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

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    President Donald Trump speaks at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Feb. 10. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    President Donald Trump speaks at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House on Feb. 10. Photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised Friday to take action “very rapidly” to protect the U.S. and its citizens, a day after a federal appeals court firmly kept his travel ban on hold. He didn’t reveal his planned next step to control travel into the U.S. from countries that he considers potential terrorist threats.

    “We’ll be doing things to continue to make our country safe,” Trump pledged at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “It will happen rapidly. We will not allow people into our country who are looking to do harm to our people.”

    Trump added that still expects to prevail in a legal challenge to his travel ban, despite Thursday’s 3-0 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that kept it from going back into effect.

    “Ultimately, I have no doubt that we’ll win that particular case,” he said.

    Trump stressed that voters elected him to keep the country secure, “so we’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You’ll be seeing that sometime next week.”

    He added that “extreme vetting” is still planned for would-be visitors or immigrants from other countries.

    Conjuring images of unspecified danger, Trump said he had “learned tremendous things that you could only learn, frankly, if you were in a certain position, namely president. And there are tremendous threats to our country. We will not allow that to happen, I can tell you that. We will not allow that to happen.”

    Trump is standing by his argument that national security hangs in the balance. He issued an all-caps Tweet shortly after Thursday’s court ruling: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” In West Wing comments on Thursday night, he exhibited an air of confidence: “We have a situation where the security of our country is at stake and it’s a very, very serious situation, so we look forward … to seeing them in court.” He added: “We’re going to win the case.”

    The Justice Department said it was “reviewing the decision and considering its options.” It could appeal the restraining order on Trump’s travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court or it could attempt to remake the case in the district court.

    White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested the next step would be to argue the merits of the executive order.

    “The statute provides a president … with great latitude and authority to protect the citizens and to protect the nation’s national security,” Conway said. “This was not argued on the merits. Now that we’ll have an opportunity to argue on the merits we look forward to doing that. We look forward to prevailing.”

    The ruling represented a setback for Trump’s administration and the second legal defeat for the new president in the past week. Trump’s decision to sign the executive order late last month has sparked protests at airports around the world as authorities barred scores of travelers from entering the country amid confusion over how to implement the details.

    The appellate decision brushed aside arguments by the Justice Department that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted Thursday that Trump “ought to see the writing on the wall” and abandon the proposal. The New York Democrat called on the president to “roll up his sleeves” and come up with “a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe.”

    House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California promised, “Democrats will continue to press for President Trump’s dangerous and unconstitutional ban to be withdrawn.” And Trump’s former presidential rival Hillary Clinton offered a terse response on Twitter, noting the unanimous vote: “3-0.”

    Congress’ Republican leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, declined to comment.

    U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued the temporary restraining order halting the ban after Washington state and Minnesota sued, leading to the federal government’s appeal.

    The Trump administration has said the seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — have raised terrorism concerns. The states have argued that the executive order unconstitutionally blocked entry based on religion and the travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities.

    In a hallway conversation with reporters, Trump expressed confidence that he will prevail in court if the case is argued on the merits.

    He and his aides frequently refer to a ruling by a federal judge in Boston who declined last week to extend a temporary injunction against Trump’s travel ban. In the separate federal ruling in Seattle that night, a different federal judge put the ban on hold nationwide; it is that judge’s decision that the White House has challenged.

    “It’s a decision that we’ll win, in my opinion, very easily and, by the way, we won that decision in Boston,” Trump said.

    The president, in his third week in office, has criticized the judiciary’s handling of the case. Last weekend, he labeled Robart a “so-called judge” and referred to the ruling as “ridiculous.” Earlier this week he accused the appellate court considering his executive order of being “so political.”

    Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has referred to the president’s comments as “demoralizing and disheartening,” according to a Democratic senator who asked him about Trump’s response.

    Trump has yet to nominate a candidate to be solicitor general, the lawyer who argues before the Supreme Court on behalf of the United States. Trump told reporters he’ll be making that decision over the next week.

    The post Trump promises action ‘very rapidly’ after travel ban halted appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    People walk on the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen on Feb. 2. Photo by Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

    People walk on the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen on Feb. 2. Photo by Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

    SANAA, Yemen — The United Nations refugee agency said Friday that tens of thousands of people have been displaced amid the latest escalation of fighting along Yemen’s western coastline.

    The stark warning came as the leader of Yemen’s Shiite rebels announced that his forces have built drones and missiles that will be used against the Saudi-led coalition and would target the Saudi capital.

    Yemen has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014, when Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies swept down from the country’s north and captured the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition has waged a blistering air campaign since March 2015, seeking to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government. The conflict is made even more complex because an al-Qaida branch and its rival, the Islamic State affiliate, have exploited the chaos and grown in number and power.

    The war has destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure and thousands of civilians have been killed.

    UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said that 34,000 people fled their homes after fierce fighting erupted in the port towns of Mokha and Dhubab on the Red Sea. The majority of the displaced are headed to the outskirts of the war-torn city of Taiz in western Yemen, he said.

    Yemeni forces, allied with the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi that is backed by the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Gulf Arab states, have recently seized Mokha and plan to push northward.

    In a speech aired on al-Masirah TV, the Houthi rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi offered no evidence or figures for the number of drones and missiles allegedly manufactured by the rebels but the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, has recently accused the Shiite power Iran of providing the Houthis with drones.

    The speech also followed a Houthi claim earlier in the week that they targeted Riyadh with missiles.

    There was no immediate comment from the kingdom but a week ago, Saudi Arabia said a “suicide gunboat” belonging to the Iran-backed Houthis rammed into one of its frigates in the Red Sea, killing two crew members. Saudis see the Houthis as a proxy of Iran, the Sunni kingdom’s key regional rival.

    Efforts to reach a peaceful settlement to Yemen conflict have stalled after series of peace talks in Geneva and Kuwait ended with no deal, most recently in the summer last year.

    On Friday, top Houthi official Saleh al-Sammad called upon new U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres not to extend the mission of U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, accusing him of failure. He also called for the reopening of the Sanaa International Airport which the coalition has shut down since the collapse of the peace talks.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

    The post UN: Yemen fighting displaced tens of thousands more people appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Elton John (C) and others perform "The Weight" as a tribute to Levon Helm of The Band, to members of the Recording Academy that passed away in 2012 at the 55th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    Elton John (C) and others perform “The Weight” as a tribute to Levon Helm of The Band, to members of the Recording Academy that passed away in 2012 at the 55th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    The “In Memoriam” segments made for the major televised award shows are usually notable for their exclusions. The Grammys are no exception, as perceived “snubs” draw commentary the next morning.

    On average, two and a half to three minutes are set aside during the hours-long telecast to pay tribute to the late-greats of the music industry. And, inevitably, it’s a bit of posthumous politics that decides who wins a spot in the photo-and-film sequence.

    Comedian Joan Rivers was left out of the 2015 montage even though she won her first posthumous Grammy the same night. The following year, Natalie Cole’s family said the tribute to the singer who famously sang “Unforgettable” was “forgettable.”

    With so many big stars lost this past year — Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael —  the NewsHour spoke with Ken Ehrlich, 74, the telecast’s longtime executive producer. This telecast, held on Feb. 12, will be Ehrlich’s 37th year of producing the show.


    As executive producer, you orchestrate every collaboration, every detail of the Grammy Awards. Where does the “In Memoriam” segment fit in amid all of your duties?

    Well it’s a very important piece of the show; it’s become that. And we didn’t do one for a number of years because our show is all entertainment. The reality is that [the segment] took the place of another performance. It was important that if we were going to do it, we’d tie it to a performance.

    So, 2004 was the first time we actually did an “In Memoriam” segment. We did it and tied it together with Joe Strummer from The Clash, who passed away that year. And we built a pretty remarkable payoff, a finish to the segment. It was like the others since: a montage of photos and stills and some music from the artists who passed away. And then that year we hit it off with a pretty incredible performance with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl and Steven Van Zandt.

    Video by YouTube user Safarita79

    And after we did that, there was no question that an “In Memoriam” would come up as part and parcel in our show.

    What is your overall vision for the segment?

    I don’t know that I have a vision. We do it to honor the memory of artists who had an impact on our musical landscape. It doesn’t vary very much. We try to find appropriate photos or stills or film clips of these artists and put a little music pad under it when we can.

    We can’t do them all. So, it becomes this kind of montage that, hopefully, at least acknowledges a number of musical personalities or people who have been involved in music over the years.

    How do you then decide who’s in and who’s left out in the tribute?

    There’s a couple of ways. There’s a committee at the Recording Academy and, in December, when we’re getting reasonably close to the show, we will put together a list that goes into the hundreds, 300 to 400 people. We then go through that list and this committee votes. We all vote and pick our favorites. And from that, we cut it down to a reasonable number.

    The number we kind of have in mind is 50 because 50 goes into three minutes without too much difficulty. Sometimes, we’ll do a little more. Sometimes — very seldom — we’ll do less.

    Video by YouTube user RunAndPlay Branigan

    There’s always people we want to include. Once it gets past that, it’s unwieldy and it’s hard to handle. And my feeling has always been, there’s a [time] limit to any performance on this show, whether it’s artist-driven or, in this case, driven by the loss of people who brought us great music.

    Do you brace for the inevitable next-day stories that say a particular artist is left out?

    Yeah, we can’t please every[one]. I like to think we do a pretty good job, but there’s always criticism of it. Again, we start with a list of 300 worthy people. We can’t do 300 worthy people. At some point, it becomes subjective.

    B.B. King is seen on screen during the 2016 "In Memoriam" tribute during the 58th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

    B.B. King is seen on screen during the 2016 “In Memoriam” tribute during the 58th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

    Was there a particularly difficult year to compile?

    Well, last year was difficult. There were so many deaths within a six-week period of our show. From Dec. 31, when I think Natalie Cole died, shortly thereafter Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire passed away. David Bowie had died shortly before that. Last year, we probably did more than we had ever done before.

    And people like these segments. They like the tributes. It’s one of the most loved. We’ve done a number of Emmy shows. Now, it’s a different animal. But on the Emmy shows, when they’ve done the research about the show, the “In Memoriam” segment on the Emmy shows is one of the most highly rated, highly favored segments on the show. People do like these segments, and we do like doing them.

    WATCH: A classical pianist on her genre’s ‘golden time’ — and Ray Charles

    The post How the Grammy Awards’ ‘In Memoriam’ tributes are made appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of national security adviser Michael Flynn by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    File photo of national security adviser Michael Flynn by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s national security adviser addressed U.S. sanctions against Russia in his conversations with the country’s ambassador while President Barack Obama was still in office, a new report said, contradicting previous claims that the issue was not discussed.

    A Trump administration official told The Associated Press that Michael Flynn “can’t be certain” that sanctions did not come up in his discussions with the Russian ambassador. The official said Flynn has “no recollection” of discussing the sanctions, but left open the possibility that the issue did come up when he spoke with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition.

    The Kremlin denied Friday that Flynn and Kislyak discussed the sanctions before Trump took office.

    But the Washington Post, citing several current and former U.S. officials, reported late Thursday that Flynn made explicit references to election-related sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in his conversations with Kislyak.

    Members of the Trump administration have maintained that Flynn had spoken to the ambassador during the transition period to wish him a Merry Christmas and offer condolences after a deadly Russian plane crash.

    One of the calls took place on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in response to a U.S. intelligence assessment that the Russian government had interfered in the U.S. presidential election with the goal of helping Trump.

    The Post report also raises questions about assertions made by Vice President Mike Pence staunchly denying that Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador had anything to do with sanctions.

    “It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation” as new sanctions were announced, Pence said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last month. He insisted the discussion did not address the Obama administration’s decision to impose sanctions on Russian intelligence services and expel Russian 35 diplomats it said were actually intelligence operatives.

    Pence also maintained that the Trump presidential campaign had no contacts with the Russians ahead of the election.

    A second administration official said Pence was relying on information from Flynn when he denied sanctions were raised during the calls with Kislyak.

    Both officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity.

    It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama was imposing sanctions raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the expulsions, a decision Trump quickly praised.

    After U.S. officials first revealed Flynn’s calls last month, Trump aides originally denied that a telephone conversation even took place on Dec. 29. Hours later, an official acknowledged one such call.

    Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the Trump administration has been laying the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over the assessment that Putin ordered a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the U.S. election.

    The sanctions targeted the GRU and FSB, leading Russian intelligence agencies that the U.S. said were involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other groups.

    Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Chris Murphy called for an investigation of Flynn.

    Other Democrats demanded his firing.

    “He lied – repeatedly and egregiously – about his actions,” Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Ted Lieu of California said Friday.

    Questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia deepened after he dismissed the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assertions about Russia’s role in the hacking. In briefing Trump on their findings, intelligence officials also presented him with unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations against him.

    Last week, House Democrats called for an investigation of Flynn to determine whether he violated the Constitution by accepting payments from a Kremlin-controlled TV station in Russia. Flynn traveled in 2015 to Moscow, where he joined Putin and other Russian officials in a celebration of the RT network.

    Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, later explained he had been paid for taking part in the event, but brushed aside concerns that he was aiding a Russian propaganda effort.

    The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits federal officeholders from accepting gifts from foreign governments. The Defense Department warns that the prohibition applies to both active-duty and retired military.

    The post Official: Flynn not ‘certain’ on sanctions talk with Russia appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    File photo of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, by Mark Makela/Reuters

    File photo of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, by Mark Makela/Reuters

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The voter identified himself as a cancer survivor, and he had something to say to Republican Rep. Justin Amash: “I am scared to death that I will not have health insurance in the future.”

    The comment earned 61-year-old retiree Paul Bonis a standing ovation from the crowd packed into a school auditorium in Amash’s Michigan district Thursday night. And the congressman was booed for his response: That the Affordable Care Act has “hurt a lot of people,” and he supports his party’s plans to repeal and replace it, even though the GOP still hasn’t united around an alternative.

    It’s a scene that’s played out around the country over the past several weeks as Republicans and President Donald Trump have assumed control of Washington and begun moving forward on their long-held promise to undo former President Barack Obama’s health care law. In an echo of the raucous complaints that confronted Democrats back in 2009 as they worked to pass “Obamacare” in the first place, Republicans who want to repeal it now are facing angry pushback of their own at constituent gatherings from Utah to Michigan to Tennessee and elsewhere, even in solidly Republican districts.

    And just as the protests in 2009 focused on health care but reflected broader concerns over an increasingly divisive new president and Democrats’ monopoly control over Washington, now, too, constituent complaints at town hall meetings appear to reflect more general fears about the Trump administration and the implications of one-party GOP rule of the nation’s capital.

    In a Salt Lake City suburb on Thursday night, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz faced irate constituents chanting “Do your job!” as they pressed the House Oversight Committee chairman to investigate Trump. Chaffetz struggled to be heard as he faced a litany of sharp questions and screams from a crowd of people who grilled him on everything from Obamacare to Chaffetz’s desire to overturn a new national monument in southern Utah.

    “Come on, we’re better than this,” Chaffetz protested over the hubbub at one point, practically pleading with the deafening crowd to let him speak.

    In Tennessee, GOP Rep. Diane Black faced questions from impassioned and well-informed constituents defending the Affordable Care Act, including one man who told her that he and others with health conditions might die without insurance. “And you want to take away this coverage, and have nothing to replace it with,” the man said. Black argued that the Affordable Care Act has been ineffective because although 20 million people gave gained coverage under the law, millions more have chosen to pay a fine and remain uninsured.

    And in southern Wisconsin, GOP Rep. James Sensenbrenner faced a voter who asked him: “Who’s going to be the check and balance on Donald Trump?” Like others interviewed at town halls around the country, the woman asking the question, Barbara Kresse, said she has not been politically active, another similarity to 2009 when the advent of the Obama administration seemed to cause enough anxiety to awaken groups of voters who had never previously gotten involved.

    Indeed the recent protests are being amplified by liberal activists modeling their opposition to Trump on the tea party groups that sprang up to oppose Obama and the Democrats. Calling itself “Indivisible,” a non-profit group that grew out of a how-to guide written by former Democratic congressional staffers has advertised town hall gatherings nationally, suggesting at least some level of coordination, which was the case with the anti-Obamacare protests as well. Some Republicans, including White House press secretary Sean Spicer, have dismissed the protesters as orchestrated and even paid, though there’s been no evidence of that.

    House GOP leaders have taken note of the protests, and took time during a regular meeting of their conference this past week to give lawmakers “best practices” advice for dealing with them, including to treat protesters with courtesy and respect, consider hiring security or a moderator for town hall gatherings, or even “kill them with kindness” by offering cookies or coffee.

    Lawmakers insisted that they are not changing their public schedules out of concern over being met by protesters, but town hall meetings have grown rarer in recent years anyway, with some lawmakers citing the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords at a constituent gathering in Tucson, Arizona in 2011 as one reason. In some districts and states, constituents have been trying to shame lawmakers into holding town halls to discuss Obamacare or other issues, showing up at district offices with signs demanding a meeting.

    In a letter to fellow House Republicans on Thursday, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, vice chairman of the GOP conference, downplayed the opposition and sought to encourage lawmakers to stay committed to their agenda.

    “We have been charged with holistic reform,” Collins wrote. “And to the extent that we are leading our communities in a new direction, we remember — with sadness — that, because a broken system became the status quo, even those who have suffered under that brokenness may resist its repair.”

    ___

    Werner reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Cara Lombardo in Sullivan, Wisconsin contributed.

    The post Angry voters flood town halls of GOP lawmakers appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Garry Kasparov plays a move against Deep Blue in their first game in Feb. 1996. Photo: TOM MIHALEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Garry Kasparov plays a move against Deep Blue in their first game in Feb. 1996. Photo: TOM MIHALEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Twenty-one years ago today, IBM computer Deep Blue famously beat chess world champion Garry Kasparov at his own game.

    While Deep Blue would go on to lose the full match, the event launched a long line of victories by artificial intelligence (AI) over humans in gaming.

    The real challenge in computer games is to overcome the incredible abilities that humans have.

    Since Deep Blue’s initial triumph, many computer systems have challenged humans in other complicated games, like Go and poker.

    Games might seem a trivial way to measure AI. But they offer “a nice, simple controlled environment,” University of Alberta computer scientist Jonathan Schaeffer said. “You demonstrate the ideas in the computer games, and then you scale them up to bigger real world problems. Games allow us to learn how to walk, before we learn how to run.”

    In honor of the anniversary, here’s a look at the AI gamers who have made notable contributions to computer science, in the words of designers who created them.

    Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for clarity based on interviews with PBS NewsHour.

    Murray Campbell, Deep Blue, IBM
    Chess
    Deep Blue faced off against chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1996. While the computer won the first game, it lost the match. Deep Blue won the rematch a year later

    Chess is a game that has a huge number of possibilities. In every turn, players can make about 40 different possible moves; their opponent, in turn, has 40 different responses. If you try to calculate into the future what will happen, you’ll quickly run into an exponential explosion of possibilities, and you’ll just have to throw your hands up and make your best guess at what the best move is. Human players have this great ability to only look at a small number of possibilities when making their move, and having a good intuition about what’s good and what’s bad.

    We couldn’t emulate that in a computer, but we could create a very thorough search through the possibilities, and that was what Deep Blue was good at. It looked through 100 million possibilities per second while calculating its move.

    The Deep Blue matches in both 1996 and 1997 gave many people their first understanding of AI systems. Back in the ’90s, everybody was familiar with computers’ doing fairly familiar mundane tasks like calculating payroll. But everybody knows that chess requires intelligence, and that smart people tend to play really well.

    To see that a computer could beat the best in the world, at least in one game, was a sign that great things were to come.

    Eric Brown, director of Watson Algorithms for Watson Health, Watson, IBM
    Jeopardy1
    In 2011, Watson won a two-game series of Jeopardy against prior champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, with a total score of $77,147.

    Watson competing on Jeopardy against humans was a very public, accessible and understandable demonstration of a computer’s ability to understand natural language. In particular, it was also a demonstration of a computer’s ability to look at questions that for many humans are very hard to understand and certainly difficult to answer. For a computer system to interpret that language, come up with an answer and be confident in that answer — which is a key part of being able to successfully answer a Jeopardy question — it was a great demonstration of those core abilities.

    Contestant Ken Jennings competes against 'Watson' at a press conference for the Man V. Machine "Jeopardy!" competition. Photo: Ben Hider/Getty Images

    Contestant Ken Jennings competes against ‘Watson’ at a press conference for the Man V. Machine “Jeopardy!” competition. Photo: Ben Hider/Getty Images

    This system was built to leverage knowledge the way humans naturally record and communicate it: through text. It was pulling potential answers and evidence to support those answers out of an enormous text repository. We had encyclopedic information, we had some web content in there, and we had various books and news articles. Being able to analyze that and understand it at a deep enough level, so that you could pull out possible answers was really the core part of the problem.

    Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown, Libratus, Carnegie Mellon University
    Poker-Original

    Libratus won a Texas Hold’em poker tournament in January 2017 against four of the world’s top players.

    Brown: If you look at the games that AI has traditionally addressed — checkers, chess and Go — they all fall into this category called perfect information games. These are games in which both players have access to all the information available. Everything is laid out neatly for everybody to see.

    Sandholm:There are two things that, combined, make poker very hard. One is the size of the game tree, which is two to the power of 161 different situations that the player can face. That’s more than the number of atoms in the universe! But that’s shared with chess and Go. They also have these huge game trees.

    What makes no limits Texas Hold’em so difficult is the imperfect information. So, when it’s a player’s turn to move, they don’t actually know what the state of the game is. And therefore, a player has to interpret the opponents’ actions as details about their private information, and conversely, how well the opponents will interpret the actions as signals about their own private information.

    Brown: So, you need a fundamentally different kind of approach when it comes to games like poker. That’s really what we bring to the table with this new AI. It takes a fundamentally different approach to handling uncertainty.

    Jonathan Schaeffer, Chinook, University of Alberta
    Checkers
    Chinook lost to Marion Tinsley, the world champion of Checkers, in 1991, but would go on to win the title in 1994. The researchers then “solved” the game of Checkers in 2007, such that Chinook can now win or draw against any opponent.

    We [Chinook and Schaeffer] played an exhibition match against Marion Tinsley in 1991. And the computer told me to make this one particular move. When I made it, Tinsley immediately said, “You’re going to regret that.”

    Not being a checkers player, I thought, “what does he know, my computer is looking 20 moves ahead.” But a few moves later, the computer said that Tinsley had the advantage and a few moves after that I resigned.

    Checkers Champion Marion Tinsley in 1988 Photo: State Archives of Florida/Foley

    Checkers Champion Marion Tinsley in 1988 Photo: State Archives of Florida/Foley


    Tinsley, based on his ability to search ahead and deep knowledge of the game, was able to figure out that he was going to win. The techniques [the computer] was using [at the time] would take an analysis 64 moves deep. It was far beyond anything I could even imagine ever building and playing within the constraints of a real game. So, the real challenge in computer games is to overcome the incredible abilities that humans have.

    So, the historical significance is very simple. Chinook was the first to achieve computer supremacy in any game.

    We did this in 1994 by winning the World Man-Machine Championship, and we did this the hard way in the sense that we competed in tournaments to earn the right to play against the world champion.

    Contrast that with Deep Blue. Many people think it became world champion in 1997 but it didn’t. The matches were exhibition games, and although Deep Blue won, it certainly didn’t claim the title. So that’s the major impact. [Chinook] was the first program to have superhuman abilities in a game that’s normally played by humans.

    As for the lasting technological significance, that’s always fleeting. At the time, this was one of the biggest computations that had ever been performed. We continued from 1994 until 2007, when we actually solved the game of checkers. And that turned out to be quite a milestone.

    Many years ago, John McCarthy of Stanford called computer chess the drosophila (fruit fly) of artificial intelligence. The analogy is that if you’re a geneticist, you do your research with fruit flies and not humans. Computer games are essentially the fruit fly of AI research.

    The post A short history of AI schooling humans at their own games appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Najmia Abdishakur (2nd L), a Somali national who was delayed entry to the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is greeted by her mother Zahra Warsma (L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, in February. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Najmia Abdishakur (2nd L), a Somali national who was delayed entry to the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is greeted by her mother Zahra Warsma (L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, in February. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has promised more legal action after a federal appeals court refused to reinstate his ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. Trump tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT” after the decision came out Thursday, but what he has in mind remains to be seen.

    Trump said Friday that he has “no doubt” he will win the case in court and told reporters he’s considering signing a “brand-new order” on immigration.

    The 3-0 ruling means that refugees and people from the seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — can continue entering the United States for now. The administration has several options on how to proceed. Here’s a look at where the legal fight goes from here.

    REHEARING AT THE APPEALS COURT

    The Trump administration could decide to ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the three-judge panel’s ruling. But the odds of success seem low, said Margo Schlanger, a law professor at the University of Michigan. She noted that the three-judge panel was unanimous and included a judge chosen by a Republican president.

    SUPREME COURT APPEAL

    The government could file an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court and ask the justices to restore the ban. But it would take at least five justices to overturn the ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and that may be a long shot. The high court still has only eight members since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia — four conservative and four liberal justices.

    “There are almost surely four votes to deny an emergency request to reinstate the order,” said Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University.

    The last immigration case to reach the justices ended in a 4-4 deadlock last year. That suggests a similar split over Trump’s order, which would let the 9th Circuit ruling stand and keep the freeze in place.

    WAITING FOR GORSUCH

    If the Supreme Court declines to intervene right away, the case would remain in the 9th Circuit and ultimately be considered on its legal merits. It also could return to U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who temporarily blocked the ban after Washington state and Minnesota urged a nationwide hold on the Jan. 27 order.

    The lower court action so far is temporary and hasn’t resolved broader questions about the legality of Trump’s order. It simply halts deportations or other actions until judges can more fully consider whether the order violates legal or constitutional rights.

    Allowing the case to play out longer at the appeals court has one advantage: By the time a ruling on the merits comes down, the Senate may have confirmed Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. That may improve Trump’s chances to prevail on appeal.

    But just how the issue might reach the Supreme Court isn’t clear. Several other challenges have been launched in courts around the country, and the court could opt to wait before stepping in.

    REVISING THE EXECUTIVE ORDER

    The White House could amend the executive order to expressly carve out existing green card holders and other people that already have some ties to the United States. Up to 60,000 visas were initially canceled in the wake of the ban, affecting the lives of students, professors and workers.

    White House counsel Donald McGahn had issued guidance days after the executive order saying it didn’t apply to legal permanent residents of the U.S., but the appeals court said that was not enough.

    “The government has offered no authority establishing that the White House counsel is empowered to issue an amended order superseding the executive order signed by the president,” the opinion said.

    Revising the order “shifts the legal boundaries so that it becomes a tougher constitutional target,” Spiro said.

    The appeals court issued a sharp rebuke to the Justice Department’s argument that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States to prevent terrorism, and that courts cannot second-guess that authority.

    “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the opinion said.

    Washington state, Minnesota and other states say Trump showed his intent in the presidential campaign when he called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. They also say his order discriminates against Muslims because it provides exceptions for refugees who practice a religion that makes them a minority in their home country. That would favor Christians in the countries affected.

    The appeals court said the administration failed to show that the order satisfied constitutional requirements to provide notice or a hearing before restricting travel. But it did not rule on whether the order violated religious protections under the First Amendment.

    Justice Department lawyer Erez Reuveni told a Virginia judge hearing arguments in a similar case on Friday that the administration hasn’t decided what to do.

    WATCH: Why the 9th Circuit Court rejected Trump’s immigration ban appeal

    The post The next steps in the legal fight over Trump’s travel ban appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: Motown legend Smokey Robinson and the music he’s made popular for decades. He is the focus of a special tonight on PBS.

    Jeffrey Brown sat down with him on the eve of getting a major honor to see how he continues to make what is old new again.

    JEFFREY BROWN: He was a huge hit-maker, 26 top 40 songs in the 1960s, at one of the great hit machines in pop music history, Smokey Robinson, his group, the Miracles, Motown, and a string of classics, like “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”

    Decades later, the 76-year-old Robinson was feted at a concert of his music at Washington’s DAR Constitution Hall, as the winner of the Library of Congress prestigious Gershwin Award for lifetime contributions to popular song.

    It’s been, Robinson told me, a long and amazing journey.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON, Musician: From the time I was probably 6 or so, I wanted to be a singer.

    JEFFREY BROWN: From the age of 6, huh?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Yes, I always imagined myself. I would stand in the mirror, sing with the hairbrush and all, because I always wanted to do that.

    And I always watched all the variety shows that had entertainment. So, it was always there for me. I just didn’t think it would be possible. I never dared to — from where I grew up, I just didn’t think that this life, for me, would be possible.

    JEFFREY BROWN: At the Library of Congress, he toured an exhibit of Motown memorabilia and the place where he’d come from, Detroit’s North End, where, quite literally, the stars aligned.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Diana Ross grew up four doors down the street from me, Aretha Franklin right around the corner, you know, and the Temptations right across the area, I mean, right across the avenue, and the Four Tops. We had Berry Gordy.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: We had a guy who had the dream.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Gordy, still a friend all these years later, founded Motown, where Robinson served as singer and leader of the Miracles, songwriter and producer for other top acts, including the Temptations and Marvin Gaye, and as a record executive.

    I read about how you were a precocious songwriter, and you brought 100 or more songs to Berry Gordy, and he rejected almost all of them, right?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Yes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Somehow, that didn’t discourage you.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: No, it didn’t discourage me whatsoever, because Jackie Wilson was my number one singing idol as a kid growing up in Detroit. Jackie Wilson was from Detroit.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: And I had all of his records. And all of his songs were written by Berry Gordy. And he listened to my music and critiqued it for me, and started to mentor me on how to write songs and make them songs.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And what was that like in those early days of Motown?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: It was highly energetic. It was so energetic and competitive and loving and wonderful at the same time. It was all that, because we were not just stablemates. We were not just some artists who recorded for the same label.

    We were actually friends. We were like brothers and sisters. We hung out. We have what we call the Motown family, and we have always had that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Some songs come quickly, Robinson says, written at the piano in 25 minutes. Others, like the 1979 hit “Cruisin'” have to simmer.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Took five years. I’m not exaggerating that. It took five years.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, if I say the difference between 25 minutes and five years, I mean, what does a song have to have, what does a Smokey Robinson song have to have for you to feel you have got it?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: It has to be a song.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Which means?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: It has to be a song.

    I mean, if I just gave you a piece of paper with the lyrics written down on it, it would mean something to you. It would tell you a story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Without you hearing a melody or music or anything like that, it would say something to you.

    So, that’s what a song is to me. Now, you have a lot of songs that come out, and the beat carries them over there, because of the beat, and because of some other factors and so on and so forth. But I want mine to be a song, if you read it, it’s going to mean something to you.

    JEFFREY BROWN: At one point in the late ’70s, Robinson took a break from singing, even thinking he might retire. But it didn’t last.

    And through the years, he’s continued to record and collaborate with a variety of artists. But the music business he was such a part of has changed dramatically.

    I asked if he looked back with a certain nostalgia.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: Yes, I look back on it all the time. I looked back on it a few minutes ago.

    (LAUGHTER)

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: I look back on it because it’s a whole ‘nother game now.

    The music business has made a 360. It’s a whole ‘nother game. It’s not nearly what it was. And I fear for it, because, you know, with the advent of the computer and online and downloading and all these things, they have destroyed — that stuff has destroyed the record business, not the music business, but the record business.

    The music business is well, and it’s alive and thriving.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the songwriting business, I guess, still…

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: The songwriting business is alive and thriving, man. You have got some wonderful young kids out there writing some great songs.

    So, it’s alive and thriving. Now, I hope something happens to turn it back around to the point whereas it’s — you’re earning a living from writing your songs, from your work, you know, because it’s not like that anymore.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you just told me that you’re going from here. You’re going back out on the road to perform tomorrow night. You’re still doing this. And people want to hear those classic songs, right? Does it ever get old for you?

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: I still perform because it’s a necessity for my innards. You know what I mean?

    And those songs, some of those songs, I have sung, I don’t know how many thousands of times. And I promise you, every single solitary night, they’re new to me. They are brand-new to me that night.

    And it kills me to see people think that, you know, show business is sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I have what you call a meet and greet. I do it before the show. But when I was doing it after the show especially, there would be people who would come back and said, OK, Smoke, where’s the party?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

    SMOKEY ROBINSON: I just had the party, man. I just had the party for two-and-a-half-hours or however long. I was partying. I said, now my party is, I’m going back to my hotel room, and watch me some TV until I fall asleep, because I just had the party.

    And it is every single solitary night.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And for the happy crowd at the Gershwin Award concert, Smokey Robinson performed several of his greatest hits.

    From Washington, D.C., I’m Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Great music.

    And “Smokey Robinson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song,” it airs tonight on most PBS stations.

    The post How Smokey Robinson knows a good song when he sees one appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us tonight from Chicago.

    And we welcome both of you.

    So, before we talk about the immigration — the president’s immigration order, Mark, which the court, appeals court, rejected the administration argument on last night, we have a short clip of what President Trump has just said a little while ago on Air Force One as he was flying from Washington down to South Florida to Mar-a-Lago.

    Reporters were asking him what he plans to do now.

    Here’s that clip.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will win that battle. But we also have a lot of other options, including just filing a brand-new order.

    QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could very well be. But I like to keep you — I would like to surprise you. We need speed for reasons of security. So, it could very well be that we do.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Mark, he says, “I like to surprise you.”

    How big a setback is this for the president?

    MARK SHIELDS: It’s a significant setback, Judy, in large part because it was self-inflicted.

    They made mistakes, including green card holders, which weakened their argument completely, and made them vulnerable to the court’s decision. And it reflected, more than anything else, a sense of chaos and a sense of incompleteness and a sense of lack of thoughtfulness in the administration on an enormously serious issue.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, how do you see it?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, first, on that last clip of Trump on the plane, his staff is briefing reporters in somewhat of a chaotic manner in just the last few minutes. People are saying, oh, they are going to just take it to the Supreme Court, they’re going to rewrite it.

    And the two different briefings are contradicting each other. And that’s something The Times reporters have been talking and tweeting about publicly, which is some of the White House staff is in a high state of misery because of the general lack of — chaos.

    On the larger issue of the travel ban, our friend Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post I think put it pretty well. I’m not sure it’s illegal, but it’s extremely stupid.

    I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of judges overruling presidents on national security matters. Nonetheless, so whether it’s unconstitutional or not, I leave to others. But it certainly has sucked the wind out of two or three weeks of this administration for no good reason.

    There has never been evidence that people from these countries are disproportionately likely to commit terrorist acts. We have sent chaos to the airports. We have offended the world. We have derailed the administration. We have done it in such an incompetent way, the administration has, that people with perfectly legal residence have been widely inconvenienced.

    And so it’s just been a screw-up from beginning to end, and so it’s just been a running derailment.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, it’s only three weeks in, and it’s already this way. And David referred to the, frankly, mixed signals coming from the White House today about whether they were going to appeal or not and how they’re going to — what they’re going to do going forward.

    But I want to ask you both about what the president has been saying about the judiciary, calling judges disgraceful, the arguments before the appellate court disgraceful, saying the country has been put at risk by the decision.

    How much should — what should we think about that?

    MARK SHIELDS: It’s a real surprise, Judy.

    I mean, Judge Gorsuch, the nominee for the Supreme Court, said it was disheartening and discouraging to have judges attacked for their independence and their integrity. I don’t know if Judge Gorsuch was living in a bubble in Boulder during 2016.

    This is not an aberration on the part of Donald Trump. He did it to Judge Curiel. He said Judge Curiel was a total disgrace.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the judge …

    (CROSSTALK)

    MARK SHIELDS: The federal judge in the Trump University charge — case, because his parents had been born in Mexico and because I’m going to build a wall.

    He manages to personalize everything. He brings chaos. He will not admit that he’s ever made a mistake, that he’s ever been wrong. That’s what this whole thing is about whether they’re going to have a new order.

    A new order, a new executive order would be an admission that the first order had been flawed, imperfect, illegal, unconstitutional and rejected. So he can’t have that.

    So you’re going to kind of do a double — to me, it is reflective of this administration. It’s three weeks in. People in the White House work hard, whatever administration. They get rewarded in psychic income, a sense that they are involved in something bigger than themselves, that it’s important.

    And the people in the Trump White House right now are just fighting, fighting basically to stay above water.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is a sense of conflict, David, virtually every day.

    But what about — is there a strategy to criticizing the judiciary, the judges, the courts over this?

    DAVID BROOKS: No, I don’t think there is a strategy.

    There is world view. And Donald Trump’s world view is that it’s a dangerous, miserable place, people are out to get him, and he needs to strike them first. That’s been the world view from the beginning. And it’s the world view.

    To me, the big event of the week is not one thing. It’s the whole agglomeration of things. It’s the rising tide of enmity in the country, Donald Trump attacking judges, Donald Trump attacking John McCain, Senator Blumenthal, the town halls, the riots in Berkeley. You have got the incivility on the floor of the United States Senate. You have got just a rising tide, every single story.

    Every time Kellyanne Conway goes on TV, there’s another fight with whoever’s interviewing her that particular day. And so what you have is this just succession and a rising tide of conflict and incivility and the breakdown in the moral norms that usually govern how we talk to each other.

    Marco Rubio gave a pretty good speech on the floor of the Senate this week sort of acknowledging this fact. And so it’s not one thing. It’s every day. It’s the barrage of hostility that seems to mark our politics emanating from the White House, but not only in the White House, from his opponents as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Which raises a question, Mark, in my mind. Is there any historical precedent for something like this? And what do the Democrats do? Because they are getting — a lot of Republicans are saying the Democrats are holding up President Trump’s nominees for the Cabinet.

    A number of them have been confirmed, but a number are still waiting to be confirmed, that they are accusing the Democrats of creating a logjam. I mean, conflict at the White House, conflict on the Hill, who comes out on top of all this?

    MARK SHIELDS: Judy, I mean, it’s a Cabinet that wasn’t vetted, that wasn’t prepared, that the papers weren’t prepared for.

    Democrats have to make the fight. If you only make fights that you’re going to win, there would be no women’s vote in the country, there would be no civil rights laws in the country. So, they came within one vote of denying the confirmation to Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

    She was unprepared. And so unprepared was she that Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the committee, the former president of the University of Tennessee, the former secretary of education, limited questioning of her to five minutes, so to deny exposure to what she didn’t know.

    So, you vote — are you going to vote for her, you’re going to vote against her? Two Republicans crossed ranks, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, to join the Democrat.

    Andrew Puzder, the secretary of labor, a multimillionaire, who eight weeks after he was nominated discovers that we, my wife and I, had for years somebody working on — undocumented in our home who we didn’t pay taxes for.

    Zoe Baird, the nominee for attorney general, her career foundered on this. Kimba Wood withdrew nomination on a far less serious charge. And so did Linda Chavez.

    Is there one standard for women and another for men? Men aren’t responsible, multiple millionaire men who deal in minimum wage jobs, who deal in undocumented immigrants working for them at reduced wages?

    So, I think these are fights worth making.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what about that, David? Because some people are looking at Washington and saying, oh, it’s just more of the same, the wheels are not turning in the nation’s capital.

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, that’s patently true.

    On the various nominees, I generally think the president should get his Cabinet picks, unless they’re egregiously out of the range, either ethically or intellectually out of the range of what’s acceptable.

    And I have to say a lot of these nominees are not necessarily my cup of tea, but I think they’re clearly within the range. Jeff Sessions has some problematic spots on his history, but he has been a pretty normal, respectable senator, more conservative than a lot of us, but a respectable senator for a long period of time.

    So, one could — I think the Democrats are right to protest, but I don’t think he’s so far out of the range of normalcy that he shouldn’t be confirmed.

    Betsy DeVos is not the most informed person on education policy, but I have seen her present a few times, and she presents as a pretty respectable, intelligent person who has cared passionately about education and cares about charter schools. The teachers union may not like her, but she’s clearly within the range of Republican policy-makers.

    As for multimillionaires, a lot of us hope to be a multimillionaire some day. Again, spotty records, but it seems to be not without the range. I don’t blame the Democrats for fighting. They have got a very energized base. And there is a lot to complain about a lot of these nominees. But I think, if you are actually going to turn someone down from a president’s own Cabinet, it better be a lot more egregious than the cases we have seen.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s my question, Mark. Where draw the line? Where should Democrats say no?

    MARK SHIELDS: Well, they have drawn the line, Judy. They have confirmed — Tillerson is confirmed. They backed Mattis. They’re not going to fight Ben Carson.

    I think these — I disagree with David. I agree with his assumption and his premise that a president is entitled to a Cabinet, obviously, but it’s not a rubber stamp. And I don’t think anybody could watch the confirmation hearings of Betsy DeVos and say that this is somebody qualified to be secretary of education.

    Ninety percent of children in America go to public schools. She knows nothing about public schools and apparently cares less. And her position on guns in schools, got to — for potential grizzlies, we should have guns available in schools?

    And Andrew Puzder, this is somebody who basically has just broken the law, and he’s going to be held to no standard at all, whereas women nominees have been rejected in the past.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I think even Republicans are saying Puzder may have a problem.

    David, what about the point that Mark is making?

    DAVID BROOKS: Well, in some cases, I agree. On the Puzder point, I do agree there has been a double standard.

    On the DeVos case, I agree that the gun — her gun position is kind of weird, kind of crazy, but I do think she does know about public schools. The reason the Betsy DeVos case was the centerpiece case for the Democrats wasn’t about her weakness as a knowledgeable person on education policy.

    She does care about charter schools, which are public schools. She does care about choice, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to care about. It’s because it’s the one issue where the Democratic donor base was really energized, which was the teacher unions.

    People ask, quite legitimately, why DeVos and why not a lot of the others? But it’s because it has to do with the special interest groups that run a lot of Washington.

    Would she be my first pick? No. Is she someone who has dedicated her life to education policy? Yes, actually, she has. I have seen her present a few times. I don’t really know her. But I have seen her present on education policy, and she’s not a stupid person.

    She’s quite a smart person, capable, pretty sophisticated in subtle thought. And so to me, that puts her in the realm of policy. But we’re in a climate where, as today, she tries to visit a school, and she can’t even do that because protesters are blocking that.

    And that’s what I mean about the rising tide of incivility that’s sweeping over politics.

    MARK SHIELDS: That was wrong. She should have been allowed to go in a public school. It would have been a novel experience for her.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: And this is not about the teachers unions alone. That’s a very convenient punching bag, to say that Democrats are just jumping at strings.

    Yes, the teachers unions opposed her, and for good reason. They don’t think that her commitment to public education exists. So — you know, but they’re not simply responding. They have confirmed all sorts of Republican secretaries of education in the past who favored choice, including Lamar Alexander.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: David, you want a final 20 seconds here?

    (LAUGHTER)

    DAVID BROOKS: No, I’m willing to respect Mark’s disagreement. We’re not going to be like the rest of the country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, we have a little bit of comity in the United States tonight right here, right here on the NewsHour.

    MARK SHIELDS: What is Donald Trump going to give President Putin for Valentine’s Day? I’m interested.

    (LAUGHTER)

    MARK SHIELDS: Maybe David’s got an idea.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: We will know by next Friday, because Valentine’s Day is Tuesday, in case the two of you have forgotten.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

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    Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) arrives to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on  Jan. 18. Price was confirmed as health secretary Feb. 10. Photo by REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: The president gets a key member of his Cabinet confirmed, a right-hand man who will take aim at the Affordable Care Act, and will serve as the country’s top health official.

    Lisa Desjardins has the story.

    LISA DESJARDINS: He is, after his swearing-in today, the nation’s 23rd secretary of health and human services.

    The U.S. Senate confirmed Georgia Congressman Tom Price in the wee hours this morning on a party-line vote of 52-47. Secretary Price is a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

    To Democrats like Maria Cantwell of Washington State, that is the problem.

    SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, D-District of Columbia: My view is, this vote is the first vote in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But to Republicans like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, that’s Price’s appeal.

    SEN. TOM COTTON, R-Ark.: You could say his chief qualification for the job of replacing Obamacare is, he had the good sense to oppose it in the first place.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Price is also a retired doctor, the first physician to lead HHS in nearly 25 years. But in confirmation hearings, he faced tough questions over his relationship with health care companies, and his investment in some which were affected by his actions in Congress.

    Now Price is responsible for a more than a trillion-dollar health agency budget, for a department that oversees food and drugs, biomedical research, public health threats, and, of course, a large portion of U.S. health care. That includes Medicaid, which covers more than 74 million people, and Medicare, over 55 million.

    His theme? A smaller role for the federal government. In Congress, Price backed a proposed cap on Medicare spending per person. Price also supported giving states fixed amounts, in block grants, to cover low-income people on Medicaid.

    But his new boss, Donald Trump, said on the campaign trail he wouldn’t touch Medicare or Medicaid.

    DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States: Save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Mr. Trump has not commented since becoming president, but he has stressed an area of agreement with Price: repeal of the Affordable Care Act. This was today at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Obamacare, as you know, is a total and complete disaster. So, we’re going to end up with tremendous health care at a lower price, and I think people are going to be extremely happy.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Meantime, the Associated Press estimates some 12 million Americans have signed up for the Affordable Care Act for the next year, and Republicans are feeling the pressure from many concerned about a replacement.

    Last night at a town hall advertised as focused as health care, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz was bombarded by angry constituents on a variety of issues. And, in Tennessee, a similar scene for Representative Diane Black, as health care policy and politics collide.

    Now that Secretary Price has been sworn in, let’s take a closer look at what he may try to do, more quickly, and over the long term.

    Julie Rovner covers this for Kaiser Health News. She’s a friend of the “NewsHour.” And she joins me now.

    Thank you, Julie.

    JULIE ROVNER, Kaiser Health News: Thank you.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Let’s talk with Republican agenda item number one, the Affordable Care Act.

    In Secretary Price, we have a man who literally authored a bill to repeal it. We have both reported that Republicans see him as a major part of their repeal effort. But what can he actually do? What is he likely to do on the Affordable Care Act?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, what he can actually do and what he will likely do are two different things.

    What he can actually do is quite a lot. For as long as the Affordable Care Act was, there are a whole lot of places where it says the secretary shall or the secretary may. So he has a lot of power to determine the details around what happens to the law.

    And he can take apart a lot of the details that the Obama administration added to it. Now, what will he do? There’s an issue here with whether or not the Republicans want to make sure that there is still an individual insurance market next year in 2018, while they’re figuring out what to replace it with.

    Insurers need to know that really by later this spring. And so some are expecting him to, on the one hand, try to take some things apart, on the other hand, try to make sure that the insurance industry stays in, and so to give them some security about what might be coming.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And as he has to deal with the insurance market, which is one issue, he has to deal with, of course, all of us and our health care. And Obamacare has some preventative services in it. Included in that, contraception, screenings. What kind of say does he have over whether those will continue to be cost-free?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, he can change that if he wants to. Now, some of it was done by regulation. And in order to change regulations, there is a process that even departments have to go through of notice and public comment. And it can take several, many months sometimes.

    There is also something that’s a little less formal called guidance, and guidance, he can undo pretty much whenever he wants. So, he has the power both ways. It’s just whether some things will be faster or slower.

    LISA DESJARDINS: On contraception, a lot of people paying attention to that. That is one that could take a few months, but he could still do it? Is that right?

    JULIE ROVNER: Yes, well, he can make it easier probably for religious organizations, employers to opt out of providing contraception. That’s been a huge issue.

    In terms of keeping it cost-free, that would have to be changed through a regulation. That would take a little bit longer.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Another one, Medicaid. Republicans on the Hill, I know, tell both of us that that is one of the biggest puzzles for them. They have to deal with how to expand it or not expand it, what they do.

    But, Secretary Price, you report that he can change requirements for the poor who receive Medicaid?

    JULIE ROVNER: That’s right.

    Well, he can’t change the law, but he can change some of the regulations that have to do with who gets it, with who gets much. Of course, Congress is talking about turning Medicaid into a block grant, which would limit how much money states could get, although they would have much more flexibility.

    He could through his own power give states a lot more flexibility than they have now, which is what many are expecting him to do. So things like requiring people on Medicaid to meet a work requirement, that’s something that the Obama administration resisted, but that new Secretary Price might not.

    LISA DESJARDINS: That’s an old debate over welfare and work. Republicans have long been on one side and Democrats on the other.

    These are just — these are major things we have touched on, but they just barely describe the reach of this agency. Can you talk about sort of the profound abilities or the profound areas that now Secretary Price oversees?

    JULIE ROVNER: People forget just how big the Department of Health and Human Services is.

    Its budget is more than $1 trillion a year. It oversees not just Medicare and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, but the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service. It touches, it’s said, almost one out of every two Americans.

    So, it is a wide, sprawling agency. And the secretary, as I mentioned, has significant power to interpret how laws are implemented.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Quickly, you have been covering health care for 30 years. How pivotal, how historic could this moment be in terms of American health care?

    JULIE ROVNER: Well, we will see.

    It’s not clear, as I said, exactly which way the secretary is going to go. We know that, from his congressional career, he’s been very conservative, would like to remake Medicare, remake Medicaid, repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    That’s not exactly what President Trump ran on. He said in his confirmation hearings he will do what the president wants. We will have to see how that goes.

    LISA DESJARDINS: All right, Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, thank you so much for joining us.

    JULIE ROVNER: Thank you.

    The post As HHS secretary, Tom Price has significant powers to change health care appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The Statue of Liberty near Ellis Island — Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    They planned to visit the Statue of Liberty. Randy Olsen and Zaineb Al-Qazwini met in Singapore in 2011 and married. After a two-year application process, Al-Qazwini, an Iraqi citizen, was approved for a green card in December. Their first stop was to be New York, where U.S.-born Olsen hoped to show his wife and daughter Ellis Island.

    But when they awoke on Jan. 28, years of planning unraveled. President Donald Trump had signed an executive order on immigration that suspended travel for citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq. Olsen, who works in cybersecurity, and Al-Qazwini, a cancer researcher, talked with the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as U.S. embassy officials in Singapore. But as late as Tuesday, no one could give them a clear answer about what would happen if they boarded a plane for a 25-hour flight to the United States.

    Randy Olsen, 39, and his wife, Zaineb Al-Qazwini, 33, stand with their 2-year-old daughter in this undated family photo. They do not know if they will be able to move from Singapore to the United States, despite the fact that his wife has held a green card since December, Olsen said. Photo courtesy of Randy Olsen.

    Randy Olsen, 39, and his wife, Zaineb Al-Qazwini, 33, stand with their two-year-old daughter in this undated family photo. They do not know if they will be able to move from Singapore to the United States, despite the fact that his wife has held a green card since December, Olsen said.

    While Olsen’s life plans were falling apart, Bill Davis, a 64-year-old veteran of the Army Reserves, woke up on the other side of the globe feeling safer. An insurance salesman in Clanton, Alabama, Davis says his worldview changed after the attacks on September 11th, 2001, and again when the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the March 2016 attacks in Brussels, at Belgium’s international airport.

    The fear of terrorism follows Davis everywhere he goes. Whenever he finds himself in a crowd — whether he’s watching the Auburn Alabama Tigers play football or standing in the checkout line at the grocery store — he gets nervous.

    Davis says when people yield to fears borne out of terrorist threats and attacks “that’s taking away freedoms from us.”

    Only two weeks old, and now halted by a temporary court-ordered stay, President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Syrian refugees and blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations created chaos at airports and left thousands of travelers in limbo.

    But beyond the immediate headlines, the order has revealed a deep divide in how many Americans view the delicate balance between personal security and civil liberty. On one side: those who think a rejection of immigrants and refugees contradicts the values of a country they say was built by people looking for a better life. On the other: those who think immigration leaves the nation vulnerable to terrorism — a threat that hasn’t been adequately addressed.

    Bill Davis, 64, of Clanton, Alabama, said President Donald Trump's executive order on immigrants and refugees makes him feel safer and "truly blessed to have a leader who gets it." Photo courtesy of Bill Davis.

    Bill Davis, 64, of Clanton, Alabama, said President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees makes him feel safer and “truly blessed to have a leader who gets it.” Photo courtesy of Bill Davis.

    Olsen, who was born and raised in Northern California, says the order made him question what it means to be an American.

    “America projects an image of freedom and tolerance. That’s what it sells itself as to the international community. I represented that. I voiced that,” said Olsen, an American living abroad for six years. “Recent actions taken have put a cloud over that statement for me.”

    Davis has a completely different view. In his town of nearly 9,000 residents, his neighbors are “uneasy because of our new world with terrorism,” he said.

    “We are truly blessed to have a leader who gets it,” Davis wrote to PBS NewsHour.

    Brandice Nelson wasn’t always as impressed by Trump as Davis. The 25-year-old in Waco, Texas, didn’t vote for Trump in November, but she will say this: He keeps his campaign promises.

    Nelson, an African-American museum curator who considers herself politically conservative, thinks the U.S. needs more vetting for refugees and immigrants from “countries we’re not really confident about.”

    “It’s not that we don’t care about the people who legitimately get here and make a better life for themselves,” she said, ”but in the interest of our safety, we can’t just fling open the doors.”

    “It’s not that we don’t care about the people who legitimately get here and make a better life for themselves, but in the interest of our safety, we can’t just fling open the doors.”

    That doesn’t mean Nelson thinks the government should be invasive — “I don’t think we should be going through people’s underwear drawers,” she says. But she grew up in a U.S. military family in Frankfurt, Germany, during the Persian Gulf War. She remembers the fear, her father checking for bombs under the family vehicle each time they wanted to take it for a drive.

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    But Nelson does think refugees and immigrants need to be properly vetted. She doesn’t understand why opponents are pushing back against this plan, pointing to former President Barack Obama’s 2011 call to bolster requirements for Iraqis requesting special visas.

    A Department of Justice attorney laid out a similar argument Tuesday before a panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges, defending the ban against a lawsuit from the states of Washington and Minnesota. Experts have pointed out Mr. Obama’s 2011 action is quite different than Mr. Trump’s recent order. But defenders of the ban regularly draw comparisons between them.

    The judges ruled late Thursday that the halt on Mr. Trump’s immigration ban would remain in place, a move that drew speculation about a showdown at the Supreme Court. But late Friday, the Washington Post reported that White House officials said they would not challenge the appellate court ruling, but instead may rewrite the order. In their ruling, the judges rejected the DOJ request to reinstate the ban on multiple grounds, saying “The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.”

    In response, the president tweeted, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”

    The Trump administration is digging in its heels to defend the ban, just as Joanne Lin expected. She serves as legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against the order hours after it was signed.

    “This is completely contrary to America, the land of the free, a place where the Statue of Liberty has long been a beacon,” Lin said.

    But signing this executive order into reality is precisely why people supported Mr. Trump in this first place, said JuanPablo Andrade, who serves as an executive adviser on the Trump administration’s National Diversity Coalition. He said the temporary ban, or restriction as he preferred to call it, on travel is necessary to ensure that the United States “is letting the right people into this country.”

    “The administration’s plan is not to halt anything,” he said. “We want to continue with everything that we’ve been doing, everything that Mr. Trump has promised and is the reason why people elected him.”

    The ACLU and the two states mounting a legal challenge to the immigration ban think it treats a group of people unfairly based on religion. Mr. Trump’s executive order was “not being executed well,” Nelson said, but she disagrees with claims that the order is in its nature discriminatory.

    “I’m a black American, I don’t feel like this is something being directed at people with brown skin,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it’s intended to be racist.”

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    But the order’s blunt nature doesn’t account for how immigrants, refugees and those working around the world for the government are actually helping the United States, says Dina Tariq.

    Nine years ago, Tariq, now 36, arrived in the United States as an Iraqi refugee. Before she left her home country, she worked as a freelance journalist for television news outlet Al-Huriah in Baghdad and assisted USAID projects. But after others learned she was helping Americans, her name was put on a list and she received threats, Tariq said.

    Every day on her way to work in Baghdad, Tariq said she would look at her mother before walking out the door, knowing it could be the last time she saw her.

    Tariq got out. Her parents didn’t.

    “I risked my life to support democracy in Iraq, and [this is] how they’re paying me back for that? These orders are separating families.”

    For nearly a decade, U.S. officials have not yet approved any of her parents’ five visa requests to join her in the United States, said Tariq, who lives in Fort Washington, Maryland, where she and her husband raise their 2-year-old daughter. Her parents missed Tariq’s college graduation and the birth of their granddaughter.

    With Trump’s executive order, Tariq said she doesn’t know when she’ll see her parents again. Her father is in poor health and must travel back and forth to Lebanon to see a cardiologist. Bursting into tears, Tariq said she doesn’t know what to do to help her parents. The worry makes her own heart race, she said.

    “I risked my life to support democracy in Iraq, and [this is] how they’re paying me back for that?” Tariq said. “These orders are separating families.”

    It has also caused chaos and confusion for those who have been citizens of the U.S. for years. The day after the ban went into effect, Sylvia Ettefagh, a 57-year-old fisheries biologist from Wrangell, Alaska, landed at Los Angeles International Airport after 10 days of bird-watching, snorkeling, hiking, fishing in Costa Rica — and not paying attention to the news. Ettefagh — who has an American mother, an Iranian father and dual citizenship — and her husband were trying to make a final connection back home to Seattle.

    A global entry traveler, Ettefagh stood before a border security official where she handed over her U.S. passport, submitted fingerprints and got her photo taken. But when Ettefagh didn’t produce her Iranian passport (she never carries it), the officer said she needed more screening.

    Despite her protests, security officials separated her from her husband. Ettefagh said she still had no idea what was going on when the agent who guided her to the airport’s immigration room told her, “You can thank Trump for this.”

    When the door opened before her, Ettefagh saw more than 50 people crowded into the room with only space to stand. Some people told Ettefagh they had waited there for six hours. She wondered where her husband was and worried they would miss their flight. She demanded answers to questions — “How long is this going to take? What’s going on here?” — and heard no response.

    After an hour, an agent took her passport aside, sat before a computer monitor and then released her 10 minutes later. The agent gave no explanation for Ettefagh’s detention: “If I’d known, I guess I’d be madder.”

    She didn’t get answers until she walked out of the immigration room and beyond baggage claim when she saw protesters and lawyers with signs written in Farsi, English, French and German. A lawyer approached her, and she’s now seeking legal action.

    “We will either see the great United States of America or the divided States of America.”

    She has since talked with her friends back in southeast Alaska, including some who are ardent Trump supporters, and she said they told her what happened to her was wrong and “that isn’t what Trump wanted.”

    But before Mr. Trump put his name on the order, his administration was duty-bound to think it through, she says. The cost of not doing that has been high, because “you’re not only hurting people who haven’t done anything and don’t deserve that. But you’re also making your front line workers look like a—–s because they have to interpret it as they come along.”

    The executive order felt like shooting from the hip, Ettefagh said, and that’s not what progressive, civilized nations do.

    Davis can agree the administration made some mistakes. For one, the new executive order shouldn’t block people with green cards from entering the United States.

    “They … didn’t think through the qualified people,” he said.

    But he said he admires Mr. Trump’s pace “before he had had time to kinda sorta vet his order.”

    “We’re going to have more terrorism in this country if we don’t” act quickly, he said.

    Mr. Trump has used that argument to defend his executive order, on Twitter and in meetings as he enters his third week as president. He told law enforcement officials Wednesday he felt “security is at risk.” And he criticized court cases, later adding “they’re taking away our weapons, one by one.”

    Some people are more worried, though, about what threats they’ll now face within their own communities. Tariq knows people who arrived as immigrants in the United States four decades ago, who raised their children in a nation where “their rights, religions and lives are protected by the law,” who now fear for their safety, she says. Under Trump’s leadership, Tariq foresees two paths for this nation’s future: opportunity for all people or “hate, war and crises.”

    “Right now, we’re in a total state of limbo.”

    “We will either see the great United States of America or the divided States of America,” she said.

    For others, the confusion continues. “We’re taking steps back with these executive orders. We used to talk about stuff. What is this? A monarchy?” Olsen said. Almost every minute of the last two weeks Olsen and Al-Qazwini have wrestled with what to do. Should they make the journey? Can they make it?

    “Right now, we’re in a total state of limbo,” Olsen said, as his daughter slept near him. He and his wife had waited anxiously to hold her physical green card, which arrived earlier this week.

    When Olsen awoke to learn the federal appeals court’s order on Friday, he was elated: “What great news to wake up to in the morning!”

    But the order is temporary with no guarantee. Olsen and Al-Qazwini are moving cautiously as they pack up their lives and prepare to start anew in the United States.

    When thinking about that day at the airport, Ettefagh said she just wants more people to talk about how policy changes might affect everyday lives. So did, Nelson in Texas, Davis in Alabama, Tariq in Maryland and Olsen and Al-Qazwini in Singapore.

    Maybe, as the debate goes on, they’ll hear each other.

    The post Immigration ban reveals a nation divided appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn walks down the White House colonnade on the way to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump's joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017.  REUTERS/Jim Bourg - RTX30IOV

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: new revelations about contacts between a top aide to President Trump and Russia during the transition between administrations.

    Earlier this evening, Hari Sreenivasan recorded this conversation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Just after Christmas, the Obama administration levied new sanctions against Russia for its alleged role in meddling with the 2016 election.

    In the days surrounding that move, Michael Flynn, the incoming Trump White House’s national security adviser, spoke several times by phone with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. The Trump team claimed, after this was first reported in January, that Flynn was trying to arrange a phone call between Mr. Trump and Russian President Putin.

    Now The Washington Post reports there may have been other motives for the calls.

    For more on all of this, we turn to Greg Miller, national security reporter at The Post.

    So, first of all, what was said in these calls?

    GREG MILLER, National Security Correspondent, The Washington Post: So, we know now that these calls covered the subject of sanctions.

    We have multiple sources telling us that Flynn actually conveyed a signal to the Russian ambassador that the sanctions that the Obama administration was imposing, that the Russian government shouldn’t overreact to them, didn’t need to worry about them, that there would be time soon when they would be able to revisit these policies.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, you have nine different sources in your story. How do we know this is what took place on those phone calls?

    GREG MILLER: Well, these are phone calls which involved the Russian ambassador to the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies monitor a lot of the communications of Russian officials who are here in Washington and in New York.

    So these are calls that were all picked up, collected. There are transcripts of these calls. They were recorded, and there are intelligence reports on these calls.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But the White House has said repeatedly that this is not what took place, that sanctions were not discussed. The vice president even went out on TV and said that, per his conversations with Mr. Flynn, that this wasn’t discussed.

    GREG MILLER: That’s right.

    And you had several senior White House officials, starting with Vice President Pence, who went out on a very big limb for Mike Flynn on this, and that limb has been cut off now.

    They insisted categorically that the subject of sanctions had not been raised in these conversations, and that’s not the case.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: But let’s assume for a second Mike Flynn doesn’t know that this phone call is being listened to by anybody else than the person he’s talking to. Is there anything illegal that he did in the phone call itself?

    GREG MILLER: Yes, possibly.

    The difficulty here is that the statute that applies in these cases dates to 1799 and, in over 200 years, has never been prosecuted. It’s something that the FBI just doesn’t really want to investigate or prosecute.

    Nevertheless, that statute exists. And it bans unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments when they’re not in power, when they’re not yet in a position to do so in the United States. And every indication to us is that Flynn did just that in this conversation.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that the reason that Vladimir Putin didn’t retaliate once those sanctions came out? It seemed that there was about a 24-hour gap or so there.

    GREG MILLER: Yes, I mean, that was this huge source of concern and surprise and mystery.

    I mean, in the history of U.S.-Russia relationships, there have been lots of retaliatory measures, diplomatic sanctions, economic sanctions, expulsions of spies and so forth. It’s almost always reciprocal. But in this case, Putin surprised everybody by saying, you know what, we’re not going to do anything this time, we’re not going to respond, we’re just going to wait and see how this plays out.

    And that led to a lot of suspicion in the government. Was there a signal sent? That led to further investigation and scrutiny of these calls between Flynn and the ambassador.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: If now Congress or anyone decides to take actions against Mike Flynn, is there the possibility of a chilling effect? Diplomats talk to each other all the time. They have relationships that span beyond administrations. They meet each other in different conferences and so forth.

    GREG MILLER: Absolutely.

    So, that is an issue. And that probably helps explain why this law has never been prosecuted. Authorities, U.S. authorities, do not really want to discourage people who are supposed to be communicating with officials overseas from doing so.

    However, you’re not supposed to send signals like this that undermine the existing government, that are contrary to the U.S. policy. And in this case, it was particularly egregious, because this was at a moment when the United States was just coming to the grips with the fact that Russia had waged a cyber-campaign to upend the 2016 election and try to help elect Trump.

    And here his top national security adviser is communicating with the Russian ambassador in that very moment in time and apparently sending a signal, don’t worry about this.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Greg Miller of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

    GREG MILLER: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, after Hari recorded that conversation, President Trump was asked about the story while flying to Florida.

    Mr. Trump said — quote — “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?”

    National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was among the passengers on Air Force One.

    The post Top Trump aide reportedly talked sanctions with Russian envoy appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands after their joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017.     REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX30IA8

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: As we mentioned earlier, the prime minister of Japan was at the White House today, the beginning of several days of talks with the president.

    The visit comes amid growing concerns in Asia over trade, over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and over China flexing its military muscle.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The two leaders presented a united front, despite differences that have emerged in the early days of the Trump presidency.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had pushed hard for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, but President Trump has officially abandoned it.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: On the economy, we will seek a trading relationship that is free, fair, and reciprocal, benefiting both of our countries.

    SHINZO ABE, Japanese Prime Minister (through interpreter): I am quite optimistic that good results will be seen from the dialogue. Now the free and fair common set of rules will be created for free trade in the region. That was the purpose of TPP. That importance has not changed. I, myself, believe that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Abe also talked up Japanese industry’s contributions to the U.S. economy, after Mr. Trump blasted Toyota last month for planning a new plant in Mexico.

    Defense is another potential flash point. During the campaign, candidate Trump suggested Japan and South Korea could pay more for their own defense, up to and including nuclear weapons.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: North Korea has nukes. Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea.

    QUESTION: With nukes?

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, however, the president appeared to step back.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is important that both Japan and the United States continue to invest very heavily in the alliance to build up our defense.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Some 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, the largest American outpost in Asia. Last week, Secretary of Defense James Mattis made Asia his first overseas visit. In Japan, he reassured Abe that the U.S. will maintain its presence there.

    The U.S. military also serves as the main counterweight to China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Today, Abe said that must continue.

    SHINZO ABE (through interpreter): We need to maintain the freedom of navigation and rule of law. Such international order there must be maintained.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hours earlier, President Trump spoke by phone for the first time with China’s President Xi Jinping. During the call, Trump retreated from earlier talk of disregarding the one China policy, which officially treats Taiwan as part of China.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It was a very, very warm conversation. I think we are on the process of getting along very well, and I think that will also be very much of a benefit to Japan.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Abe didn’t comment on the Trump-Xi phone call. Later, the leaders flew to the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where they will spend the weekend and play golf.

    We take a closer look now at the United States’ relationship with Asia under the Trump presidency with Evan Medeiros. He served as senior director for Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration. He is now a managing director at Eurasia Group. It’s a business consulting company.

    Evan Medeiros, welcome back to the program.

    EVAN MEDEIROS, Eurasia Group: Thanks. Great to be here.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s start with China.

    The president telling President Xi Jinping, at President Xi’s request, that the U.S. does go along now with the — want the continue the one China policy. Why is that so important to the Chinese?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: Well, it’s important because the one China policy is at the heart of the U.S.-China relationship.

    It’s the issue that Kissinger first negotiated with Zhou Enlai about in the early 1970s. It goes to the status of Taiwan and the U.S. position that it acknowledges China’s view that Taiwan is part of China.

    So, it’s sort of a foundational leg of the U.S.-China relationship. And absent recognition of the one China policy, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for Xi Jinping or any Chinese leader to do anything else in the U.S.-China relationship.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How much of a concern was it to the Chinese that President Trump state this, given what he had said during the campaign, a lot of anti-China language, rhetoric coming from candidate Donald Trump, then that phone call that he had early on after the election with the president of Taiwan? How worried were — how concerned were the Chinese?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: Well, the Chinese were very concerned. Recognizing, acknowledging the one China policy was essential for Xi Jinping.

    It was the primary concern of the Chinese leadership, and they didn’t want to talk about anything else, trade and investment, North Korea, the South China Sea, until the Trump administration reaffirmed the one China policy.

    So, in many ways, the phone call last night removed the source of an immediate crisis in the relationship. And now they can move on to talking about and working on other issues.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And one of those issues, of course, is China’s increasingly aggressive stance — we referred to in the report just now — in that region, especially the South China Sea.

    Other countries in the region, and Japan, which I’m going to ask you about in just a moment, have been increasingly concerned about what they’re seeing China do. There is also concern about whether China’s role if the North Koreans should try to do something else in a nuclear direction.

    So, how worried should the U.S. and other countries in the region be about China?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: Well, we should be worried because the Chinese have been increasingly active in the maritime area. They have been more assertive in the economic area. They have been nationalists and mercantilists.

    So, there is a variety of Chinese behaviors that we should be concerned about. And the question for the Trump administration is, what are the policies that they’re going to adopt to address these challenges? They’re not new challenges for the United States, but they are very difficult to figure out how to shape China’s behavior, because China’s a big economy, its leverage and influence is growing.

    We need Chinese cooperation, but that certainly shouldn’t be a barrier to pushing them on areas where we think they need to change their behavior and recognize U.S. interests.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s turn to Japan.

    Of course, the president met today with the Japanese prime minister. They’re going to be spending the weekend at President Trump’s place in South Florida. How would you describe, Evan Medeiros, the state of U.S.-Japanese relations right now?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: Well, the state of U.S.-Japanese relations right now is great, because Trump is giving Abe a very robust, you could say even lavish, visit to the United States so early on in Trump’s foreign policy evolution.

    I mean, he’s essentially putting Japan at the center of his Asia policy and putting alliances at the center of his Asia policy. And he’s doing it in such a robust way, I mean, not just the Oval Office meeting, the lunch, but this weekend in Florida. That’s normally something that you would do after several years of developing a relationship after another leader has demonstrated their willingness to work with you, bring economic deliverables.

    So, this is a big deal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But it also comes after President Trump has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific trade deal, the TPP. This is something the Japanese, that Prime Minister Abe had put a lot of effort into. So, how much of a complication is that going to be?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: It’s a complication.

    I think Prime Minister Abe and many Asian leaders are concerned about the withdrawal from TPP. They’re concerned about Trump’s support for protectionism and the impact that might have on a lot of export-dependent economies.

    They’re worried about Trump’s broader approach to Asia. How engaged is he going to be in Asia? Is ISIS going to get the priority? So the engagement with Japan early on addresses some of those issues, but not all of them.

    And then, of course, the big issue on the table is whether or not Abe and Trump are going to agree to eventually negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement. That’s what Trump says is going to replace TPP.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And is that something the Japanese are likely to find to their liking?

    EVAN MEDEIROS: I think it is going to be hard.

    The U.S. and Japan have tried this in the past, and it hasn’t worked. I think now it’s too politically sensitive for Abe, since he just got his legislature to ratify TPP last fall. It’s probably too early for him to initiate bilateral negotiations now, but I could see in a year or so willing to go down that road.

    But the challenge is, is that a series of bilateral trade agreements doesn’t replace the region-wide effect and the positive strategic effect of TPP. It’s sort of because TPP was meant to change the rules of the game, potentially influence China as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now it’s not happening.

    EVAN MEDEIROS: And now it’s not, that’s right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Not from the U.S. standpoint.

    Well, there is so much more to talk about, big, big part of the world, huge, hugely important relationship.

    Evan Medeiros, thank you very much.

    EVAN MEDEIROS: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

    The post What’s the future of relations with China, Japan under Trump? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017.     REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX30ICJ

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump now says that he may sign, in his words, a brand-new order on immigration as early as Monday or Tuesday. But he also says he still figures to win the court battle over his initial attempt to bar travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations.

    The federal court of appeals in the Ninth Circuit upheld a freeze on that ban in a Thursday ruling.

    John Yang reports that all of this unfolded as the prime minister of Japan visited the White House.

    JOHN YANG: President Trump made clear today he’s ready for the court fight about his immigration order to be over, but he’s not waiting for the final ruling.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It shouldn’t have taken this much time, because safety is a primary reason. One of the reasons I’m standing here today is the security of our country. So we will be doing something very rapidly, having to do with additional security for our country. You will be seeing that some time next week. In addition, we will continue to go through the court process, and ultimately I have no doubt that we will win that particular case.

    JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump gave no details of just what that additional security will be, but said the dangers are clear, though he wouldn’t give specifics about them either.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: While I have been president, which is just for a very short period of time, I have learned tremendous things that you could only learn, frankly, if you were in a certain position, namely president. And there are tremendous threats to our country. We will not allow that to happen, I can tell you that right now. We will not allow that to happen.

    JOHN YANG: This morning, the president took to Twitter to call the appeals court decision not to reinstate his travel ban disgraceful. Three judges, two of them nominated by Democrats, one by a Republican, upheld a restraining order put in place by a federal judge in Seattle one week ago today.

    The appeals court said the government didn’t provide adequate due process to affected travelers, and provided no evidence that anyone from the seven countries in the order has been responsible for U.S. terror attacks. The judges also concluded the administration is unlikely to prevail in a trial on the merits of the case.

    Within minutes of the decision, the president told reporters it was political and tweeted, “See you in court.”

    Washington state’s attorney general, who filed the suit, said, bring it on.

    BOB FERGUSON, Washington State Attorney General: We have seen the president in court twice. And we’re two for two. That’s number one. And, in my view, the future of the Constitution is at stake.

    JOHN YANG: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that the president should see the writing on the wall and abandon the order. Hillary Clinton tweeted simply “3-0,” a reference to the unanimous decision.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he asked Mr. Trump in a phone call to lift the travel ban for Iraqis. Some have worked as translators for the U.S. military and their lives might be in danger if they stay in Iraq.

    For now, with the ban on hold, refugees and others from all of the seven affected nations are free to enter the United States. And in addition to the appeals court ruling, the administration faces dozens of other legal challenges from around the country.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang at the White House.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, there was word that the Trump administration may be leaning against appealing the restraining order to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the White House chief of staff said that it may still be possible.

    In the day’s other news: Ohio Governor John Kasich delayed eight executions in the face of a court fight over the state’s lethal injection process. A federal judge found that process unconstitutional, but the state is appealing. The governor’s decision pushes back the executions to May, or later.

    From Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, an apparent gesture to President Trump. He has told Yahoo News the U.S. is welcome to send troops to Syria to battle those that he called terrorists. But he also said in the interview that his permission is contingent on Washington respecting his government’s sovereignty.

    BASHAR AL-ASSAD, President of Syria: If you want to start genuinely as the United States, to do so, it must be through the Syrian government. We are here, we are the Syrians, we own this country as Syrians, nobody else. Nobody would understand it like us. So you cannot defeat the terrorism without cooperation with the people and the government of any country.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Assad said he shares the priority that President Trump places on fighting terrorism, but he rejected the idea of establishing safe zones for refugees inside Syria.

    In Australia, temperatures soared to 117 degrees in and around Sydney today, as an extreme heat wave grips the country. Major industrial energy users shut down in order to help prevent blackouts. Beaches were packed with people looking for relief, while zoo animals cooled off with a hose-down and frozen treats. Forecasters expect Saturday could be the hottest February day ever recorded in Australia.

    Back in this country, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced protesters in her first visit to a public school since a bruising confirmation fight. Several dozen people tried to block her from entering a school in Washington. She said later that she respects peaceful protest, but — quote — “will not be deterred” from doing her job. DeVos has drawn fire for her support of alternatives to public schools.

    Wall Street finished this Friday on a high note. Mining and energy stocks led the way, as prices for oil and copper jumped. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 97 points to close at 20269. The Nasdaq rose almost 19, and the S&P 500 added eight. For the week, all three indexes gained about 1 percent.

    The post News Wrap: Trump to possibly offer new order on immigration appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Water flows through a damaged spillway on Feb. 10 at the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California. Photo by REUTERS/Max Whittaker.

    Water flows through a damaged spillway on Feb. 10 at the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California. Photo by REUTERS/Max Whittaker.

    Heavy rains are washing away California’s drought, but now a new problem has surfaced for state officials. Engineers are scrambling to address severe damage to a concrete spillway used to release water from Lake Oroville, located about 75 miles north of Sacramento.

    On Tuesday, engineers discovered a massive hole in the lower half of the spillway. The gash has since grown to an estimated 300 feet wide, 180 feet long and 40 feet deep, Department of Water Resources (DWR) Spokesperson Doug Carlson told PBS NewsHour. Gushing water has launched chunks of concrete haphazardly and churned the Feather River below into mush, putting millions of steelhead salmon at a downstream hatchery into immediate danger.


    This video from a AJ Abell, a reporter at Action News Now, shows the overflowing dam.

    Department of Water Resources employees completely halted the water flow Tuesday after they noticed the aberration. Throughout the week, they have attempted to stem the rising reservoir levels by releasing test flows of 20,000 to 65,000 cubic feet per second.

    The water further eroded the gated spillway channel, but “not to a point that would compromise the integrity of the dam upstream,” state officials said in a statement Friday. If that level of flow can be maintained, the emergency option will be unnecessary.

    Lake Oroville reservoir has a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet of water. As of Thursday, the reservoir had filled to nearly 3.4 million acre-feet, with water levels continuing to rise.

    California Department of Water Resources personnel monitor water flowing through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., on February 10, 2017. - RTX30IIQ

    California Department of Water Resources personnel monitor water flowing through a damaged spillway on Feb. 10 at the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California. Photo by REUTERS/Max Whittaker.

    State officials said residents of Oroville — located 7 miles east of the dam — were in no imminent danger. But they said more rain could fill the the Oroville reservoir to capacity and cause an overflow by Saturday.

    A never-before-used emergency spillway, located down an adjacent hillside, is one possible solution if the reservoir overflows, but Carlson said this option isn’t ideal.
    The San Francisco Chronicle notes using the emergency spillway could result in severe ecological damage to the surrounding area, namely a state fish hatchery with fragile steelhead salmon eggs. DWR workers have already begun removing trees, rocks and debris from the hillside to prevent additional damage.

    Once the reservoir reaches its elevation capacity of 901 feet, the emergency spillway will direct the overflowing water to a diversion pool at the base of the hillside, Carlson said. In January 1997, Lake Oroville came within one foot of needing the emergency channel option.

    Carlson added that repairs to the main spillway can’t begin for another few months, after the wet season passes.

    The post What engineers are doing about the 300-foot hole in California’s Oroville Dam spillway appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Beth Kohn protests outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco, California February 7, 2017, while the Court hears arguments regarding President Donald Trump's temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. REUTERS/Noah Berger - RTX302J6

    Beth Kohn protests outside the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in San Francisco, California February 7, 2017, while the Court hears arguments regarding President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Photo by Noah Berger/Reuters

    SEATTLE — When a judge who helped derail President Donald Trump’s travel ban was hit with online threats, the abuse raised safety concerns among jurists across the country, and experts are worried that the president’s own attacks on the judiciary could make judges a more inviting target.

    U.S. District Judge James Robart imposed the temporary restraining order that halted enforcement of Trump’s ban last week. The president soon sent a tweet saying the opinion of “this so-called judge” was “ridiculous and would be overturned.” He also tweeted that the judge was “a known liberal sympathizer” and had “just opened the door to terrorists!”

    Robart quickly became a target on social media. Someone on Twitter called him a “DEAD MAN WALKING” and another on Facebook suggested that he be imprisoned at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, “where other enemies of the US are held.”

    “I know there’s a fear among the judiciary with what’s being said,” said John Muffler, a former U.S. marshal who teaches security at the Reno, Nevada-based National Judicial College. He cited professional contacts and email exchanges with judges.

    The president’s critical comments have consequences, he added, because “people on the edge can easily be pushed over the edge once the rhetoric gets going.”

    Trump blasted the federal court system again Wednesday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether Robart’s temporary restraining order should stand. During a speech to law enforcement officials, the president said the “courts seem to be so political” and called the hearing “disgraceful.”

    The next day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump had “no regrets” about his criticism of judges.

    Threats against judges are nothing new. They often come in the form of emails, phone calls, letters and social media posts, according to court records and the U.S. Marshal Service, which is responsible for protecting the federal judiciary.

    Judges are well guarded at their courthouse offices, but most do not receive protection when at home or out in the community. The Marshal Service offers extra protection if judges are threatened or handling especially sensitive or high-profile cases. All judges are also entitled to a home security system, Muffler said.

    Over the past few years, marshals have responded to thousands of threats against court officials. Many are not serious, but some are more dangerous.

    A Minnesota man used Twitter to threaten a federal judge overseeing a case against ISIS supporters. In Seattle, a defendant left phone messages and sent letters to two judges saying he would kill, stab, poison and bomb them because of their rulings. A white supremacist in Virginia sent electronic messages threatening to kidnap, torture, rape and kill a judge, his spouse, children and grandchildren.

    Chad Schmucker, president of the Judicial College, said “assaults on judges don’t occur every day, but threats do.” He said they are usually made by “disturbed people or people who are very angry.”

    “Inflammatory language,” he said, “doesn’t help the situation and can make judges very nervous.”

    The marshals conducted hundreds of investigations and some prosecutions last year, according to the agency’s 2016 annual report. They declined to release data on 2017 threats.

    Threatening to kill a federal judge is a Class C felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said Trump’s comments about Robart were “irresponsible.”

    “It’s demeaning and it’s dangerous,” she said, and “an attack on the rule of law.”

    The remarks could also inspire violence, she said.

    “The last thing you want to do is give a green light to someone who is misguided and thinks they’re doing a public service in attacking judges, physically or otherwise,” Levenson said.

    Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has described the president’s criticism of the judiciary as “demoralizing and disheartening.”

    Personal attacks and threats against Robart abound on social media.

    On a Facebook page about the judge, some people wrote thank-you notes to him, but others called him a disgrace, a traitor and a “bow tie wearing freak.” One man directed his note at Robart, saying he couldn’t wait “to read about the bad karma that is going to land on your weak slumping shoulders.”

    One woman wrote: “Open ur home to them if anything happens to anyone in this country like 911 there (sic) blood is on your head, and I will remember to rip u one.” Another said, “who in your family is expendable Robart?”

    Drew Wade, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, declined to discuss the judge’s situation. The FBI also declined to comment.

    This report was written by Martha Bellisle of the Associated Press.

    The post Trump attacks on judiciary raise safety concerns for judges appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A woman fills out a ballot for the U.S presidential election at the James Weldon Johnson Community Center in the East Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City, U.S. November 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly  - RTX2SIIK

    A woman fills out a ballot for the U.S presidential election at the James Weldon Johnson Community Center in the East Harlem neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City, U.S. November 8, 2016. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    AUSTIN, Texas — A lawyer for a Mexican national sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud in Texas said that President Donald Trump’s widely debunked claims of election rigging was “the 800-pound gorilla” in the jury box.

    Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, was convicted in Fort Worth this week on two felony counts of illegal voting over allegations that she improperly cast a ballot five times between 2005 and 2014.

    Her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said Friday that Ortega was a permanent resident who was brought to the U.S. as a baby and mistakenly thought she was eligible to vote. He said she voted Republican, including for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office helped prosecute her.

    The sentence was stark — voter fraud convictions, which are rare, many times result in probation. And as a convicted felon, Ortega will very likely be deported after serving her sentence.

    Tarrant County prosecutors say jurors made clear they value voting rights, but Birdsall said he believes Ortega would have fared better in a county with fewer “pro-Trump” attitudes.

    Trump carried North Texas’ Tarrant County with 52 percent of the vote in November. Birdsall said he wanted to steer the jury of 10 women and two men from any lingering thoughts about Trump’s unproven claims that 3 million people illegally voted in 2016 but the judge wouldn’t allow him.

    “It was the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the jury box,” Birdsall said. “I would have said, ‘You cannot hold this woman accountable for Donald Trump’s fictitious 3 million votes.'”

    Birdsall said the Texas attorney general’s office had agreed to leniency in exchange for Ortega testifying to lawmakers about illegal voting, but said Tarrant County District Attorney Sharon Wilson quashed those talks. A Wilson spokeswoman acknowledged plea negotiations but would not divulge details. A spokesman for the attorney general did not respond to an email seeking comment.

    Birdsall said Ortega has lived in the U.S. since she was a baby and has four teenage children. He said Ortega had learning disabilities and only a sixth-grade education.

    Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for Wilson, said the decision to prosecute had “absolutely nothing” to do with immigration.

    “This is a voter rights case. Does she consider voter rights important? Yes she does,” Jordan said of the district attorney. “And she thought it was important enough to go forward to a jury and let the jury of citizens decide, and they decided pretty clearly how important they think voting rights are.”

    Texas is one of many Republican-led states that have pushed for tighter requirements on voters to show identification at the polls. Supporters say such measures are necessary to combat voter fraud and increase public confidence in elections. But research has shown that in-person fraud at the polls is extremely rare, and critics of these restrictions warn that they will hurt mostly poor people, minorities and students — all of whom tend to vote Democratic — as well as the elderly.

    Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.

    The post Lawyer: Pro-Trump mindset behind 8-year voter fraud sentence appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Turkish military vehicles drive in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Rai, Syria January 5, 2017. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi - RTX2XNVL

    Turkish military vehicles drive in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of al-Rai, Syria January 5, 2017. Photo by Khalil Ashawi/Reuters

    BEIRUT — Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition forces have managed to capture just one-tenth of a north Syrian town from Islamic State militants, a conflict monitoring group said Saturday, despite reaching its outskirts seven weeks ago.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group told the AP that nine-tenths of al-Bab remains under IS control. The Observatory receives its information from a network of contacts inside the war-torn country.

    Battlefield reports from Syrian opposition forces corroborated the Observatory’s review.

    The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham militia announced Saturday on Twitter that opposition forces had taken the city’s silos and sports complex in its southwestern districts. The coalition’s operations room released a video on social media showing its fighters at the gates of the Hikma hospital. Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the hospital’s capture.

    But these amount to just marginal advances in the town, where some 100,000 residents lived before the start of the Syrian civil war, six years ago. Al-Bab lies about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Turkish border.

    Turkey is leading Syrian opposition forces in a broad operation called “Euphrates Shield” against the Islamic State group and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces northern Syria.

    Ankara wants to clear groups it says are terrorists away from its border, while Syrian opposition forces are looking to secure territory before rival government forces arrive from the south.

    Turkey is the opposition’s chief backer in Syria’s multisided civil war. It has deployed troops, tanks and artillery inside Syria as part of operation “Euphrates Shield.”

    Turkey’s Anadolu news agency began reporting Turkish troop fatalities in al-Bab on Dec. 21. That week, 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes or ambushes by the Islamic State in the town.

    Dozens of civilians have been killed in Turkish air raids on the town, as well.

    The IS group’s Aamaq news agency reported that Turkish, American, and Russian warplanes flew more than 80 sorties over the town on Friday and struck with 150 artillery rounds.

    The three powers are coordinating their aerial campaigns against the Islamic State group and other al-Qaida-linked factions in northern Syria.

    Pro-government forces, meanwhile, backed by Russian airpower, are engaged with IS militants in the village of Tadif, about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) south of al-Bab.

    The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Saturday that “in the course of the battle in the area of Tadif, government forces destroyed 650 terrorists, two tanks” and various vehicles fitted with arms and explosives. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

    Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council authorized Russia to fly its fighters over Iranian airspace to support operations in Syria, the state’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

    Earlier on August, Iran confirmed that Russia bombers launched airstrikes from near the Iranian city of Hamedan, 280 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran to hit targets in in eastern Syria.

    Iran is a stanch supporter of the Syrian government.

    Associated Press writers James Heintz in Moscow and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.

    The post Marginal progress for Turkish-backed forces in north Syria appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    GE Still 03

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    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: For more than 40 years, these two buildings tucked away in the leafy enclave of Fairfield, Connecticut housed the headquarters of one of the largest manufacturers in the United States General Electric. But a year ago, GE announced it was moving to Boston and taking 200 high-paying jobs with it.

    Mike Tetreau is Fairfield’s First Selectman, the town’s top elected official.

    MIKE TETREAU: You’ve got one side saying that, “nah, they were planning it all along. There’s nothing we can do.” On the other side, you have people saying, “no. You’re to blame. It’s a bad tax environment. We forced them outta Connecticut.”

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: GE was one of Fairfield’s top taxpayers: paying $1.6 million in property taxes in fiscal year 2016. GE still has more than 4,000 workers in other Connecticut facilities, including 600 re-assigned from headquarters. But the departure is a blow for a state already struggling with tremendous fiscal liabilities.

    Catherine Smith is Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

    CATHERINE SMITH: The reality is the 200 jobs that are moving from Connecticut to Boston really aren’t going to make or break the economy here in Connecticut. But I would say that the symbolism, the perception that changed with the GE decision is certainly a challenge for the state and something that we’ve been wrestling with a bit.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Connecticut is wrestling with contradictory economic forces. It’s home to 13 billionaires, and the state has the highest per capita income in the country. But it also has the highest per capita debt — the state is 23 billion dollars in the red. And its pension fund for teachers and state workers is one of the country’s most underfunded.

    In 2014, George Mason University economists ranked Connecticut dead last of the 50 states in fiscal health.

    MIKE TETREAU: A lot of not-so-good choices in front of us. But we have to make the hard choices.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: In the past two years, Connecticut governor Dan Malloy and the state legislature have chosen to make deep cuts in education and construction projects and laid off more than 1,000 state employees.

    The state also raised its personal income tax add added a surcharge that effectively raised the 7.5% corporate tax rate to 9% for the state’s largest companies, one of the highest rates in the U.S.

    In a June 2015 email to the staff GE CEO Jeff Immelt had complained about Connecticut raising its taxes “five times since 2011.” Immelt told employees, the company had formed “an exploratory team to look into the company’s options to relocate corporate HQ to another state with a more pro-business environment.”

    Massachusetts offered GE $145 million in incentives to move including: purchasing these two warehouses as GE workspace, granting up to $25 million in property tax relief from the city of Boston, and possibly improving local road and parking infrastructure.

    GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: It was a pretty good deal for GE, but it was also a pretty good deal for the state and for the city.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker helped negotiate the deal.

    GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: When we heard they were looking for, possibly relocating their headquarters, I think, we simply felt that with the ecosystem we had here — and with the colleges and universities we had here — it would be a mistake for us not to at least give it a try and see what happened.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: How closely does Massachusetts monitor the fiscal playing fields of other states and particularly states that are home to Fortune 500 companies?

    GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: Well, we’re in a competition, and we know that, with lots of other folks. I mean, we’ve had governors come up to Massachusetts to make a pitch to companies here about why they should be in their states.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Baker, a Republican, cooperated with Boston’s Democratic Mayor, Marty Walsh, on the pitch to GE. The two men had cemented their relationship during the record breaking winter of 2015, when storms dumped over 9 feet of snow in Boston.

    GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: The GE people actually said to us at one point that one of the things that really impressed them about the bid from Boston was the fact that there really wasn’t an inch of daylight between the city and the state on anything.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The company also says, moving its headquarters is part of a strategic transformation into a “digital industrial company,” producing the analytical technology required in large industrial products, like its own aircraft engines, train locomotives, and gas turbines.

    GE vice-president Ann Klee, who oversaw the negotiations behind the Massachusetts move, says the Boston region offers a steady stream of the talent the company needs to make the transformation it says it requires.

    ANNE KLEE: And that just wasn’t Connecticut. A place that’s what we call “in the flow of ideas.” And that’s in a city where you have a great, you know, energy, access to talent, an ability to attract and retain talent, people want to move into cities. That’s what we’re seeing with millennials. And so we looked at at the move from that perspective. How would we get into an ecosystem of innovation? Which is what we found in Boston.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The new GE headquarters — including this 12 story office tower — will take up about 100,000 square feet less than the space of the old Connecticut buildings.

    ANNE KLEE: We think about the talent we’re bringing in. Lots of coders, software developers, technologists. So when we think about our new headquarters, this is not your grandmother’s headquarters.

    JON CHESTO: I think that Jeff Immelt realizes that there is a different mindset.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Boston Globe business reporter Jon Chesto has written about the deal.

    JON CHESTO: He talks about it a lot, about, “I don’t wanna sit in an office where I can look out the window and see deer running by.” He says, “I wanna walk out the office and get” yeah, I think he used the expression, was, “punched in the face by some MIT geek who can do my job better than me.” And there’s a lot of smart people within a three-mile radius of where, where their headquarters is now.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: GE has now joined a roster of large companies leveraging better deals for themselves from states.

    Food processing giant Conagra, the maker of Chef Boyardee and Slim Jim, moved its headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska to Chicago with a collection of undisclosed tax incentives from Illinois.

    Newell Brands, which makes Sharpie pens and Rubbermaid products, moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Hoboken, New Jersey, with a $27 million tax incentive package.

    Hotel chain Marriott stayed put in Maryland after it was promised a $62 million dollars in incentives.

    CATHERINE SMITH: Competition between the states overall is extremely high. Companies that have their presence here in the state get calls from North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, so we have governors that come into the state to try to recruit companies away. So it’s incredible intensive. My own personal view, and I think our governor as well, is that it’s not necessarily beneficial for us to be using state tax dollars – which is what we do for their financial incentive programs that are offered, like GE got out of Boston – it’s not necessarily beneficial for us to be luring companies away. Rather, we focus on really growing the companies that are here.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Has there been any local pushback or blowback? I mean, I read a few op-eds here and there that said, “oh, you know, GE is a multi-billion dollar company. They don’t need this type of money put before them.”

    GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER: There are certainly people who have said that they don’t think GE should, you know, get any incentives. And I understand where they’re coming from. But if you talk to most people who pay attention to this sort of thing and study these kinds of things, having a company like GE here in Boston and in Massachusetts is gonna pay back 10 times over in a whole variety of ways.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Do you think Connecticut could have done more to prevent GE from leaving?

    CATHERINE SMITH:
    It’s my view, based on a lot of interaction with GE and with the community in which they operate and with some of the employees, that GE. Was on a road to make a change. I think that decision actually was made long before we got into conversation with them. By the time we got a chance to talk to them, I think the die had already been cast.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Last fall, Connecticut offered another major employer — Sikorsky Aircraft — a $220 million incentive program to keep it from relocating. In return, Smith says Sikorsky promised to spend $700 million a year on Connecticut-based companies that supply their production.

    But the state’s fiscal woes continue. The Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting a $1.4 billion budget shortfall next fiscal year. Last month, the state asked Fairfield after cutting about $4 million from its 2016 budget to cut an additional half million.

    MIKE TETREAU: We have a significant drop in revenue from the state that we have to make up by either tax increases or expense cuts. So I know Fairfield was successful, and vibrant, and very much alive before GE came here and we’re gonna have to continue to grow, and learn to get over that. And realize there’s life beyond GE.

    The post GE, other corporations shop for best relocation deals appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A sign marks the entrance to the at Children's Hospital Boston primary care clinic where H1N1 swine flu vaccines are being administered in Boston, Massachusetts October 7, 2009.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder    (UNITED STATES) - RTXPG3J

    A sign marks the entrance to the at Children’s Hospital Boston primary care clinic in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

    WESTON, Mass. — A few days after her ninth birthday, Jude Almkhlef got an unexpected gift. A stranger dropped off a bouquet of flowers arranged in a rainbow.

    An attached note read, “You are loved. You are not alone. The US is a rainbow, thank you for coming here and giving us more color.”

    Jude and her family are refugees from Al-Thawrah, Syria, a town some 100 miles east of Aleppo. Their house was destroyed in a government airstrike in 2013, a week after they fled to Turkey. The family came to the US in 2014.

    On Jan. 27, a day after Jude’s birthday, President Trump announced a controversial ban on immigrants and refugees coming from seven countries, including Syria. Though they’re now safe in the US, her family worries about being sent back.

    Jude has Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and osteoporosis, which gives her weak muscles and brittle bones. She can’t walk and sometimes has difficulty breathing.

    Living in Massachusetts has not been easy for her parents, Reem Alhamad and Ahmad Almkhlef. It has been hard to find work to support Jude and her two brothers, Kaess, 6, and Rodney, 2.

    But here, Jude has a chance. Her health care is covered by MassHealth, the state Medicaid program, and she is making great progress at Boston Children’s Hospital.

    The family is currently staying in the basement of Dr. Alexandra Haagensen, a physician at the hospital. Local citizens and several organizations are also helping them secure a handicap-accessible apartment and transportation.

    “When we come to here, our life started again,” said Alhamad. “Now if we be out of [the] US, we will lose everything again.”

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on February 10, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post In need of complex care, a Syrian child gets a second chance at a U.S. hospital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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