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

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    A Puerto Rico flag hangs from a building in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, August 14, 2015. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

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    CHRIS BURY: The financial crisis in Puerto Rico is clear in the emergency room of San Juan’s biggest hospital, Centro Medico, where patients line the halls, because there are not enough nurses to treat them or rooms to put them. Doctor Rosalie Barrios is the head of emergency medicine here.

    ROSALIE BARRIOS: There is no beds available in the hospital, so they have to wait here for a bed.

    CHRIS BURY: And how long does that take?

    ROSALIE BARRIOS: Several days?

    CHRIS BURY: Several days.

    ROSALIE BARRIOS: Yes. To maybe a week, yes.

    CHRIS BURY: The week-long wait is a symptom of Puerto Rico’s bigger troubles: a third of the territory’s debt is due, in part, to crippling health care costs. With more than 60 percent of residents qualifying for government-subsidized healthcare, hospitals rely on that money to provide services.

    But the U.S. Government reimburses Puerto Rico at a much lower rate than states get. And now, a dramatic hike in sales taxes — a new austerity measure to help Puerto Rico pay back its debt — is squeezing health care even harder.

    At Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital in San Juan, the new, higher taxes are costing the Hospital even more for everything it has to buy, including all its supplies, according to CEO Pedro González.

    PEDRO GONZÁLEZ: The impact for us, for the year, is going to be about $700,000.

    CHRIS BURY: $700,000 more.

    PEDRO GONZÁLEZ: More, right.

    CHRIS BURY: Just for the sales tax.

    PEDRO GONZÁLEZ: From the sales tax.

    CHRIS BURY: The huge hike in sales taxes on the island — from 7 percent to 11-and-a-half percent…and another new tax on services — are expected to generate just over a billion dollars in new revenue. Not nearly enough to put a significant dent in Puerto Rico’s 72 billion dollar debt.  

    GOVERNOR ALEJANDRO GARCIA PADILLA: La situación es en extremo difícil

    CHRIS BURY: In June, Puerto Rico’s Governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, made a stunning announcement, appearing on television to say, quote, “The public debt… is unpayable.” And pledged to come up with a plan by the end of August.

    Puerto Rico is in a bind. The White House has flatly rejected any kind of federal bailout. And the territory does not have access to the U.S. bankruptcy courts. So Puerto Rico has begun to default on some of its massive debt — the first such failure to pay by an American state or territory since the Great Depression.

    CHRIS BURY: Do you think this will give Puerto Rico a black eye, that it will be seen as Greece?

    DEL. PEDRO PIERLUISI: It’s happening already. And I hate it. Puerto Rico’s not Greece. Puerto Rico’s not a foreign country.

    CHRIS BURY: Pedro Pierluisi is Puerto Rico’s non-voting Representative to Congress.

    CHRIS BURY: Why is Puerto Rico defaulting on its debt?

    DEL. PEDRO PIERLUISI: Well, first, it shouldn’t be defaulting. But the truth is we piled up quite a bit of debt — and I’m talking about 18 government entities which issued bonds — for decades.

    CHRIS BURY: Some of those bonds are guaranteed by the Puerto Rican Constitution.  But others, such as those issued by the government-owned electric power authority, are not. Congressman Pierluisi has introduced a bill to allow those agencies to apply for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, just like they can in the states. It would let Puerto Rican owned entities and cities do what Detroit did: Restructure debts with all their creditors at the same time; wipe the slate clean.

    DEL. PEDRO PIERLUISI: We need Chapter 9, because when you need to reorganize an entity, adjust its debts, the only way to do it in the U.S. in an orderly, legal fashion is under the protection of a federal bankruptcy court. We cannot. It’s unfair.

    CHRIS BURY: The bonds were popular with investors, because they are tax-free, pay a high yield, and some have that guarantee in Puerto Rico’s Constitution. It’s estimated that Puerto Rico residents own about a third of the bonds. American investors, individually and through mutual funds, own billions as well. And hedge funds have also scooped up a big chunk… often at bargain prices.

    Economist Arturo Porzecanski, a professor at American University, spent three nearly decades on Wall Street.

    ARTURO PORZECANSKI: Passage of the bill would be correctly perceived as rewriting the rules retroactively and I think it would be a terrible precedent for the municipal bond market.

    CHRIS BURY: He opposes bankruptcy because he says that would make it harder in the future for Puerto Rico to borrow money in the bond markets.

    ARTURO PORZECANSKI: That is where the money is. It’s not in Puerto Rico’s banks, it’s not in the pockets of the people of Puerto Rico. They have to come out elegantly from this crisis in order to resume normal financing.

    JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe Puerto Rico needs an orderly process to restructure its unsustainable liabilities

    CHRIS BURY: the Obama Administration has indicated it supports Congress giving Puerto Rico the same access to federal bankruptcy courts. So have some presidential candidates, perhaps with an eye on Florida where nearly a million Puerto Ricans now live.

    DEL. PEDRO PIERLUISI: Florida is a battleground state and Puerto Ricans are registering there to vote. And by the way Puerto Ricans could go either way. Depending on the stance, the particular stance that the candidates take.

    CHRIS BURY: But some on Wall Street oppose any major restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt. Instead, a report commissioned by more than 30 hedge funds demands more austerity in a territory still reeling from a nearly ten-year-old recession. The report calls for more aggressive tax collection, privatizing public works, and firing more teachers.

    But Puerto Rico has already shut down more than 150 schools in the last few years, and teachers are leaving, being actively being recruited by states. Doctors and nurses are leaving too. Ophthalmologist Dr. Raúl Franceschi says he can easily double his salary in the states.

    RAÚL FRANCESCHI: There are many physicians that are, we have this escape valve that we just go to any state in the states. We don’t have to stay here. We can flee.

    CHRIS BURY: Have you thought about that?

    RAÚL FRANCESCHI: Well, in the back of my mind, yes. And this has been a very, very hard year.

    CHRIS BURY: So many Puerto Ricans are leaving for the United States–about 50,000 every year–that officials here worry more austerity could accelerate the exodus. They say that perpetuates a vicious cycle, leaving the government with even less money to pay its debts.

    University of Puerto Rico economist Orlando Sotomayor believes Wall Street’s remedy would backfire.

    CHRIS BURY: Is more austerity the answer?

    ORLANDO SOTOMAYOR: No, the answer is growth. There is, we will just never be able to pay our debts through austerity. You cannot push a country too far, or it will just go into depression or recession. You cannot get blood from a stone.

    CHRIS BURY: Instead, an influential new study, sponsored by the Puerto Rican government advocates lowering the minimum wage below the same $7.25 an hour that applies on the U.S. mainland –to make the island more competitive with its Caribbean neighbors.

    The study also recommends exempting Puerto Rico from a 1920 law that requires all goods be imported on ships built in the U.S., which raises costs for businesses like Joel Franqui’s gift shop in San Juan.

    JOEL FRANQUI: So, usually islands are more expensive in general, but I believe Puerto Rico is even more expensive because of that. Other islands in the Caribbean don’t have that limitation.

    CHRIS BURY: Others here are calling for a rejuvenation of Puerto Rico’s once-thriving tourism industry, in 1980, the island accounted for a quarter of all Caribbean tourist dollars. By 2012, that number had fallen to 15%.  Puerto Rico is now attempting to add more direct flights from its main airport, in San Juan.  Economist Heidie Calero says it also needs to make a big push for tourists beyond the United States.

    HEIDIE CALERO: As long as we have more direct flights, Puerto Rico is going to thrive. But we need to diversify. We have neglected going into Europe, going into Latin America

    CHRIS BURY: Puerto Rico is also trying to attract more wealthy Americans by offering generous new tax breaks on investment income for those who live here at least six months a year. The idea is to lure more big spenders to boost the economy. So far, the government reports, a few hundred people have made the move, generating more than 200 million dollars in real estate sales.

    ORLANDO SOTOMAYOR: It’s not going to make much difference in terms of economic growth. But at the same time it does create quite a bit of resentment. Because we have this group of very wealthy individuals who are given the best treatment on the part of the government. They pay very few taxes, whereas regular Puerto Ricans have to deal with this very high tax burden.

    CHRIS BURY: with so many native Puerto Ricans leaving, the population left behind is increasingly old and poor, putting more of a strain on a health care system that is literally running out of money. That Puerto Rico is ailing is as clear as the long lines in San Juan’s hospitals and clinics.  But it’s just as evident the government here is still searching for the right cure.

    The post Amid new austerity measures, Puerto Rico pushes to restructure debt appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Yellow mine waste water from the Gold King Mine collects in holding pools in San Juan County, Colorado,  in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) August 7, 2015. EPA officials were aware of the potential for such a blowout prior to the August 5 accident.  EPA/Handout/Reuters

    Yellow mine waste water from the Gold King Mine collects in holding pools in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 7, 2015. EPA officials were aware of the potential for such a blowout prior to the Aug. 5 accident. Photo by EPA/Handout/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency managers were aware of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” at an inactive Colorado mine that could release large volumes of wastewater laced with toxic heavy metals, according to documents released by the agency.

    EPA released the documents following prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. EPA and contract workers accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater on Aug. 5 as they inspected the idled Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

    Among the documents is a June 2014 work order for a planned cleanup that noted that the old mine had not been accessible since 1995, when the entrance partially collapsed. The plan appears to have been produced by Environmental Restoration, a private contractor working for EPA.

    “This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse,” the report says. “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.”

    A subsequent May 2015 action plan for the mine also notes the potential for a blowout.

    It was not clear what additional precautions were taken to prepare for such a release, and the EPA did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.

    A 71-page safety plan for the site produced by Environmental Restoration included only a few lines describing steps to be taken in the event of a spill: Locate the source and stop the flow if it could be done safely, begin containment and recovery of the spilled materials, and alert downstream sanitary districts and drinking water systems as needed.

    There are at least three ongoing investigations into exactly how EPA triggered the disaster, which tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with lead, arsenic and other contaminants. The toxic plume travelled roughly 300 miles to Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border.

    EPA says its water testing has shown contamination levels have since been returning to pre-spill levels, though experts warn the heavy metals have likely sunk and mixed with bottom sediments that could someday be stirred back up.

    The documents, which the agency released about 10:30 p.m. eastern time, do not include any account of what happened immediately before or after the spill. The wastewater flowed into a tributary of the Animas and San Juan rivers, turning them a sickly yellow-orange color.

    Elected officials in affected states and elsewhere have been highly critical of the EPA’s initial response. Among the unanswered questions is why it took the agency nearly a day to inform local officials in downstream communities that rely on the rivers for drinking water.

    Communication problems have persisted in the spill’s aftermath, according to U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

    “Weeks after the spill, families and businesses who depend on the Animas River continue to deal with uncertainty and limited information,” Smith said Friday, as he called for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to appear before his committee for a hearing scheduled next month. “The EPA has an obligation to be forthcoming about what went wrong.”

    Much of the text in the documents released Friday was redacted by EPA officials. Among the items blacked out is the line in a 2013 safety plan for the Gold King job that specifies whether workers were required to have phones that could work at the remote site, which is more than 11,000 feet up a mountain.

    In the wake of the spill, it has typically taken days to get any detailed response from the agency, if at all.

    EPA Press Secretary Melissa Harrison said Saturday that the agency has been inundated with media inquiries and “worked diligently to respond to them.”

    On its website, contractor Environmental Restoration posted a brief statement last week confirming its employees were present at the mine when the spill occurred. The company declined to provide more detail, saying that to do so would violate “contractual confidentiality obligations.”

    The St. Louis, Missouri-based company bills itself as the largest provider of emergency services for the EPA and is the agency’s prime contractor across most of the U.S.

    The EPA has not yet provided a copy of its contact with the firm. On the March 2015 cost estimate for the work released Friday, the agency blacked out all the dollar figures.

    The spill’s aftermath has cost the EPA $3.7 million through Thursday, according to information provided by the agency.

    To deal with the toxic water from the mine, which continues to flow out of the site, the EPA built a series of containment ponds so that contaminated sediments can settle out before the water enters a nearby creek that feeds into the Animas River.

    The agency said more work was needed to make sure there are no additional reserves of tainted water inside Gold King that could lead to another surge of contamination. Those efforts will include the removal of any blockages inside the mine that are holding back water, according to the EPA.

    That work is ongoing and no timeline has been provided for its completion.

    The post EPA knew of blowout risk ahead of Colorado mine accident appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Roadside fruit stand in Puerto Rico

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    IVETTE FELICIANO: For two days, Chief Paxx Moll has been preparing farm-to-table meals at the San Juan restaurant El Departamento de la Comida, which means “the department of food.”

    When I cook, everyone is a VIP, Moll says. You give some of your soul and love to the person.

     

    Moll works with a small network of Puerto Rican farmers for the restaurant’s organic, signature dishes, like their falafel-plantain fritters and coconut flatbread.

    PAXX MOLL: I think its fresh food with Puerto Rican essence and it’s all locally grown, which makes it uber Puerto Rican.

    IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Yet, getting quality ingredients from Puerto Rico is not easy. on the lush, tropical island, more than 85 percent of what people eat is imported. Seafood, meats and staples like rice and beans and coffee mostly come from the United States, neighboring Latin American countries and even China.

    The main reason: Puerto Rico’s agricultural sector is dismal, representing less than one percent of the island’s gross domestic product.

    CARLOS REYES-ALBINO: From California or China, in a ship, that goes to the Canal de Panama, to come here. That’s like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 weeks.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Carlos Reyes-Albino, one of the co-owners of the restaurant, says the island’s dependence on imports makes it dangerously vulnerable to any unforeseen event threatening its food supply.

    CARLOS REYES-ALBINO: A catastrophe or something happen with the ships, what’s gonna happen to us?

    IVETTE FELICIANO: 

    In fact, Puerto Rico’s agricultural secretary warns the territory only has a one-month food supply on hand, so the government has implemented a plan to redevelop the island’s agricultural sector, including providing farmers with subsidies and new equipment. Already in the last two years, Puerto Rico has seen a 25 percent increase in agriculture revenues and 6,500 new jobs.

    The restaurant El Departmento de la Comida is also trying to engage more local farmers.

    DANIEL CADENAS: There’s a lot of variety here there’s anon, there’s grapefruit.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Farmer Daniel Cadenas has been providing the restaurant with organic produce for two years.

    DANIEL CADENAS: I think it’s really positive what they’re doing, because they’re helping promote what is the agriculture in Puerto Rico.

    IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Cadenas splits his time between his family’s medical billing business and their 25-acre farm in the town of Carolina, about 20 miles outside of San Juan. He hopes more people in Puerto Rico will see farming in a new light.

    DANIEL CADENAS: I think it’s very important that people get back to their roots and they learn how to deal with the land and how to grow their own produce. We kind of have lost that or have not done enough of it, and we can definitely produce our own and won’t have to depend on an outside supply.

    IVETTE FELICIANO:

    The shortage of locally grown food here results from a decline in farming and social stigma. Sugar was the dominant crop, but the grueling and low-paying work on mostly American-owned plantations gave rise to the term, “jibaro,” for peasant, a word synonymous with ignorance and poverty.

    CARLOS REYES-ALBINO: About poverty, about having people from other places owning our lands. We got the problem that our culture looks at the agriculture too as the sugar cane.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: An international collapse in sugar prices after World War II led Puerto Rico to focus more on industrialization. Today, the island uses a quarter of its agricultural land.

    The folks at the restaurant El Departamento de la Comida say they’ll continue to do their small part to get Puerto Rico on track to a sustainable future in food.

    CARLOS REYES-ALBINO: We got this slogan it goes, you lost agriculture you lost the society because agriculture is the first step in every kind of society.

    The post Puerto Rico seeks to reclaim island’s farming industry appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Trump campaign moved tonight's rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters after his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Trump campaign moved tonight’s rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

    MOBILE, Ala. — Republican front-runner Donald Trump rallied thousands of supporters in south Alabama by telling them: “I would like to have the election tomorrow. I don’t want to wait.”

    “I know how Billy Graham felt,” he said Friday night as he addressed the largest crowd yet of his thriving presidential campaign. The 40,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium was about half-full when he began his speech.

    Trump evoked Graham – the evangelist who packed stadiums around the world – as he brought his message to the Deep South.

    Trump was welcomed by an array of Alabama politicians, including Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who praised him for the attention he’s drawn to immigration issues. And Trump led off his speech with more criticism of immigrants living in the country illegally, drawing loud cheers when he repeated his promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    He reiterated his intention to end “birthright citizenship” for children of immigrants here illegally.

    Trump also attacked the Obama administration’s deal with Iran to restrict that country’s nuclear program, calling it “so sad.”

    And he again promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare” – the health care law that’s President Barack Obama’s defining domestic achievement.

    The South will be strategically important because a group of states in the region, including Alabama, hold their primaries on March 1, right after the early voting states.

    Before Trump arrived, his fans – some carrying signs, others wearing T-shirts supporting the billionaire businessman – spoke of his outsider status in a crowded field dominated by former and current elected officials as the song “Sweet Home Alabama” blared from loudspeakers.

    “Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”

    Wallace, a fierce opponent of civil rights, served as governor of Alabama and sought the presidency multiple times.

    Kidd said Trump is a “breath of fresh air,” and praised him as a businessman with common sense.

    Savannah Zimmerman, a 27-year-old registered nurse from Mobile, agreed. “I think he appeals to us Southerners because he tells it like it is and he has strong opinions. That is the way we are here in the South,” she said.

    Mary Anne Bousenitz, 59, a retired psychiatrist from Tuscaloosa, said she isn’t offended by the insults Trump has directed at women, like “dog” and “bimbo.”

    “I’m not married to the man and it’s not like I’m going to have to sit across a turkey at the table with him,” she said.

    Interest in the candidate forced organizers to move a planned rally from the Mobile Civic Center, which holds about 2,000 people, to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, a 40,000-seat football stadium.

    Before the rally, Trump tweeted: “We are going to have a wild time in Alabama tonight! Finally, the silent majority is back!”

    During the height of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon sought the backing of the “silent majority,” widely considered to be Americans who stood behind the Republican president and weren’t getting the attention that protesters attracted. Trump has derided elected officials and cast his candidacy as an outsider’s bid.

    Republican rival Jeb Bush’s campaign e-mailed thousands of supporters in Alabama on Friday night, denouncing Trump as a Republican presidential candidate. The campaign statement said Trump favors partial-birth abortions, supports restrictions on gun rights and backs laws that infringe on states’ land rights.

    “Trump’s positions are deeply out of step with the Alabama way of life,” the campaign said in the email. “We know Alabama cherishes life, especially the life of the unborn.”

    Right to Rise USA, the super PAC supporting Bush, tweeted photos of a plane, with a banner ad bashing Trump and promoting Bush, flying over the stadium before Trump’s rally.

     

    The post Trump: ‘I would like to have the election tomorrow’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    South Korean soldiers walk by barricades at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the truce village Panmunjom, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, August 22, 2015. South Korea stands ready to respond to further provocations from North Korea, the presidential Blue House said on Saturday, as an ultimatum loomed for Seoul to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by late afternoon or face military action.   REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RTX1P5HM

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    JOHN LARSON, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Joining me now via Skype from Seoul,South Korea, is Jean Lee. Jean is a fellow at the Wilson Center, which conducts independent research on global issues.

    Lee is the former Associated Press bureau chief in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

    Jean, thank you so much for joining us. You’ve just returned from the border area, correct?

    JEAN LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I have. I was up there earlier today. I made a little day trip up to the city of Paju, which is right on the border on the South Korean side.

    JOHN LARSON: We heard tensions have been very high this week. What can you tell us about today?

    JEAN LEE: I have a feeling that it look a lot more tense from where you’re sitting than it did for me in Paju. I can tell you any time I asked people in Paju if they were worried they just laughed at the question.

    So, you know, South Koreans are used to this kind of tension. They’ve been dealing with this for decades and to a certain degree, life goes on as usual. There is absolutely no sense of panic in the town of Paju.

    JOHN LARSON: And to what extent do you think this is saber-rattling by the different leaders of the two countries? Obviously, the North Korean leader not much is known about the person’s ability to control the military in the south. They’ve been criticized for being too soft.

    Is this sort of an opportunity for both of them to look tough?

    JEAN LEE: Certainly. I think you’ve got that right. With the North Koreans, these kinds provocations are always a way, a good chance to remind the South Koreans and to remind the world that the Korean War remains unresolved.

    I should remind you that the two sides agreed to a cease-fire in 1953, but they did not sign a peace treaty so the Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war and it’s certainly a reason why the U.S. military has more than 28,000 troops on South Korean soil.

    Now, North Korea may look at this as a reason to provoke but there’s nothing like the threat of an outside force to bring out patriotism, and perhaps what he wants to show his people is that he can defend them from this threat from South Korea and the United States.

    On the other hand, he may want to show his people as well that he’s a statesman, that he can send his aides into the DMZ and come back with some sort of significant agreement with the South Koreans.

    So I think that it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I’m not so sure that the tensions are quite over yet.

    JOHN LARSON: Jean, for the past four or five years, certainly, this shoving match seems to take place about this type of year every year. Why is that?

    JEAN LEE: The South Korean and the U.S. military hold military exercises this time of year and this they call defensive exercises but North Korea treats it as a rehearsal for invasion.

    So it does tend to rile them up. So, it’s not surprising that this kind of tension is happening this time of year.

    There’s one other thing that is going on. North Korea is gearing up for a major anniversary, the 70th anniversary of the Workers Party of Korea. That happens in October.

    And so, that is also an occasion to try to bring the people together. So they may be looking for reasons to kind of draw the people together.

    JOHN LARSON: Jean Lee from the Wilson Center. Thank you so much for joining us.

    JEAN LEE: Thank you.

    The post To defuse tensions, North and South Korea hold talks amid military standoff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Empty refrigerator shelves are pictured at a Makro supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, August 4, 2015. Venezuelan supermarkets are increasingly being targeted by looters, as swollen lines and prolonged food shortages spark frustration in the OPEC nation struggling with an economic crisis. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    Empty refrigerator shelves are pictured at a Makro supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, August 4, 2015. Venezuelan supermarkets are increasingly being targeted by looters, as swollen lines and prolonged food shortages spark frustration in the OPEC nation struggling with an economic crisis. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    Amid Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, protests this month in the nation’s capital over shortages of medicine and basic supermarket necessities have spotlighted the ripple effect of the falling price of oil, the country’s main export.

    Food shortages have prompted some violence and more than 50 incidents of grocery store looting so far in 2015. Families of children with cancer demonstrated in front of a children’s hospital in Caracas this month to protest the country’s shortage of chemotherapy treatments.

    Tens of thousands of Venezuelans with HIV have no access to antiretroviral drugs and condoms are scarce in the country. Venezuela has some of the highest HIV and teen pregnancy rates in South America.

    The economic slowdown has also made a dent in Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro’s popularity, which fell to a new low of 24.3 percent in July, Reuters reported.

    Customers line up to shop at a state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, May 2, 2014.  President Nicolas Maduro is introducing a controversial shopping card intended to combat Venezuela's food shortages that has been decried by critics as a Cuban-style solution illustrating the failure of his socialist policies. Photo by Jorge Silva/Reuters

    Customers line up to shop at a state-run Bicentenario supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, May 2, 2014. Photo by Jorge Silva/Reuters

    A woman holds up a giant hundred Bolivar note with the word, "Hungry" written on it in Spanish during a gathering to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro, as well as economic insecurity and shortages, in Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2015. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    A woman holds up a giant hundred Bolivar note with the word, “Hungry” written on it in Spanish during a gathering to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro, as well as economic insecurity and shortages, in Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2015. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    Venezuelans hold a banner bearing basic household products, that reads, "Wanted" in Spanish, while they shout during a gathering to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro and economic insecurity and shortages, in Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2015. Venezuelan supermarkets are increasingly being targeted by looters as swollen lines and prolonged food shortages spark frustration in the OPEC nation struggling with an economic crisis. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins

    Venezuelans hold a banner bearing basic household products, that reads, “Wanted” in Spanish, while they shout during a gathering to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro and economic insecurity and shortages, in Caracas, Venezuela, August 8, 2015. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins

    A woman lays on a hospital bed without sheets as she recovers after labor at a maternity hospital in Maracaibo, Venezuela, June 19, 2015. Chronic shortages of important health and food necessities have plagued Venezuela since the start of an economic crisis in the country, partly caused by low oil prices. Photo by Isaac Urrutia/Reuters

    A woman lays on a hospital bed without sheets as she recovers after labor at a maternity hospital in Maracaibo, Venezuela, June 19, 2015. Photo by Isaac Urrutia/Reuters

    A man walks past a mural depicting Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, August 13, 2015. Maduro's popularity fell to 24.3 percent in July, hurt by voracious inflation and shortages of goods ranging from spare parts to shampoo, according to respected local pollster Datanalisis. The mural reads, "Liberating work". Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    A man walks past a mural depicting Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, August 13, 2015. Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

    The post Photos: Venezuelans contend with food, medicine shortages, as low oil prices cripple economy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Charles Francis Jenkins, the first American to produce a TV picture, as well as the inventor of the first motion picture projector, is seen here in 1928. Jenkins was born 148 years ago on Aug. 22. Photo by Underwood & Underwood from the Library of Congress

    Charles Francis Jenkins, the inventor of the motion picture projector, is seen here in 1928. Jenkins was born 148 years ago on Aug. 22. Photo by Underwood & Underwood from the Library of Congress

    Before the digital revolution hit the movie industry, the projector used in movie theaters was an evolution of the Phantoscope, developed by Charles Francis Jenkins, who was born nearly 150 years ago on Saturday.

    “In terms of film projection, Jenkins was the catalyst,” Dr. Donald G. Godfrey, a Jenkins biographer and the author of “C. Francis Jenkins, Pioneer of Film and Television” told PBS NewsHour.

    “Before life-size projection, we were hand cranking cards and film through kaleidoscope,” he said.

    Born in Dayton, Ohio, to Quaker parents, Jenkins, who preferred to go by his middle name, acquired more than 300 patents over his 66 years of life.

    Pictured here is the Jenkins-Freeman Phantoscope in 1893. Freeman worked with Jenkins before he teamed up with Armat. The Phantascope projected life-size motion pictures. Image from the Wayne Country Historical Museum

    Pictured here is the Jenkins-Freeman Phantoscope in 1893. Freeman worked with Jenkins before he teamed up with Armat. The Phantoscope projected life-size motion pictures. Image from the Wayne Country Historical Museum

    He patented the waxed paper bottle — versions of which are still used today to hold milk and ice cream — an altimeter, an early version of the sightseeing bus as well as an airplane catapult.

    These inventions allowed Jenkins to fund his passion projects, which were largely experiments in television and film.

    In 1894, before a crowd of family, friends and some press in Jenkins’ childhood town of Richmond, Indiana, he unveiled the Phantoscope for the first time.

    On the screen, the Phantoscope projected the life-size picture of a woman dancing across a stage. While taking a bow at the end, the dancer lifted her skirt and revealed her ankle. The women in attendance walked out, while the men stayed to watch, making it perhaps the first protest over exhibitionism in film, Godfrey said.

    Jenkins later worked with fellow inventor Thomas Armat to refine the Phantoscope, but after the two had a falling out, the Phantoscope patent ended up in the hands of Thomas Edison, who used it as the basis for his Vitascope.

    Jenkins' radiovisor, which used radio receivers to transmit images to a magnifying glass. Date unknown? Image provided courtesy of tvhistory.tv

    Jenkins’ radiovisor, which used radio receivers to transmit images to a magnifying glass. Image provided courtesy of tvhistory.tv

    In 1916, Jenkins helped found the Society of Motion Picture Engineers and served as its first president.

    It was a defining moment for Jenkins, who brought together manufacturers and technicians representing the industry in D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, Boston and New York to decide on industry standards before the government did, Godfrey said.

    Later, Jenkins created radiovision and the radiovisor, which used radio receivers to broadcast moving images onto a 6-inch square mirror. He would broadcast those images for station W3XK starting in 1928.

    Jenkins died of a heart attack in 1934, but evidence of his innovations remain to this day.

    Present-day news tickers seen on screens in New York City’s Times Square, for example, are similar to Jenkins’ talking signs that used lights to spell things out.

    The post 150 years on, meet the prolific pioneer who brought us the movie projector appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    IVETTE FELICIANO: This video appears to show members of the Islamic State, or ISIS, using sledgehammers to destroy artifacts at a museum in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year. Some artifacts were thousands of years old, like this winged bull from ancient Mesopotamia.

    LISA ACKERMAN: It’s not a euphemism to refer to Iraq and Syria as the cradle of civilization.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Lisa Ackerman is Executive Vice President of the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based organization focused on cultural heritage preservation.

    LISA ACKERMAN: It’s not just the physical remains that are going away but potentially our knowledge of how rich these regions are and the many different kinds of people that have traversed that terrain over a very long period of human existence.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Now, two Europe-based archaeologists, Chance Coughenour and Matthew Vincent, are deploying three-dimensional computer technology to save this history. They spoke to NewsHour via Google Hangout.

    CHANCE COUGHENOUR: We both have a background in digital cultural heritage and the preservation of heritage, and I suggested that maybe we could find a solution to crowdsource images from people and reconstructing the artifacts in 3D.”

    IVETTE FELICIANO: What began as a desire to document lost antiquities became Project Mosul with a website for anyone to submit pictures and videos of destroyed artifacts in Iraq.

    The team hopes to create a virtual museum. 

    MATTHEW VINCENT:  It seems like magic. I mean when you think about taking photographs and taking those photographs and turning them into three-dimensional models, it’s you know, something that’s kind of hard to fathom.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Transforming two-dimensional images into 3D reconstructions requires a team of volunteers using “photogrammetry,” which estimates measurements from existing photos to create models.

    Here’s how it works: In this recreation of the Lion of Mosul, 16 pictures taken from different angles — seen here as blue squares — are aligned to find common features.

    Those overlapping features — represented by black dots — are then connected, and a virtual texture is wrapped onto the model.

    Because these replicas often rely on only a few photos — without actual measurements of the objects — they can never be exact.

    CHANCE COUGHENOUR: This is in essence, kind of  a reverse engineering way of going about finding images that line up or match or were taken from a particular angle that are supportive of creating a three-dimensional model.”

    IVETTE FELICIANO: So more pictures make a better model.

    MATTHEW VINCENT: Often times we may have hundreds of  images for a single artifact. In this case we may have a dozen. You know, so simple there is no way for us to really speak to the accuracy, and which is why we often emphasize that the most important part of what we get with these reconstructions is the visualize representation.”

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The project isn’t just focused on the Middle East. In April, Nepal was hit by a seven point eight magnitude earthquake leaving many ancient sites damaged. Project Mosul is now hosting the 3D reconstruction of artifacts destroyed in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square during the massive earthquake.

    LISA ACKERMAN:It’s this incredible opportunity to at the very least get a good handle on what materials are out there, and demonstrating that if the worst happens, and we lose sites, at least there’s a very powerful record of them.  

    The post Destroyed by ISIS, artifacts may find new life after 3D reconstruction appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03:  U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (L) participates in a reenacted swearing-in with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol  January 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. Biden swore in the newly-elected and re-elected senators earlier in the day on the floor of the current Senate chamber.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is sween with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. Biden left the seclusion of the Delaware home where he’s been weighing a presidential run to meet Saturday with Warren. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden left the seclusion of the Delaware home where he’s been weighing a presidential run to meet Saturday with Elizabeth Warren – another influential Democrat who has faced calls to enter the 2016 race.

    The unusual weekend huddle with Warren, a Massachusetts senator, took place at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence, said an individual familiar with the meeting. An Obama administration official said Biden had traveled at the last minute to Washington for a private meeting and planned to return to Delaware the same day. Both of the individuals spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.

    Biden’s meeting with Warren was the latest sign that the vice president is seriously considering entering the race, and that he’s increasingly discussing it with Democratic leaders outside of his small cadre of longtime advisers.

    A rising star in the party, Warren was the subject of an intense lobbying campaign by a group called Draft Warren that sought to persuade her to enter the race. Warren ruled out running in 2016, and a super PAC similarly named Draft Biden later emerged and has been laying the groundwork for a potential Biden candidacy.

    Warren, a vocal advocate for economic fairness and Wall Street reform, has notably refrained from endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders or the other candidates. She retains the vocal support of many in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, making her endorsement one of the most highly sought in the primary.

    Biden’s quick trip to Washington wasn’t on his official public schedule, which listed him as remaining in Delaware through Sunday. He’s spent the past several days at his home in a secluded, wooded suburb of Wilmington spending time with family – but also meeting with his longtime political aides to assess what it would take to launch a viable presidential campaign against well-funded Democratic opponents with a huge head start.

    Spending time with Biden in Delaware has been longtime Biden confidantes Mike Donilon and former Sen. Ted Kaufman, along with his sister, Valerie Owens Biden, who has played a top role in all his previous campaigns. The Associated Press first reported on the Delaware meeting, while CNN first disclosed the session with Warren.

    Although Biden has yet to make a decision, his advisers have started gaming out mechanics like fundraising, ballot deadlines and an early primary state strategy. Another key consideration is the personal consequences for Biden and his family, who are still mourning the death of the vice president’s son, Beau Biden, a few months ago.

    A look at the deliberations:

    TIMING

    Biden’s team has settled on a one-month window in September in which he could potentially announce plans to run.

    The longer he waits, the less time he has to build a formidable campaign. But competing events on the administration’s calendar make it difficult to launch in the next couple of weeks, making it more likely an announcement would wait until late September, aides said.

    If Biden’s not in by Oct. 1, it will be increasingly difficult for him to run, people who have spoken to Biden recently said. He’ll need at least two full months to get the petition signatures and delegates lined up by the beginning of December to qualify for the ballot in early primary states.

    Biden’s aides are also eyeing the first Democratic primary debate – on Oct. 13 – as potentially a make-or-break moment. That first debate is expected to attract a huge audience among Democratic primary voters, giving Biden a powerful opportunity to establish himself as a credible alternative to Clinton.

    MONEY

    Clinton and Sanders have already amassed millions of dollars while securing support from many of the party’s top fundraisers.

    With that reality in mind, his political advisers have discussed $5 million in hard money – direct campaign contributions – as a bare minimum of what they’d likely need in the first two months to open campaign offices and compete in the first primary contests. Separately, Draft Biden has set a goal to raise $2.5 million to $3 million in the next six or so weeks.

    As a super PAC, Draft Biden is exempt from contribution limits, and could pay for pro-Biden television advertising. But the trappings of his current job make campaigning extremely expensive for Biden. When the vice president travels for political events, his campaign has to reimburse the government for much of the cost of Air Force Two.

    It remains to be seen whether Biden could attract enough major donors and bundlers to fund a competitive campaign. After all, many of the party’s top fundraisers are already committed to Clinton.

    THE MAP

    Aiming to prove Biden would be competitive in key primary states, Draft Biden has been organizing and recruiting Democratic talent in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. This week Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s presidential campaign in Florida, joined the super PAC, becoming the most senior Obama campaign staffer to publicly support a Biden run.

    Biden’s team has said it’s optimistic about South Carolina, which holds the third primary contest and where Biden has deep political roots. Aiming to lock up support there, Clinton’s campaign has dispatched top advisers John Podesta and James Carville to campaign for her in South Carolina.

    In a bout of encouraging news for Biden this week, a Quinnipiac University poll of three battleground states – Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania – found Biden faring as well as or better than Clinton against the top Republican candidates. In Ohio, 48 percent said they’d support Biden over Republican Donald Trump, giving Biden a 10-point lead over the GOP front-runner.

    The post Biden meets with Warren as he mulls 2016 run appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    More than 5,000 migrants crossed into Serbia on Sunday en route to western Europe, as Greece ferried more refugees from overcrowded islands to its mainland.

    A record 50,000 migrants have landed in Greece by boat from Turkey in July, Reuters reported, and arrivals have exceeded 160,000 this year, exposing massive shortages in the country already mired in the worst economic crisis in generations.

    Elsewhere on Saturday, Italy’s Coast Guard says it coordinated the rescue of 4,400 migrants from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday — the most in a single day — officials reported.

    Italian, Norwegian and Irish naval forces carried out the rescues in 22 separate operations, the Associated Press reported, after smugglers took advantage of ideal sea conditions off the coast of Libya to pack migrants onto a fleet of unseaworthy boats and inflatable dinghies.

    So far in 2015, about 110,000 migrants have been rescued off of Libya and brought to southern Italian ports.

    Syrian refugees on a dinghy approach, in rough seas, a beach on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    Syrian refugees on a dinghy approach, in rough seas, a beach on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    An Afghan mother comforts her crying child moments after a dinghy carrying Afghan migrants arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    An Afghan mother comforts her crying child moments after a dinghy carrying Afghan migrants arrived on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    A Syrian woman cries while holding her children moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    A Syrian woman cries while holding her children moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    An Afghan migrant carries his daughter, moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    An Afghan migrant carries his daughter, moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    Syrian refugees from Kobani pose for a selfie, moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    Syrian refugees from Kobani pose for a selfie, moments after arriving on a dinghy on the island of Lesbos, Greece August 23, 2015. Photo by Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

    Migrants cross into Macedonia near Gevgelijia, from Greece's border with Macedonia, August 23, 2015. Photo by Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters.

    Migrants cross into Macedonia near Gevgelijia, from Greece’s border with Macedonia, August 23, 2015. Photo by Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters.

    Migrants rest at the train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia, August 23, 2015. Photo by Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters.

    Migrants rest at the train station in Gevgelija, Macedonia, August 23, 2015. Photo by Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters.

    The post Photos: More migrants land in Greece day after record numbers rescued from Mediterranean Sea appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A zookeeper cares for one of the giant panda cubs born on Saturday at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., on August 22, 2015. Photo by Pamela Baker-Masson, Smithsonian's National Zoo.

    A zookeeper cares for one of the giant panda cubs born on Saturday at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., on August 22, 2015. Photo by Pamela Baker-Masson, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

    It’s twins! The National Zoo’s giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to twin cubs on Saturday in Washington D.C., the zoo confirmed.

    The first giant panda cub born was born at 5:35 p.m. and the second at 10:07 p.m., the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute said in a press release.

    Both cubs, weighing 86 and 132 grams, were “vocalizing well” Sunday morning, the zoo said. The sex of either won’t be determined until later.

    Because of the cubs’s vulnerable state and size, zookeepers and nutritionists will alternate between giving one of the cubs to Mei Xiang to nurse and bottle feed the other with formula made up of water, human baby formula and puppy formula and keep it warm in an incubator.

    Mei Xiang was artificially inseminated in April using semen from a two giant pandas, Tian Tian, who lives at the zoo, and another in China. A DNA analysis will determine who the father is.

    Giant pandas give birth to twins roughly half of the time, the zoo said, and this is the third time a giant panda living in the United States has given birth to twins.

    Mei Xiang has two surviving cubs, Tai Shan, born a decade ago and living in China, and Bao Bao who lives at the zoo.

    Bao Bao celebrated her second birthday at the National Zoo on Sunday, feasting on a frozen fruitsicle cake made of honey, apple juice, apple sauce, bamboo, carrots and beet juice. The zoo will send her to China in two years, officials said. 

    The post Giant panda Mei Xiang gives birth to twins at National Zoo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    CONCORD, N.H. — Each Saturday morning, 78-year-old Gary Patton goes door to door to talk to his neighbors about Hillary Rodham Clinton. He starts with a friendly introduction to make sure people know he’s a local – not some out-of-towner who doesn’t understand New Hampshire.

    His wife, Lenore, runs an email blast for the Rockingham County Democrats to keep people informed about coming visits by Clinton and every other Democrat in the presidential race. Since moving to Hampton in 1997, they’ve become the go-to couple for activists and candidates alike. Clinton sought their endorsement in a half-hour private meeting in 2007, but they eventually got behind then-Sen. Barack Obama.

    “They know everything that’s going on on the ground,” said Pete Kavanaugh, state director for Obama’s 2012 campaign. “They’re able to provide kind of a long-term stability for presidential candidates that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”

    The Pattons are part of a cadre of political volunteers across the state that campaigns dream of getting on board: Locals who know the terrain and the people who count in every town and are willing to contribute relentless effort toward a campaign. As New Hampshire celebrates the 100th anniversary of its first-in-the-nation primary, activists and volunteers like these are keeping the contest’s grassroots nature alive.

    Few volunteers know the Republican stronghold of Salem better than Judy Galluzzo, whose first race in the 1970s was an early campaign of former Gov. John H. Sununu. She’s been active ever since, running campaigns on a volunteer basis for the local register of deeds, the county attorney and many more. She organized the town’s Labor Day picnic in 1999, when Elizabeth Dole cruised in on a motorcycle. She hosted a luncheon for Ann Romney and, most recently, organized a town hall event for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, her chosen candidate in 2016.

    Volunteers like Galluzzo bring important assets to the table: instant credibility, know-how and “infectious enthusiasm,” said Jim Merrill, Rubio’s state director and a veteran GOP operative here.

    “Any campaign’s goal is to try to find as many of those folks as possible throughout the state,” Merrill said.

    Galluzzo’s advice for the candidates: “Don’t come in with a big entourage. You need (the voters) more than they need you, and you better have a message and you better be real or you’re going to get caught.”

    “I love to watch the process,” she added, “and I love to see people who do it right.”

    The Pattons have a similarly long history of political involvement, starting more than 40 years ago in Pennsylvania. While there, Gary Patton led county organizations for the presidential bids of Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton. When the Pattons moved to Hampton, they got involved in the local Democratic party right away.

    Lenore remembers having a chance to meet Obama during his first campaign after an event at the local high school, offering her a close-up glimpse that most voters never get.

    “I noticed his suit and his jacket and his pants didn’t match, he was kind of rumpled,” she recalled. “And I thought, `This guy, he’s just so comfortable talking to me,’ and that was just very surprising to me.”

    The Pattons are now avid Clinton backers. For them, political volunteerism is essentially a full-time retirement job. As primary day approaches it keeps them busy – and having fun.

    “If we didn’t have politics,” said Gary Patton, “three-quarters of our social life would disappear.”

    The post In New Hampshire, ‘super volunteers’ keep first-in-the-nation primary alive appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. ambassador to France Jane Hartley (C) presents student Anthony Sadler, U.S Airman First Class Spencer Stone and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos (L to R) as they attend a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, August 23, 2015. The three men helped overpower a Kalashnikov-toting attacker on a high speed train heading for Paris from Amsterdam on Friday.   REUTERS/Regis Duvignau - RTX1PBY3

    U.S. ambassador to France Jane Hartley stands with Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos (L to R) as they attend a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France on August 23, 2015. Photo by Regis Duvignau/Reuters

    The three Americans chiefly responsible for overpowering an armed attacker on a Thalys high-speed train recounted the harrowing takedown for reporters at a press conference held Sunday in Paris.

    “He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end, and so were we.”The vacationing friends, Spencer Stone, a U.S. airman, Alek Skarlatos, a national guardsman, and Anthony Sadler, a student, said they simply acted instinctively when they saw a heavily-armed man enter their train car.

    Stone said he was motivated “to survive” when he rushed the gunman. “He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end, and so were we,” he said.

    “Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go,'” Stone recounted. “All three of us started punching him while he was in the middle of us.”

    Stone sustained injuries to the neck and hand during the struggle, including a nearly severed thumb. He was treated at a hospital in the northern French city of Lille and was released on Saturday.

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

    The man behind the thwarted attack was tentatively identified by officials on Saturday as 26-year-old Ayoub El-Khazzani of Morocco.

    The suspect was reportedly flagged to French authorities last year as a man who had joined “the radical Islamist movement.” Officials believe he lived in Spain and Belgium and may have also traveled to Syria.

    His lawyer, Sophie David, told BFMTV that her client was “dumbfounded” by accusations that he was motivated by radical Islamist beliefs and instead was planning to rob passengers on the Paris-bound train.

    Graphic by Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    Graphic by Lisa Overton/NewsHour Weekend

    “He decided to get on a train that some other homeless people told him would be full of wealthy people traveling from Amsterdam to Paris and he hoped to feed himself by armed robbery,” David said.

    The gunman was heavily armed, carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle and automatic pistol, both with ammunition clips, as well as a box cutter knife.

    It is this small arsenal that caused many, including Skarlatos, to question whether he truly intended to rob passengers.

    “The guy had a lot of ammo. His intentions seemed pretty clear,” he said.

    The post Americans recount harrowing takedown during Thalys train attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama takes a bike ride with his family on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts August 22, 2015. Obama is on a two-week vacation on the Vineyard.    REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX1P7UQ

    U.S. President Barack Obama takes a bike ride with his family on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts August 22, 2015. Obama is on a two-week vacation on the Vineyard. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

    EDGARTOWN, Mass. — President Barack Obama may have finally shed his summer curse – just in time for a daunting fall.

    After a string of sunny seasons gripped by controversy, crises and plummeting popularity, the summer of 2015 has been among the most productive stretches of Obama’s presidency. Late June victories in the Supreme Court on health care and gay marriage, along with a win for his trade agenda on Capitol Hill, were followed by the landmark Iran nuclear deal in July and the raising of the U.S. flag over a new embassy in Cuba in August.

    Instead of being overshadowed by the 2016 presidential campaign, Obama’s agenda has often been driving the debate among the candidates running to replace him.

    And yet to the president, one of his summer’s biggest successes may simply be making it through his annual vacation on the tony Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard largely uninterrupted. While his summer troubles have often trailed him on previous vacations, he’s poised to close out this year’s trip Sunday without any statements to the press or public appearances, beyond a few glimpses of him on the golf course and biking with his family.

    “The president has absolutely appreciated the opportunity to take these two weeks outside of the hustle and bustle of Washington and spend some time with family and friends,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “Once we return to Washington, our agenda is packed, so the president is grateful for some rest and relaxation in advance of what will be a very busy fall.”

    Indeed, the president returns to Washington with a full schedule and confrontations with Congress that will help determine whether his summer momentum is sustained or sputters.

    Atop the president’s priorities is preventing Congress from blocking the Iran deal, which curbs Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Obama will likely have to veto a resolution of disapproval by lawmakers, blemishing his signature foreign policy initiative, but he appears on track to garner enough from support from Democrats to hold off Republican override efforts.

    Obama is also hoping to avoid the second government shutdown of his presidency. Some conservative Republicans have threatened to hold up funding bills to keep the government open after Oct. 1 unless federal money for Planned Parenthood is cut.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has dismissed the prospect of a shutdown, saying “We’ve been down this path before.” Still, the issue has spilled into the 2016 presidential campaign, which will likely intensify the debate over linking government funding to the women’s health organization.

    Seeking to bolster his legacy abroad, Obama will also be pushing for a global climate treaty and finalization of a free trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations. His string of summer successes began with Congress agreeing to a fast-track approval process for the trade pact when negotiations are complete.

    September also holds a White House meeting with Pope Francis, a state visit for Chinese President Xi Jinping, where Beijing’s high-profile hacking will be on the agenda, and the president’s annual trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

    For Obama, now deep in his second term, a busy, high-stakes agenda sure beats the alternative. His presidency appeared to be quickly slipping into lame-duck territory last year, but began to rebound after Democrats’ defeats in the midterm election and picked up momentum this summer.

    Summer has previously been Obama’s cruelest season: the hostile health care town halls in 2009, the debt ceiling crisis in 2011, the president’s waffling on Syria’s chemical weapons use in 2013. Last summer was consumed by the swift rise of the Islamic State and the group’s gruesome beheading of Americans, as well as tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old black man.

    Free this year from an all-consuming crisis, the president spent most of the two-week summer vacation on the golf course, at the beach and dining out with his family. He also attended a party on the island thrown by Democratic power broker Vernon Jordan, who also hosted an even last year where Obama was spotted on the dance floor.

    But there were no images of Obama dancing this year. Perhaps in a sign that even a president riding high in his second term has a short shelf life, the band instead posted a video of a dancing Hillary Rodham Clinton, the top contender to be the next Democratic president.

    The post A summer of political wins propels Obama to a busy fall appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    VLYPuertoRicoDebt

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN LARSON: And now, to “Viewers Like You,” your chance to comment on our work. Here’s what some of you had to say about yesterday’s story from Puerto Rico, where crippling debt and increasing healthcare costs have contributed to the island’s historic financial crisis.

    JEFF IN MADISON COMMENTED: Perhaps nothing can be done but i’m not inclined to give them more money until they show some level of responsibility in handling the extraordinarily generous subsidies they already receive.

    ROB ROCKLIN ADDED: Cut them loose and they can become a country just like any other island in the Caribbean.

    BUT THERE WAS THIS FROM JORGE RODRIGUEZ SANABRIA: No one in the program called puerto rico as it: is a colony of the usa, period, not a territory . Why the us controls the territorial waters, the customs. The post office, the currency, the expensive merchant system….

    AND CANDID ONE HAD THIS TO SAY: The us business world is victimizing a sitting duck… It’s no wonder that the detroit-ification on this hapless caribbean territory is still going strong.

    JOHN LARSON: Some took a broader view.

    BRUCE MCCOY SAID: The “commonwealth’s” economic problems stem from massive government overspending’ from bonds! A common thread among defaulting countries – is there a message here?

    L. JAMIE CHRISTOPHER COMMENTED:
    Austerity fails and worsens the economy for the benefit of the banks. Such a joke.

    JOHN LARSON: And finally, there was this from Malcom:
    Take heed fellow citizens, the usa also has a debt that very likely can never be paid, but if we started now reducing the size of government at least our grandchildren may have some sort of life left.

    As always we welcome your comments. Visit us at pbs.org/NewsHour, on our Facebook page, or tweet us at NewsHour.

    The post Viewers respond to report on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    French investigating police in protective clothing films inside the Thalys high-speed train where shots were fired in Arras, France, August 21, 2015. Three people were wounded in a shooting incident on high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris on Friday, the French Interior Ministry said. A man was arrested when the train stopped at Arras station in northern France but his motives were not yet known, a ministry spokesman said.  REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol - RTX1P4TU

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN LARSON: Joining me now by Skype from Paris is Andrew Callus of Reuters. Andrew, thanks so much for joining us.

    First of all, you know, we are just hearing that, you know, the first gun jammed, the second one wasn’t fully loaded. It sounds like an extraordinarily lucky situation.

    ANDREW CALLUS, Reuters: It certainly does, yes. The three young American men who were involved in the — in the — in bringing the gunman down were giving a press conference a little while ago, and they said that it was quite clear he had no weapons training, two of those servicemen, so I guess they should know.

    JOHN LARSON: What does that lead investigators to think about this gunman? Where was he from?

    ANDREW CALLUS: He spent his adult life in a very poor, drug-, crime-ridden, unemployment type of suburb of Algeciras. So we know that about him.

    A local community leader said he was a pretty ordinary young man who went — played football, who went fishing.

    JOHN LARSON: Are there any actual ties being shown yet to any terrorist group?

    ANDREW CALLUS: Not as yet. He was — so he was on a list of suspected Islamist militants. He basically had been thought to have had ties to — to some groups.

    The boldest assertion we have seen is in a Belgian newspaper, which says he was linked to the group which was involved in a shooting in Brussels just a few days — a few days after the one in Paris in January.

    JOHN LARSON: I read that he was on this S-list in France, where they are tracking, you know, people they are concerned about.

    How many people are on these types of lists?

    ANDREW CALLUS: The prime minister earlier this year said there were 3,000 on that S-list who were considered to be Islamist militants.

    And of course, the problem is, until they actually do something that they could be arrested for, there’s not very much anyone can do to actually stop them from moving around.

    The countries that the train was traveling through, people travel across borders without passports, without security checks and so on. So these people can — can travel around.

    JOHN LARSON: Ever since the first news of this arrived here in the United States, there’s been questions about whether or not he actually — the gunman actually went to Syria. Any news on that?

    ANDREW CALLUS: Sources within Spanish security services are saying he did go to Syria from France, not necessarily directly.

    The French security services say that they know he traveled from Berlin to Istanbul on May the 10th of this year, or at least that he was in Berlin Airport on his way to Istanbul.

    Now, Istanbul, in Turkey, that is a destination for a lot of would-be European jihadists wanting to go and join the fighting in Syria.

    JOHN LARSON: Finally, any idea of whether or not they are going to have to change or ramp up security measures on the train?

    ANDREW CALLUS: They are certainly talking about it.

    It has been a few years now that people have said that these Thalys high-speed trains between — between the European countries are potentially vulnerable to an attack.

    And here we have one. That is certainly going to be a debate over the coming weeks.

    JOHN LARSON: Andrew Callus, from Reuters in Paris, thanks so much for joining us.

    ANDREW CALLUS: My pleasure.

    The post What we know about the foiled France rail attack appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters during a new conference following party policy lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX1N1ZC

    U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters during a new conference following party policy lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington August 4, 2015. Reid threw his full support behind President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran on Sunday. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Sunday threw his full support behind President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, saying “it is the best path to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

    “I strongly support the historic agreement and will do everything in my power to ensure that it stands,” said Reid, D-Nev., in a news release.

    Reid is the 27th Senate Democrat to back the deal and the highest ranking in the Senate. His support will make it difficult for opponents to muster the veto-proof numbers needed in the Senate, and therefore, in Congress to scuttle the agreement.

    Republicans and the Israeli government furiously oppose the deal signed by the U.S., Iran and five world powers, which seeks to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb in exchange for billions in international sanctions relief. They say Obama’s agreement makes too many concessions to Iran and could actually enable that country to become a nuclear-armed state.

    But it is looking less and less likely that opponents can garner sufficient support. Congress plans a vote next month on a resolution disapproving of the deal, which Obama has threatened to veto. Opponents would then need two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate to override.

    In the Senate, only two Democrats – Schumer and Robert Menendez of New Jersey – have announced opposition to the deal. Reid is the 27th senator, all Democrats, to publicly announce his support. It will take 34 votes in the Senate to sustain the veto.

    A steady stream of Democrats have backed the deal, and Reid’s support will provide an opportunity for others to jump on board. The announcement also comes before Obama heads to Nevada.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi already has said House Democratic supporters have the votes necessary to sustain Obama’s veto despite unanimous GOP opposition.

    The White House had no immediate comment.

    Reid said he believes that the deal was the best that could be achieved.

    “First, this is a good agreement on the merits, imposing the toughest inspections and verification regime in history, and a diplomatic solution is certainly less costly in American blood and treasure than any possible military option,” Reid said. “Second, if the Senate rejects this agreement, the international community will not support an attempt to secure another and they will not support the sanctions regime. Those are hard facts.”

    Iran has threatened to destroy Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vehemently opposed to the deal.

    Reid said Israel’s security is “of utmost importance.” “I support this deal because I believe it is the best option to halt any Iranian nuclear weapons program and therefore to protect the State of Israel,” he said.

    This report was written by Jesse J. Holland of the Associated Press.

    The post Reid announces support for Iran nuclear deal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Vice President Joe Biden has hired the former spokeswoman for John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign to be his new communications director. A presidential bid was encouraged and supported by Biden's late son Beau, but Biden has yet to decide whether or not he will run. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    Vice President Joe Biden has hired the former spokeswoman for John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign to be his new communications director. A presidential bid was encouraged and supported by Biden’s late son Beau, but Biden has yet to announce whether or not he will run. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden has chosen a top film industry official and former spokeswoman for John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign to be his new communications director, the White House said Monday.

    Kate Bedingfield joins the vice president’s team just as Biden is seriously considering whether to run for president. But White House officials are subject to strict limitations on engaging in political activity, and Bedingfield’s duties are expected to focus on the vice president’s official activities, not on preparations for a potential campaign.

    Bedingfield returns to the White House from the Motion Picture Association of America, where she was vice president of corporate communications and the top spokeswoman. She previously held senior media roles in the Obama White House and worked for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

    “She will be a key adviser to me, a terrific asset to our office, and an important member of the entire White House organization,” Biden said in a statement.

    While Biden hasn’t made a decision about 2016, he has been discussing the possibility with political advisers and reaching out to longtime donors. On Saturday, he returned to Washington from Delaware at the last minute for an unusual meeting with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a rising Democratic star whose endorsement is highly sought.

    In the 2008 campaign, Bedingfield’s role included defending Edwards against campaign-trail attacks and issuing critiques of his opponents — including, on occasion, then-Sen. Barack Obama.

    Her tenure at the MPAA coincided with the growth of online piracy, which has posed major problems for U.S. film studios and prompted MPAA lawsuits. Former Sen. Chris Dodd, the MPAA’s chairman, called Bedingfield a “trusted adviser and a strategic thinker.”

    Bedingfield starts work on Monday, the White House said. The role has been vacant since March.

    The post Biden hires film industry spokeswoman to be new communications chief appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A photo of Pluto (center) and it's moons Charon, Nix and Hydra (left to right) in 2006, the year that the planet was demoted and the New Horizons mission was launched. Photo by NASA, ESA, Harold Weaver (JHU/APL), Alan Stern (SwRI), and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team

    A photo of Pluto (center) and it’s moons Charon, Nix and Hydra (left to right) in 2006, the year that the planet was demoted and the New Horizons mission was launched. Photo by NASA, ESA, Harold Weaver (JHU/APL), Alan Stern (SwRI), and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team

    “Pluto is dead.”

    Mike Brown, California Institute of Technology astronomer and self-proclaimed Pluto killer, uttered these words exactly nine years ago today after the International Astronomers Union (IAU) officially revoked Pluto’s planetary status. Since then, we’ve continued to ponder Pluto, with our obsession culminating this summer when the New Horizons spacecraft cruised by the celestial object on July 14. So on Pluto’s day of demotion, we celebrate how the lonely dwarf planet has forever changed our view of our solar system.

    The “killing” of the planet was actually more of an involuntary manslaughter. Pluto’s planetary status came into serious jeopardy in 2005, when Brown and his colleagues discovered a bright object beyond Pluto. The object, now known as Eris, turned out to be similar to Pluto in many ways. It was round. It orbited the sun. It had a moon. And while Eris was smaller in volume than Pluto, it was more massive.

    Eris’ existence, and the likelihood that there were hundreds of undiscovered objects in the solar system just like it, raised a serious question for the IAU — how should these objects be classified?

    “It wasn’t clear whether they were going to be considered in the same category as planets, or would just be asteroids,” said Owen Gingerich, a Harvard University astronomer.

    Gingerich was head of the committee appointed to determine the classifications. Despite the committee’s recommendation that a new class of planets called “Plutons” be created, the IAU ultimately voted to consider Pluto, and other objects like it “dwarf planets.”

    The decision is still a controversial one, even among astronomers. Pluto was a popular planet, and some argue that “demoting” it did little to clarify how we understand the solar system.

    A view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth's surface and viewed from a great distance.  Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 1,472 miles, 18.5% that of Earth's, while Charon has a diameter of 750 miles, 9.5% that of Earth's. Photo by NASA.

    A view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth’s surface and viewed from a great distance. Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 1,472 miles, 18.5% that of Earth’s, while Charon has a diameter of 750 miles, 9.5% that of Earth’s. Photo by NASA.

    “I can understand it,” Brown said. “Even when I was a kid, Pluto was my favorite planet. I had a poster on my wall. Pluto was off on the edge, and it was mysterious, and we had never been there. You know there’s just something that everybody likes about it, and I think that’s always been the case.”

    The debate was so heated that it came to overshadow Pluto itself — a fascinating object.

    “When people ask me about my opinion on Pluto’s planethood, my opinion is that it’s the least interesting conversation to have about Pluto,” Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor at Planetary.org said. “I would so much rather talk about the exciting things that we’ve seen on Pluto … How did it form? How did its moon form? What does it have to say about the formation of our solar system? Is it like the other worlds in the Kuiper Belt, or not? … So what word a few English-speaking people use to talk about it is really the least interesting conversation I can think of.”

    Recently, the conversation has been dominated by the findings from the New Horizons mission.

    Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14.  Image by NASA/APL/SwRI

    Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14.
    Image by NASA/APL/SwRI

    The space probe’s data showed a variety of terrain on Pluto, including possible glaciers made from frozen nitrogen, a red-colored surface like Mars, a geologically active center and Rocky Mountain-sized peaks. Sensors also detected that Pluto’s atmosphere extends high above the planet’s surface and is blown off by solar wind, creating a cometlike tail of nitrogen gas.

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

    The public has loved New Horizons, following the mission with unprecedented interest. The voyage made international headlines and inspired a number of artistic tributes, like Haikus on twitter.

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

    And this is only the beginning, as it will take 16 months to download all of the data from New Horizons.

    “I think this really makes people interested in what else might be out there in the Kuiper Belt,” Cathy Olkin, a deputy project scientist on the New Horizons mission, said. “This is the first example we’ve looked at, and it’s really fascinating and interesting. We’re going to be learning new things about processes in the solar system and planets and what’s going on, and this is just the first one we’ve looked at. I think it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t be other fascinating bodies out there to study as well.”

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

    The post How ‘killing’ Pluto redefined the solar system appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Tourists walk in the historical city of Palmyra, April 14, 2007. Islamic State fighters in Syria have entered the ancient ruins of Palmyra after taking complete control of the central city, but there are no reports so far of any destruction of antiquities, a group monitoring the war said on May 21, 2015. Picture taken April 14, 2007. Photo by Nour Fourat/Reuters

    Tourists walk the historical city of Palmyra, April 14, 2007. Islamic State fighters are reported to have destroyed the 2,000-year-old temple. Photo by Nour Fourat/Reuters

    The chief of the United Nation’s cultural agency has described the Islamic State’s destruction of Baalshamin, a nearly 2,000 year-old temple in Palmyra, as a “war crime.”

    Irina Bokova, the UNESCO chief, said in a statement: “This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity. Daesh (the Islamic State group) is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world.”

    Syria’s head of antiquities was quoted as saying the temple was blown-up Sunday. However, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that it happened a month ago.

    The destruction of Baalshamin is just the latest string of horrors since the Islamic State captured Palmyra in May, sparking international concern about the fate of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Just last week, the Islamic State killed a Palmyra antiquities scholar, Khaled al-Asaad, who was 82. He headed the Palmyra Antiquities Department and Museums from 1963 until his retirement in 2003. Last month, the group demolished a half-dozen statues said to have been stolen from Palmyra, and in June, blew up two Palmyra tombs.

    The Islamic State has reportedly destroyed several ancient sites. The militants believe any shrines or statues implying the existence of another deity are sacrilege and idolatry, and should be destroyed.

    The post U.N. calls destruction of 2,000-year-old temple a war crime appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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