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

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    Members of the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) patrol the impoverished Flor del Campo neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April 29, 2015. Since taking office in January 2014, Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez has delegated the intelligence and counternarcotics operations to the military, creating the Military Police for Public Order, a new force that patrols violent neighbourhoods, public schools and playgrounds to curb violence, amidst growing claims of human rights abuses. Picture taken April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera - RTX1IMAG

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: In 2009, a coup brought down the elected president of Honduras. For the past six years, instability, poverty, and gang-and drug-related crime have plagued this Central American nation of eight million people.

    In 2012, Honduras had the most murders per capita of any country in the world – 90 homicides for every 100 thousand people.

    Stopping the violence is the top priority of 46-year-old president Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was elected in 2013 and took office last year.

    I sat down with him at his office in the nation’s capital, Tegucigalpa.

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “We unfortunately come from being the most violent country on the face of the earth as consequence of drug trafficking that is produced in South America and is consumed in North America.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Formerly head of the Honduran legislature, President Hernandez has deployed the military police nationwide to combat and arrest drug gangs as a first step in stemming the violence.

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “So we began there, extraditing drug traffickers, prosecuting gangs, local and external traffickers.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: President Hernandez says those actions have tamped down the violence — the murder rate here has modestly declined in the past two years.

    Still, last summer, gang-related violence was part of the reason tens of thousands of Hondurans, many of them women and children, tried to flee to the United States.

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “The number of children migrating has decreased dramatically in comparison with the rest of the northern triangle of Central America. Honduras has been most effective in that. But we have begun to work because we accept that it’s not just the responsibility of the government but also all Hondurans.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: President Hernandez is also trying to address a growing problem in Honduras — domestic violence against women. Thirty percent of Honduran women say they’ve been abused, and the murder rate among women more than doubled from 2005 through 2013.

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “We are committed particularly in the case of women who are often the victims of these conflicts between the gangs, and those gangs in turn have connections to drug trafficking. We’re also working on aspects of prevention, in the schools and churches, with art and culture. It’s a complete program, and it will take time.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: As an example, President Hernandez points to a policing project with greater community outreach near the nation’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, partially funded by the United States.

    A Vanderbilt University study last year found the program has reduced crime and increased public trust in the police.

    Still, the president has faced weekly protests over government corruption – considered endemic here — and concerns that money meant to aid the Honduran people is getting siphoned off by corrupt officials.

    I asked the president about those corruption allegations, particularly that money meant to help battered women isn’t reaching victims.

    JOHN CARLOS FREY:It stops with the government. Even aid that may come through this country.”

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “Our administration decided to launch a campaign even before taking office, not just to patch up laws passed by previous congresses, but also to implement programs that will provide transparency and put up a full frontal assault against corruption.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: But the president’s critics say despite those efforts, little is being done to address the epidemic of domestic violence.

    Anna Cruz manages a privately-financed shelter for abused Honduran women, providing services, she says, the government does not, including helping victims file criminal complaints.

    ANNA CRUZ, SHELTER DIRECTOR: “Honduras doesn’t care about women’s issues. So like in our case, we do not receive any assistance from the government.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Cruz houses a dozen women at a time, but she says at least 200 women in the capital need a safe place to hide from their abusers.

    ANNA CRUZ, SHELTER DIRECTOR: “The government should inject money for programs against violence instead of just military men on the street everywhere. All that money spent on the military should be spent on violence prevention programs.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: For more than 30 years, Gladys Lanza has run an organization dedicated to ending violence against women in Honduras. She says domestic violence is as much a cultural problem as a policy issue.

    GLADYS LANZA, WOMEN’S MOVEMENT FOR PEACE AND VISITATION PADILLA: “It’s a macho, patriarchal mindset that puts women into a kind of second class. You go to the authorities and they say, but more men are murdered than women. And then you have to wait for an investigation.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Lanza says she is hopeful for change, but the continuing violence is still motivating women to leave Honduras with their children.

    GLADYS LANZA, WOMEN’S MOVEMENT FOR PEACE AND VISITATION PADILLA: “The majority of the women left precisely because they were fleeing violence — the violence in their homes with their partners; the violence in the community with authorities, with gangs in their neighborhoods, and even contract killings. There are so many areas of violence in which we women live.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: Maria Mercedes Bustillos is the country’s special prosecutor for the protection of women. Appointed by President Hernandez, she’s critical of the government’s approach to stopping gender-based violence.

    MARIA MERCEDES BUSTILLOS, CHIEF SPECIAL PROSECUTOR FOR THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN: “What happens to a victim who is suffering extreme poverty on top of the beatings, the injuries, the confinement, the isolation, the manipulation? What happens? You have a person unable to change her life and overcome on her own, unable to provide food for her children. There has to be a system to empower her, to make the decision to get away from the violence.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: I asked President Hernandez why the country has so few places for women to seek refuge.

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “We have a couple of pilot programs at the national or central government level. We’re working with municipal governments in the case of women, children and adolescents. I believe we’ve found the formula, and how to produce that on a larger scale is coming next.”

    JOHN CARLOS FREY: “Is it the government’s responsibility, the Honduran government’s responsibility, to stem the violence and to protect women?”

    PRESIDENT JUAN ORLANDO HERNANDEZ, HONDURAS: “Yes, of course. It is the responsibility of the government and society as a whole. It’s an issue that concerns us all. That’s the awareness we’re trying to create in the Honduran people.”

    The post Behind the fight to stem violence and protect women in Honduras appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    As Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton battle for the Democratic Party nomination on the road in Iowa, Sanders hammers home just how different the two are. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Bernie Sanders sharpened the contrast with Hillary Rodham Clinton on a bevy of liberal causes on Saturday, casting himself as a principled progressive before thousands of Iowa Democrats in an appearance that could set the tone for the leadoff presidential caucuses in February.

    Sanders, the independent Vermont senator, never mentioned Clinton by name at the high-profile fundraising dinner but implicitly criticized her delayed opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Keystone XL pipeline as well as her vote in favor of the Iraq war and passage of the Defense of Marriage Act during her husband’s administration.

    “I promise you tonight as your president I will govern based on principle not poll numbers,” Sanders said, eliciting roars from his supporters.

    Clinton did not respond in kind, making the case that she would be best equipped to take on the Republicans. “I hear Donald Trump when he says we have to make America great again,” Clinton said. “America is great – we just have to make it fair and just.”

    Clinton and Sanders sit atop a Democratic presidential field that was effectively pared down to two after Vice President Joe Biden announced this week he would not seek the nomination.

    Clinton made a direct appeal to Biden’s supporters, saying that the vice president has been at Obama’s side every step of the way. “He has fought passionately for middle-class families and middle-class values,” she said.

    Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who trails both by a wide margin, reached for a breakout performance at the dinner, presenting himself as a fresh face in the party, who got things done in his home state.

    “We cannot move beyond today’s gridlocked politics by returning to the divisions of our past,” O’Malley said. “I’m not about that.”

    The speech marked a more aggressive turn by Sanders, who struggled at times to scrutinize Clinton’s record during their first debate in Las Vegas earlier this month.

    In that encounter, Clinton offered a full-throated rebuke of Sanders’ record on gun control, noting his opposition to the 1993 Brady Bill and his backing of a 2005 law that shields gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers from most liability lawsuits.

    This time, Clinton only made a passing reference to Sanders on gun control, saying, “I won’t be silent” on the issue.

    Sanders, meanwhile, pointedly assailed the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act during Bill Clinton’s administration, saying, “some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse. That’s not the case.” Hillary Clinton said in an interview with MSNBC on Friday that the law was signed as a “defensive action.”

    Sanders vowed “not to abandon any segment of American society whether you’re gay or black or Latino or poor or working class – just because it is politically expedient at a given time.”

    Clinton placed third in Iowa in 2008 and has since built a formidable organization to power her to victory here.

    Eight years ago, Obama suggested Clinton was motivated by polls and triangulation while the then-New York senator countered that “change is just a word” unless you have the strength and experience to lead.

    This time, Clinton presented herself as Obama’s heir, warning Republicans would seek to slash taxes for the wealthy and repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.

    “I’m running as a proud Democrat,” the former secretary of state said to a large cheering section that waved blue neon sticks. “We need to defend the progress we’ve made under President Obama and build on it until the recovery is secure.”

    But Republicans insisted Saturday that today’s Hillary Clinton is the same one who ran eight years ago.

    “The Hillary Clinton of 2015 is no different than the Hillary Clinton from 2007, who at the time refused to be straightforward with Iowans,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Fred Brown. “Things haven’t changed.”

    One hundred days remain before Iowans nominate their presidential candidates, and the state Democratic party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner drew a raucous crowd of more than 6,600 activists in what traditionally serves as a kickoff to the Iowa caucuses.

    It capped a daylong pageant of political activities: Former President Bill Clinton headlined his first rally of the campaign, introducing pop singer Katy Perry at a free concert for Clinton’s faithful. Sanders led cheering supporters across a Des Moines bridge in a march that included chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the oligarchy has to go!”

    Clinton’s campaign has been on an upswing this month. She received a boost from Biden’s decision not to run, then put together a grinding, competent appearance before a Republican-led congressional committee probing the deadly 2012 attacks on diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, Libya.

    Two lesser-known rivals, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, abandoned the race following Clinton’s strong performance on Oct. 13 in the first primary debate.

    The dinner, called the “J-J,” was an important showcase for Sanders, a Vermont independent who has drawn large crowds with his calls for a “political revolution” but trails Clinton in national polls.

    Playing the role of underdog, Sanders drew a comparison with Obama. “I think we are going to prove the pundits wrong again. I think we are going to make history one more time.”

    The post In Iowa, Sanders seeks to distance himself further from Clinton appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Local residents watch a flooded street in Austin, Texas, on October 24, 2015. Torrential rains created transit mayhem in the US state of Texas on October 24, including a train derailment and scores of canceled flights at one of the nation's busiest airports. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

    Residents stand by a flooded street Oct. 24, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Photo by Jewell Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

    Heavy rains that have drenched parts of Texas since Friday are now expected to move east toward Louisiana, the National Weather Service said Sunday.

    The storm, caused partly by the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, dropped more than nine inches of rain on Houston, causing flooding and forcing the closure of numerous roads. The town of Powell, about 50 miles south of Dallas, reported 20 inches of rainfall within 30 hours.

    No deaths or major destruction from the storms were reported in the state, but one man was missing after reportedly being swept away by floodwater while walking his dog near San Antonio, the Associated Press reported, and the Houston Fire Department rescued 28 motorists stranded by high waters.

    Flash flood warnings and watches were still in effect early Sunday but expired as the storm moved eastward into the afternoon.

    Weather forecasters said three to eight inches of rain were possible in areas around New Orleans and Baton Rouge over Sunday night, Reuters reported.

    The post After drenching Texas, heavy rain in Patricia’s wake moving east appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - AUGUST 31: College students search the internet August 31, 2015 on computers at the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

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    MEGAN THOMPSON: Twenty-eight students at Kabul University filed for a first-of-its-kind class for Afghanistan.

    It’s the introductory course in a new master’s degree program in gender and women’s studies in a county that has long struggled to provide equal rights to women.

    When the Taliban seized power in 1996, the hard-line Islamist regime banned women and girls from going to school, having jobs outside the home, or even stepping out in public without being covered head to toe in a burqa.

    After the U.S.-led invasion after 9/11 toppled the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan’s new constitution guaranteed women’s rights.

    There’s been progress, but many Afghan women remain marginalized, and violence against women has been on the rise.

    For example, earlier this year, an angry mob beat a 27-year-old female law student to death in the center of Kabul, the nation’s capital.

    Protesters renewed calls for the government to do more to protect women.

    Still, millions of Afghan girls and women have gone back to school, their access to higher education remains limited.

    One Islamic studies professor at Kabul University disapproves of the new women’s studies program there, because, he said, women are not, in fact, equal to men.

    Students in the two-year program hope to change those beliefs.

    ZHEELA RAFHAT, STUDENT: This gender program is really needed in Afghanistan, because many women do not know about their rights, so through this program, we can make women aware of their rights, which enables them to work and study in this society, and we also want to tell women that you are not only made for housework.

    MEGAN THOMPSON: The university expects these empowered graduate students to spread that message beyond these classroom walls.

    The post Afghanistan’s first women and gender studies program now in session appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Students sitting at desks and writing

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Obama and the federal Department of Education are calling on states to cut back on standardized tests in schools. U.S. school kids from pre-K through 12th grade, on average, take eight standardized tests every year. That’s almost one test a month during the school year.

    In a Facebook video yesterday, the president said teachers have told him the pressure to teach to those tests — quote — “takes the joy out of teaching and learning.”

    His administration has now released a testing action plan with new guidelines.

    For more insight on that, I’m joined by Kate Zernike of The New York Times.

    Welcome.

    KATE ZERNIKE, National Correspondent, The New York Times: Thank you.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, this is a pretty big statement from the president on this very contentious issue. Why — why is he coming out now?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think they wanted to get past the spring testing push last year, or this — or this year.

    But I think, also, there was a report coming out from the Council of the Great City Schools, which is a coalition of about 70 urban school districts. And they have generally been pro-testing. But their superintendent set out to find out how many tests the kids are taking.

    And what they found, the report also came out yesterday — or Saturday — was that there are just are — that, as you said, there are, you know, eight tests a year. There’s just so many — so many people are calling for so many different tests, that a lot of these tests are — they’re not only onerous, but they’re sort of pointless and purposeless. They’re not really tied to what we want them to be tied to, to learning in the classroom.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, the president acknowledges maybe we have too — testing kids too much. He even acknowledges that his administration might be part of the problem.

    What is he proposing as a possible solution to that?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think the thing that is going to jump out at people is this — he wants a cap on the time spent on testing. So, no more than 2 percent of classroom time should be spent on testing.

    And that is a reduction from what the Council of the Great City Schools found. But they also are proposing things like not — they’re saying no one — no teacher should be evaluated solely on a test, no child should be — no child’s high school graduation or any cutoff should be attached solely to a test. So, that is a big deal.

    A lot of proponents of testing will say that the thing that got us in trouble, they wanted testing. The problem is, we started tying it to too many things. We started saying, teachers weren’t going to get tenure if they didn’t pass a test, or, if their kids didn’t pass the test, school — kids wouldn’t graduate from high school if they didn’t pass the test.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, those advocates of testing say, OK, maybe a little bit of reform is useful, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    KATE ZERNIKE: Absolutely.

    I mean, we have to remember that before — this has sort of been a 20-year approach, or a 15-year approach. Before this was happening, there was a lot of — a lot of kids, and particularly in urban schools, were not learning anything.

    And so — they’re not learning anything may have been a little too harsh, but that there was no — there was no accountability, and we had no standards, and we weren’t — they were just being passed from grade to grade. So, this was really an effort to make sure that we were — that we had some accountability.

    This is a $600 billion industry, public schooling in America. It is reasonable to expect that we would want some accountability, but I think the problem is, we have just — as in many things, the pendulum has swung too far.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is obviously a huge, contentious issue across the country. A lot of parents and school districts have been in a real uproar over this testing.

    Do you think this effort by the president, this initiative, is going to put a — is going to satisfy the critics?

    KATE ZERNIKE: You know, I really don’t think it is. I think a lot of people are already saying this is too — too little too late.

    You know, the question really has been in suburban districts, where people felt like, our schools are fine. Why is there this push? We are doing everything fine. This is not our problem.

    The opt-out movement that we have seen has largely been in suburban districts. We have — we have seen very few opt-outs in urban districts.

    So, I think it’s going to be — the other problem is going to be, they’re saying, we want this 2 percent cap on testing, but then what kind of tests are we going to be allowed to use? There has always been a problem — schooling in this country is a very, very local tradition.

    And so is the — is the federal government going to way, well, you should use this test or you shouldn’t use that test? That is the problem. It’s going to be — we are going to see this again. People will call it a federal takeover.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Kate Zernike of The New York Times, thank you so much.

    KATE ZERNIKE: Thank you.

    The post What will Obama’s new testing plan mean for American students? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) welcomes Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a meeting over the Balkan refugee crisis with leaders from central and eastern Europe at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 25, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Vidal - RTX1T5IC

    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (right) welcomes Greece Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to a gathering of European leaders to discuss the migrant crisis in Europe on Oct. 25, 2015, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Eric Vidal/Reuters.

    European leaders met Sunday at an emergency summit in Brussels to discuss the handling of tens of thousands of migrants passing through the Balkans to western parts of Europe.

    At the summit, 11 EU and Balkan leaders met seeking solutions to the current situation, which has been described as the continent’s greatest immigration crisis since World War II. Nearly 250,000 refugees have passed through the Balkans since mid-September, according to the Associated Press.

    “Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres called on the European Union to devise a new system to register and screen migrants when they first arrive.

    Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović said Greece needed to assert more control of the water between its islands and Turkey, which has been one of the main entry points for migrants. (Nearly 11,500 migrants crossed into the country Saturday, the highest in a single day since Hungary put up a fence and refugees started coming into Croatia in mid-September.)

    Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said Slovenia was also overwhelmed by refugees, with 60,000 arriving in the last 10 days alone. He said the country wasn’t receiving enough help from its EU partners.

    Cerar said a continued failure to act would signal “the beginning of the end of the European Union and Europe as such.”

    The post European leaders meet for emergency talks on Balkan refugee crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 24:  Pope Francis, flanked by Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias and other bishops, arrives at the closing session of the Synod on the themes of family the at Synod Hall on October 24, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. Participants on Friday gave their reactions to a draft of the final document which is now being voted on by the bishops.  (Photo by Giulio Origlia/Getty Images)

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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Today at the Vatican, Pope Francis closed a three-week-long meeting of Catholic bishops focused on the church’s position on family issues.

    The bishops expressed a more tolerant view toward divorced Catholics, but blocked any reconsideration of the church’s stance on gay marriage. In comments widely seen as critical of church leaders, the pope said, in part, quote: “A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”

    Joining me now via Skype from Rome is Philip Pullella. He’s the Vatican correspondent for Reuters.

    So, Philip Pullella, this would seem to be a very contentious meeting these last few weeks. Explain what was going on there.

    PHILIP PULLELLA, Vatican Correspondent, Reuters: Well, for the past two weeks, the bishops were discussing — bishops from around the world, about 270 of them, plus another 50 or 60 delegates and observers, were discussing family issues.

    They discussed a whole range of issues. But the key — the two key elements that emerged as the most contentious was how the church could be more merciful to those Catholics who divorced — the church doesn’t recognize divorce — and then remarried outside the church, without having a church annulment.

    Now, a good number of them want to return to the church completely and want to be allowed to receive communion. But, as things stand now, they can only receive communion if they abstain from sex with their new partner. Otherwise, they are considered to be in an adulterous relationship.

    Now, there has been a lot of controversy about that, and a lot of requests, particularly from the German bishops and other bishops conferences in Europe, and even one or two bishops in the States. So, the proposal was to allow local bishops or a confessor to decide together with the Catholic on a case-by-case basis whether he or she feels that, in good conscience, they can go to communion.

    Now, this was approved as a possibility by the synod. It that has to be developed a bit. But this was clearly a victory for the progressives, who wanted this to be — who wanted this to be possible. But we will see what the pope decides himself when he writes his own document.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And on the issue of homosexuality, there was — was no movement.

    PHILIP PULLELLA: Yes.

    The progressives would have wanted more welcoming language on homosexuals. The church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful, but that homosexual acts are. That is not going to be changing for the foreseeable future.

    But what progressives wanted was more welcoming language, calling homosexuals our brothers, our sisters, our colleagues, and perhaps even some language that said that there are certain — that positive aspects to a gay relationship can be seen in a loving, lasting relationship, that — this issue was so contentious the last time the synod met a year ago, where some of the very, very progressive language was absolutely thrown out by the synod, that, this time, they decided to just sidestep that issue almost totally.

    And the only mention of homosexuality is how to — how to deal with a homosexual who is part of your family in a loving relationship, et cetera. But it restated the church’s position that a homosexual marriage, a homosexual relationship cannot be considered in any way, even remotely — excuse me — comparable to a marriage between a man and a woman.

    So, the issue has been sidestepped completely.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Philip Pullella, thank you very much for joining us.

    PHILIP PULLELLA: Thank you very much.

    The post Catholic bishops endorse Pope Francis’ call for more open-hearted church appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Barbecue with sausages and hamburger. Photo by JOKER/Erich Haefele/ullstein bild/via Getty Images

    Barbecue with sausages and hamburger. Photo by JOKER/Erich Haefele/ullstein bild/via Getty Images

    Bacon, sausage and other processed meats are now ranked alongside cigarettes and asbestos as known carcinogens, the World Health Organization announced today. Processed meats cause cancer, and red meat likely causes cancer, the health agency says in a new report.

    The new investigation involved 22 scientists who were invited by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to assess the association between more than 16 types of cancer and the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

    Over the course of seven days in early October, the scientific panel examined more than 800 epidemiological studies from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and elsewhere. The scope covered multiple ethnicities and global diets, according to the report which was published today in the journal Lancet Oncology.

    The WHO group “classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.” Colorectal cancer is the second most lethal form of cancer in the U.S., causing nearly 50,000 deaths per year. Processed meat was also linked to a higher incidence of stomach cancer.

    Red meat carries a slightly lower risk, the group says, but is still “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Aside from the “strong mechanistic evidence” related to colorectal cancer, the “consumption of red meat was also positively associated with pancreatic and with prostate cancer.

    As a main line of evidence, the group cites one study from 2011, which combed through 28 studies on meat consumption and cancer risk dating back to 1966. That meta analysis found that colorectal cancer risk jumps by 17 percent for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of red meat consumed each day. Meanwhile with processed meat, colorectal cancer risk increases by 18 percent for every 50 grams (1.7 ounces) eaten each day.

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer keeps a list of compounds or activities with suspected, probable and definitive links to cancer, with each possible item falling into a designated grouping based on whether or not it causes cancer.

    Processed meat now falls into “group 1,” meaning it ranks as high as tobacco smoking, the most dangerous variants of human papillomavirus (HPV) and asbestos exposure in terms of causing cancer. Red meat lands in “group 2A” with inorganic lead.

    Research in rodents and human tissue shows meat consumption increases the production of chemical compounds, including haem iron and its chemical byproduct N-nitroso-compounds (NOCs). NOCs cause oxidative damage to intestinal tissue that is carcinogenic. Curing meats elevates the levels of NOCs as well as carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Heating meat leads to the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines, a known mutagen and cancer-causing agent.

    “High-temperature cooking by pan-frying, grilling, or barbecuing generally produces the highest amounts of these chemicals,” the report states.

    The new analysis makes a definitive assertion on the connection between eating meat and cancer. In recent years, studies and health policy groups have linked the two activities, but often without explicitly saying meat causes cancer. Take, for example, the American Cancer Society’s position as of this morning:

    Because of a wealth of studies linking colon cancer to diets high in red meats (beef, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (hot dogs, bologna, etc.), the Society encourages people to eat more vegetables and fish and less red and processed meats.

    As the Guardian reported, the WHO’s new position aligns the views with other health agencies like the World Cancer Research Fund, which has said there is convincing evidence that processed meats cause bowel cancer.

    Though a majority of the WHO’s panel agreed to these assessments, the final decision was not unanimous.

    The beef industry has been preparing a rebuttal for months to meet the WHO’s announcement, according to The Washington Post:

    “We simply don’t think the evidence support any causal link between any red meat and any type of cancer,” Shalene McNeill, executive director of human nutrition at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told The Washington Post.

    The post Bacon, hot dogs and processed meats cause cancer, WHO says appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A rescue worker carries a child, who was injured during an earthquake, at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on Oct. 26. The 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck a remote area of northeastern Afghanistan on Monday, shaking the capital Kabul, and reaching as far as northern India and Pakistan. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    A rescue worker carries a child, who was injured during an earthquake, at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck a remote area of northeastern Afghanistan Monday, shaking the capital Kabul, and reaching as far as northern India and Pakistan. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    A massive earthquake struck northeastern Afghanistan, and the death toll continued to climb past 100 on Monday, as residents tried to clear away debris and nurse the injured.

    The 7.5-magnitude quake hit the mountainous Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, and shockwaves reached northern Pakistan and parts of India.

    Mud-brick houses and at least one school in Takhar province collapsed, and portions of the Afghan capital Kabul lost power. Buildings shook in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and panicked people ran out into the streets, reported the Associated Press. The quake also rattled the disputed Kashmir region of Pakistan and India, damaging roads and bridges.

    “I thought it was the end of the world,” said shopkeeper Iqbal Bhat in Srinagar in Kashmir Valley.

    Rescue workers carry a girl who was injured by an earthquake, into a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Oct. 26. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    Rescue workers carry a girl who was injured by an earthquake, into a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on Oct. 26. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    A boy, who was injured during an earthquake, leans on his father's shoulder after receiving first aid at hospital in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan on Oct. 26. Photo by Hazrat Ali Bacha/Reuters

    A boy, who was injured during the earthquake, leans on his father’s shoulder after receiving first aid at hospital in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan. Photo by Hazrat Ali Bacha/Reuters

    A man clears rubble in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after part of his house collapsed during an earthquake in the northern part of the country on Oct. 26. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    A man clears rubble in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after part of his house collapsed. Photo by Parwiz/Reuters

    Residents gather in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan, to clear a path through rubble caused by an earthquake in northern Afghanistan on Oct. 26. Photo by Hazrat Ali Bacha/Reuters

    Residents gather in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan, to clear a path through rubble caused by the earthquake in northern Afghanistan. Photo by Hazrat Ali Bacha/Reuters

    Pakistani paramedics treat a man injured in an earthquake at a hospital in Peshawar on Oct. 26. Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

    Pakistani paramedics treat a man injured in the earthquake at a hospital in Peshawar. Photo by A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

    Kashmiri women stand outside a building they vacated following tremors felt in Srinagar on Oct. 26. A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck in northeastern Afghanistan on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, sending tremors to India and Pakistan. Photo by Danish Ismail/Reuters

    Kashmiri women stand outside a building they vacated following tremors felt in Srinagar, in the Kashmir Valley Monday. Photo by Danish Ismail/Reuters

    The post Powerful earthquake shakes South Asia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    According to a comprehensive study of 66 of the nation's big-city school districts by the Council of the Great City Schools, students spend between 20-25 hours taking standardized tests each year. Photo illustration by Getty Images

    According to a comprehensive study of 66 of the nation’s big-city school districts by the Council of the Great City Schools, students spend between 20-25 hours taking standardized tests each year. Photo illustration by Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Students, parents and teachers have long lamented the hours that kids spend taking standardized tests, especially since the introduction of the Common Core academic standards. But just how much time each year is it?

    A. Between 10-15 hours.

    B. Between 20-25 hours.

    C. Between 30-35 hours.

    The correct answer is “B,” according to a comprehensive study of 66 of the nation’s big-city school districts by the Council of the Great City Schools. It said testing amounts to about 2.3 percent of classroom time for the average eighth-grader in public school. Between pre-K and 12th grade, students took about 112 mandatory standardized exams.

    The study analyzed the time spent actually taking the tests, but it did not include the hours devoted to preparation ahead of the testing required by the federal government, states or local districts. It also did not include regular day-to-day classroom quizzes and tests in reading, math, science, foreign languages and more.

    In connection with the study’s release Saturday, President Barack Obama called for capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time. Even while acknowledging that the government shares some responsibility for an over-emphasis on testing, the president said federal officials would work with states, schools and teachers to “make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.”

    The Obama administration still supports annual standardized tests as a necessary assessment tool, and both House and Senate versions of an update to the No Child Left Behind law would continue annual testing. But the rewrite legislation would let states decide how to use test results to determine what to do with struggling schools. Differences between the two bills still need to be worked out.

    “Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” Obama said in a video released on Facebook. “So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.”

    To drive the point home, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan scheduled an Oval Office meeting Monday with teachers and school officials working to reduce testing time.

    “How much constitutes too much time is really difficult to answer,” said Michael Casserly, the council’s executive director. He said the study found plenty of redundancy in required testing — supporting concerns from teachers and other critics about the tests consuming too much teaching and learning time.

    For example, Casserly said that researchers found some states and school districts were mandating not only end-of-year tests, but end-of-course tests in the same subjects, in the same grade.

    “Having states and school districts jointly reviewing redundancy and overlap in their testing requirements will be an important step in reducing unnecessary assessments,” he said.

    The council reviewed testing for more than 7 million students in about three dozen states during the 2014-2015 school year.

    A “testing action plan” released by the Education Department over the weekend said too many schools have unnecessary testing.

    The department pledged to work with states and schools on ways to reduce time spent on testing, with federal guidance to the states expected in January. The plan also said the agency has adjusted its policies to provide more flexibility to states on how much significance to place on student test results in evaluating teachers.

    Aiming to close achievement gaps and assess learning, the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 mandated annual testing in reading and math for students in grades three through eight and again in high school. States and local school districts decide which standardized assessments to use to gauge student learning and progress in those two subjects and others.

    This past spring saw the rollout of new tests based on the Common Core college-ready academic standards in reading and math. About 12 million students in 29 states and the District of Columbia took the tests developed by two groups — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

    Other findings in the council’s report:

    — The most tests were required in 8th and 10th grade; the fewest were in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade.

    — Four in 10 districts report having to wait between two months and four months before getting state test results. The lack of timely results means teachers begin a new school year not knowing where a student needs to improve.

    The post Study: Kids take 100-plus required tests through 12th grade appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei is receiving an outpouring of support in the form of Legos. People around the world are offering to send the artist and activist their Legos after the company refused to fulfill his request for a bulk order.

    He plans to use the colorful blocks in a work that will be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia.

    On his Instagram account, Ai said Lego told him they could not meet his request because “they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.”

    Soon after, supporters began offering on Twitter to ship Ai their Legos. Ai has said he will find a way to accept them.

    Ai blames Lego business interests in China as reason for their refusal. He notes that just last week, a British company announced it would open a Legoland in Shanghai.

    In a statement, Lego reiterated it has a long-standing policy to not become involved in political messaging.

    “As a company dedicated to delivering great creative play experiences to children, we refrain — on a global level — from actively engaging in or endorsing the use of LEGO bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda,” the statement reads. “This principle is not new.”

    This is not the first time Ai will have used Legos in his work. Last year, he used hundreds of thousands of Legos to create the names and faces of 176 people jailed or exiled for their ideologies. The work was displayed on Alcatraz Island, in a room used as a prisoner workshop.

    Ai isn’t the only one scrambling to get Legos though. The company announced earlier that its demand was so high, there might be a shortage as holiday shopping ramps up.

    Editor’s note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of the company, Lego, not Legos.

    The post Ai Weiwei fans sending the artist their Legos after company refuses order appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by Button Poetry.

    Poet Elizabeth Acevedo is writing to understand.

    That process began at a young age, growing up in a Dominican family of oral storytellers, she said. It flourished with her high school poetry club, with whom she would attend open mics around the city, watching poets perform at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Bowery Poetry Club and Urban Word NYC.

    Poetry became “one of the ways I knew how to speak and be heard,” she said, while discussing race, gender and culture. Her poems discuss the oppression of those systems through the lens of personal experience, always keeping in mind that “the personal is political,” she said.

    “We need to change the way men approach women. We need to change the conversation of consent, of objectifying women’s bodies.”
    Her poem “Spear” follows a speaker in the aftermath of her daughter’s sexual assault. Acevedo began writing the poem while on a trip to South Africa around the time that Amanda Berry and her six-year-old daughter escaped from the home where Ariel Castro had held them and two other women for more than 10 years, leading to his arrest.

    That incident made her think about the role of mothers in the recovery process of assault survivors, she said. In particular, the poem is “a direct response [to] the fear of one day being the mother to a young woman and feeling like I cannot trust this world with her,” she said.

    The poem’s images transform the body into a weapon against abuse — but the self-defense that Acevedo addresses in the poem is no replacement for a larger cultural shift against sexual assault and rape culture, she said.

    “We need to change the way men approach women. We need to change the conversation of consent, of objectifying women’s bodies. Those things need to change,” she said.

    Additionally, her writing pushes back against a popular narrative that has left out people of color in the past, she said. “These bodies that I want to put into the poem are reminders to myself that I exist. And people, women, communities like mine, exist, and are entirely necessary to be written about,” she said. “If we don’t, we’re always going to be someone else’s to write, and someone else’s projection of what our bodies are.”

    This is particularly important in children’s books, the first place where many people find representations of themselves, she said. “Communities of color [are] reading,” she said. “We’re just not reading stories about us because there aren’t enough out there.”

    But that is beginning to change with a rising generation of authors of color along with initiatives like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which advocates for more diverse representation in children’s and young adult literature, she said.

    Watch Acevedo perform “Spear,” above, or read the poem below.

    Spear

    It almost curdles my womb dry, these stories:

    Girl parties in Steubenville, Watch her drink, pass out
    watch them grab wrists and ankles, she is now a rope they jump.

    Three girls, no, women nowlllllllllllllllllten years chained
    in a Cleveland basement. Did each one give thanks when
    he skipped them, visited the other one, got her full of stillborn

    babygirl in Gretna, Louisiana, stuffed into a garbage bag.
    Show me her mother, how she clenches her fists,
    it seems we women must practice how to lose our daughters.

    Imagine the boys:
    They will help me carry grocery bags but then will whistle,
    whisper, crook finger in my daughter’s direction
    and she may flip her hair, she may buck her hip
    she may accept their invitation to chill behind paint-chipped staircase.

    The cheap vodka will burn her throat, but not how they will
    when they become more thrust than thought.
    And you can’t tell me they don’t know her NO is not a moan.

    When she wakes me, her bed puddled in piss
    I will scrub these hands raw,lllllltremble at what they couldn’t prevent.

    I hold all the smiles of my future daughter tipped up to the milk of this promise:
    she will not walk hunched, fingers playing with one another as if she can wring
    prayers from the sweat between her palms. She will not be a girl
    forced to turn herself into a corner, taught her body it is a place to huddle, hide.

    I won’t raise her to be nice.

    To give her laugh away. To be polite as men plot
    and plan to turn her body into a weapon of war
    and if they try she will know how to wield herself.

    Don’t tell me it’s wrong to raise a child in this kind of fear
    because I know for every finger loosened another knuckle grows back crooked,
    another knuckle is looking to crack into my daughter’s skin
    and I can’t trust this world to teach their sons how to treat my daughter.

    And so I will raise her to be shield, sword, spear:
    to turn clasped hands into heated hatchet,
    to hold razors between her teeth
    to cut unkind advances with the sharpest eyes.
    to tie all her parts together with leather or lace, stay chiseled
    prepared for rebellions against her flesh.

    My daughter will be carved from hard rock
    sharpenedlllllllllshrapnelllllllllllla spear—
    her whole body ready to fling itself and arrow
    the hand of the first man who tries to cover her mouth.

    her whole body ready to fling itself
    and arrow the hand of the first man
    who tries to cover her mouth.

    Elizabeth Acevedo holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion as well as a Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Notre Dame Review, Callaloo, Puerto Del Sol, Poet Lore, and Beltway Quarterly. Her manuscript, Blessed Fruit & Other Origin Myths, was a finalist for Yes Yes Books’ chapbook poetry prize and will be published in the fall of 2016. She lives in Washington, D.C.

    The post Spoken word poet Elizabeth Acevedo issues a challenge to rape culture appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Candles are pictured outside the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland Oct. 7, 2015. The U.S. military took responsibility for a deadly air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz earlier this month, calling it a mistake and vowing to hold people accountable. The strike on the Afghan hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), killed 22 people and deeply angered the medical charity. MSF officials have blamed the United States, demanding an independent investigation into an attack it called a war crime. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    Candles are pictured outside the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland Oct. 7, 2015. The U.S. military took responsibility for a deadly air strike on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz earlier this month, calling it a mistake and vowing to hold people accountable. Photo by Denis Balibouse/Reuters

    WASHINGTON –The Army Green Berets who requested the Oct. 3 airstrike on the Doctors without Borders trauma center in Afghanistan were aware it was a functioning hospital but believed it was under Taliban control, The Associated Press has learned.

    The new information adds to a body of evidence that the internationally run medical facility site was familiar to the U.S. military, raising questions about whether the decision to attack it violated international law.

    A day before an American AC130 gunship attacked the hospital, a senior officer in the Green Beret unit wrote in a report that U.S. forces had discussed the hospital with the country director of the medical charity group, presumably in Kabul, according to two people who have seen the document.

    The attack left a mounting death toll, now up to 30 people.

    Separately, in the days before the attack, “an official in Washington” asked Doctors without Borders “whether our hospital had a large group of Taliban fighters in it,” spokesman Tim Shenk said in an email. “We replied that this was not the case. We also stated that we were very clear with both sides to the conflict about the need to respect medical structures.”

    Taken together, the revelations add to the growing possibility that U.S. forces destroyed what they knew was a functioning hospital, which would be a violation of the international rules of war. The Pentagon has said Americans would never have intentionally fired on a medical facility, and it’s unclear why the Green Beret unit requested the strike — and how such an attack was approved by the chain of command — on coordinates widely known to have included a hospital.

    Even if the U.S. believed the Taliban were operating from the hospital, the presence of wounded patients inside would have made an air attack on it problematic under standard American rules of engagement and the international law of war.

    Pentagon spokesman Maj. Roger Cabiness declined to answer questions, saying in a statement that it would be “premature to draw any conclusions” before the three investigations into the attack are complete.

    The U.S. has determined “that the reports of civilian casualties were credible, and we continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to fully identify the victims,” said Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, a NATO spokesman, in a statement. U.S. and NATO investigations, he said, “continue to look at a series of potential human errors, failures of process and technical malfunctions that may have contributed to the mistaken strike on the hospital.”

    “MSF report that they have personnel in the trauma center,” the Oct. 2 report by a senior Green Beret officer from 3rd Special Forces Group said, according to two people who have seen it. MSF is the abbreviation for the group’s French name, Medicins sans Frontiers. The report adds that the trauma center was under the control of insurgents, said the sources, who would not be quoted by name because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

    The coordinates of the hospital were sent to “all friendly forces,” the report said, noting that among the U.S. objectives for the next day was to “clear the trauma center” of enemy forces.

    Doctors without Borders officials say the hospital was not under Taliban control and that no gunmen were operating from within the compound — about six city blocks square with the one-story hospital situated some two blocks back behind a 12-foot wall — when the A130 gunship made five passes, firing for an hour.

    Another hospital run by Afghanistan’s health ministry, a short distance away, had been overrun by the Taliban when insurgents seized the city, a senior U.S. defense official said.

    The new information raises the possibility that some elements of the U.S. intelligence and military apparatus had confused the two hospitals. But other evidence argues against such confusion.

    The AP has reported that American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on the Doctors without Borders hospital, including indications it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity. The intelligence gathering occurred as the U.S. was supporting the Afghan effort to retake Kunduz, which included heavy fighting by Green Berets.

    The Green Berets had asked for Air Force intelligence-gathering flights over the hospital, and both Green Berets and Air Force personnel were aware it was a protected medical facility, the records show, according to the two people who have seen the documents.

    The analysts’ dossier included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative and activity reports based on overhead surveillance, according to a former intelligence official who is familiar with some of the documents. The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.

    After the attack, some U.S. analysts assessed it was justified, the records show, and one report said 16 enemies had been killed, the two sources say. Those deaths were said to include the Pakistani, who the U.S. believed was working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate.

    No evidence has surfaced publicly suggesting a Pakistani died in the attack, and Doctors without Borders says none of its staff was Pakistani.

    Gen. John Campbell, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, has said that “a special operations unit that was in close vicinity … was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires.”

    A senior Green Beret officer has told superiors that his troops, accompanying Afghan security forces, were under fire and in danger, according to a former government official familiar with his account.

    Doctors without Borders denies that any fire was coming from its compound. And even if it was, it’s unclear why any U.S. forces outside those walls could not have moved to safer ground.

    Also a mystery is why the AC130 gunship would have kept firing during the course of an hour on a building that both the Air Force and the Army knew was an internationally run trauma center. To avoid civilian casualties, a gunship would typically stop firing as soon as it achieved its objective — in this case, ostensibly, protecting U.S. forces. Generally, the aircraft would require further clearance from the troops on the ground to continue firing.

    An AC130 gunship flies low and slow, often with a good view of its target and the damage it is inflicting. The pilot also would have had to know the locations of U.S. and allied forces in the area, to avoid hitting them.

    Doctors without Borders has said it was frantically calling Kabul and Washington during the attack, trying to make the U.S. aware of what was unfolding as patients died in their beds.

    Presumably, the gun camera video from the AC130 would show whether anyone was firing from the hospital. The U.S. government has yet to make it public.

    Associated Press writer Lynne O’Donnell contributed to this report from Kabul.

    The post Troops who sought strike thought Taliban had hospital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This crucifix comes from the city of Modena and was smashed into 12 pieces during an earthquake in 2012, in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. Restorers at the OPD have reconstructed it but decided to leave signs of the damage to help tell its history. Photo by Frank Carlson

    This crucifix comes from the city of Modena and was smashed into 12 pieces during an earthquake in 2012 in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. Restorers at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure have reconstructed it but decided to leave signs of the damage to help tell its history. Photo by Frank Carlson

    In the 14th century, Florence was the center of the Italian Renaissance, but after a devastating flood in the 1960s, it became something else: one of the world’s foremost centers of art preservation and restoration.

    The PBS NewsHour traveled to Florence in late September to visit the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD), the Workshop of Semi-Precious Stones, where restorers are working on Giorgio Vasari’s “Last Supper,” a 21-foot wood panel painting completed in 1546.

    During the 1960s that painting and many others hung in Florence’s Santa Croce Church and museum, which sits just a few blocks from the Arno River. But in November 1966, one of Florence’s worst-ever floods sent water, debris and oil into the city, damaging and destroying thousands of artworks and manuscripts. Water in the church reached nearly 20 feet high, submerging the Vasari for more than 48 hours.

    For more than four decades it sat in storage as conservators and restorers debated how to save the work. And now, as the 50th anniversary of the flood approaches, restorers hope to finish their work on the painting and return it to the Santa Croce museum.

    Photos below at the OPD and the Santa Croce Church show the lasting impact of the flood as well as the work that happens at the OPD. Watch the NewsHour tonight for a report on the OPD.

    A conservator works on a panel of Giorgio Vasari’s “Last Supper,” which the Opificio delle Pietre Dure is now restoring, nearly 50 years after it was damaged by a flood. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A conservator at the OPD works on restoring a panel of Vasari’s “Last Supper” nearly 50 years after it was damaged by a flood. The OPD began as a project of the Medici family to create the finest mosaic works, but following the flood, it made a turn towards conservation of works using the best available technology. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Another restorer works on the central panel of Vasari’s “Last Supper.” The painting sat in storage for more than 40 years after the 1966 flood while experts developed the skills and confidence to restore it in one piece. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Another restorer works on the central panel of Vasari’s “Last Supper.” The painting sat in storage for more than 40 years after the 1966 flood while experts developed the skills and confidence to restore it in one piece. Photo by Frank Carlson

    The Crucifix by Cimabue hangs in the Santa Croce Church museum in Florence, Italy, just a few blocks from the Arno River. During the 1966 flood it was badly damaged, becoming a symbol of the flood. Another painting that hung in the Santa Croce was Giorgio Vasari’s “Last Supper,” now undergoing restoration. Photo by Frank Carlson

    “Crucifix” by Cimabue hangs in the Santa Croce Church museum in Florence, Italy, just a few blocks from the Arno River. During the 1966 flood it was badly damaged, becoming a symbol of the flood. Another painting that hung in the Santa Croce was Vasari’s “Last Supper,” now undergoing restoration. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A sign on the second floor of the Santa Croce museum shows how high the water rose during the 1966 flood. Signposts like these can be found around Florence today. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A sign on the second floor of the Santa Croce museum shows how high the water rose during the 1966 flood. Signposts like these can be found around Florence today. Photo by Frank Carlson

    This sign in the Santa Croce Church shows the relative height of three major floods in Florence. Photo by Frank Carlson

    This sign in the Santa Croce Church shows the relative heights of three major floods in Florence. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Caterina Toso cleans the “San Marco Altarpiece,” also known as “Madonna and the Saints,” a painting on wood typically found in the Museum of San Marco in Florence. Commissioned by Cosimo di Medici, it was completed by Fra Angelico in the mid-15th century. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Caterina Toso cleans the “San Marco Altarpiece,” also known as “Madonna and the Saints,” a painting on wood usually found in the Museum of San Marco in Florence. Commissioned by Cosimo di Medici, it was completed by Fra Angelico in the mid-15th century. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Cecilia Frosinini, deputy director of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, explains the restoration work that’s been done on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Adoration of the Magi,” which arrived in November 2011 from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and is now being cleaned. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Cecilia Frosinini, deputy director of the OPD, explains the restoration work that’s been done on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Adoration of the Magi,” which arrived in Nov. 2011 from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and is now being cleaned. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Ciro Castelli was a young carpenter when the 1966 flood hit, and through the emergency response became involved in wood restoration. He’s now a master woodworker who came out retirement to work on Vasari’s “Last Supper,” as well as to teach a new generation of wood restorers his techniques. Photo by Frank Carlson

    Ciro Castelli was a young carpenter when the 1966 flood hit, and through the emergency response he became involved in wood restoration. He’s now a master woodworker who came out of retirement to work on Vasari’s “Last Supper,” as well as to teach a new generation of wood restorers his techniques. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A restorer works on Alessandro Allori’s “Crucifixion,” painted in the 16th century. It arrived at the OPD in 2011, suffering from cracks in its wood supports. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A restorer works on Alessandro Allori’s “Crucifixion,” painted in the 16th century. It arrived at the OPD in 2011, suffering from cracks in its wood supports. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A large x-ray shows one panel of Giorgio Vasari’s “Last Supper,” including where the splits in its wood planks occurred and where paint was lost. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A large X-ray shows one panel of Vasari’s “Last Supper,” including places where its wood planks split and where paint was lost. Photo by Frank Carlson

    At the museum workshop of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure stoneworkers still gather naturally occurring color samples found in nearby ore deposits. The OPD began as a project of the Medici family to create the finest mosaic works. Following the 1966 flood in Florence it made a great turn towards conservation of works using the best available technology. Photo by Frank Carlson

    At the OPD’s museum workshop, stoneworkers still gather naturally-occurring color samples from nearby ore deposits. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A sculpture awaits restoration in the museum workshop of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, Italy. Photo by Frank Carlson

    A sculpture awaits restoration in the OPD’s museum workshop. Photo by Frank Carlson

     

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    Every Saturday when I was growing up, I gathered my watercolors and paper and painted landscapes along with Bob Ross. Yes, I was that edgy.

    Today I watched the first episode of Bob Ross’s show, “The Joy of Painting,” which was just released on YouTube, and for the first time in decades, I felt just as charmed by him as when I was a child. His soothing voice and gentle demeanor encouraged me to paint my very own “happy trees”.

    “I think there’s an artist hid in the bottom of every single one of us, and here, we will try to show you how to bring that artist out, to put it on canvas,” he says during his introduction.

    Bob Ross's "A Walk in the Woods."

    Bob Ross’s “A Walk in the Woods.”

    So, I thought I’d try to paint along with Bob one more time, following along with the man himself while watching his show that first aired in 1983 and continues to be broadcast as “The Best of the Joy of Painting” on PBS stations nationwide.

    His magic still works. Bob Ross and his zenned-out approach to painting inspired me to pick up a paintbrush and not stop until I filled my canvas with color. As for the quality of my efforts, let’s just say I nailed it.

    I’d never painted with oils — or a knife for that matter — before. And on those Saturdays long ago when I watched Bob create rocky mountains and rushing creeks on his almighty easel, watercolors were cheaper than oils and less likely to permanently stain my mother’s wall-to-wall beige carpeting. I followed along as best I could.

    In my recent work, I was a “mud-mixer,” despite caution from the master himself. Ross’s footpath riddled with “little rain puddles” turned into a dirty riverwater in my hands. The bushes and grass that “just live right in your brush” turned into blobs of cadmium yellow when I pressed the bristles to the canvas. But after I wrapped up, I felt good.

    Like many people, Bob Ross inspired the author at age 9 to paint this landscape that hangs in her mother's home. Photo courtesy of Deborah Houston

    Bob Ross inspired me at age 9 to paint this landscape that still hangs in my mother’s home. Photo courtesy of Deborah Houston

    Trying to paint just like Bob Ross was tough, but the moment I grew frustrated, his voice quietly delivered his blessed assurance: “This is your world, your creation.”

    Long after Bob Ross died in 1995, he inspired me to try something new, that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect. That happy tree (or dying stump in the woods) was mine and I made it.

    That’s how he made painting special.

    PBS NewsHour data producer Laura Santhanam's attempt at "A Walk in the Woods," a Bob Ross masterpiece.

    My attempt at “A Walk in the Woods.”

    The post Here’s what happened when I tried to paint like Bob Ross appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    This week, House Republicans will move forward another bill on full repeal of the health care law.

    The United States has never defaulted on its debts and bills, but it’s a politically toxic vote for most GOP lawmakers who insist the government must rein in its spending and are demanding concessions from President Barack Obama.

    WASHINGTON — With one week to go, Congress must act fast and come up with a way to raise the federal borrowing limit or face an unprecedented government default.

    It’s commonly known as the debt limit, and increasing the government’s borrowing cap is a must-do task. The United States has never defaulted on its debts and bills, but it’s a politically toxic vote for most GOP lawmakers who insist the government must rein in its spending and are demanding concessions from President Barack Obama. The administration says there is no need for budget brinkmanship and the United States should pay its bills.

    Republican leaders, led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were trying to come up with a plan this week and rally the rank and file to back it.

    Here are some key questions and answers about the debt limit:


    What is the debt limit?

    The debt limit is a cap on government borrowing. The Treasury Department has flexibility to manage the government’s debts and cash flows and issue new debt that’s needed to pay the bills as long as the cap hasn’t been breached.


    Why does it have to be raised?

    Even though the government’s fiscal health is improving, it ran a $439 billion deficit in the just concluded budget year. The government must still issue bonds and Treasury notes to raise cash to meet its obligations. If the government runs out of money, it won’t be able to pay its bills on time and in full. That means delays in Medicare payments to health care providers and Social Security benefits to recipients as well as a slowdown in paying interest on U.S. treasuries, military and civilian federal salaries and money to federal contractors.


    What’s the deadline?

    Last year, Congress passed legislation that permitted the government to borrow to meet its needs through March 15, when the debt limit was reset at $18.1 trillion. Since then, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has used accounting moves to free up cash, but such “extraordinary measures” run out on Nov. 3. Treasury will only have a modest amount of money on hand after that. It will be forced to rely on daily cash flows to pay its bills.

    According to budget analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, the government wouldn’t actually miss a payment until Nov. 10 at the earliest.


    What is a default?

    It’s commonly interpreted to mean that the government is late in making payments on U.S. Treasury securities. Under a broader definition, the U.S. would default if it’s late in paying other bills as well.


    What happens if there is a default?

    Well, it’s never happened, so no one knows for sure.

    Some experts believe financial markets would implode before the government misses a payment. If capital markets begin to have doubts about the creditworthiness of the United States, it would have a severe effect on global capital markets — as well as on interest rates on U.S. treasuries.

    The government, however, has the ability to pay its debt obligations first. Treasury’s payment systems aren’t designed to prioritize other payments like Social Security benefits.


    How is default different from a government shutdown?

    It’s far more serious. A government shutdown, like the partial 16-day shuttering in 2013, only affects agency operating budgets. Then, important benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare were not interrupted and essential government workers like Transportation Security Administration agents, the military and the Border Patrol reported to work as scheduled.


    Why are the politics so tricky?

    No one really wants to vote to issue more debt, especially tea party Republicans who dislike Obama. Not long ago, votes on the debt limit were conducted under an informal set of rules depending on which party controlled the White House and who controlled Congress. Basically, if you were aligned with the president you’d be expected to deliver support for a debt increase. So too would the party in control of Congress.

    Associated Press Congressional reporter Andrew Taylor wrote this report.

    The post Everything you need to know about the federal debt limit appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Speaker John Boehner wants to see one last deal accomplished on his watch: a two-year budget agreement. Photo by Mary F. Calvert/Reuters

    Speaker John Boehner wants to see one last deal accomplished on his watch: a two-year budget agreement. Photo by Mary F. Calvert/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Speaker John Boehner is pressing ahead with one last deal as he heads for the exits, pushing to finalize a far-reaching, two-year budget agreement with President Barack Obama before handing Congress’ top job over to Rep. Paul Ryan this week, congressional officials said Monday.

    The budget pact, in concert with a must-pass increase in the federal borrowing limit, would solve the thorniest issues awaiting Ryan, R-Wis., who is set to be elected speaker on Thursday. It would also take budget showdowns and government shutdown fights off the table until after the 2016 presidential election, a potential boon to Republican candidates who might otherwise face uncomfortable questions about messes in the GOP-led Congress.

    Congress must raise the federal borrowing limit by Nov. 3 or risk a first-ever default, while money to pay for government operations runs out Dec. 11 unless Congress acts. The emerging framework would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies two years of budget relief in exchange for cuts elsewhere in the budget.

    The measure under discussion would suspend the current $18.1 trillion debt limit through March 2017. After that it would be reset by the Treasury Department to reflect borrowing over that time.

    The emerging budget side of the deal resembles a pact that Ryan himself put together two years ago in concert with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that eased automatic spending cuts for the 2014-2015 budget years. A lot of conservatives disliked the measure and many on the GOP’s right flank are likely to oppose the new one, which would apply to the 2016-2017 budget years.

    The closely-held talks had appeared to be proceeding slowly but took on urgency over the weekend as House GOP leaders looked ahead to a debt limit vote this week that they feared they might not be able to pass as a stand-alone measure.

    “Fiscal negotiations are ongoing,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said as he opened the Senate on Monday afternoon. “As the details come in and especially if an agreement is reached, I intend to consult and discuss the details with our colleagues.”

    Negotiators hoped to officially file the legislation Monday night, but it’s not clear whether they’ll meet the goal. House GOP leaders announced a closed-door meeting Monday night to gauge support among rank and file.

    GOP defense hawks are a driving force, intent on reversing automatic budget cuts. Democrats and the White House are pressing hard as well, demanding increases for domestic agencies on par with any Pentagon hikes. The measure is aimed at undoing the automatic cuts, which are a byproduct of a 2011 budget and debt deal and the failure of Washington to subsequently tackle the government’s fiscal woes.

    “It is past time that we do away with the harmful, draconian sequester cuts,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “We must also ensure that there are equal defense and nondefense increases.”

    At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said: “Not everything has been agreed to. That means nothing at this point has been agreed to.”

    Obama wants roughly $74 billion in additional defense and nondefense spending this year. The measure wouldn’t provide full relief demanded by defense hawks and would award equal increases to defense and domestic programs. Instead, aides said, the framework would permit $50 billion in additional spending in 2016, about a 5 percent increase, and $30 billion above current limits for 2017.

    The pending talks focus on setting a new overall spending limit for agencies whose operating budgets are set by Congress each year. It will be up to the House and Senate Appropriations committees to produce a detailed omnibus spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline. Policy riders on issues such as the Internet and travel to Cuba could trip them up.

    Details were sketchy but the tentative pact anticipates designating increases for the Pentagon as emergency war funds that can be made exempt from budget caps. Offsetting spending cuts that would pay for domestic spending increases included reforms to the Agriculture Department’s crop insurance program, curbing Medicare payments for outpatient services provided by hospitals and extending a 2 percentage point cut in Medicare payments to doctors through the end of a 10-year budget. New auctions of electromagnetic spectrum to communications companies and sales of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would provide new revenues.

    Negotiators looked to address two other key issues as well: a shortfall looming next year in Social Security payments to the disabled and a large increase for many retirees in Medicare premiums and deductibles for doctors’ visits and other outpatient care.

    Social Security’s disability trust fund is projected to run out of money in late 2016. If that is allowed to happen, it would trigger an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits for 11 million disabled workers and their families.

    Congress and the White House have been discussing a temporary reallocation of payroll taxes from Social Security’s retirement fund to the disability fund. The move would be paired with changes to the disability program to fight fraud and to encourage disabled workers to return to work.

    Officials who described the discussions did so on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about confidential negotiations.

    Just days are left for the deal to come together before Ryan is elected on Thursday to replace Boehner, R-Ohio, who is leaving Congress under pressure from conservative lawmakers angered by his history of seeking compromise and Democratic votes on issues like the budget.

    The deal would make good on a promise Boehner made in the days after announcing his surprise resignation from Congress last month. He said at the time: “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there.”

    Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

    The post Boehner’s last deal: 2-year budget, debt ceiling appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video produced by Maria Bartholdi.

    Emily Lynch goes through life looking for patterns.

    During the day, Lynch works for a math publishing company in Minneapolis, training teachers to use materials that are created for visually-oriented students. She also works as an artist, creating paintings based on number systems and her own calculations.

    Her paintings are striking visual representations of math, drawing on mathematical concepts to create complex systems of patterns in her work. For one piece, Lynch painted a system of squares that represented the base-3 numeral system. She said she was struck by the beautiful pattern it created. “It looks very calming and peaceful and meditative,” she said.  She went even further, assigning each square a note on the piano to form a musical composition.

    Lynch said she sees herself as more of a “problem-solver” than an artist. “It’s mainly about the math, and then the art is how I do that math,” she said.

    Local Beat is an ongoing series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

    The post This artist turns mathematical concepts into intricate paintings appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Nonviolent drug offenders could be eligible for shorter prison sentences under legislation approved by a Senate panel Thursday, as Congress took initial steps to change the nation's criminal justice system. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    1 in 14 U.S. children have had a parent in jail. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

    More than 5 million children in the U.S. have had a parent in jail. That’s roughly 7 percent of the nation’s kids 17 and under, or one out of every 14 children.

    Findings from Child Trends — a nonprofit based in Maryland — explores “the prevalence of parental incarceration and child outcomes associated with it.” Data from 2011-2012 showed that children in poverty were three times more likely to experience a parent in incarceration, and the percentage rate among black children was twice as high as that of white children.

    Child Trends found that of those children who had a parent in jail:

    • More than 50 percent had lived with someone with a substance abuse problem.
    • Roughly three in five had encountered parental divorce or separation.
    • More than one-third had seen violence between parents or guardians.
    • More than one in four had lived with a mentally ill or suicidal individual.
    • Nearly one in 10 experienced the death of a parent.

    The data may very well be an “underestimate,” Child Trends reports, as it does not include children with a non-residential incarcerated parent.

    2.2 million people are behind bars. Learn more via PBS NewsHour’s “Broken Justice.”

    The post 7 percent of U.S. kids have had a parent in jail appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they will look into why a South Carolina school resource officer dragged a student during an in-school arrest that was caught on video, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

    The officer was placed on administrative leave Tuesday the day after brief cell phone footage showed him fling a female student during an in-school arrest, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.

    In the video, captured by a fellow Spring Valley high school student, the officer forcibly removed the student when she refused to leave her seat. He then wrapped his arm around the student’s neck, flipped her desk backward and dragged her across the classroom. The student has not been identified.

    According to the student who captured the incident, the student had her phone out during class. When a teacher asked for her phone, she refused to hand it over. An administrator was called, who asked the student to leave her desk. She refused, which is when the officer, identified as Ben Fields, was summoned to the classroom.

    “She really hadn’t done anything wrong,” Spring Valley student Tony Robinson Jr. told News19. “She said that she had took her phone out, but it was only for a quick second.”

    Debbie Hamm, superintendent of Richland School District Two, told News 19 that school officials were “deeply concerned” about Monday’s incident.

    “Student safety is and always will be the district’s top priority. The district will not tolerate any actions that jeopardize the safety of our students,” Hamm said, adding that Fields would not return to any school in the district, pending the sheriff department’s investigation.

    Sheriff Leon Lott said he called on the FBI and the Justice Department for an independent investigation into the incident. While the details of the lead-up to the incident remain unclear, Lott told WIS TV that the student was charged with disturbing the peace.

    Fields also arrested a second female student in the same classroom. Niya Kenny, 18, came forward and told News 19 that she was standing up for the girl when Fields began manhandling her.

    “I know this girl don’t got nobody, and I couldn’t believe this was happening,” Kenny, who was also charged with disturbing the peace, told WLTX. “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl.”

    Fields has a history of aggression, including an unsuccessful attempt to sue him in a 2007 excessive force and violation of free speech case WIS TV reported. Fields also faces a lawsuit from a Spring Valley High School student who said he was wrongfully expelled from school. The case is scheduled for trial next year.

    WIS TV also pointed out that a Richland County Elementary School awarded a Culture of Excellence Award to Fields in 2014. According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, school resource officers are intended “to maintain a safe and secure learning environment on the school campus, influence the development of positive attitudes by youth towards the law enforcement community, and to reduce juvenile crime through the use of intervention strategies, proactive policing, and networking.”

    The video drew sharp criticism and outrage online with the #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh hashtag. Victoria Middleton, executive director of the South Carolina arm of the ACLU, told The State newspaper there was “no justification” for what happened.

    “Regardless of the reason for the officer’s actions, such egregious use of force — against young people who are sitting in their classrooms — is outrageous. School should be a place to learn and grown, not a place to be brutalized,” she said.

    The post Federal investigators probe incident between S.C. school resource officer and student appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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