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

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    Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Larry Downing/Reuters

    Photo of U.S. Supreme Court by Larry Downing/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a judgment allowing families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism to collect nearly $2 billion.

    The court on Wednesday ruled 6-2 in favor of relatives of the 241 Marines who died in a 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut and victims of other attacks that courts have linked to Iran.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the court rejecting efforts by Iran’s central bank to try to stave off court orders that would allow the relatives to be paid for their losses.

    Iran’s Bank Markazi complained that Congress was intruding into the business of federal courts when it passed a 2012 law that specifically directs that the banks’ assets in the United States be turned over to the families.

    The law, Ginsburg wrote, “does not transgress restraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution.”

    Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. “The authority of the political branches is sufficient; they have no need to seize ours,” Roberts wrote.

    More than 1,300 people are among the relatives of the victims of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 service members, and other attacks that were carried out by groups with links to Iran. The lead plaintiff is Deborah Peterson, whose brother, Lance Cpl. James C. Knipple, was killed in Beirut.

    Congress has repeatedly changed the law in the past 20 years to make it easier for victims to sue over state-sponsored terrorism; federal courts have ruled for the victims. But Iran has refused to comply with the judgments, leading lawyers to hunt for Iranian assets in the United States.

    Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress, as well as the Obama administration, supported the families in the case.

    The case is Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 14-770.

    The post Terror victims win Supreme Court judgment against Iran appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Flint Water Plant in Michigan is pictured on Jan. 13. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    The Flint Water Plant in Michigan is pictured on Jan. 13. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

    Two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and a local water treatment plant supervisor were charged Wednesday with evidence tampering and additional felony and misdemeanor counts related to the widespread problem of lead-tainted water in Flint.

    The charges were filed following an investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office into what happened following residents’ complaints about the murky water and elevated levels of lead appearing in their blood.

    Michael Prysby, a Department of Environmental Quality district engineer, and Stephen Busch, who is a supervisor with the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water, were charged with misconduct in office, conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence and violations of water treatment and monitoring laws, reported the Associated Press.

    Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow was charged with tampering with evidence for changing lead water-testing results and willful neglect of duty as a public servant, according to the AP.

    Busch is on paid leave after being suspended, and Prysby recently took another job in the department.

    Flint, which has a population of about 99,000, has been under a state of emergency for more than four months. Residents are using filters and bottled water until the pipes can be fixed.

    The post Felony charges filed in Flint lead-tainted water crisis appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    File photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    File photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court says an Arizona commission did not violate the principle of one person, one vote when it redrew the state’s legislative districts in a way that created some with more residents than others and improved the prospects for Democrats.

    The justices on Wednesday rejected a challenge from a group of Republican voters who claimed the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission illegally packed GOP voters into some districts while leaving other Democratic-leaning districts with smaller populations.

    A panel of federal judges upheld the new boundaries in 2014, despite finding that some commission members were trying to improve Democratic prospects in the districts. The judges ruled that the commission was trying to comply with a now-nullified provision of the Voting Rights Act.

    Officials with the state’s redistricting commission argued that slight differences in population were not enough to violate the Constitution’s equal-protection clause.

    Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer said the one-person, one-vote principle “does not demand mathematical perfection.” He said the challengers failed to show that “illegitimate considerations were the predominant motivation behind the plan’s population deviations.”

    The high court requires a state’s legislative districts to have roughly equal numbers of people, but it has long said those numbers don’t have to be exact. Differences of less than 10 percent are presumed constitutional unless challengers can show they are the result of discrimination or other invalid reasons.

    State Senate President Andy Biggs — whose wife was in the group that sued — said the decision was “unfortunate.”

    The commission issued a statement saying it was gratified with the decision, which means the legislative maps will be in place through 2020 elections.

    In Arizona, the average population difference in redrawn districts was 2.2 percent, with a maximum difference of 8.8 percent. The plan placed more Republican voters in some districts that already were likely to elect GOP candidates and left other districts with smaller overall populations. Those districts have a greater concentration of Hispanic voters and are considered more likely to vote for Democrats.

    Arizona voters created the commission in 2000 to take on the politically charged job of drawing new maps every 10 years, instead of leaving it up to the Legislature.

    Ultimately, the plan ended up giving Republicans more than their proportional share of seats in the state legislature.

    In a separate case last year, the Supreme Court ruled that cutting lawmakers out of congressional redistricting is not unconstitutional even though state legislatures have the power to set the “times, places and manner” of holding congressional elections.

    A third challenge to Arizona’s congressional maps remains active in court. That state case involves a challenge to whether the commission followed the Arizona Constitution’s guidelines on factors it was to consider while drawing the maps.

    Republican Vince Leach, now a member of the state House of Representatives, is one of several voters suing. He said the commission didn’t properly consider “communities of interest” — areas with geographic or other ties — while drawing the maps. He specifically cited the state’s sprawling 1st Congressional District, which includes Flagstaff and much of the eastern part of the state, and has gone Democratic since the maps were adopted in 2012.

    “It’s very hard to look at the CD1 map and talk about communities of interest, because it’s simply not there,” Leach said.

    Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed from Phoenix

    The post High court upholds Arizona’s legislative redistricting plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    In high school, Kimberly Cervantes, was assaulted on a public bus. In middle school, she witnessed the deaths of two students. Her mother and younger brother were once robbed at gunpoint at a convenience store.

    That steady exposure to violence has led Cervantes, 19, to some dark places — at times, a crippling anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Now, in an unprecedented move, Cervantes and four other students are suing the Compton Unified School District, arguing that the trauma they have faced makes it difficult to learn and demanding that the district offer them additional support, in much the same way schools must accommodate students with autism, dyslexia and other disabilities.

    Cervantes said that poetry helped her deal with trauma from these events and the derision she faced at school for being bisexual.

    “One of the things that helped me with my depression was writing,” she said. “The way that negative things affected me, I brought into poetry and writing and it made me feel better about my situation.”

    Watch Cervantes read her poem above or read it below. Find more of Cervantes’ story on tonight’s broadcast.


    I consider myself a poet. A very good one, too.
    And so I’d like to take this opportunity to share something with all of you.
    All my friends have left me, because of one girl.
    Who I felt was my everything, who I felt was my world.
    When I was suicidal, I felt like it was the end.
    And I would have been okay, if I only had a friend.
    Friends can be deceiving.
    I mean, I thought I had two or three.
    But I found out that once I turned around, they would all make fun of me.
    Because of how I looked, and how I wore my hair.
    They made fun of where I lived, and the clothes that I would wear.
    I felt so lonely, I wanted to quit.
    I was so desperate, I was looking for friends on the internet.
    My heart was cracking and my insecurities burst.
    I was praying that life would get better, but it only got worse.
    Listen everyone, what I’m really trying to say,
    is that I hated getting up in the morning and going to school every day.
    I sat in a room quiet, while everyone else was speaking.
    I felt it was amazing, because no one knew what I was thinking.
    But I was thinking, how life is hard, and how much harder it will get.
    I was thinking, when will I find myself some real friends yet?
    Because the moment I look down, that friend is gone.
    And all I really longed for was, was a shoulder to lay on.
    I struggled every day to convince myself to stay.
    And I wanted to go, but there were so many things in my way.
    My life was in constant danger, and I really needed saving,
    Because death and escape was something both my heart was craving.
    But please don’t fret, ’cause I’m no longer sad.
    I figured being lonely isn’t all that bad.
    And, no judgements made against me, and I guess I feel free.
    And I can finally be who I want to be.
    Trust that I am better, and I am doing my best.
    I just have this one and only request.
    Say hi to someone. Compliment them, too.
    Because you have no idea what they could be going through.
    I only wish that someone had done the same for me.
    Wipe my tears and simply hold me.
    But do that. Make someone smile, make someone glad.
    Be the best friend that they have ever had.
    Do it without hesitation, no if’s, and’s or but’s.
    I know you all can do it, I know you all have guts.

    Video produced by Justin Scuiletti. Watch the NewsHour tonight for more on __’s story.

    The post How poetry helped a Compton student survive trauma appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former president Andrew Jackson’s portrait will be moved to the back of the $20 bill, according to the Treasury Department.

    Former president Andrew Jackson’s portrait will be moved to the back of the $20 bill, according to the Treasury Department.

    Harriet Tubman, an African American abolitionist who led hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, will have her portrait placed on the front of the $20 bill.

    The news came Wednesday, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a number of changes to the $20, $10 and $5 bills.

    Tubman will be the first woman in more than 100 years to have her portrait on the U.S. bill, said Lew. (Martha Washington was the last.) Meanwhile, former president Andrew Jackson’s image will be moved to the back of the $20 bill.

    Founding father Alexander Hamilton won’t be going anywhere any time soon either. Hamilton’s image will be kept on the front of the $10 bill, but now he’ll be sharing the back of the bill with leaders of the suffrage movement — Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

    The $5 bill will also be revamped. While Lincoln will remain on the front of the bill, he will share the back of the bill with prominent individuals of the civil rights movement including Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., each of whom had a historic moment at the Lincoln Memorial.

    American abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led many others to safety, will be the new face of the $20 bill. Photo by MPI/Getty Images

    American abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and led many others to safety, will be the new face of the $20 bill. Photo by MPI/Getty Images

    The new design for the $20, $10 and $5 will be unveiled in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. The production process will follow after that, said Lew.

    Lew first announced the decision to put a woman on the $10 bill back in June, citing the need to update security features on the bill. The Women On 20s campaign, from the nonprofit group of the same name, had advocated replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman (a choice made after more than 600,000 people voted for her on the Women On 20s site).

    So why did the campaign target the $20 bill? Andrew Jackson, critics note, ordered the Trail of Tears, which led to the deaths of thousand of Native Americans.

    “Andrew Jackson was the president who opened the White House to the American people,” said Lew, explaining why Jackson was kept on the bill. The back of the $20 bill will include an image of the White House as well.

    Speaking on the decision to place Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20, Lew said that Tubman “was the most compelling story.” Harriet Tubman grew up in slavery, was prevented from learning to read or write and “changed the course of history in this country.”

    PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff spoke to Secretary Lew this afternoon. Watch the full conversation on tonight’s NewsHour.

    The post Harriet Tubman to join Jackson on $20 bill; suffragists added to $10 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 7.00.42 PM

    Cover photo of Faith by Marguerite Sauvage. Faith Herbert on the left also known as superhero Zephyr on the right. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    “What would a grimdark, totally intimidating hero (who still has a strong moral code against killing) do?” superhero Faith asks herself as she protects her office mates from an array of bullets by two henchmen in black suits. Her colleagues have just learned the secret that the easygoing, upbeat Faith Herbert is really the not-to-be-reckoned-with superhero Zephyr.

    “Oh right. Make the bad guys think I don’t have a strong moral code against killing,” she says, right before capturing the men and flying them through the air. Just another day at the office.

    Faith, a Valiant comic featuring the title character, has sold out five times in its limited-run series, a significant feat in in the comic book industry. Valiant recently announced that Faith will debut in her own monthly on-going series in July 2016.

    Jody Houser, who writes Faith, began writing webcomics a decade ago and wrote IDW’s “Orphan Black,” a sci-fi series about cloning which included a host of lead female characters. Below, Houser and Valiant’s editor-in-chief Warren Simons discuss why Faith resonates so strongly with readers.

    What should we know about Faith “Zephyr” Herbert?

    JODY HOUSER: Faith is a lifelong comic book fan, sci-fi geek and fantasy lover who always read about superheroes and loved them. Then one day she got superpowers of her own and got to be the superhero she always dreamed of. She’s out on her own as an adult for the first time in a new city, trying to make her mark on the world as a person and as a superhero.

    How did Faith get her start as a superhero?

    HOUSER: She’s what is called a “psiot,” so her powers are psychically based. In the previous Valiant series “Harbinger,” her powers were unlocked by a fellow psiot named Peter Stanchek. She joined up with Peter and a group of other teenage psiots, who called themselves the Renegades, who fought to bring down the corporations that were trying to manipulate the psiots for their own purposes.

    Faith's  secret identity is revealed as she fends off attackers at her office. Faith #3, March 2016. Art by Pere Perez. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    Faith’s secret identity is revealed as she fends off attackers at her office. Faith #3, March 2016. Art by Pere Perez. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    How big of a deal is it in comic books for a superhero to get her own monthly series?

    HOUSER: I think it’s maybe happening more and more these days. Just a few years ago, Marvel didn’t have any female-led superhero titles. Now I’m pretty sure they’re in the double digits, Valiant has had two with Faith and Dr. Mirage, and DC Comics has given Batgirl two books. I think for female superheroes it’s becoming more and more common to see them leading their own titles.

    “I think about her weight only in terms of making sure that I am treating her with respect, and, in a sense, not treating her any differently because of her weight.”–Jody Houser
    There is often an excitement on behalf of female comic book readers when they see a lead female character and, for that matter, a female comic book writer. How does this make you feel?

    HOUSER: I think it’s really gratifying to be a part of a book and a project that has touched a lot of people and meant a lot to fans. The conventions I’ve done so far this year I’ve had so many people come up and thank me for being a part of this book and writing the character with the respect that she deserves. It really means a lot to me to hear how much she means to readers.

    SIMONS: Jody’s done a wonderful job with Faith. The response has been extraordinary. She’s crafted a magnificent story that taps into the heart of one of Valiant’s best characters, and I think that’s really the key. If you’re true to the character, and work with talented people who are great collaborators, success will follow.

    "A busy career woman with a secret by day...a hero helping anyone in need by night." Faith #2, Feb. 2016. Art by Marguerite Sauvauge. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    “A busy career woman with a secret by day…a hero helping anyone in need by night.” Faith #2, Feb. 2016. Art by Marguerite Sauvauge. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    How does Faith’s body type influence her story?

    HOUSER: I think about her weight only in terms of making sure that I am treating her with respect, and, in a sense, not treating her any differently because of her weight.

    How have readers responded to her?

    SIMONS: Faith was created in the early 1990s by Jim Shooter and David Lapham, the original creative team of the Harbinger title. It was a big hit for the company back then, but, in that incarnation of the title, Faith was one member of a larger team of super-powered teenagers.

    We’ve always loved her as a character — she’s the optimistic heart of the Valiant Universe — and we were excited about launching a book with her at the center. The reaction from the public has been extraordinary. She’s become a worldwide phenomenon.

    READ NEXT: How I use comic books as a learning tool in my social studies classroom

    Do you get tired of being asked questions about Faith’s weight or gender?

    HOUSER: I definitely do wish more interviews would focus on different aspects of the character because I think there’s so many great elements to her. Her body and her gender are only a small piece of who she is.

    "Too busy living out her little fantasies to help anybody." Faith's fantasy turns into a nightmare when she thinks about the lives she has yet to save. Art by Marguerite Sauvauge. Faith #3, March 2016. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    “Too busy living out her little fantasies to help anybody.” Faith’s fantasy turns into a nightmare when she thinks about the lives she has yet to save. Art by Marguerite Sauvauge. Faith #3, March 2016. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    Do you think Faith attracts a diverse audience?

    HOUSER: People check out Faith because they see something in her that they maybe haven’t seen in comics before. I also think there is a lot to be said for the art talents of Marguerite Sauvage and Francis Portela, who worked on the mini-series, and Pere Perez, who is going to work on the ongoing. They treat the character with such respect and make her so lively and beautiful. I hope for my part that the story is exciting enough that people keep checking out what’s happening next.

    A big criticism of the comic book industry’s recent work toward diversity is that there aren’t enough creators from diverse backgrounds. Do you agree with this criticism? 

    HOUSER: I’m actually part of a Facebook group of women professionals working in comic books, and there are several hundred of us. We are helping to advocate for each other, making sure we are on panels at conventions, and invited as guests to conventions. We are trying to be a resource for people looking for women in comics and may not be as familiar with the creators, editors and other professionals that they should be. I definitely think things have gotten better, but there is still room for improvement.

    Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 3.48.44 PM

    Faith cover by Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic. Jan. 2016. Photo courtesy of Valiant Comics

    Although she’s been through a lot, Faith remains a positive and uplifting character. How is she different than a lot of other comic book superheroes in this way?

    HOUSER: There has definitely been a trend toward the dark and gloomy superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, I love those and read plenty of them. I got my start in comics writing horror, so I’m not against darker stories. But I think in terms of superheroes, it’s always important to have those examples of positivity and hope. I think that’s really the core of where superheroes came from, why we need them so much, and why they continue to be so important in our culture. They really are the modern American myth, in a way, and you really want that represented in the comic books that are coming out, especially for the newer generations.

    Have you had to deal with any criticism of the character or her body type?

    SIMONS: Not at all. Diversity is one of the great strengths of the current marketplace. It only makes comics stronger, better, with the ability to reach a broader audience. I think Ms. Marvel’s been absolutely wonderful. I was lucky enough to work on books like TRUTH nearly a decade ago — which featured an African-American Captain America — so I’ve been able to see this evolution firsthand, and it’s been terrific. At Valiant, we’re always trying to innovate, and focus on what’s next, and let the story lead us in the right direction. It certainly happened with Faith.

    Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    The post Why we need plus-sized superheroes like Faith Herbert appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A man holds a bitcoin medal as members of bitcoin trading club hold a meeting in Tokyo on February 27, 2014. Bitcoin users in Tokyo gathered for a meeting set to be dominated by the shuttering of the MtGox exchange amid claims of a multi-million dollar theft.  AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO        (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Panama Papers raise an age-old debate on how to balance privacy and transparency. Is Bitcoin technology, known as “blockchain,” the answer? Photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

    Early April’s leak of documents detailing how global elites hide their money has put a new spotlight on the issue of financial secrecy. Power players throughout the world have been connected to shell companies set up by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm in Panama that was the victim of the breach.

    The Panama Papers have already displaced the Prime Minister of IcelandSpain’s industry minister, the CEO of an Austrian bank and — ironically — the head of Transparency International’s Chile branch. Thousands of protesters have also called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to resign. In response to the revelations, appeals for reform came fast, and Europe’s five biggest economies have agreed to crack down on abuse by sharing information.

    READ MORE: Is the United States enabling tax evasion?

    The leak raises an age-old debate on how to balance privacy and transparency. Many libertarian-minded privacy advocates think the future of financial secrecy lies with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that supports them. These digital currencies enable anonymous transactions and have become deeply associated with illicit financial dealings, like the drug trade on the dark web marketplace Silk Road.

    But it’s not that simple.  Blockchain advocates believe that the technology behind Bitcoin is the future of transparency, not secrecy.

    Blockchain advocates believe that the technology behind Bitcoin is the future of transparency, not secrecy.

    Bitcoin’s crucial innovation is a distributed public ledger, known as a “blockchain,” that builds trust in a decentralized manner. Rather than relying on a single trusted source like a bank or clearinghouse, the blockchain defers to a decentralized swarm of machines. These computers verify transactions on the system. This network creates safety through redundancy, based on the consensus calculations of many machines. And thanks to the decentralization and strong cryptography, dishonest dealers cannot go back and alter historical transaction records. To do so would require altering thousands of ledgers that are distributed globally. Every transaction that has ever taken place is available for all to see, even if specific transactions can’t be traced to specific people. As one writer succinctly put it, the blockchain is “transparent and tamper-proof.”

    This model of distributed trust offers a solution to the many social problems caused by a lack of open, trustworthy and agile recordkeeping. At a recent event hosted by the MIT Center for International Studies, Blockchain expert Michael Casey noted that automating trust through public ledgers will streamline business and government transactions, destroying information bottlenecks and improving transparency and efficiency.

    READ MORE: Why one-percenters spend billions on foreign passports

    Consider, for instance, the domain of property titles. As Casey points out, the lack of a formal title for many in emerging markets means they cannot collateralize their wealth. A distributed, immutable ledger powered by blockchain technology might unlock the wealth stranded by poor record keeping and title systems.

    Honduras, where 60 percent of land is undocumented, is trying this out, and another project is rolling out in Ghana. Using the blockchain to build property title databases should be an economic boon for people in these countries. It’ll also strengthen their democracies, since these systems have built-in safeguards against tampering with records and thus corruption and expropriation.

    Imagine a system in which “smart contracts” automatically pay photographers or musicians when their works are remixed.

    Another area Casey noted as ripe for innovation is digital rights management. Blockchain technology could provide an elegant way for artists to get credited — and paid — for their work. Imagine a system in which “smart contracts” automatically pay photographers or musicians when their works are remixed. By automating the trust in such smart contracts, blockchain technology would minimize intellectual property theft and lower legal fees.

    Despite its reputation for anonymity, blockchain technology could also be used for identification. Governments could create public ledgers to record births and deaths, reducing fraud in the procurement of government services. These systems could also bolster privacy by ensuring only needed information was accessible to agencies.

    READ MORE: Are skyscraper races a warning of economic chaos to come?

    Health care is another area where blockchain could shine. The technology offers the prospect of encrypted medical records that hackers will have trouble tampering with. Estonia is currently implementing this kind of system. Other potential health care applications include drug verification and “DNA wallets.” With advances like these and others, storing medical information on the blockchain could simultaneously drive innovation in personalized medicine and also cut costs.

    The biggest concerns banks have about blockchain technology is that it is too transparent, not too secretive.

    As Casey points out, the new technology could also revolutionize supply chain management. Rather than having a single entity, like Wal-Mart, hoarding valuable information about the flow of goods, a public ledger would allow everyone to see what’s where and when. Using a blockchain would also let recipients of a good to understand its origin and ensure its authenticity. It may even enable origin-to-destination validation.

    Despite the potential for anonymity in financial transactions that Bitcoin offers, its underlying technology, the blockchain, is likely to make the world a much more transparent, democratic and efficient place. It shouldn’t be lost on us, as Casey noted, that the biggest concerns banks have about the technology is that it is too transparent, not too secretive.

    However depressing the Panama Papers revelations are, we can take solace in the fact that the future likely belongs to openness, not secrecy.

    The post In the age of the Panama Papers, is Bitcoin technology the future? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The CIA is expanding survivor benefits for agency employees and contractors killed in the line of duty overseas in acts of terrorism. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The CIA’s new policy is retroactive to 1983. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The CIA is expanding survivor benefits for agency employees and contractors killed in the line of duty overseas in acts of terrorism.

    The change is retroactive to 1983 and was applauded Wednesday by Barbara Doherty, the mother of Glen Doherty, a CIA operative killed in the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya. The CIA has agreed to pay a death benefit even though the family was not entitled under a standard federal insurance policy Glen Doherty held that pays a survivor benefit only to spouses and dependents.

    Barbara Doherty issued a family statement calling the expanded benefit “symbolic justice.” Her son was killed, along with three other Americans, in the attack on the facility in Benghazi. He was divorced and had no children.

    The CIA said in a statement that the expanded benefit reflects a statutory change enacted last December and applies to survivors of all federal employees, including contractors, killed overseas in the line of duty and as a result of terrorism. It is retroactive to April 18, 1983, the date a suicide attacker crashed a truck into the front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans, some of whom were CIA officers.

    The post CIA expands survivor benefit tied to overseas terror attacks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a press event at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, Wednesday. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

    Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a press event at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting in Hollywood, Florida, Wednesday. Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

    HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — One day after Donald Trump’s resounding victory in New York, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz conceded that he could not win enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination ahead of the party’s convention this summer.

    Cruz, speaking to reporters at the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting in Florida on Wednesday, said it was clear that “I’m not going to reach 1,237” delegates before the end of the primaries, the amount needed to capture the nomination on the first ballot.

    MORE: See PBS NewsHour’s delegate tracker

    But “Donald Trump is not going to reach 1,237,” either, Cruz said. “At that point it is going to be a battle to see who can earn the support of the majority of the delegates.”

    “I believe we will have a tremendous advantage in that battle,” Cruz added.

    The Cruz campaign has been working hard to secure the support of delegates who will vote for the nomination at the national convention in Cleveland in July. If no candidate emerges with a majority of the delegates after the primary season is over, most delegates would be free to vote how they wish on the second ballot.

    Trump has only recently started to focus on the delegate race. Last month, he hired a respected Republican strategist, Paul Manafort, to oversee his convention strategy.

    READ MORE: Is the nominating process rigged? RNC chairman weighs in

    But Cruz’s claims notwithstanding, Trump still has a slim chance of reaching the magic number of 1,237 and avoiding a contested convention. Neither party has held a contested convention or brokered convention since 1976.

    Trump helped his cause on Tuesday by winning nearly all of New York’s delegates, giving him 845 — roughly 300 more than Cruz. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in third place with 147 delegates.

    Kasich and Cruz were slated to address RNC members at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night. Trump was not scheduled to make an appearance, though his campaign is sending Manafort to make his case.

    To clinch the nomination outright, Trump needs to extend his dominant performance in New York to other moderate, northeastern states that are holding primaries in the coming weeks. He would also need a big win in California, which holds the last primary on June 7.

    Even as Trump is ramping up his delegate operation, he has repeatedly called the nomination process “rigged,” claiming that the party should pick the person who receives the most votes in the primaries.

    Party leaders have rebuked Trump’s claim and argued that he agreed to abide by the rules in place when he decided to seek the Republican nomination.

    Nevertheless, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus directed members ahead of the spring meeting, which is being held at a beachside convention center here, to let delegates in Cleveland set the rules for the national convention.

    The decision was made to ensure “that there’s no perception that the RNC is trying to favor or oppose any candidate,” Sean Spicer, the RNC’s chief strategist, said in an interview.

    As GOP leaders gathered in Fort Lauderdale for the start of the three-day meeting, several said they were coming to terms with the reality that either Trump or Cruz will win the nomination.

    “I don’t think it’s a begrudging acceptance,” said Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. “Most RNC members recognize” that.

    The eventual winner will need to coordinate with the RNC in order to mount a credible general election campaign, Moore added. “It would be almost impossible to win the presidency without the RNC as a partner.”

    Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party, said that Trump is showing signs of adjusting his strategy as the primary season winds down. Cox cited Trump’s hiring of Manafort and the longtime GOP strategist Rick Wiley.

    “It’s been Donald Trump on his own” until recently, Cox said. “This is a time when you have to start building out your campaign and making sure your delegates are there. [Trump is] beginning to bring in some real pros to help him.”

    The post Cruz says he can’t win GOP nod before convention, but neither can Trump appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Supreme Court is expressing doubts about laws in at least a dozen states that make it a crime for people suspected of drunken driving to refuse to take alcohol tests. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is expressing doubts about laws in at least a dozen states that make it a crime for people suspected of drunken driving to refuse to take alcohol tests.

    The justices heard arguments Wednesday in three cases challenging North Dakota and Minnesota laws that criminalize a refusal to test for alcohol in a driver’s blood, breath or urine if police have not first obtained a search warrant.

    Drivers prosecuted under those laws claim they violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. State supreme courts in Minnesota and North Dakota upheld the laws.

    The justices pressed lawyers representing the states on why they can’t simply require police to get a warrant every time police want a driver to take an alcohol test. Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to statistics showing that it takes an average of only five minutes to get a warrant over the phone in Wyoming and 15 minutes to get one in Montana.

    Thomas McCarthy, the lawyer representing North Dakota, said the state “strikes a bargain” with drivers by making consent to alcohol tests a condition for the privilege of driving on state roads.

    But Justice Anthony Kennedy said the states are asking for “an extraordinary exception” by making it a crime for people to assert their constitutional rights. He expressed frustration when McCarthy refused to answer repeated questions about why expedited warrants wouldn’t serve the state just as well.

    Kathryn Keena, a county prosecutor representing Minnesota, suggested some rural areas may have only one judge on call, making it too burdensome to seek a warrant every time. She said even if a warrant were procured, a driver could still refuse to take the test and face lesser charges for obstruction of a warrant than for violating drunken driving test laws.

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the state could simply change the law to make penalties more severe for obstruction.

    Several justices seemed to be searching for a middle ground. Some suggested to Charles Rothfeld — the lawyer representing challengers to the laws — that requiring a breath test without a warrant might be allowed because it’s far less invasive than a blood test.

    Justice Elena Kagan called the breath test “about as uninvasive as a search can possibly be” and suggested it could be part of a permissible search during an arrest.

    Rothfeld insisted that collecting breath was just as intrusive as collecting blood.

    The Obama administration is supporting the states. Deputy Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn told the justices they should not assume warrants “are available 24/7.”

    “That is not the case in the real world,” Gershengorn said. He said it may be the case for terrorist attacks, but not for routine drunken driving cases.

    In the Minnesota case, William Bernard was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and taken into custody and refused to take a chemical test at the police station after he was arrested. A divided Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the law was valid and that officers could have ordered a breath test without a warrant as a search conducted while performing a valid arrest.

    Under the Minnesota law, a first-degree count of refusal to take a breath test carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison.

    In North Dakota, refusal to take an alcohol test carries the same criminal penalties as driving under the influence. The state’s highest court upheld the law against a challenge from Danny Birchfield, who was arrested after he drove his car into a ditch and failed a field sobriety test. He refused to take more tests and was convicted under the state’s refusal law, which counts as a misdemeanor for a first offense.

    A second case from North Dakota involves Steve Beylund, a driver who was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving and consented to a chemical alcohol test. State courts declined to suppress the evidence from that test.

    Other states that criminalize a driver’s refusal to take an alcohol blood test include Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.

    The post High court expresses doubts about drunken driving laws appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The social media app Snapchat is defending its new Bob Marley filter against criticism that it promotes blackface. The feature changes a user’s appearance to make them darker, with dreadlocks and a Rasta-colored hat, reminiscent of the reggae star who died in 1981. But as the company fights back against the blackface backlash, there’s another criticism it hasn’t addressed.

    Most fans of the iconic musician recognize Feb. 6 as worldwide Bob Marley Day because it’s the anniversary of his birth. Instead of February, Snapchat premiered the filter on April 20, also known as “4-20,” an unofficial pot smoker’s holiday celebrating anything and everything to do with marijuana and its consumption. But Marley was much more than an advocate of worldwide marijuana legalization. And many fans of the reggae legend, who propelled both the genre and the culture to the international spotlight, question why a man whose music spoke of a racial, social and political revolution was reduced to just a pot-smoking caricature.

    Still, there are many who see the uproar as overblown:

    Snapchat released a statement in defense of the filter, arguing that it “was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate.” For many, approval from the Marley family holds little weight, as it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve been accused of selling out the singer’s legacy for profit. Bob Marley remains one of the top-earning dead celebrities; his name and likeness can been seen on everything from cigarette rolling papers, to handbags and black tea.

    As some Twitter users have mentioned, the issue goes beyond just music or marijuana. Race matters. For them, picking and choosing only the weed-related parts of his legacy to celebrate diminishes the overarching theme of Marley’s music: fighting against the same racial justice issues that nowadays can make even the white, pot-loving hippie uncomfortable.

    At a time when the same cultural elements for which Marley, Rastafarians and the Caribbean region were often vilified and stereotyped are now celebrated when adopted by white pop stars, Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter is yet another setback for those fighting to reclaim his legacy.

    The post The problem with Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter goes beyond blackface appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Boddities: Why Does it hurt to get water up your nose? from Stat News on Vimeo.

    Springtime means terrible allergies, and your doctor might suggest shooting water up your nose with a NetiPot.

    But if a NetiPot can provide such sweet, sweet relief, why does it hurt so much if water shoots up your nose when you jump into a pool? STAT investigates that question in the new episode of Boddities, which asks questions about the body’s weird habits. Take two minutes and find out about the war being waged inside your nose.

    If you’ve got a question you’d like to see answered, tweet at me or shoot me an email.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on April 21, 2016. Find the original story here.

    The post WATCH: Why does it hurt to get water up your nose? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland walks after a breakfast with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill Washington, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RTX29LJI

    U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland walks after a breakfast with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill Washington, April 12, 2016. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland praised lawyers for their work with low-income Washingtonians Thursday in his first public remarks since his nomination last month.

    Garland was on familiar turf, speaking at the federal courthouse in Washington, where he is chief judge of the appeals court.

    Giving people living in poverty access to the courts is critical for society, Garland said. “Without equal justice under law,” Garland said, using the phrase engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court, “faith in the rule of the law, the foundation of our civil society, is at risk.”

    Garland’s nomination is stalled in the Senate, where GOP leaders say the next president should choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He has met with roughly 40 senators so far, with no sign that Republicans will allow hearings on his nomination, much less a vote.

    At those meetings, Garland has typically said nothing for public consumption.

    His appearance Thursday was part of the White House’s effort to familiarize the country with the nominee by having him speak on a noncontroversial topic, free legal assistance for the poor.

    The post Supreme Court nominee praises lawyers for work with the poor appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Donald Trump gestures at his New York presidential primary night rally in Manhattan on April 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/ Reuters

    Donald Trump gestures at his New York presidential primary night rally in Manhattan on April 19. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday that transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they choose, voicing opposition to part of a far-reaching North Carolina law that critics say is discriminatory.

    Speaking at a town hall event on NBC’s “Today” Thursday, Trump was asked about North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom law,” which, among other things, requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate in state government buildings as well as public schools and universities.

    Trump said the law had caused unnecessary strife for the state, which he said had paid “a big price” economically.

    “There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate,” said Trump. “There has been so little trouble.”

    After the law was signed in late March, Deutsche Bank halted plans to add 250 North Carolina jobs, while PayPal reversed a decision to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte. Local tourism boards have also said they’ve lost millions of dollars thanks to cancelled conventions and business meetings.

    Trump’s main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, immediately fired back, saying that Trump is giving in to “political correctness.”

    “Grown adult men, strangers, should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls,” Cruz said, calling his view “basic common sense.”

    His campaign also released a statement declaring Trump “no different from politically correct leftist elites.”

    “He has succumbed to the left’s agenda, which is to force Americans to leave God out of public life while paying lip service to false tolerance,” it read.

    The comments came as Trump drew closer to clinching the Republican nomination with a big win in his home state of New York earlier this week. If he becomes his party’s nominee, Trump is likely to face pressure to moderate some of his stances to appeal to independents and women in the general election.

    Trump said at the town hall that he didn’t know if any transgender people work for his organization, but said that some “probably” did. Asked about Caitlyn Jenner, an Olympic gold medal winner then-known as Bruce Jenner, walking into Trump Tower using the bathroom, he said would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses.

    Still, Trump said he’s opposed to efforts to create new, transgender bathrooms alongside single gendered ones, calling that push “discriminatory in a certain way” and “unbelievably expensive for businesses and the country.”

    Meanwhile, the state’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory defended the law in a statement from his re-election campaign, blaming the Charlotte city council for passing an “unneeded and overreaching ordinance.”

    “Where the governor disagrees with Mr. Trump is that bathroom and shower facilities in our schools should be kept separate and special accommodations made when needed. It’s just common sense,” said the statement from campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz.

    In Washington, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan punted on questions about the legislation, saying that it wasn’t his place to get involved in what each state was doing.

    Associated Press writers Julie Pace in Frederick, Maryland and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post Trump voices opposition to North Carolina bathroom law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Students in North Carolina have mixed reaction to North Carolina’s law that requires people to use the public bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate.  Photo by Getty Images

    Students in North Carolina have mixed reaction to North Carolina’s law that requires people to use the public bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. Photo by Getty Images

    Prince, whose unique blend of funk, soul, hip-hop and pop earned him top honors in music and millions of fans worldwide, died Thursday at 57, his publicist Yvette Noel-Schure told the Associated Press.

    Authorities responded Thursday morning to an emergency call at his studio in Chanhassen, Minnesota, at 9:43 a.m. local time. The musician had been hospitalized following an illness earlier this week that caused his private jet to make an emergency landing in Illinois while en route to his home outside of Minneapolis. Representatives for the singer say he had been battling the flu for several weeks.

    The singer was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis in 1958 to John L. Nelson and Mattie Shaw. The two would divorce before he was 10 years old, an event that critics say affected him greatly.

    The artist, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, sold more than 100 million records in his lifetime. He is on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest artists.

    Straddling the era of pop in the 1950s and the budding rock of the 1960s, Prince took genre-blending and musical experimentation to a new level.

    His first album, “For You,” came out through Warner Bros. in 1978. Critics saw potential in his “canny combination of coy lyrics, tricky drumming, and layered harmonies,” Michaelangelo Matos wrote for Pitchfork.

    UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13:  RITZ CLUB  Photo of PRINCE, Prince performing on stage - Purple Rain Tour  (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

    Prince performing during his Purple Rain Tour. Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns

    But it was his 1982 smash hit “1999” that launched him to international superstardom. Some of his most memorable singles include “When Doves Cry,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Kiss.”

    Prince won seven Grammys over the span of his career and an Academy Award for Best Original Score for “Purple Rain” in 1985. The soundtrack of the same name sold more than 15 million copies worldwide that year. Prince was known as a master of several instruments including guitar, drums and piano.

    In 1993, he changed his name to the “love symbol,” a logo with no known pronunciation which combined the gender symbols for male and female. It was commonly noted in print as “O(+>.” The move earned him the nickname “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” and seven years later, he changed his name back to Prince.

    At Super Bowl XLI in 2007, he lit up the stage during a heavy rainstorm in what would become one of the most iconic performances of his career. Bruce Rogers, production designer for the event, said that when Prince was asked if he could perform in the rain, he asked, “Can you make it rain harder?”

    The artist formerly known as Prince performs at the Brit Awards, the UK's premier music awards at Earls Court in London February 24, 1997. Photo by Kieran Doherty/Reuters

    The artist formerly known as Prince performs at the Brit Awards, the UK’s premier music awards at Earls Court in London February 24, 1997. Photo by Kieran Doherty/Reuters

    Prince’s music and performances put forth a bold mix of music and sexuality, one that drew attention from critics and audiences. Music writer Peter Watrous said in The New York Times that he projected “one of the most confusing, enigmatic images in pop music, mixing erotic love with religion, irony and humor with seriousness.”

    He also became an advocate for artists through his own battle for independence from his record label, Warner Bros. He fought the label for ownership of his work, even once writting “slave” on his face in protest. Prince parted ways with Warner Bros., but returned several years later. He remained protective of his material, fighting to keep videos and songs off of popular online platforms like Spotify and YouTube.

    U.S. musician Prince performs for the first time in Britain since 2007 at the Hop Farm Festival near Paddock Wood, southern England July 3, 2011. Photo by Olivia Harris/Reuters

    Prince performs for the first time in Britain since 2007 at the Hop Farm Festival near Paddock Wood, southern England, July 3, 2011. Photo by Olivia Harris/Reuters

    The artist never stopped working. In a 1985 interview with the Electrifying Mojo, a Detroit radio personality, he said he heard inspiration everywhere.

    “I hear things in my sleep; I walk around and go to the bathroom and try to brush my teeth and all of the sudden the toothbrush starts vibrating! That’s a groove, you know,” he said. “You gotta go with that, and that means drop the toothbrush and get down to the studio or get to a bass guitar, quick!”

    WATCH: Prince’s conversation with Tavis Smiley

    Despite a prolonged battle with what his representatives say was the flu, Prince still performed and recorded music up until shortly before his death. He released four albums since late 2014, including two released via the music streaming service Tidal. While performing in New York City last month he announced an upcoming memoir documenting his life and musical journey. It was slated for release in the fall of 2017.

    Prince was married twice, to Mayte Garcia, from 1996 to 2000, and Manuela Testolini, from 2001 to 2006. Boy Gregory, his son with Garcia, was born in 1996, but died shortly after birth.

    The post Prince, legendary music artist whose influence spanned 4 decades, has died appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Syrian refugees arrive at the camp for refugees and migrants in Friedland, Germany April 4, 2016. The first group of Syrian refugees arrived in Germany by plane from Turkey under a new deal between the European Union and Ankara to combat human trafficking and bring migration under control, German police said on Monday.   REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach - RTSDI20

    Syrian refugees arrive at the camp for refugees and migrants in Friedland, Germany, on April 4, 2016. An official from the European Union is calling for the U.S. to accept refugees fleeing from Syria. Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A top European Union official urged the United States on Thursday to accept more refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, saying that asylum seekers should not be equated with violent extremists.

    Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s special representative for human rights, said that taking in more refugees would help ease the pressure on Europe, which is facing a massive refugee crisis.

    “To the extent that we can all understand this global issue and share the responsibility, this will clearly alleviate the pressure on Europe right now and Greece in particular,” Lambrinidis said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    “To our knowledge, there is absolutely no evidence in the case of the US, that giving asylum to people is opening the door to terrorists.”

    The U.S. annually accepts 70,000 refugees from around the world. This group includes people fleeing violence, religious persecution and war. The Obama administration announced last year that the number of people invited to move to the U.S. as refugees would be increased to 85,000 in 2016, including about 10,000 Syrians.

    Lambrinidis said that while it was important for authorities to be vigilant in screening migrants, the anti-refugee rhetoric that is on the rise in the U.S. and the EU is alarming and undermines the countries’ international obligations.

    Europe has seen a rise of far-right parties fueled by the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks in European capitals. In the U.S., Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has called for temporarily barring Muslims from entering the country and refusing entry to Syrian refugees.

    “The easy rhetoric, the populist rhetoric that we have in Europe or that you have here, that asylum means opening the door to terrorism is something that we have to nip in the bud in my view,” Lambrinidis said. “It’s extremely dangerous and it also endangers our obligation … under international law.”

    The post EU official urges U.S. to accept more refugees from Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Celebrities and musical artists spoke out online Thursday to pay tribute to musical icon Prince, calling the singer and multi-instrumentalist a “musical genius,” “a visionary musician and artist” and “a true legend.”

    The singer’s publicist Yvette Nelson-Schure told the Associated Press that Prince died at his suburban Minneapolis home Thursday.

    Many expressed admiration for Prince’s musical abilities and his legacy as an artist.

    Others expressed shock at his sudden death.

    Still others took time to remember the man behind the legend.

    The post Celebrities pay tribute to Prince on Twitter appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The Canadian government is working with indigenous peoples to improve community wellbeing and prevent suicide. One community that took control over suicide prevention, Igloolik, has been suicide-free for the last five years, says a researcher who has studied suicide among the Inuit for 20 years. REUTERS/Christopher Wilson

    The Canadian government is working with indigenous peoples to improve community wellbeing and prevent suicide. One community that took control over suicide prevention, Igloolik, has been suicide-free for the last five years, says a researcher who has studied suicide among the Inuit for 20 years. Photo by Christopher Wilson/Reuters

    Nearly two decades ago, Wayne State University professor Michael Kral began studying a tiny Arctic settlement called Igloolik to find out how Inuit villagers there tried to prevent suicide.

    Every week, villagers gathered in the local gym and asked how they could help each other. Igloolik’s housing committee removed every home’s closet rod, the most common device used when a villager tried to commit suicide. And a grant-funded community center gave young people a place to play billiards, watch movies and listen to stories told by village elders.

    “The message was clear — we don’t want any suicides,” Kral said.

    It took time, but the villagers’ work is paying off.

    For the last five years, Igloolik has been suicide-free, despite on-going unemployment and poverty, Kral said. The most important factor behind those prevention efforts was that villagers controlled community wellbeing, he said.

    “Don’t give them these Western suicide prevention programs that don’t fit with their culture,” Kral said. “Let them do it themselves.”

    For decades, suicide has disproportionately risen among Canada’s indigenous population. Historical trauma from federal policies that removed people from ancestral lands and forced them to shed traditions and language, paired with deep poverty and isolation, are often cited as contributing factors for the nation’s indigenous communities experiencing a suicide rate far higher than elsewhere in Canada.

    Earlier this month, the First Nation community of Attawapiskat was the latest to declare a state of emergency after 11 youths attempted suicide.

    In 2015, the Mushkegowuk FIrst Nation issued a report that explored its “suicide pandemic” after hundreds of its youth had attempted suicide or thought about doing so. And three years ago, the Neskantaga First Nation leaders announced a state of emergency that remains in place today.

    But research suggests that Igloolik’s success might be replicated elsewhere.

    In a 2008 study, Michael Chandler from the University of British Columbia found that among that Canadian province’s 196 First Nations, the risk of youth suicide was “strongly associated” with a loss of cultural identity and a lack of control communities held over services, such as education, law enforcement and government.

    The Canadian government is putting this idea to the test. This year, the Canadian government is spending $271 million to “support culturally-relevant mental wellness programs and activities,” such as risk-factor awareness education and crisis response, according to a written statement from Health Canada, the country’s healthcare agency.

    The government also works with indigenous peoples to identify problems, develop solutions and ultimately prevent suicide through the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework.

    In Kimberly Masson’s work with the non-profit Embrace Life Council in the sprawling Canadian territory of Nunavut, suicide prevention must start at the grassroots level.

    That is because the greatest challenge in her work isn’t the number of people, but the geography. The territory’s 32,000 residents are mostly Inuit and spread across 808,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of western Europe. The territory’s communities are largely unconnected by roads, she said, and diesel generators power homes.

    Food that hasn’t been hunted or fished is expensive, she said, and a 22-pound bag of flour can cost as much as $60 in the High Arctic. Jobs are also tough to find.

    “Transitioning to the wage economy has not been easy in a place where there’s not a lot of wages,” she said.

    Organizing suicide prevention efforts for such remote communities is vital, she said. Her two-person staff offers regional suicide helplines and resources for frontline workers about suicide, mental health, violence, addiction and bullying.

    “Empowering communities has to be the goal of any program that’s going on,” Masson said. “The community has to sustain itself.”

    The post How Canada is working with indigenous peoples to prevent suicide appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People keep half of their brain online when sleeping in a new place, according to a new study from Brown University. Photo by Superstock

    People keep half of their brain online when sleeping in a new place, according to a new study from Brown University. Photo by Superstock

    The first night in a new place often feels lousy, and neuroscientists at Brown University may have discovered why. They show that half of a person’s brain remains active during the first night of sleeping in an unfamiliar location. This brain activity corresponds with a heightened sense of awareness on one side of the body, which may serve as a night watch for spotting danger when a person is sleeping.

    “We show that one brain hemisphere shows wakefulness, and the other hemisphere shows a deep sleep,” said Masako Tamaki, an experimental psychologist at Brown. “When people struggle with first-night effects, it may be because we don’t know whether the environment is safe for deep sleep in both hemispheres.”

    Humans aren’t the first animals to leave on one brain hemisphere while resting, which is known as unihemispheric sleep. Dolphins do it. Birds do it. And in both cases, scientists suspect the behavior is a defense mechanism against predators.

    Tamaki and her colleagues made this discovery in humans by conducting three sleep experiments. The first test monitored sleep cycles in 11 people, with a specific focus on slow-wave brain activity. Slow waves appear during the deepest stage of non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. They’re great marker for when a person is truly conked out.

    The team made the usual measurements for a sleep study — brain waves, blood oxygen levels, heart rate, breathing, eye movements and leg movements — but peered into the mind and recorded activity in multiple parts of the brain with two different tools. One gives a fuzzy picture, while the other is sharper. They used functional MRI, which measures broad changes in blood flow, as well as magnetoencephalography — a scanner that detects electrical nerve signals on a millisecond-by-millisecond basis.

    During the first night of sleep in a new place but not the second, slow wave activity dampened in all 11 subjects, suggesting their sleep was less deep. But, this reduction only occurred in the left brain hemispheres of these subjects, specifically in a collection of neural circuits known as the default-mode network.

    The main brain regions of the default mode network (yellow) and neural circuits (green) that connect them, color-coded by structural traversing direction (xyz -> rgb)  Photo by Andreashorn/via Wikimedia

    The main brain regions of the default mode network (yellow) and neural circuits (green) that connect them, color-coded by structural traversing direction (xyz -> rgb) Photo by Andreashorn/via Wikimedia

    The default-mode network is a collection of brain areas that are most active when the mind is resting. If you’re daydreaming or your mind is wandering, then the default-mode network is spewing nerve messages to and fro.

    The brain and body are split in half, meaning the left brain hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa. So if half the mind remains alert, does the same apply to half the body?

    Yes! In a second experiment with 13 new subjects, the researchers played an annoying audio tone among a drumline of background tones — but into one ear at a time. The night-watch (left) hemisphere exhibited a sharper response to the tone when it was played in the right ear. In contrast, when the sound blared in the other ear, the right brain hemisphere seemed to ignore it. Again, this trend only occurred on the first night in a new place.

    This alertness translates into swifter reflexes too. In a third experiment, the researchers told a new set of 11 subjects to tap their fingers if they noticed the annoying tone. On the first night in a new place, people tapped more readily when the tone played in the right ear and bothered the night-watch hemisphere. They also reacted twice as fast and were more likely to wake up altogether.

    But wait, hold on. What if the subjects merely became used to the pesky tone between the first night and the second night?

    “If that were the case, we should see hemispheric asymmetry also during wakefulness, and in other sleep stages. But we only found this hemispheric asymmetry during the deepest sleep,” Tamaki said.

    Of the 35 adults tested in the study, all but three were right-handed. A larger group size would be needed to determine if the night-watch hemisphere is always the left side of the brain, or if it switches with handedness.

    Future research may also reveal if the first-night jitters play a role in mental health, Tamaki said.

    Some insomniacs experience a reversed version of the first-night effect, where they sleep better when exposed to a new environment. Plus, sleep solidifies memories and is important for learning, so Tamaki’s team plans to investigate whether frequent travelers suffer from temporary learning problems.

    The study is available today in the journal Current Biology.

    The post Why you sleep lousy on vacation appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    White House photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    White House photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration says it’ll distribute $90 million this year to help states expand apprenticeship programs, particularly to minorities and new industries.

    Vice President Joe Biden says people who learn skills through an apprenticeship earn more than $50,000 a year on average.

    Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says some states are further along than others in building their apprenticeship networks, but every state has a desire to “lift their game.”

    Congress has approved the $90 million.

    The administration says apprenticeships are helping people land jobs in public transit, information technology and manufacturing.

    The post White House to distribute $90 million for apprenticeships appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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