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

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    IVETTE FELICIANO: The girl we agreed to call Jessica was only 14 when she said goodbye last year to her grandmother, the person who raised her back in El Salvador. her journey through Mexico to Texas took a month. For her safety, we agreed to conceal her identity.

    JESSICA: I felt nervous traveling, because I had no idea what could happen to us, and I felt scared at the same time.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Jessica and her grandmother had worried what would happen if she didn’t leave. Her uncle, a police officer in her home town of Zacatecoluca, had refused to hand over guns and uniforms to members of a notorious drug gang.

    In retaliation, Jessica says, the gang began following her to school and home and threatened to kidnap her and other family members who lived with her.

    JESSICA: It was just panic.  We didn’t want to leave the house.  In my town, in one week there were 29 homicides by gangs.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Jessica decided to flee to try to rejoin her parents who had left for the U.S. when she was just a toddler. They had found steady work in California and had been sending money back ever since.

    In January 2014, without proper documents, Jessica and three relatives — all young women — left El Salvador together.

    Jessica says during their journey, they often had no food and no place to sleep.

    When they arrived in Hidalgo, Texas, border patrol agents immediately detained them.

    JESSICA: I felt scared and desperate. I just wanted to get out of the room to see the sun.  I felt really nervous, because I had no idea what would happen to me.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The next day, border agents transferred Jessica and the two teenage relatives with her to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, known as ORR.

    That’s a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with providing emergency supplies and services to immigrant minors unaccompanied by adults who arrive in the U.S.

    ORR placed Jessica in a youth shelter in Texas for a month where she learned deportation proceedings against her had already begun and that she’d soon have to appear in court.

    JESSICA: I didn’t know what I would do.  What if they ask me something? How would I respond? I felt so scared to go in front of a judge.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: ORR gave Jessica a list of lawyers who might donate their time, known as working pro-bono, but for eight months, all the lawyers she contacted said they were too busy to help.

    Unlike criminal court, in immigration court, the federal government is not required to provide lawyers to defendants who cannot afford them — not even unaccompanied minors like Jessica.

    But whether or not they have a lawyer makes a big difference in immigration court.

    Seventy-three percent of immigrants under 21 with lawyers are allowed to stay in the U.S. That’s five times higher than the 15 percent of children without lawyers who are allowed to stay.

    So far this year, there have been 19,000 immigrants under 21 who filed new requests to stay, and 62 percent of them don’t have a lawyer.

    Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, began representing Jessica last year as a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other groups against ORR, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

    AHILAN ARULANANTHAM: The notion that a 10-year-old boy from El Salvador who can barely speak any English can advance the constitutional arguments that trained lawyers who have gone to law school would make in federal court is absurd.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The plaintiffs say requiring minors to appear in court whether they have a lawyer or not violates the constitution’s Fifth Amendment right to due process.

    AHILAN ARULANANTHAM: We’re talking about children who have so much at stake, because so many of them are fleeing such severe violence and other forms of persecution, the government pays for a lawyer to prosecute the child. As a matter of fairness, we should ensure that the child has a lawyer as well.

    MARK KRIKORIAN: The lawsuit is frivolous. It’s merely a political stunt.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Mark Krikorian of Washington’s Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter border security, thinks the ACLU lawsuit is without merit.

    MARK KRIKORIAN: If you’re an American in bankruptcy court, in foreclosure proceedings, in divorce court, you don’t get a lawyer paid for by the taxpayer. Why are illegal immigrants really better than Americans? They’re deserving of more rights and more taxpayer funds than Americans? Because that’s what the ACLU is saying.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: The Department of Homeland Security reports that most unaccompanied minors do come from some of the most dangerous countries in Central America, including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

    This 19-year-old fled the violence in Honduras last year. We agreed to call him Jacob for this report. He says he has no family to return to, because his father was murdered by a drug gang and his mother has been in a Honduran prison his entire life.

    JACOB: In my country people like me have one destiny, which is to end up in a gang. You’re basically like a prisoner because they’re recruit you by force. It’s a death sentence.

    You join the gang, you get killed. You don’t join, they kill you. That is the life for young people. You’re basically playing with your life when you decide to come.  But we did it because we truly are fleeing much worse back home.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: But Jacob didn’t get past the Texas border and soon found himself in deportation proceedings without a lawyer.

    A spokesman for ORR says it invites legal experts to explain — in Spanish — to all unaccompanied minors their rights and court procedures, allocating $9 million for the effort.

    LEON FRESCO: Your honor it’s incredibly easy.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: In a federal court hearing last year, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Leon Fresco argued, if unaccompanied minors feel their cases were handled unfairly due to lack of representation, they can appeal the decision by filling out a simple one-page form.

    Fresco also said ordering the government to provide lawyers to unaccompanied minors without proper funding from Congress would send the message that, quote: “The border is completely open to children under 18.”

    The Justice Department has requested $50 million to pay for lawyers for unaccompanied minors, but a U.S. senator blocked it.

    Alabama Republican Richard Shelby chairs the U.S. Senate subcommittee which oversees the Justice Department’s budget.

    SEN RICHARD SHELBY: There’s a lot of ways to represent due process of the children as they go through the immigration courts and so forth. Pro-bono and all kind of groups of lawyers that are tied into the immigration to do this every year. To add $50 million more, hardworking taxpayers’ money to that is something I would not do.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Instead, Sen. Shelby wants to see a greater focus on the tightening of our borders.

    SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: We all have sympathy and hope and want other people in the world to be well. Starving children, starving adults, where they’re oppressed and where they don’t have opportunities we have. But we can’t take everybody in the world.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: So in your opinion, who qualifies for asylum?

    SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: That would be, it wouldn’t be up to me. We’ve had millions and millions of legal immigrants and political refugees.

    But we’ve also had too many illegal immigrants. And if we don’t protect our borders, and if people don’t have a respect for our laws, whether they live here or they’re coming here, we’re going to have a nation of chaos.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Shelby does support allocating funds for more judges to process unaccompanied minor cases faster. Currently, there is a backlog of 456,000 immigration cases involving minors and adults.

    Each case takes, on average, 16 months to complete, according to Syracuse University researchers, who also found in cases where immigrants prevailed, the cases took longer — an average of 30 months.

    SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: “We need to undo the bottleneck. But we need to make sure that our laws are obeyed, that our borders are protected and that we do not waste taxpayers’ money.

    I think it goes right back to these people, whether children or adults, have come here illegally. And the sooner we process them and send them back home, the better off we are.”

    IVETTE FELICIANO: But without a lawyer, the ACLU’s Ahilan Arulanantham says unaccompanied minors who don’t speak English can’t make sense of the complex set of relief options available.

    AHILAN ARULANANTHAM: The federal courts have repeatedly compared the immigration code to the tax code in its complexity. It’s been called like a labyrinth, like a maze.

    And that’s not an understatement, having done immigration-related work for 15 years. Even I don’t understand many, many aspects of the immigration law.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Jessica is one of 27,000 unaccompanied minors who were released to U.S.-based relatives last year, while their deportation cases were pending.

    She was able to reunite with the parents she had not seen since she was a toddler in Los Angeles. While her mother remains undocumented, her father, a truck driver, has a Visa to work in the U.S. He found a pro-bono lawyer to take Jessica’s case.

    JESSICA: If I were deported, I’d be terrified to go back.  All of my dreams, my plans, would crumble. I don’t know what the gangs would do to me.

    IVETTE FELICIANO: Jessica’s next hearing is later this month.

    The post With few lawyers, child migrants fight alone in court to stay in the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A 19-year-old domestic abuse victim from Honduras, profiled two weeks ago on PBS NewsHour Weekend, will receive another opportunity to seek refuge in the United States.

    Woman profiled in PBS NewsHour Weekend story - Lilian

    Lilian, who shared her story with the PBS NewsHour, was denied a bid to stay in the U.S. in May.

    Three members of the US Board of Immigration Appeals ruled this week that Lilian — we’ve withheld her last name for safety reasons — and her four-year-old son will have their cases reopened based on “ineffective assistance of prior counsel.”

    “I’m very happy,” Lilian told PBS NewsHour by phone from a third country where she and her son are now in hiding.

    “I’m extremely grateful to all the people who helped us,” she said.

    Lilian originally fled Honduras in 2014 to escape her boyfriend who she said began beating and raping her when she was 13 years old. After she and her son crossed the US-Mexico border last fall, US immigration officials detained them for eight months. Her bid to stay in the US was initially denied in May.

    Lilian was part of a wave of thousands of Central America women and children fleeing gang and drug related violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador last year. In an interview this September in Honduras, Lilian told NewsHour’s John Carlos Frey her boyfriend tracked her down when she tried to escape and threatened to kill her and her family.

    “He’d threaten me if I spoke to the police or made charges against him,” she said. “He threatened to set fire to the house. Since I was a little girl, I was really afraid. I was afraid of him for a long time.”

    But just being a victim of violence often isn’t adequate to qualify for asylum, the legal mechanism allowing people fleeing persecution to live in the US and eventually seek citizenship.

    “If, for example, you were in danger of being killed because someone had a personal grudge against you,” said former US immigration official Stephen Legomsky, “or even because a youth gang is angry at you for refusing to join their ranks, the present case law is that you generally would not qualify for asylum.”

    But last year, the Board of Immigration Appeals granted asylum to a domestic abuse victim from Guatemala, saying she was part of a protected social group under US asylum law. Lilian’s current lawyer in the US, Bryan Johnson, says he will use that precedent to re-argue her case.

    A court date has not yet been set.

    “This has been a very long journey, and I’m just ecstatic,” Lilian said. “This is something that I’ve wanted for a long time.”

    The post Update: Honduran woman profiled in NewsHour story granted new hearing to seek refuge in U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Joint Economic Committee members (L-R) Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and co-chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) listen to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke (foreground) at the Joint Economic Committee hearings in Washington May 22, 2013.   REUTERS/Gary Cameron  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTXZWLZ

    Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are shown at the Joint Economic Committee hearings in Washington May 22, 2013. Brady took the helm of the Ways and Means Committee last week. Photo by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House’s newest and perhaps most powerful committee chairman is a 60-year-old Texas Republican who began life in a family of stalwart Democrats from South Dakota and lost his father at age 12 in a courtroom shooting.

    Rep. Kevin Brady, whose bulldog-looks belie a softer manner, took the helm of the Ways and Means Committee last week. That puts the 19-year House veteran at the forefront of key issues Congress will tackle heading into the 2016 election year, including taxes, trade and benefit programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

    Brady’s Chamber of Commerce career before entering Congress molded a mainstream conservative viewpoint, yet he is well regarded by harder-line conservatives. But he has a tough act to follow: the popular Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who led the committee until becoming speaker last month after a revolt by hard-line conservatives pushed former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to resign.

    Brady, who falls short of the oratory spark and reputation for generating ideas that Ryan enjoys, has latched himself to the 45-year-old.

    “We’re going to follow the speaker’s lead,” Brady said in an interview last week. He said House Republicans “want us to tackle the big issues, and they want to be involved.”

    Involvement has been a major demand of the House Freedom Caucus, around 40 hard-core conservatives whose frustration with being muscled aside by Boehner fueled their antipathy for him. Ryan, R-Wis., is working with conservatives on giving lawmakers more say on legislation and other decisions.

    Brady says he, too, is willing to accommodate them, though no Freedom Caucus members serve on Ways and Means. So far, he has won praise from members of the group.

    “Very, very positive,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said of Brady, adding that several conservatives floated Brady’s name as a potential speaker in the chaotic days after Boehner resigned.

    “I don’t think the chairman will come under pressure” from the Freedom Caucus “because we’ll have the opportunity to offer amendments,” said another member, Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa.

    Some conservatives remain wary.

    Adam Brandon, CEO of FreedomWorks, complimented Brady but said his group of anti-regulation conservatives wants to make sure he does not pursue a narrow agenda “dreamed up by some lobbyists.”

    Democrats consider him someone they can work with.

    “Kevin and I don’t agree probably on any public policy. But he’s not an unpleasant person,” said Ways and Means veteran Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

    Brady, from a solidly Republican district north of Houston, headed the trade subcommittee until 2013. That’s when he took over the health subcommittee and helped lead many of the House’s GOP’s repeated, unsuccessful efforts to roll back President Barack Obama’s health care law.

    As chairman, Brady’s portfolio is much wider.

    Measures he hopes will get Obama’s signature include legislation making dozens of expiring tax breaks permanent, altering taxation of U.S. companies that operate abroad and easing trade barriers with Pacific Rim countries, though Brady said he has taken no final position on that recently negotiated treaty.

    Another goal will be longer range – broadly rewriting tax laws with lower rates for individuals and businesses, and fewer loopholes. The issue has gridlocked Washington for decades.

    “He’s coming to this job at a time of expectations, but the expectations have always been there” for Ways and Means chairmen, said former Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, who led the committee in the 1990s.

    Brady calls Ryan coach of the House Republicans and himself “the quarterback of the Ways and Means team.” Sports analogies seem fitting for Brady, a star athlete in baseball and other sports while growing up in Rapid City, South Dakota.

    As a 12-year-old at football practice one day, Brady’s coach tapped his shoulder and guided him to a policeman nearby. That’s when he learned his father, Bill, an attorney representing a woman in a divorce trial, had been shot to death in the courtroom by her husband. That left Brady’s mother, Nancy, with five children to raise.

    The family purchased and ran a campground, and Brady threw himself into various sports.

    His high school wrestling coach recalls that Brady, injured and out of shape, spent one night sweating off pounds in the gym when a teammate was hurt and Brady was too heavy to compete in his 132-pound weight class. He lost the necessary weight – Brady says 12 pounds – and wrestled, losing his match but preventing his team from forfeiting.

    “They were tough kids,” the now-retired coach, David Ploof, said about Brady, his two brothers and two sisters. “They had to be.”

    Brady worked his way through the University of South Dakota with odds jobs including maintenance worker and bartender. He took a job at the local Chamber of Commerce, then started working for Chambers of Commerce in Texas.

    Brady’s parents were active Democrats in South Dakota and an uncle was a Democratic state senator. Brady said he became a Republican while working for the chambers, where he spent time helping businesses.

    “You can’t help but know how government burdens those job creators,” he said. “So that is where the light bulb went off for me.”

    The post New House GOP chairman had early democratic roots appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 4.38.24 PM

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    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: A new study by Italy’s Institute for Environmental Protection Research and the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration is offering proof that ancient Rome is feeling the effects of modern pollution.

    This statue of the Emperor Trajan is turning black, as are fountains, like Bernini’s famous Four Rivers in Piazza Navonna.

    These are just two of 3,600 monuments at risk, according to the researchers who’ve been tracking erosion, corrosion and color change on the city’s sites for 15 years.

    ANNAMARIA GIOVAGNOLI, SUPERIOR INSTITUTE FOR CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION: The condition of a monument is a very important variable when it comes to damage: a monument whose material is fragile, because it’s been weakened over the time, will be a lot more vulnerable than a monument that’s much better preserved.”

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Rome’s smog presents preservationists with a difficult choice. The dust on statutes and monuments, while corrosive, can serve as a protective layer against air pollution.

    Nine hundred miles west across the continent, France’s most famous landmark is helping track pollution in Paris.

    This sensor mounted on the Eiffel Tower monitor’s the city’s air quality.

    PIERRE EMMANUEL BURG, AIRPARIF COMMUNICATION ENGINEER: The monitoring stations we have on the Eiffel Tower allow us to better understand the air pollution dispersion from up here but also to give us a day’s levels from such a height which will be different to other stations on the ground around Paris.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Much of Paris’ pollution comes from automobiles. While France has worked to limit emissions, the country’s relatively high volume of diesel cars that emit nitrogen dioxide make the problem harder to solve.

    On occasion, the city has lowered speed limits to reduce car emissions and air pollution and studied how this affects air quality.

    The height of the Eiffel Tower monitors help researchers understand how pollution is dispersed as it goes higher into the air.

    The post Monuments at risk: European city sites are being damaged by pollution, rain appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Scott Metts from Orlando, Florida, celebrates after winning the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships on November 7, 2015. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Scott Metts from Orlando, Florida, celebrates after winning the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships on November 7, 2015. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    On Saturday night, hundreds of men competed for the title of best facial hair in the nation.

    Around 300 men paraded on the Kings Theatre stage in Brooklyn, New York to show off their coiffed beards and mustaches for evaluation in categories like Musketeer (a mustache of the long and slender variety, along with a small, pointed beard) and Amish beard (a clean shaven upper lip, combined with an unshaven area that stretches from the chin to the temple)–there were also “freestyle” groups.

    Scott Metts from Orlando, Florida took home the title as 2015 Just for Men National Beard & Moustache Champion.

    Ahead of the competition, GQ interviewed Nate “Chops” Johnson, a professional beardsman who has won more than 40 titles in the sport.

    Facial hair has long been a sign of wisdom and virility. In fact, a 2013 study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior found that women considered men with heavy stubble most attractive. Those with heavy beards were held in the highest regard for healthiness and parenting ability.

    Below is a sampling of the impressive facial hair on display at Saturday’s competition.

    James Mcmahon from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, poses for a photograph at the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/ Reuters

    James Mcmahon from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, poses for a photograph at the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/ Reuters

    Adam Falandys at the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Adam Falandys at the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants groom their beards backstage. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants groom their beards backstage. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants show off their beards and moustaches. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants show off their beards and moustaches. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Nayland Blake from Brooklyn, New York, at Kings Theatre for the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Nayland Blake from Brooklyn, New York, at Kings Theatre for the 2015 Just For Men National Beard & Moustache Championships. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants chat during intermission. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Contestants chat during intermission. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Chris Bates from Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Chris Bates from Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    John Morrow from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, poses for a photograph. categories. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    John Morrow from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, poses for a photograph. categories. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Ramesh Parekh and family watch contestants. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    Ramesh Parekh and family watch contestants. Photo by Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters

    The post Facial hair frenzy: Scenes from the National Beard and Moustache Competition appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with U.S. service members aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, in this handout photograph taken and released on November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz/Department of Defense/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX1UX2N

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: We begin with the United States’ escalating military role in Syria’s civil war.

    Last week, President Obama announced the deployment of 50 special forces to aid rebel groups fighting the militants who call themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS.

    Now, in an interview with ABC News released today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. could — quote — “do more” to help local ground forces in that fight, and — quote — “They may find themselves in combat.”

    ASHTON CARTER, U.S. Defense Secretary: If a group indicates a willingness to fight, we will give them some equipment and see how they do.

    If they prove capable, then we will provide them with some more information, maybe some airstrikes. If they prove really capable and really dedicated, then we might send some people in to be with them and train and advise them directly.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: For the past year, the U.S. has led a coalition that has carried out close to 3,000 airstrikes against positions held by ISIS inside Syria. U.S. warplanes have carried out 95 percent of those attacks, and Western and Arab allies seem to be turning their attention elsewhere.

    New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt is covering this issue. He joins me now from Washington.

    So, what’s happened to the coalition? I remember the generals talking about our Arab partners flying with us, making these raids.

    ERIC SCHMITT, The New York Times: They certainly did on the first — in the first night of those raids a year ago.

    But what happened since then is, in particular since March, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have had to take on the fight against Houthi rebels in Yemen, so a lot of their airpower has been diverted to Yemen to try and fight that fight.

    Some of the other countries that are also participating, some of the Arab countries, including Jordan out of solidarity to the Saudis, have also shifted some of their combat missions to Yemen as well.

    So, these countries are still flying a few missions every now and then, but they have had to shift their air forces to other priorities.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about just even moving the air forces closer to the fight, not keeping them out on the Persian Gulf, but perhaps staging them in Turkey? I mean, that was a huge advantage for the United States.

    ERIC SCHMITT: It certainly was.

    And something the Pentagon had wanted to do all along was use the Turkish air base at Incirlik, which can cut down the flight times to Syria as little as 15 minutes to the border, as opposed to a five-hour flight from some of the Persian Gulf bases.

    But many of the European allies who are flying missions in Iraq and a few in Syria, countries like Australia and France, they have longstanding relationships with these Middle Eastern countries. And they don’t necessarily want to uproot and move their forces to Incirlik in Turkey and up whole new arrangements with the Turks there, and that would be disruptive to their operations.

    So, even though it is a longer fight, they’re willing to stay where they are at, at least that — what it seems to be for now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the coordination or confrontation with Russia? I mean, we know where their planes are. They know where our planes are, but sometimes seem to be going after different targets.

    ERIC SCHMITT: They are.

    The Russians have been primarily in the northwestern part of Syria, attacking targets that are rebels on the ground that are fighting the government and President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. tends to focus more in the east.

    And those are targets that are more ISIS targets. Just this week, however, there was a coordination exercise, where the U.S. and the Russians actually exchanged a communication, just so they know they can talk to each other and try and avoid crashing into each other in the skies over Syria.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there concern that there — this could be the beginning of kind of mission creep; putting special forces on the ground or putting special advisers on the ground is one step; trying to increase our air campaign is another step?

    ERIC SCHMITT: Well, certainly, that’s what the critics in Congress and elsewhere are saying of the Obama administration’s decision to put those 50 or so special ops guys on the ground.

    Those — those forces will be there to help coordinate intelligence, to basically give advice to the Syrian rebels on the ground in the east as they push toward Raqqa, which is the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Eastern Syria.

    The air campaign, as you said, increasing both the numbers of aircraft and shifting closer to the fight in Turkey is aimed at improving the efficiency of an air campaign that so far has come under criticism for not putting enough pressure on ISIS.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. I was going to ask, well, how does the administration — I should say, how does the military measure its success in this air campaign?

    ERIC SCHMITT: Well, their goal is — and Ash Carter, the secretary of the defense, came out with — just the other day in trying to identity Ramadi, Raqqa, and raids, that is, Ramadi, of course, the city in Western Iraq, Raqqa, the capital of ISIS in the eastern part of Syria, and raids, commando raids to go after the leaders.

    That is what they want to do, is put pressure on those two main cities through — oftentimes through raids, isolate ISIS in its — in its — in some of its key areas, and shrink the territory that they control in Syria and Iraq. That’s one of the many objectives the Pentagon has now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Eric Schmitt of The New York Times joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

    ERIC SCHMITT: You’re welcome.

    The post U.S.-led air campaign in Syria intensifies after shift in ISIS strategy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Supporters of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate partial results shown on a television outside the NLD party headquarters in Yangon November 8, 2015. Voting unfolded smoothly in Myanmar on Sunday with no reports of violence to puncture a mood of jubilation marking the Southeast Asian nation's first free nationwide election in 25 years, its biggest stride yet in a journey to democracy from dictatorship.     REUTERS/Jorge Silva - RTS602M

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me to discuss the importance of today’s election in Myanmar is Suzanne DiMaggio from the New America Foundation.

    So, how free and fair are these elections?

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO, Director and Senior Fellow, New America Foundation: Well, everything is relative, especially when it comes to Myanmar.

    And it is a significant election. First and foremost, there are over 90 parties registered to give candidates. That is astounding, when you think of this country as being dominated by the military for half-a-century.

    Secondly, this is really the first time in 25 years that the major opposition party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, has been allowed to campaign freely throughout the country.

    So, for many Myanmar people, this is the first time in their lives that they have been able to participate in a competitive election.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s not like the military is giving up complete control. They still have 25 percent of all the parliamentary seats. They are going to still control that.

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Yes. When the — when the generals of the junta decided they were going to begin a transition to democracy, they put together a constitution that ensures that they have the upper edge.

    They maintain 25 percent of all seats automatically in the Parliament, which gives them a clear advantage.

    So, what they did was fashion themselves golden parachutes out of the old system, changed their uniforms. They are now in civilian garb. But make no mistake about it, the military still holds the abundance of power.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: That means that a lot of these, you know, competitive races in all these small places, they’re going to have to form coalitions in order to overcome the power that the military already has built in.

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Absolutely. Unless the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi has won by a significant landslide — and that could happen, because what I’m hearing is 30 million people were eligible to vote.

    There are reports that as many as 80 percent of those 30 million came to the polls. That would translate probably into support for the NLD.

    It could be a landslide. But, if it’s not, you are exactly right. There’s going to be a lot of alliance-building, coalition-building. This will have to include many of the smaller ethnic minority parties.

    So, the big question is, whoever emerges as the leader of Myanmar, do they have the skill set to be a unifier that is really needed to bring this country to its next step?

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, there’s this other specter looming, which is, 25 years ago, they had an election. The military didn’t like what they saw, chose to stay in power.

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Yes.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What happens tomorrow, next week, next month, when all the totals are in, and might not be something the military likes?

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Well, that’s the biggest concern.

    Twenty-five years ago, the military didn’t expect the NLD to win by a landslide. They were caught by surprise. This time, they cannot say that they will be caught by surprise. There have been preparations for this.

    Also, the current president, Thein Sein, and other military leaders are on record as saying, if the NLD wins, if the opposition wins, they will respect that.

    Also, Myanmar is a different country today. It is more connected to the rest of the world.

    The United States has normalized relations. If the military decides not to make good if the NLD wins, this would turn into a major international incident.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America Foundation, thanks so much.

    SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: My pleasure.

    The post With hope for democracy, millions vote in Myanmar’s historic election appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    General view of King Abdullah bin Al Hussein Training Center where a Jordanian officer went on a shooting spree on Monday in Mwaqar near Amman, Jordan, November 9, 2015. Two American military personnel and one South African were killed when a Jordanian officer went on a shooting spree on Monday at a U.S.-funded security training facility near Amman, Jordan's government spokesman said. Jordan's Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad Momani told Reuters the attacker also wounded six people, including two Americans, one of whom was in critical condition, before being shot dead shot by Jordanian security forces. The gunman did not commit suicide as security sources earlier said. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

    General view of King Abdullah bin Al Hussein Training Center where a Jordanian officer went on a shooting spree on Monday in Mwaqar near Amman, Jordan. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said the U.S. was taking “very seriously” a deadly attack in Jordan on Monday, and American officials said two of those killed in the attack were U.S. government employees.

    Details about the incident at a police compound remained murky, with U.S. officials still working to determine what happened and how many were killed. Obama said the attacker was wearing a military uniform and killed two or three Americans, although the State Department put the figure at two.

    The U.S. Embassy in Amman said two Americans injured in the attack were also U.S. government workers. All were part of a State Department police training program, said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

    “We take this very seriously and will be working closely with the Jordanians to determine exactly what happened,” Obama said during a previously scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said a full investigation was under way and offered condolences to the families of those killed.

    Condemning the incident, the U.S. Embassy said it was “premature to speculate on motive.” The embassy said it wasn’t changing its security posture.

    The post Obama says US taking Jordan attack ‘very seriously’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in  Washington November 9, 2015.  The two leaders meet here today for the first time since the Israeli leader lost his battle against the Iran nuclear deal, with Washington seeking his re-commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTS669M

    Last year, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met at the White House. Photo by Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.


    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday insisted they had not given up on the pursuit of Middle East peace, even as the prospect of an elusive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians appears further out of reach.

    Obama and Netanyahu’s meeting at the White House marked the first time the two leaders have talked face to face in more than a year. Their relationship has long been marred by tension, with the most recent being the U.S.-backed nuclear deal with Iran.

    Ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington, U.S. officials made clear the White House does not expect peace to be achieved before Obama leaves office in January 2017.

    Speaking to reporters ahead of their private meeting, Obama said he would instead seek Netanyahu’s thoughts on ways to lower tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and get the parties “back on a path towards peace.”

    Netanyahu declared, “We have not given up our hope for peace.” He emphasized that his preference was for a two-state solution, but gave no ground on the Israelis’ long-standing conditions for achieving that outcome.

    Monday’s meeting comes amid a fresh burst of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of inciting the violence, while Palestinians say the violence is due to a lack of hope for gaining independence after years of failed peace efforts.

    Even with no chance of significant progress on Mideast peace, the fact that Obama and Netanyahu met at all is seen as an important step. Tensions between the long-time allies boiled over earlier this year as Obama and international partners finalized the Iranian nuclear accord, a high-stakes agreement Netanyahu furiously tried to stop, even delivering a speech to Congress to urge lawmakers to block its implementation.

    Netanyahu views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel and argued that the international agreement leaves Tehran within reach of a bomb

    The leaders largely sidestepped the Iran nuclear issue in their public comments. Obama called his differences with Netanyahu on the Iran deal “narrow” and the Israeli leader didn’t mention the matter at all.

    The post Obama, Netanyahu emphasize need for Mideast peace appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by the Washington Post

    University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe announced his resignation Monday amid criticism over his handling of racially charged incidents on the predominantly white campus in Columbia, Missouri.

    “This is not, I repeat, not, how change should come about,” Wolfe told reporters in a news conference Monday, adding that change should arise from listening to each other. “I take full responsibility for the inaction, and I take full responsibility for the frustration that has occurred.” The president’s resignation is effective immediately.

    Wolfe’s removal capped a months-long student movement that demanded the ouster of its university system president after protesters said he failed to adequately address the mounting racial tensions at the system’s flagship campus, including several students reporting they were the targets of racial slurs this semester. In one notorious instance, a swastika was drawn in human feces on a dormitory wall.

    Monday’s announcement also came a day after the university’s faculty members urged professors to support a two-day walkout beginning the same day and stage a teach-in at the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle, the encampment site of the Concerned Student 1950 protesters. (The group’s name is a reference to the year that the first black student was admitted to Mizzou.) Black graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike last week to raise awareness of the unrest on campus. Butler announced just before noon that he would end his hunger strike, following Wolfe’s resignation, according to the Associated Press.

    Over the weekend, more than 30 black players on the school’s football team said they refused to play until Wolfe left his position, a decision Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel supported on Twitter.

    On Monday, the Missouri Students Association addressed the Aug 9 shooting of Michael Brown in a letter to the university’s System Board of Curators. The student’s group said the school’s bureaucracy responded to that shooting with silence, and criticized what they called a lack of systematic support from Wolfe and other university leaders “to create spaces for healing.”

    “While no isolated incident led to this moment, the continued offenses at the University of Missouri have accumulated into irreparable damage to the student experience,” the letter said.

    For his part, Wolfe said on Friday that he had met with students, including Butler, while also acknowledging that racism was “a long-standing, systematic problem” that affected everyone on campus.

    The president also apologized for his reaction when a group of protesters approached him in his car at a homecoming parade. Rather than get out of the car to talk to the protesters, Wolfe’s driver revved the engine and kept driving, according to the university newspaper, the Columbia Missourian.

    “My behavior seemed like I did not care. That was not my intention,” he said in his statement Friday.

    After a football team boycott later that weekend threatened a $1 million contract forfeit, mobilization for his resignation escalated among staff and faculty. Wolfe said in a statement Sunday that the university was working on a “diversity and inclusion strategy” that it planned to unveil in 2016.

    Wolfe’s response proved too inadequate for protesters.

    Samuel Cohen, associate professor of Mizzou’s English Department, was one of the administrators who called on the school’s leaders to do more.

    Cohen said faculty members followed the students’ lead on calling for Wolfe’s resignation, adding that the students inspired the sense that we not wait for leaders to have a dialogue on these issues.

    “You see negative comments on social media about how ridiculous it is to expect a university system president to stop random guys in pick-up trucks from yelling the n-word. I think that’s a misunderstanding of what students, and now staff and faculty, are asking for,” Cohen said. “We don’t expect individual incidents to be addressed by a system president. We expect someone to talk about the problem, to try to educate himself or herself and to try to get us to educate each other.”

    Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, in a statement released Monday, called Wolfe’s resignation a “necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus.”

    “There is more work to do, and now the University of Missouri must move forward — united by a commitment to excellence, and respect and tolerance for all,” he said in the statement.

    The post Mizzou president resigns amid protests over racial tension at university appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Sen. David Vitter, seen here at a news conference explaining his former involvement with prostitutes, in this July 2007 file photo. Photo by Lee Celano/Reuters

    U.S. Sen. David Vitter, seen here at a news conference explaining his former involvement with prostitutes in this July 2007 file photo, will compete against Democrat John Bel Edwards in a Nov. 21 runoff for governor of Louisiana. Photo by Lee Celano/Reuters

    BATON ROUGE, La. — After months of attacks about his prostitution scandal, Republican candidate for governor David Vitter is addressing the issue in a new television ad — though without using the word prostitution.

    The 30-second spot, released Monday, features Vitter sitting at a kitchen table as he talks to the camera, saying: “Fifteen years ago, I failed my family but found forgiveness and love.”

    “I learned that our falls aren’t what define us but rather how we get up, accept responsibility and earn redemption,” Vitter says, as the ad next shows him eating dinner with his family.

    Then, he pivots to Louisiana’s budget and education problems and tells viewers that he’s a “fighter” who will work to fix the state’s woes if elected in the Nov. 21 runoff.

    Outside groups and other candidates have repeatedly hit Vitter about the scandal this election cycle. Vitter, a U.S. senator, apologized in 2007 for a “very serious sin” after he was linked through phone records to Washington’s “D.C. Madam.”

    Most recently, his Democratic rival in the runoff, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, released his first direct attack ad against Vitter for the scandal. In it, Edwards seeks to contrast his military experience as an Army Ranger with Vitter, describing Edwards “who answered our country’s call” and Vitter “who answered a prostitute’s call.”

    But Vitter campaign spokesman Luke Bolar said the new Vitter spot isn’t in response to Edwards’ strike against him.

    “This is an ad we’ve been planning to run for a while,” Bolar said Monday.

    After a massive fundraising effort, Vitter started the election cycle as the favorite to follow term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal into office in January.

    His poll numbers fell, however, amid revived talk of his prostitution scandal and a blistering primary battle with his Republican opponents. He’s been criticized for a negative campaign tone and misleading attack ads, and Edwards has taken the lead in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 2008.

    The post David Vitter acknowledges prostitution scandal in new TV ad gubernatorial bid appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Video by Button Poetry.

    For poet and emcee G Yamazawa, there has always been power in being an “outsider.”

    Yamazawa became the youngest-ever poet to win a National Poetry Slam Championship with the Beltway Poetry Slam team last year. Growing up Buddhist and Japanese-American in a mostly white and black community in North Carolina, Yamazawa, who is now 24, found an avenue of self-expression in rap and poetry — two forms that he said allowed him to explore his identity.

    “My whole life has always kind of been from this outsider’s perspective. There’s power in that,” he said. “I think hip hop is all about individuality and exposing who you are, unapologetically … And all of my poetry was always about trying to understand who I am.”

    Yamazawa began rapping at 12 and performing poetry in high school, but he rarely addressed his practice of Nichiren Buddhism in his work. His faith gave him “a very inherent understanding of the equality of all living beings and the sanctity of life,” he said. “[But] it’s something that I always kept quiet about because I never really had confidence in talking about my practice.”

    His poem “Elementary” ties Buddhism to a childhood memory of using the word “gay” as a slur, one of the first times he realized how his words could impact others, he said. “Everything you say is really going to manifest in other people’s lives as well as your own,” he said.

    In the poem, “I was finally ready to come out and say, this is who I am, this is why I believe the things that I believe — [it] was a beautiful moment to be able to confidently share that.”

    Now, Yamazawa is working toward a full-time career in hip hop. He released a mixtape last year and will be releasing his debut EP in February 2016.

    Read “Elementary” below, or watch Yamazawa perform the poem above.

    Elementary

    I was so young, that I don’t remember how old I was the first time I called someone gay. It must be elementary school. One day my dad was picking me up and right before pulling out of the parking lot, a girl waved at me, with the smile of a vine, despite being the orchard everyone picked on, she was still sweet, and loved to be alive. When he asked why I didn’t wave back I told him, because she’s gay. His stare was religious. Buddhism in his brow raised the question, What does that mean?

    We all crack
    under peer pressure.

    But once you see
    that their earthquakes
    are coming from your faults
    you realize how deep
    trembles are felt,
    beneath the surface,
    where things are left,
    and forgotten.

    This was before poetry
    became my world.
    I noticed that words
    have gravity.

    I’ve seen them crush people,
    from a first person perspective.
    Felt a phrase fall
    out my mouth like an atom bomb
    forgetting the effects
    radiate for years.
    Loved a language
    that hates people.
    Crackin’ jokes, shatterin’ mirrors just ‘cause I wasn’t confident in my own reflection.

    I hated myself
    for the shape of my eyes
    so I became a bully,
    because we all wanna’ feel
    like America
    sometimes.
    We all want straight spines
    that stand for what we believe in
    but it’s funny
    how flags and people
    have the same knack
    for politely waving at the ones
    they’ve forgotten.

    Early as elementary school
    my parents planted a seed,
    the lotus of Buddhism
    began to blossom in my brain.

    We had a pond in the back yard,
    and the flat water taught me of equality,
    that life is the one thing we all share.

    I was also taught how to pray.
    I been memorizing mantras
    and chanting sutras out loud
    before the pledge of allegiance
    ever touched my lips.

    I was taught of cause and effect.
    How it is the ultimate truth that everything relies on.
    How a thought will turn to word
    as quickly as fuel becomes fire
    whether it’s for burning down a house
    or keeping a lover warm,
    the spark of an idea will always match
    the fuming language we decide to pour out of our mouths.

    But I forgot that the voice does the work of the Buddha
    so why would I ever call someone gay before calling them beautiful?

    Why would I not praise the person that drinks the same water as me?

    Why could I lift my voice
    just to put someone else down?

    Us humans
    have a habit of over-powering
    and taking what doesn’t belong to us
    but I pray
    that we are making our way towards the moment
    when our tongues are the only left for us to conquer
    and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a poet
    is that it’s not about what you have to say in your poem
    it’s about what you have to say when your poem
    is done.

    Born in Durham, North Carolina, and raised by Japanese immigrants, George Masao Yamazawa Jr. is one of the top young spoken word artists in the country. At 24, “G” is the youngest poet to become a National Poetry Slam Champion, Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist, and Southern Fried Champion. Winner of Kollaboration DC 2012 and 2013 Kundiman Fellow, G has been featured at the Sundance Film Festival, Bonnaroo Music Festival, TV One’s Verses and Flow, the Pentagon, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

    The post What Buddhism taught poet G Yamazawa about using ‘gay’ as a slur appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond flank GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during Trump's monologue on Nov. 7. Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond flank GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during Trump’s monologue on Nov. 7. Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    NEW YORK — “Saturday Night Live” earned the expected ratings benefit of an episode hosted by Donald Trump but, given the protests and vicious panning the show received, NBC has to wonder if it was all worthwhile.

    From a pure business viewpoint, the Nielsen company said Saturday’s show had its highest rating since January 2012 in the nation’s top 56 markets, all the way back to an episode featuring Charles Barkley and Kelly Clarkson. A viewership estimate taking the nation as a whole into account won’t be available until Thursday.

    Latino organizations protested the booking for the same reason that NBC cut ties to its former “Celebrity Apprentice” host last summer: the presidential candidate’s comments about Mexicans crossing the border into the United States illegally. That led one of the show’s highlights: Larry David shouting “you’re a racist” to Trump, in reference to an advocacy group’s offer of $5,000 to someone who heckled the host.

    Trump’s appearance as host despite the corporate decision to back away from him spoke to both the autonomy of “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels and Trump’s proven ability to draw an audience.

    Sure, Trump earned ratings, but viewers who tuned in were punished with “a joyless, unfunny show, which ended in a curtain call with Mr. Trump and the cast that played like a hostage video,” wrote critic James Poniewozik of The New York Times.

    That conclusion typified a brutal critical response. Both Poniewozik and Time magazine’s Daniel D’Addario pulled out the phrase “anodyne” — fancy word for bland.

    “Forget Iowa voters,” D’Addario wrote. “It’s hard to imagine the 90 minutes NBC aired getting much of a reaction out of anyone.”

    The “anemic and halfhearted dud” heavily taxed the show’s integrity, wrote Hank Stuever of The Washington Post.

    Although it’s not the first time “Saturday Night Live” has had a political host, several critics expressed alarm at the comedy show’s co-opting a figure it would seem more comfortable satirizing from afar. Some jokes poked fun at Trump and his image, but Trump has said he took advantage of a host’s prerogative to veto material he deemed offensive.

    “‘SNL’ is more comfortable being frat brothers with politicians than satirists of them,” wrote Chris White of Paste magazine.

    When Vanessa Bayer’s character cracked about not wanting to be in a sketch where the comic conceit was Trump “tweeting” mean comments about the actors, Stuever said it didn’t feel like a joke.

    “The show’s writers also dropped the ball — or simply never felt like playing to begin with,” he wrote. “Who can blame them? They never should have been put in this position.”

    For “Saturday Night Live,” it was also a missed opportunity. The show frequently regenerates itself and now has a relatively young cast; this represented a chance to reel in more casual viewers.

    Then again, what’s one misfire in the context of a 40-year-old show? Critics may not be happy, but NBC accountants certainly are, said television analyst Marc Berman.

    “It’s not going to hurt the show,” Berman said. “It’s got everybody talking about it again.”

    The post Trump’s ‘SNL’ appearance wins viewers; critics call it a ‘dud’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Trainers have Orca killer whales perform for the crowd  during a show at the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014. A California lawmaker introduced a bill to ban live performances and captive breeding of killer whales in the state, a measure that would force the SeaWorld San Diego marine theme park to end is popular "Shamu" shows.   REUTERS/Mike Blake   (UNITED STATESANIMALS ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY TRAVEL) - RTR3HTDV

    SeaWorld announced that it is phasing out killer whale shows like this one from its San Diego park. Photo by Mike Blak/Reuters

    SeaWorld will be phasing out its killer whale show at its San Diego park next year, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

    According the newspaper, the company placed documents online that state the park will be replacing the shows with a new orca experience to premier in 2017, which will focus more on animal conservation. The announcement of the phase-out of the shows comes just after SeaWorld’s San Diego park allocated $100 million to expand its killer whale tank to provide more space for the marine mammals.

    SeaWorld has seen considerable controversy over its killer whale program recently, leading to a decline in attendance rates and profit. The controversy increased after the 2013 release of “Blackfish,” a documentary extremely critical of the park’s treatment of its whales and dolphins. From 2014 to 2015 the park saw an 84 percent decrease in net income, and a drop in attendance of more than 100,000.

    In addition to a drop in attendance, SeaWorld has also been facing state and federal regulations which threaten its operations. The California Coastal Commission recently ruled that in order to build their new tank extension, SeaWorld would have to stop breeding whales. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has also said he plans to introduce federal legislation to stop the breeding of captive orcas, and end the capture of wild ones.

    The park’s Blue World tank expansion project and the phasing out of its killer whale shows are part of an effort to fight recent controversy, and demonstrate to the public that the park provides a good habitat for its whales. According to SeaWorld’s website, the new tanks would almost double the space of the existing tanks. They also would provide varied depths and currents in the water, as well as adding in live fish and kelp. The park also promises that the expansion will include a greater focus on animal research and care, so that scientists can gain a greater understanding of the whales in captivity as well as in the wild.

    The current plans apply to the company’s San Diego park. It is unclear if any changes will be made to its Orlando or San Antonio parks.

    The post SeaWorld San Diego to phase out killer whale shows appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on the U.S. strategy in Syria at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on the U.S. strategy in Syria at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Secretary of State John Kerry described on Thursday the United States’ gradual effort to build coalitions and transition out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry said Assad’s intractable civil war gave rise to the Islamic State group, which he called the “embodiment of evil in our time.”

    “History doesn’t matter to Daesh, human dignity doesn’t matter to Daesh, and the sacredness of life itself is alien to Daesh,” Kerry said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

    His remarks, delivered at the U.S. Institute of Peace, came on the eve of this weekend’s G20 summit in Turkey, where Syria will be discussed.

    He said by working with a 65-member coalition, some progress was made against the militants. They are now unable to operate in 20-25 percent of the territory they controlled a year ago. And fighters in Iraq and Syria have been able to take back strategic sites, including oil refineries that the Islamic State group was using to raise funds.

    Last year, he continued, the militants had control of more than half of Syria’s border with Turkey, and now they hold only 15 percent, and forces have a plan to free the remainder.

    Kerry said military force is not the only answer. “We need to consider every single option” to resolving the crisis, while continuing to work on a diplomatic solution to transitioning Assad out of power, he said.

    More than a dozen countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, met in Vienna last month and came to an agreement on certain tenets on Syria. They agreed the Syrian war must come to an end; to support Syria’s unity, independence and territorial integrity; and that Syria’s institutions must remain intact “so we don’t have an implosion like we saw in Iraq.”

    The countries agreed to increase support for Syria’s internally displaced population and refugees, and said the United Nations should convene members of the Syrian government and opposition to negotiate the terms of an inclusive government, new constitution and new elections under the supervision of the U.N., he said.

    “This is not about imposing anything on anyone,” he added. “We are trying to create a framework that will ignite the U.N. negotiating process,” and the Syrians have said they need help to get there.

    Kerry acknowledged the U.S. is still working out with Iran and Russia the role of Assad, saying Syrians no longer trust him so allowing him to stay is “literally a non-starter.”

    But it was important for the sake of allies in the region and all Syrians to keep working on a solution, he concluded, even if they don’t know how long it will take.

    The post Kerry: Islamic State militants ‘embodiment of evil in our time’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Theo, left, and Lonnie, right, are two people pictured in "Afro Native Narratives," a photo series on Black Native individuals. Photo by Michael Santiago

    Theo, left, and Lonnie, right, both appear in “Afro Native Narratives,” a photo series on Black Native individuals. Photo by Michael Santiago

    Editor’s Note: Three years ago, Michael Santiago and Macha Rose began working on “Afro Native Narratives,” a documentary and photo project that documents the stories of people of both North American indigenous and African descent — a group that they say has been underrepresented throughout history. In this week’s edition of Parallax, Santiago discusses the purpose of the project and what he learned from Theo and Lonnie, who are pictured above.

    On the day I took Theo’s photo (left), I saw a transformation few get to witness. He dressed in the regalia he makes by hand, applied his war paint and danced. Theo, who is of Blackfoot/Niitsiitapii descent, is a generally shy person, but he allowed us to photograph him because he is passionate about the visibility of Black Natives.

    The photo is for “Afro Native Narratives,” a portrait and film series project that explores the historically-ignored Black Native identity as it stands today, as well as the effects of “blood quantum” laws, which define who is allowed membership in Native American tribes or nations based on the degree of ancestry a person has to that tribe or nation. The project aims to bring the discussion of Black Native identity to the forefront and bring forward the faces of Black Natives who continue to embrace the traditions of their ancestors. We photograph and interview individuals who have grown up maintaining tradition and continue to do so, like Theo.

    The project also focuses on individuals like Lonnie Graham (right), who know some of their Native history because it has been passed down through oral tradition, but are missing a lot of information, like which tribe they belong to. Lonnie was able to vividly recall the stories passed down to him that have been in his family for generations. But unfortunately, he has never known exactly which tribe his family belonged to, which means that he cannot be a tribal member according to “blood quantum” laws.

    “In other cultures where people even have the smallest amount of a particular type of ancestry or lineage … it can be accepted,” he said. “But here in North America it seems to be always some kind of contention.”

    The word “parallax” describes the camera error that occurs when an image looks different through a viewfinder than how it is recorded by a sensor; when one camera gives two perspectives. Parallax is a blog where photographers offer the unexpected sides and stories of their work. Tell us yours or share on Instagram at #PBSParallax.

    The post What we can learn from the stories of Black Native people appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) led the committee talks on what happened during the attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

    U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) led the committee talks on what happened during the attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya, has now spent more than $5 million in taxpayer money, according to a tally by House Democrats.

    Democrats say the Republican-led probe is a partisan effort to undermine Hillary Rodham Clinton’s White House bid and said a marathon hearing with Clinton last month only confirmed their views. Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attacks, endured a grueling interrogation by GOP lawmakers at the 11-hour hearing.

    The five Democrats who serve on the 12-member committee have said they will stay on the panel for now, despite calls by some Democrats to shut it down. The committee was created in May 2014 to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

    The committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., has said the panel’s work will extend into next year.

    Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the Benghazi panel, said in a statement that during the lengthy hearing with Clinton, “Republicans showed the world that the Benghazi Select Committee is a taxpayer-funded fishing expedition to derail Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign — and that their net came up empty.”

    Republicans “will never resuscitate the credibility of this committee,” Cummings said.

    Matt Wolking, a spokesman for the committee, said Democrats were the ones wasting taxpayer money.

    “Instead of working with Republicans to get answers for the families of those killed in Benghazi, Democrats obsessed with defending the former secretary of state continue to waste taxpayer dollars doing everything they can to undermine and obstruct the committee’s fact-centered investigation,” he said in an email.

    The post Benghazi committee tops $5 million in spending appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond flank GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during Trump's monologue on Nov. 7. Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    Saturday Night Live’s Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond flank GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump during Trump’s monologue on Nov. 7. Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    NEW YORK — Donald Trump couldn’t beat the team of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.

    Last Saturday’s Trump-hosted “Saturday Night Live” averaged 9.3 million viewers, according to final Nielsen figures released Thursday.

    NBC says it’s the most-watched edition of “SNL” since December 2013, when Fallon guest-hosted, joined by musical guest Timberlake. That broadcast drew 9.4 million viewers.

    Trump’s appearance had been highly anticipated and sparked controversy in the aftermath of remarks made by the GOP presidential hopeful about Mexican immigrants. The show, which also featured musical guest Sia, was roundly panned by critics.

    The post Donald Trump draws 9.3 million viewers to ‘Saturday Night Live’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

    New research suggests that consumers care enough about how much a CEO makes compared to the average worker to change where they shop. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

    How much does a CEO make compared to the average worker? If you’re like most Americans (many economists included), you probably have an estimate in your head that roughly translates as “too much.” Pressed for a number, you might come up with a figure around 30 to 1.

    That’s a lot. Far more than what Americans say they’d like it to be — about 7 to 1 — but much, much less than what it actually is: more than 300 to 1. Put in real dollars, the average CEO today makes about $12 million a year to the average employee’s $36,000. We’re just as bad at guesstimating wealth inequality (research Paul Solman replicated on the streets of New York City a couple of years ago).

    But despite our ignorance, the vast majority of Americans care a lot about the widening gap between the rich and the middle class. In a recent poll by Pew Research, Americans named inequality the greatest threat to the world — ahead of ethnic conflict, nuclear weapons and climate change.

    But do we care enough to change where we shop? New research suggests we do.

    In a series of online experiments, researchers Bhavya Mohan, Mike Norton and Rohit Deshpandé at Harvard Business School found people were much more willing to buy a range of products, like towels and televisions, from companies that pay their CEOs salaries closer to what they pay their average employees.

    For example, in one experiment, they told people about a set of high-quality, 100 percent Turkish cotton towels. They told one group that the CEO of the company makes $24 million and the average worker makes $24,000 — a 1,000 to 1 ratio like Walmart is estimated to have. The other group was told that the CEO makes 60 times more than the average worker (as is the case at Costco) — in this case, $1,344,000 to the average workers’ $24,000. Then they asked them how fair they thought the company’s wages were and how willing they were to buy the towels. People said they were much more willing to buy from the Costco-type store than the Walmart one.

    The researchers ran the experiment again, using different products — batteries, vacuum cleaners, restaurant gift cards — and varying CEO pay ratios — 1,000 to 1, 60 to 1 or 5 to 1. In all their experiments, people said they were much more willing to buy from companies with lower pay ratios.

    They tried varying prices, offering 10, 20 and 50 percent discounts on products sold at the store with a higher pay ratio. They also had people compare stores side by side and asked them how much they would be willing to pay for identical products. Again, people still liked the stores with more equal wages — so much so that consumers said they would pay more for products at stores with low ratios, while stores with high ratios like Walmart would have to slash prices in half just to entice consumers to buy.

    “We were surprised by how much it took to get a similar willingness to buy,” Mohan told me. “The high pay ratio really affected their perception of the company and their product.”

    One explanation for the finding is that consumers hate buying from stores they think are making a huge profit off them. But this rationale doesn’t necessarily apply to wages. As Mohan and her colleagues note, companies with a high pay ratio might actually appear to be more competitive and have higher quality products, because they can attract the best talent with lavish compensation packages. Companies with low ratios, on the other hand, might appear too “soft.”

    So they tested that too. But Mohan and her colleagues didn’t find that consumers’ judgments about a company’s management or the quality of its products were affected by paying their CEOs less.

    They also looked at which consumers were most likely to be persuaded by pay ratios. It could be that a low ratio might turn off Republican buyers who, according to a number of studies, tend to favor slightly greater inequality than their Democratic counterparts. Democrats and Independents, as the researchers expected, liked companies with lower ratios more, but Republicans were indifferent, suggesting if a company like Costco advertised their low pay ratio they wouldn’t be alienating many, if any, of their customers.

    If you’re about to search Google to find out how much the average worker at, say, Target or Apple makes compared to the CEO, you’ll find some figures at payscale.com, but it’s important to note those are estimates. Companies don’t have to report how much they pay their employees — yet. That’s about to change in 2017 when a portion of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act goes into effect, requiring all public companies with actively traded stock — there are about 3,800 of them — to disclose how much they pay their CEO, their median employee and the ratio between them.

    That’s when Mohan and her colleagues might start seeing how their findings play out in the marketplace. Low pay ratios could be used like “fair trade” stamps on coffee, which are shown to increase sales even when prices go up.

    The “CEO Pay Ratio” provision — Section 853(b) — was written into the law just hours before Congress voted on Dodd-Frank, and for years afterward, it was heatedly contested until the Securities and Exchange Commission approved it in a close 3-2 vote this past August.

    Its proponents argued it would increase transparency for investors and hoped it might shame companies into reducing executive compensation, which has skyrocketed in recent decades. Fifty years ago, CEOs generally made around 20 times as much as their average workers, the ratio business guru Peter Drucker said was ideal.

    Opponents of the measure, mainly Republican members of Congress and large multinational corporations, said calculating the median employee’s salary would cost millions with little benefit to investors, which suggests companies themselves are not fully aware of how great the disparity is in their own businesses.

    Opponents also argued the ratio was meaningless. The pay ratio at Goldman Sachs, for example, with its legions of highly paid investors and analysts, will be much smaller than fast-food restaurants and stores like Walmart just given the kind of work being done. The two companies aren’t comparable, and opponents say the ratio is misleading.

    Still, most consumers and investors are probably shrewd enough to compare Walmart to Costco rather than to Goldman Sachs. Walmart specifically, which is often targeted for its low wages, seems to be getting the message from consumers angered by growing inequality. Earlier this year, the mega-retailer launched an ad campaign touting the billion dollars it spent last year raising wages (though many called the ad misleading).

    But Charles Elson, a professor at the University of Delaware and an expert in corporate finance and executive compensation, is skeptical that pay ratio information will nudge consumers at the checkout line.

    “CEO pay is out of control. I agree about that, absolutely,” Elson said. “But most consumers are completely, utterly unaware about the internal management of companies. People buy on quality and price.”

    Elson equates it to a PR scandal. When workers in Apple’s Chinese factories began killing themselves or when Bank of America awarded its executives multimillion dollar bonuses in the midst of the financial meltdown, public outrage did not result in change.

    Corporations have also had to disclose CEO compensation for decades, which was mandated back in the 1930s with the same intention as the CEO pay ratio provision: shame companies into more equal pay. But some argue this only helped exacerbate rising wages at the top by giving CEOs an easy way to compare themselves to their peer group and negotiate for higher compensation. Some companies, like Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods, tried to keep CEO salaries capped by modest ratios but have struggled to maintain them amidst growing competition for executives.

    It’s also yet to be seen how people’s preferences play out in real life. The participants in Mohan’s study didn’t actually buy televisions or towels or lamps. They just said how willing they were to buy them. And as Mohan was quick to point out, it’s much easier to state our best intentions than follow through with them.

    But even if their results were a bit exaggerated, real life results tend to go in the same direction. In follow-up studies, Mohan and her colleagues are now testing to see if consumers actually do choose stores with low pay ratios over others when shopping with their own money. The final tally isn’t in, but preliminary data suggests they do.

    The post Large CEO-worker wage gaps are a major consumer turnoff appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Joe's Crab Shack. Photo by Flickr user Javier Vidal  https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanaguara/

    Joe’s Crab Shack becomes the first major U.S. chain restaurant to test a no-tip model. Photo by Flickr user Javier Vidal

    Joe’s Crab Shack announced Wednesday it will be eliminating tipping from several of its restaurants, joining the growing national movement to get rid of tipping in American restaurants.

    The popular seafood chain, which has 130 locations across the country, is the first major restaurant chain to stop tipping which goes against the entrenched norm.

    With the new policy, servers at the selected restaurants will now earn hourly wages of $12-$14. In order to support this new wage model, the menu prices will increase from 12 to 15 percent. Raymond Blanchette, president and CEO of Ignite Restaurant Group which owns Joe’s Crab Shack, said menu prices are rising only marginally with the elimination of the tip, so ultimately people could potentially pay less.

    Joe’s Crab Shack is joining the ranks of individuals like Danny Meyer, restaurateur and CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, who announced last month that he will be eliminating tipping in 13 of his restaurants in New York City. Similarly, Tom Colicchio, restaurateur and a judge on Bravo’s show “Top Chef,” did away with tipping in the lunch service for the Gramercy Tavern, another New York City restaurant that he co-owns with Meyer.

    The growing movement is a part of the effort to address server’s wages and reduce turnover. Under the current two-tiered system, the federal minimum wage for a tipped employee is $2.13 an hour. This means that a server’s living wage depends almost entirely on tips.

    The no-tip movement is also influenced by another growing movement, the “Fight for $15” and its push to raise minimum wages for fast food workers to $15 an hour.

    Joe’s Crab Shack will apply the no-tip model in a select and broad range of its locations to see how customers respond. Blanchette said they could eventually expand the policy nationwide.

    The post Joe’s Crab Shack joins no-tipping movement appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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