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

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    Photo by Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    Photo by Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

    Roll it, flip it, fold it and even mold it into a squiggle. Your tongue can be an acrobat, regardless of whether your parents are capable of the same tricks.

    Every semester, John McDonald, a evolutionary biologist at the University of Delaware, asks his undergraduate students the following question: How many of you were taught in biology class that rolling the tongue is a genetic trait?

    Most of the students raise their hands. They’re wrong.

    In 1940, the prominent geneticist Alfred Sturtevant published a paper saying the ability to roll one’s tongue is based on a dominant gene. In 1952, Philip Matlock disproved Sturtevant’s findings, demonstrating that seven out of 33 identical twins didn’t share their sibling’s gift. If rolling the tongue was genetic, then identical twins would share the trait. Sturtevant later acknowledged his mistake.

    “I am embarrassed to see it listed in some current works as an established Mendelian case,” he wrote in 1965 in his book, “A History of Genetics.” Yet, McDonald says, the myth is still taught in science textbooks and classrooms. See this and this, for example.

    Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t a member of the tongue-rolling elite — some can train their tongues to obey. In fact, one of McDonald’s undergraduate students conducted a small study asking 33 non-tongue-rolling participants to try rolling their tongue each day. After a month or so of practice, one participant achieved a successful tongue roll.

    This doesn’t mean tongue rolling has no genetic “influence,” McDonald says. More than one gene could contribute to tongue-rolling abilities. Perhaps the same genes that determine the tongue’s length or muscle tone are involved. But there isn’t a single dominant gene that’s responsible.

    While you may think this myth is harmless, McDonald says he’s received emails from kids who don’t share the tongue-rolling status of their parents. Are my parents really my parents, they want to know? He quickly puts their fears to rest. If mom and dad can’t roll their tongues, but you can, don’t worry — chances are you’re still their kid.

    The post Debunking the biggest genetic myth of the human tongue appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    John Merrow

    John Merrow on a recent PBS NewsHour. The longtime public media journalist announces his retirement.

    I have some news: I am retiring from the PBS NewsHour and Learning Matters.

    For the past 41 years I have been covering public education mostly here in the USA but also in China, Hong Kong, France and Spain. I began at NPR in 1974 (when it was still known as National Public Radio), and I’ve reported for “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and “PBS NewsHour.”

    I look forward to traveling with my wife and catching up with other areas of my life in the coming months, but retiring from Learning Matters is not a hard stop for me. I have one more report to finish for the NewsHour, and our new film, “School Sleuth: The Case of the Wired Classroom,” will be on most PBS stations in November.

    My passion and desire for engagement remain strong. Rather than putting myself out to pasture, I hope to keep active as a moderator, an activity I love, and seize other opportunities and adventures that await, out of sight and around the corner. I’ll be weighing in on critical issues in education in Raleigh-Durham in August; DC in September; and Chicago in October.

    There’s certainly plenty to talk about:

      Will we hold charter schools, both for-profit and not-for-profit, accountable for their spending and their educational outcomes?

      If the resistance to over-testing continues to grow, how will that change what happens in schools on a daily basis?

      Will technology be used to let students soar and explore, or will educators harness it to improve management of information and fact-based learning?

      Will leadership emerge that will help develop sensible ways of assessing schools, students and teachers — and in so doing drive a stake through the heart of ‘test-based accountability’ that is playing gotcha with teachers?

      How will the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act, when it eventually replaces the much-detested No Child Left Behind, change the power dynamics between Washington and the states?

    Friends have asked me what I will miss most. That’s easy: the challenges of reporting and the joys of teamwork. Television is truly a team sport, and I have been blessed with wonderful teammates. Because it’s my face and voice that have been in your faces and ears, I’ve received more credit and attention than I deserve. I hope that, at 74, I am mature enough to cope without the attention.

    By now, blogging has become second nature to me, and I will continue to post at least weekly. I invite you to take a look at my new blog, The Merrow Report. (Fun fact: This was the name of my original television series back in the 1990’s.) You will find it at themerrowreport.com.

    Please consider subscribing.

    My departure is not a hard stop (or any sort of stop at all) for Learning Matters and its reporting for the NewsHour. Within a few days, expect an announcement. I’m thrilled that my talented colleagues will continue to do the work they love, and I am extremely grateful that a number of leading foundations are supporting this enterprise.

    In later posts I will weigh in on current issues and trends, while also reflecting on the past 41 years of interviewing teachers, students, Secretaries of Education and others in America’s most important venture.

    As I sign off, please know that it has been a rare privilege to report for you. I appreciate your trust, and I pledge to do my best to preserve it, whenever our worlds connect.

    An Italian friend once cautioned me, “Never say arrivederci to people you care about. Say addio per ora instead, because that means ‘goodbye for now.’”

    Addio per ora. I look forward to hearing from you.


    The post Longtime NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow retires appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Cold Mountain opera

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: Now to the making of a new opera from a story set amid the horror of the Civil War. The second performance is tonight in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    Jeffrey Brown was there for the premiere this weekend.

    In the new opera “Cold Mountain,” we first meet W.P. Inman at a Confederate military hospital in Virginia, as he and other soldiers mourn the loss of yet another fallen comrade.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Wounded and sick of war’s horror, Inman decides he’s had enough and walks away, a deserter, towards Ada Monroe, the woman he left behind in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

    The opera’s composer is Jennifer Higdon.

    JENNIFER HIGDON, Composer, “Cold Mountain”: I realized that I grew up so close to Cold Mountain, that the people and the landscape, their speech patterns, the language, that it felt like something that I knew well enough to be the subject of a first opera.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really? It felt familiar, as in these are my people or this is my land?

    JENNIFER HIGDON: Yes, actually, yes.


    JENNIFER HIGDON: And I thought to myself, well, there’s a lot of love and death in this, and those are big opera themes, so it seemed perfect.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Higdon was raised on the Tennessee side of those mountains. Her parents loved rock ‘n’ roll. There was no classical music in her childhood.

    JENNIFER HIGDON: No opera at all, unless you count “Grand Ole Opry.” But I…


    JEFFREY BROWN: Years later, Higdon is one of the most celebrated and performed composers in the country, with a Pulitzer Prize and constant stream of commissions for orchestral and chamber music. But she had never tried her hand at opera.

    JENNIFER HIGDON: Actually, if you have to have an opera premiering somewhere grand, this is the perfect place.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The Santa Fe Opera is renowned company in a spectacular setting, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico, drama in the scenery and sometimes in the skies above.

    And you get thunder and lightning.

    JENNIFER HIGDON: It could be cannon fire.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Eighteen years ago, lightning struck for a then unknown writer named Charles Frazier, who was making his living teaching in colleges. “Cold Mountain,” his first novel, one he based loosely on Homer’s Odyssey, spent 61 weeks on the top of the bestseller list, won a National Book Award, and has sold more than three million copies.

    In 2003 came “Cold Mountain,” the film, and now the opera. And Frazier and his family were there for the premiere.

    Did you have any sense of the phenomenon that you were creating when you were writing this book?

    CHARLES FRAZIER, Author, “Cold Mountain”: Oh, my gosh, no. I mean, the whole time I was working on it, I was thinking, don’t ever go sit down at the desk worrying whether it’s going to be published or not.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Never mind a movie, an opera.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Millions of people reading, right?

    CHARLES FRAZIER: I think the biggest thing I ever let myself hope for was that I would get a better teaching schedule out of it.


    JEFFREY BROWN: The opera is told through alternating episodes, the perilous journey of Inman, hunted by the Home Guard militia looking for deserters, Ada and her friend Ruby’s struggle to survive amid war’s deprivations.

    We also see flashbacks to the lovers’ early courtship just before the war. Getting from page to stage took several years. Higdon worked with librettist Gene Scheer, who distilled the sprawling epic into a theatrical story in which words are now at the service of music.

    GENE SCHEER, Librettist: The job of librettist is really to structure the story in a way that invites music in. I’m looking for musical possibilities, musical situations and moments that ask to be sung.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And then to add the words to that music.

    GENE SCHEER: And then to add the words to it.

    The worst thing I think you could do is just take the book and put it on the stage. The idea is not to be faithful to the letter of the source, but to the spirit of the source.

    JEFFREY BROWN: That’s perhaps seen most dramatically in the set designed by Robert Brill.

    LEONARD FOGLIA, Director, “Cold Mountain”: In our beautiful country we’re there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Veteran theater and opera director Leonard Foglia says he wanted an abstract environment, suggesting a shattered world, as opposed to the rich detail of the natural world in the novel.

    LEONARD FOGLIA: I can’t compete with it. I can’t compete with the film. I can’t compete with people’s imaginations. We have all walked in the woods. We all know what that is. And I knew I couldn’t do that, and so I wasn’t going to even try. So, I was going to just try to get to what I think is the soul of the book and the soul of the story.

    The main character in this, Inman, he’s been gutted, is one of the phrases that Charles uses in the book and we use it in the opera. And I wanted an environment that’s been gutted.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Director Foglia assembled an all-star cast, including baritone Nathan Gunn as Inman, mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Ada, and Jay Hunter Morris as Teague, the evil and murderous leader of the Home Guard.

    You kind of enjoy playing the role?

    JAY HUNTER MORRIS, Tenor “Cold Mountain”: It’s great fun. I like to put on the outfit and strap on the gun or, you know, a peg leg or a big flowing wig or something.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And open your voice, your mouth.

    JAY HUNTER MORRIS: And tell a story, yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Like Jennifer Higdon, Morris grew up without classical music in his life. He discovered opera in his 20s. The Texas native has an advantage here.

    JAY HUNTER MORRIS: The swing of the Southern accent is constantly in my ear. I am so happy to not have to work too strenuously on the dialect, you know? If I take on a role that’s Russian or Czech or even German, it’s — I spend many, many hours and weeks and months toiling, trying to get the flavors.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Sound like a Russian or an Italian or something?


    JEFFREY BROWN: But here, this sounds familiar to you?

    JAY HUNTER MORRIS: It’s pretty — it’s a lot easier than singing in Czech, I will tell you that.


    JEFFREY BROWN: An hour before opening night, we join Morris in, yes, the bathroom.

    Do you always do this in the bathroom?

    JAY HUNTER MORRIS: It’s my favorite spot. It’s where the best acoustics are.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Nearby, Isabel Leonard was being transformed into Ada. And on stage, some last-minute fight scenes were rehearsed.

    Outside, in the parking lot, some “Cold Mountain”-appropriate banjo playing, as patrons took part in the Santa Fe version of tailgating. Then it was on with the show. The day before, I had asked composer Jennifer Higdon about the prospects for her opera.

    It’s hard to get a new opera launched and into the canon or get it performed again.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Are you?


    JENNIFER HIGDON: Apprehensive?

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, spoiler alert for those who don’t know the story, unlike Inman, “Cold Mountain” the opera has a good chance to survive and thrive. Opera houses in Philadelphia, Minnesota and North Carolina have already agreed to present “Cold Mountain.”

    And on opening night here, composer, artistic team, novelist and cast took their bows to a standing ovation.

    For PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    GWEN IFILL: The Santa Fe Opera has announced another ambitious project. The company has commissioned an opera about the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. The work will look at how Jobs faced his own mortality and explore the events and people that shaped and inspired him. It’s set to premiere during the 2017 season.

    The post Civil War tragedy ‘Cold Mountain’ inspires opera appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Business woman using smartphone in kitchen

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    GWEN IFILL: The decision by Netflix, the video streaming service, to grant up to a year of paid leave for new parents generated big interest among workers today. The new and unusual company policy will apply to mothers and fathers of newborns or newly adopted children.

    Hari Sreenivasan in our New York studios has more on this story.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Netflix employees will be able to determine their schedules for up to a year after having a baby. A few other tech giants have also set a new standard in recent years. Google provides more than four months of paid leave for biological mothers. Apple offers a similar amount.

    But for most new parents, it’s a very different story. Just 12 percent of private sector employees in this country have access to paid family leave through their job.

    Some context now on the Netflix policy and whether others will follow suit at all.

    Sarah Jane Glynn studies these issues and advocates for greater leave as the director for women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress.

    So, how big of a deal is this Netflix announcement?

    SARAH JANE GLYNN, Center for American Progress: Well, it’s a huge deal, in that this is the most generous policy that I’m aware of any American company offering for new parents that work for them.

    But you’re right to note that only 12 percent of workers currently have these types of voluntary policies through their employers, so while this is a tremendous boon for people who are lucky enough to work for Netflix, the majority of the work force is not going to be impacted by it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Netflix is already in a specific category. It’s an enormous company. It’s in the tech sector, where it’s actually pretty competitive to try and recruit people. But what’s the ripple effect likely to be on an auto manufacturer or an iron plant somewhere else in the country?

    SARAH JANE GLYNN: Well, I think there’s a couple of really interesting things to keep in mind here.

    One is, as you noted, tech companies are known for offering these very generous leave policies. And part of the reason why they do that is because they have recognized this is a really effective way to recruit talent and to retain that talent.

    One of the reasons that Google expanded their parental leave policy was because they noticed that they were losing so many talented women from their work force. And once they expended the maternity leave, their retention rate increased by 50 percent.

    It makes really good economic sense for these large companies who can afford to offer these kinds of policies to do so. My fear is that these very big companies that have a lot of money can afford to offer very, very generous policies to their workers, but smaller businesses and businesses that don’t have that same kind of bottom line oftentimes struggle to offer voluntary policies like this.

    So that’s part of why we have been arguing that we need to have a national standard and we need to have a large-scale national paid family leave program, like you see in every other advanced economy in the world, so that we’re not expecting individual businesses to have the foot the bill entirely on their own.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so how would something like that get funded? I can hear small businesses around the country watching this saying, well, OK, where is that money going to come from? If there is a national plan, if it’s not coming out of my pocket, it’s coming out of whose?

    SARAH JANE GLYNN: Well, one thing that’s great now is that we can look to three states that have already implemented these types of policies.

    California has had a family leave program in place for over a decade now. And they were followed by New Jersey and now most recently Rhode Island. And in those states, employers aren’t expected to pay into it. It’s a very, very small payroll tax. You’re talking about, in New Jersey, less than $50 a year for the average worker to fund this type of program.

    And then the wages are there for you when you need them. So like every social insurance program, it requires very, very small premiums to be paid, but the payoff is huge for folks who need to utilize them. And I would also like to note that the policies I mentioned aren’t just for new parents. Those also cover other types of family caregiving, which I think is really the next space that we’re going to see movement in our country, because certainly new parents need time off to care for babies, but, as our population ages, people also need time off to care for their other family members as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And there seems to be a couple of different distinctions when we talk about family leave. Sometimes, it’s just for biological mothers. Other times, it’s for mothers only. This seems a bit more broad. Is that reflecting a different trend?


    And I think it’s really important to note that what Netflix is offering to their workers is very, very different, in that it offers the same amount of leave to biological birth mothers, to adoptive parents and to fathers. And that’s something that’s very, very different.

    And I think it’s really important and is definitely responding to a need. One thing that we have seen, particularly among millennial men who are becoming fathers for the first time, they’re reporting being involved with their children’s lives is incredibly important to them. They’re very, very invested in trying to figure out ways to balance work with family and to be there for their children in ways that perhaps their parents weren’t able to be there for them.

    So I think that this is the new face of this movement. It’s going to be men who are arguing, dads need this leave, too. It’s not just about mothers, but it’s about all types of families.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Considering that other countries have been doing this for some time, considering that are a few companies that have some data, what are the outcomes? Do employees — is it actually possible to prove that this retains employees, that they’re happier, that they work longer or are more productive?

    SARAH JANE GLYNN: So, all of the data that we have on paid leave shows that it makes people more likely to return to work. It makes them more likely to return to that same job and that same salary that they held before they had a baby.

    It makes people more productive and more devoted to their companies, because, frankly, they don’t have to worry so much about how they’re going to make ends meet. So it really is a win-win for employers and for families. You know, there’s very, very few arguments that actually fly to argue against this.

    All right, Sarah Jane Glynn from the Center for American Progress, thanks so much.

    SARAH JANE GLYNN: Thank you.

    The post Why Netflix just offered the most generous parental leave policy in the country appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A group of foreign nationals threaten to defend themselves as police get between them and South Africans after a peace march in Durban, April 16, 2015. At least four people have been killed in a wave of anti-immigrant violence that started two weeks ago in Durban, a key port on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast. REUTERS/Rogan Ward - RTR4XM6M

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    GWEN IFILL: We turn now to South Africa, where a wave of violence against migrants earlier this year left many victims frightened and the government struggling for a solution to the resurgence of xenophobia, the fear of people from other countries.

    NewsHour special correspondent Martin Seemungal has our report from Durban, South Africa.

    A warning: Some of the images in this story may be disturbing.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Six dead, hundreds injured, 5,000 migrants forced to seek refuge in hastily organized camps, all due to a wave of anti-foreigner violence in South Africa.

    Police have watched over this refugee camp for immigrants for two months, guarding people who came here for safety, being told now it is time to return home.

    Anicet Bigirimana is from Burundi. He says the attack on his family was sudden and extremely violent.

    ANICET BIGIRIMANA, Migrant: The first time they came, they put — they took my son. They put him — a tire in the petrol. They almost burned him. But today — there’s another neighbor who grip him from their hands. That’s how they started.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: This Somali immigrant running for his life from a group of South Africans also survived, this attack, one of many in April, part of a wave of xenophobic attacks against other Africans living and working here.

    According to official statistics, there are just over two million immigrants in South Africa, and somewhere between 500,000 and one million are undocumented. The worst violence was in the Durban area. Parts of downtown became battle zones, as migrants fought back.

    It appeared to be part of a systematic campaign against people from African countries, in particular Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Congo, and Malawi, but there is no clear indication who was responsible for organizing the attacks.

    Chris Van Den Berg is a city councilman for a district in Durban that includes a number of villages in the surrounding hills.

    CHRIS VAN DEN BERG, City Councillor, Durban: There was a group about 80-odd plus, people with bangers and bush knives, telling people very clearly that they could not be here Sunday morning, that they were going to be — they were either going to be killed or attacked.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Anti-immigrant feelings also spread to Johannesburg. There were large angry demonstrations against foreigners, met by police using volleys of bird shot.

    South Africa’s government condemned the attacks, the country’s home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, promising strong action against the perpetrators.

    MALUSI GIGABA, Minister of Home Affairs, South Africa: The government reiterates that attacks on any fellow human beings and destruction of property, as well as looting, are criminal offenses and will not be tolerated.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Three hundred and seven people were arrested. So far, there have been no convictions. There is a painful irony to what has happened to these people. Many of them fled their home countries to escape conflict. And so they are shocked at what has happened to them here in South Africa, driven from homes and businesses built after years of hard work, forced into temporary shelters, crowded tents, surviving on food provided by the government and relief agencies.

    Kabanga Kaji has lived in this camp in Durban for several weeks. She has four children.

    KABANGA KAJI, Migrant: The life here is miserable. The way you live — and you can see it yourself — we live here like animals. You can see — or the way we sleep in the place where we sleep in is not good.

    WOMAN: I used to think that South Africa is a good country. And now I think South Africa is a bad country, because they’re killing us for no reason.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Many blame a speech by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini for attacks. Zwelithini is the eighth monarch of the Zulu Nation, the largest ethnic group in South Africa.

    Earlier this year, Zwelithini harshly criticized migrants living in South Africa, especially the small businesses run by foreigners. He ended his speech with a call for them to pack their bags. The king maintains his remarks were taken out of context.

    Xenophobic attacks are not new to South Africa. In 2008, attacks on foreigners led to more fatalities; 67 people were killed around Johannesburg.

    Jean Pierre Misago, a Burundian, is a researcher at the African Center for Migration at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He says the violence didn’t come as a surprise.

    JEAN PIERRE MISAGO, University of Witwatersrand: After 2008, there were political pronouncements and promises of never again. But, to be honest, our research continuously showed that there were no concrete measures to prevent violence from happening again.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The killing of Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole was captured in a series of chilling pictures by a photographer with South Africa’s Sunday Times, James Oatway.

    JAMES OATWAY, Sunday Times: They were angry and — yes, they were angry and they were full of hate. The expression on their faces, they weren’t going to be satisfied with anything but killing Emmanuel. That was the one thing I could tell.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: The attack lasted just 28 second and then stopped. The men fled. Sithole was still alive, still conscious. Oatway rushed him to hospital in a car, but it was too late.

    JAMES OATWAY: I don’t really have any regrets about my actions taking pictures of the attack. I think I did what I could. And I think my being there was an intervention of sorts. I suppose my only regret really is that we didn’t get Emmanuel to a hospital quickly enough for his life to be saved.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: Alexandria is one of the poorest places in South Africa. Many migrants live here because it is affordable and there is a perception among South Africans here that immigrants are taking their jobs.

    JEAN PIERRE MISAGO: Many people have tried to like explain it through poverty and unemployment, but those are not really the only — the key factors or the only factor that can explain the violence, because if they did, we would see violence everywhere where there is poverty.

    And, overall, you can actually frame xenophobic violence as a governance issue, because we have evidence that, where community leadership doesn’t want it to happen, it doesn’t.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: When South Africa’s security forces escalated operations and visibility against the attackers, the violence subsided.

    There have been recent demonstrations against xenophobia, but thousands of migrants had already made the decision to leave, returning home to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique. For the immigrants who stayed, the government is determined to reintegrate them back into the communities they were driven out of.

    Irene Carisa is back in the apartment she shares with other African immigrants in Durban.

    “I am really worried,” she says, “given what happened, but we have been told the government and the police will protect us.”

    But she is afraid every time she goes outside, and told us she was recently beaten when she was at the market.

    Kabanga Kaji is deeply worried as well.

    KABANGA KAJI: What’s going to go on to me that, if I go, they say it is going to happen again. If they save my life two times, what about the third one? Maybe I will die.

    MARTIN SEEMUNGAL: It is a frightening prospect for these survivors, not knowing if the xenophobic rage that cost so many lives will return again.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Martin Seemungal in Durban, South Africa.

    The post Living in fear after attacks on migrants in South Africa appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Democratic U.S presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a speech on Cuban relations at Florida International University in Miami, Florida July 31, 2015. Clinton on Friday called for the U.S. Congress to end the U.S. economic embargo in Cuba and said she would make it easier for Americans to travel to the Communist-led island if she were president. REUTERS/Joe Skipper  - RTX1MLE3

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    GWEN IFILL: Surrounding the e-mails Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sent while serving as secretary of state, Clinton’s lawyer has confirmed the FBI is looking into the security of classified e-mails once stored on a private server.

    The questions first arose last summer, when State Department lawyers needed access to information about the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton herself has called for the State Department to release her e-mails to the public. A campaign spokesman said in a statement that she didn’t send nor receive any e-mails that were marked classified at the time. The former senator and first lady has not been accused of any personal wrongdoing by authorities.

    Carol Leonnig helped break the story for The Washington Post and she joins me now.

    So, exactly what is the FBI investigating, Carol?

    CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post: So the FBI and agents who are working on this are — is looking at how secure the copies, electronic, digital, paper, how secure copies of that — of those e-mails are to make sure they don’t fall in the wrong hands.

    Now that we know that inspectors general at two agencies found classified material in some of the e-mails that went to Hillary’s server, Mrs. Clinton’s server, and from it, now that we know that, the FBI is concerned about whether or not some of that information could be compromised.

    Now, there are two places this is information is currently stored that we know of, one, in — on a thumb drive, rather, of Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, in Washington. He has said he has electronic copies of all 30,000 e-mails that former Secretary of State Clinton sent during her time in the department, and that he’s keeping them so that he can respond to congressional inquiries.

    GWEN IFILL: Now, there is a distinction to be drawn in this investigation between what was on public servers, what was on the private servers we’re talking about here, and what’s classified, what is considered to be classified information and what’s considered to be sensitive information. Can you sort that out for us?

    CAROL LEONNIG: Yes, and it’s the subject of a huge dispute in many different ways.

    For example, the State Department and the intelligence community have differences of opinion about what material is classified within the e-mails that they are reviewing of former Secretary Clinton. Remember, this all came to pass because of revelations that Mrs. Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail server, a private e-mail address for her work business, and that she had sent — set up a private e-mail server at her home to handle those e-mails.

    Critics say that has put this information sort of out of the government’s reach, to a degree. Anyway, back to the classified issue, there are disagreements about what material is classified. And this is why both the inspector general for the intelligence community and the inspector general for the State Department have asked the FBI to look at this matter and determine whether this material is secure and to make sure that no classified information has been compromised.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, one of the things that’s interesting in this, Carol, is the Clinton campaign response, which is that she didn’t send any e-mails that were classified at the time, their words, at the time.

    Does that mean that — is that leaving room for the possibility that there were some e-mails, some communication that was later deemed to be classified, that she unwittingly sent?

    CAROL LEONNIG: I think that this could be basically a debate about semantics and words.

    The inspectors general have already said publicly that the e-mails they have reviewed that they found classified information in were not stamped classified. There was no formal stamp saying this is what this is. But they have said that it was clearly information that was sensitive, of national security significance, material that should have been stamped classified and that senior government officials would presume was classified.

    Remember that, oftentimes, agency officials would have their e-mails reviewed for classification purposes after the fact or when they were being reviewed. And that doesn’t seem to have been the case with Mrs. Clinton’s e-mails because they were not being sent on a government server, and they were not on a government e-mail address.

    GWEN IFILL: Do we know whether any of the information that’s been unearthed so far had anything to do with what started all of this, which was the Benghazi investigation?

    CAROL LEONNIG: We have not seen copies of the e-mails.

    Remember, there are four to five of them so far of 40 that have been reviewed by the intelligence community and have been found to contain classified information. The intelligence community says that these five of the 40, or four of the 40, depending on which they label as classified, that this information in them came from defense and intelligence community agencies.

    So, again, whether it references Libya or Benghazi, that, I don’t know.

    GWEN IFILL: Or whether it’s embarrassing or criminal, that’s what we’re waiting to see as it unfolds.

    Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

    CAROL LEONNIG: Thank you, Gwen.

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    Republican presidential candidates (top row L-R) Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, (bottow row L-R) Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich are seen in a combo of recent file photos. The head of the Republican Party on Wednesday said its presidential candidates are unlikely to attack each other in the party's first official debate but instead are focused on ousting Democrats from the White House. Seventeen Republicans, led by billionaire Donald Trump, who has taunted fellow contenders, are seeking the conservative party's presidential nomination. Only 10 will be on stage Thursday night in the first prime-time debate, which could offer a boost in exposure to voters and a chance to break out of the pack. REUTERS/files - RTX1N5SG

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    GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, 17 Republican candidates for president will gather in Cleveland, 10 of them in prime time, for the first debate of the political season.

    Political director Lisa Desjardins is there with a preview.

    LISA DESJARDINS: In the long and plentiful history of Republican presidential debates, there has never been an event like this one, not in size, not in flavor.

    DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate: Well, you need somebody, because politicians are all talk, no action. Nothing’s going to get done.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Donald Trump, the prediction-defying, border-visiting, self-extolling businessman, may be the most colorful Republican front-runner in modern history, but he has never before been in a major debate.

    Ron Bonjean is among the longtime GOP strategists guessing at what Trump will do tomorrow night.

    RON BONJEAN, Republican Strategist: He says he’s going to go positive and play nice with the other candidates, but that’s so unlike Trump. Once he starts getting attacked, I think it is going to be tough for him to stay quiet and stay positive.

    LISA DESJARDINS: For the other candidates already wrestling with basic debate pressure, this adds a significant issue, attack or don’t attack?

    RON BONJEAN: If you’re Jeb Bush, or Scott Walker or Marco Rubio, you’re likely going to stay out of taking Trump on. You are going to act presidential because you’re leading the field. You’re in the top three or four positions here. For a lesser known candidate, like Dr. Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee, if I were them, I would want to take on Donald Trump.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Of course, Donald Trump is not the only element of spectacle building here in Cleveland. The other is the general Republican field. Seventeen candidates is an all-time record and a first-time logistical nightmare. The result is a tricky and controversial decision to split up the candidates.

    In the main event, the two-hour prime-time debate, host FOX News has invited these top 10 candidates, the top 10 in an average of five national polls. That leaves out these seven candidates, Republicans whose resumes include senator, governor and a CEO who is the only woman in the Republican field. They will hold a separate, shorter debate earlier in the day.

    And some in that second group, like Rick Santorum, are crying foul.

    RICK SANTORUM, Republican Presidential Candidate: National polls mean nothing. And so this is an arbitrary figure. And, unfortunately, the networks and the RNC have gone along with this irrelevant measure of legitimacy of candidacy.

    LISA DESJARDINS: As was visible at this crowded New Hampshire Q&A Monday, the problem is there are 17 legitimate candidates. It’s a problem for them, but, tomorrow, it could mean a fascinating night for voters.

    Lisa Desjardins, the PBS NewsHour, Cleveland.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on a nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015.Obama, defending the Iranian nuclear deal against critics, said on Wednesday that Iran will be caught if it tries to cheat and build a nuclear weapon. Opponents of the deal have raised concerns that international inspectors would not have unfettered access in Iran under the deal. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst? - RTX1N712

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    GWEN IFILL: President Obama today stepped up his full-court press against critics of the Iran nuclear agreement. In an address staged at the very place John F. Kennedy delivered a speech pressing for an arms deal with Russia in 1963, Mr. Obama linked the deal’s opponents to those who supported going to war with Iraq.

    He also warned that America’s international credibility will be lost if Congress kills the agreement.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Before the ink was even dry on this deal, before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition.

    GWEN IFILL: In an almost hour-long speech, the president denounced critics of the nuclear agreement in his strongest terms yet.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If the rhetoric in these ads and the accompanying commentary sounds familiar, it should, for, many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal. It was a mind-set characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy, a mind-set that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus.

    GWEN IFILL: And, he warned, rejecting the Iran deal now will set the country on the path to new conflict.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. There are opponents of this deal who accept the choice of war. In fact, they argue that surgical strikes against Iran’s facilities will be quick and painless.

    But if we have learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.

    GWEN IFILL: The president also argued again that Iran will accelerate its nuclear efforts if Congress blocks this deal.

    But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in advance of the president’s remarks, rejected that claim outright.

    SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: It’s clear this deal is making members of both parties uneasy, and with good reason. America’s role in world, its commitment to global allies and the kind of future we leave our children are all tied up in this issue. That’s why I have called for a debate worthy of the importance of the agreement, when the Senate takes it up in September.

    GWEN IFILL: Also on Capitol Hill, senators met with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency for a private briefing on how the agreement would affect Iran’s nuclear efforts.

    SEN. BOB CORKER, Chair, Committee on Foreign Relations: It wasn’t a reassuring meeting.

    GWEN IFILL: Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, raised questions about access to Iran’s nuclear sites.

    SEN. BOB CORKER: Most members left with greater concerns about the inspection regime than they came in with.

    GWEN IFILL: But the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, said he cannot give Congress a copy of his agency’s nuclear inspection agreement with Iran.

    SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), New York: I have had many questions answered. I have not yet reached a conclusion.

    GWEN IFILL: And at a separate hearing, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was questioned on that same point.

    WENDY SHERMAN, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs: Ultimately, what we are talking about here is the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whether in fact we believe that they are a credible, independent verification organization, which it is.

    GWEN IFILL: Polls show the American public is also divided over the agreement. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found a third supporting the deal, a third opposing it, and a third saying they don’t know enough to make a decision. Congress has begun a 60-day review, and has until September 17 to vote. The president has warned he will veto any resolution of disapproval.

    So how successful was the president in making the case for the Iran nuclear agreement? We get two views.

    Nicholas Burns had a 27-year career in the Foreign Service. He’s now at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. And Ray Takeyh was a senior adviser on Iran at the State Department during President Obama’s first term. He’s now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Ray Takeyh, the president had some tough words today. He talked about how Netanyahu was just wrong. He linked the Iranian opposition to the Republican Party, the Republican Caucus, and he said that he criticized his opponents as armchair nuclear scientists. But, most of all, he made this link to people who voted for the war in Iraq.

    Was the president on target or off?

    RAY TAKEYH, Council on Foreign Relations: I went back and actually read Jack Kennedy’s speech and commencement address at American University.

    And Jack Kennedy’s speech was lofty, idealistic. I think, if I quote it right, he said we shouldn’t wave the finger of accusation or issue indictments.

    I think the president was unyielding. He was passionate, but his tone was at times truculent. And he didn’t make a successful pitch to his critics. This is a technologically flawed agreement, and the president should have attempted to broaden the parameters of this, the parameters of the conversation about this agreement. I think, in that sense, the president missed his mark, and I think it was unwise.

    GWEN IFILL: Nicholas Burns, what do you think about the president’s tone in particular?

    NICHOLAS BURNS, Harvard University: Gwen, I thought the president made a very strong case on the merits.

    And it was an impassioned case because I think, in many ways, this may be, for him, his most important foreign policy issue. And I think he made two important points. One, this deal is going to freeze Iran’s nuclear program. They have been on the march for 10 years. It will freeze them for 10 or 15 years.

    It will put them under very intrusive IAEA safeguards for 25 years. And it — very importantly, Iran, the administration says, is about two to three months away now from having the capability the produce a weapon. This deal means that Iran will be set back to a year, and all this done by diplomacy and negotiation, not war.

    And I think, as Americans, we ought to have the self-confidence to try diplomacy first, rather than war. I will say this, Gwen, in answer to your specific question. I think the president ought to have a big tent policy here. To say that if the deal is turned down, if Congress defeats the president, it overrides his veto in December, then that leads to war, I think, is a little stark.

    It’s much more probable that, if a deal breaks down, it will be bad for the United States, because we will be the ones who will have broken the agreement, the Iranians will be able to reconstitute a civil program. I don’t think, however, the Iranians are going to elect to then go to a nuclear weapon, which would invite an American response.

    So — and rather than paint the critic as the Iraq War critics, I have been up on the Hill for three weeks. I have testified four times. I have met lots of members. They come in very different forms. There are Democrats who are worried about this deal, Democrats who worry about Israel.

    So I think the president would be well-advised not to try to paint his critics as warmongers, but to explain the case on the merits. The merits for this deal are very strong.

    GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about this question or this choice between unilateral action and diplomacy. Is that — you see those array of Nick Burns’ concerns. Are they yours as well, Ray Takeyh?

    RAY TAKEYH: Not entirely.

    The history of arms controls suggest, when there’s congressional objections, as was the case in SALT-I and SALT-II, and the president mentioned those, there is an attempt to go back and renegotiate aspects of this. And I think that’s what president should have done when he met the criticism, as opposed to just dismiss it.

    There are aspects of this agreement that are very problematic, such as the sunset clause, where, after essentially 10 years, Iran gets to embark on an industrial-sized nuclear program. And when you have an industrial-sized nuclear, there is no inspection modality really that can detect a sneak-out to a weapon option.

    The president essentially, even now, after the rejection of the deal, should there be one, has a chance to go back, renegotiate some aspect of the deal, therefore strengthen it. And as he strengthens that deal, I think he can broaden the bipartisan support for it.

    I would be very concerned if I was a supporter of this deal that this deal is based on such a narrow margin of public support in the Hill. I think the longevity of this deal is seriously questioned by its absence of bipartisan support.

    GWEN IFILL: Nick Burns, I want to talk about the politics of that, but I also want to ask you about this question about sanctions and inspections and whether those are loopholes which cause legitimate concern.

    NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, I think this deal is a benefit, Gwen — a mix of benefits and of risks.

    There are some risks. The primary risk is that what this does is, it freezes the Iranians for 10 years, but then, after 10 to 15 years, the Iranians do have the right to reconstitute a civil nuclear program. In my view, I support the deal, as someone who worked in the Bush and Clinton administration.

    And I support it because we’re not going to be any worse off after having frozen the Iranians for 10 to 15 years at that time. We will still be a lot stronger militarily. We will still be able to reassemble a sanctions coalition, if we have to do that, and I think the benefits, I think, for me, outweigh the risks. So I think that’s what the country should do.

    But the critics of this deal, Gwen, mainly in the Republican Party, have tried to say that there is an alternative, and the alternative is to walk away from these talks and sanction Iran further and wait for a better deal. And the problem with that is, we have built a big global coalition, but it’s an unwieldy one.

    I don’t think that global coalition will stay together if the U.S. unilaterally walks out of the deal. The sanctions regime would likely erode. And here’s the really important point. If we walk away from the deal, the Iranians won’t have to live by its restrictions and they will be free to begin building a nuclear program.

    Again, I think that scenario of the Republican critics largely strengthens Iran and it weakens the United States.

    GWEN IFILL: But what about Ray Takeyh’s point that, with a narrow window of support or a narrow margin of support on Capitol Hill, and a veto threat hanging over it all, that the president is making a tactical political error?

    NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, I think, from my observation, this has become a very partisan discussion on Capitol Hill.

    There are only a handful of Republicans who may support this deal. The real debate is in the Democratic Party. And I think that’s where the president has to turn his attention to make sure — it looks, Gwen, that if the vote is held, when it’s held in September, the Congress will vote, because of Republican majorities in both houses, to disapprove the deal.

    The president will then veto. He said he will do that. Can the president sustain his veto? And I think everything will depend on the Democrats in the House and obviously the Democrats in the Senate. And I would be surprised if the president’s veto is overridden, just based on what I’m hearing and talking to members in my time on Capitol Hill this week.

    GWEN IFILL: Ray Takeyh, the president and Nick Burns both say, and others, that there is no better deal. Is there?

    RAY TAKEYH: Well, frankly, the president used a lot of straw man, and to some extent, Nick did as well.

    Nobody’s talking about walking away from the table. We’re talking about — at least I’m talking about renegotiating certain aspects of this agreement that are particularly problematic and contentious, such as…

    GWEN IFILL: How do you renegotiate a deal where all these other nations have already signed off?

    RAY TAKEYH: I think it will be very — it will be very difficult, but not impossible, because some of these provisions are so glaringly flawed that I think other countries would welcome negotiations.

    I mentioned the sunset clause. Iran’s development of IR-8 centrifuges, which essentially produce uranium 17 times faster, and that gives Iran enrichment capacity that is quite substantial — the verification on this deal is extraordinarily imperfect.

    The president keeps talking about that this is the most intrusive verification system, and the only other verification system that was more intrusive resulted from the Iraq War and the armistice. That’s just not true.

    South Africa, under Nelson Mandela, agreed to anytime/anywhere inspection, which, in practice, you had access to military facilities within one day. So we can go back and renegotiate four, five, six aspects of this agreement. The history of arms controls is replete with such exercises.

    And I think if you do that, this agreement would be strengthened. It will be based on a bipartisan anchor, it would ensure its longevity, it would ensure that proliferation cascade in the Middle East will not take place, and it will ensure that Iran will not sneak out to a bomb.

    The first and foremost and only test of an arms control agreement is, does it reliably and permanently control arms? There’s question about the reliability of this agreement. There is no question about its permanence. It’s like a carton of milk. It has an expiration date and we should revisit some of those aspects of it.

    GWEN IFILL: Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations and Ambassador Nicholas Burns of the Kennedy School, thank you both very much.

    NICHOLAS BURNS: Thank you.

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    Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 6.25.50 PM

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    GWEN IFILL: International experts confirmed today that plane debris found in the Indian Ocean is indeed from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The jetliner disappeared in March 2014. Part of one wing was discovered last week on Reunion, Island thousands of miles west of where the plane disappeared.

    Malaysia’s prime minister announced the findings today at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

    NAJIB RAZAK, Malaysian Prime Minister: The burden and uncertainty faced by the families during this time has been unspeakable. It is my goal that this confirmation, however tragic and painful, will at least bring certainty to the families and loved ones of the 239 people on board MH370.

    GWEN IFILL: Investigators will continue examining the wing flap, hoping it can shed light on exactly what happened to the airliner.

    Fire crews in California continued their battle today against a sprawling blaze north of San Francisco. They have been helped by cooler temperatures and higher humidity since the fire exploded out of control over the weekend. It has burned 106 square miles so far. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

    There’s been another attack on a movie theater. A man with a hatchet and a gun gassed a theater near Nashville, Tennessee, today with pepper spray. He was shot and killed when he traded shots with police. The scene unfolded in the Hickory Hollow Cinema in Antioch. Police said the suspect was a 51-year-old local man. Three people were treated for minor injuries.

    The United Nations warned today that fighting in Afghanistan is taking a growing toll among women and children. Just this year, civilian casualties among women have jumped 23 percent. For children, the increase is 13 percent.

    The U.N.’s special representative for Afghanistan released the report today at a briefing in Kabul.

    NICHOLAS HAYSOM, U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan: We must now call on those parties engaged in the conflict who have it within their power to reduce the number of civilian casualties to effect changes, to try to commit to taking every step that will avoid civilian casualties.

    GWEN IFILL: Overall, casualties rose by 1 percent in the first half of the year. U.N. officials blame increased ground fighting since U.S. and NATO forces ended their combat role last year.

    At least 400 migrants were saved from the Mediterranean Sea today, after their boat capsized off Libya. Italian, Irish and other vessels raced to the scene to help rescue the boat’s passengers. They also recovered at least 25 bodies, and warned there may be many more. Up to 700 people may have been crammed onto the boat.

    Britain’s best-known radical Muslim cleric has been arrested on terror charges. Authorities today cited lectures he posted online last year praising the Islamic State group. Anjem Choudary and an associate were brought to court this afternoon in London, accused of inciting support for ISIS.

    MAN: He calls you to what gives you life.

    GWEN IFILL: Hundreds of British Muslims have left for Syria and Iraq to fight for the militant group. Choudary, a 48-year-old British-born cleric, has been perhaps the group’s most vocal defender in the international media.

    ANJEM CHOUDARY, Islamic Activist: People don’t come to me to ask me whether they should go to the Islamic State. I think that every Muslim should do his responsibility.

    GWEN IFILL: Choudary had already been arrested last fall on suspicion of membership in ISIS. He was later released, but his passport was seized.

    In a January interview with the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner, he was steadfast, but careful, in his defense of the Islamic State.

    ANJEM CHOUDARY: I’m on record on saying that I would love to go to the Islamic State myself. My passport was taken away, but I would love to take my wife and children as well, to bring them up according to the Sharia. That doesn’t mean I’m going to engage in any terrorist activities.

    PETER NEUMANN, King’s College London: He is a trained lawyer. He is very careful in his statement. And he knew exactly where that line was that he wasn’t allowed to cross.

    GWEN IFILL: Professor Peter Neumann of King’s College London runs the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. He spoke with the NewsHour today in Washington.

    PETER NEUMANN: He’s always been very careful to say that he wasn’t the one actually encouraging them or directly bringing them into these plots. But it is widely felt that he played an important role in radicalizing them.

    Anjem Choudary has for 15 years now been running a group that had different names that was very vocal and very aggressive in support for jihadist groups around the world, al-Qaida, more recently the Islamic State.

    GWEN IFILL: Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined, to mixed reviews, the British government’s approach to countering extremism. Voices like Choudary’s were in his crosshairs.

    PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON, UNITED KINGDOM: We are going to introduce new, narrowly targeted powers to enable us to deal with these facilitators and cult leaders and to stop them peddling their hatred.

    GWEN IFILL: Choudary remains in custody until his next court hearing, August 28. In the past, Choudary also praised the 9/11 attackers.

    In 2016 presidential campaign news, the head of a super PAC supporting Republican Rand Paul was indicted today on federal charges involving political bribery. Jesse Benton allegedly paid a state senator in Iowa to support Paul’s father, Ron Paul, in the 2012 Republican presidential race. Two other Ron Paul supporters are also facing federal charges in the case.

    U.S. companies will have to start disclosing the pay gap between CEOs and midrange employees. They will have to spell it out in the form of a ratio. The Securities and Exchange Commission voted today to require most publicly traded firms to release that information beginning in 2017.

    Wall Street struggled for direction again today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 10 points to close at 17540, the Nasdaq rose 34 points, and the S&P 500 added six.

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    A general view of the U.S. Capitol dome can be seen to the carriage entrance to the U.S. Senate in Washington December 11, 2014. Congressional Democrats objected on Wednesday to controversial financial and political campaign provisions tucked into a $1.1 trillion U.S. spending bill, keeping the risk of a government shutdown alive. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    The August recess begins for Congress, but when they return they already have plenty on their must-do list. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House has left town for its August recess and the Senate is departing, which leaves a hefty list of unfinished business. Lawmakers have just 10 legislative days in September to ensure that the government stays open.

    Here is Congress’ must-do list:

    — The 12 annual spending bills that fund the government remain in limbo over disparate disputes, from the Confederate flag to defense budgets. Congress is likely to approve a so-called continuing resolution to keep the government operating temporarily, which leaders hope they can do by Pope Francis’ address to lawmakers Sept. 24. Conservatives insist they won’t back legislation financing Planned Parenthood, under fire after its officials were secretly recorded discussing how they obtain fetal tissue for research.

    — Congress must vote by Sept. 17 on the international nuclear deal with Iran. Both House and Senate Republicans have set the stage for votes on a resolution of disapproval, which President Barack Obama has promised to veto. Congress would then have to vote within 10 days on whether to override the veto.

    — The government’s ability to pay its bills expires around Oct. 30, so Congress will have to extend the government’s borrowing authority by then or face a first-ever federal default. That likely means there will be demands and drama attached to that showdown.

    — Congress has until Oct. 29 to renew federal highway programs. Lawmakers approved a three-month extension last week, but a deadlock over finances thwarted an effort to pass a multiyear version that would give state and local governments confidence to map long-term road-building plans.

    — Already expired is the ability of the Export-Import Bank to make fresh loans. The tiny federal agency makes low-cost borrowing available to help American exporters sell their products, which conservatives complain is corporate welfare.

    — Lawmakers must resolve disputes over spending levels in their annual defense policy legislation. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.

    — Deadlines are also approaching for lawmakers to renew the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to spend money, child nutrition programs and pipeline safety standards, all of which expire Sept. 30.

    — High on the may-do list: A fresh GOP attempt to repeal Obama’s health care law and perhaps replace it with an alternative — if Republicans can agree on something. Also, an effort to improve cybersecurity legislation.

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    U.S. President Barack Obama makes an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in New York July 21, 2015.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX1L9NS

    U.S. President Barack Obama makes an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in New York July 21, 2015. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    As Jon Stewart prepares to wrap up his time at “The Daily Show,” recent reports surfaced that the comedian had visited the White House in 2011 and 2014 to meet with President Obama. The visits, which were previously unreported, brought speculation and, in many cases, suspicion to conversations about Stewart’s relationship with the administration.

    But for people familiar with that relationship, the reports were not a surprise. Obama strategist David Axelrod told Politico that Stewart had an effect on national conversations around policy, even within the administration. “I can’t say that because Jon Stewart was unhappy policy changed. But I can say that he had forceful arguments, they were arguments that we knew would be heard and deserved to be answered,” Axelrod said.

    While Stewart stressed that the show was merely a comedic counterpoint to the politics it covered, there were several occasions on which the show and its alums crossed into the world of policy. We look back at several of those moments below.

    1. Jon Stewart helps push a bill forward for 9/11 first responders and their families.

    By 2010, 9/11 first responders had waited nearly 10 years for a bill that would give them health care for injuries and illnesses resulting from their service. Those first responders suffered from a range of medical problems that were directly caused by their contact with toxic debris at Ground Zero. When the Senate voted down a bill that would have paid for their medical costs — a bill that had already been in the works for years — Stewart gathered a group of first responders on his show to give a moving testimony on their health issues post-9/11.

    Shortly afterward, the bill passed in Congress, allocating $6.2 billion to health care for first responders suffering from illness and providing compensation for families of people who had died in the attacks. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) told ABC News at the time that Stewart had put a renewed focus on the issue. “This bill has long been a huge priority for us in New York, but Jon’s attention to this helped turn it into the national issue it always should have been,” Schumer said.

    First responders themselves agreed. “What took us eight years of walking the halls of Congress, Jon Stewart in 22 minutes literally moved mountains and gave us a heartbeat again when we were flat-lined,” John Feal, an Army veteran who worked to clean up the wreckage from 9/11, told Politico.

    2. Stephen Colbert testifies before Congress on migrant labor.

    “The Colbert Report” host’s comedic surprise for Congress came after the comedian participated in a United Farm Workers challenge to people to fill the place of a migrant worker for a day. He appeared in front of the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security on April 24, 2010, in character, injecting some serious points about the role of migrant labor in the U.S. with his particular brand of satire.

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    Colbert noted that the topic was important to address. “It seems like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result,” he said. “But yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave.”

    And he had some creative ideas about how to address the issue. “As you heard this morning, America’s farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables … The obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables,” he said. “And if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you’ll see that many Americans have already started.”

    3. Stephen Colbert establishes a super PAC.

    As the 2012 presidential election approached, Colbert had a dream: “to fashion a massive money cannon that would make all those who seek the White House quake with fear and beg our allegiance … in strict accordance with federal election law.”

    That dream was made possible by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which had loosened restrictions on campaign finance in January 2010. The Federal Elections Commission approved Colbert’s application to create the super PAC in June 2011, and Colbert established a Delaware-based corporation called the “Colbert Super PAC SHH Institute,” through which anonymous, unlimited donations could be funneled to the super PAC. Colbert said the money would go toward “normal administrative expenses, including but not limited to, luxury hotel stays, private jet travel and PAC mementos from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.”

    Puzzling to some and hilarious to others, the process was entirely legal, showing the effects of the Citizens United decision in real time. “The Colbert Report” won a Peabody Award for the episodes on the super PAC. “Through inventive comedy, sight gags and mock-strident rhetoric, ‘The Colbert Report’ used its ‘megaphone of cash’ to illuminate the far-ranging effects on our politics of the Citizens United decision,” the Peabody Awards said in a statement.

    4. The VA changes its policy on health care for veterans after a Daily Show segment criticizes it.

    In May 2014, the VA was facing a public scandal. Officials at the Phoenix VA hospital had lied about the long wait times at their facility, where veterans faced an average wait of 115 days for a primary care appointment. Meanwhile, veterans could only receive private care under the Veterans Choice Program if they lived outside a 40-mile radius from a VA center. The radius was measured in a straight line and did not account for road lengths or travel time, preventing many veterans who lived further away from receiving care.

    Jon Stewart slammed the 40-mile standard, also called the “as the crow flies” method. “That is the least meaningful way to judge how hard it is to get somewhere for non-crows,” Stewart said.

    Shortly after the segment aired, the VA changed the rule to measure the distance by driving miles. Now the VA does not credit Stewart with influencing the change, but the host took some credit for the change on the show. The new rule doubled the amount of veterans that qualified for private care, CBS News reported.

    5. John Oliver inspires a Washington state bill aimed at increasing civic engagement.

    In June 2014, a segment on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” implored viewers to voice their concerns about an upcoming decision on net neutrality on the Federal Communications Commission’s website. The next day, the FCC’s site crashed.

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

    It is unknown whether the crash was due to an Oliver-inspired comment flood — but it definitely galvanized Washington state senator Cyrus Habib, who soon introduced a bill aimed at allowing citizens to comment on public policy online. Habib credited John Oliver with inspiring the bill.

    “Here’s a guy who likes to take boring topics and make them interesting,” Habib said. “If you can do that for an administrative process like the FCC on net neutrality, imagine the level of interest in issues people are even more familiar with at the state level.” The bill is still pending in the Washington state senate.

    Watch PBS NewsHour Thursday night for a closer look at Jon Stewart’s legacy as host of “The Daily Show.”

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    The finishing touches are made to the stage for the Republican presidential debate at The Quicken Loans Arena Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign season. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    The finishing touches are made to the stage for the first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign season in Cleveland. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    CLEVELAND — Ten Republican presidential hopefuls face off in the first prime-time debate of the 2016 campaign Thursday night in a clash that marks a big step forward in their quest for the nomination.

    In all, 17 presidential contenders will appear on the Cleveland stage. The top 10, as determined by national polls, will debate at 9 p.m. The seven who didn’t make the final cut will appear onstage during a forum at 5 p.m.

    Five things to look for on an important night in national politics:

    Wild Card Trump

    Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is considered the ultimate wild card in Thursday’s debate, having repeatedly proven a willingness to say anything and to ignore convention. He will literally play a central role, since as the leader in recent polls, Trump will be positioned in the center of the stage. Virtually all his rivals prepared for the debate by having an aide play Trump during practice sessions, but no one knows how the reality television star will perform in his first presidential debate. It’s unclear if any of his competitors will challenge him directly.

    Bush a Rusty Target?

    Bush could have the most to lose Thursday night. Considered the front-runner by most of his Republican competitors, Bush could face more criticism from his rivals than anyone else. He may be rusty. The former Florida governor hasn’t participated in a debate in more than a decade. And a younger generation of candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would love to steal some of his support from the GOP establishment. Bush will have to convince a skeptical electorate that he deserves to be the third member of his immediate family to serve in the White House.

    Naughty or Nice?

    Party officials and big donors have called on the candidates to avoid getting too nasty with each other. And for the most part, the leading candidates have preferred to attack Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton early in the primary season rather than attacking their Republican foes. But in a field as crowded as this one — particularly one that features Trump — it’s hard to imagine the candidates will ignore each other completely in their first nationally televised meeting. The most pointed jabs of the night could come during the 5 p.m. debate in which the second-tier candidates have more incentive to make a splash than do their prime-time rivals.

    Lesson on Immigration

    Mitt Romney helped doom his 2012 presidential bid — and damaged the GOP’s standing among Hispanic voters — by suggesting in a debate that immigrants in the country pursue “self-deportation.” The rhetoric on immigration from candidates in the 2016 election has been much more aggressive in some cases. Donald Trump described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals during his announcement speech, and others, while demanding a border fence, have also called for a reduction in legal immigration. The tone on the divisive issue Thursday night, if not the specific policies outlined, could go a long way in shaping Hispanic voter attitudes about the GOP in 2016.

    Splash from Undercard

    Look to the champion college debater, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, tea party favorite Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, to try to make a splash. And don’t forget about former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will be relegated to the second-tier debate but has been working for years to redeem himself for his “oops” moment in a debate four years ago when he couldn’t remember all three of the federal agencies he himself had proposed to eliminate.

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    Gwen Ifill Judy woodroof pbs newshour newsroom publicity photo

    PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will moderate the Democrats’ final debate.

    WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee unveiled plans on Thursday to hold six presidential debates starting this fall, with the first scheduled for Oct. 13 in Nevada.

    With Republicans focusing on their first debate, scheduled for Thursday night in Cleveland, Democrats released plans for their own far less crowded primary process.

    So far, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee are scheduled to participate in the officially sanctioned forums.

    Vice President Joe Biden’s staff has been kept informed about the scheduling but has not committed to attending, according to Democrats involved with the process who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Recent conversations between Biden associates and Democratic donors and operatives have led to speculation that Biden will challenge Clinton, though he has not announced a decision to his staff or said publicly whether he plans to run.

    Four debates are scheduled in early primary states before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, a decision that has prompted complaints from the candidates challenging Clinton for the nomination. Dates for the final two gatherings, planned for Wisconsin and Miami, have not been set, but the committee said they will be held in February or March. Other forums will be held in Charleston, South Carolina; Des Moines, Iowa; and Manchester, New Hampshire.

    The schedule is:

      Oct. 13, CNN, Nevada

      Nov. 14, CBS/KCCI/Des Moines Register, Des Moines, Iowa

      Dec. 19, ABC/WMUR, Manchester, N.H.

      Jan. 17, NBC/Congressional Black Caucus Institute, Charleston, S.C.

      February or March, Univision/Washington Post, Miami, Fla.

      February or March, PBS, Wisconsin

      The final debate will be moderated by PBS NewsHour co-anchors and managing editors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.

      Unlike Republicans, who face criticism after allowing only 10 candidates onstage for Thursday’s prime-time debate, the Democratic forums will be far less crowded affairs.

      Clinton’s team said she is looking forward to participating in the debates this fall.

      “She prides herself in doing very well in debates,” said her chief strategist Joel Benenson. “It’s a good opportunity to get attention on issues that are front and center in the lives of Americans.”

      Clinton certainly has practice on a debate stage: In 2008, she participated in 19 face-offs with then Illinois Senator Barack Obama. By this point in the primary calendar, there had already been four debates — in part a result of candidates announcing their campaigns earlier in the year.

      Associated Press writer Kathleen Ronayne contributed from Manchester, New Hampshire.

      The post Democrats announce 6 debates; Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff to moderate final appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Not only did candidate Donald Trump set the tone for Thursday's GOP primary debate, he also spoke the most. At 11:06, Trump caught the most air time, follwed by Jeb Bush at 8:40 and Mike Huckabee at 6:39. She the full list here. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Not only did candidate Donald Trump set the tone for Thursday’s GOP primary debate, he also spoke the most. At 11:06, Trump caught the most air time, follwed by Jeb Bush at 8:40 and Mike Huckabee at 6:39. See the full list here. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    CLEVELAND — A combative Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman-turned-presidential candidate, jolted the first Republican debate of the 2016 campaign by warning he might run as an independent if denied the GOP nomination. His startling declaration left his onstage rivals scrambling to compete for attention the rest of the night.

    Asked in the debate’s opening minutes whether he could rule out a third-party run, Trump declared Thursday night, “I will not make the pledge at this time.” He also refused to apologize for making crude comments about women, defended his changing policy positions and tangled with the debate moderators.

    While Trump was characteristically bombastic, most of the contenders standing alongside him clamored for their piece of the spotlight without engaging him directly. They quarreled over immigration, terrorism and gay marriage, each casting himself as the strongest to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. They also assailed President Barack Obama and his nuclear deal with Iran.

    READ: What does Donald Trump believe?

    The closest former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a favorite of the party’s moderate, establishment wing, came to tangling with Trump was a gentle critique of the businessman’s over-the-top rhetoric.

    “Mr. Trump’s language is divisive,” Bush said. “We’re not going to win by doing what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do every day — dividing the country.”

    On immigration, one of the main topics of the night, Bush defended his call for a path to legal status for some of the people living in the U.S. illegally, an unpopular position among some Republican voters who equate legal status with amnesty.

    “The great majority of people coming here have no other option,” Bush said.

    READ: What does Jeb Bush believe?

    Trump in particular has pushed the issue of immigration throughout the summer, drawing criticism for saying Mexican immigrants are rapists. He said Thursday that he had been told that by border patrol agents, and he took credit for immigration being an issue in the campaign.

    “If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talking about illegal immigration,” he said, despite the fact that immigration has been a hot-button issue in presidential campaigns for years.

    Trump’s blunt style was in line with the approach he’s taken to his campaign throughout the summer, appealing to voters frustrated with career politicians and perplexing his rivals. He entered the first debate leading the polls in a field filled with governors and senators.

    Seventeen Republicans are seeking the party’s nomination, but only 10 were invited by debate host Fox News to participate in the main event based on their showing in recent polls. The remaining seven were relegated to a pre-debate forum.

    READ: Which candidate spoke the most at tonight’s GOP debate?

    On stage in his home state, Ohio Gov. John Kasich sought to raise his profile by striking an optimistic tone on the economy, saying all Americans need an opportunity to “share in this great American dream.” He said that while he favored traditional marriage, he had recently attended a same-sex wedding and would support his children if they were gay.

    A raucous crowd cheered the candidates on throughout the debate in Cleveland, the same city where Republicans will nominate their general election candidate next summer. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.

    READ: What does John Kasich believe?

    While the candidates peppered their remarks with barbs about Clinton, they avoided lengthy attacks on her record as secretary of state and the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya. Only late in the debate did Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker raise the controversy surrounding her use of personal email and a private server while serving in the Obama administration.

    “Probably the Russian and Chinese governments know more about Hillary Clinton’s email server than do the members of the U.S. Congress,” Walker said.

    The first debate highlighted deep divisions within the Republican Party, with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul representing a segment of GOP voters frustrated with military action overseas and what they see as infringements on personal liberties.

    In a lengthy exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Paul defended his opposition to the USA Patriot Act and laws giving government access to Americans’ phone records. He said he wanted to collect more information from terrorists, not law-abiding Americans.

    Christie, a former U.S. attorney, was dismissive. “Listen, senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” he said.

    READ: What does Chris Christie believe?

    Paul was also the most aggressive in taking on Trump, challenging him early on his refusal to commit to supporting the party nominee.

    “He’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians,” Paul said.

    READ: What does Rand Paul believe?

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the youngest candidate in the field at age 44, has tried to carve out a niche as a foreign policy authority, but has struggled to break through this summer — particularly since Trump’s surge. He said the election “cannot be a resume competition.”

    “This election better be about the future, not the past,” he said.

    READ: What does Marco Rubio believe?

    Rounding out the field was Sen. Ted Cruz, surgeon and tea party favorite Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee rounded out the debate lineup.

    The crowded field meant limited talking time for candidates, many of whom were introducing themselves to Americans for the first time.

    “I wasn’t sure I was going to get to talk again,” Carson quipped when the moderators came back to him at one point.

    The remaining seven candidates were relegated to a pre-debate forum, a low-key event in a largely empty arena, where candidates avoided debating each other and largely stuck to scripted responses on domestic and foreign policy.

    READ: Key takeaways from the GOP’s second-stage White House debate

    Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businesswoman Carly Fiorina opened the early event with biting criticisms of Trump.

    Perry — whose failed 2012 White House campaign was damaged by an embarrassing debate stumble — accused Trump of using “his celebrity rather than his conservatism” to fuel his run for president.

    READ: What does Rick Perry believe?

    Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP field, said that Trump had tapped into Americans’ anger with Washington, but she challenged the businessman as lacking policy positions. “What are the principles by which he would govern?” she asked.

    READ: What does Carly Fiorina believe?

    While the candidates pitched their visions for the Republican Party’s future, they also made the case that they would present the strongest general election challenge to Clinton.

    Clinton, in Los Angeles, told said in Los Angeles she’s often left in a “state of disbelief” by what she hears from some of her 2016 rivals.

    Thursday’s debate was the first of six party-sanctioned forums scheduled before primary voting begins in February. Fox News used national polls to determine which 10 candidates would be on the stage, and several candidates were grouped together in the single digits — most separated by a number smaller than the polls’ margin of error.

    Julie Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

    The post Trump sets combative tone for first Republican debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Who will stand out at tonight’s Republican debate? We’ll keep track of how much time each of the 10 candidates gets to speak.

    Check back here after the debate for the final tally.

    The post Which candidate spoke the most at the first GOP debate? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    An image of the dark side of the moon - the side of the moon never visible to Earth - taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera. Photo by NASA.

    An image of the dark side of the moon – the side of the moon never visible to Earth – taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera. Photo by NASA.

    NASA this week released photographs of the far side of the moon, providing a lunar perspective we rarely get to see. The images were snapped by the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite, positioned between the sun and the moon with the Earth as its backdrop.

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

    But why is the dark side of the moon, as it’s known, so elusive to the Earthbound?

    First, the dark side isn’t really any darker than the near side. Like Earth, it gets plenty of sunlight.

    We don’t see the far side because “the moon is tidally locked to the Earth,” said John Keller, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter project. “The moon does rotate, but it rotates at the same speed that it rotates around the Earth.” The moon completes one full rotation on its axis in the time it takes to orbit the Earth. That means the same side is always turned toward us.

    Much like a race car drifts when it turns on the curved portions of an oval racetrack, the moon does have a tendency to want to spin faster. Earth’s gravitational pull holds it in place.

    Dark Side Moon3

    The moon’s shape is key to keeping it in sync with the Earth. Long ago, scientists believe, the moon had its own spin. Over time, frictional forces, including gravity, helped mold the moon into the shape it is now — spherical, but not a perfect sphere.

    Gravity exists as a gradient. If the moon were a perfect sphere, then the gravity felt on the far side and the near side (or Earth’s side), would cancel each other out.

    But because it isn’t a perfect sphere, as it turns, a smaller portion of the moon moves in toward Earth and a larger portion moves away. This uneven distribution in gravity causes a torque, or a rotational force, making the moon spring back into place. The spring-like motion is referred to as lunar libration.

    The first images of the far side of the moon were taken in 1959 by the Soviet Luna 3 Spacecraft. Since then, missions like the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have been able to tell us much more about the side we never see – and the far side doesn’t look anything like the near side.

    Scientists believe the moon was molten, or hot liquid when it first formed, and then it cooled. But the dark side cooled first, making it older with more craters, Keller said. Though they don’t know why, the near side also has more radiation than the far side, perhaps contributing to why the near side didn’t cool as fast.

    “For one reason or another, one side was favored over the other,” Keller said.

    The post Why don’t we ever see the far side of the moon? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich, debate at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk - RTX1NEA9

    Ten GOP candidates faced off in Cleveland on Thursday at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Image by REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk – RTX1NEA9

    Ninety minutes in, Jeb Bush found his voice, speaking out for civility. Shortly after, John Kasich admitted he went to a gay friend’s wedding. About an hour before, Ben Carson thanked the moderator for remembering to call on him. And then he saved himself with a bit of surgical humor at the end.

    And Donald Trump won the room, at least, by attacking the president, his colleagues on the stage and deriding criticism as political correctness. It is less clear if he won the viewers who were tuning in for the first time to see who else was on the stage.

    There were moments of great clarity at the season’s first big debate – on immigration, on education and on Social Security. Whether or not you agree with him, you know where Mike Huckabee stands on transgender Americans, what Rand Paul thinks about Trump, and what Chris Christie thinks about Paul.

    I was skeptical about the potential for getting anything out of a debate with 13 people on stage, ten of them candidates. But I did not account for the sharp, well-prepared questioning from the moderators’ table or the sharp, well-directed elbows behind the matching podiums. The candidates themselves seemed mildly shocked.

    Still, Marco Rubio managed to link a last-minute audience question about veterans to one about what God was telling him. Scott Walker was chill throughout, which is probably all he needs to be for now. Ted Cruz — normally an aggressive pit bull — got to denounce the Washington cartel, and that was about it. Still, he sparked immediate Internet search interest, which is probably all he needs for now.

    It’s safe to say none of the candidates invited to the prime-time rumble punched through the conventional wisdom more effectively than Carly Fiorina did in the earlier also-ran debate, when she put a shiv in Trump for associating with the Clintons, Hillary and Bill.

    This was unlike any debate I’ve ever covered or moderated. There were fireworks and substance, biography (Kasich’s mailman dad; Cruz’s preacher dad; Bush’s president dad) and iconography (Reagan, mostly).

    This is all to the good. Let’s listen to them all — all 17 Republicans and all five Democrats. Let’s measure them against what we care about and what they care about. Let’s brace ourselves for the television ads that will shortly blanket the airwaves and try to tell us what to think.

    And let’s do it all without the incisive Jon Stewart, who danced off the air the same night to Springsteen.

    There are eight more GOP debates in the offing, and six Democratic debates planned. The one thing we know for sure this time? No one will be able to tell us we don’t know who these candidates are or what they believe. Only those not paying attention will be able to say the press won’t ask about gay rights or Iran or Common Core.

    This is good news. Welcome to the debate season. We’ve stocked up on the popcorn at our house.

    The post Gwen’s Take: Candidates debates, and why we should love them appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Fred de Sam Lazaro and his wife Kay in earlier times in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Fred de Sam Lazaro

    Fred de Sam Lazaro and his wife Kay in earlier times in Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Fred de Sam Lazaro

    My son Anthony recently attended a hearing in Minneapolis federal court.

    “Are you Fred’s son?” asked the judge as he pored over case documents, noticing the young attorney’s unusual surname.

    “We went to college together at St. Scholastica,” the judge continued after confirming the kinship. “Please give him my best.”

    Anecdotes like these are tonic to an immigrant in ways few native-born Americans could fully appreciate. Never in three decades of professional life have I ever been asked if I was my father’s son. For the uprooted, there are few greater urges than to feel rooted.

    Forty years ago, I arrived in America with none of the social bona fides, the pedigree that comes from T-ball, Boy Scouts, junior prom or graduating from the local high school. There was an upside to this: the chance for a social facelift. Skeletons from the past could be left behind (certainly before Facebook and Instagram), so important to a somewhat reserved, under-achieving adolescent seeking to make a grander entrance through the doors of opportunity America would surely open.

    Our sex education came in one paragraph of the ninth grade biology textbook, subtitled “sexual reproduction.” From the Bangalore of my childhood, I might just as well have landed on Mars as Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
    The first task was to learn the host language, a serious undertaking even for one who thought he’d grown up speaking English. Our first encounter in America came even before we were welcomed by my older sister, who’d arrived years earlier and paved the way for our immigration, as my widowed mother and I approached the immigration officer at San Francisco International airport.

    “Do you speak any English?” she bellowed.

    “Of course,” responded my mother, bred on Shakespeare and T.S. Elliot, a bit taken aback. I’m fairly certain she’d never been asked that question before and likely conveyed a tiny hint of indignation.

    “We have a lot of people arriving from Vietnam who don’t speak any English,” the officer explained as she leafed through our documents. It was Aug. 8, 1975, just weeks after the end of the conflict in that Southeast Asian nation, though how she could have confused a young man from India and his sari-clad mother for Vietnamese shall always remain a mystery.

    My own English skills were put to an early test a few weeks after our arrival, with a question I’d never been asked before: Are you gay? Actually: You are gay, right?

    I was responding to a college bulletin board ad: “Free room for gay male student.” To a penniless wretch, those terms were irresistible, well worth “gaying up” for. I plucked a tassel off the ad and called the number.

    “Yeah, most of the time, I think so,” I responded, having contemplated my recent moods while preparing for the call.

    “I think most people would consider me pretty gay.”

    I had already given the prospective landlord a thumbnail background but never thought to mention that my upbringing was in a conservative evangelical Christian school and in a strictly observant Catholic milieu, a place where sexual mores and the meaning of gay were as Queen Victoria would have understood them. If one was gay in modern parlance you could never dare admit it, certainly in public. Our sex education came in one paragraph of the ninth grade biology textbook, subtitled “sexual reproduction.” From the Bangalore of my childhood, I might just as well have landed on Mars as Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

    “How would you feel about living with an older man?” he asked.

    “Oh, I have three older brothers,” I responded eagerly. “And my father, he was a lot older than me.”

    “Frederick, are you homosexual?”

    My response ended the conversation, with apologies for not knowing the meaning of gay. I gained a keener understanding of free as well.

    It was the most comical of several formative experiences that drove an effort — at times unconscious, unsuccessful and embarrassing — to study how Americans speak, to be understood the first time and not have to repeat myself. That took on some urgency when the first real door of opportunity opened: a job at a fledgling broadcast organization called Minnesota Public Radio.


    The idea that I’d moved to Minnesota, to Duluth no less, has sometimes evinced curiosity. That I’d moved here from San Francisco seems baffling to others. There’s a long answer on why I’ve stayed 35 years but a short one on why I arrived here in the first place.

    I met a young woman from northern Minnesota, I explain. She was spending a gap year after high school in the San Francisco Bay Area as an au pair, with plans to return and attend college at St. Scholastica in Duluth. I merely followed, intoxicated by romance but also fascinated by this place I initially came to visit, called Minnesota. The young woman’s family, well-known and widely liked in the small paper mill town of Cloquet, welcomed me kindly, in sharp contrast, ironically, to her au pair family in Marin County that strongly disapproved of the “mixed” nature of this relationship.

    The idea that I’d moved to Minnesota, to Duluth no less, has sometimes evinced curiosity. That I’d moved here from San Francisco seems baffling to others.
    St. Scholastica offered the liberal arts but no real journalism program. This aspiring journalist enrolled anyway because it had two key assets (three if you add liberal financial aid): the young woman attended there, and Minnesota Public Radio had its Duluth station on the campus, one that served as a northeastern Minnesota bureau for the MPR network. Its manager was kind enough to offer me an internship and eventually my first full-time job. Dick Daly was an astute journalist and a good teacher, wrapped inside a grumpy exterior and a plume from chain-smoked unfiltered Pall Malls. More than anyone else, he was responsible for scraping the Bangalore off this Bangalorean’s tongue: the consistent use of “w” instead of “v”, dropped “h”s in certain words, like “third.”

    “Fred’s never going to get anywhere if he continues to say turd,” the noted MPR host Gary Eichten once told Daly. It should be noted that it took Eichten a long while to learn the correct pronunciation of my name in introducing my reports.

    This MPR stint would begin a career built largely around reporting on human suffering. The Duluth Superior region (which includes the Mesabi Iron Range) consistently had the highest rate on unemployment in the nation. The bucolic Range, long a colony of America’s steel and auto industry, emptied out in a mass exodus to the Twin Cities and elsewhere as the industrial heartland became the rust belt. For a cub reporter, there was abundant fodder, far more than one could expect from a region of Duluth’s size.

    “I hear you on the radio all the time,” said Jim Russell, a public media stalwart who at the time was the chief production executive at Twin Cities Public Television. “I think you might like to work at KTCA,” as the PBS affiliate was then called.

    After a brief stint on the weekly public affairs program “Almanac” came a big break in the bureau KTCA ran for the newly expanded MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. I became its correspondent 30 years ago in October, filing my first story from the Hormel meatpackers strike, another landmark event in Minnesota history.

    Like meatpacking and iron mining, journalism has seen wrenching change in recent years, driven by the economics of digital technology and its varied social and political ricochets. That bureau has now morphed into an enterprise called the Under-Told Stories Project, based at a university not a television station. Along with long-time producer Nikki See, we’ve reported from 62 countries, most of them predominantly poor, places few tourists visit. Human suffering — on a scale that makes the Mesabi Range of the ‘80s seem so, well, First World — provides plenty of fodder. I’m deeply grateful for the commitment to serious news of our primary client, now called the PBS NewsHour as well as PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

    Why would we base an international journalism project in Minnesota, I am sometimes asked? The reasons vary from personal risk tolerance to Minnesota’s quality of life on a number of measures. One generation on, amid T-ball, music, ballet and soccer, those roots take hold ever more firmly. Today nine Minnesotans, across three generations, share our unusual surname, eight of them native-born. More than any recognition from television work, there is no comparable thrill to being asked in random encounters whether I am related to my children, who, to borrow the phrase coined by a former MPR colleague, turned out above average. I’m often asked if I am related to that revered teacher in the St. Paul Public Schools, the same young woman I met long ago at a party in San Rafael, California. She’s been my teacher for 39 of the past 40 years.

    The post My story as an Indian immigrant appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Not only did candidate Donald Trump set the tone for Thursday's GOP primary debate, he also spoke the most. At 11:06, Trump caught the most air time, follwed by Jeb Bush at 8:40 and Mike Huckabee at 6:39. She the full list here. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Not only did candidate Donald Trump set the tone for Thursday’s GOP primary debate, he also spoke the most. At 11:06, Trump caught the most air time, follwed by Jeb Bush at 8:40 and Mike Huckabee at 6:39. She the full list here. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump says he can’t recall specifics of insulting women, though news reports paint a long history of him comparing women to animals.

    Trump said Friday he doesn’t recognize the words Fox News’s Megyn Kelly used during a debate on Thursday. Kelly asked about him having called women “fat pigs,” ”dogs,” ”slobs,” and “disgusting animals.”

    In the debate, Trump joked that he was only referring to talk show host Rosie O’Donnell but didn’t deny having used the insults. “I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness,” Trump said during the debate.

    The issue is important because women are a majority of registered voters.

    On Friday, Trump questioned whether he actually used those insults.

    “You know, some of the statements she made about the women, I don’t recognize those words whatsoever,” Trump said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” ”We’re going to take a very serious look at it.”

    He said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” ”Not that I’m an angel, by the way. But I don’t recognize those words, so you know, she was spewing out these words, and I’m sitting there. … We’re going to have it checked out.”

    In fact, news outlets have reported on the incidents Kelly mentioned.

    — Trump wrote New York Times columnist Gail Collins that she had the “face of a dog,” the columnist wrote in 2011.

    — Trump called a lawyer “disgusting” when she wanted a break to pump milk for her baby, The New York Times reported last month.

    — Trump has called O’Donnell a “fat pig,” a “slob” and an “animal,” according to several published reports.

    Kelly also mentioned that Trump had once told a contestant on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.

    The post Fact checking Trump’s history of insulting women appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) coal train arrives in Ft. Laramie, Wyoming July 15, 2014. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    BNSF Railway is one of only three railroads that have submitted safety plans to the federal government. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Only a handful of railroads are close to meeting a deadline this year to install safety technology that can prevent many crashes, including derailments due to excessive speed like the deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia in May, according to a government report released Friday.

    Only three railroads have submitted safety plans to government, a necessary step before they can put the technology — positive train control, or PTC — into operation, the Federal Railroad Administration report said. They are BNSF Railway (for the record, BNSF is a corporate sponsor of PBS NewsHour), the nation’s second largest freight railroad, and two commuter railroads — Metrolink in the Los Angeles area, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in the Philadelphia area.

    Amtrak hasn’t submitted a plan yet, but railroad officials have said they expect to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

    Some railroads are lagging far behind. Union Pacific, the nation’s largest freight railroad, hasn’t equipped any of its 6,532 locomotives with the technology, according to the report. None of Norfolk Southern’s 3,400 locomotives are equipped, either.

    The type of PTC being put into place by most railroads relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train position and automatically stop or slow trains that are in danger of derailing because they’re traveling too fast, are about to collide with another train or are about to enter an area where crews are working on tracks.

    A rail safety law passed by Congress in 2008 gave railroads seven years to install the technology. PTC is expensive, and many railroads were late getting started. Freight railroads often host commuter railroad operations on their tracks, and they also frequently use the tracks of their competitors. Developing PTC systems that can be used by multiple railroads has added a layer of complexity to the effort. Many railroads also ran into unanticipated difficulties acquiring the radio spectrum necessary to make the technology work, and getting government permission to erect thousands of antennas along tracks.

    Railroads have been urging Congress to delay the deadline. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., introduced a bill earlier this year that would have provided railroads another five to seven years to put PTC into operation.

    Support for a lengthy extension diminished after accident investigators said the May 12 Amtrak crash, which killed eight people and injured about 200 others, could have been prevented if PTC had been in operation. A sweeping transportation bill passed by the Senate last month contains provisions sponsored by Thune that would give railroads another three years to install the technology, but leaves open when they must have their PTC systems certified by the government, a necessary step before the systems can be put into operation.

    The bill also authorizes $200 million to help commuter railroads install the technology.

    The National Transportation Safety Board has been urging railroads to install PTC or precursor train control technologies for more than four decades. The board has said that over that time it has investigated 145 PTC-preventable accidents in which more than 300 people were killed and 6,700 injured.

    The post Report: Most railroads won’t meet safety deadline appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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