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

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey in this December 1, 2014 file photo. Putin signed a decree imposing economic sanctions against Turkey on Saturday, four days after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian-Turkish border. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/Files - RTX1W9MQ

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Russian President Vladimir Putin is ordering sanctions against Turkey in retaliation for Turkey shooting down a Russian warplane on Tuesday. Turkey contended the Syria-bound Russian plane had entered Turkey’s airspace without permission. The act already prompted Russia to deploy surface-to-air missiles inside Syria to protect its aircraft carrying out airstrikes in Syria.

    Now, Russia will restrict the import of certain Turkish goods and prohibit travel agencies from selling tours to Turkey.

    Earlier today, Turkish President Recep Erdogan expressed regret for shooting down the Russian plane.

    PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKEY (through translator): We are really saddened by this incident. We wouldn’t have wished this to happen, but unfortunately it did. I hope this will not happen again. Turkey has never been in favor of triggering tensions and clashes, and we never will be.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me now to discuss Russia’s economic response is Kimberly Marten, a professor at Barnard College, Columbia University here in New York.

    Why this back and forth? Why this escalation on the part of Russia and really attempted de-escalation on the part of Turkey?

    KIMBERLY MARTEN, PROFESSOR AT BARNARD COLLEGE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, Turkey isn’t de-escalating as much as they could. It’s quite clear that they did not follow standard practice in shooting down that Russian plane. They might have given some verbal warning but they could have escorted the plane to try to get it off of Turkish territory. They could have fired warning shots.

    So, you know, Turkey is not the victim here. And I think that it’s not surprising that Russia is very angry about what’s happening. But Putin is sort of following his normal pattern of being more angry than he needs to be and of taking more extreme action than he needs to take in response.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Most in the U.S. don’t realize how close and how connected Russia and Turkey are. I mean, as I was reading this, this is one of the biggest destinations for Russians to get out of country.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: Yes, huge tourist destination, a lot of trade. But it’s really kind of surprising that Putin’s reaction has been that we’re going to have all these very strong economic sanctions put into place against Turkey. And you sort of wonder, who is left to be trading with Russia? Russia has put sanctions against the European Union. Now they have sanctions against Turkey. Where are their friends, exactly?

    It seems like their only friends at this point are, you know, Syria and Iran.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, this could have a ripple effect on the Russian economy, which isn’t doing too great.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: In fact, the former prime minister of Russia made that point publicly saying this is not going to be good for the Russian economy. It’s going to hurt the Russian economy as badly as the Turkish economy. The Russian economy was already in a recession primarily because of low oil prices. It just seems like Putin expresses anger in ways that actually shoot Russia in the foot.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Turkey has a lot to lose in this relationship. They need all of the energy they get from Russia.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: They do. They have a huge amount of natural gas that they are importing from Russia. There was supposed to be a new pipeline that was going to go into effect to allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in its gas exports to Europe that now seems like it’s on the rocks. Although, people realize that wasn’t very profitable anyway, and so, that may have been an excuse to get around it.

    It also seems like they might lose grain imports from Russia and Ukraine is stepping in saying, “Hey, Turkey, if you need grain, we’re here. We’ll help you.” It actually could cement further trade relations between Ukraine and Turkey, and Turkey and its European partners.

    And, you know, what Putin seems to be doing over and over again is just driving more and more opponents to have common interests against what he’s doing.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And let’s talk a little about the Russians seem to be targeting Turkish anti-Assad forces, right? And really, in the last couple of days after the downing of this jet, they seem to intensify those attacks.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: And in a sense, that’s not completely new because we know that for the last couple of months that Russia has been on the ground in Syria, they have not primarily been going after Islamic State targets. So, these people that are being hit now were people being hit earlier, too.

    But, yes. I mean, that’s part of the retaliation. Rather than what you — you know, what would be the sensible think of the Russian plane should avoid the Turkish border and therefore, we’ll try to back up a little bit. It seems like Putin is saying send the planes right into the Turkish border area and hit against the Turkmen groups that Turkey is cooperating with the most in Syria.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: What is the U.S. role in all of this? We need Turkey right now. Their airbase helps us get off the ground towards bombing runs in Syria much easier, right? I mean, there’s lots of other interest that we have in Turkey for the region. But how do we help negotiate this fight?

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: It’s very complicated because the U.S. is also giving support to Kurdish rebels in Syria, and Turkey is having problems with its own Kurdish populations and has been trying to restrict the ability of its own Kurdish population to help the Kurdish rebels in Syria. And so, the U.S. and Turkish interests are not completely aligned either.

    And so, the entire situation is extraordinarily complex. It doesn’t break down easily into any one set of alliances.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Kimberly Marten of Barnard College and Columbia University — thanks so much for joining us.

    KIMBERLY MARTEN: Thank you, Hari.

    The post Russia orders new sanctions against Turkey appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker

    Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker

    In Hawaii, the combination of sky-high electricity prices and abundant sunshine have made installing solar panels enormously popular. In fact, the state has the highest percentage of rooftop solar users in the country.

    And while most of those who have installed panels still remain tied to the local electrical grid in order to store the energy they produce and get energy when there’s no sunshine, some residents have also installed their own battery storage system to move off the grid completely.

    In the video above, learn more about how two men in Hawaii have cut managed to cut ties with local utility providers and live off the grid.

    Whether as a hobby or as an experiment in energy independence, both agree it’s only a matter of time before more people make the switch to also become grid defectors.

    What do you think? Share your views on off-the-grid living in the comments section below.

    Video by Saskia de Melker 

    The post A tale of two grid defectors: Why some are quitting electric companies in Hawaii appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A boy wades through a flooded street in Jaen, Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines October 20, 2015, after the province was hit by Typhoon Koppu. The typhoon swept across the northern Philippines killing at least nine people as trees, power lines and walls were toppled and flood waters spread far from riverbeds, but tens of thousands of people were evacuated in time. REUTERS/Erik De Castro - RTS5CX1

    A boy wades through a flooded street in Jaen, Nueva Ecija in northern Philippines October 20, 2015, after the province was hit by Typhoon Koppu. The last time world nations struck a binding agreement to fight global warming was 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. As leaders gather for a conference in Paris on Monday, it’s clear things have changed dramatically over the past 18 years. Photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters

    PARIS — This time, it’s a hotter, waterier, wilder Earth that world leaders are trying to save.

    The last time that the nations of the world struck a binding agreement to fight global warming was 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. As leaders gather for a conference in Paris on Monday to try to do more, it’s clear things have changed dramatically over the past 18 years.

    Some differences can be measured: degrees on a thermometer, trillions of tons of melting ice, a rise in sea level of a couple of inches. Epic weather disasters, including punishing droughts, killer heat waves and monster storms, have plagued Earth.

    As a result, climate change is seen as a more urgent and concrete problem than it was last time.

    “At the time of Kyoto, if someone talked about climate change, they were talking about something that was abstract in the future,” said Marcia McNutt, the former U.S. Geological Survey director who was picked to run the National Academies of Sciences. “Now, we’re talking about changing climate, something that’s happening now. You can point to event after event that is happening in the here and now that is a direct result of changing climate.”

    Other, nonphysical changes since 1997 make many experts more optimistic than in previous climate negotiations.

    For one, improved technology is pointing to the possibility of a world weaned from fossil fuels, which emit heat-trapping gases. Businesses and countries are more serious about doing something, in the face of evidence that some of science’s worst-case scenarios are coming to pass.

    “I am quite stunned by how much the Earth has changed since 1997,” Princeton University’s Bill Anderegg said in an email. “In many cases (e.g. Arctic sea ice loss, forest die-off due to drought), the speed of climate change is proceeding even faster than we thought it would two decades ago.”

    Some of the cold numbers on global warming since 1997:

    • The West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets have lost 5.5 trillion tons of ice, or 5 trillion metric tons, according to Andrew Shepherd at the University of Leeds, who used NASA and European satellite data.
    • The five-year average surface global temperature for January to October has risen by nearly two-thirds of a degree Fahrenheit, or 0.36 degrees Celsius, between 1993-97 and 2011-15, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1997, Earth set a record for the hottest year, but it didn’t last. Records were set in 1998, 2005, 2010 and 2014, and it is sure to happen again in 2015 when the results are in from the year, according to NOAA.
    • The average glacier has lost about 39 feet, or 12 meters, of ice thickness since 1997, according to Samuel Nussbaumer at the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland.
    • With 1.2 billion more people in the world, carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels climbed nearly 50 percent between 1997 and 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The world is spewing more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide a day now.
    • The seas have risen nearly 2 1/2 inches, or 6.2 centimeters, on average since 1997, according to calculations by the University of Colorado.
    • At its low point during the summer, the Arctic sea ice is on average 820,000 square miles smaller than it was 18 years ago, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That’s a loss equal in area to Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona combined.
    • The five deadliest heat waves of the past century – in Europe in 2003, Russia in 2010, India and Pakistan this year, Western Europe in 2006 and southern Asia in 1998 – have come in the past 18 years, according to the International Disaster Database run by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster in Belgium.
    • The number of weather and climate disasters worldwide has increased 42 percent, though deaths are down 58 percent. From 1993 to 1997, the world averaged 221 weather disasters that killed 3,248 people a year. From 2010 to 2014, the yearly average of weather disasters was up to 313, while deaths dropped to 1,364, according to the disaster database.

    Eighteen years ago, the discussion was far more about average temperatures, not the freakish extremes. Now, scientists and others realize it is in the more frequent extremes that people are truly experiencing climate change.

    Witness the “large downpours, floods, mudslides, the deeper and longer droughts, rising sea levels from the melting ice, forest fires,” former Vice President Al Gore, who helped negotiate the 1997 agreement, told The Associated Press. “There’s a long list of events that people can see and feel viscerally right now. Every night on the television news is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.”

    Studies have shown that man-made climate change contributed in a number of recent weather disasters. Among those that climate scientists highlight as most significant: the 2003 European heat wave that killed 70,000 people in the deadliest such disaster in a century; Hurricane Sandy, worsened by sea level rise, which caused more than $67 billion in damage and claimed 159 lives; the 2010 Russian heat wave that left more than 55,000 dead; the drought still gripping California; and Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 in the Philippines in 2013.

    A fisherman moors his boat during a sailing ban due to the threat of Typhoon Koppu at a coastal village in Bacoor, south of Manila October 19, 2015. Typhoon Koppu swept across the northern Philippines killing at least nine people as trees, power lines and walls were toppled and flood waters spread far from riverbeds, but tens of thousands of people were evacuated in time.    REUTERS/Ezra Acayan   - RTS51S6

    A fisherman moors his boat due to the threat of Typhoon Koppu, south of Manila on Oct. 19, 2015. Phoro by Ezra Acayan/Reuters

    Still, “while the Earth is a lot more dangerous on one side, the technologies are a lot better than they were,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Solar and wind have come down tremendously in price, so much so that a Texas utility gives away wind-generated electricity at night.

    Another big change is China.

    In Kyoto, China and developing countries weren’t required to cut emissions. Global warming was seen as a problem for the U.S. and other rich nations to solve. But now China – by far the world’s No. 1 carbon polluter – has reached agreement with the U.S. to slow emissions and has become a leader in solar power.

    “The negotiations are no longer defined by rich and poor,” Gore said. “There’s a range of countries in the middle, emerging economies, and thankfully some of them have stepped up to shoulder some of the responsibility.”

    U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said there’s far less foot-dragging in negotiations: “There is not a single country that tells me they don’t want a good Paris agreement.”

    Figueres said that while the Kyoto agreement dictated to individual nations how much they must cut, what comes out of Paris will be based on what the more than 150 countries say they can do. That tends to work better, she said.

    It has to, Figueres said. “The urgency is much clearer now than it used to be.”

    The post Global warming seen as more concrete, urgent problem since Kyoto appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican 2016 presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump (L) and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, take their places at their podiums before the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    Republican 2016 presidential candidates, businessman Donald Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are seen at the start of the first GOP presidential candidates debate of the 2016 campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, on Aug. 6, 2015. Bush said Sunday that Trump is not prepared to be the nation’s commander in chief. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    MIAMI — Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says rival Donald Trump is not prepared to be the nation’s commander in chief.

    Bush says Trump is “uninformed” on major issues facing the U.S, especially defense and foreign affairs.

    During an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Bush says the 2016 front-runner is “not a serious leader.” He says Trump has offered conflicting opinions on his strategy toward Syria and combatting the Islamic State group.

    Bush’s criticism of Trump comes a day after the billionaire businessman campaigned in the former Florida governor’s home state and dismissed Bush as a serious challenger.

    Trump told thousands at a rally in Sarasota, Florida, that he would easily win the March 15 Florida primary because “I’m leading by a lot already.”

    The post Jeb Bush calls Trump ‘uninformed,’ not a serious leader appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    ANMER HALL, ENGLAND - UNDATED:  In this undated handout photo provided by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge plays with a teddy as she is seen at Anmer Hall earlier this month taken by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Sandringham, England. (Photo by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge via Getty Images) EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO COMMERCIAL USE (including any use in merchandising, advertising or any other non-editorial use including, for example, calendars, books and supplements). This photograph is provided to you strictly on condition that you will make no charge for the supply, release or publication of it and that these conditions and restrictions will apply (and that you will pass these on) to any organisation to whom you supply it. All other requests for use should be directed to the Press Office at Kensington Palace in writing.

    In this undated handout photo provided by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge plays with a teddy as she is seen at Anmer Hall earlier this month taken by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Sandringham, England. Photo by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge via Getty Images.

    Kensington Palace released two new photos on Sunday of Britain’s six-month-old Princess Charlotte, taken by her mother, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

    The photos were snapped of Her Royal Highness wearing a floral dress and pink cardigan, earlier this month at Anmer Hall, the family’s home in Norfolk, eastern England, the palace said.

    Born May 2, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge, is fourth-in-line to the throne, after her great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, grandfather Prince Charles, father Prince William and brother Prince George.

    “The Duke and Duchess continue to receive warm messages about Princess Charlotte from all around the world and they hope that everyone enjoys these lovely photos as much as they do,” the palace said in a statement.

    The post Newly released photos capture six-month-old Princess Charlotte appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — After touring Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Saturday suggested that camps should serve as a long-term solution for millions, while other refugees could be absorbed by Middle Eastern countries.

    “I did not detect any great desire for them to come to the United States,” Carson told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Jordan. “You’ve got these refugee camps that aren’t completely full. And all you need is the resources to be able to run them. Why do you need to create something else?”

    The retired neurosurgeon toured the Azraq camp in northern Jordan under heavy Jordanian security, with journalists barred. Carson’s campaign also limited access, not providing his itinerary.

    After the Azraq visit, Carson said he didn’t learn anything that gives him confidence in authorities’ ability to screen potential terrorists. “What I learned is that you’re going to get a different answer from everybody depending on what their slant is,” he said, reiterating his opposition to allowing any Syrian refugees to come to the United States.

    More than 4 million Syrians have fled their homeland since 2011, after a popular uprising erupted against President Bashar Assad and quickly turned into a devastating civil war. Most initially settled in neighboring countries, but they are largely barred from working legally and have to resort to informal, low-paying jobs if they can find employment at all.

    Overwhelmed host countries, particularly Lebanon and Jordan, have balked at the idea of longer-term integration of refugees. They have complained that they are carrying an unfair burden while the international community’s support has fallen short.

    A $4.5-billion appeal to aid refugees in host countries in 2015 is only about half funded. The cash crunch has created increasingly unbearable conditions for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and – to a lesser extent – in economically more robust Turkey. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees moved on to Europe in hopes of a better life.

    Carson called on the American people – not the U.S. government – to launch a “humanitarian drive” to raise billions of dollars that officials say is needed to improve conditions for refugees settled across several countries in the Middle East.

    “All they need is adequate funding. It’s really quite impressive when you go over there and see it,” Carson told the AP, adding that some areas had recreational facilities, schools, electricity and indoor plumbing. “They were a lot happier. They were quite willing to stay there as long as it takes before they can get back home.”

    Carson’s visit comes as he tries to strengthen his fluency on international affairs as foreign policy becomes a greater focus in the 2016 presidential contest. Advisers have conceded that his knowledge of global affairs isn’t where it needs to be and have expressed hope that missions like his two-day trip to Jordan will help.

    Carson and other Republicans have adopted a harsh tone when discussing President Barack Obama’s plan to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in this budget year. Debate over Syrians fleeing their war-torn country erupted after a series of attacks in Paris earlier this month raised security concerns across the West.

    Carson and his GOP rivals expressed concern that extremists may sneak into the U.S. among them. Last week, he likened blocking potential terrorists posing as Syrian refugees to handling “mad dogs.”

    He also suggested that it would be best for Middle Eastern host countries to absorb most of the millions of Syrian refugees that have fled their civil war-torn homeland.

    In a separate statement, he described Syrians as “as very hard working, determined people, which should only enhance the overall economic health of the neighboring Arab countries that accept and integrate them into the general population.”

    And he broadened his call for financial support beyond Americans: “The humanitarian crisis presented by the fleeing Syrian refugees can be addressed if the nations of the world with resources would provide financial and material support to the aforementioned countries, as well as encouragement.”

    This report was written by Omar Akour and Steve Peoples of the Associated Press.

    The post Carson: Syrian refugees don’t want to come to the U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Flowers lay at the police line at the scene outside the Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs, CO on Saturday, November 28, 2015.

    Flowers lay at the police line at the scene outside the Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs, CO on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. The man suspected of killing three people at the health center on Friday reportedly made the statement “no more baby parts” after his arrest. Photo by Matthew Staver/Washington Post via Getty Images

    Robert Lewis Dear, the man suspected of killing three people at a Planned Parenthood health center on Friday in Colorado, told the authorities “no more baby parts” after his arrest, the Associated Press reported.

    Law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak to the media told NBC News the statement was made amid “rantings” that also included comments about President Barack Obama.

    U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement Saturday the rampage was “a crime against women receiving health care services at Planned Parenthood” and “an attack on all Americans’ right to safety and security.”

    The clinic, which is the site of frequent anti-abortion protests, offers a range of health services, including abortions.

    The U.S. Department of Justice is reportedly considering federal hate crime charges against Dear and are looking at whether he violated a 1994 law established to protect people at abortion clinics from acts of violence.

    Robert L. Dear is seen in an undated picture released by the Colorado Springs (Colorado) Police Department November 28, 2015.  Dear, 57, has been named as the gunman who stormed a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday, killing three people and wounding nine others before surrendering to police after a bloody siege lasting several hours inside the facility, authorities said.  REUTERS/Colorado Springs Police Department/Handout via Reuters  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTX1W81N

    Robert L. Dear is seen in an undated picture released by the Colorado Springs Police Department on Nov. 28, 2015. Photo by Colorado Springs Police Department/Handout via Reuters

    Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sunday that both sides of the abortion debate to ease tensions and “inflammatory rhetoric,” Reuters reported. Hickenlooper also referred to the attack as “form of terrorism.”

    “I think we should have a discussion at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues,” he said. “So we don’t get people to a point of going out and committing violence.”

    Vicki Cowart, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said in a statement that eyewitness reports indicate Dear was “motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.”

    “We should not have to live in a world where accessing health care includes safe rooms and bullet proof glass,” she said.

    A police vehicle is seen parked outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Saturday, a day after a gunman opened fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Police identified the gunman as Robert Lewis Dear. Federal authorities are deciding whether to categorize the shootings as a hate crime. Reuters/Isaiah J. Downing

    A police vehicle is seen parked outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Saturday, a day after a gunman opened fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters

    On Sunday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Republican candidate for president, called the attacks “domestic terrorism” in an interview with CNN while pushing aside claims that incendiary language used by the anti-abortion movement could have been a factor.

    “There’s no excuse for killing other people whether it’s inside Planned Parenthood clinics where many millions of babies die or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood,” he said.

    Dear’s statement of “no more baby parts” is thought to reference hidden camera videos released earlier this year by anti-abortion activists who spent months posing as medical researchers looking to purchase fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood.

    Donating fetal tissue or recovering costs from such a donation is legal, and is part of a fast-growing medical research field, NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins reported in July; selling fetal tissue for profit is illegal.

    Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, said in a video statement then that the videos represented “outrageous claims about programs that help women donate fetal tissue for medical research.”

    “I want to be really clear,” Richards said. “The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

    Dear is due to make a court appearance on Monday.

    The post Colorado shooter reportedly told police ‘no more baby parts’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One as he departs Joint Base Andrews in Washington November 29, 2015. Obama will be among the leaders attending the start of the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21).REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX1WDAV

    U.S. President Barack Obama boards Air Force One as he departs Joint Base Andrews in Washington on Nov. 29, 2015. Obama will be among the leaders attending the start of the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21). Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Sunday that American leadership was helping make gains in the global fight against climate change as he tried to reassure world leaders assembling for a historic conference in Paris that the U.S. can deliver on its own commitments.

    Obama was joining more than 150 leaders for the opening days of a two-week conference where countries are trying to negotiate an agreement aimed at avoiding a calamitous increase in global temperatures.

    “What makes this gathering different is that more than 180 nations have already submitted plans to reduce the harmful emissions that help cause climate change, and America’s leadership is helping to drive this progress,” Obama said in a Facebook posting hours before his scheduled late-night arrival in the French capital.

    “Our businesses and workers have shown that it’s possible to make progress toward a low-carbon future while creating new jobs and growing the economy,” he wrote. “Our economic output is at all-time highs, but our greenhouse gas emissions are down toward 20-year lows.”

    The goal in Paris, he said, was a long-term framework for more reductions, with each nation setting targets that other countries can verify. Leaders also will try to support “the most vulnerable countries” in expanding clean energy and “adapting to the effects of climate changes that we can no longer avoid.”

    He said he was “optimistic about what we can achieve because I’ve already seen America take incredible strides these past seven years.”

    At the summit’s opening Monday, Obama was to join French President Francois Hollande and philanthropist Bill Gates for an announcement about an initiative to spend billions of dollars over the next five years on developing clean energy technology, a French official and a former U.S. official told The Associated Press.

    They were not authorized to publicly discuss details before the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.S., France, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada and Norway have decided to participate, according to the French official.

    Eager to leave a legacy of environmental protection, Obama scheduled meetings with the leaders of China and India to underscore how developing nations are embracing the effort to combat climate change. Also on the agenda were sessions with the leaders of a few island nations, to highlight “the existential challenge” they face from rising sea levels, in the words of the president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.

    Obama, with just a year left in office, wants to lead the world by example on climate change. But he faces pushback at home that makes it harder for him to credibly make the case on the world stage that the U.S. will honor its promises.

    The U.S. is the world’s second largest climate polluter, surpassed only by China, and the president has pledged that the U.S. will cut its overall emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2030.

    But his climate action plan has run into stiff opposition from Republicans who control Congress. They say his commitment to reduce emissions from U.S. power plants would cost thousands of American jobs and raise electricity costs for businesses and families.

    Half the states are suing to block the power plant rules, claiming Obama has abused his authority under the Clean Air Act. The president also faces congressional opposition to committing U.S. dollars to a U.N. Green Climate Fund designed to help poorer countries combat climate change.

    Adele Morris, a climate and energy expert at the Brookings Institution, said all the turmoil at home “makes it a challenge rhetorically, at least, for the U.S. to commit significantly to the targets that it’s announced.”

    The post Obama: U.S. leadership ‘helping to drive’ progress on climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 29:  The Place de La Republique looks foggy after police sprayed gas during the forbidden COP21 demonstration on November 29, 2015 in Paris, France. The demonstration was banned after the Paris terror attacks on Friday, November 13th. Nevertheless, thousands of people gathered to protest against global warming ahead of COP21 and an estimated 100 people were arrested after fighting with police.  (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

    Place de la République looks foggy after police sprayed gas during a forbidden COP21 demonstration on Nov. 29, 2015 in Paris, France. Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

    French riot police descended on Place de la République in central Paris on Sunday, firing tear gas on climate change activists who rallied despite a government ban on an organized march.

    France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 174 people were detained after protesters tried to force their way through a blockade at the famed square, which has been the scene of vigils since the Nov. 13 terror attacks that killed 130 people.

    Cazeneuve said a total of 208 people had been arrested, but some were later released.

    The planned march had been cancelled by the government in the wake of the terror assault on the French capital.

    Clouds of tear gas fill the air as demonstrators clash with French CRS riot police at the Place de la Republique after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard - RTX1WCME

    Clouds of tear gas fill the air as demonstrators clash with French CRS riot police at the Place de la République after the cancellation of a planned climate march on Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    Demonstrators clash with CRS riot policemen near the Place de la Republique after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.            REUTERS/Eric Gaillard      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1WCMS

    Demonstrators clash with CRS riot policemen near the Place de la République on Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    Photographs from the scene showed activists lobbing projectiles, including glass bottles and candles, toward police, who fired numerous rounds of tear gas to clear the crowd.

    Protesters chanted “a state of emergency is a police state,” the Associated Press reported.

    French CRS riot police apprehend a demonstrator during clashes near the Place de la Republique after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.     REUTERS/Eric Gaillard     - RTX1WCS1

    French CRS riot police apprehend a demonstrator during clashes near the Place de la République after the cancellation of a planned climate march in Paris, France, Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    A demonstrator throws a projectile at French CRS riot police during clashes at the Place de la Republique after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier - RTX1WCVO

    A demonstrator throws a projectile at French CRS riot police during clashes at the Place de la République in Paris on Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters

    Earlier on Sunday, thousands of demonstrators had gathered peacefully in the French capital, forming a human chain along the route of the planned march.

    Activists had also left empty shoes in the square to represent those unable to legally march.

    French CRS riot police stand on flowers, candles and messages by the statue at the Place de la Republique during clashes after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Eric Gaillard    - RTX1WCPL

    French CRS riot police stand on flowers, candles and messages by the statue at the Place de la République during clashes ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 in Paris, France on Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    Pairs of shoes are symbolically placed on the Place de la Republique, after the cancellation of a planned climate march following shootings in the French capital, ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard         TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1WCMR

    Pairs of shoes are symbolically placed at the Place de la République, in Paris, France, on Nov. 29, 2015. Photo by Eric Gaillard/Reuters

    Leaders from across the globe are gathering in the French capital this weekend ahead of the landmark COP21 climate summit which begins Monday.

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    The Eiffel Tower bears a message that reads, "100% Clean" ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY  - RTX1WE2M

    The Eiffel Tower bears a message that reads, “100% Clean” ahead of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21), in Paris, France, November 29, 2015. Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters

    On the eve of a major climate conference in Paris, thousands of demonstrators gathered along the route of a protest march that had been banned by the government in a security crackdown following the Nov. 13 terror attacks on the French capital.

    Even as world leaders, in a “very hopeful moment,” descend upon the city in hopes of reaching an agreement to halt climate change, the main variable setting apart the 2015 Paris Climate Conference are the realities of global security, according to Charles Sennott, the founder and executive director of the GroundTruth Project.

    “Will the attacks in Paris have an effect of galvanizing the world community, or will it become an excuse for some to maybe not be as committed as they could to this process?”

    “I think people should know this is an amazing crossroads of narratives between terrorism and the attempt to cause a lot of fear and division,” Sennott told PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan in a Google Hangout on Sunday.

    “I really hope we’ll now see the world and the world shift to this optic on climate change and focus in on as I say what could become a very historic agreement,” he said.

    Watch the Google Hangout with Hari Sreenivasan and GroundTruth Project’s Charles Sennott, Manon Verchot and Justin Calma, in the video above.

    The post What to expect from the COP21 climate talks in Paris appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Pope Francis meets internally displaced people on the grounds of the Saint Sauveur church during his visit, in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Anthony Fouchard FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. - RTX1WCBK

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, Pope Francis brought a message of peace and reconciliation to the Central African Republic, a majority Christian nation that has seen steady violence between Christians and Muslims during the past two years. This was the pope’s final stop of an African tour that also took him to Uganda and Kenya.

    Associated Press reporter Nicole Winfield is covering the trip. She joins me now via Skype from the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui.

    It’s been quite some time since a pope walked into essentially an active war zone or a civil war zone.

    NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press: Yes, we were trying to think when the last time was.

    Pope John Paul II made a very unexpected nine-hour stop in Khartoum about 20 years ago, and that is probably the closest that any pope has gotten to active fighting.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what did the pope do today? Where did he go?

    NICOLE WINFIELD: Ah.

    Well, he arrived at the airport, which, in itself, is remarkable, a heavily armed airport. He flew in right over one of the displacement camps, where some of the people who have been uprooted by the fighting have settled.

    He went then to the presidential palace. He went to a refugee camp, another one of these displacement camps, where he met with some of the residents. And he just finished celebrating mass at the cathedral.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so the tension is between Muslims and Christians in the country. What did the pope say to each group?

    NICOLE WINFIELD: Well, he — he had a majority Christian audience today so far.

    But the message is the same to both: Lay down your weapons. Peace. Reconciliation.

    He just now, in his homily, has told the faithful gathered in the cathedral that pardoning and forgiving one another is hard, it’s the hardest thing to do, but Christians at least are called to love their enemies, and that that is what is necessary now.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And how has he been received?

    NICOLE WINFIELD: The enthusiasm has been incredible.

    This is a country that has been — as the president said, it’s descended into hell over the past two years. And so I think, for the residents, just the fact that he came was remarkable. I don’t think anyone really expected that he would. There were such serious security threats in the weeks and months leading up to this trip, that there were concerns that he would cancel, at least trim it back.

    So, the fact that he arrived and the fact that he went five kilometers in an open Popemobile showed that he’s not afraid and that he wanted to — just his presence to be here.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Give us some perspective on how significant this fighting has been. There is a — pretty much an exodus of Muslims leaving that country.

    NICOLE WINFIELD: That’s right.

    And the Muslims who have remained in Bangui itself are essentially encircled in a quarter, the KM5 neighborhood of the capital. And they basically can’t leave, because the Christian militia has — is essentially — has surrounded it for their own safety.

    So, the Muslims who have stayed here are very much a besieged people. They are hoping also to hear some words from the pope, some words of encouragement for them. And they might get it tomorrow, when he goes into that quarter.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nicole Winfield from the Associated Press, joining us via Skype from the capital of the Central African Republic, thanks so much.

    NICOLE WINFIELD: Thank you.

    The post Pope Francis calls for peace, reconciliation in Central African Republic appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Internally displaced women greet Pope Francis on the grounds of the Saint Sauveur church, during his visit in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Anthony Fouchard FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. - RTX1WCE0

    Internally displaced women greet Pope Francis on the grounds of the Saint Sauveur church, during his visit in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, November 29, 2015. Photo by Anthony Fouchard/Reuters

    Amid tight security, Pope Francis arrived on Sunday in the Central African Republic, a country uprooted by an ongoing civil war.

    At least 100 people have been killed since September in new rounds of fighting, Reuters reported.

    Security was bolstered in CAR’s capital city of Bangui, as Pope Francis was greeted by thousands of supporters.

    Pope Francis shakes hands with children as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic on Sunday. Reuters/Stefano Rellandin" width="244" height="192" /> Pope Francis shakes hands with children as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic on Sunday. Reuters/Stefano Rellandin

    Pope Francis shakes hands with children as he visits the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic on Sunday. Photo by Stefano Rellandin/Reuters

    Combat helicopters flew overhead and personnel carriers with soldiers from the U.N. waited nearby.

    According to Reuters, security forces with yellow and white colors of the Vatican flag were also on hand.

    United Nations peacekeepers stands outside the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur before Pope Francis' visit, in the capital Bangui, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini - RTX1WCAL

    United Nations peacekeepers stands outside the refugee camp of Saint Sauveur before Pope Francis’ visit, in the capital Bangui, November 29, 2015. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    In his first visit to a war zone and the third stop on a three-country tour which included Kenya and Uganda, the pontiff called on both sides of the religious line to seek peace.

    “The love of our enemies protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation,” he said to a crowd amassed during a church service in Bangui.

    Pope Francis opens the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Bangui, Central African Republic, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX1WDLI

    Pope Francis opens the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Bangui, where he later urged Christians and Muslims to end a civil war. Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

    Pope Francis also stopped at a hospital and a refugee camp on Sunday, and plans to visit a mosque on Monday before departing to Rome, The Wall Street Journal reported.

    About 70,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And I am joined by Nick Schifrin in the studio.

    In this specific piece, what is the government response to this?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: The government is taking this very seriously. The new government is taking this very seriously.

    And a senior adviser on corruption issues puts it this way: “Either we kill corruption, or corruption kills the country.”

    The new president, Muhammadu Buhari, has committees looking, especially at high-level corruption. And the focus is on $20 billion — that’s the accusation — that has been stolen by oil officials because most of Nigeria’s money comes from that oil, but also money stolen from the military. Money that was supposed to go to fight Boko Haram instead got diverted.

    So, that is the focus of this new government. And they hope that, if they can get some high-level prosecutions, some high-profile prosecutions, that will send a message that the days of impunity are — are over. And then you will see a difference, or at least a little less low-level corruption, because those police officers you saw, they will feel like, well, if the big people can’t get away with it, then neither could we.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right.

    You also have another story about the economy. What did you find?

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes. As you mentioned at the top of this segment, Hari, it is a nation of superlatives, richest country in Africa, the biggest oil producer, fastest growing economy.

    By 2050, there will be more Nigerians than there will be Americans. The middle class will grow by eight. There are more ultra-rich growing in Nigeria than there are in the U.S. The list goes on and on.

    The other side is this, 100 million people in poverty. Very difficult to get those people out, so long as you have a lack of infrastructure, a lack of electricity, and a lack of investment in agriculture. So, those are the three areas that the new government is trying to focus on.

    But, again, after decades of neglect and some of that corruption, it’s very difficult to lift so many people out of poverty.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Most of the headlines from Nigeria right now are coming from Boko Haram. And you have another piece on that.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Sixty-six hundred people killed by Boko Haram last year, that is more than the Islamic State.

    So, that will give you a sense of how deadly that group has been. There have been some gains, in the last nine months especially, against Boko Haram. The Nigerian military has made some gains. Earlier this year, they brought in some mercenaries from South Africa.

    But also the neighboring countries, the militaries from Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, have come into Nigeria, and been doing some of that fighting earlier this year.

    But now what we are seeing is a lot of suicide attacks. Boko Haram can’t seize and hold land like it used to, but girls, mostly, are going into markets, going into mosques and blowing themselves up. And that is why we see so many headlines from out of there.

    So, what the country is doing is now not only trying to go in with the military, but also create a multinational coalition with those neighbors to go in. But it’s extremely difficult. You know, a lot of these fighters blend back into the population. And that is why we are seeing these bombs.

    Initially, the country set a December deadline to defeat Boko Haram. The military now admits it won’t be able to match that. Eventually, most people think that the battle against Boko Haram will be won. But the war against all of these other things, the poverty, corruption, that is what is most important. That is going to be the most difficult for Nigeria to win.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You also found a population within Nigeria that, besides Boko Haram, besides everything else, they are worried for their lives just because they are gay.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, absolutely.

    The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed last January. This is an act that not only goes after same-sex marriage. It criminalizes homosexuality and can send someone to jail for up to 14 years.

    If you advocate for gay rights, you could get 10 years. If you are a parent and don’t turn in your knowingly gay son or daughter, you get 10 years as well. Nobody has been prosecuted under the law.

    But this is what gay men and women told us. And what we see in video evidence is that people are using the law in order to increase extortion and violence. And this is mobs on the street. These are state-sponsored vigilantes. And these are police officers who know that they can threaten someone who is gay with jail, and so they can actually get money out of them.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nick Schifrin, we’re looking forward to the series on the “NewsHour” this week.

    Thanks so much.

    NICK SCHIFRIN: Thanks.

    The post Poverty, corruption fuel Boko Haram in Nigeria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative's annual meeting in New York, September 27, 2015.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson  - RTX1SQTN

    Bill Gates speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York on Sept. 27, 2015. Gates is expected to announce Monday the launch of a new multibillion dollar fund called “Breakthrough Energy Coalition.” Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and a slate of A-list entrepreneurs have launched a new fund called “Breakthrough Energy Coalition” to research and develop clean energy technologies.

    News of the effort, formed by a group of 28 investors from 10 countries, was leaked last week by ClimateWire and confirmed late Sunday in a Facebook post by Zuckerberg, co=-founder and chief executive of the social media giant. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition will focus on providing incentives to the private sector to produce zero-emission technologies for developed nations, but also for broad distribution of these innovations among poor nations, which are poised to suffer more from climate change ramifications such as sea-level rise and crop loss. The international aid agency Oxfam estimated last week that developing countries will have to pay $270 billion extra per year as a result of climate change if greenhouse gas emissions don’t decline.

    So far, Gates and Zuckerberg have been joined by Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), Meg Whitman (CEO of Hewlett Packard), Jack Ma (Executive Chairman of Alibaba), the University of California via its chief investment officer and other executives from the around the globe.

    The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, according to its statement of principles, will invest in innovations for “electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial use, agriculture and energy system efficiency” to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. However, this statement doesn’t list a monetary goal for the fund.

    In a press release on Sunday, President Barack Obama said the U.S., France and 18 other countries would launch a sister multi-national fund called Mission Innovation in conjunction with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. This program will focus on similar zero-emissions innovations created by the public sector rather the private sector.

    Countries joining the fund will double their own research and development budgets for clean energy over five years and be used for “early stage research and development.” This commitment will “increase their annual spending on basic research and development to $20 billion, up from current levels of about $10 billion,” according to the Washington Post.

    The White House statement reads:

    Today in Paris, President Obama and French President Hollande, along with a wide range of other top global leaders, will announce “Mission Innovation,” an initiative to dramatically accelerate public and private global clean energy innovation to address global climate change, provide affordable clean energy to consumers, including in the developing world, and create additional commercial opportunities in clean energy.

    Through the initiative, 20 countries are committing to double their respective clean energy research and development (R&D) investment over five years. These countries include the top five most populous nations – China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. They stretch across five continents. And when you add all partner countries together, they represent 75 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions from electricity, and more than 80 percent of the world’s clean energy R&D investment.

    They also represent the myriad ways we create and use energy. The Mission Innovation members include some of the largest oil and gas producers – the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Norway and Indonesia – as well as many with high penetration of renewables in their power sectors, such as Canada, Norway, Denmark, Brazil and Chile.

    The announcement coincides with the start of the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, where world leaders hope to reach an agreement on policies aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions.

    The Paris summit will start on Monday and continue through Dec. 11.

    Gates made headlines earlier this year when he announced plans to donate $2 billion over the next five years for renewable energy projects.

    Forbes estimates Gates’ net worth at $79 billion.

    The post Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg launch international fund for clean energy tech appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Irish novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde died on this day in 1900. Photo by Napoleon Sarony/Universal History Archive/Getty Images

    Irish novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde died on this day in 1900, but the long-held theory that it was from ravages of end-stage syphilis are probably wrong. Photo by Napoleon Sarony/Universal History Archive/Getty Images

    Oscar Wilde uttered his last words in Room 16 of the Hôtel d’Alsace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris. The wittiest man of his epoch was said to have quipped, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us must go.”

    True or false, the great playwright, poet, novelist and essayist went first. Oscar Wilde drew his last, labored breath on Nov. 30, 1900. He was only 46 years old.

    Ever since that moment, literary scholars, doctors and Wilde fans have argued about the precise cause of his death.

    The long-held theory was that Oscar Wilde succumbed to the ravages of tertiary, or end-stage, syphilis. Oscar told intimate friends that he initially contracted the sexually transmitted disease in 1878, while still an undergraduate at Oxford, after a brief liaison with a prostitute named “Old Jess.”

    Oscar Wilde in his favorite coat. New York, 1882. Photo taken by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896)

    Oscar Wilde in his favorite coat. New York, 1882. Photo taken by Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896)

    For decades after Wilde’s death, the common wisdom was that his syphilis progressed into a serious brain infection during and after the time he was imprisoned in Pentonville Prison, Wandsworth Prison, and finally, Reading Gaol (Jail) for “gross indecency” and sodomy. In the hushed parlance of Victorian England, Wilde was a “practicing homosexual.” This tragic series of events began when John Sholto Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury, accused Wilde of committing sodomy with his son, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, and several other young men. The confrontation set in motion a travesty of justice that culminated with Oscar being sentenced, on May 25, 1895, to two years of “hard labor, hard fare and a hard bed.”

    The British journalist and author, Arthur Ransome publicly posited syphilis as the cause of Oscar’s death in a biography he published in 1912. This was a somewhat suspect conclusion given that none of Wilde’s doctors recorded this malady as a cause of his death. Nevertheless, the syphilis theory kept gathering steam and reached its zenith of credibility 76 years later, in 1988, with the publication of Richard Ellmann’s magisterial and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Oscar Wilde. It was a diagnosis that left many uncomfortable, especially Oscar’s grandson, Merlin Holland.

    Read more from Dr. Markel: When a secret president ran the country

    Fortunately, a London neurologist named MacDonald Critchley and two ear surgeons from South Africa, Ashley H. Robins and Sean L. Sellars, have spent considerable time poring over Wilde’s medical and prison records to propose an entirely different, and far more credible, diagnosis. Critchley published his account in a 1990 “Medical and Health Annual” supplement to the “Encyclopedia Britannica” and Robins and Sellars published their findings in “The Lancet” (2000; 356: 1841-43).

    To begin, there is no definitive proof that Wilde was infected with syphilis from the Oxford prostitute, even though he believed he was. Before marrying Constance Mary Lloyd in 1884, Oscar underwent a medical examination, in which his doctor found no overt signs of the disease. This, in itself, is not conclusive because the microbe that causes syphilis (Treponema pallidum) had not yet been discovered; there existed no blood test to definitively prove infection; and even with the best of medical examinations at that time, he could have been entirely asymptomatic and still infected or entirely normal and falsely diagnosed earlier. In favor of a false diagnosis is the fact that Constance was never infected and Oscar and Constance had two sons Cyril (b. 1885) and Vyvyan (b. 1886) who were entirely syphilis-free. (The boys and their mother later changed their surname to Holland after their father’s conviction in order to escape the maelstrom of notoriety that surrounded poor Oscar’s final years).

    Read more from Dr. Markel: The ‘strange’ death of Warren G. Harding

    When reviewing Oscar’s prison medical records, Drs. Critchley, Robins and Sellars found no evidence of syphilis recorded by the seven different doctors (two of them psychiatrists) who examined him. Oscar showed none of the signs of the chronic form of the disease: he had no neurological or cardiac complications associated with tertiary syphilis and his mental faculties remained in fine fettle as he laboriously composed what became “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” More germane, Oscar Wilde did have a long history of progressive deafness in the right ear with a chronic aural discharge that refused to yield. Sadly, his prison doctors did little to treat or ameliorate this painful condition.

    In retrospect, Robbins and Sellars suggest that Oscar Wilde was suffering from a cholesteatoma, a rapidly expanding tumor in the middle ear that destroys normal tissue and yields a chronic infection of the ear, often with significant discharge or drainage of pus and fluid. Along with Critchley (who did not retrospectively diagnose a cholesteatoma in his report), all three doctors concurred that it was an out of control middle ear infection that killed Oscar Wilde.

    Oscar’s ear infection and discharge appeared to resolve upon his release from prison. It returned with a vengeance, a few years later, especially toward the end of September 1900 while he was living at the Hôtel d’Alsace. He was seen by several ear surgeons and physicians but the infection soon spread into the mastoid process of skull’s temporal bone, which in the days before antibiotics was a harbinger of a much worse infection of the brain and its lining (the meninges) called meningoencephalitis. Wilde underwent an operation on October 10, 1900 (most likely a mastoidectomy) but thereafter suffered terrible pain and required a great deal of oral opium and the sedative, chloral hydrate. His infection raged during the second week of November and by the 25th he was racked with fever, pain and delirium. On the 29th, he fell into a coma; his magnificent voice was permanently silenced at 1:50 p.m. the following day.

    More than a century later, the present-day observer can only shake his head at the many layers of terrible irony surrounding Oscar Wilde’s death. First, Wilde would never have been tried, let alone convicted and publicly humiliated, in today’s Great Britain for simply expressing his sexuality.

    Read more from Dr. Markel: The excruciating final hours of George Washington

    Second, the modern medical intervention of prescribing antibiotics, early and, perhaps, often, would have probably cured the middle ear infection and prevented it from fatally spreading to his brain.

    Perhaps most ironic is the fact that Oscar’s father, Sir William R.W. Wilde was one of Ireland’s most eminent ear surgeons and who often treated ear infections like the one that killed his son. In his well-received 1853 textbook, “Practical Observations on Aural Surgery and the Nature and Treatment of the Diseases of the Ear,” Sir William warned of the infectious and deadly power of discharges from the ear: “…so long as otorrhoea [ear discharge] is present, we never can tell how, when, or what it may lead to.” His son’s course of illness proves this morbid observation all too well.

    A middle ear infection and its subsequent spread to his brain may appear to be the best medical explanation for Oscar Wilde’s death. Others less medically inclined might say with equal conviction that he died of a broken heart and spirit.

    Regardless of the precise cause of his premature death on this day 115 years ago, we ought to praise “The Importance of Being Oscar.” Every Oscar Wilde admirer has his or her favorite “Wilde witticism.” One of his most enduring lines, however, might well serve as his credo: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”


    Dr. Howard Markel writes a monthly column for the PBS NewsHour, highlighting the anniversary of a momentous event that continues to shape modern medicine. He is the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.

    He is the author or editor of 10 books, including “Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892,” “When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed” and “An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine.”

    The post No, Oscar Wilde probably didn’t die of syphilis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

    Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week for their end-of-the-year stretch. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill to wrap up work on the budget, highway spending and taxes, an end-of-the-year stretch that will test the standing of Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan with the GOP’s tea party wing and its anti-establishment presidential candidates.

    There are less than two weeks until a deadline to pass a $1.1 trillion catchall spending bill to fund Cabinet agencies and avoid a holiday season government shutdown. If the process doesn’t go smoothly, a last-minute temporary funding measure would be required to keep the government open when the current stopgap funding measure expires Dec. 11.

    The so-called omnibus spending bill represents a challenge for Ryan, R-Wis., who took over the top House job after former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced out this fall over his penchant for looking to Democrats to help pass major legislation like year-end spending bills, among other reasons.

    Ryan is sure to have to do the same this time around despite pressure from outside groups like the Heritage Foundation to force battles over trying to use the critical spending measure to take away federal funding from Planned Parenthood or deal with worries about Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks.

    But the renegades that ran Boehner out of Washington aren’t in any mood to rough up Ryan just yet.

    “I think it’s unfair to hold Paul Ryan accountable for this particular omnibus. The Dec. 11 crisis that our leadership created is one of the reasons we got rid of our leadership,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a tea party favorite. “It’s not of his making, and I personally would not write him off if something doesn’t happen on this omnibus, whether it’s Planned Parenthood … or something else.”

    Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is rising in the national presidential polls, is another matter. If past is prologue, he’s sure to use debate on the omnibus measure to burnish his reputation for attacking Capitol Hill GOP leaders and build opposition to the catchall spending compromise among Republican voters.

    The massive spending bill is going to require Democratic support to pass, and GOP leaders have been frustrated that many Republicans routinely cast an easy vote to oppose such measures even when they really want them to advance. Less than one-third of House Republicans voted for the budget pact last month that set the parameters for the omnibus. The GOP’s top vote counter urged his whip team to turn around the phenomenon in which so many Republicans “vote no and hope yes.”

    “The story of a bill that passed with 150 Republican votes is much more positive and assertive than the story of a bill that passes with 79 Republican votes,” said GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

    House-Senate negotiations on a long-term measure funding highway and transit programs seem likely to finally produce results, helped in large part by a new “offset” to help pay for the measure that involves a money shuffle from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury. At issue is a House provision to eliminate $29.3 billion in the Federal Reserve’s capital surplus account and prevent the Fed from depositing future profits there.

    Budget watchdogs call the money transfer a complete gimmick and say that the additional highway spending it is being used to justify will increase the federal debt by at least $59 billion over the coming 10 years. But free money is a precious commodity in Washington and given the popularity of highway spending — as well as the sweeping 354-72 House vote for the move — the common wisdom is that the dubious offset will stay.

    Another item on the must-do list involves extending already expired tax breaks in time for the upcoming filing season.

    Businesses big and small would continue to claim dozens of tax breaks that expired at the start of the year under a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate Finance Committee.

    Struggling homeowners and people who live in states without a state income tax would get to keep their tax breaks, too. The $95 billion package would extend more than 50 tax credits, exemptions and deductions through 2016. Support for these so-called tax extenders is bipartisan.

    Among the biggest breaks for businesses are a tax credit for research and development; an exemption that allows financial companies such as banks and investment firms to shield foreign profits from being taxed by the U.S.; and several provisions that allow businesses to write off capital investments more quickly.

    Before turning to the must-do business, GOP leaders are devoting the House and Senate floors to taking on President Barack Obama’s health care law and his climate change agenda.

    The Senate is turning to a rare opportunity to employ fast-track procedures to pass a bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and “defund” Planned Parenthood. The fast-track legislative process would remove the threat of a filibuster by Democrats. The measure would have to be reconciled with a House-passed version before it can be shipped to Obama, however.

    Meanwhile, with Obama in Paris for a U.N. conference on global warming, House GOP leaders have slated votes to disapprove two recent administration regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The move would send the measures to Obama’s desk, and he is sure to veto them.

    Associated Press Congressional reporter Andrew Taylor wrote this report.

    AP Congressional Correspondent Erica Werner contributed to this report.

    The post Congress returns to looming deadlines on budget, highways appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Poet Franny Choi. Photo by Reginald Eldridge

    Poet Franny Choi. Photo by Reginald Eldridge

    What world a world without police look like?

    Poet Franny Choi’s work attempts to answer that question, exploring the ways that power, specifically in the realms of race, class and gender, operate in U.S. systems and institutions.

    Poetry is uniquely situated to expose what many people consider to be “unspeakable” forces of violence and erasure within those systems, Choi said.

    “When people of color are being murdered by the police with impunity, and when queer and trans folks are being murdered and being incarcerated for trying to defend their own lives, and when immigrants are being deported at record high rates, and when there’s a presidential candidate who proposes having a national Muslim database, it seems like there are a lot of forces in the world that tell me, and people who are similarly outside the norm of a ‘default human,’ that we need to apologize for existing,” she said.

    Those norms can also play an oppressive role in the world of poetry, she said. In a recent incident, poet Michael Derrick Hudson, a white man, was accepted into the prestigious “The Best American Poetry 2015” anthology under the Chinese female pseudonym “Yi-Fen Chou.” Hudson described the pseudonym as a tool he used to get published, prompting criticism and outrage from many in the poetry community.

    “An Asian woman was basically erased and used as a mask for a white man to put on for his own personal gain,” Choi said. “It lit a fire under me to keep writing.”

    That writing is heavily influenced by Choi’s work as a community organizer in Providence on issues of police accountability and racial profiling, she said. For Choi, that work has brought an urgency to imagining alternatives to the current police system, as well as questions about the specifics: “When [organizers] say we want abolition of prisons and cops, what do we envision in its place?” she said.

    An answer began to take form for her after reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel “The Dispossessed,” which chronicles life in a utopic society. “I felt like it was a door in my brain opening up,” she said.

    “Field Trip to the Museum of Human History” depicts part of that answer, showing a group of students who learn about the modern-day U.S. in a future where police have been abolished. To this group, police brutality and class inequality are antiquated horrors of the past.

    “The idea of the children of my child looking at the messed-up things about this world from the other side of a glass was very appealing to me,” she said. “I thought of some of the youth organizers that I stand in solidarity with, and the idea of them and their future generations being able to do that was really exciting.”

    The type of high-level view of police reform that the poem explores can be useful for activists facing the threat of burnout, she said. “We get bogged down, as organizers, [by] the details of the everyday,” she said. “[We] are focusing on such tiny concrete gains and victories that sometimes it’s hard to zoom out and think about what we’re actually working toward.”

    Hear Choi read “Field Trip to the Museum of Human History,” or read the poem below.

    Field Trip to the Museum of Human History

    Everyone had been talking about the new exhibit,
    recently unearthed artifacts from a time

    no living hands remember. What twelve year old
    doesn’t love a good scary story? Doesn’t thrill

    at rumors of her own darkness whispering
    from the canyon? We shuffled in the dim light

    and gaped at the secrets buried
    in clay, reborn as warning signs:

    a “nightstick,” so called for its use
    in extinguishing the lights in one’s eyes.

    A machine used for scanning fingerprints
    like cattle ears, grain shipments. We shuddered,

    shoved our fingers in our pockets, acted tough.
    Pretended not to listen as the guide said,

    Ancient American society was built on competition
    and maintained through domination and control.

    In place of modern-day accountability practices,
    the institution known as “police” kept order

    using intimidation, punishment, and force.
    We pressed our noses to the glass,

    strained to imagine strangers running into our homes,
    pointing guns in our faces because we’d hoarded

    too much of the wrong kind of property.
    Jadera asked something about redistribution

    and the guide spoke of safes, evidence rooms,
    more profit. Marian asked about raiding the rich,

    and the guide said, In America, there were no greater
    protections from police than wealth and whiteness.

    Finally, Zaki asked what we were all wondering:
    But what if you didn’t want to?

    and the walls snickered and said, steel,
    padlock, stripsearch, hardstop.

    Dry-mouthed, we came upon a contraption
    of chain and bolt, an ancient torture instrument

    the guide called “handcuffs.” We stared
    at the diagrams and almost felt the cold metal

    licking our wrists, almost tasted dirt,
    almost heard the siren and slammed door,

    the cold-blooded click of the cocked-back pistol,
    and our palms were slick with some old recognition,

    as if in some forgotten dream we did live this way,
    in submission, in fear, assuming positions

    of power were earned, or at least carved in steel,
    that they couldn’t be torn down like musty curtains,

    an old house cleared of its dust and obsolete artifacts.
    We threw open the doors to the museum,

    shedding its nightmares on the marble steps,
    and bounded into the sun, toward the school buses

    or toward home, or the forests, or the fields,
    or wherever our good legs could roam.

    Franny Choi is a writer, teaching artist, and the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014). She has received awards from the Poetry Foundation and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, The Journal, Rattle, Indiana Review, and others. She is a VONA alumna, a Project VOICE teaching artist, and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Audio edited by Brigid Choi.

    The post Poet Franny Choi pictures a world without police appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Free to Run, established in 2014, partners with grassroots organizations in Afghanistan to provide safe sports opportunities for women and girls. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    Free to Run, established in 2014, partners with grassroots organizations in Afghanistan to provide safe sports opportunities for women and girls. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    By day, Stephanie Case is a human rights officer for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza. After hours, she operates the nonprofit Free to Run … and she’s probably running, too.

    In 2012, the competitive long-distance runner moved to Afghanistan, where she met women in a shelter who had experienced domestic abuse.

    Case wanted to help them, so she ran three ultramarathons and raised $10,000 for the shelter. The women were grateful for the money but also curious about her experience running the races. They couldn’t even walk outside without a male chaperone, let alone participate in sports.

    Case said she became determined to find safe ways for the women to get outside. “When women can engage in movement and reconnect their mind and body, especially when they have the chance to do that outdoors, they are finding new sides of themselves and reclaiming public space,” she said.

    “It changes perceptions that society has of what role women can and should play.”

    So in 2014, Case started Free to Run, which brings sports opportunities to women and girls in conflict areas. The group, which is incorporated in New York, has a main office in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, part of the Himalayan mountain chain.

    Free to Run sets up outdoor opportunities for women and girls in conflict areas, including the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    Free to Run sets up outdoor opportunities for women and girls in conflict areas, including the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    Most of its work is done in Afghanistan. Programs include hiking clubs for students and training participants in long-distance running events.

    For the hiking activity, Case’s organization partnered with a local environmental organization, which has strong relationships with farmers and other local workers.

    “It’s only because of this alliance that we can take a bunch of girls into the hills and hiking, and we’re able to get acceptance by the farmers and the other men who see them there. Slowly but surely it becomes a normal thing,” she said.

    Free to Run paid the way for two Afghan women to participate in a seven-day race across the Chinese Gobi desert. One of the women, Zainab, went on to become the first female marathon runner in Afghanistan in October.

    Based on its success, Free to Run decided to train a team for another ultramarathon – this time in Sri Lanka.

    Arzoo (her last name was withheld to protect her identity) plans to participate in the event in February. The 23 year old, who spent her childhood in Kabul, said she played soccer with her classmates. But in a male-dominated country, she found it difficult as a woman to jog down the street without getting unwanted attention.

    The upcoming ultramarathon in Sri Lanka will provide a protected and supportive environment, along with a goal for something she loves to do. Arzoo said she decided to sign up “because I believe in myself. … This marathon will make me strong.”

    Before, she would run in the early mornings when the streets were empty, but she expects that to change. “I have questioned myself about when we are going to stop being afraid, so that’s why I want to run during the day, after December.”

    Girls displaced by fighting in South Sudan learned volleyball and other sports in a pilot program. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    Girls displaced by fighting in South Sudan learned volleyball and other sports in a pilot program. Photo courtesy of Free to Run

    In the Afghan capital Kabul, Free to Run is working to provide yoga and dance classes to women in the shelters. And it recently hired a member of the national female boxing team of Afghanistan to teach the women how to box, and showing them how female athletes can make it at the national level.

    “Maybe not everyone wants to try hiking or biking or running, but the point is they should have the freedom to choose and at least experience what it’s like,” said Case.

    Free to Run also has a chapter in Hong Kong, where there’s a “Hiking to Heal” program for women refugees, mostly from Somalia and Yemen and many of whom have been traumatized, along with a mixed-gender running group.

    Case said the challenges are many. “But I’ve always thought if it wasn’t difficult, then this would already be done by someone else and there wouldn’t be a need.”

    View more of our Social Entrepreneurship profiles and tweet us your suggestions for more groups to cover.

    The post In Afghanistan, using sports to fill the gender gap appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Inside a Better Shelter housing unit in Kawergosk, Iraq. Photo courtesy of Better Shelter

    Inside a Better Shelter housing unit in Kawergosk, Iraq. The shelters include solar panels that can provide up to four hours of light. Photo courtesy of Better Shelter

    Swedish design conglomerate Ikea is designing and constructing shelters for some of the 4 million refugees who have fled war in Syria.

    The Better Shelter project is constructing refugee shelters in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden and delivered more than 500 units in September to refugee camps in Greece, where thousands of Syrian refugees have arrived in recent months.

    The project came from a partnership between Swedish industrial designer Johan Karlsson and the Ikea Foundation, Ikea’s humanitarian wing, in 2010. The project aims to construct higher-quality alternatives to canvas tents, which can be easily damaged by wind or flooding, according to The Globe and Mail.

    Better Shelter housing takes four to eight hours to assemble by hand and costs $1,150 each. In April, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ordered 10,000 of the tents, and the project has delivered more than 4,700 shelters this year, including 2,600 to Iraq and Kurdistan, according to its website.

    Better Shelter housing seen at Karatepe transit camp, Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece, this September. Photo courtesy of Better Shelter

    Better Shelter housing seen at Karatepe transit camp, Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece, this September. Photo courtesy of Better Shelter

    “This is just a tiny part of humanitarian aid, but it’s an important one when it comes to allowing displaced people to live with dignity,” Karlsson told The Globe and Mail.

    The shelters come in two sizes: 57 square feet, or 188 square feet, and stand 6 feet tall, allowing families to stand up inside. They are constructed of a steel frame and polymer panels. Solar panels located on the roof can power LED lights or a phone charger inside the shelter.

    They also feature mosquito nets, windows and a door that locks, which is notable for refugees at a heightened risk for sexual assault.

    On Sunday, Ikea also began the “Brighter Lives for Refugees” fundraising campaign for refugees. The initiative it will donate Є1 to the UNHCR for every lamp and light bulb it sells in stores or online between Nov. 29 and Dec. 19.

    The post Ikea’s refugee shelters feature door locks and solar panels appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A suspect, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, is taken into custody outside a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Nov. 27, 2015. Dear is accused of opening fire in the clinic Friday, killing three people and wounding eight others, authorities said. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters

    A suspect, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, is taken into custody outside a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Nov. 27, 2015. Dear is accused of opening fire in the clinic Friday, killing three people and wounding eight others, authorities said. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/Reuters

    Robert Lewis Dear, the 57-year-old man suspected of opening fire in a Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs last week will appear before a judge Monday afternoon.

    Dear is accused of killing three people, one police officer and two civilians, and wounding nine others during an hourslong standoff with local authorities that ended with his surrender late Friday.

    Police have said they would not disclose a motive for the attack during the ongoing investigation. Investigators told ABC News that it would take six to seven days to process the crime scene.

    According to the National Abortion Foundation, Planned Parenthood facilities have seen eight murders and more than 220 bombings and arson attacks since 1977, the Associated Press reported.

    Several news outlets have cited an anonymous law enforcement official who said Dear rattled off a list of statements shortly after his arrest, including telling authorities “no more baby parts.”

    Dear’s phrase recalled the controversy surrounding the secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how the organization provided fetal tissue to researchers.

    Planned Parenthood CEO and President Vicki Cowart said in a statement Sunday that eyewitnesses believed Dear was motivated by his opposition to abortion. She also said there was an increase of “hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns” against Planned Parenthood the past few months, enough to “breed acts of violence.”

    Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, echoed Cowart’s statement, saying there was an “incredible escalation of harassment and intimidation” over the past five years.

    “This kind of rhetoric towards doctors and women seeking health care has real impact,” Richards told NPR on Monday. NPR also pointed out that Richards does not, however, specifically link this “hateful rhetoric” to Friday’s attack.

    As lawmakers headed back to Congress after the holiday break, it remains unclear how Friday’s shooting will affect the congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood, including the special House subcommittee that former Speaker John Boenher announced in October.

    Congress must also pass funding bills by Dec. 11 to keep the government open, and some Republicans have said they wouldn’t vote for the legislation, unless it defunded Planned Parenthood.

    The post Suspect in Planned Parenthood shooting to appear in court appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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