know that. At the same time, it is a means of control, both of political thought and also frankly of business, of just knowing what everybody is doing. And the second thing that was — Jeff seemed to mention was tourism. And there again, large-scale tourism, the big hotels are all owned, apparently, by the son-in-law of President Raul Castro.

    And the idea that big American firms can go in there and establish big-scale tourist facilities is still a long way off. And so, yes, Airbnb has got 2,000 sign-ups from people with rooms in their private homes, but it’s a way to go.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Jeff, you were telling me earlier that whatever happens from these talks, things are already changing in Cuba.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I mean, you can sort of see it on the streets. You see fewer of the revolutionary slogans than you used to see, I’m told.

    You see a lot of — I happen to be here in a very festive time. There’s a lot of tourists, including a lot of American tourists. We have been told that a lot of people, a lot of interests coming right after December. The Minnesota Orchestra was just here, a big cultural exchange. The Havana biennial, one of the reasons I’m here, is — is on, a big international festival.

    So, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of energy. At the same time, though, the kinds of things Margaret was just talking about, the infrastructure problem is just so obvious here. And the Internet, we have talked about. The hotel space, there’s just not that much if they’re going to start having people, the banking system, credit cards. We can’t use our credit cards here.

    Getting around, those old cars, yes, they’re on the street, and it’s — they look great, but it’s a sign of how poor people are here, that there’s not that many cars available to people. So, all kinds of, as I said, hope for what’s possible here, but it’s so obvious to see just walking around, in a very beautiful city you can see behind me, but one that is crumbling in many ways as well.

    So, many questions about what’s to come — even if it did open to some development, the kinds of things Margaret was just talking about, who would come in and take over those things? What’s the future of this city and this country? Big questions.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So many contrasts.

    Jeffrey Brown reporting all this week from Havana, Margaret here in Washington, thank you both.

    MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Judy.

    The post Is Cuba ready for the big business, tourism that U.S. will bring? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A view of vehicle wreckages after a suicide car bomber blew himself at a checkpoint near Mistrata

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    GWEN IFILL: For more on this, I’m joined by Feisal Istrabadi. He was Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations 2004 to 2007. And David Ignatius, a foreign policy columnist for The Washington Post.

    David, the president today in that interview that was published today described the fall of Ramadi as a tactical setback. Is it?

    DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post: I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a symbol that the strategy that the U.S. has been pursuing or encouraging Iraq to pursue for the last year — Mosul was overrun in June of last year — simply isn’t working in reaching out to Sunnis, helping Sunnis push ISIS out of big cities like Mosul and now Ramadi, Fallujah, which is next to Baghdad.

    Somehow, the administration has to find a way to help or push Abadi to reach out to the rest of his country. Otherwise, it looks to me as if these Sunni areas are gone.

    GWEN IFILL: Do you think the problem lies with Abadi?

    DAVID IGNATIUS: I think Abadi wants to do the right thing. He certainly tells U.S. officials often that he’s trying to reach out to Sunnis, but, for a year, the U.S. has been trying to encourage Iraq to pass a law that would provide money and training and weapons for a Sunni national guard that could be effective in places like Ramadi, like Mosul, in turning back these Islamic fighters.

    That legislation still has not been passed. And Abadi needs help and needs to be prodded. If the legislation isn’t passed and the weapons and training don’t come, there are no Sunni fighters.

    GWEN IFILL: Feisal Istrabadi, is this a question of underestimating the strength of ISIS, not only by the United States, but also by the Iraqi government itself?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI, Former Deputy UN Ambassador, Iraq: Well, that may very well be, although the stunning success that it had a year ago in taking Mosul in four hours should have focused all of our minds rather discretely.

    I think that Mr. Ignatius is right, that there is not a — well, a year ago, the administration was right to say that it would only support the Iraqi government if political changes were made. It recognized then that political changes needed to be made on the ground in Iraq. Over that time, over the past year, it has not done enough, in my judgment, to insist upon that political accommodation being made and has focused too much on the military aspect of this engagement, and not enough on the political reforms that are needed, specifically things like reconciliation and some of the things that David Ignatius talked about a few moments ago.

    GWEN IFILL: But I wonder — and I will start with you and I will ask David this as well — I wonder if this doesn’t also speak to a disconnect in U.S. policy toward ISIS or toward defeating ISIS?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: It’s not clear to me.

    The spokesman said if there’s a change of strategy, tell us what it is. A change of strategy suggests there is a strategy. I don’t see a strategy that deals with — that concerns with dealing wit with ISIL overall. There is some sort of strategy for dealing with it in Iraq. I’m not sure there is one in Syria. And Libya is another problem altogether.

    There doesn’t — ISIL seems to have a strategy. They are metastasizing. But it isn’t clear to me that the United States or indeed the Western alliance or the regional powers in fact have a strategy of confronting ISIL as such.

    GWEN IFILL: David Ignatius, what about that?

    DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I think Mr. Istrabadi is right that the U.S. strategy has been that Iraq should come first. It’s very hard to understand just what our strategy is in Syria, frankly, and on Iraq that this is Iraq’s war, that the role of the United States is to help Iraq, to arm, train, support, provide air support, but this has to be Iraq’s war.

    I think President Obama, frankly, is reading the United States public correctly in judging that the country just isn’t ready to send a big ground army back into Iraq.

    GWEN IFILL: Even though there are 3,000 American advisers on the ground.

    DAVID IGNATIUS: There are 3,000 American advisers, but there are limits on the American role. I wish that those advisers were leaning harder into the fight, because I think that would help embolden the Iraqi forces, on whom we are depending.

    But we have to look at what’s happened in the last week. I think the only judgment you can make is that what we’re doing now isn’t working. Important territory is being lost. And the president, if he wants to stick with his strategy, he has to be tougher about implementing it with Iraqis, with the American military that is providing the support. A whole series of things have to be stepped up, or we’re going to see more reversals.

    GWEN IFILL: Feisal Istrabadi, to what degree is Iran a complicating factor in all of this?

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: Well, I mean, Iran is a complicating factor.

    On the other hand, Iran is also engaged in the fight against ISIL for reasons of its own that include a desire not to see a reasonably friendly government in Baghdad falling. But it also includes its desire not to have ISIL’s ideology spread in the region where it lives.

    So, there is an opportunity for cooperation with Iran. ISIL is a common enemy. And I think we are at a point where the enemy of my enemy is close enough to being my friend at least.

    GWEN IFILL: Is this kind of instability — and, of course, there’s a lot of argument against the idea of the U.S. being friends with the enemy of their enemy — but does this kind of instability make it more difficult for the U.S. to accomplish other goals, like getting this nuclear deal?

    DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, I think the U.S. has been careful not to go too far in attacking Iran’s allies, in particular in attacking Hezbollah forces in Syria, which have been propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

    But the U.S. has to be careful. If our strategy depends on Sunnis doing the fighting to clear Mosul and Ramadi — and, as near as I can tell, that is the strategy — then you have to be careful that Sunnis don’t perceive the U.S. to be operating arm in arm with Iran or with Iranian-backed Shiite militias that Abadi — Prime Minister Abadi is using in Iraq, so that, in effect, we’re fronting for Iran.

    That’s a recipe for more Sunnis moving toward ISIS and away from the coalition.

    GWEN IFILL: Feisal Istrabadi, it sounds like between a rock and a hard place once again.

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: I’m afraid so.

    And, of course, Mr. Ignatius is right on that last point. It has to be a very delicate balancing act. The fact is, I believe, that there is at least de facto cooperation between United States and Iran, at least in Iraq. And I think, if nothing else, it’s a realization that they are a factor, they will be a factor. And on this one, at least, they’re on the same side.

    The militias are a problem, because the militias may well be driving people to the wrong side in places like Anbar. I’m not sure Abadi is so much using the militias as having them foisted on him. And that is a — that itself is a complicating factor.

    GWEN IFILL: Feisal Istrabadi, David Ignatius, thank you both very much.

    FEISAL ISTRABADI: Thank you.

    The post What can the U.S. do to stop the Islamic State? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad

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    GWEN IFILL: After a week in which the Islamic State group made dramatic gains in three countries, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, there were new doubts in Washington over whether they can be stopped.

    ISIS fighters trumpeted their conquest of ancient Palmyra in Central Syria after days of fighting. And Syrian state TV confirmed it.

    WOMAN (through interpreter): Syrian national defense forces have withdrawn from Palmyra. Islamic State fighters have entered the city in big numbers and are trying to enter archaeological sites.

    GWEN IFILL: Syrian activists reported the militants had, in fact, already seized the world-renowned Roman ruins just outside Palmyra. The site is famous for its 2,000-year-old colonnades and other antiquities.

    And there are fears that ISIS extremists will destroy them, as they have done in Iraq. The head of the global cultural agency UNESCO pleaded today for a cease-fire.

    IRINA BOKOVA, Director-General, UNESCO: Destroying heritage will not achieve anything. Destroying such heritage doesn’t mean that you achieve some kind of a victory over your enemy.

    GWEN IFILL: But the seizure of Palmyra does mean that ISIS now controls even more Syrian territory. And hundreds of miles to the east, in Iraq, the militants today followed up their capture of Ramadi by overrunning Iraqi military positions east of the city.

    The group also scored gains in faraway Libya, taking the city of Sirte, hometown of former leader Moammar Gadhafi. The cascade of ISIS victories raised new questions about U.S. reliance on airstrikes to defeat the militants. That issue dominated a Senate hearing, where lawmakers and witnesses took turns blasting the administration.

    SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: While it’s still unclear what President Obama is willing to do in Syria, it is clear our partners do not draw confidence from statements of what we will not do.

    GEN. JACK KEANE (RET.), U.S. Army: We are not only failing. We are, in fact, losing this war. Moreover, I can say with certainty that this strategy will not defeat ISIS.

    GWEN IFILL: The president didn’t respond directly, as he met with his Cabinet. But in an interview conducted earlier this week with The Atlantic, he offered an appraisal of the situation in Iraq, saying: “I don’t think we’re losing. Baghdad is consolidated. And ISIL has been significantly degraded across the country.”

    At today’s White House briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest spoke directly to what will, and won’t, happen next.

    JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: But the president is not going to be in a position where he’s going to consider a large-scale U.S. military deployment. And for those who are calling on a change in strategy, I would encourage them to be specific.

    GWEN IFILL: There was word that the U.S. is sending 2,000 anti-tank rockets to Iraq’s military to target suicide car bombers before they strike.

    The post Islamic State expands territory in Syria, Iraq and Libya appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 6.23.07 PM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Coast Guard and the state of California called in more help today to clean up an oil spill that’s fouled nine miles of coastline near Santa Barbara. Officials now say 100,000 gallons may have leaked from a ruptured pipeline on Tuesday. Several hundred workers have labored to collect about 20,000 gallons that reached the sea.

    And, overnight, Governor Jerry Brown declared a local emergency, making more crews and gear available for as long as it takes.

    CAPT. JENNIFER WILLIAMS, U.S. Coast Guard: The cleanup operations generally do take time, and you may see some progress early on, maybe in the first week or two, where you can actually see progress being made on the beach. But these types of things continue on perhaps even for months.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Environmental effects of the spill are still being assessed, but some birds have been oiled, and the area is closed to fishing and shellfish harvesting.

    GWEN IFILL: The head of the Boy Scouts of America called today for dropping a ban on gay Scout masters. Robert Gates, a former secretary of defense, addressed the Scouts’ national meeting, in Atlanta.

    ROBERT GATES, President, Boy Scouts of America: I must speak as plainly and as bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was director of the CIA and secretary of defense. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our members — in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.

    GWEN IFILL: Gates suggested the policy should be reversed soon to let local chapters decide for themselves.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Malaysia and Indonesia announced today that they will actively search for stranded boats filled with refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh. For weeks, thousands of the migrants have been turned away from landing and left to drift at sea. But today came word that policy is changing, at least for now.

    ADE SUPANDI, Navy Chief, Indonesia (through interpreter): The navy will defer to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on this matter. The Foreign Ministry discussed it and, for now, as long as the migrants are in difficulty and in need of help, we will help.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Malaysia and Indonesia had already announced they will give temporary shelter to migrants who reach shore.

    GWEN IFILL: In Burundi, at least two people died in pitched street battles, as a political crisis deepened in the African nation. Police fired tear gas and live bullets at protesters, who ignored the president’s call for calm. They oppose his quest for a third term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, a grand jury in Baltimore indicted six policemen on a battery of charges in the death of Freddie Gray. They’re similar to the charges already filed by the state’s attorney. Gray died last month after suffering a severe spinal injury in custody.

    GWEN IFILL: The man who maneuvered a gyrocopter onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol pleaded not guilty to a string of charges today. Douglas Hughes appeared in federal court in Washington. This cell phone video showed the former postal carrier flying up the National Mall and landing on the Capitol lawn in April. He said he was protesting big money in politics.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On Wall Street, stocks advanced inch by inch. The Dow Jones industrial average gained a third-of-a-point to close near 18,290. The Nasdaq rose 19 points, and the S&P 500 added 5.

    The post News Wrap: Coast Guard says California oil spill cleanup may take months appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video still by PBS NewsHour

    Video still by PBS NewsHour

    WASHINGTON — The fate of the bulk collection of American phone records by the National Security Agency is now before the Senate, in what is increasingly looking like a game of legislative chicken.

    The Senate is expected to decide Friday what to do with the oft-debated measure.

    The House has left town, having passed a bill to end NSA’s collection of domestic phone metadata, while replacing it with case-by-case searches and extending two other expiring surveillance provisions used by the FBI to pursue suspected spies and terrorists. The president and his top law enforcement officials are urging the Senate to pass the House bill, known as the USA Freedom Act. So are Democrats and Republicans in the House.

    If the Senate doesn’t act, the laws authorizing the programs will expire June 1, and officials say they will lose valuable surveillance tools. Friday is the last day of congressional business before then.

    But key Republican senators continue to resist. One, Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, floated an alternative plan Thursday afternoon that would essentially dare the House to reject it, allowing the legal authorities to expire.

    “I don’t think anyone in the House wants it to go dead,” he told reporters.

    Burr predicted the House’s USA Freedom Act would fail to break the 60-vote threshold needed to end debate in the Senate, and he envisioned the same fate for a two-month extension of current law proposed by Senate leaders. As a compromise, he proposes that the Senate vote to extend current law between 5 days and a month.

    Alongside that, he said, he would introduce a bill to end NSA’s bulk collection of phone records after a two-year transition period, up from six months in the House bill.

    The Senate would then depart, leaving it up to the House to take or leave the Senate proposal when House members return June 1.

    Burr and other GOP senators worry that six months does not allow enough time for the NSA to make a smooth transition, and believe two years would be better.

    But in a conference call with reporters, senior Obama administration officials disputed that view, saying NSA chief Mike Rogers has endorsed six months as sufficient. They spoke under ground rules that they not be named.

    The officials were adamant that if the Senate failed to pass the USA Freedom Act, the phone records program and other counterterrorism surveillance would be in jeopardy. They noted that a federal appeals court recently ruled that the program was illegal but kept it in place only because Congress was debating changes.

    They said they had been making their case to senators, but they worried that some did not understand “the risk of doing anything other than passing the USA Freedom Act,” as one put it.

    Video by PBS NewsHour

    “I am very concerned that the American people will be unprotected if this law expires,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an interview with CBS News.

    If senators fail to act, the NSA will begin winding down the phone records program this week, the Justice Department said.

    Earlier Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California appealed for Senate consideration of the USA Freedom Act, which their chamber passed 338-88 last week.

    That bill would end the NSA’s collection and storage of domestic calling records after a 180-day transition period. But it would preserve the agency’s ability to query phone company records in search of domestic connections to international terrorists. The House measure also would renew two unrelated surveillance powers commonly used by the FBI to track spies and terrorists.

    The surveillance authorities expire at midnight May 31. One makes it easier for the FBI to track “lone wolf” terrorism suspects, and another allows the government to eavesdrop on suspects who continuously discard their cell phones in an effort to avoid surveillance. If that were to happen, FBI Director James Comey said it would set back the bureau at a time when domestic threats are on the rise.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he would allow a vote on the House bill and on his plan for a two-month extension of the current law. Burr’s proposal might result in a third vote.

    White House press secretary Josh Earnest called on senators to pass the NSA bill, which he called “a reasonable compromise,” before leaving town on their weeklong break for Memorial Day.


    Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram and Charles Babington contributed to this report.

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    A sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C.  Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

    A sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington, D.C. Photo by Karen Gleier/Getty Images

    DENVER — Construction crews are returning to work at the veterans hospital outside Denver after a last-minute deal with congressional leaders avoided a shutdown of the half-finished project.

    But the really heavy lifting will be done 1,500 miles away in Washington.

    The U.S. House agreed Thursday to raise the project’s spending cap by $100 million, enough to continue work for three weeks. The Senate is expected to act Friday.

    Congress and the Veterans Affairs Department still must find up to $830 million to finish the vastly over-budget hospital without taking services away from veterans elsewhere and possibly scale back the project.

    The VA also must persuade skeptical lawmakers that it’s serious about punishing those responsible for the problems and making internal changes to avoid a repeat.

    “They’ve been offering us crumbs of reform,” said Tyler Sandberg, a spokesman for Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman. “We want the whole loaf.”

    The hospital in suburban Aurora is expected to cost $1.73 billion, nearly three times the estimate the VA gave last year. The VA said Monday that it was nearing the $800 million spending cap Congress put on the project and work would have to stop next week if Congress didn’t act.

    Contractor Kiewit-Turner said winding down the work and then cranking it up again would add up to $200 million to the cost.

    The deal reached Thursday doesn’t give the VA any additional money but allows it to spend funds it has on hand. It raises the spending cap to $900 million, enough for three weeks of work.

    That means the VA and Congress have three weeks to work out a long-term deal or again face a shutdown.

    “I’m pleased the House finally acted to avoid a shutdown on this project,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. “But I’m not pleased we will continue to kick the can down the road.”

    The ambitious, 184-bed medical center is a collection of a dozen large interconnected buildings that would replace an old, overcrowded facility operating in Denver.

    The reasons the costs escalated so sharply have yet to be fully explained. The VA has said the plans weren’t complete when work began, and VA construction executives tried to switch to a different design-and-build process too late.

    At least two internal VA investigations are underway, and the department says all the key executives on the project have been replaced — some were demoted or transferred, and another retired a day after investigators interviewed him under oath. But no one has been fired, angering many in Congress.

    The VA wanted to finish the project with money siphoned from a $5 billion fund Congress set up to resolve an embarrassing national scandal — long wait times for veterans to get health care. Lawmakers balked, saying the VA needed to come up with a different funding plan that didn’t deny services to other veterans or raise the federal deficit.

    “Veterans elsewhere cannot be forced to sacrifice just because of the catastrophe here,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in Aurora last month.

    Coffman suggested diverting the VA’s multimillion-dollar bonus budget to the Denver hospital. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson called that “a lousy idea.”

    Congress also wants the VA to make major internal changes to avoid a repeat — perhaps turning over responsibility for major construction projects to the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Veterans expressed relief that a deal was reached.

    “The veterans are the ones that would be hurt if the project got shut down,” said Steven Rylant, president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, a coalition of veterans groups.

    The committee is not taking a position on where the money should come from, said Rylant, who often sports a button that says “BTDT,” which stands for “Build the damn thing.”

    “Seems like there ought to be $1 billion or $600 million somewhere,” he said.

    The post VA must find millions to finish troubled Denver hospital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Robot couple Xiaolan (L) and Xiaotao carry trays of food at a restaurant in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, May 18, 2015. The restaurant, which opened on Monday has two robots delivering food for customers. The robots were designed as a couple, Xiaolan and Xiaotao, according to local media. Photo by Reuters

    Automation has long been a part of the service industry, but how much will robots contribute the white collar world? Photo by Reuters

    Martin Ford bookOver the past 20 years, we’ve seen plenty of blue collar jobs outsourced to machines — from auto assembly to customer service. Now, as computers, equipped with artificial intelligence, increasingly take over “information jobs,” tasks that were once reserved for skilled, college-educated white collar professionals are vulnerable. That’s the argument made by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford in a new book, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.”

    He spoke with us for a story that aired on Wednesday on the PBS NewsHour about the economic impact of artificial intelligence. It’s part of a series about the rapid advance of AI and how it’s affecting society.

    We asked Ford to give us three examples of white collar jobs that are ripe for automation. Pharmacists, attorneys and one close to our hearts — journalists. All three of these professions have already been transformed in profound ways most of us may not even realize.

    Pharmacists:

    A pharmacist selects drugs for chemotherapy treatment in the pharmacy at Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Centre in Nice October 18, 2012. Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    A pharmacist selects drugs for chemotherapy treatment. Automation likely would make this task more efficient. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    “There is already a big impact on pharmacies. You have massive machines in hospitals that automate the whole process internally — and you’ve also got smaller machines about the size of a vending machine that are being deployed in pharmacies, so it’s already having a big impact,” Ford says.

    In a promotional video, Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, dean of the UCSF School of Pharmacy, explains how the technology allows her staff to focus more of their expertise on direct patient care: “Automated medication dispensing frees pharmacists from the mechanical aspects of the practice.”

    But Ford says that will change. “Right now, it may be true that a lot of pharmacists still have their jobs because we have laws and regulations that require them to be there. It takes a great deal of training and education to be a pharmacist, but what they do is fundamentally routine and it’s really geared toward producing a very consistent reliable result and that’s the kind of work that’s ideally suited to automation.”

    UCSF says another major goal of an automated pharmacy is patient safety — pointing to “studies that have shown that technology can help reduce errors.”

    You might remember Bob Wachter from part 2 of our series on AI. He is associate chair of UCSF’s medical school and author of “The Digital Doctor.” He warns of fatal implications that can result from an over-reliance on computers, citing the example of Pablo Garcia, a teenage patient at UCSF who survived after he was given 39 times the amount of antibiotics he should have received.

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

    So, was the error the fault of the humans or the machines — or is it a combination of the two?

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

    Attorneys:

    Attorney Charles Cooper argues for supporting California's Proposition 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013.  Two members of the U.S. Supreme Court, both viewed as potential swing votes on the right of gay couples to marry, raised doubts about California's gay marriage ban on Tuesday as they questioned the lawyer defending the ban. Photo by Art Lien/Reuters

    It’s unlikely the Justices would respond to a robot. Here, attorney Charles Cooper argues before the Supreme Court in this 2013 drawing. Photo by Art Lien/Reuters

    “We are already seeing an impact in fields like law, with entry level and paralegal jobs which involve document review. It used to be a manual process. They had to read through documents. Now that’s done algorithmically using artificial intelligence.”

    Though it’s unlikely we’ll see robots litigating in courtrooms any time soon, Ford says that some highly billable work normally reserved for seasoned attorneys is in the process of being automated.

    “There’s a new emerging technology called quantitative legal prediction. It turns out that experienced lawyers often add a lot of value by making predictions. They’ll do things like tell you what is the likelihood you’re going to win a case, or that the case will be overturned on appeal, for example. It generally takes a lot of judgement and experience to make those kinds of predictions, but these algorithms can actually out-perform even the most experienced lawyers by just looking at lots and lots of data.”

    Journalists:

    A foreign journalist raises her hand to ask a question during a news conference with Jiang Weixin, minister and secretary of the CPC Leadership Group of the Ministry of Housing And Urban-Rural Development, during the 18th National Party Congress (NPC) in Beijing November 12, 2012. At the last congress in 2007, top officials took one-on-one interviews, overseas reporters were encouraged to ask questions on whatever subject they wished and government media handlers went out of their way to be helpful, hoping to burnish China's global image ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. This year, while economic officials and business leaders have generally been willing to talk, provincial leaders and rising political stars have largely shunned international media, and in some cases tried to avoid talking in public at all. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    But would a robot ask the tough questions? Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    We journalists are not immune from displacement by automation either. Using computer algorithms, companies like Narrative Science and Automated Insights are already generating journalistic stories for clients like Forbes, covering topics that include business, sports and politics.

    In his book, Ford writes, “The company’s software generates a news story approximately every 30 seconds, and many of these are published on widely known websites that prefer not to acknowledge their use of the service.”

    He explained to us, “Essentially what they do is they tap into some sort of data stream and they are able to analyze that data and tease out what’s most interesting and create a compelling narrative based on that and actually write a story. They’re getting more and more sophisticated; it’s not something that’s just purely formulaic where you just plug numbers into a set template; it’s already gone beyond that and it’s getting better and better.”

    It’s unlikely machines will ever be able to replace the type of analysis we get from Mark Shields and David Brooks, but it might be possible that our news summary could one day be an automatically collated compendium of geo-located video shot by viewers like you.

    How to learn to stop worrying and embrace the robot

    If all of this seems a little frightening, you might take heart listening to Ray Kurzweil. He’s director of engineering at Google, and inventor of technologies like the flatbed scanner. He says we shouldn’t feel threatened by AI.

    “You can point to jobs that are going to go away from automation, but don’t worry, we’re going to invent new jobs. People say, ‘What new jobs?’ I don’t know. They haven’t been invented yet. Sixty-five percent of Americans today work at information jobs that didn’t exist 25 years ago, two-thirds of the population in 1900 worked either on farms or on factories. Today that’s 2 percent and 2 percent. If I had said a century ago, ‘Well, don’t worry you can get jobs developing websites and apps and doing information jobs of various kind,’ people wouldn’t know what I was talking about. We’re constantly inventing new things to do with our time, but you can’t really define that because the future hasn’t been invented yet.”

    Kurzweil, who was awarded a technical Grammy this year for his invention of the first computer-based instrument that could realistically re-create the musical response of a grand piano, says humans have other unique advantages over machines.

    “At the very highest level, we have things like language and art and creativity, being funny, being able to create new types of knowledge, music. No other animal actually creates music or humor. That’s what we value about human beings.”

    By combining human and machine intelligence, we will reach new heights. “I think we have the opportunity to actually be more emotional in the better sense of the word by enhancing our intelligence, and we already have AIs that can relieve us of doing tedious kinds of thinking and can focus more on creativity. We’ll be funnier. We’ll be better at expressing loving sentiments. I think it will enhance the better values of humanity.”

    So, we might be out of work, but at least we’ll have a good sense of humor about it.

    Watch all the videos in our series, “Thinking Machines,” in the playlist below:

    The post 3 white collar jobs that robots are already mastering appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    An employee plays the video game Pac-Man (1980) during an exhibition preview featuring 14 video games acquired by The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  in New York, March 1, 2013. The MoMA acquired 14 video games entering its collection as part of an ongoing research on interaction design. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

    An employee plays Pac-Man during an exhibition preview featuring 14 video games acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, March 1, 2013. The video game turns 35 today. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

    Today marks 35 years since Pac-Man debuted at a movie theater in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. Since then, the game has become one of the most popular of all time, producing more than eight other versions, a television series and more than 400 products. A few facts to think about the next time you’re playing Pac-Man at your local laundromat or on Google Maps:

    1. The game’s creators did not expect the game to be popular.

    Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man’s game designer who worked for Japanese software company Namco at the time, said he expected its relatively slow pace to repel players in the U.S. and Europe. “At that time, what was popular overseas were more thrilling games, and I felt that perhaps the rhythm of Pac-Man wasn’t matching the needs of overseas users,” he said in an interview with Wired.com.

    2. The game was inspired by food and created to attract female players.

    At the time the game was created, video games centered on violence and were marketed primarily at men, Iwatani said. Iwatani wanted to create a game that would attract female players, and according to him, the way to do so was by focusing on dessert. “I decided to theme the game around ‘eating’ — after eating dinner, women like to have dessert,’” he told Wired. Iwatani has been criticized for that statement, including by feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian, who noted, “Luckily, Iwatani’s regressive personal or cultural notions about women are not reflected in the finished game itself.”

    3. The game’s creators did not receive any special rewards for its creation.

    Iwatani described his company’s reaction to the game in an interview with VH1 Games in 2007, saying: “I’m not sure if I should mention this or not. Well, um, the truth of the matter is, there were no rewards per se for the success of Pac-Man. I was just an employee. There was no change in my salary, no bonus, no official citation of any kind.”

    4. The ghosts have different personalities.

    The four ghosts, named Blinky, Pinky, Winky and Clyde, were each created with distinct “personalities” to keep the game from being too monotonous, Iwatani has said. The four ghosts have alternate names, respectively, of Shadow, Speedy, Bashful and Pokey, which reflects their behaviors in the game.

    5. It’s not just for humans

    A 2000 episode of “Champions of the Wild,” a television show that ran 1997-2002, appears to show a bonobo named Kanzi playing Pac-Man. Kanzi currently lives at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa.

    6. An early version of Ms. Pac-Man featured a character called Crazy Otto.

    When MIT students Doug Macrae and Kevin Curran designed an extension for Pac-Man called Crazy Otto, they unwittingly created the first version of Ms. Pac-Man. Macrae and Curran’s game originally created Crazy Otto as an enhancement kit to Pac-Man and sold it to Pac-Man’s distributor Midway. The team changed the name to Pac-Woman and then Miss Pac-Man, but that name drew doubts from the company since an animation between levels showed the couple having a baby (apparently out of wedlock). As a result, the team settled on Ms. Pac-Man.

    7. Time Magazine accidentally published a picture of Crazy Otto, Ms. Pac-Man’s predecessor, in 1981.

    In an article on video games in 1981, Time published a photo of a Crazy Otto game and labeled it as Pac-Man before the game had been released, according to Macrae. At the time, there was only one Crazy Otto game on display at an arcade in Framingham, Massachusetts. “The reporter, or the cameraman for that reporter, happened to go into that arcade, take a picture, pay no attention to it and it got published in Time Magazine,” Macrae said in a speech at annual game show California Extreme in 2010.

    8. Ms. Pac-Man is a divisive figure.

    The voluptuous Ms. Pac-Man. Photo by Flickr user Shawn Rossi

    The voluptuous Ms. Pac-Man. Photo by Flickr user Shawn Rossi

    Ms. Pac-Man is widely considered the first female protagonist of a popular video game, but also one of the most divisive. Sarkeesian criticized the Ms. Pac-Man game for perpetuating the “Ms. Male” trope in video games, saying that Ms. Pac-Man as a character relies on the existence of Pac-Man, a male default. But others have celebrated the character. In a segment for The Daily Show, Kristen Schaal said, “Ms. Pac-Man is a feminist hero. She didn’t subscribe to your patriarchal idea of what a woman’s body should look like. She ate whatever she wanted: pineapples, pretzels, ghosts…”

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    Ruby Corado, a Washington, D.C., activist, stands in the garden of a group house she opened for LGBT youth in May. Teens can live in the house for up to 18 months while they seek a more permanent home, schooling or a job. Photo by Eric Krupke.

    Ruby Corado, a Washington, D.C., activist, stands in the garden of a group house she opened for LGBT youth in May. Teens can live in the house for up to 18 months while they seek a more permanent home, schooling or a job. Photo by Eric Krupke.

    It’s hard to say how many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth are homeless in the U.S. But one townhouse in Washington, D.C., decorated with rainbow pinwheels and inspirational messages, is offering a place where the teens can go to stay off the streets.

    Researchers estimate that 20 percent to 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as LGBT, while they make up only 4 percent to 10 percent of the general population. And when it comes to resources for these vulnerable youth, there are few options.

    Ruby Corado’s group house for LGBT youth in Washington opened in May to youth ages 18-24, and is already full. Corado, an activist who founded Casa Ruby — a drop-in center for LGBT youth — said demand for the 10 beds in the row house has been huge. “I wish I had 20 houses to put everyone in,” she said.

    Corado, herself transgender, said many of the youth she serves have families that have rejected them for their gender identity or sexual orientation. “We grow up in homes where there is no understanding of what transgender is, and the only information that is out there is that it’s not good,” she said. “Many parents don’t want something wrong in their homes so they just get rid of that.”

    Starting the group house had been a dream of Corado’s for years, ever since she became homeless as a young transgender woman.

    Although there are other resources for D.C.’s homeless, LGBT and gender non-conforming people don’t always have the same access. “If someone tries to go to a female shelter as a trans woman they literally tell you you can’t sleep there because you’re not female,” Corado said. “And then when you go to the male shelter, they do take you, but again, they put you in dangerous conditions where you don’t want to go to the shelter. That is why you end up on the streets.”

    Percy Cramer, 25, is a full-time employee at the group house. He helps coordinate residents' schedules, which include group sessions, personal activities and meals. Photo by Eric Krupke

    Percy Cramer, 25, is a full-time employee at the group house. He helps coordinate residents’ schedules, which include group sessions, personal activities and meals. Photo by Eric Krupke

    In February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a new rule to ensure all HUD program housing is open to all individuals, regardless of gender identity. But according to Meredith Dank, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, the policy does not always guarantee that LGBT people are treated equally.

    “There are many cases where young people don’t feel safe going into the programs because they don’t feel like it’s an affirming space,” she said. “So then they choose to sleep on the streets, or go home with a stranger, or a variety of options that are there.”

    Dank helped author a study earlier this year that found many homeless LGBT youth must participate in sex work in order to get food and shelter, because they can’t necessarily turn to traditional resources for homeless people. “They’re being picked up by the juvenile criminal justice system,” she said. “And then once you have that record, it makes everything that much harder.”

    Dank said she thinks the first step in addressing the problem of LGBT homelessness is to have more affirming spaces like Corado’s group house, which allows residents to stay for up to 18 months. She says that unstable living conditions lead to problems in other areas. “You’re unlikely to remain in school,” she said. “It’s very difficult to find employment because you don’t have a stable address to put down, because you never know where you’re going to sleep the night before.”

    Corado aims to provide this stability but also hopes to create a loving environment for those who might have never had one. “I want them to know what love is. Their whole life, they’ve been told there’s something wrong. Here, they’re coming to experience what good is.”

    Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.

    Watch tonight’s PBS NewsHour for more on Casa Ruby.

    The post LGBT youth home welcomes population accustomed to insecurity appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    People wait to apply for visas outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, on May 22. Photo by Enrique de la Osa/Reuters

    People wait to apply for visas outside the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, on May 22. Photo by Enrique de la Osa/Reuters

    The fourth round of negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba ended today still with no agreement on what it will take to reopen embassies in their respective countries. The talks were conducted in a “respectful and professional climate,” said the chief Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal, “and we’ve continued to make progress.” But that was about as forthcoming as she got.

    U.S. officials also insisted that hours of talks in Washington between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson and Vidal had made progress. But the length of time it’s taking to overcome hurdles in what should have been a relatively simple matter show how tough it will be to move toward full normalization after more than a half-century of hostility between the two longtime adversaries.

    One senior U.S. official attributed the latest hangups to the Cuban side, saying the Havana government “still hasn’t decided what it wants more — the economic growth that will come with opening up to the world or maintaining the kind of control it’s held for so long over every part of Cuban life.”

    In the five months since President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, President Raul Castro, made their surprise announcement of an intention to restore ties, Cuba has won concessions on what it most sought — removal from the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, and U.S. help in finding an American bank that will provide bank services to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

    But the U.S. has not won concessions on its insistence that it can’t operate a functioning embassy if U.S. diplomats can’t travel freely throughout the country, and receive equipment and documents from the U.S. in secure containers. It also wants to continue in some form the “pro-democracy programs” that it currently offers Cuban citizens, including journalism courses and training in information technology.

    For their part, many Cubans are wary that the United States is still bent on uprooting the Castro regime and its brand of communism. President Obama’s assurances that that isn’t the case have not overcome those suspicions, based the history of earlier U.S. attempts to do just that.

    Jacobson implied today, as she did on Capitol Hill earlier this week, that the U.S. might accept some limitations on the activities that Cuba still wants to restrict. They could include notification of diplomats’ travel of the sort it gives in other countries around the world, like Russia and China. But the conditions “won’t be unique” to satisfy Cuban demands, she insisted.

    Her most perceptive comment, perhaps, was that she remains optimistic but “also realistic about the 54 years that have to be overcome.” She did say that the remaining issues may not require another round of formal talks. Nonetheless, this round of talks was clearly a disappointment to U.S. officials who had hoped they would close this early deal on the very long path to full normalization.

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    (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

    Chris Christie said to a crowd at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that he’s used the Patriot Act. Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images.

    OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican presidential contenders Jeb Bush and Chris Christie heartily endorsed the Patriot Act on Friday and mocked those who deride the intelligence overhaul passed after the Sept. 11 attacks as an encroachment on civil liberties.

    “There is ample evidence that the Patriot Act has been a tool to keep us safe, ample evidence,” Bush said at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. “There is no evidence of anyone’s civil liberties being violated because of it.”

    Christie, who served as a U.S. attorney before being elected New Jersey governor, told the same crowd that the Patriot Act helped him as a prosecutor to win convictions of defendants tied to the 2001 attacks. “I’m the only person in this national conversation at the moment who has used the Patriot Act, signed off on it and convicted terrorists because of it,” he said.

    The forceful defense of the law came as Congress struggled to meet a deadline to renew or replace a portion of the law known as Section 215, which allows the National Security Agency to collect phone records in bulk and the FBI to obtain a wide range of records that agents deem relevant to terrorism investigations.

    At multiple campaign stops this week, Bush said the law, signed by his brother, former President George W. Bush, is necessary to “protect the homeland,” adding that an extension “is definitely part of a comprehensive strategy for foreign policy.”

    “I do know, because I’ve checked with a lot of people inside and outside of government, that there’s no evidence, not a shred of evidence, of violations of civil liberties because of the Patriot Act,” Bush told reporters in Salem, New Hampshire, on Thursday.

    In oversight reports issued since at least 2003, the Justice Department inspector general has identified dozens of incidents it blamed on the FBI in which demands issued under a separate section of the Patriot Act were unauthorized or improper involving the collection of telephone logs, email records or credit reports.

    In some cases, the FBI obtained records for phone numbers no longer used by targets of its investigations or permission to conduct the investigations had already lapsed. Some of the FBI violations were deemed “willful and intentional,” according to internal FBI records.

    An analysis issued Friday by the Justice Department’s inspector general found that FBI agents testified that the law contains valuable investigative tools, but noted agents “did not identify any major case developments” that came from using Section 215.

    The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent bipartisan agency, declared NSA’s phone records collections program illegal in 2014, and a federal court of appeals reached the same conclusion earlier this month.

    “It’s not an accurate statement to say the Section 215 programs haven’t violated rights,” said Neema Singh Guliani of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the NSA phone records sweeps in court. “They’ve had an enormous effect on privacy … in a way that weakened our protections against government gaining information about innocent people.”

    Among Republican senators opposed to allowing the NSA to continue to gather phone records in bulk are two other GOP White House hopeful, Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They argue the act makes it too easy for intelligence agencies and law enforcement to violate citizens’ constitutional rights with no consequences.

    Paul spent 10 hours making that case Wednesday on the Senate floor, where he blasted the law as “the most unpatriotic of acts” and criticized those calling for its renewal. While Christie and Bush didn’t cite Paul or Cruz by name, their comments Friday about the law were aimed their way.

    “These same folks who are criticizing this now will be the same people who will stand on Capitol Hill if there’s another attack on America and interrogate a CIA director or the FBI and ask them why they didn’t connect the dots,” Christie said.

    Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report from Washington. Beaumont reported from New Hampshire.

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    transgender homeless youth 2

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hari Sreenivasan is back with a report on one of a handful of programs in the country that’s helping homeless transgender youth get their footing in society.

    It’s another in our Transgender in America series.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It looks like any other row house in Washington, D.C., but Ruby Corado’s house is different. It’s a safe haven for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who have nowhere else to go.

    Fifteen, 20 years ago, if you were trans, you were living in a house, you walked out on a stoop like this and some kids were walking by, what’s the likely reaction then vs. now?

    RUBY CORADO: Fifteen years ago?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes.

    RUBY CORADO: It was impossible to be me during the day. We were segregated to the underground world. Today, we can be trans in the entire city. It’s still hard, but we can still be ourselves. And we take those risks because, deep inside of us, we are happy.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Creating happiness is all-important to Corado, as she showed us on the grand tour.

    RUBY CORADO: The first thing that welcomes you is the rainbow.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: OK.

    RUBY CORADO: We have chandeliers, so that means there’s plenty of light. And when you go up, you will see a lot of glitter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you have got to have a gay flag, a chandelier, and lots of glitter?

    RUBY CORADO: Yes. And you have to have lots of colors.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Got it.

    She’s opening this group home up to 10 people, with the help of a $350,000 grant from a D.C. nonprofit, and trying to make it safe, inviting and infused with fun.

    What is going on here? We have got a chair shaped like a high-heeled shoe?

    (LAUGHTER)

    RUBY CORADO: Divas. Divas can live in this house.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, will you have a roommate when you live here?

    RUBY CORADO: Yes. So, each room — in some rooms, there’s space for three.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The young people who qualify to live here range from 18 to 24 years old, and can stay for up to a year-and-a-half. Many have been kicked out by their families for being different. Ruby Corado, who is transgender herself, knows firsthand.

    RUBY CORADO: We grow up in homes where there is no understanding of what transgender is. And the only information that is out there is that it’s not good.

    So, therefore, that information basically paints a picture that we’re not good, that we — that there’s something wrong, and many parents don’t want something wrong in their homes so, they just get rid of them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Corado is trying to build them a new family.

    For some people, this mattress is the most comfortable thing they have had since their life on the streets.

    RUBY CORADO: And like I told them, I want — this is going to be theirs. If they do good, obviously, they can take it with them, because it’s theirs. It’s there where they build their dreams, because I want them to dream. And if this is the place where they dream — there were times when I was living in a shelter where I have so many dreams, and I couldn’t take the mattress. So, I want them to know this is theirs. I will buy another one. And then it’s just how much — I don’t want this to just be a shelter. I want this to be a home where pink is OK, where red is OK, where light — I don’t want them to live in the dark.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Life in the streets is reality for the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States. And of that, an estimated 20 to 40 percent are LGBT. The National Center for Transgender Equality says one in five transgender people has been homeless at some point in their lives.

    People are going to say, listen, there’s shelters around if you’re homeless. What’s the difference if you’re transgender and you go to a homeless shelter?

    RUBY CORADO: For the most part, we’re told from the get-go we do not qualify. For example, if someone tries to go to a female shelter as a trans woman, they literally tell you, you can’t sleep there because you’re not female.

    And then, when you go to the male shelter, they do take you, but then, once again, they put you in dangerous conditions, where, eventually, you don’t want to go to the shelter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you’re back on the street.

    RUBY CORADO: That is why it’s — you end up on the streets.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What kinds of people are coming to need your services?

    RUBY CORADO: Very often, if they are really young, they come in because their parents are kicking them out of their homes. If they’re a little older, like 16 through 21, 22, they get referred to me by the criminal justice system, where they tell them all, don’t come back with issues. And if you come back to court, you know, I will put you in jail, but go to Ruby, and she will take care of you.

    And, you know, it’s kind of weird, because I know family — their families, society is turning their back on them. But, to me, it’s my treasure. When I see them walking in the door, it’s like I have a great opportunity to help someone like me, so they don’t have to go through what I went through.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Giselle Hartzog is one of the first transgender residents to live here after leaving her home in Gulfport, Mississippi, and turning to prostitution.

    You would sleep at the train station?

    GISELLE HARTZOG: Mm-hmm, at Union station, until they wake us up and tell us, you can’t sleep here or something. And then, sometimes, you would be just so lucky to catch a bus, I mean, one of those buses that come and pick up the people to go to a shelter for a night.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: These are pretty nice mattresses compared to your — the bench at Union Station. How does that change things for you?

    GISELLE HARTZOG: It changes a lot of things, because you can just — I mean, I have something to look forward to, you know?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You feel safe here?

    GISELLE HARTZOG: Mm-hmm.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Compared to where you have been staying in different…

    GISELLE HARTZOG: A lot safer.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How so?

    GISELLE HARTZOG: Just in the simple fact of, I mean, I have somewhere to call my home, just that security.

    RUBY CORADO: I wish I had more to give them. I wish I had 20 houses to put everyone in. And I wish I could build my own little world, my own little neighborhood, where it would be OK to be you.

    And as I work on that, I do know that for those that make it here, I can love them, and in the process, I can make it easier for them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You mentioned you would love to create your own little world, but the reality is that there’s this other one already here.

    RUBY CORADO: Correct. Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: While they might have that nurturing and that support in these walls, they walk out on the street…

    RUBY CORADO: I see a different world today. There are people in our — in this neighborhood who know who we are and they look at us and they respect us.

    We’re not being dehumanized. So, I think that the stability is important, being able to show the world what is wrong, because if they don’t know they’re doing something wrong, maybe they can’t change when they don’t know.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Corado says she has more applicants than beds and that the house is already full.

    In Washington, for the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

     

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    shields gerson

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our look at a full week of news, culminating with the 2016 GOP presidential contenders.

    Most of them flocked to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, meeting in Oklahoma, and among the most prominent themes, national security.

    FORMER GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) Texas: It’s time for us to have a president who admits what the American people already know. We face a global struggle against radical Islamic terrorists, and we are in the early stages of this struggle.

    The great lesson of history for us is that strength and resolve bring peace and order, and weakness and vacillation invite chaos and conflict.

    GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) New Jersey: No wonder nobody around the world is nervous about America anymore. No wonder we’re not intimidating our adversaries and they’re running around wild in the world, because they know we’re not investing in our defense anymore. We need to make or military strong, not to wage war, but to avoid war and to bring peace and stability in the world.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

    FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R) Pennsylvania: Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t have a nominee against Hillary Clinton who sees commander in chief as an entry-level position or on-the-job training. Going into a debate, you don’t want to be able to have a candidate that represents the Republican Party whose national security experience is a briefing book.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And with that critique being made, we turn now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

    Welcome to you both.

    So, with that conversation coming from the Republican contenders, Mark, this is in a week where ISIS, Islamic State, is making some big gains. They took over a key city in Iraq, Ramadi. You’re starting to hear criticism of the administration policy toward ISIS, towards what’s going on in Iraq.

    The president came out this week and said, I have got a strategy, it’s working.

    What do you think?

    MARK SHIELDS: I think, Judy, that, politically, just speaking politically right now, for 10 years, from 2006 basically up to today, nine years, that Iraq has been a positive issue for Democrats. They won the Congress in 2006. They nominated the one candidate in the party who had opposed the Iraq war. And opposition to that Iraq War and to President Bush’s policy became central in the 2008 campaign.

    Mitt Romney had to walk away from his support for it in 2012 and say he wouldn’t have supported it. And now, 2015, five years after President Obama announced the withdrawal of combat units from Iraq, keeping a promise that he had made in that 2008 campaign, we see Ramadi fall. We see the Iraqi army in full flight, after all the training, after all the billions of dollars.

    And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, said they were not driven, the Iraqi army was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi. They aren’t a paper tiger. They’re a paper tabby cat.

    And that is the reality. And ISIS is on the move. ISIS is on the offensive. And I think, politically speaking, beyond the ethics and the morals, that Democrats now are starting to feel themselves on the defensive on this issue, and Republicans are starting to feel free of what had been an enormous burden.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Sounds like he thinks it’s not working.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this was a serious enemy victor in this war. The capital of Anbar, they control 60 percent of that province, advances in Syria at the same time.

    This is good for terrorist propaganda and recruitment. And there was an unnamed member of the administration that said they were shocked by what happened here. And it was shocking to hear President Obama’s former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, say, we don’t have a strategy at all.

    Now, I’m not sure of that. The president did announce a strategy in September, which involved arming and preparing our proxies, including Sunni proxies, that involved aggressive negotiations for a national unity government, that involved, you know, bombing the heck out of ISIS.

    The first two of those were not done effectively, not done aggressively. So we could actually start this policy discussion by saying the president could go and enforce his own policy more aggressively in this battle.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what about the — but what about — or and what about the critiques you’re hearing from Republicans?  But, Mark, as you just said, you’re hearing it from Democrats, too.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, who has the right answer here?

    MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think anybody has the right answer.

    I didn’t — I listened to Rick Perry. I listened Rick Santorum, who is basically was contrasting himself with the governors. And it wasn’t convincing. Chris Christie, who has his own problems in New Jersey — I mean, it comes down to, what is the action statement?

    Rick Perry has said — wants boots on the ground. Other Republicans have said they want boots on the ground, but they don’t necessarily have to be American boots. They should be Arab boots.

    Now, there are 60 nations in this coalition. I haven’t seen people lining up to join this fight. I mean, in a proxy war, you are dependent upon your proxies. And the Iraqis turn out to be not particularly engaged, divided, not unified, not committed the same way.

    Judy, how bad is this?  When one of the defenses, that the fact that all of the equipment and the weapons that we have given to the Iraqi army, a good portion of them were given up to ISIS — one of the explanations was, don’t worry about it too much because they were in such ill repair, because the Iraqis have taken such bad care of them, that they wouldn’t be of great use.

    This is just really — but there’s no action statement. There’s nobody saying, I have the answer. Lindsey Graham…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, get tough, that’s what you’re hearing from…

    MARK SHIELDS: Get tough, get tough, swagger; 10,000 troops, Lindsey Graham wants to put in, Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a potential candidate.

    George Pataki said, put in as many as you need, and kill everybody you can and get out. Now, getting out, I think, was the question and it remains the dilemma to this moment.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how do you — what is — you said the administration hasn’t followed through on what it said its policy is, but who does the administration turn to at this point?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Right.

    Well, I think there’s a lot of questions about their intention in this. The larger problem here is the president have set out a series of statements. He said Assad must go. He said there’s a chemical weapons red line. He said we’re going to just degrade and destroy ISIS.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

    MICHAEL GERSON: And now you read in a stories a debate within the administration, well, maybe they should be contained, maybe we can live with the caliphate.

    And so I think there is a real question, what’s the president’s goal, is he willing to match means with ends?  Some of that will involve broader embedding of U.S. forces in our proxies down to the brigade level, which is not true right now. I don’t know if that will be decisive, but I think there are measures you can take within the broad strategy of a proxy war where you can be more aggressive. And I think the president is going to need to be.

    MARK SHIELDS: I will not argue with General Gerson on this.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: But I will say that there are 250,000 Iraqi troops. There are, by CIA estimates, up to 31,000 ISIS troops.

    And you have full flight. I mean, they won’t be engaged. They haven’t been engaged. The idea of embedding, of training, and whatever else, I just think we have to confront the fact that this is a disaster. I mean, we can go back to who hit whom first, but the reality was, the president of the United States, 12 years ago, announced that mission was accomplished, that the United States and its allies had prevailed, that the war in Iraq was over.

    And, you know, that wasn’t the case. And, Judy, anybody who walks around with a flag pin in his lapel now who is running for president or running for Congress and says let’s go in and let’s kick some tail and let’s take some numbers and bomb some people, that takes no courage at all, because it’s not their blood they’re talking about, and it’s not their children’s blood.

    And, quite frankly, talk is very cheap. And we’re going to hear a lot of it in the forthcoming weeks.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you’re hearing, Michael, that this is of course — it is connected in a way with the Patriot Act debate. We reported on it earlier. Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post was on the program.

    You have a situation where the Republicans are divided, the House and Senate is divided. Do you see a way through this?  Is there a clear answer that is going to satisfy both sides?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I doubt that.

    And I think it’s important to state that Rand Paul is substantively wrong on this issue. The NSA is not looking through people’s address books and Visa bills and violating the rights of average citizens. That’s not what the NSA does.

    And I think that so — I think you have to start by saying that that is not a risk. There are a lot of guarantees built in, courts and others that are looking over the shoulder of the NSA on this. And I think that Paul has earned some real contempt from his fellow senators by using a national security debate as a fund-raising tool related to his broader efforts.

    So I think that — I don’t know how you split the difference on a debate where there’s a substantive difference in what’s happening.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, we talk about the lack of consensus compromise.

    The House came up with the USA Freedom Act. They passed it with only 88 votes against it, coalition of Democrats and Republicans. This is really — as Mike DeBonis said in his interview with you, Judy, it’s a fight between Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell. It really is.

    As far as Senator Paul, Russ Feingold was the only vote against the Patriot Act, the senator from Wisconsin, in 2001. Anybody cannot argue that the FISA courts have just been a stamp for…

    JUDY WOODRUFF: These are the courts where the government has to go get approval for eavesdropping.

    MICHAEL GERSON: Justice Department also involved in eavesdropping.

    MARK SHIELDS: There’s a real — there’s a real — there are real questions and I think real doubts. But I — and I think the USA Freedom Act went a long way toward resolving many of those for people of good faith on both sides.

    But I really — to Rand Paul’s defense — and I rarely rally to it — he is not the first person in the history of the United States to raise money on a national security issue. I mean, that has been a fairly common practice about — among presidential candidates of my knowledge in the past few years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one other thing that has come up this week, and we just heard about it today — we reported on it a few minutes ago — at the intersection of politics and national security, Michael, is Hillary Clinton and the e-mails.

    We have been hearing about it for some time. A court said this week that they have got to be released. The State Department said, we can’t get it done until January. She says — she came out and talked to the press and said, no, they have got to come out.

    And they are now starting to come out. And we’re seeing she was getting advice on what to do about Benghazi. What are we learning from this?  Is she hurt by it?  What do you think?

    MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this attempt at transparency comes after the destruction of 30,000 e-mails on a private server that she kept.

    And so I think the transparent — the effort at transparency itself is transparent. And so, you know, it’s — and also the ties to Sidney Blumenthal in this case raise some questions about judgment. So I think there are a bunch of questions raised here.

    MARK SHIELDS: The e-mails of Secretary Clinton, Judy, are, not in a moral sense, but in a journalistic sense, like the Nixon tapes. They’re the gift that keep on giving.

    I mean, they will come out. Editors will look at them. There will be a new story and a new story. And to some degree, to use the proxy answer, the press has become the proxy for the opposition to Hillary Clinton.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean because they’re asking so many questions.

    MARK SHIELDS: Yes. With all but respect to Senator Sanders and to Governor O’Malley or former Senator Jim Webb, who is thinking about running, the most formidable adversary she has right now is the press.

    And the Clintons’ characteristic penchant for secretiveness is part of this narrative. But I will be interested to see everybody’s e-mails on the table before this is over. I would like to see Governor Christie’s. I would like to see Governor Bush’s. I would like to see everybody’s e-mails. If we’re going to hold her to a standard, I hope we’re going to hold everybody to the same standard.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we’re going to leave it there.

    Mark Shields, Michael Gerson, thank you both. Have a good Memorial Day weekend.

    MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

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    Dorothy Abruzzo, 83, receives hot lunch from JFCS Senior Center May 6, 2015 in Naples, FL. JFCS Senior Center provides a place for its members to socialize along with services and classes, five days a week. Every Wednesday, it provides a hot meal followed by entertainment. Photo by Ariel Min/PBS NewsHour

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been called one of the longest-lasting and cruelest effects of the great recession. Millions of senior citizens who were caught up in the economic collapse now struggle to put food on the table.

    Sarah Varney has our report from Naples, Florida.

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

    SARAH VARNEY: It’s not easy to spot amid the sparkling waters, luxurious condos and high-end recreation. But in recent years, daily life for many seniors in this sunlit paradise has turned bleak.

    WOMAN: This is my biggest gripe. I say, ‘All my life, I struggled. So, now in my ’70s, I have to struggle all over again?’  It bothered me a lot.

    WOMAN: I was in control. But the recession has done terrible things.

    WOMAN: I never in my life thought I would need charity.

    SARAH VARNEY: Less than two miles away from the sandy Gulf beaches is the Naples Senior Center.

    Jackie Faffer established these weekly luncheons to give older Floridians a place to socialize. But it soon became apparent just how desperately people needed the food served here.

    JACLYNN FAFFER, Jewish Family and Community Services of Southwest Florida: I didn’t think that I would find the depth of the challenges that are faced by people, and specifically the seniors. We have, of our 676 members, about 60 percent are at, near or below the poverty line.

    SARAH VARNEY: Many are like Mina and Angelo Maffucci. After raising their children, they sold their suburban New Jersey home and moved to southwest Florida to enjoy semi-retirement.

    But Angelo could no longer work to supplement their Social Security income after seriously injuring his back, followed by prostate cancer.

    MINA MAFFUCCI: This is when we first got here. This is when we first came to Florida.

    SARAH VARNEY: Like others in their generation who built comfortable lives during the height of American prosperity, the Maffuccis found themselves instead entering an uncertain retirement. A faltering economy, sickness and bad luck drained their savings. They lost their home to foreclosure and had to move into a condo owned by their son, where they continued struggling to pay for medication and basic expenses.

    ANGELO MAFFUCCI: At that time, when we were on our hands and knees, practically, let’s put it that way, and we opened up the closet, and all we had was coffee, so we made it. And that’s what we had. If we found a slice of toast or something, we had that, too. Cereal, once in a blue moon.

    MINA MAFFUCCI: We didn’t know where to go, because we didn’t have — ever had a problem like this before. And we hated to ask people for help or this or that, you know?

    SARAH VARNEY: A plaque on the wall of the Maffuccis’ home is a harsh daily reminder of their grim fortunes.

    There are more than 9.5 million Americans over the age of 60 who struggle to pay for food. The problem has only worsened since the end of the great recession and the collapse of the housing market, even in the most unexpected places. The most recent data show one in six seniors now face the threat of hunger.

    From 2001 to 2013, the number of seniors experiencing uncertainty over where their food would come from more than doubled. In 2013 alone, an additional 300,000 people over the age of 60 had difficulty buying or accessing food. The need for good nutrition is vital for seniors. Without it, they can become frail and weak. Chronically hungry seniors face a greater risk of depression, diabetes, congestive heart failure and heart attack.

    Enid Borden is president of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger in the Washington, D.C., area.

    ENID BORDEN, The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger: We’re doing a worse job of trying to end senior hunger in America. You would think, with so much money that is poured into it, that, in fact, the numbers would be better than they are, but they’re not. So, if we continue to look at it and if we can to beat our heads against the wall and expect a different outcome, shame on us.

    MAN: Suzanne, Meals on Wheels.

    SARAH VARNEY: Borden says programs like Meals on Wheels serve an important role in many communities, like this one in Naples. But while charities provide temporary help to hungry seniors, they often have waiting lists that in some places stretch on for years. And charities and church groups can’t always address the underlying poverty that causes persistent food insecurity.

    More so, advocates say the seniors touched by charity programs are the success stories. By most estimates, there are many more older Americans who remain out of sight.

    THOMAS FELKE, Florida Gulf Coast University: There’s a hidden problem here, and it’s a little bit invisible.

    SARAH VARNEY: Professor Tom Felke recently analyzed poverty rates among seniors in Naples as part of his work at Florida Gulf Coast University. He found many poor retirees are living in gated communities, but the very gates meant to signify safety and status are hampering efforts to help those seniors who are struggling with hunger.

    THOMAS FELKE: And we know it exists. But I don’t think we don’t know the depth to which it exists. We just need to access them … getting inside those communities and letting people know: ‘These are programs that are available to you.’

    SARAH VARNEY: Felke says that will require stepped-up efforts by groups like the Harry Chapin Food Bank, where outreach workers aggressively target apartments and senior centers to sign people up for food stamps other nutrition programs.

    Only one-third of eligible seniors are enrolled in food stamps, compared to three-quarters of the eligible general population.

    AL BRISLAIN, Harry Chapin Food Bank: In some ways, seniors are the hardest people to reach, because part of it’s the pride, part of it’s that they don’t have the knowledge of the social service system, and part of it is their isolation.

    SARAH VARNEY: Al Brislain is president of the local food bank.

    AL BRISLAIN: If you’re a single senior sitting in an apartment, you don’t know what to do. You don’t know where to go. And so getting out to them, getting the word out is half the battle, and also reassuring them that they deserve this help, that it’s neighbors helping neighbors, that it’s the government supporting you in your time of need.

    SARAH VARNEY: Mina and Angelo Maffucci now get deliveries from a local food pantry and receive $34 a week in food stamps. They’re grateful for the help, but they also know their circumstances are unlikely to change.

    ANGELO MAFFUCCI: We can’t work anymore. And I don’t want to put a burden on my children that you have to give us each $100 a month or something like that.

    MINA MAFFUCCI: And we — I wouldn’t ask them.

    ANGELO MAFFUCCI: I wouldn’t ask them for anything like that. So, the only thing we can hope for and pray for is that we live a little longer together.

    MINA MAFFUCCI: Yes.

    ANGELO MAFFUCCI: You know?

    SARAH VARNEY: With millions of baby boomers heading toward their sunset years, most on fixed incomes, researchers expect the number of seniors facing the threat of hunger will rise by 50 percent over the next decade.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Sarah Varney in Naples, Florida.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Our reporting team spent more time with seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. We have their stories, along with a photo essay, which you can find on our home page. That’s PBS.org/NewsHour.

    The post Number of seniors threatened by hunger has doubled since 2001, and it’s going to get worse appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    DEFINING  MARRIAGE  ireland monitor

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Ireland, voters went to the polls today to decide whether to legalize gay marriage. If the referendum passes, the predominately Catholic country would become the first nation ever to accept same-sex marriage by a popular vote.

    Irish news sites are reporting higher-than-average turnout both in cities and rural areas.

    MAN: For the first time, if this passes, it will mean an Ireland where people who have felt discriminated in the past will feel included and equal in our society, so it will be a big thing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The vote may mark a sea change in attitudes on the island. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in the early 1990s, and many in Ireland oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

    PADDY MANNING, “Mothers and Fathers Matter” Campaign Group: It means that forever, a man and a man are exactly the same in law as a woman and a man for family purposes. So it creates a fiction. It creates this fiction that men have children together. That’s nonsensical.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hari Sreenivasan has more on this historic referendum.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now to talk about who voted and why is Padraic Halpin, chief Ireland correspondent for the Reuters news service.

    So, the first question I think on a lot of Americans’ mind is that the Catholic Church plays a powerful role in Irish society and Irish politics. How did this even get to a referendum in Ireland?

    PADRAIC HALPIN, Reuters: Well, Hari, the Catholic Church doesn’t play as powerful role as it used to.

    I think the Catholic Church’s influenced has diminished quite a bit over the last two decades, I think similar to a lot of countries, but in Ireland particular. There were a lot of clerical abuse scandals which played a big role in the church’s position in society changing. And even in the referendum campaign itself, whereas maybe 20, 30 years ago on issues like divorce or contraception, the church would have been speaking out quite publicly against it, and they have actually been playing quite a low-key role.

    They’re against the referendum, but they have been notable by how quiet they have been.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And how do the demographics shape up for this vote? Is it rural vs. urban, young vs. old? What kind of demographic breakdown is there on who has been supporting the referendum vs. opposing it?

    PADRAIC HALPIN: So, supporting the referendum, all political parties are behind the referendum, which I think is maybe quite unique among other countries.

    In terms of a divide of urban-rural, in previous referendums, on social issues, we have certainly seen that. There was a referendum on divorce, to make divorce legal in Ireland, 20 years ago. And we saw outside of Dublin only five of 30 constituencies in Ireland supported the referendum. So we have certainly seen that in the past. And there will be some of that again when we see results tomorrow.

    How big a divide will be an interesting note. And one big thing is a divide between young and old, but certainly how energized young people have been in getting out to vote.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: There was also a campaign to try to get Irish expats from around the world to vote. Explain that a little bit.

    PADRAIC HALPIN: Yes, sure.

    So, in Ireland, there’s no postal or embassy vote, unlike a lot of other countries, where emigrants can vote if they obviously don’t live in the country itself. Ireland obviously has a big expat community, bigger still in the last few years with the economic crisis here. A lot of young people have had to emigrate to Australia, to America, to Canada to get jobs.

    So, this campaign, it’s quite different to any other referendum, where a lot of young people, in order to cast a vote, they have to come back to their local constituency. So, we have had people fly in from — obviously from Britain, from Europe, from America, people from New York, from Canada. I spoke to someone this week who bought a return ticket from Australia. He spent $1,400 just to get home to vote.

    And certainly it’s something social media has picked up on today. And it’s been certainly one of the things that have been of most note in the campaign in recent days.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Have you seen any other referendum or social issue galvanize people like this in Ireland?

    PADRAIC HALPIN: I don’t think we have seen it for quite some time.

    I think, as it stands, where polls are going to close shortly, and the indications are that turnout could be around 60 percent or above. The last time we saw that was 20 years ago in the divorce referendum. Any referendum since, there hasn’t been as active a turnout.

    So, that is obviously one indication. I think also we have had — it’s dominated media, the media for weeks. The debate has been quite fierce. And it has been quite vocal. And I think it’s — on the streets of Dublin, certainly, it’s all people are talking about.

    There is an air of anticipation, I think it’s fair to say. And I think tomorrow will be a big day, whichever way it goes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Padraic Halpin, chief Ireland correspondent for the Reuters news service, thanks so much for joining us.

    PADRAIC HALPIN: Thank you.

    The post Will Ireland be the first country to adopt gay marriage through a popular vote? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    LISTENING IN monitor nsa

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: We now turn to the heated debate over government security and individual privacy.

    Three key provisions of the Patriot Act that allow for government surveillance are set to expire soon, but the U.S. Senate is planning to be out of Washington next week, leaving lawmakers scrambling to find agreement on this controversial issue.

    Senators came to work this morning confronting an impasse on surveillance and a looming deadline.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Unfortunately, the clock’s been run out.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: On June 1, the National Security Agency loses legal authority to collect bulk phone records, as key provisions of the Patriot Act expire. But the Senate is leaving for the Memorial Day recess and won’t return until June 1, leaving Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy to point across the Capitol.

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: The House worked very hard on this. They completed their work and they left. They’re not coming back until after the surveillance authorities are set to expire. And the House leadership has made clear they will not pass an extension, even if they’re in.

    MAN: On this vote, the yeas are 338 and the nays are 88. The bill is passed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The bill that passed the House is USA Freedom Act. It replaces bulk collection of phone records with case-by-case searches. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is firmly opposed to that measure.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: The untried and as of yet nonexistent bulk collection system envisioned under that bill would be slower and more cumbersome than the one that currently helps keep us safe. At worst, it might not work at all.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: McConnell favors a two-month extension of the Patriot Act to buy time for a compromise. Another proposal calls for a shorter extension. Other Republicans strongly disagree.

    Kentucky’s Rand Paul held the floor for 11 hours Wednesday.

    SEN. RAND PAUL (R), Kentucky: I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Many Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid, are also dug in against keeping the Patriot Act alive.

    SEN. HARRY REID, Minority Leader: There’s efforts made to extend a program that’s already been declared by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States, already declared is illegal. How can we extend an illegal act?

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This afternoon, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairing the Intelligence Committee, offered yet another option, extend the Patriot Act, but end bulk data collection after two years.

    In the meantime, the Justice Department has announced the NSA will have to start winding down phone surveillance this weekend to meet the June 1 deadline.

    For more about this, I am joined by Mike DeBonis, who is a national security reporter for The Washington Post.

    Mike, welcome again to the NewsHour.

    You know, it’s unusual to see not only both houses divided, but one party so divided on this. Why is this so controversial?

    MIKE DEBONIS, The Washington Post: Thanks, Judy.

    You’re right. It’s very odd to have Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner so far apart on these things. You really have a very basic philosophical difference of opinion, where Leader McConnell believes that the reform bill that was passed by the House last week simply doesn’t do enough to preserve the nation’s counterterrorism capabilities. And Speaker Boehner says, you know, this is the right balance, it strikes the right balance, this is what was negotiated with the administration, with the intelligence community, with civil libertarians of both parties and with folks on the various national security committees, and this is what the Senate should pass.

    And they have now left town, and whatever the Senate does from this point, if it’s anything other than pass that House bill, there’s the very real possibility that the authority for the surveillance program could expire.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And just to be clear again, it’s not the entire Patriot Act. It’s just one particular part of it that has them so divided.

    MIKE DEBONIS: That’s right.

    And this is the authority that has underpinned this bulk surveillance, this bulk collection of phone records, which is awfully controversial, but it also contains language that establishes other surveillance authorities, including, in particular, the so-called roving wiretap, which is used against criminal suspects who use multiple phones and routinely change up the way that they communicate.

    And the FBI director, James Comey, said this week that that also is a very crucial piece of their investigative toolbox that they don’t want to lose.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we know, Mike, there was this court order that was handed down a few days ago that had to do with all this. What effect has that had on the debate that’s going on?

    MIKE DEBONIS: It really hasn’t had a particularly — it hasn’t moved — changed a lot of minds. It hasn’t moved a lot of opinions.

    People — it has caused people on both sides to sort of dig in a little deeper into where they were previously. There is, however, a practical concern, which is that the court that struck down the bulk surveillance program based on this statutory argument said, well, we’re not going to do anything right now because Congress is in the middle of deciding this within a matter of days, and Congress will decide this, and we can stay out of it.

    Well, if this can gets kicked down the road, whether it’s a week or two months, the court could come back and say, well, we have no clarity here, we still believe that this program is illegal, and will issue an injunction to stop it. That is certainly a possibility, and that’s something that, you know, not — that is not being really discussed particularly openly right now, but it’s something that is being pointed out by the administration.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, at this point, it’s not looking as if it’s going to get resolved quickly. As we reported, Justice Department is saying it needs to start winding down this bulk collection of data as early as this weekend. What are the practical effects of that?

    MIKE DEBONIS: Well, you have — you likely have right now — the Justice Department has warrants that they have secured against various — in various investigations that have to be renewed on a regular basis.

    And, basically, what the Justice Department has said is, is that if we don’t know that this authority is going to be there on June 1, we can’t go to a judge and get a warrant that is going to extend past that. We can’t go now, starting today, tomorrow, next week, and tell a judge, we want a warrant, whether it’s for the bulk phone collection, whether it’s for these roving wiretaps, for the other surveillance authorities in this section. They can’t go to a judge and say, please extent this warrant.

    So the effect, what they’re saying, is, if nothing happens today, then you really do start seeing practical effects for the lack of action from Congress.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And meaning — meaning, in other words, that the surveillance will start to change.

    Well, we’re going to certainly follow this as it goes on tonight, and I know you will. Mike DeBonis, thank you.

    MIKE DEBONIS: Thank you.

     

    The post The Patriot Act’s strange divide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 6.54.01 PM

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The Senate labored against the clock this evening to push through President Obama’s fast-track legislation. It would let Congress approve or reject trade agreements, but not amend them.  Supporters, and President Obama, worked through the day to round up votes before the Memorial Day recess.

    The State Department today released nearly 300 e-mails from then-Secretary Hillary Clinton on the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. The FBI asked that parts of one be labeled secret and withheld. It was unclassified when Clinton received it in November of that year on her private e-mail server.

    At a presidential campaign event in New Hampshire today, she said there was no security breach.

    HILLARY CLINTON, Former Secretary of State: I’m aware that the FBI has asked that a portion of one e-mail be held back. That happens in the process of Freedom of Information Act responses. But that doesn’t change the fact that all of the information in the e-mails was handled appropriately.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in the Benghazi attack in September of 2012.

    A gun battle erupted in Western Mexico today between police and drug gang members, and when it was over, at least 40 people were dead. The shooting broke out near the border with Jalisco State. The area is the base for the New Generation drug cartel. The gang has killed at least 20 police since March.

    In Syria, there’s word that Islamic State fighters have launched a bloody purge in Palmyra. The militants seized the ancient city this week, and human rights activists report they have killed up to 280 soldiers and government supporters since then.

    Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

    JONATHAN RUGMAN, ITN: “The lions are advancing the pigs are retreating,” says this jihadist fighter near the ruins of Palmyra.

    Inside this gas pumping station, the men of so-called Islamic State have found abandoned weapons, and a poster of Syria’s president whose army was routed and overrun. These are the group’s pictures of the city next to the ruins. The U.N. says some 70,000 Syrians have fled.

    But in the city center, I.S. fighters have filmed themselves trying to whip up a clearly frightened crowd. Despite this display of affection, I.S. has beaten, executed and decapitated prisoners here. But these pictures are too graphic to show.

    Yet the fate of the ruins at the hands of these men could benefit President Assad, because the barbarians are quite literally at the gates now, and Syria’s leader has always argued he is a far better alternative.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ISIS also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing today at a Shiite mosque in Saudi Arabia. At least 20 people were killed and 50 others wounded. It happened in the eastern province of al-Qatif.  Officials said the mosque was packed with worshipers.

    Back in this country, the California State Water Board agreed to voluntary 25 percent cuts in water use by major farmers, in the face of severe drought. Farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Delta made the offer to avert mandatory cuts. They are among the most senior water rights holders in the state.

    On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 50 points to close near 18230. The Nasdaq was down one point, and the S&P 500 slipped nearly five. For the week, the Dow lost a fraction of a percent, the S&P gained a fraction, and the Nasdaq rose nearly a full percent.

    And in Paris, the Eiffel Tower was shut down for most of the day because of a strike over pickpockets. No tickets were sold, and police patrolled the area, while tourists remained on the outskirts. Tower workers said they need more guards to scare off aggressive gangs of thieves.

     

    The post News Wrap: State Department releases Clinton emails on Benghazi appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The maze-like roots of the Blonde Bombshell (Plectranthus scutellarioides) are among those on display at the U.S. Botanic Garden's newest exhibit on roots. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    The maze-like roots of the Blonde Bombshell (Plectranthus scutellarioides) are among those on display at the U.S. Botanic Garden’s newest exhibit on roots. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    When you’re facing a tough problem, it’s always best to start with the roots. Such was the takeaway lesson from our second installment of ScienceScope, where the NewsHour team leaves our broadcast center to explore the world of science that surrounds us (with an assist from the Twitter-based livestreaming service Periscope).

    Today, we ventured to the U.S. Botanic Garden in downtown Washington, D.C. for an off-hours tour of their newest exhibit:

    Exposed Logo B

    Without roots, most life outside of the ocean would struggle to survive.

    Plants provide virtually all the food for organisms living on land, from microbes to humans, says U.S. Botanic Garden executive director and botanist Ari Novy, who guided us through the exhibit. Plants would be nothing without their roots, which do much more than provide a stable foundation, absorb water and store nutrients like sugar. Here are a few things that we learned and saw on today’s field trip:

    A. Prairie plants look way cooler underground

    A bevy of prairie plants and their roots hang at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    A bevy of prairie plants and their roots hang at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    Up-close and personal with a sorghum root.  Photo by Nsikan Akpan.

    Up-close and personal with a sorghum root. Photo by Nsikan Akpan.

    Wheat, sorghum and other prairie plants may not inspire “wows!” when viewed aboveground, but their undercarriage boasts a stunning sight. Their roots grow like stringy spaghetti up to 15 feet deep, with the ostensible mission of sapping water from hard-to-reach underground reservoirs.

    It’d typically be impossible to pull these roots from the ground without ripping them to pieces, but scientists at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas have devised a solution.

    “They take 12-inch diameter PVC piping and then fill it with soil media — ceramic chunks similar to kitty litter — and then let the roots grow down over the course of years,” says Novy. Afterwards, they pull the pipes from the ground and cut through the plastic. The researchers then clean away the soil, leaving behind the giant intact roots. The Land Institute donated a preserved set of these prairies plants to hang in the garden’s exhibit.

    B. WiliWili likes bacteria bumps

    WiliWili (Erythrina sandwicensis) root at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    WiliWili (Erythrina sandwicensis) root at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    WiliWili (Erythrina sandwicensis) root at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    WiliWili (Erythrina sandwicensis) root at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    WiliWili plants — pronounced “Willy Willy” — are Hawaiian trees (Erythrina sandwicensis) that grow braided roots with tiny bumps called nodules (not shown). These little pods lack oxygen and are filled with microbes that prefer living without it. Instead, these germs consume nitrogen gas in the air and turn it into ammonia, which serves as fertilizer for the tree.

    C. Bamboo versus Concrete.

    Many of the underground parts of plants that we often think of as roots are actually rhizomes, says Novy. Rhizomes are buried stems that, rather than shoot out the ground, grow horizontally through the earth like vegetative pipes. Occasionally, these offshoots will sprout upward, creating picturesque forests of bamboo.

    Bamboo rhizomes (underground stems). Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    Bamboo rhizomes (underground stems). Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    Bamboo rhizomes can grow several feet in a single year and provide the means to become an aggressive invader. Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea), for example, was introduced to Alabama in 1882 as a natural noise barrier, but the invasive plant has now spread across the Southeast U.S. and mid- Atlantic states. Still, gardeners enjoy planting bamboo, so what’s the best way to control it?

    “If it’s listed as invasive by your local species council, then don’t plant it. But if you absolutely must plant a colonizing bamboo, then you must build an underground mechanical barrier, in the form of a metal or concrete wall, says Novy. “The wall needs to extend at least 2 feet below and up to 6 inches above the soil because these [rhizome] runners sometimes jump onto the surface of the soil to colonize.”

    D. Root inspired sculptures by Steve Tobin

    "Cathedral Root" -- a sculpture by Steve Tobin. Photo by Devin Dotson

    “Cathedral Root” — a sculpture by Steve Tobin. Photo by Devin Dotson

    Close-up of "Romeo and Juliet" -- a sculpture by Steve Tobin. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    Close-up of “Romeo and Juliet” — a sculpture by Steve Tobin. Photo by Nsikan Akpan

    E. Ginger: Root or Imposter?

    Roots are delicious, but are you sure that veggie in your salad counts as one? See if you can guess which of the following is a true root and which is a faker:

     

     

    1. Turmeric
    2. Sugar Beet
    3. Taro
    4. Ginger
    5. Garlic
    6. Ginseng
    7. Carrot
    8. Potato
    9. Wasabi

     

     

    Key:

    1. Imposter, rhizome (underground stem)
    2. True root.
    3. Imposter, corm (swollen underground stem).
    4. Imposter, rhizome (underground stem)
    5. Imposter, garlic bulb is a collection of energy-storing leaves.
    6. True root
    7. True root
    8. Imposter, tuber (underground stem).
    9. Imposter, rhizome (underground stem)

     

    Exposed: The Secret Life of Roots runs until October 13, 2015

    The post How to stop a bamboo invasion and other surprising facts about roots appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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