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

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    The skull of Winnipeg, the bear who inspired “Winnie-the-Pooh,” is currently on display for the first time at the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons in London. Photo courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

    The skull of Winnipeg, the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, is currently on display for the first time at the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons in London. Photo courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons in London

    The skull of the bear that inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh is now on display at the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum in London.

    Milne took inspiration for the 1926 children’s classic tale from regular trips to the London Zoo with his son, Christopher, where they first encountered the Canadian black bear, named Winnipeg, Winnie for short.

    Winnie The Pooh arrives at The Los Angeles Premiere of "Winnie The Pooh" held at The Walt Disney Studios on July 10, 2011 in Burbank, California.

    “Winnie The Pooh” is seen on July 10, 2011 in Burbank, California. The skull of the bear that inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character is now on display at the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum in London. Photo by Alexandra Wyman/ Getty Images

    “[Winnie’s] story and presence in our collection are a reminder of how learning about animal health can enhance our understanding and care for species around the world,” Sam Alberti, Director of Museums and Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons, said in a statement.

    Winnie was bought by a veterinarian and soldier, Capt. Harry Colebourn, when he was en route to fight in World War I. He brought the bear to have as a mascot while his regiment trained in Wiltshire, England, and named her after his hometown in Manitoba, Canada.


    When he was deployed to fight in France in 1914, he left Winnie at the London Zoo, where Milne and his son came to know her. Photographs from this period show that Christopher was even allowed in Winnie’s enclosure at the zoo, the museum said, and he named his own teddy bear Winnie.

    After the war, Colebourn donated Winnie to the zoo where she remained a popular attraction until her death in May 1934.

    According to the zoo, Winnie’s skull has become part of a trove of “valuable research specimens” for biologists and zoo vets who treat animals for dental diseases.

    “She lived with quite severe gum disease, you know, undoubtedly because of the honey on the sticky buns that she was being fed by the museum visitors out of love,” Alberti told The New York Times, adding that “it’s a happy message that the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, has had this afterlife.”

    The post Skull of bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh on display in London museum appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during the 20/20 Club Presidential Justice Forum at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina November 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Keane - RTX1V7KX

    U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during the 20/20 Club Presidential Justice Forum at Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina November 21, 2015. Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters

    COLUMBIA, S.C. — Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson says he is still waiting to see evidence of racial bias by police forces in the U.S.

    Carson is the only major White House hopeful who is black. He made the comments Saturday at a justice forum in Columbia, South Carolina.

    Carson was asked about high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct, including several in which African-Americans were killed by police or died in custody. The retired neurosurgeon says he is not aware of a lot of cases where police officers treat black citizens unfairly because of their skin color.

    He says any “rogue policeman” should be punished but that society shouldn’t set rules “based on bad apples.”

    He adds that he has never had problems with police because his mother raised him to “respect authority.”

    The post Ben Carson questions claims of racial bias by police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    YoungFrenchMuslimPKG

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Both Germany and France have close to five million residents of muslim descent — the largest Muslim populations in western Europe. But now that france has been victimized again by homegrown Muslim terrorists, many young French Muslim citizens are grappling with how they are perceived.

    The NewsHour’s Stephen Fee is in Paris and brings us this report.

    STEPHEN FEE: Last Friday, 26-year-old Rohan Houssein was having tea at a Persian cafe in Paris’ tenth district when he and his friends heard gunfire.

    ROHAN HOUSSEIN: A man came into the coffee. He was injured on his arm by a bullet, and he started to say, ‘Come on, you have to hide right now. People is getting shot over there.

    STEPHEN FEE: Terrorists had stormed this neighborhood, which draws a young, diverse crowd from all over the French capital.

    ROHAN HOUSSEIN: This neighborhood is really popular, and you can go to the theater, to have a lunch, to chill out with friends.

    STEPHEN FEE: The attackers struck under the banner of the Islamic State, and investigators say most were French nationals, reopening the country’s long-running debate about what it means to be both French and Muslim.

    It’s a debate that resonates with Houssein. He was raised by a Syrian Muslim father and a French Christian mother.

    ROHAN HOUSSEIN: It’s a weird feeling, because it’s like both parts of me are fighting against each other, you know. So it’s a crazy situation, to be half French half Syrian in November 2015. It’s crazy. But it’s also a chance to be proud of this identity.

    STEPHEN FEE: Mansouria Mokhefi is an Algerian-born professor who specializes in the Middle East and North Africa.

    MANSOURIA MOKHEFI, FRENCH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Many Muslims lost their lives among the victims. We have many Muslims who were there attending the concert, sitting at the terraces, being part of the Parisian life.

    STEPHEN FEE: She says last week’s terror attacks were a strike against the French, but also against those who’ve embraced both their French and Muslim identities.

    MANSOURIA MOKHEFI, FRENCH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: They are not targeting specific people. They just targeted everybody, because now they’re waging their war against everything that is French, and among the French they’re not going to discriminate particularly between Muslims and non-Muslims.

    STEPHEN FEE: We met Imane Batut, a 29-year-old French Muslim at a Paris railway station as she was about to take a business trip.

    IMANE BATUT: I’m a very, very moderate Muslim. I don’t pray. I don’t do a lot of things, but I believe in God. That’s it. But that doesn’t stop me from living, from getting a drink on a terrace, to travel, to go out. That’s me. That’s not my religion.

    STEPHEN FEE: Do you feel that this attack means that people look at you differently?

    IMANE BATUT: I hope not, but I think so.

    STEPHEN FEE: Four Islamic extremists attacks in one year in France: the shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine in January; a beheading at a French factory in June; a thwarted attack on a Paris-bound train in August; and last week’s massacre have all changed the way Muslims are perceived here.

    MANSOURIA MOKHEFI, FRENCH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: There has always been a reluctance to accept the French from Muslim origin as totally French. But it’s fair to say that since Charlie Hebdo this feeling has widened considerably.

    STEPHEN FEE: This mosque in Paris’ 19th district, one of the city’s largest Muslim enclaves, is under construction. The Muslim community here is growing and needs more space.

    The mosque’s president, 53-year-old Ahmed Ouali, says young French Muslims, those who feel integrated and those who don’t, struggle with questions of identity.

    AHMED OUALI, ISLAMIC CULTURAL ASSOCIATION AND MOSQUE ADDA’WA: In terms of young people, you do have a category who are really asking themselves questions about their identities, their relationship with the country they live in, the country they were born in. The worst error is to be in denial, to not recognize this.

    STEPHEN FEE: Ouali believes addressing these identity issues is a key step in stopping radicalism.

    AHMED OUALI, ISLAMIC CULTURAL ASSOCIATION AND MOSQUE ADDA’WA: Those who’ve already gone over the edge, it’s too late. They’ve already gone over the edge.

    To get them back, it might be possible. But more importantly, how do we get the ones who are about to go over the edge to make sure they don’t. On that, there’s an urgent job to do — to respond to their anxiety and questions.

    STEPHEN FEE: Mokhefi believes France must address economic inequality, especially in the poorer ‘banlieues’ or suburbs to make all Muslims feel part of French life.

    MANSOURIA MOKHEFI, FRENCH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS : France has to undertake a serious self-examination in order to address its long relationship with the Arab and Muslim world.

    STEPHEN FEE: That relationship is on Rohan Houssein’s mind. He still has relatives in Syria trying to flee that country’s brutal civil war.

    France’s campaign of airstrikes against ISIS positions in Syria, stepped up in the days following the Paris attacks, has him worried. As does the talk of closing borders.

    ROHAN HOUSSEIN: So it’s insane to put blame on the refugees, but it’s maybe another answer, another response to fear. People don’t know what’s happened, so they have someone to blame, and it’s the refugees.

    STEPHEN FEE: Still the backlash doesn’t make Houssein feel any less proud of his Syrian French identity.

    ROHAN HOUSSEIN: I’m French, I feel French, more than ever, but I’m so proud of my roots, of my Syrian roots, because it makes me someone maybe different, maybe special. So I’m very proud of my identity.

    The post The new reality of being young, French and Muslim appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Democratic Louisiana Governor-elect John Bel Edwards, flanked by his mother, Dora Jean Edwards,  addresses supporters after defeating GOP Sen. David Vitter in a runoff election, New Orleans, November 21, 2015. Edwards will be Louisiana’s first Democratic governor in eight years. Photo by Lee Celano/Reuters

    Democratic Louisiana Governor-elect John Bel Edwards, flanked by his mother, Dora Jean Edwards, addresses supporters after defeating GOP Sen. David Vitter in a runoff election, New Orleans, November 21, 2015. Edwards will be Louisiana’s first Democratic governor in eight years. Photo by Lee Celano/Reuters

    NEW ORLEANS — Democrats in Louisiana rejoiced as they reclaimed the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years, while the state’s GOP leader insisted “our Republican brand is strong” even amid the defeat of a one-time political powerhouse, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

    John Bel Edwards’ victory in Saturday’s runoff election was once-unthinkable in the conservative state and a stunning turn of events for Vitter, who started his campaign nearly two years ago as the race’s front-runner. With his 12-percentage point loss, Vitter announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Senate in 2016.

    Edwards’ win offered a rare pick-up of a governor’s seat for Democrats in the conservative Deep South, but Republican leaders insisted it was a one-time fluke that didn’t suggest the GOP was on the ropes in Louisiana.

    Republican Party of Louisiana Chairman Roger Villere pointed to victories for lieutenant governor and attorney general and gains in the state Legislature.

    “Make no mistake, Louisiana is a deep red state and our Republican brand is strong,” Villere said in a statement lamenting a “disappointing result in the gubernatorial race.”

    The Democratic victory was as much about Vitter’s flaws as a candidate as it was about Edwards’ strengths.

    Edwards painted the race as a referendum on Vitter’s character and suggested the U.S. senator didn’t measure up in such a competition. Edwards, who started the campaign as a little-known lawmaker from a rural parish, focused on his West Point degree and military resume, and he pledged a bipartisan leadership style.

    “The people have chosen hope over scorn, over negativity and over distrust of others,” Edwards said in his victory speech, before leading a second-line parade with a jazz band through the French Quarter hotel ballroom.

    In the final days, Vitter sought to rally Republican voters by drawing policy distinctions with Edwards and making Syrian refugee resettlement an issue in the state campaign. But it didn’t work.

    “I’ve lost one political campaign in my life, tonight and ironically it’s the campaign and the political effort I am most proud of,” Vitter told supporters.

    The rebuke from Louisiana voters will create an open Senate seat for the 2016 election, as Vitter announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to Congress. Several Republicans already have said they’re interested in running for the position, including U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, among others.

    Democrats were ecstatic as Edwards defied expectations that only a Republican could win statewide in Louisiana. He thanked supporters who “believed we could confound the conventional wisdom that this victory just couldn’t happen.”

    “It did happen,” he said.

    Rather than a race about the state’s deep financial troubles, the contest for governor largely became about Vitter, who has been in elected office, first as a state lawmaker and then in Congress, for more than 20 years.

    Vitter began the election cycle nearly two years ago as the clear favorite. He stockpiled cash for the campaign, dwarfing all competitors. And with a campaign operation that has helped him and his allies to steamroll opponents over the years, he appeared nearly unbeatable.

    But Vitter was hit with repeated attacks for a 2007 prostitution scandal in which he apologized for a “serious sin” after he was linked through phone records to Washington’s “D.C. Madam.”

    He had trouble uniting Republicans after a blistering primary competition in which Vitter trashed two GOP rivals and received heavy criticism for his scorched-earth political style. And his campaign was accused of ethical improprieties after allegations it secretly recorded political opponents. Vitter’s negatives with voters shot up in the polls.

    The U.S. senator also was hampered by high disapproval ratings for his fellow Republican, outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is blamed for the state’s financial problems.

    “John Bel Edwards’ victory shows that Louisiana has turned the page on David Vitter’s scandals and eight years of Bobby Jindal’s failed economic policies,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.

    Edwards benefited from a primary in which he largely escaped attacks while the Republicans slammed each other. He capitalized on voters’ apparent unease with Vitter and built a campaign on personal integrity.

    In speeches, he pledged: “I will be honest with you. I will never embarrass you.”

    The post Democrat Edwards wins Louisiana governor’s race appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    WASHINGTON — With time running out on open enrollment season, many seniors are facing sharply higher premiums for Medicare’s popular prescription drug program. The reason: rising drug costs have overtaken a long stretch of stable premiums.

    Beneficiaries have until Dec. 7 to see if there’s a lower-cost plan that will cover their medications in 2016. Consumer advocates and experts say it will pay to shop around this sign-up season.

    “Premiums are going up. Deductibles are going up,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “There is some potential to save a lot of money by switching plans.”

    Government spending on the program also has risen significantly, driven by pricey new drugs, notably for hepatitis C infection. The cost for the hepatitis drugs in the Medicare program is expected to be $9.2 billion this year, a near doubling from 2014. Because of the prescription program’s financial structure, taxpayers cover most of the cost for expensive medications. Three out of four adults infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers, the group now entering Medicare.

    Also known as “Part D,” Medicare’s prescription plan serves about 40 million older and disabled people. Benefits are provided through a variety of insurance arrangements. Stand-alone drug plans that work with traditional Medicare are the most popular, accounting for more than half of beneficiaries – about 24 million people.

    Sal Natale, a retired dentist who lives near Tampa, Florida, said prescription premiums for him and his wife are going up about 30 percent next year, and he doesn’t see a good alternative.

    “I’m just going to grin and bear and hope it starts moderating,” Natale said. The couple is signed up in the Humana Enhanced plan, one of the top 10. Nationally, premiums for that plan are going up by about $13 a month, according to the Kaiser foundation.

    Indicators signal rising costs across the program. Among them:

    • independent estimates by Kaiser and the consulting firm Avalere Health show increasing premiums for stand-alone drug plans. The average premium will rise from $36.68 to $41.46 per month next year, or 13 percent, according to Kaiser. Even if many beneficiaries switch to lower-cost options, it’s likely to be the biggest increase since 2009.
    • the maximum deductible for prescription coverage will rise by $40, to $360. That’s the biggest increase in the deductible since the inception of Part D in 2006. The deductible is the amount of drug costs that beneficiaries must pay each year before their insurance kicks in.
    • -taxpayer expenditures for the “catastrophic” portion of the benefit – in which beneficiaries with high drug bills pay only 5 percent of the cost – will rise by $4.5 billion in 2016, an increase of more than 14 percent. Spending for catastrophic coverage has doubled in just a short time, from $15.5 billion in 2012 to an estimated $31.2 billion this year.

    The analyses from Kaiser and Avalere are seemingly at odds with the message coming from the Obama administration, which estimates that drug premiums will remain stable in 2016, averaging $32.50 a month.

    But the administration and the independent analysts measure differently. For example, the administration adjusts its number for the estimated impact of people assumed to be switching to lower-premium plans.

    The outside analysts don’t make similar assumptions. Instead, they focus on what’s happening to premiums in the plans for which people are currently signed up.

    Nationally, average premiums are going up by more than 15 percent in five of the top eight plans, according to the Kaiser study. Two plans will see single-digit increases. One plan – SilverScript Choice – will see a small reduction. The most popular plan – AARP MedicareRx Preferred – will go up from $50.19 to $60.79, a 21 percent increase.

    Sean Cavanaugh, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the administration has a good track record with its estimates. “We do think ours is more illustrative of what beneficiaries actually experience,” he said.

    Cavanaugh did say the administration is concerned about the cost of new breakthrough drugs. The insurers who deliver Medicare’s prescription benefit have limited options for bargaining down the prices of those medications, because usually there’s no competing alternative.

    “The challenge in the Part D program is around high-cost specialty drugs,” said Cavanaugh. “We certainly have to be concerned about anything that’s driving that much cost in our program.”

    With polls showing that drug costs are the top health care issue for the public, presidential candidates are weighing in. Options they propose range from giving Medicare direct authority to negotiate drug prices, backed by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, to speeding up approval of new drugs, advanced by Republican Jeb Bush.

    Consumer advocates are skeptical that seniors shopping for better deals will be sufficient to blunt the cost increases.

    Finding a new plan can be overwhelming, said Bonnie Burns, a longtime Medicare counselor with nonprofit California Health Advocates. “People can’t deal with the complexity of deductibles, coverage tiers, and prior approval,” she said.

    Natale, the Florida retiree, says he’s not sure what the right answer is. He’s wary of government controls on private industry, but the relentless growth of costs worries him.

    “I really don’t think I have much of an option for protecting me and my wife if I get some serious illness and I need big-time drugs,” he said.

    The post Experts predict sharp premium increases for Medicare drug plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Screen shot 2015-11-22 at 1.00.56 PM

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    LISA DESAI: Rose Burke and John Newman, an American couple that moved to France over 20 years ago, live in a three bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Paris. Most of their heat and electricity is powered by renewable sources, which was important to them.

    JOHN NEWMAN, PARIS HOMEOWNER: The eco-friendly aspect of the building appealed at least to me. Why not try to live like the things that I care about?

    ROSE BURKE, PARIS HOME OWNER: This is the first apartment he got excited about.

    LISA DESAI: Excited that part of their heat and hot water comes from garbage. The process starts when they separate their recyclables from their non-recyclables.

    JOHN NEWMAN, PARIS HOMEOWNER: So this is the garbage room. This is where we throw our garbage and recycling, and it’s quiet right now, but sometimes you can hear this great whooshing sound of it being carried pneumatically away to the plant.

    LISA DESAI: The tubes take the trash from John and Rose’s building to a plant called Isseane, one of three facilities in greater Paris where garbage that can’t be recycled is converted into energy, some of which the plants use to run themselves. Not all of the garbage comes in through the tubes; some is brought in by trucks from surrounding neighborhoods and towns. Until recently, Christophe Alferez oversaw the plant’s operations.

    LISA DESAI: How much trash is brought here every year?

    CHRISTOPHE ALFEREZ, ISSEANE EFW PLANT: We receive 460,000 tons of waste per year in this facility.

    LISA DESAI: The trucks empty the garbage into this pit, which holds 9,000 tons of trash. Then this machine picks it up and dumps it in a giant incinerator.

    LISA DESAI: Ok, what’s happening right now?

    CHRISTOPHE ALFEREZ: This is the combustion room. It is heated to 1,000 degrees. This is where we eliminate the trash by burning it, and we also recoup energy from the trash through the transformation of water into steam.

    LISA DESAI: The energy created by burning garbage heats up water running through a network of boilers and pipes and is transformed into steam. Some steam is converted into electricity. Most of the steam is sold to CPCU, a company that converts it into heat.
    A byproduct of this process is ash. Every year, 80,000 tons of ash from this plant is mixed with concrete used to pave roads and sidewalks all over Paris. The plant’s director of technical services, Pierre Hirtzberger, gets a lot of questions about how safe it is to burn trash and if the emissions created during incineration, known as flue gas, are dangerous.

    PIERRE HIRTZBERGER, DIRECTOR GENERAL TECHNICAL SERVICES, SYCTOM:
    We have flue gas that you have to treat, and we put a lot of money and technical equipment to make sure there is no impact on the health of the people who are living next door.

    LISA DESAI: Burning waste seems to be a process that would create a lot of pollution. Is that the case here?

    PIERRE HIRTZBERGER, DIRECTOR GENERAL TECHNICAL SERVICES, SYCTOM:
    The emission levels are as low as we can do it. There is a European legislation for the quality of the flue gas that is coming from this kind of facility, but in our facility we reach levels that are lower than what’s the legislation ask us to do.

    LISA DESAI: Isseane and the two other waste-to-energy plants produce 200,000 megawatt hours of electricity every year. That’s enough electricity to power 40,000 apartments in France. The plants also produce the steam to supply 40 percent of Paris’s heating needs, which is currently enough to heat 200,000 apartments, all 24 of the city’s hospitals, and dozens of famous tourist sites and museums, including the Louvre. All that power generated by garbage saves 300,000 tons of fossil fuels and avoids the release of 900,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That’s equivalent to taking almost 200,000 cars off the road. Mark Barrier is the Managing Director of CPCU, the company that distributes heat from the plants. He says incineration is an efficient way to turn waste into a resource.

    MARK BARRIER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CPCU: The waste that you are disposing in the landfill will be there in 10 years, 100 years. Heavy metals and plastic and everything will be there. So using this kind of material being properly prepared in order to provide heat and to avoid greenhouse gas production, I think that’s good, that’s a good idea.

    LISA DESAI: CPCU is exploring new ways to capture and recycle heat that would otherwise be wasted – heat emitted by data servers, factories, trains, and even sewage.

    MARK BARRIER, MANAGING DIRECTOR, CPCU: All this wasted heat, I mean, if you don’t reuse, you just burn fossil fuels, and then you increase the global warming.

    LISA DESAI: The French government grants subsidies for first-time home buyers. But for those who purchase energy-efficient homes, like Rose Burke and John Newman, the subsidies are even larger. In their case, nearly 40 percent of their mortgage is interest-free.

    ROSE BURKE, PARIS HOMEOWNER: A lot of new builds are going up as energy efficient, because they know that homeowners can get a break on their loan.

    LISA DESAI: They also say their heating bills are lower. The only difference they’ve noticed is they can’t raise the heat above 75 degrees.

    JOHN NEWMAN, PARIS HOMEOWNER: You can’t really sort of crank it up and live in a sauna; it’s just not designed to do that. But it stays at a sort of level temperature nearly all year round.

    ROSE BURKE, PARIS HOMEOWNER: I feel I’m part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem. I guess we could always do a little bit better, but by buying this place I feel we’re making a contribution.

    The post How the French are burning garbage to heat homes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Paul Salopek walking across fields in rural Georgia. Photo by Hari Sreenivasan.

    Paul Salopek walking across fields in rural Georgia. Photo by Hari Sreenivasan

    There’s a man walking around the planet. He’s not doing it to set a record, he’s not on some religious quest, he’s just doing it to tell our stories. Likely, never in human history has something like this been undertaken, with this much chance of success, this large of a following, and never has one person given us a view of this planet and the people on it, in a way it may never be seen again.

    TWITTER CHAT: Talk to the man who’s walking around the world

    Paul Salopek is on what could be described as one of the longest slowest journalism projects ever. The Out of Eden walk is a journey that will take him at least seven years, likely through dozens of countries and trace the tale of our migration a hundred thousand years ago from the cradle of civilization in Africa to the tip of South America.

    We spoke to him on the Newshour before he started this adventure and recently caught up with him in a rural corner of the Republic of Georgia to try and see a sliver of what he sees and get a glimpse into this amazing adventure.

    Our stories are the same

    As he described in our first report from Georgia, above, the stories Salopek encounters are not so different from one another. Whether he is talking to a herder in Ethiopia or a truck driver in Georgia, they love their families the same, they dream for better lives for their children in the same way, they share similar joys and sorrows. Most avid travelers can tell you this, that there is far more that unites us than there is that keeps us on one side of an ideological fence or the other side of a geopolitical border, but the stories Paul is able to gather organically are a bit different partly because he is able to in the most quintessential form of journalism: discovery.

    For example, I parachuted into this tale, spent a couple of days with him and his walking partner Dima in rural Georgia. I had a goal, meaning I knew the assignment I was there for, had some background on most of the the people and places I would see, but Paul’s method is much closer to what we all get into this craft for — true discovery. He often doesn’t know where he is going to sleep the next night, much less who he will meet along the way. The destinations aren’t the story, the people are.

    Flanked by Paul Salopek, left, and his Georgian walking guide Dima Bit-Suleiman. Photo by Morgan Till

    Flanked by Paul Salopek and his Georgian walking guide Dima Bit-Suleiman. Photo by Morgan Till

    Things slow down

    When I was walking and talking with Paul, even just for a couple of days, I noticed things slowing down. He describes walking with a certain a-b, a-b rhythm, similar to a heartbeat. It’s something any hiker can relate to, but there is also something gained by what I could call the presence of the moment. While I tried to document parts of our walk with the camera in my smartphone, I was increasingly grateful that it was in airplane mode, and more often than not happier when it was stuck in a pocket so I could just notice what was around me with the lenses in my head, capture audio through my own ears, along with the smells and tastes of life in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

    View from above the citadel in Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia

    View from above the citadel in Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia. Photo by Hari Sreenivasan

    Disconnecting means different things to different people. I wasn’t a monk in silence, and as Paul and I discussed for a few hundred yards, there are so many new tools of the trade that can be both additive and subtractive. This walk was not live-streamed through Periscope or Facebook Mentions, but we did sit down at the end of our respective days and fed the social media engines of our respective institutions. I uploaded images to my Facebook page, he to his editors at National Geographic. Technology allows him to calculate exact distances, speak to schoolchildren on the other side of the planet, (or to join our Twitter chat Friday afternoon). Salopek will quite possibly walk completely through the entire life cycle of a social media platform. When he started the walk Snapchat was still gathering momentum. Who knows what the next new thing will be in 2020 when he’ll still be walking.

    Walking through valleys, across streams, and over hills with Paul and Dima, each time we reached a ridge line, a vista, I kept wondering what the first people who looked at this wondered. As we found out in Dmanisi, Georgia, chances are that our ancestors who lived at this site 1.8 million years ago might not have processed information the way we do today, but I wonder if it was the same spirit of curiosity that kept them walking, toward the next horizon, to see what was just around the next corner, over the next hill. There might be a bit of them still left in us.

    Rendering of what the inhabitants of Dmanisi could have looked like 1.8 million years ago.

    Rendering of what the inhabitants of Dmanisi could have looked like 1.8 million years ago. Photo by Hari Sreenivasan

    3 open-ended questions

    At each “milestone” (about every 100 miles) he asks three questions of the first person he meets: Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? How would you answer those questions? Try in the comments section of this post.

    On Wednesday night we aired part two of our stories with Paul Salopek from the archaeological site of Dmanisi.

    The post Lessons I learned from a man who’s walking around the world appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Police in France are asking the public for help in identifying a man they say was involved in the Nov. 13 assault on the national stadium in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris.

    On Sunday afternoon, French National Police tweeted a photo of the man along with the message, “The [Judicial Police] seek to identify the third culprit in the 11/13 attacks” and appealed to witnesses and others with information about him to contact law enforcement.

    According to police, the man was one of the three attackers who died in the explosions outside the national stadium during last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

    The attackers were apparently blocked from entering the stadium, which was hosting a sold-out match between the French and German men’s national soccer teams, the Wall Street Journal reported.

    This report will be updated as more information becomes available.

    The post French police ask for help identifying third stadium bomber appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a news conference in Worcester, Massachusetts November 18, 2015. On Sunday, Trump reiterated his support for mandatory registration and databases to track U.S. Muslims; presidential candidate Ben Carson also called for broad intelligence monitoring, including at mosques. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a news conference in Worcester, Massachusetts November 18, 2015. On Sunday, Trump reiterated his support for mandatory registration and databases to track U.S. Muslims; presidential candidate Ben Carson also called for broad intelligence monitoring, including at mosques. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The latest on what presidential candidates are saying about ways to counter the terrorism threat in the United States. All times are local:

    9:10 a.m.

    Ben Carson says he backs broad intelligence-monitoring any place where there’s “a lot of radicalization going on.”

    Just where? Churches, mosques, schools, shopping centers are some of the examples the Republican presidential candidate is citing.

    He tells ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the country needs “to get very serious about our intelligence” to ensure Americans’ safety.

    8:52 a.m.

    Donald Trump says he wants a database, watch lists and unspecified other “checks and balances” to track Muslims in the U.S.

    On ABC’s “This Week,” Trump was asked whether he rules out a database on all Muslims in the U.S.

    Trump says: “No, not at all. I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watch lists. We want to go with databases.”

    His comments were something of a change from what the GOP front-runner has said in recent days.

    On Thursday, an NBC News reporter pressed Trump in Iowa on whether there should be a database for tracking Muslims in the U.S. Trump replied: “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases.”

    Would he put such a database in place as president?

    “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”

    He tried in another interview to clarify that position, suggesting a watch list for the Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S.

    8:50 a.m.

    Donald Trump says “trouble’s coming out of the mosques” in the United States and “we’re being foolish, we’re kidding ourselves” if law enforcement doesn’t keep close surveillance on those houses of worship.

    The Republican presidential candidate says such monitoring is needed as part of a terrorism-fighting strategy – even if there’s strong push-back to that idea. He says “we’ve taken political correctness to a point where we can’t do anything as a country anymore.”

    He tells “Fox and Friends” why he thinks it’s imperative to conduct such surveillance in the country: “The problem’s not coming out of the middle of Sweden. It’s not coming out of Norway. It’s not coming out of Denmark.”

    The post Trump and Carson repeat calls to spy on U.S. Muslims appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican U.S. presidential candidates Marco Rubio (L), Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz greet the crowd at the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines, Iowa November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich - RTX1V439

    GOP U.S. presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz greet a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa on Nov. 20, 2015. When it comes to climate science, most of the Republican contenders are flunking, according to a panel of scientists who reviewed candidates’ comments for the AP. Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — When it comes to climate science, two of the three Democratic presidential candidates are A students, while most of the Republican contenders are flunking, according to a panel of scientists who reviewed candidates’ comments.

    At the request of The Associated Press, eight climate and biological scientists graded for scientific accuracy what a dozen top candidates said in debates, interviews and tweets, using a 0 to 100 scale.

    To try to eliminate possible bias, the candidates’ comments were stripped of names and given randomly generated numbers, so the professors would not know who made each statement they were grading. Also, the scientists who did the grading were chosen by professional scientific societies.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had the highest average score at 94. Three scientists did not assign former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley a score, saying his statements mostly were about policy, which they could not grade, instead of checkable science.

    Two used similar reasoning to skip grading New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and one did the same for businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had the lowest score, an average of 6. All eight put Cruz at the bottom of the class.

    “This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner,” Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor, wrote of Cruz’s statements. “That sort of ignorance would be dangerous in a doorman, let alone a president.”

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with an 87, had the lowest score among the Democrats, dinged for an exaggeration when he said global warming could make Earth uninhabitable. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush scored the highest among Republicans, 64, but one grader gave him a perfect 100. Bush was the only Republican candidate who got a passing grade on climate in the exercise.

    Below Clinton’s 94 were O’Malley with 91; Sanders, 87; Bush, 64; Christie, 54; Ohio Gov. John Kasich, 47; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, 38; Fiorina, 28; Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 21; businessman Donald Trump, 15; retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, 13; and Cruz with 6.

    For the Republicans, climate change came up more in interviews than in their four debates. But Rubio did confront the issue in the Sept. 16 debate in a way that earned him bad grades from some scientists.

    “We are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing, to change our climate, to change our weather, because America is a lot of things, the greatest country in the world, absolutely,” Rubio said. “But America is not a planet. And we are not even the largest carbon producer anymore. China is. And they’re drilling a hole and digging anywhere in the world that they can get ahold of.”

    Scientists dispute Rubio’s argument that because China is now the top emitter, the U.S. can do little to change the future climate. The U.S. spews about 17 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, “so big cuts here would still make a big difference globally,” said geochemist Louisa Bradtmiller at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Rubio’s inference that China is not doing much about global warming “is out of date. The Chinese are implementing a cap-and-trade system in their country to reduce emissions,” said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University.

    At an August event In California’s Orange County, Cruz told an interviewer, “If you look at satellite data for the last 18 years, there’s been zero warming. … The satellite says it ain’t happening.”

    Florida State University’s James Elsner said ground data show every decade has been warmer than the last since the middle of the 20th century and satellite data-based observations “show continued warming over the past several decades.”

    In fact, federal ground-based data, which scientists said is more reliable than satellites, show that 15 of the 17 years after 1997 have been warmer than 1997 and 2015 is on track to top 2014 as the warmest year on record.

    Scientists singled out Sanders for overstatement in the first Democratic presidential debate.

    “The scientific community is telling us that if we do not address the global crisis of climate change, transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, the planet that we’re going to be leaving our kids and our grandchildren may well not be habitable,” Sanders said.

    Dessler said, “I would not say that the planet will become uninhabitable. Regardless of what we do, some humans will survive.” Harvard’s Jim McCarthy also called the comment an overstatement, as did other scientists when Sanders said it. Recent research on the worst heat projections in the hottest area, the Persian Gulf, finds that toward the end of the century there will be a few days each decade or so when humans cannot survive outside, but can live with air conditioning indoors.

    Trump brought out some of the more colorful and terse critiques.

    “It could be warming and it’s going to start to cool at some point,” Trump said in a September radio interview. “And you know in the 1920s people talked about global cooling. I don’t know if you know that or not. They thought the Earth was cooling. Now it’s global warming. Actually, we’ve had times where the weather wasn’t working out so they changed it to extreme weather and they have all different names, you know, so that it fits the bill.”

    McCarthy, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called Trump’s comments “nonsense,” while Emmanuel Vincent, a climate scientist at the University of California, Merced, said, “the candidate does not appear to have any commitment to accuracy.”

    The eight scientists are Mann, Dessler, Elsner, McCarthy, Bradtmiller, Vincent, William Easterling at Pennsylvania State University and Matthew Huber at the University of New Hampshire.

    SUBSCRIBE: Get the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks delivered to your inbox every week.

    The post Fact checking the presidential candidates on climate science appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    cartoonfrance

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    STEPHEN FEE: Cartoonist and father of three Frederic Benaglia was glued to the TV last weekend, watching coverage of the Paris attacks with his 15-year-old son.

    FREDERIC BENAGLIA, CARTOONIST: First, we heard the explosions, and then we saw the news that there were attacks in the neighborhood where we hang out all the time and where we have friends. We were obviously horrified.

    STEPHEN FEE: Benaglia draws cartoons for one of France’s most popular children’s magazines, Astrapi, which is geared to kids seven to eleven years old.

    FREDERIC BENAGLIA, CARTOONIST: The next day we thought, ‘What can we do to explain this to kids?’ It’s traumatic for them. These events are really, really tough.

    STEPHEN FEE: Benaglia and his editor Gwenaelle Boulet, who happens to be his wife, decided to produce a special edition to explain the attacks.

    GWENAELLE BOULET, EDITOR, ASTRAPI: A lot of kids were afraid — afraid that the bad guys would come to their houses. That was the big question. They were wondering, ‘Can the bad guys come and get me?’

    STEPHEN FEE: So Boulet and Bengalia did what they do best: she began to write, and he began to draw.

    FREDERIC BENAGLIA, CARTOONIST: I didn’t want something too aggressive, I didn’t want images of the Eiffel Tower broken or bloodied, but I wanted to show the pain. I think that’s the feeling we all had. We’re a very diverse society. I wanted to show black people, Arabs, white people, Asians — all the nationalities. That was really important.

    STEPHEN FEE: In just 24 hours, Boulet and Benaglia produced a two-page free-to-download version of their magazine.

    Since they posted it online a week ago, the website has had nearly 2 million visitors.

    FREDERIC BENAGLIA, CARTOONIST: The first drawing was about compassion and sadness. The second was more about revolt or resistance, and then it ends with the word ‘freedom.’ Freedom is an important word.

    It shows to children that you can’t give up, you have to protect yourself with this word and with this concept. These are concepts that are not easy to understand for kids, and sometimes a drawing is easier to understand than words.

    STEPHEN FEE: Child psychologist Cecile Vienot says illustrations like those in Astrapi’s special edition can help children cope with traumatic events.

    CECILE VIENOT, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST: You can try to represent it in a more upbeat way. You can choose colors, or try to explain the values that were under attack.

    There are illustrators that have tried to recreate a scene by drawing people in a cafe on a terrace to show how our values were impacted, more than showing an actual scene of a terror attack.

    STEPHEN FEE: Boulet says they didn’t want to shy away from dealing with a difficult topic. But the next issue of the magazine probably won’t address the Paris attacks.

    GWENAELLE BOULET, EDITOR, ASTRAPI: We have to be careful, because kids don’t have the same timing as adults. Adults need to revisit things to fully understand them. But kids also have a right, and it’s the right to move on, to forget, to lead their lives as children, and to play.

    The post This cartoon is teaching children in France how to cope after the terror attacks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    President Barack Obama holds a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015. Obama encouraged Americans not to be terrorized by ISIS, and cautioned against overreacting to the Paris attacks. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Barack Obama holds a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 22, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Trying to reassure a nation on edge, President Barack Obama said Sunday the Islamic State group “cannot strike a mortal blow” against the U.S., and he warned that overreacting to the Paris attacks would play into extremists’ hands. “We will destroy this terrorist organization,” he vowed.

    Ending a trip to Asia, Obama implored Americans not to let the specter of terror cause them to compromise their values or change the way they live.

    “We do not succumb to fear,” he said. “The most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we’re not afraid, to not elevate them, to somehow buy into their fantasy that they’re doing something important,” Obama said, using an acronym for the terrorist organization.

    Since IS militants killed 130 in France nine days ago, Obama’s strategy has come under repeated questioning. He dismissed the group’s global prowess of IS and said, “They’re a bunch of killers with good social media.”

    Rejecting the notion of an existential threat, Obama said IS “can’t beat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us into being afraid.”

    “I think it is absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business,” Obama said. The president and world leaders are set to gather in Paris next week for long-scheduled climate talks. The White House has insisted there will be no change in plans.

    Obama also said there was an “increasing awareness” by Russian President Vladimir Putin that IS is Moscow’s gravest threat in the Middle East. IS claimed responsibility for downing a Russian passenger jet in Egypt last month with 224 on board.

    Long before that, Obama had urged Putin to use Russia’s air campaign in Syria to target IS, not U.S.-backed rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, a Moscow ally. U.S. officials have said Russia has started focusing some airstrikes against IS. Obama said it was not clear whether Putin could work effectively with the U.S.-led coalition.

    Putin “needs to go after the people who killed Russia’s citizens,” Obama said. The two met last week during an economic summit in Turkey.

    Nearly five years of fighting between Assad and Syrian rebels has created a vacuum that allowed IS to thrive in both Syria and Iraq. More recently, the militant group has started exporting violence outside its stronghold, radiating fears across the West. U.S. officials have said IS aspires to attack America but they have played down any specific threat.

    As Obama spoke in the Malaysian capital, other Western leaders were stepping up their rhetoric against IS, while the European diplomatic hub of Brussels remained under the highest threat level for the second day in a row. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the West would “annihilate Islamic State worldwide.”

    After Obama’s return to Washington early Monday, he will prepare for a White House meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, where the leaders will discuss bolstering the international coalition fighting IS. Hollande then goes to Russia for similar talks with Putin.

    U.S.-led military efforts come amid parallel talks about a diplomatic solution to end Syria’s civil war. The violence has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions, leading to a migrant crisis in Europe and intense concerns in the U.S. about Obama’s plan to take in thousands of Syrian refugees.

    U.S. lawmakers are pushing legislation to tighten screening requirements for Syrian refugees; some Republican presidential candidates want to halt their entry. In Turkey and the Philippines last week, Obama pushed back on those proposals as un-American, drawing criticism from some who said he failed to grasp Americans’ post-Paris fears.

    The president has since softened his tone. His administration tried to convince U.S. House members that the refugee screening process was sufficient, and Obama began entertaining a U.S. Senate proposal to deny visa waivers to recent visitors to Iraq and Syria. That program lets foreigners enter the U.S. without visas from 38 countries for short stays.

    “The American people are right to be concerned,” Obama said Sunday. Still, he said there’s a difference between vigilance and surrendering to fears “that lead us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live.”

    Obama’s insistence that Americans not be terrorized carried echoes of the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attacks, which brought significant changes to U.S. air travel, civil liberties law and views about Muslims in the U.S. Then, as in now, leaders asked Americans not to “let the terrorists win.”

    “Our nation was horrified, but it’s not going to be terrorized,” President George W. Bush declared five days after those attacks. “We’re a nation that can’t be cowed by evil-doers.”

    Obama brought up the 9/11 analogy when he answered questions at a news conference Sunday. He said the U.S. had survived mass casualties before and pointed out that New York’s Times Square was again filled with people – “rightly so.”

    “I was very proud of the fact that the fundamental nature of America and how we treated each other did not change,” Obama said. “We’ve made some bad decisions subsequent to that attack in part based on fear, and that’s why we have to be cautious.”

    The post Obama: ISIS ‘cannot strike a mortal blow’ against U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham, Alabama, Nov. 21, 2015. In a Sunday appearance on ABC's "This Week,” Trump refused to rule out a third-party presidential run and reiterated his support for creating a database to track Muslims in the U.S. Photo by Marvin Gentry/Reuters

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex in Birmingham, Alabama, Nov. 21, 2015. In a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Trump refused to rule out a third-party presidential run and reiterated his support for creating a database to track Muslims in the U.S. Photo by Marvin Gentry/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Republican Donald Trump on Sunday refused to rule out an independent bid for president in 2016, and he dug in on creating a database to track Muslims in the U.S.

    Asked on ABC’s “This Week” whether he would consider a third-party run if GOP opponents try “to take you out,” Trump said, “I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly. If I’m treated fairly, I’m fine.”

    The billionaire and former reality show star is leading the race for the GOP nomination for the fourth straight month, with Republican establishment candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio far behind. All the GOP candidates, Trump included, have signed a pledge to support the party’s eventual presidential nominee and forgo independent runs in 2016.

    He suggested that his lead in the polls, unshaken by disparaging remarks he’s made about ethnic groups or his lack of specifics on foreign policy, has vexed the Republican party.

    “They can’t understand, you know, how come an outsider can be doing so well within the party,” Trump said.

    His standing in national polls has only solidified since recent Islamic militant attacks in Europe, particularly the Nov. 13 strikes on Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds of others. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for those attacks. The upsurge in violence has put pressure on the candidates from outside government, primarily Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who have little foreign policy or national security experience.

    Trump has pledged to be the toughest of all candidates toward people posing threats to the U.S. On Sunday said he would back ways to track Muslims in the U.S. and also bring back waterboarding on terrorism suspects.

    “I would bring it back, yes. I would bring it back. I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they’d do to us,” he said.

    Trump this weekend has tried to back away from his support for a government database to track Muslims in the United States, an idea that drew sharp rebukes from his GOP rivals and disbelief from legal experts. On Thursday, an NBC News reporter pressed Trump in Iowa on whether there should be a database for tracking Muslims in the U.S. Trump replied: “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases.”

    Would he put such a database in place as president?

    “I would certainly implement that. Absolutely.”

    He tried in another interview to clarify that position, suggesting a “watch list” for the Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S.

    On ABC Sunday, Trump was asked if he rules out a database on all Muslims in the U.S.

    “No, not at all,” Trump said. “I definitely want a database and other checks and balances. We want to go with watch lists. We want to go with databases.”

    The post Trump will not rule out independent run in 2016 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Chinese Phoenix Television Channel, Damascus, November 22, 2015. Despite U.S. calls for Assad to step down, the embattled Syrian president appears poised to outlast President Barack Obama in office. Photo by Reuters via Syrian Arab News Agency

    Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks during an interview with the Chinese Phoenix Television Channel, Damascus, November 22, 2015. Despite U.S. calls for Assad to step down, the embattled Syrian president appears poised to outlast President Barack Obama in office. Photo by Reuters via Syrian Arab News Agency

    WASHINGTON — Bashar Assad’s presidency looks likely to outlast Barack Obama’s.

    As the United States has turned its attention to defeating the Islamic State group, it has softened its stance on the Syrian leader. More than four years ago, Obama demanded that Assad leave power. Administration officials later said Assad did not have to step down on “Day One” of a political transition. Now, they are going further.

    A peace plan agreed to last weekend by 17 nations meeting in Vienna says nothing about Assad’s future, but states that “free and fair elections would be held pursuant to the new constitution within 18 months.” To clarify the timeline, the State Department said this past week that the clock starts once Assad’s representatives and opposition figures begin talks on a constitution. The vote would determine a new parliament, though not necessarily a new president.

    Getting to constitutional talks will be difficult. It implies that Syria’s warring parties first reach a cease-fire and establish a transition government – something unattainable so far. Neither Syria’s government nor its fractured opposition has endorsed the strategy yet or done much to advance it.

    “Nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria,” Assad recently told Italian state television. Assad considers anyone fighting him, including moderate rebels, to be terrorists.

    Obama countered: “I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power. … Even if I said that was OK, I still don’t think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people, the majority of them, to agree to that kind of outcome. And you couldn’t get a number of their neighbors to agree to that outcome, as well.”

    Syria was the focus for Secretary of State John Kerry as he headed to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday for talks with government leaders. Many more discussions with Arab officials are planned over the next months.

    The uncertainty of the new peace process, particularly as it pertains to Assad, points to Washington’s evolution from early in the civil war, when Obama and other officials boldly stated the Syrian president’s days were “numbered” and sought his immediate departure.

    The focus of Washington – and much of the world – has shifted now to IS, whose most recent attack killed at least 130 people in Paris on Nov. 13. As a result, the U.S. is cooperating with Russia and Iran, countries it once tried to ostracize because of their support for Syria.

    The hope is peace between Assad’s forces and moderate rebels will allow everyone to work together to defeat IS.

    The U.S. and its allies say Assad remains responsible for far more Syrian deaths than IS. His military has used chemical weapons and continues to drop barrel bombs that indiscriminately hit foes and civilians alike.

    But for all their brutality, Assad’s forces are not directing attacks in European capitals, beheading American journalists or downing Russian passenger jets. Unlike IS, Assad has powerful patrons in Moscow and Tehran. Russian airstrikes since September have helped stiffen the Syrian government’s defenses, while Iranian forces and proxy Hezbollah militants have added muscle to its ground operations.

    The U.S. is trying to take all these considerations into account as it refines a common strategy with partners in Europe and the Arab world that see Syria’s conflict differently. The Europeans are mostly concerned about the refugee crisis across their continent, and they fear more deadly attacks. Saudi Arabia and others backing the rebels want foremost to defeat Iran, which they would see in Assad’s downfall.

    The U.S. says both sets of goals are connected. To defeat IS, the president said last month there has “got to be a change a government,” rejecting any approach that returns Syria to the “status quo ante.” The war has killed more than 300,000 people and uprooted some 12 million.

    The Nov. 14 statement from the Vienna talks, involving the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and more than a dozen other governments, avoids the most critical questions to achieve that. It does not outline which opposition groups can negotiate with Assad and which are considered terrorist groups. Assad isn’t even mentioned.

    In one way, vagueness is the statement’s strength, allowing Iran and Russia to make common cause in the search for peace. But it may not satisfy everyone’s idea of a “transition.”

    By itself, the plan offers no clear path for Assad’s departure, raising the prospect of the embattled Syrian leader still in office when Obama’s presidency ends on Jan. 20, 2017.

    Western diplomats described a poker game being played between the U.S. and its own allies. U.S. officials said that while they accept the idea that Assad won’t leave office immediately, the plan for his exit will have to be clarified as part of the diplomatic process.

    Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are being counted on to persuade the Syrian opposition to support the plan, but will only do so if they get a guarantee on Assad. The U.S. and its European partners cannot offer that guarantee, according to the diplomats, who were not authorized to discuss the talks publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    If the opposition rejects talking, Assad will not resign as a result. The rebels would not gain sufficient strength to defeat him on the battlefield, and Russia and Iran would not stop supporting him.

    Even if the plan is accepted by all and works to the best of expectations, Assad would be appear locked in for a transition process that could extend deep into 2017 or longer.

    If after 18 months or two years, IS is defeated and calm is restored, opposition groups would risk reigniting Syria’s conflict by reasserting demands for Assad’s ouster. World and regional powers would face the same quandary.

    For these reasons, some Western diplomats have begun talking about the possibility of Assad staying on indefinitely as a ceremonial president, though stripped of his control over the nation’s security and intelligence apparatuses.

    It’s unclear whether any of the sides in the fighting would see that as an acceptable compromise.

    The post Despite calls for ouster, Assad’s presidency likely to outlast Obama’s appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz greets supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, Nov. 12, 2015. Cruz has moderated his normally-strident rhetoric recently in an attempt to cast himself as an electable alternative to Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the current GOP front-runners. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz greets supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, Nov. 12, 2015. Cruz has moderated his normally-strident rhetoric recently in an attempt to cast himself as an electable alternative to Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the current GOP front-runners. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Ted Cruz is among the most hated men in Washington, reviled by leaders of both parties as an ideological hard-liner loyal only to the far-right of the conservative movement.

    But racing down an Iowa highway on a snowy weekend morning, a solemn Cruz suggested some of his Republican rivals for president have amped up their rhetoric too much – especially on policy toward people who are in the U.S. illegally.

    “Tone matters,” Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, told The Associated Press in an interview between campaign stops. “Are there some in the Republican Party whose rhetoric is unhelpful with regard to immigration? Yes.”

    Donald Trump’s call for a database to track Muslims in the U.S. is one example, Cruz says. But he refused to condemn the rhetoric of another Republican who could help him win Iowa’s leadoff caucuses, Rep. Steve King, the influential conservative who has described immigrants living in the country illegally as disease-ridden-and spent the weekend campaigning at Cruz’s side.

    “I cannot help the language that others use,” Cruz said in the interview. “I can only help the words that come out of my own mouth.”

    Taken together, they are remarkable statements for a conservative firebrand who rarely, if ever, shows signs of moderation. Yet in the crowded and unruly 2016 Republican primary, Cruz is trying to position himself as the grown-up alternative to Trump and Ben Carson, two inexperienced and undisciplined front-runners who have so far captivated their party’s most passionate voters by riding a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

    As Carson’s support appears to soften, and Trump struggles to say with precision what are his exact plans for increasing surveillance of potential threats in the wake of the Paris attacks, Cruz is ramping up his pitch and trying to cast himself not just as an outsider – but an electable outsider at a time of widespread mistrust of Washington.

    “I do not believe either one of them is going to be the nominee,” Cruz told the AP about Carson and Trump. “I am working very hard to win every one of their supporters.”

    Cruz spoke to AP at the end of a week in which Carson, who previously said he wouldn’t support a Muslim president, likened dealing with Syrian refugees to the handling of “rabid dogs” and said he would support government monitoring of any group deemed radical and “anti-American.”

    Having described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals in his announcement speech, Trump this week said he would “absolutely” support a mandatory database to track Muslims in the U.S. He later said he wanted a “watch list” for Syrian refugees and “surveillance of certain mosques.”

    To be sure, Cruz has reacted aggressively to the Paris attacks and his is targeting same slice of the Republican electorate as the two front-runners. He introduced legislation this week entitled the “Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act” that would allow U.S. entry only to Christian fleeing war-torn Syria. That comes after Cruz, whose Cuban-born father first immigrated to Canada and then to the U.S., last week outlined an immigration policy that would dramatically increase deportations, add hundreds of miles to the wall on the Mexican border and suspend a program that grants work visas to high-skilled immigrants, a reversal of his previous position.

    But the Harvard-educated attorney who served five years as the Texas solicitor general has done so while avoiding the explosive language employed by Trump and Carson, which critics say reeks of xenophobia – if not outright bigotry.

    “I am the son of an immigrant who came from Cuba with nothing, came here legally,” Cruz said. “And my view, which I think the vast majority of Americans share, is very simple: Legal good. Illegal bad.”

    And yet even while suggesting some Republicans have gone too far with their rhetoric, Cruz spent the weekend campaigning alongside Iowa Rep. Steve King, a favorite of evangelical voters and one of his party’s most outspoken hardliners on the issue.

    King, who endorsed Cruz this week, has described immigrants living in the country illegally as disease-ridden and compared them to drug mules and livestock. He is perhaps best-known for a 2013 comment attacking children of such immigrants: “For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds – and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

    With King riding in the second vehicle of Cruz’s two-car caravan, Cruz refused to condemn such comments when pressed. He also declined to name any Republicans whose rhetoric on immigration has been “unhelpful.”

    “I am not going to approach this election like a theater critic – giving my reviews of every word uttered by every other Republican,” Cruz said. “I’m going to focus on my message.”

    And while that message may be tempered compared to that Trump and Carson, Cruz’s efforts to paint himself as the electable outsider haven’t won over some of his critics.

    “I have serious reservations at this point about Ted Cruz,” said Alfonso Aguilar, a Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration and now leads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles

    “He’s allied himself with Steve King,” Aguilar said, suggesting that Cruz has turned his back on his immigrant roots.

    King, meanwhile, heaped praise on Cruz as they crisscrossed Iowa together. The congressman introduced the presidential contender as “the man I believe will restore America’s soul.”

    The post Cruz moderates tone, hoping to boost electability appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A guitar with a message bearing France's national motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite", is seen among flowers left in tribute to victims near the Bataclan concert hall, one of the sites of last Friday's deadly attacks, in Paris, France, November 21, 2015.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau - RTX1V583

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    MALCOLM BRABANT: After living in Paris for 13 years, Yorkshire-born fashion design assistant Sarah Perks says she feels more French than British, especially now that she survived the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert hall.

    So, how are you doing?

    SARAH PERKS: I am not quite sure that it has sunk in, and more than anything, I am incredibly lucky, but otherwise gladness of miraculously of being alive sort of overcomes everything else and a little bit numb.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: What did you see?

    SARAH PERKS: I assumed it was just two people shooting at one another, and that at one point one of them would get the other one, and it would all be over and done with.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: But as she cautiously glanced around and saw the carnage, Sarah realized the magnitude of what was happening.

    SARAH PERKS: I mean, obviously, I understood it was serious from the amount, the quantity of gun noises and also from the fact that I was visibly not far at all from one of the people shooting, because there were a lot of cases around me, a lot of, like, bullet shells.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: For more than two hours, Sarah lay on the ground as the terrorists committed murder again and again. Off camera, she showed us a bruise where a bullet grazed her shoulder.

    SARAH PERKS: Then the terrorists gave a phone number, said that they had hostages, obviously, and then said that they had explosives. So that’s when I was really like, ‘Oh God, we’re not going to get out of here alive.’

    MALCOLM BRABANT: How did you manage to hold it together?

    SARAH PERKS: I don’t know, you just do. Everyone was very, very quiet, very silent. I mean, I’m not exactly going to go, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m still alive, come get me.’

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Describe what those two-and-a-quarter-hours were like?

    SARAH PERKS:Very long. Very, very long. Very frightening, obviously, very frightening,

    MALCOLM BRABANT: So were you playing dead, basically?

    SARAH PERKS: Most people were, yeah, the ones that got out, at least.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Eventually, French special forces moved in…killing one terrorist. Two others blew themselves up. Sarah and her fellow hostages were ushered to safety.

    Do you have survivor’s guilt?

    SARAH PERKS: Yes, of course, I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I am not more outwardly, visibly showing trauma for the people that have lost their lives.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Sarah believes one motive of the terrorists and their controllers was to divide Western society. She says her view of Muslims won’t change.

    SARAH PERKS: I really hope that people are not going to allow it as an excuse for racism. Not everyone named Mohammed is a terrorist. They’re my friends, they’re my coworkers, people that I buy apples from on a Sunday.

    They’re people I sit with in the Metro — they give up their seat for me. This has nothing to with Islam. These people are not about religion — they are ill, they’re ill.

    The post Bataclan survivor: Attacks in Paris ‘no excuse for racism’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ALISON STEWART, PBS ANCHOR: The often contentious debate about national educational standards and testing kids has taken another twist in a state considered to be a leader in education reform.

    Massachusetts last week decided to reject the tests based on federal Common Core standards, tests that are still used in many other states. Instead, the state of Massachusetts will develop its own exams to measure student progress.

    New York Times reporter Kate Zernike is covering this story and joins me now. And Kate, what’s great about you is that you wrote for The Boston Globe for years. So, you have been covering this for a long time.

    KATE ZERNIKE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right.

    ALISON STEWART: What was the catalyst in Massachusetts that made the board say, hey, we want to create our own test, which is kind of a hybrid thing as opposed to sticking with the multi-state test?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think it just came under a lot of political fire. And like other places in the country, the fire came not just from the left or the right, but from both sides.

    And really from the middle from a lot of parents who didn’t feel they had a really good argument on why we would want a national test which might allow us to compare to other states.

    So you had the right saying this is federal overreach, you had teachers unions saying this is – you’re trying to be punitive, you are trying to tie this to teachers’ evaluations.

    Then a lot of parents who are saying what is the point of a national test anyway whether we have one to begin with?

    ALISON STEWART: What’s interesting about this also is there’s a money component, as with most things, that the money that schools get is tied to test scores, correct?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Right.

    ALISON STEWART: How does this factor into this change?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I mean, I guess, you know, Massachusetts has always had some accountability since the 1993 Education Reform Act.

    And that’s what’s interesting about this story is that there was, for a long time, consensus in Massachusetts around the idea of having common standards and common high-stakes tests that kids had to past for graduation.

    What the federal government did – and the standards weren’t created by the federal government, they were created by the National Governor’s Association and other groups.

    But what the federal government did was say we’re going to fund these tests. And we want as a requirement of your federal funding, you’re going to have to sign on to these standards and to these tests. And that’s where people began to feel like this was punitive, this was overreach by the federal government.

    ALISON STEWART: People watching this might think, well, hasn’t Massachusetts always done incredibly well on the testing? What’s the need for a change?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think Massachusetts did — you’re right. Under its previous system of standards and tests, it rose to the top of the national rankings.

    But what they found was they were still having a lot of students who were showing up to college needing remedial education. And so they had periodically updated their standards.

    And so they decided that they would join this National Governors Association effort to write national standards.

    ALISON STEWART: All right. So let’s go dig down a little bit. This is actually going to be a hybrid test? Can you explain to our viewers what’s going on with this new Massachusetts test?

    KATE ZERNIKE: So there was two tests that were created under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. They’re PARCC and the Smarter Balance test. Massachusetts was part of the PARCC consortium of testing.

    Massachusetts will take some questions from the PARCC exam, but it will continue to call – but the test will be created for Massachusetts.

    It will – excuse me — be tied more to Massachusetts’ standards and it will be called MCAS, which is the name of the test that Massachusetts – the state-specific test that Massachusetts has used for years.

    ALISON STEWART: What is the difference between the two? Like, what are they cherry picking from one test and the other?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think the argument for PARCC was it’s tied to the Common Core standards, which are these national standards that we’ve had.

    The MCAS was tied to their old standards. I think a lot of people would say, well, we have these standards.

    What’s wrong with them? The state felt that it was really upgrading the standards to tie them to the Common Core standards.

    ALISON STEWART: Let’s pull back outside of Massachusetts. This influential state makes this big move. What does this mean in the bigger picture for Common Core?

    KATE ZERNIKE: Well, I think, you know, the next step in Massachusetts is going to be – there’s a ballot initiative or a proposed ballot initiative that would repeal Common Core there, which would really be a statement.

    But I think what this means for the test, which is tied to the Common Core, is a lot of other states are going to look and say, wow, if Massachusetts, which was kind of this gold, Good Housekeeping seal of approval, if they pull back, then what’s the point of us doing this? Maybe this test isn’t valid.

    I think what we’re going to see is a lot of this accountability in testing devolve back to the states instead of at the national level, which is where it’s been for the last five years.

    ALISON STEWART: Kate Zernike from The New York Times. Thanks so much.

    KATE ZERNIKE: Thanks.

    The post Massachusetts drops Common Core, will develop own student evaluations appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A candle is placed during a vigil in Place de la Republique following the series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 15, 2015.    REUTERS/Benoit Tessier - RTS76Z8

    A candle is placed during a vigil in Place de la Republique following the series of deadly attacks in Paris, November 15, 2015. Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters.

    Last Friday evening, I was getting ready to leave the newsroom in New York, looking forward to a do-nothing weekend, when the first reports of the Paris attacks began coming in.

    My colleagues and I watched cable news and Twitter reports about hostages and suicide vests; what unfolded was a Friday night in the City of Light destroyed by extremists looking to kill and maim as many people possible.

    Within 24 hours, I was on a plane en route to Paris to report on the aftermath of the attacks.

    There’s often a pattern to these events. Reporters from around the world descend on a single spot — in the case of Paris, it’s the Place de la Republique, where a statue of Marianne, the symbol of the French republic, presides over the busy square.

    Are my questions, is my intrusiveness, causing more harm than good?
    White satellite trucks occupy every curbside parking space. Reporters mill around the sites of makeshift memorials, introducing themselves and looking to interview eyewitnesses and victims. You run into old colleagues from other networks; producers, camera operators and correspondents.

    Journalists who find themselves covering a tragic story as it unfolds often hear a nagging voice in their heads: What am I doing that’s different? Am I telling my audience anything they don’t already know? Are my questions, is my intrusiveness, causing more harm than good?

    Tonight on @newshour @sreenivasan asks Parisians how France should respond to Friday’s attacks.

    A photo posted by @stephenmfee on

    As Paris began to re-emerge from its deadliest hours since World War II, our team set out to interview residents around the city and ask their opinions about how the country should react.

    We spent the morning at the Gare du Nord railway station asking about borders and refugees, when we saw police stop a group of young men — none over the age of 30 — and ask for their passports. They carried backpacks and bedrolls, but they looked like they hadn’t slept in days.

    We followed them outside where we learned what the police suspected, that they were refugees. While he wouldn’t speak on camera, I spoke with a 22-year-old from Iraqi Kurdistan. He’d overstayed France’s 30-day legal window to stay in the country and was looking to board the next train toward Calais, where refugees are massed in camps looking to continue on to the United Kingdom. 

    As the week wore on, we spoke to experts and politicians, but I was personally struck by the stories we learned from the young Parisians who spend their evenings in the bars and cafes in the 10th district where the attacks took place.

    I reported about young Parisians who struggle to identify as both Muslim and French. I helped film an interview with a British woman who was held hostage in the Bataclan, laying on the floor hoping a gunman standing just above her wouldn’t notice she was alive.

    I met the editor of a children’s magazine and her cartoonist husband who created a special issue of their publication to explain the attacks to kids. They were gracious enough to invite us into their suburban home. Sitting at their dining room table, I learned the word for fork (fourchette) from their two-year-old son.

    Parisians sing the national anthem following a moment of silence. A video posted by @stephenmfee on

    After this weekend, our small team will leave Paris. Having been here for just a week, I hope that what we’ve done has added value and nuance to a story that thousands of reporters have been covering.

    Soon it will be on to the next story, the next city, the next interview. But as always, I’m grateful for the kindness of total strangers willing to share their personal stories and opinions.

    The best I can hope for is that our audience learned as much from them as I did.

    The post What I learned reporting in the wake of Paris’s deadliest hours since WWII appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A man (center) identified as Al Karar the Iraqi, an Islamic State fighter, speaks at an undisclosed location in this image taken from undated video footage released by the Islamic State group. The group warned in the video on Nov. 16, 2015 that countries taking part in airstrikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to attack in Washington, D.C. Screen image from Reuters

    In this image taken from undated video footage released by the Islamic State group, the group warns that countries taking part in airstrikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France. Screen image from Reuters

    Thousands of foreign fighters have flocked to the Islamic State militant group to join its worldwide jihad. Recruits recently set off explosives and opened fire on civilians in the name of an apocalyptic ideology that some say is part of the group’s appeal.

    Why is this brutal organization attracting followers? We have a roundup of articles that delve into the militants’ core beliefs and tactics. It all seems to boil down to this: whether or not the fighters fully understood Islam, they all subscribed to the group’s version of war.

    1. Why ISIS Fights — by Martin Chulov of the Guardian

    Five men in Syria and Iraq describe why they were motivated to join the Islamic State movement and fight for the caliphate. The reasons are lofty, including bringing Islam back to all of its glory:

    “They see themselves as underdogs, fired by a sense of divine mission” and they “had a sense of privilege and pride that their generation was the one that had been chosen to right the wrongs of the past.”

    But the motivations are sectarian as well:

    “Now, close to 1,500 years later, have come waves of fighters who paid strict heed to these prophecies — and see the rise of Islamic State as a crucial turning point in a centuries-long battle of civilizations. For their purposes, the ‘Persians’ today are not simply Iran, but also the Alawite regime that controls Syria and the Shia militias from around the region who have come to its defense.”

    2. What I Discovered from Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters — by Lydia Wilson for the Nation

    Not every fighter fits the profile of the typical Islamic State jihadist, writes Wilson, a research fellow at the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at the University of Oxford. One prisoner told her:

    “Life under the Islamic State was just terror, he says; he only fought because he was terrorized. Others may have done it from belief, but he did not. His family needed the money, and this was the only opportunity to provide for them.

    “But a detailed, or even superficial, knowledge of Islam isn’t necessarily relevant to the ideal of fighting for an Islamic State, as we have seen from the Amazon order of Islam for Dummies by one British fighter bound for ISIS,” Wilson notes.

    3. Is It Too Late to Solve the Mess in the Middle East? — by Liz Sly of the Washington Post

    In terms of exerting territorial control, the Islamic State group is capitalizing on collapsed countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, Sly writes.

    “Civil wars are raging in all of them. World powers have lined up on different sides of those wars. And the chaos has given the heirs to the legacy of Osama bin Laden the greatest gift they could have hoped for: the gift of time and space.”

    They move in and build a proto-state, managing territory, raising taxes and maintaining an army.

    Flight deck crew work around a Super Etendard jet fighter aboard the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before its departure from the naval base of Toulon, France, on Nov. 18, 2015. The aircraft carrier supported operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Photo by Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

    Flight deck crew work around a Super Etendard jet fighter aboard the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before its departure from the naval base of Toulon, France, on Nov. 18, 2015. The aircraft carrier supported operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Photo by Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

    4. What ISIS Really Wants — by Graeme Wood of the Atlantic

    In formulating a response to the Islamic State onslaught, the notion that the Islamic State group is al-Qaida’s scrappy little brother is inaccurate, Wood writes. “The Islamic State supporters I spoke with still refer to Osama bin Laden as ‘Sheikh Osama,’ a title of honor. But jihadism has evolved since al-Qaida’s heyday, from about 1998 to 2003, and many jihadists disdain the group’s priorities and current leadership.”

    5. The Doomsday Scam — by C.J. Chivers of the New York Times

    On the Islamic State’s holiday wish list: red mercury, writes Chivers.

    “Red mercury — precious and rare, exceptionally dangerous and exorbitantly expensive, its properties unmatched by any compound known to science — was the stuff of doomsday daydreams.”

    But is the mysterious compound just a hoax?

    “Among specialists who investigated the claims, the doubts hardened to an unequivocal verdict: Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers.”

    6. Insight: War Turns Syria into Major Amphetamines Producer, Consumer — by Stephen Kalin of Reuters

    Another highly sought-after product is Captagon pills, as the potent amphetamine is known in the Middle East but not nearly as known in the West. It’s become a money-maker in Syria and a stimulant for fighters going to war.

    One drug control officer told Kalin about questioning protesters and fighters:

    “We would beat them, and they wouldn’t feel the pain. Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows,” he said. “We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier.”

    Syrian civilians also reportedly are experimenting with the pills, which sell for between $5 and $20, possibly helping fuel the conflict.

    The post 6 reads that explain the Islamic State group’s strategy and appeal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Mosquito. Photo by Janos Csongor Kerekes/via Getty Images

    Researchers are using a “gene drive” to create a new population of mosquitoes that have a malaria-blocking gene. Photo by Janos Csongor Kerekes via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — California researchers hatched some malaria-resistant mosquitoes and then gave evolution a shove — using a groundbreaking technology to ensure the insects pass on that protective gene as they reproduce, with implications far beyond the promise of fighting malaria.

    The experiment reported Monday involves what’s called a “gene drive,” a technique that, if it pans out, promises to alter the genetics of populations of insects and certain plants and animals faster than Mother Nature could.

    Normally, genes have a 50-50 chance of being inherited. University of California researchers created a strain of mosquitoes that could pass a specially engineered malaria-blocking gene to about 99 percent of their offspring.

    The mutant mosquitoes, kept in a secured lab, highlight the promise of this technology along with questions about when and how it might be safe to try it in the wild.

    “This is a major advance because it shows that gene drive interventions will likely be effective in mosquito vectors of disease,” said biologist Kevin Esvelt of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, a gene drive researcher who wasn’t involved with the newest study.

    But because no one knows how such rapid genetic change might impact habitats, Esvelt has urged the public to weigh in. The California study published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences adds some urgency.

    “This work suggests that we’re a hop, skip and jump away from actual gene drive candidates for eventual release” in nature, he said.

    Malaria kills more than half a million people a year, mostly children in Africa, and sickens about 200 million more. Mosquitoes pick up the parasite by biting an infected person, and spread it when they bite someone else. Mosquito-killing insecticides and bed nets are the main protection.

    At the University of California-Irvine, molecular biologist Anthony James is developing what he calls “sustainable technologies” — rather than killing mosquitoes, instead rendering them unable to infect people.

    James engineered immune system genes that could spur a mosquito’s body to develop antibodies to attack the parasite, so that it couldn’t transmit the infection. The new genes worked as intended when injected into the eggs of a particular malaria-spreading mosquito species, Anopheles stephensi.

    Altered mosquitoes would have to gradually spread their new genes by mating with wild mosquito populations — and the next challenge is how to speed that process quickly enough to make a dent in malaria in any given region.

    Enter gene drives, a technique that proponents say one day might be used to wipe out invasive species like kudzu or cane toads, or reverse pesticide resistance in weeds, or suppress insect populations. The idea comes from a few examples in nature where certain genes spread disproportionately, and scientists have longed for a way to control that process. Recently they’ve had some success using a powerful new tool named CRISPR-Cas9 that allows precise editing of DNA in living cells, sort of like cut-and-paste software.

    Earlier this year, University of California, San Diego, biologists Ethan Bier and Valentino Gantz announced a CRISPR-fueled gene drive that worked in fruit flies.

    For Monday’s study, the San Diego researchers teamed with James — packing the malaria-resistance genes with the CRISPR-based gene drive, boosting chances of inheriting the malaria protection by targeting the change to a specific spot in the mosquito’s reproductive DNA. To measure, they tacked on a fluorescence gene that made mosquitoes’ eyes look red if they harbored the new gene.

    The malaria protection spread remarkably well, proving the concept even though far more work is needed before this kind of mosquito could be tested in the wild, James said. Among the findings to be addressed was that the transgenic male mosquitoes passed their new trait to the next generation more efficiently than transgenic females did.

    Gene drive experiments are controversial. One worry is the possibility of altered organisms escaping the laboratory before scientists know how to use them. The California team took safeguards including special lab security and using a mosquito species that can’t survive in California’s climate.

    Additional questions involve what’s appropriate to try — wiping out a species or just altering it, for example — and how to approach such research in low-income countries.

    The prestigious National Academy of Sciences is studying ethical issues surrounding gene drive research, and the California team says countries that struggle with mosquito-borne diseases in particular should be involved. “Somebody sitting in the U.S. making up a list of rules has to appreciate that these countries have their own concerns,” James said.

    The post Researchers use new ‘gene drive’ to create malaria-resistant mosquitoes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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