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

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    The best-known mural dedicated to Bobby Sands, a volunteer for the Provisional Irish Republican Army who became a member of the United Kingdom Parliament. He died on hunger strike while in Prison. Painted along side his image are other nationalists fighters and a mural that reads “I’ll wear no convict's uniform nor meakly serve my time that Britain might make Ireland’s fight 800 years of crime.” Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    This mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is dedicated to Bobby Sands, a volunteer for the Provisional Irish Republican Army who became a member of the United Kingdom Parliament. He died on hunger strike while in prison. Photo by Ivette Feliciano/PBS NewsHour

    In Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, hundreds of colorful murals line the city’s streets, detailing a century’s worth of conflict and political division.

    While some of Belfast’s political murals date back to the early 1900s, this artistic tradition has carried on over the years as an outlet for political statements. In particular, muralists have made a canvas of “peace walls,” the 300 miles of barriers that once split warring militias during The Troubles, a particularly violent period of war between Protestant and Catholic factions in Northern Ireland that lasted from 1969 to 1998.

    The Falls' International Peace Wall -a big tourist draw where large works of art depict Irish nationalist movements, as well as U.S. Iraq War, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Spanish Civil War and other global campaigns, past and present. Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    At the Falls’ International Peace Wall, large works of art depict Irish nationalist movements, as well as the U.S.-Iraq War, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, the Spanish Civil War and other global campaigns, past and present. Photo by Ivette Feliciano/PBS NewsHour

    In Protestant sections of the city, murals proudly display United Kingdom flags and celebrate Northern Ireland’s colonial relationship with Great Britain. Murals in Catholic neighborhoods boast Irish flags, commemorating nationalists who lost their lives fighting for an end to British rule and the reunification of Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK, to the independent Republic of Ireland in the south.

    Many of the murals throughout Belfast depict individual combatants who fought in the sectarian civil war. Others portray gun battles or bomb attacks from paramilitary troops, such as the 1971 bombing of McGurk’s Bar in Belfast and the 1998 car bombing of a shopping center in Omagh, Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 people died during The Troubles.

    Stevie “Top Gun” McKeag, is believed to be responsible for at least 12 Catholic killings. The mural has had portions repainted to to give McKeag a more military style and muralists removed 25 ft high skeleton with a machine gun. It is flanked by crests of loyalists militias. Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    Stevie “Top Gun” McKeag is believed to be responsible for at least 12 Catholic killings. The mural has been repainted in portions, and a section that depicted a skeleton with a machine gun was removed. It is flanked by crests of loyalist militias. Photo by Ivette Feliciano/PBS NewsHour

    In 1998, the internationally-brokered Good Friday Agreement, also called the Belfast Agreement, officially ended the conflict and set up a power-sharing government between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists. Since then, the violence has largely subsided. But tensions still linger between Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, with some residents reluctant to bridge the gap, said Peter Hughes, who gives tours of Belfast’s murals and grew up during the conflict.

    “If you were told for your whole lifetime, ‘Don’t go there, it’s very dangerous,’ then today, ‘The gates are open, you can come across,’ it’s very difficult for a whole generation of people to become convinced of that,” he said.

    Mural in Shankill commemorating a small undercover loyalist paramilitary group. Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    A mural in Shankill commemorates a small loyalist paramilitary group. Photo by Ivette Feliciano/PBS NewsHour

    Belfast’s largest Protestant community, Shankill, is covered in murals that depict masked, gun-toting loyalist fighters. It is separated from The Falls — the city’s largest Catholic neighborhood — by a peace wall first erected during The Troubles that remains closed on nights and weekends. About 50 peace walls exist in Northern Ireland, even as politicians vow to remove them by 2023.

    Mural in Shankill commemorating a small undercover loyalist paramilitary group. Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    A mural recalls violence in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the summer of 1969. Photo by Ivette Feliciano/PBS NewsHour

    The “Summer of ‘69” mural at Hopewell Crescent in Shankill depicts an iconic photo of two children, one Protestant and one Catholic, who went to bed as friends and woke up to a bomb-ravaged neighborhood and burned-out homes, an overnight event believed to have launched riots and the start of The Troubles.

    Hughes said that mural was representative of the turning point for Northern Ireland’s youth in the conflict.

    “Kids were told they couldn’t play with their friends any more because of their religion, the city was split … 1,800 families lost their homes in two days,” he said. “Parents created a boogie monster and inadvertently they [turned] kids against each other.”

    A man walks past a mural on the Falls Road a day after Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned, throwing the devolved joint administration into crisis, in Belfast Northern Ireland, January 10, 2017.  REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY   - RTX2YB0V

    A man walks past a mural on the Falls Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Jan. 10, 2017. Photo by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

    A man paints over a mural on the Falls Road, a nationalist area in Belfast, Northern Ireland March 10, 2016. A community cohesion strategy set up by the Northern Ireland housing executive in 2015 aims to re-image Northern Ireland over a 10-year-period, by replacing paramilitary murals and sectional symbols with images of a shared history. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne - RTSA6ZC

    A man paints over a mural on the Falls Road, a nationalist area in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on March 10, 2016. A community cohesion strategy set up by the Northern Ireland housing executive in 2015 aims to re-image Northern Ireland over a 10-year-period, by replacing paramilitary murals and sectional symbols with images of a shared history. Photo by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

    In the last several years, some communities have repainted portions of the most controversial murals or erected new ones in an effort to continue normalizing relationships between Protestants and Catholics. Under the Re-Imaging Communities project through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, some communities have received funding to create new murals in place of older images.

    Some residents say the murals mark an important part of Northern Ireland’s past and should not be taken down. But newer images and public art projects could help the communities move forward, Anne Ward, the Community Development Officer at the Arts Council, told The Atlantic.

    “Young children walking past masked gunmen has an impact on the local community. So, the program is all about the community wanting to transform … and creating a new Northern Ireland, ” Ward said.

    See more photos of the murals below.

    The BMC cycling team pass a loyalist paramilitary mural painted on a wall in east Belfast as they make their way around the route of the Giro d'Italia team time trial May 9, 2014. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: SPORT CYCLING POLITICS) - RTR3OG5G

    The BMC cycling team pass a loyalist paramilitary mural painted on a wall in east Belfast as they make their way around the route of the Giro d’Italia team time trial May 9, 2014. Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

    A Union flag flies on a lamp post beside a loyalist paramilitary mural on the Shankill Road area of west Belfast December 11, 2012. Police were attacked in Belfast on Monday night by loyalists enraged by a decision to remove the British flag from Belfast City Hall, which has sparked eight consecutive days of demonstrations.  REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3BGAR

    A Union flag flies on a lamp post beside a loyalist paramilitary mural on the Shankill Road area of west Belfast December 11, 2012. Police were attacked in Belfast on Monday night by loyalists enraged by a decision to remove the British flag from Belfast City Hall, which has sparked eight consecutive days of demonstrations. Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

    A man walks past a mural of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams on the Falls road, Belfast May 5, 2014. Northern Ireland police released Gerry Adams from custody on Sunday and the Sinn Fein leader sought to calm fears that his four-day detention could destabilise the British province by pledging his support to the peace process.  REUTERS/Paul Hackett (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY) - RTR3NTDE

    A man walks past a mural of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams on the Falls road, Belfast May 5, 2014. Northern Ireland police released Gerry Adams from custody on Sunday and the Sinn Fein leader sought to calm fears that his four-day detention could destabilize the British province by pledging his support to the peace process. Photo by Paul Hackett/Reuters

    The post These murals lie at the center of a debate over Northern Ireland’s future appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A still from "Your Name." Credit: Funimation films

    A still from “Your Name.” Credit: Funimation Films

    Back in 2003, “Spirited Away” made history by becoming the first Japanese animated feature film to win an Academy Award. It told the story of 10-year-old Chihiro, a young girl propelled into a world governed by spirits, gods and other fantastical beasts that go bump in the night.

    It was a milestone for the animation industry. But more than a decade later, the art form’s representation at the Oscars hasn’t improved.

    According to Academy records, only nine animated films either fully produced or co-produced in Japan have been nominated since the late 1990s. And this year, the absence of a nomination for “Your Name” — a hugely popular anime film that critics lauded as Oscar-worthy — begs the question: How does the Academy view anime?

    Anime is a lucrative business. The total market value of the anime industry in 2015 was $1.83 trillion yen, or $18.1 billion dollars, up from about 12 percent from 2014’s $1.63 trillion yen, according to the Association of Japanese Animations. Even Netflix is jumping on board. The company is expected to produce at least eight original anime productions in 2017, not to mention the loads of Pokémon paraphernalia, plush toys and bobbleheads that it already sells.

    Matt Schley, a freelance writer based out of Tokyo and editor at the manga and anime media magazine Otaku USA, covered the opening of “Your Name” last year in Japan. The film, directed by Makoto Shinkai and released under Funimation Films, is a vivid narrative centered around two teenagers who find themselves paranormally linked. It proved a massive hit in Japan and Asia and recently topped “Spirited Away” as the highest-grossing anime film ever.

    And although the film heads to the U.S. on April 7, Schley said in a Skype message: “it… feel[s] a bit strange that it didn’t even get nominated” after its enormous success abroad.

    The Academy Awards have occasionally nominated anime films. From 1999 to 2015, three independent anime short films and six Japanese animated feature films received Oscar nods. Among those nominations, one name comes up repeatedly: Hayao Miyazaki.

    Miyazaki, a co-founder of the well-known anime Studio Ghibli, has directed beloved films like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Spirited Away.”
    “He’s pretty much a household name here in Japan and his films are popular with people who really aren’t interested in anime at all otherwise,” Schley said.

    This week, Miyazaki, who announced in 2013 that he was retiring, said he was now working on a new feature film.

    How anime took hold worldwide

    In 1985, Miyazaki created Studio Ghibli along with filmmakers Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki. They released their first film “Castle in the Sky” in 1986. The earliest commercial Japanese animation dates back to 1917, and since then its diverse art form and style has continued to spread internationally.

    Anime is often adapted from “manga,” a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, and covers everything from slice of life to science fiction. And although anime is by definition relating to Japanese origin, many other Asian countries maintain their own variant of the concept.

    Honoree Japanese film director and animator Hayao Miyazaki poses during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Los Angeles, California November 8, 2014.  REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) - RTR4DF45

    Honoree Japanese film director and animator Hayao Miyazaki poses during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards in Los Angeles, California, on Nov. 8, 2014. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

    “Modern anime arises out of post-WWII modern manga, i.e. comic book production,” said
    Casey Brienza, a sociologist and author of “Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics,” in a Skype message.

    Brienza noted that anime filmmakers have also been influenced by American animation. Osamu Tezuka who has been called the “God of Manga,” was influenced by American animation, including by “Disney” and “Betty Boop.” Tezuka is known for making “Tetsuwan Atomu,” or “Astro Boy,” a 1960s anime that crossed international borders and premiered on NBC stations across the U.S.

    In the late 1990s, a new international interest in anime took hold with the creation of TV shows like the action-adventures of “Sailor Moon”, the chronicles of extraterrestrial battles in “Dragon Ball Z,” and the ever-popular classic Pokémon, among others.

    Even though Japanese anime has continued to draw international audiences, when it comes to the American Academy, there’s a disconnect, Brienza said.

    “I think the Oscars are an American party practically by design, and so non-American works in general are underrepresented. A lot would have to change before I think anime would have a good shot at being better represented,” Brienza said.

    It may also come down to cross-cultural appeal.

    “Spirited Away,” she said, appeals to American audiences because “it presents elements of Japanese culture in the context of the supernatural specifically and the main character’s arc is a classic coming-of-age tale … Sometimes, I think that Americans would rather see their stereotypical image of Japan onscreen than Japanese people’s actual self-representation.”

    This year’s nominations for Best Animated Feature Film are “Moana,” “Zootopia,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “The Red Turtle,” which, though it was co-produced by Studio Ghibli, does not fit the traditional definition of anime because it was made by a Danish-British animator.

    “So anime is not getting totally snubbed this year,” said Patrick Macias, editor-in-chief of Otaku USA and Crunchyroll News, a site dedicated to the latest developments in anime and Japanese pop culture. “It’s also important to note that not every anime film that comes out is Oscar-worthy either,” he said in Skype message.

    This may include “Your Name,” which, though it garnered more than $100 million at the Japanese box office, Schley said, also got “a decent amount of pushback from critics and industry insiders about the actual quality of the film.”

    “So if we want to think about an Oscar nomination as an actual acknowledgment of high-quality filmmaking, and not a bunch of folks making very calculated political decisions — even if we know that usually isn’t the case — maybe this is a good thing,” he said.

    “Your Name” Director Makoto Shinkai also isn’t concerned with Academy recognition, nor is he comfortable about being dubbed “the new Miyazaki,” according to an interview with the China Morning Post.

    “It’s not healthy. I don’t think any more people should see it,” he said, after the explosion of interest in the film. “For me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. ”

    And Matthew Li, a 21-year-old YouTuber and anime fan of five years, said in a Skype message he doesn’t see anime’s future as dark or gloomy.

    “When it comes to people and the power of word-of-mouth, that’s where I’m enthusiastic,” Li said. “Even if ‘Your Name’ didn’t get nominated, it’s still one of the most talked about animated films on a global scale. I think that’s stronger than any nomination.”

    The post Anime didn’t make it into the Oscar nominations this year. Here’s why that doesn’t matter. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A bus with Syrian rebels and their families evacuating the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs is pictured after a local agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army, Syria, September 22, 2016. The graffiti on the sign reads in Arabic:" Assad or nobody, only Bashar." REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSOXB4

    A bus with Syrian rebels and their families evacuating the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs is pictured after a local agreement reached between rebels and Syria’s army, Syria, September 22, 2016. The graffiti on the sign reads in Arabic: “Assad or nobody, only Bashar.” Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

    BEIRUT — In synchronized attacks, insurgents stormed into heavily guarded security offices in Syria’s central Homs city, clashed with troops and then blew themselves up, killing a senior officer and at least 31 others, state media and officials reported.

    The swift, high-profile attacks against the Military Intelligence and State Security offices, among Syria’s most powerful, were claimed by an al-Qaida-linked insurgent coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee. A Syrian lawmaker on a state-affiliated TV station called it a “heavy blow” to Syria’s security apparatuses.

    The attacks came as Syrian government and opposition delegates meet in Geneva in U.N.-mediated talks aimed at building momentum toward peace despite low expectations of a breakthrough. The U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called the attacks “tragic.”

    “Every time we had talks or a negotiation, there was always someone who was trying to spoil it. We were expecting that,” he said.

    Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Ja’afari, who leads Damascus’ delegation to Geneva, said the attacks were a message from the “sponsors of terrorism” to the peace talks.

    Al-Ja’afari said the attacks will not go unanswered.

    No footage or pictures emerged from the typically tightly-secured scene of the attacks in the city center. Activists said the city was on high alert after the attacks, with government troops blocking roads and forcing shops to close.

    The government responded with an intense airstrike campaign against the only neighborhood on the city’s outskirts still under opposition control and other parts of rural Homs.

    [Watch Video]

    The government regained control of the city of Homs — one of the first to rise against President Bashar Assad — in 2015. But al-Waer neighborhood remained in rebel hands. Settlement negotiations to evacuate it have repeatedly faltered.

    The attack early Saturday was the most high-profile in a city that has been the scene of repeated suicide attacks since the government regained control. The head of Military Intelligence services Maj. Gen Hassan Daeboul, who was killed in Saturday’s attack, had been transferred from the capital to Homs last year to address security failures in the city, according to local media reports at the time.

    Daeboul was killed by one of the suicide bombers, according to Syrian State News Agency SANA.

    Saturday attacks are among the most spectacular perpetrated against security agencies in the six-year-old conflict. One of the most dramatic attacks came in July 2012, when insurgents detonated explosives inside a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus, killing four top government officials, including the brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad and the then-defense minister.

    Details emerging of the Saturday attacks reveal coordinated attacks that used a combination of armed assault and suicide attacks to breach the security offices.

    The governor of Homs Province, Talal Barzani, told The Associated Press three blasts in total killed more than 32 people. He said the attackers were wearing suicide belts, which they detonated in the security offices. The two agencies are two kilometers (1.2 miles) apart, and according to activists from the city they are heavily guarded, and monitored with security cameras.

    According to state-affiliated al-Ikhbariya TV, at least six assailants attacked the two security compounds in Homs’ adjacent al-Ghouta and al-Mahata neighborhoods, clashing with security officers before at least two of them detonated explosive vests. It was not clear if there are any civilians among the casualties.

    The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman said the synchronized attacks killed at least 42 security officers and personnel.

    The differing casualty estimates could not be immediately reconciled and are not uncommon in the immediate aftermath of violence in Syria.

    Abdurrahman said the attacks started with clashes at the checkpoints. Then, three suicide bombers blew themselves up consecutively inside the courtyard of the Military Intelligence Services building as troops gathered. The attack briefly undermined the troops’ control of the building, said Abdurrahman. That attack killed at least 30, the Observatory said.

    In the meantime, a similar scenario was playing out at the State Security branch, where at least 12 were killed. Brigadier Ibrahim Darwish, head of the agency, was also critically wounded, according to al-Ikhbariya.

    An al-Qaida-linked insurgent coalition, the Levant Liberation Committee, said five attackers stormed the two different security offices. The group said bombs were also detonated at checkpoints outside the buildings just as rescuers were arriving, leading to more casualties, according to a statement on their Telegram channel.

    A Homs-based opposition activist Bebars al-Talawy said the attackers used gun-silencers in their initial attack, enabling them to enter the premise and surprise their target.

    “This is the biggest breach of security agencies in Homs,” al-Talawy said, speaking in a Skype interview. “They were almost inside the offices.”

    Al-Talawy said Daeboul was in charge of negotiating surrender deals with the rebel holdouts in al-Waer and other rebel-held areas in rural Homs.

    The Syrian security forces run a vast intelligence network that enjoys great power and operates with little judicial oversight. Rights groups and Syria monitors hold the various branches responsible for mass arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and firing on protesters.

    In a February report, Amnesty International reported that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were killed in mass hangings in the military’s Saydnaya prison in Damascus between 2011 and 2015. It said the detainees were sent to the prison from around the country by the state’s four main security branches, including Military Intelligence.

    After the attacks, Syrian opposition activists took to social media to recount stories of torture and abuse for which Daeboul was allegedly responsible. Before Homs, he managed a military intelligence unit believed responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses.

    Meanwhile, government supporters hailed him as one of the country’s best security officers, who “broke the back of the terrorists,” a pro-government Facebook page posted. The government refers to all opposition as “terrorists.”

    Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Philip Issa in Beirut, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

    The post Twin attacks on Syrian security kill at least 32 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Displaced Iraqis flee their homes during a battle with Islamic State militants  walk past Iraqi flag in Albu Saif, south-west Mosul, Iraq, February 25, 2017. Photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    Displaced Iraqis flee their homes during a battle with Islamic State militants walk past Iraqi flag in Albu Saif, south-west Mosul, Iraq, February 25, 2017. Photo by Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

    MOSUL, Iraq — The Iraqi advance into Mosul’s western half slowed Saturday as combat turned to urban warfare and Iraqi forces met stiff resistance from the Islamic State group. Hundreds of civilians poured out of Mosul on foot following the advances, but the vast majority of 750,000 estimated to still be in the city’s west remain trapped, and describe deteriorating humanitarian and security conditions.

    Special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said that his troops are “moving very slowly” and that IS fighters are responding with car bombs, snipers and dozens of armed drones.

    The drones have caused relatively few deaths, but have inflicted dozens of light injuries that have disrupted the pace of ground operations.

    Similar to the way operations inside eastern Mosul initially unfolded, in west Mosul, IS repeatedly brought Iraqi convoys to a halt Saturday with small teams of one or two men and a handful of car bombs.

    Al-Saadi said the Mamun neighborhood was particularly difficult because its streets are not organized in a grid. “The roads are random,” he said, which makes it more difficult for his men to set up roadblocks to stop car bombs, a difficulty that foreshadows obstacles Iraqi forces expect to face in the narrow alleyways of western Mosul’s historic district.

    But al-Saadi said he expects the pace to increase after Iraqi forces retake territory and infrastructure on Mosul’s southwestern edge — which will allow them to shorten supply lines and link up with forces in the city’s east.

    Along the road beside al-Saadi’s base of operations, hundreds of civilians fleeing Mosul walked slowly past, many with sheep, cows and goats in tow. Nearly all of the hundreds who fled Saturday trekked more than five kilometers from the city’s edge to a small village serving as a screening center.

    [Watch Video]

    Dozens of families gathered against a crude cinderblock wall at the screening center south of Mosul. Intelligence officials at the site said after documents were checked families would either be moved into nearby abandoned houses or newly erected camps for the displaced.

    Many of those fleeing said they were from villages outside Mosul and had been forced to march to the city more than four months ago to serve as human shields.

    “We’ve been through terrible times,” said Juri Fathi, a mother of six who was forced to live in a school in Mosul for three months. “I had to burn my children’s clothing just for warmth.”

    Fathi held her youngest child — a four month old boy — in her arms as she spoke. She said he was born in an abandoned home between her hometown of Hamam al-Alil and Mosul as she was being led on the forced march by IS.

    “I named him Mussab (or difficult),” she said, “for these tough days.”

    Groups of men were screened at the site against a database of IS suspects and two prisoners were dragged past the crowd and into an abandoned building.

    “We brought them directly from inside Mosul,” said an Iraqi special forces solider from inside the Humvee that delivered the detainees. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. “They were shooting at us, I saw them with my own eyes,” he said.

    Iraqi forces declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated” in January after officially launching the operation to retake the city in October.

    A former Iraqi army lieutenant colonel and specialist in land-attack missiles, who used the nickname Abu Karim fearing for the safety of his family, spoke to The Associated Press by phone, describing a “deteriorating security and humanitarian situation” inside western Mosul.

    “I’m hiding in my house, and my wife lives in constant fear of Daesh raiding our home,” said Abu Karim, using the Arabic acronym for the extremist group.

    Abu Karim said IS fighters have been setting up checkpoints and storming homes to crack down on informants, meting out punishments for anyone carrying a mobile phone or found with an internet connection that include flogging, jail time, and fines.

    “(IS) tried to recruit me because of my expertise in missiles. But I told them I fought in the war against Iran and the Americans, and couldn’t fight anymore. They took me before a judge and he let me go with a $500 dollar fine,” said Abu Karim. He added that some IS fighters were fleeing to the north of Mosul, and that the city’s residents would welcome the arrival of the counterterrorism force and the federal police.

    Also Saturday, a Kurdish journalist working for the Rudaw news organization, Shifa Gerdi, was killed covering the Mosul operation. A number of journalists have been since the operation began last year and in October an Iraqi television journalist was killed covering the battle.

    Meanwhile, the Saudi Foreign Minister was in Baghdad Saturday — the first high level visit of a Saudi official to the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion — to meet with his Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

    In a statement issued by the foreign ministry, al-Jaafari said the visit was to discuss cooperation in combating terrorism, adding, “The ties that bind are many, and the visit comes to restore bilateral relations to their correct course.”

    The statement also called on Saudi Arabia to reiterate its position against Turkish ground troops in Iraq.

    Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in baghdad contributed.

    The post Conditions deteriorate in west Mosul as Iraqi advances slow appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    This video is not currently available. | Listen to the Audio

    By Ivette Feliciano and Zachary Green

    PATRICIA SABGA: The sectarian violence that roiled Northern Ireland for decades is stamped on the Belfast landscape. Across this capital city, murals commemorate the more than three-and-a-half thousand people killed during the conflict, known here as The Troubles.

    PETER HUGHES: We’re going to start on the Shankill Road.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Cab driver Peter Hughes is our guide.

    PETER HUGHES: There’s a process of some of the more offensive murals, stripping them away, replace them with something a little more positive but leaving evidence then of the old.

    PATRICIA SABGA: It’s a visual tempering of passions surrounding the conflict that pitted minority Catholic political and paramilitary factions fighting to reunite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland…against Protestant state and paramilitary forces who want Northern Ireland to remain British.

    NEWS REPORTER: Inside, eight political groups…

    PATRICIA SABGA: In the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton appointed former U-S Senator George Mitchell to broker peace talks, which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that formally ended the Troubles and set up a power-sharing government between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists.. Today, 21 miles of “peace walls” still separate Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast. A lingering division reflected in Northern Ireland’s Brexit vote.

    While the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the European Union, 56 percent of Northern Irish voters wanted to remain. The vote also split along sectarian lines with. 85% of Northern Irish Catholics preferring to stay in the EU, compared to 40% percent of Protestants.

    Perhaps the most contentious issue raised by Brexit is the future of the 300 mile border dividing Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. During The Troubles, parts of it were heavily fortified with military features that stood as physical reminders of Ireland’s partition by the British.

    The 1998 Good Friday Agreement transformed the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Eyesores of division like watchtowers, military checkpoints and concrete bollards have vanished. I’m standing on the border right now, and it’s difficult to tell where one country ends and the other begins. But that seamlessness could very well change when Britain leaves the European Union, taking Northern Ireland with it.

    THERESA MAY: Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past.

    PATRICIA SABGA: British Prime Minister Theresa May has tried to assuage concerns by stating her preference for a “frictionless border.” But Gerry Adams – a towering figure among Catholic Republicans and a key player in the peace process, isn’t buying it.

    GERRY ADAMS: The European Union, quite rightly, like any other federation or any other state, will want to protect itself. And there will be tariffs, there will be economic penalties, and there will be physical manifestations of a hard border.

    PATRICIA SABGA: For 34 years, Adams has led Sinn Fein, the political party historically tied to the Irish Republican Army…which fought to separate Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and a British government Adams contends still doesn’t have Northern Ireland’s best interests at heart.

    How would you characterize their concern for Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit world?

    GERRY ADAMS: I don’t think they give a fig about people here. I don’t think they ever have.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Sinn Fein is calling for a referendum on re-uniting Ireland – but the immediate demand is for the British government to support granting Northern Ireland a special status to stay in the E-U. That would in effect move the post-Brexit E-U border from Ireland to the rest of the UK.

    GERRY ADAMS: This is the most successful peace process there is in the last half-century. But it needs to be nurtured. It needs to be nourished. So the sensible, decent thing for the British Prime Minister to do is to go for the principle of a special deal for the North within the European Union, a special designated status.

    PATRICIA SABGA: But Prime Minister May’s government calls special status for Northern Ireland the “wrong approach.” Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party agrees. Sammy Wilson is a member of the British Parliament and the DUPs chief spokesman on Brexit.

    SAMMY WILSON: Our position on that is quite clear. We do not wish to have any special status at all, and indeed Brexit should not be used as an excuse to weaken the union.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Wilson says fears of a return to hardened borders after Brexit are overblown.

    SAMMY WILSON: Given the methods that we now have of checking movements of not just people but also of goods, it is entirely possible using modern technology to have these virtually frictionless borders. They’ll not be totally frictionless. There has to be some checking, there has to be some paperwork, but that’s all manageable.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Wilson also dismisses the notion that Brexit could undermine peace.

    SAMMY WILSON: I’m fairly sure that at the end of this process we will be wondering, “What was all the fuss about?

    PATRICIA SABGA: The Brexit rift between Northern Ireland’s two largest political parties is unfolding at a time of changing demographics and growing political turbulence. A 2011 Census showed that Protestants now comprise less than half the population in Northern Ireland — 48% –while the share of Catholics has risen to 45%.

    Last month, Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government collapsed over the handling of a renewable energy project—triggering new assembly elections in March. We saw signs of resurgent political polarization. This display of past IRA bombings on a wall in a unionist neighborhood drew a parallel to the 2015 Paris attacks by the Islamic State. The caption reads “IRA-Sinn Fein-ISIS, no difference.”

    When you see something like that, what does that tell you about the current state of peace?

    SAMMY WILSON: The first thing it tells me is this, that of course there has always been an affiliation between the Irish Republicans and terrorist groups, especially in the Middle East.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Well, do you agree with it? Do you agree with that–

    SAMMY WILSON: I do. Yes, of course, I do–

    PATRICIA SABGA: Placard saying, equating Sinn Féin with ISIS?

    SAMMY WILSON: Yes, I do.

    PATRICIA SABGA: For many in Northern Ireland, the pain of past political violence by both sides endures, despite nearly 20 years of peace. Belfast native Raymond McCord lost his son, Raymond Junior to the Troubles in 1997.

    RAYMOND MCCORD: That’s the man actually murdered Raymond. That’s the man who gave the order.

    PATRICIA SABGA: But no one has ever been charged with the crime. Unable to secure justice, McCord now campaigns for victims’ rights on both sides of the sectarian divide–advocacy that prompted him to launch an unsuccessful legal challenge to Brexit over concerns that he and others could lose access to the European Court of Human Rights

    RAYMOND MCCORD: People like myself can’t get justice here.

    PATRICIA SABGA: And that’s not his only worry. McCord fears Brexit could stir up tensions among illegal paramilitary groups that have leveled threats against him. According to a 2015 British government report, “All the main paramilitary groups operating during the period of the Troubles remain in existence.” While sectarian killings have stopped, the report said, “Violence and intimidation are used to exercise control” at the community level, including “paramilitary-style assaults and, on occasion, murders.”

    What will Brexit do to the peace as it stands right now in Northern Ireland?

    RAYMOND MCCORD: It could destroy it. Simple as that.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Paul O’Neill, who lives in a working class Catholic neighbourhood in Belfast, also worries about the consequences of Brexit.

    PAUL O’NEILL: Something like 600 people from the area were imprisoned as a result of the conflict,

    PATRICIA SABGA: During the Troubles, O’Neill was accused of being an IRA member and jailed for five years, only to have his conviction overturned. Since the Good Friday Agreement, he’s worked with former prisoners as part of the Ashton community center, which receives funding from the E-U that will dry up after Brexit.

    The British government promised that they would provide assistance for Republican
    ex-prisoners, loyalist ex-prisoners, and their families to readjust. Very little happened, didn’t happen. It was European money that allowed that to happen. I mean, there’s a whole range of projects, youth projects, ex-prisoner support projects, various projects that wouldn’t and couldn’t have happened were it not for the fact that we were able to access funding from Europe.

    The EU also funds Erasmus…a student exchange program that brings together Catholic and Protestant youth, some for the first time.

    Who here is Catholic, and who here is Protestant?

    KIDS: We’re Catholic.

    BOY: Yeah, Catholic.

    PATRICIA SABGA: OK? And who’s Protestant? And how do you get along?

    KIDS: Brilliant!

    On a wall in Belfast, a mural stands as testament to Catholic and Protestant children who lived together in harmony until the Troubles began….

    PETER HUGHES: For them, it exploded over a two day period. 1,800 families lost their homes in two days. So at that point, these kids are separate, they’re segregated.

    PATRICIA SABGA: Is there any concern that Brexit could possibly lead back to that?

    PETER HUGHES: There’s very much a fear, an undercurrent within certain people that we could be dragged back to those dark days. Personally, I don’t think so, but there are people of that belief.

    The post Brexit stirs up old divides in Northern Ireland appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Octavia Spencer’s character Dorothy Vaughan in the blockbuster “Hidden Figures” did not in the original script live in a mid-century home with sophisticated art – it was instead a home that lacked class.

    This is just one of the reasons that esteemed production designer Wynn Thomas, who also worked on “A Beautiful Mind,” is crucial to the film industry. Thomas told the NewsHour Weekend’s Alison Stewart last week that he had to gently redirect the cultural misconceptions that influenced the script.

    “I wasn’t going to let it happen,” Thomas said. “I had to say to them, ‘No, no, no. These are middle-class women. These women would have been the leaders in our communities and that would have been reflected in their environments.’”

    The panel was organized by WNET’s Inclusion and Diversity Council ahead of the Academy Awards to discuss the role of African Americans in the film industry, two years of #OscarsSoWhite and how to maintain momentum. He was joined by two other award-winning producers – Lisa Cortes, executive producer of “Precious,” and Sam Pollard, who co-produced the documentary “Four Little Girls” with Spike Lee.

    As the first black production designer in the film industry, Thomas said he is often the only black person in the room. And while that representation has increased slightly this year, with six black actors nominated for Academy Awards, he remains skeptical about the pace of progress.

    “My concern is what’s going to happen next year and what’s going to happen two years from now,” he said. “My hope is that because of the success of these movies, that more movies will be produced.”

    Watch the full panel discussion above.

    Kamala Kelkar is a member of WNET’s Inclusion and Diversity Council.

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 26:Saeed Fahra holds high a U.S. and Somali flags as he gives a speaks to the mostly young male audience during a break in the action of Somali Week's Hoops for Hope basketball tournament at the Richard Green Central Park Community School gym on June 26, 2011, in Minneapolis, MN.  In the last three years, at least 25 young men have disappeared from Minneapolis to fight for the Somali-based Islamist extremist, al-Qaeda-linked group called al-Shabab, and dozens more are being investigated for recruiting or fundraising on behalf of the terrorist organization. None so far have tried to attack in the United States, but law-enforcement officials have gathered intelligence indicating that they will.One of the first Americans to disappear was Abdirizak Bihi?€?s nephew, a 17-year-old honor student who joined al-Shabab in 2008 and was killed the next year. Bihi, a former translator for area hospitals, responded by launching a youth advocacy program called Somali Education and Special Advocacy Center to combat militant Islam. The undertaking has since jeopardized his finances, his marriage and his reputation. He would happily quit tomorrow, he said, ?€?if I believed there was anyone else crazy enough to do this.?€  Although the number of Somali-American extremists pales in comparison to those Somalis seeking a peaceful existence in the United States and Somalia, the deep impact of the small number of extremists has dominated media coverage about the country, leading to negative stereotypes about the people of Somalia.(Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    Saeed Fahra holds high a U.S. and Somali flags as he gives a speaks to the mostly young male audience during a break in the action of Somali Week’s Hoops for Hope basketball tournament at the Richard Green Central Park Community School gym on June 26, 2011, in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

    MINNEAPOLIS — The leaders of a Minnesota nonprofit that works to improve the lives of young Somalis knew the stakes were high when they rejected $500,000 in federal funding earlier this month.

    Eighty students who were expected to go through a career mentoring and job placement program over the next two years now might not get the chance. Workshops designed to help hundreds of Somali parents might have to be cancelled. And plays meant to get people talking about difficult topics may have to be scaled back.

    Still, Ka Joog is proud of its decision. The group was among several U.S. nonprofits that rejected federal grant money designed to counter violent extremism, citing actions and statements made by President Donald Trump that they view as anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, including the ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries that he tried to impose.

    Ka Joog is planning an April fundraising event to try to make up for the half-million dollars it turned down, in hopes that it can expand its programs as planned to help as many young people as possible.

    “This money would have impacted Ka Joog and the community and young people in so many ways,” said executive director Mohamed Farah. “But it’s not about the money, to be honest. It’s about the principle and about what we stand for, and that’s priceless.”

    The name Ka Joog is Somali for “stay away” and is symbolic of the group’s message: Stay away from negative influences of drugs, violence and radicalism and keep your life on a positive track by attaining higher education and serving your community. The group hosts fun activities, such as arts events, barbeques and wilderness experiences, as well as serious forums that give young Somalis a platform to share their opinions.

    Though the group wasn’t started specifically to combat terrorism, its programming to keep kids engaged has been welcome in Minnesota, which has the largest Somali population in the U.S. and has been a target for terror recruiters. Since 2007, roughly three dozen young Somalis have left the state to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria.

    Farah said Ka Joog served about 500 young Somalis last fiscal year, up from about 330 the year before. Most were between the ages of 12 and 24, though it serves younger children as well.

    Ka Joog relies on donations, and aside from a handful of paid staffers, most of its workers are volunteers. The federal grant — $250,000 in each of the next two years — would have comprised a large part of its operating budget, which was $423,260 for the fiscal year that ended July 31, Farah said.

    Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, said it’s rare for groups to turn down grants. In most cases, groups simply don’t apply for grants that might pose a conflict. But in this case, a change of national leadership came in the middle of the funding process, he said.

    “When it comes to government funding, there’s an old saying, ‘If you take the king’s shillings, you do the king’s billing.’ Sometimes there are conditions attached to something that organizations do not want to accept,” he said. “It’s a lost financial opportunity, but probably the right decision in terms of serving their community.”

    Farah said there were no conditions attached to this money, which was part of $10 million awarded nationwide from the Department of Homeland Security to counter violent extremism. The money was awarded shortly before President Barack Obama left office, but had not been distributed.

    Farah said his group had planned to use the money to expand programs it already operates and to reach even more people in need. The funds were destined for three programs: a career mentoring program, which helps place students in jobs; a parent-engagement program designed to strengthen families, and the arts.

    Farah said that last year, 25 students applied to participate in the career mentoring program, but Ka Joog only had funding for 18. Because of the increasing need, Ka Joog planned to use the federal money to expand the program to help 80 students overall — 40 in each of the next two years. Nearly 30 have already applied for this year, and Farah said unless money can be raised, Ka Joog will have to tell them that the money isn’t there for them to participate.

    Still, he’s confident, and said donations have been coming in from around the country since the group announced it would reject the federal funding.

    “We are going to get that 500,000 back one way or the other,” he said. “We believe that this White House is really against everything that we stand for. We thought it was best for us to really stay away.”

    The post Minnesota Somali group says rejecting federal grant was right appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Democratic National Chair candidate, Tom Perez, addresses the audience as the Democratic National Committee holds an election to choose their next chairperson at their winter meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Berry - RTS10B7K

    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is covering the DNC gathering in Atlanta and joins me from there to discuss the results and the party’s state.

    Domenico, this was a close vote, went to a second ballot. This is kind of an example of the tension inside the party.

    DOMENICO MONTANARO, NPR POLITICAL EDITOR: No question about it. I mean, that split between the progressive wing and that more establishment governing wing was on full display because you wound up with Obama’s former Labor Secretary Tom Perez squeaking out a win over Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison with 235 votes out of the 400-plus that were — of all the voting members, he needed 218 to cross the threshold to win.

    But on that first round of balloting, Perez was one short and Ellison was at 200. And it took him to that second round. The four candidates ended up dropping up on the and he wound up being able to get past that threshold.

    But no question about it, when Perez was named the winner, I was standing right in front a huge crowd of Ellison supporters who continued to keep chanting, “money out of politics,” and didn’t want to hear anything from Perez. Perez made a very deft move by naming Ellison his deputy and that seemed to quiet the crowd.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, these tensions don’t dissipate immediately.

    DOMENICO MONTANARO: No, they don’t go away immediately. I think one of the things, though, that people wind up doing — it’s kind of funny to me to see people put this much stock into a party chairman, you know? Like, they’re not the person running for president. They’re not person who, you know, is going to wave a magic wand and change the fact that Democrats are out of power in state legislatures, in governorships, in Congress, you know, for the — at their lowest point of power in more than 100 years, really.

    So, this is somebody who is an organizational figure, someone who is supposed to be able to raise money, and that’s not something that Democrats — this group of Democrats wants to necessarily be talking about. They want to talk about how they stop Donald Trump and that’s a lot harder to do for a party chairman.

    So, it was interesting me to watch, that especially in comparison with Republicans were in 2009. They did something very similar when they had Michael Steele wind up winning, when the Republican Party didn’t want to go and be aligned with Katon Dawson who was then the South Carolina Party chairman and appeared to be siding with a white Southern Republican when you had the first black president. So, some of those same splits start to emerge here on the Democratic side with them out of power.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, both Keith Ellison and Tom Perez said at some points during this contest, it’s not just that we lost the election in November, it’s just that we lost a thousand elections to get to us to this point.

    DOMENICO MONTANARO: Look, that has been the biggest problem for Democrats over the past decade, really kind of ignoring some of those low-level, down-ballot races and thinking that demography was such destiny that they would always win the presidency. And I had noted before the election, that if Democrats were to lose, it would be a potential real problem for them in — as far as Hillary Clinton losing the presidency, because they are so far out of power when it comes to those state legislatures and when it comes to those governors races.

    So, the party chairman is going to have to start at figuring out how to get enough money into the party to build up some of those local parties that really need those wins, those granular level wins and organizing, for as low as school board, frankly, if they want to be able to rise up.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. NPR’s Domenico Montanaro joining us from Atlanta — thanks so much.


    The post Democrats select Perez as new party chair appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds a press conference in Tehran on June 14, 2009. Ahmadinejad defended his hotly disputed re-election as security forces cracked down on opposition protestors in Tehran, where fresh violence erupted. Men and women waving Iranian flags and portraits of Ahmadinejad packed central Tehran to listen to the president who won a second four-year term in a landslide election victory on June 12

    Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds a press conference in Tehran on June 14, 2009. Photo via Reuters

    TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter Sunday to President Donald Trump, striking a somewhat conciliatory tone while applauding immigration to America and saying it shows “the contemporary U.S. belongs to all nations.”

    It isn’t the first dispatch sent by Ahmadinejad, who has counted U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama among his pen pals.

    But this letter, weighing in at over 3,500 words, comes as criticism of Trump over his travel ban affecting seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran mounts in Tehran. It also may serve to burnish Ahmadinejad’s image domestically after the nation’s Supreme Leader warned him not to run in Iran’s upcoming May presidential election.

    In the letter, published by Iranian media outlets, Ahmadinejad noted Trump won the election while he “truthfully described the U.S. political system and electoral structure as corrupt.”

    Ahmadinejad decried U.S. “dominance” over the United Nations, as well as American meddling in the world that has brought “insecurity, war, division, killing and (the) displacement of nations.”

    He also acknowledged the some 1 million people of Iranian descent living in America, saying that U.S. policies should “value respect toward the diversity of nations and races.”

    “In other words, the contemporary U.S. belongs to all nations, including the natives of the land,” he wrote. “No one may consider themselves the owner and view others as guests or immigrants.”

    A judge later blocked Trump’s travel ban, and an appeals court refused to reinstate it. Trump has promised to issue a revised order soon, saying it’s necessary to keep America safe.

    READ NEXT: The next steps in the legal fight over Trump’s travel ban

    Entirely missing from the letter was any reference to Iran’s nuclear program. Under Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iran found itself heavily sanctioned over the program as Western governments feared it could lead to the Islamic Republic building atomic weapons. Iran has long maintained its program was for peaceful purposes.

    Iran under current President Hassan Rouhani struck a nuclear deal with world powers, including the Obama administration, to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. Trump campaigned promising to renegotiate the deal, without offering specifics.

    Ahmadinejad gave the letter to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran. The embassy declined to comment Sunday while American officials could not be immediately reached.

    The letter comes ahead of Iran’s presidential election, in which Rouhani is widely expected to seek a second four-year term. While allies of Ahmadinejad are expected to run, he himself won’t after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned him in September his candidacy would bring about a “polarized situation” that would be “harmful for the county.”

    Ahmadinejad’s popularity in Iran remains in question. During his tenure, he personally questioned the scale of the Holocaust and predicted the demise of Israel. His disputed 2009 re-election saw widespread protests and violence. Two of his former vice presidents went to prison for corruption.

    But Ahmadinejad offered Trump his own warning about how quickly time passes for leaders.

    “Four years is a long period, but it ends quickly,” he wrote. “The opportunity needs to be valued, and all its moments need to be used in the best way.”

    Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04:   Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather in front of the U.S Supreme Court during a rally March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of King v. Burwell that could determine the fate of health care subsidies for as many as eight million people.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    Supporters of the Affordable Care Act gather in front of the U.S Supreme Court during a rally on March 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — A sobering report to governors about the potential consequences of repealing the Obama-era health care law warns that federal spending cuts probably would create funding gaps for states and threaten many people with the loss of insurance coverage.

    The Affordable Care Act has two main components for expanding coverage: subsidized private health insurance available in all 50 states, and an optional Medicaid expansion that has been accepted by 31 states and the District of Columbia. Those two components of the health law cover more than 20 million people.

    A report by the consulting firms Avalere Health and McKinsey & Company concluded that the changes under consideration by the GOP-led House would reduce significantly federal dollars for Medicaid and subsidized private insurance.

    The effect on Medicaid would be far-reaching. The federal-state program for low-income people covers more than 70 million Americans, many of whom have high health-care needs.

    The Associated Press obtained a copy of a slide presentation made by the consultants to governors meeting this weekend in Washington.

    The report said the combination of phasing out Medicaid expansion money from the U.S. government, plus transforming the overall program from an open-ended federal entitlement to one that operates under a cap would likely result in state funding gaps. States that expanded Medicaid would face the deepest cuts.

    States would get more flexibility to design their programs, but the money crunch could lead to cuts in eligibility, benefits, or payments to hospitals and other service providers. The impact of federal spending reductions would compound over time.

    READ NEXT: Does this Obamacare experiment offer significant savings?

    Reduced Medicaid spending could also hurt states with dampened economic activity and fewer jobs, the consultants said. Hospitals, which benefit from Medicaid coverage, are big employers in local communities. Costs of care for uninsured patients could become an issue.

    In addition, the private insurance subsidies provided under Obama’s law would also be scaled back, according to the report.

    Although states would get some additional safety-net funding, reductions in federal insurance subsidies would expose some consumers to new costs for their coverage. That would probably result in fewer people covered, as some consumers drop their plans.

    According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid consumed an average 19 percent of state budgets in 2015, the most current year available, ranging from 7 percent in Utah to 41 percent in New Hampshire.

    Budget hawks including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., support the kind of program flexibility GOP governors are seeking, but chiefly want to spend less on Medicaid.

    Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, said he thinks “there’s going to be a problem in the House of getting anything out of there that still provides coverage to people. That’s why the Republicans have to reach out to some of the Democrats. I don’t know whether this is going to happen,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

    Governors on Saturday met privately with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who according to several of the state leaders said the Trump administration wanted to work with states to overhaul health care, but he did not provide specifics.

    A Medicaid proposal by GOP governors, a draft of which was obtained by the AP, urges Congress to change Medicaid from an open-ended federal entitlement to a program designed by each state within a financial limit.

    Some of the governors behind the proposal, including Kasich, opted to expand Medicaid in their states despite pressure from conservatives.

    “I think there are some very conservative Republicans in the House who are going to say just get rid of the whole thing. And that’s not acceptable,” he said.

    He added: “Republicans can go and do what they want, and I’m going to talk to them. But at the end of the day I’m going to stand up for the people that wouldn’t have the coverage if they don’t get this thing right. And I happen to believe that the best way to get this right over time is for actually both parties to work together. I know that’s considered an impossibility now, but what’s at stake is not some political thing. What’s at stake here are 20 million Americans.”

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    A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    A view of the U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in D.C. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Congress returns to Washington this week to confront dramatic decisions on health care and the Supreme Court that may help determine the course of Donald Trump’s presidency.

    First, the president will have his say, in his maiden speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. Majority Republicans in the House and Senate will be closely watching the prime-time address for guidance, marching orders or any specifics Trump might embrace on health care or taxes, areas where some of his preferences remain a mystery.

    Congressional Republicans insist they are working closely with the new administration as they prepare to start taking votes on health legislation, with the moment finally upon them to make good on seven years of promises to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. House Republicans hope to pass their legislation by early April and send it to the Senate, with action there also possible before Easter.

    Republicans will be “keeping our promise to the American people,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said as he sent lawmakers home for the Presidents Day recess armed with informational packets to defend planned GOP changes to the health law.

    But land mines await.

    The recess was dominated by raucous town halls where Republicans faced tough questions about their plans to replace the far-reaching law with a new system built around tax credits, health savings accounts and high risk pools. Important questions are unanswered, such as the overall cost and how many people will be covered. There’s also uncertainty about how to resolve divisions among states over Medicaid money.

    READ NEXT: Report warns of state money fallout from health law repeal

    The lack of clarity created anxiety among voters who peppered lawmakers from coast to coast with questions about what would become of their own health coverage and that of their friends and family. It’s forced Republicans to offer assurances that they don’t intend to take away the law and leave nothing in its place, even though some House conservatives favor doing just that.

    “What I have said is repeal and replace and more recently I have defined that as repairing the ACA moving forward,” Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., insisted to an overflow crowd in his politically divided district this past week. “I think we have a responsibility in Washington to try to make the system better.”

    It remains to be seen whether the release of detailed legislation in the coming days will calm, or heighten, voters’ concerns. Details on the size of tax credits to help people buy insurance, and how many fewer people will be covered than the 20 million who gained coverage under Obama’s law, could create bigger pushback and even more complications.

    With lawmakers set to return to the Capitol on Monday, it will become clearer whether the earful many got back home will affect their plans. GOP leaders are determined to move forward, reckoning that when confronted with the reality of voting on the party’s repeal and replace plan, Republicans will have no choice but to vote “yes.”

    Many Republicans say that how they will handle health legislation will set the stage for the next big battle, over taxes. And that fight, many believe, will be even trickier than health care. Already, it has opened major rifts between House and Senate Republicans.

    Senators also will be weighing the nomination of federal appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Hearings soon will get underway in the Senate Judiciary Committee; floor action is expected before Easter.

    Despite Gorsuch’s sterling credentials, Democrats are under pressure from their liberal supporters to oppose him, given voters’ disdain for Trump and the GOP’s refusal last year to allow even a hearing for Obama’s nominee for the high court vacancy, federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland.

    Yet some Democrats are already predicting that one way or another, Gorsuch will be confirmed. Even if he doesn’t pick up the 60 votes he needs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could use a procedural gambit to eliminate Democrats’ ability to filibuster Gorsuch, an outcome that Trump has endorsed.

    Congress is awaiting a budget from the Trump administration, and the slow process of rounding out Trump’s Cabinet will move forward as Republicans tee up more nominees over Democratic protests. The Senate has confirmed 14 Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials, fewer than other presidents at this point.

    The most controversial nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt have been confirmed. Next up: financier Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke to lead the Interior Department, retired neurosurgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson to be housing secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the energy department.

    How Democrats vote will be telling, given the extreme pressures on them to oppose Trump at every turn. It’s a dynamic to which those with potential presidential ambitions are particularly sensitive. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, among others, took heat for voting in favor of Carson in committee, while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York as opposed nearly all the nominees.

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    Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Yabloko party, places flowers at the site of assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov after a rally to mark anniversary of his murder in Moscow, Russia, February 26, 2017. Photo By Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

    Grigory Yavlinsky, founder of the Yabloko party, places flowers at the site of assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov after a rally to mark anniversary of his murder in Moscow, Russia, February 26, 2017. Photo By Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

    Russians marched on Moscow Sunday to commemorate the shooting death of an opposition leader killed two years ago after aggressively criticizing President Vladimir Putin.

    Boris Nemtsov, Russia’s former deputy prime minister, was killed on Feb. 27, 2015, on a bridge outside the Kremlin. He was shot in the back while walking with his girlfriend. Five Chechen men are on trial for his murder, charges they deny.

    On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators carried Russian flags and banners in Moscow. Some held cardboard Russian flags with bullet holes in them, according to the Associated Press. Others chanted “Russia will be free” and “Putin is war.”

    “It’s very important that after two years people continue to come out and show their solidarity with the ideas for which Boris Nemtsov fought for and gave his life,” said Ilya Yashin, an opposition activist who was Nemtsov’s friend, to the Russian news agency Interfax.

    Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (C) attends a rally to support a vote electing the Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition movement in Moscow, October 20, 2012. Opponents of President Vladimir Putin say elections in Russia are rigged. Photo By Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

    Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (C) attends a rally to support a vote electing the Coordinating Council of the Russian opposition movement in Moscow, October 20, 2012. Opponents of President Vladimir Putin say elections in Russia are rigged. Photo By Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

    During the march, opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov was attacked by an unknown assailant who reportedly threw a green dye in his face. Several people who demonstrated were arrested by police.

    Organizers put the number of protesters in the tens of thousands while Russian police said the number was closer to 5,000. Following the march, thousands of people laid flowers near the site of Nemtsov’s death.

    Demonstrations also took place in other Russian cities, including St. Petersburg.

    The post Russians march in Moscow two years after Putin critic was killed appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A guard stands behind bars at the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo - RTX2VY5O

    A guard stands behind bars at the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California’s Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California, on December 29, 2015. Photo by Stephen Lam/File Photo/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The federal prison population is on the decline, but a new attorney general who talks tough on drugs and crime and already has indicated a looming need for private prison cells seems poised to usher in a reversal of that trend.

    Jeff Sessions, a former federal prosecutor sworn in this month as the country’s chief law enforcement officer, signaled at his confirmation hearing — and during private meetings in his first days on the job — that he sees a central role for the federal government in combating drug addiction and violence as well as in strict enforcement of immigration laws.

    The result could be in an increase not only in the number of drug prosecutions brought by the Justice Department but also in the average length of sentence prosecutors pursue for even lower-level criminals. If that happens, the resources of a prison system that for years has struggled with overcrowding, but experienced a population drop as Justice Department leaders pushed a different approach to drug prosecutions, could be taxed again.

    “Given the rhetoric coming out of the White House and the selection of Sessions as attorney general, an increase in the federal prison population and a chilling effect on state reforms is a very real possibility,” said Inimai Chettiar, justice program director at the Brennan Center for Justice.

    The approach by Session, a former Alabama senator, to drug crimes will matter in courtrooms across the country and also to the Justice Department’s bottom line.

    READ MORE: Resistance builds against social media ban in Texas prisons

    Nearly half of federal prisoners are in custody for drug offenses, and the Bureau of Prisons budget accounts for about one-third of the department’s overall $29 billion spending plan. The population ballooned during the 1980s-era war on drugs as Congress abolished parole and as federal prosecutors relied on mandatory minimum sentences — rigid punishments strictly tied to drug quantity — to seek decades-long prison terms for drug criminals.

    But in recent years, fiscal-minded Republicans, and Democrats pushing criminal justice efforts, have raised concerns about bloated prison costs and tried to develop ways to cut the population.

    The Justice Department’s inspector general has said mounting prison expenses detract from other programs and initiatives, and a 2014 Government Accountability Office report said overcrowding at bureau facilities had caused additional double- and triple-bunking, higher inmate-to-guard ratios and long waiting lists for educational programs.

    The federal prison population now stands at just under 190,000, down from nearly 220,000 in 2013.

    A number of factors contributed to the decline: Obama administration clemency grants to more than 1,700 inmates; decisions by the independent U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce drug sentencing guidelines and apply the changes retroactively; and a 2013 Justice Department initiative known as “Smart on Crime,” in which then-Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent and low-level offenders.

    [Watch Video]

    Justice Department officials in the Obama administration say their efforts to shrink the prison population were driven not only by cost concerns but also by a desire to correct what they said were excessive punishments doled out by judges. They said last year that that while the number of drug prosecutions had fallen, the cases prosecutors were pursuing involved more serious crimes.

    Sessions hasn’t made policy pronouncements on drug prosecutions in his two weeks on the job. So it’s possible that as attorney general, he’ll maintain the department’s focus on high-value traffickers and that cost concerns will spur recidivism and re-entry efforts to keep the prison population in check.

    But there are already signs of a starkly different approach.

    On Thursday, Sessions gave the green light to the continued use of privately run prisons, even though the Obama administration had moved to phase them out as no longer necessary given the declining prison population.

    Sessions said in a memo that the last administration went against long-standing Justice Department practice and “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

    On the same day, the White House suggested he’d more aggressively go after marijuana.

    “It’s pretty safe to say that most people assume that the Sessions Justice Department is likely to scale back some of the reforms that were implemented under the Obama administration,” said Nancy La Vigne, director of the justice policy center at the Urban Institute.

    Sessions, who said last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” warned at his January confirmation hearing that illegal drugs were bringing “violence, addiction and misery” to America, and he pledged to dismantle drug trafficking gangs.

    He did co-sponsor legislation to reduce sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine — a gap seen as disadvantaging black defendants. But last year, Sessions opposed bipartisan criminal justice overhaul efforts and has warned that eliminating or reducing mandatory minimum sentences weakens the ability of law enforcement to protect the public.

    That focus on drug crimes surfaced in the 1980s when Sessions served as United States attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Drug cases accounted for 40 percent of his office’s convictions, according to a Brennan Center analysis, with Sessions overseeing prosecutions of men accused of marijuana and cocaine trafficking.

    Tougher enforcement of drug laws could be welcomed by some law enforcement officials, including Justice Department prosecutors who felt hamstrung in recent years in their ability to seek long sentences.

    “That’s what we pay the prison system to do, and that’s what we ought to be doing is putting these serious violent offenders in prison,” said Steven Cook, the president of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys. “The answer to the crime problem is not to remove them and turn back out into the communities. We already know what’s going to happen if we do that.”

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    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12:  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) reads from a list of states with increasing health insurance premiums during his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ryan said that Congressional Republicans are on a "rescue" mission to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and that he and President-elect Donald Trump are in perfect sync with the process or replacing Obamacare.  Photo By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) reads from a list of states with increasing health insurance premiums during his weekly news conference in the Capitol Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 12, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — A formal draft of the House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act leaked out on Friday.

    The final version is likely to be different — how much different, it’s hard to say. The draft obtained by Politico is dated two weeks ago, and rumors have been swirling here that Republicans received an unfavorable analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeepers on the cost and coverage implications of legislation.

    But this is nonetheless an important milestone — real legislative text, prepared with an eye toward the complex parliamentary procedures needed to pass ACA repeal with only Republican votes, and presumably with the endorsement of House leadership.

    Much attention will be paid to the proposed tax credits offered for people to buy health insurance and the changes to the tax treatment of employer-based insurance. Here are five provisions with big implications for health and medicine.

    It would dramatically overhaul Medicaid.

    The bill would phase out by 2020 the Medicaid expansion that has covered millions of people under Obamacare. Instead, states would begin to receive a set dollar amount for each person covered by the program — with variations based on health status; more money would be allocated for the disabled — a change from the open-ended entitlement the program is now.

    READ NEXT: A boy who can’t speak is on Medicaid. What happens to him if he is cut out?

    These proposals, long a goal of the GOP, have spurred a number of concerns. People with complex medical needs worry that, if spending is capped and states have more flexibility to decide what to cover, they could be at risk. There appear to be very few exclusions from the spending caps — some have theorized that if the plan exempted certain services from the caps, that could help mitigate the risks for high-cost patients.

    The changes could also make it more difficult for the program to afford new breakthrough treatments, a challenge that the current iteration of Medicaid has already faced with the expensive hepatitis C drugs.

    It would repeal Obamacare’s requirements for what health insurance must cover.

    The legislation would repeal the ACA’s essential health benefits requirements, which mandated that health plans cover 10 categories of health care services. It would instead leave decisions about what coverage to require to the states, starting in 2020.

    Among the services that the law required plans to cover were mental health and substance abuse treatment. In the midst of the opioid crisis, recovery advocates in Washington had been hoping to save that provision. It appears that that decision would now be in state officials’ hands, and the fear is plans might look to limit that coverage because people with addiction issues are expensive to treat and therefore cover.

    READ NEXT: Medicaid could struggle to cover breakthrough treatments through GOP’s plan

    It would repeal the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

    The bill would repeal this funding stream, intended to support various prevention and public health activities, in 2019. Congress initially provided $15 billion over the fund’s first 10 years, and it was eventually suppose to increase to $2 billion per year in perpetuity.

    The fund has been at perennial risk since its passage in 2010, pilfered at times for other programs, but it nonetheless remains an important source of public health funding. It has become an essential part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s budget — accounting for 12 percent of the agency’s funding by some estimates — and there would be no obvious replacement for those dollars without further congressional action.

    It would repeal the tax on pharmaceutical manufacturers.

    The drug industry has not agitated to have its manufacturer tax repealed, in the same way that the medical device and health insurance industries have. But the Republican bill would nonetheless nix the tax starting in 2017. The industry still had $4 billion to left to pay in 2017, $4.1 billion in 2018, and $2.8 billion per year after that.

    The taxes on medical devices, health insurance plans, and even tanning beds would also be repealed. Those revenue streams help to cover the cost of the ACA. Republicans are instead proposing changing the tax treatment of employer-based health insurance, which is currently not taxed, to pay for their plan. It is an idea popular with economists, but politically perilous. Major employer groups are already aligning against it.

    It loosens restrictions on health plans’ ability to charge older people more.

    One thing the bill doesn’t do is repeal the ACA provision that prohibits health plans from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. That may be because it would be hard to justify under the procedural rules that Republicans need to use to pass the bill — plus that policy is among the law’s most popular elements and even President Trump has said it should be maintained.

    But another key insurance reform meant to protect sicker people takes a hit: The GOP bill would allow insurers to charge older people five times more than younger people; the ACA had limited the difference to three times as much. The powerful AARP is already mobilizing against such a change, long expected to be part of the plan.

    The bill appears to try to mitigate that change by basing its tax credits for purchasing insurance on age: Older people would receive a bigger tax credit.

    Is that sufficient to keep people covered, as Trump and other Republicans have pledged to do? That’s one of the questions that the scorekeepers at the CBO will be expected to answer.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on Feb. 24, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post Five takeaways from the leaked Republican bill to repeal Obamacare appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline is designed to carry North Dakota oil through the Dakotas and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Illinois. Following months of protests the Obama administration stopped the project but President Trump has put it back on track. The public media collaboration “Inside Energy,” in partnership with Rocky Mountain Public Media, has produced a documentary called “Beyond Standing Rock,” about what led to the protests and presidential actions. Reporter Leigh Paterson has this excerpt from the documentary.

    PROTESTER: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! It is our duty to win!’

    LEIGH PATERSON: The protesters came from all over the country to fight the Dakota Access Pipeline. For many this is a fight over clean water. For others it’s a fight against big oil and climate change. For the Standing Rock Sioux it’s a fight for control.

    KEVIN WASHBURN: Tribes are flexing their muscle. They are sovereign nations and they have the ability to get engaged.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Misinformation, emotion, and confusion surrounded these protests. More than 600 protesters have been arrested.

    JON MOLL: It’s kind of turned unfortunately into kind of a small truly peaceful protest, Native American movement, into a big white hippie Burning Man on the plains of North Dakota in the middle of winter.

    JULIE FEDORCHAK: Sometimes people just say, like, they’re opposed to pipeline development, and they’re opposed to pipelines. Well, that’s fine, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but pipeline development is legally permissible in North Dakota, and we’re obligated to enforce the laws. So when a company meets the conditions set by law for a permit, they receive one.

    LEIGH PATERSON: The standoff here was brought on by a convergence of issues: tribal sovereignty, energy infrastructure, environmental activism, and Federal Law.

    DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: We’re a sovereign nation, and we’re putting our foot down, and you can’t do this to us anymore. In the past the Federal Government steamrolled through us and did everything that they wanted to do without giving us an opportunity to have any consent or consultation.

    The Dakota Access Pipeline stretches for nearly 12-hundred miles…completely buried underground.

    The Dallas-based pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, says it’s a nearly four billion dollar project. The company declined Inside Energy’s request to be interviewed. But it has argued that the pipeline is the best way to move crude oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota to market. Last month, Energy Transfer Partners posted this video on YouTube explaining the project’s merits.

    VIDEO: “Pipelines are the safest, environmentally cleanest, and least expensive way to transport the fuel that our communities need.”

    DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: We can look at this pipeline and say that it puts our water at risk. We could also take a look at what it also puts at risk. It puts our sacred sites at risk.

    LEIGH PATERSON: The controversy has centered on the only incomplete section of the pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners says there is one thousand 94 feet left to build. A stretch that’s around three football fields long that crosses under the Missouri River, just north of the reservation.

    DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: It’s not if it will break it’s a matter of when it will break and where it’s gonna break and if it breaks under this river, it puts us at risk.

    TROY EID: I would counter that the pipeline safety record in this country for crude oil pipelines is incredibly strong.

    LEIGH PATERSON: The U.S. produces billions of barrels of crude oil a year. Much of it travels through a vast pipeline network that’s tens of thousands of miles long.

    TROY EID: We’ve had very few issues with natural gas, crude oil, and other kinds of pipeline infrastructure in the United States. It is a very high risk, low probability scenario in this country for a pipeline failing, so you’ve got to put that on the table.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Nearly all of the oil moved by pipeline arrives at its destination safely. But it’s the fraction of a percent that’s spilled that can have devastating effects.

    I’m a North Dakota citizen. I don’t want these pipelines spilling into our waters and on our land and ruining our beautiful landscape in North Dakota either.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Beginning in the spring of 2015, the North Dakota Public Service Commission held three public hearings on the Dakota Access Pipeline route. None of those hearings were on the Standing Rock reservation, because the pipeline wouldn’t actually cross it.

    JULIE FEDORCHAK: So I had no idea that this was a concern to the Standing Rock members or the tribal council at all.

    LEIGH PATERSON: The state is not the only party that had to sign off on the pipeline. The Federal Government, in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers was also charged with permitting certain sections and consulting with the tribe.

    TROY EID: Consultation, as we understand it in Federal Law, doesn’t say tribes can block every project. What it says is that they have a seat at the table as a government to express a point of view and that you can’t ignore that.

    DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Every time we called and every time we talked to the Corps of Engineers we said, ‘This is not consultation, and we don’t agree with this pipeline. Can we take a step back and start over?’ And the Corps of Engineers says, ‘Well, we called them, we emailed them, we called Chairman Archambault’s office.’ Every time we didn’t agree with what they were doing. But that’s not heard. So we don’t get listened to, we don’t get heard. Check off the box. ‘We talked to the tribe.’

    LEIGH PATERSON: The Dakota Access Pipeline is not the first controversial piece of infrastructure to cross this land. In the mid-20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers created dams up and down the Missouri River as part of a large flood control and hydropower project.

    PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: “Here in this state, there is being built the largest dam of its kind in the world. It is a source of pleasure to me as President therefore to come here on this occasion.”

    LEIGH PATERSON: Villages were flooded, including an area where many Standing Rock Sioux had made their homes. This dam created Lake Oahe, flooding over 50 thousand acres on the reservation in both North Dakota and South Dakota, driving families out.

    President Obama visited Standing Rock in 2014. It was his first visit to a reservation as president. And it was the first time any sitting US president had visited the reservation.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “To build more economic opportunity in Indian country, because every American including every Native American deserves a chance to work hard and get ahead.”

    LEIGH PATERSON: Following President Obama’s 2014 visit, the Dakota Access pipeline protests grew and energized the Standing Rock Sioux. After the Army Corps announced last July, that most of the Dakota Access Pipeline route had been approved, the tribe filed suit in federal court in Washington D.C claiming the consultation process was “fundamentally flawed.”

    The tribe also argued the pipeline’s impact on historic properties was not properly considered in the permitting process. Federal law requires that, even if the affected property falls outside of reservation boundaries.

    The Army Corps disputed the tribe’s claim. Last September, the U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled on the tribe’s request to halt construction. The Standing Rock Sioux lost, but the Obama Administration stepped in and put the project on hold.

    TROY EID: I think it’s unprecedented in terms of energy development in this country, that you’d actually have the government’s lawyers, join in a statement, after they lost in court the same day, that they’d go out and say, ‘By the way we’re pausing this project.’ They didn’t convince the judge, so they did something else.

    LEIGH PATERSON: Three months later, as fall turned to winter, the protests continued to grow. Then the Obama Administration blocked the final permit needed to build under the river.

    PROTEST ANNOUNCEMENT: The Corps of Engineers is gonna deny the easement!”

    LEIGH PATERSON: For the protesters and the tribe, it felt like victory. But it would be short-lived.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: “This is with respect to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

    LEIGH PATERSON: Seven weeks later, on his fifth day in office, President Trump issued an executive memorandum instructing the Army Corp of Engineers to expedite the permitting process. Just last week, by order of North Dakota’s Governor, protesters left their camps near the pipeline site. Before going, some burned their tents and other structures. Police arrested dozens of protesters that defied the order and forcibly removed them.

    The post Despite protests, Dakota Access Pipeline nears completion appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, a candidate for Democratic National Committee Chairman, speaks during a Democratic National Committee forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    Former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, a candidate for Democratic National Committee Chairman, speaks during a Democratic National Committee forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

    ATLANTA — Newly elected Democratic national chairman Tom Perez pledged on Sunday to unite a fractured party, rebuild at all levels from “school board to the Senate” and reach out to chunks of rural America left feeling forgotten in the 2016 election.

    Speaking in television interviews, Perez indicated that an important first step was joining with vanquished rival Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who agreed at Perez’s invitation to serve as the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chairman. Perez said the two would work hard to put out an affirmative party message while opposing President Donald Trump’s policies, adding that he and Ellison were already getting a “good kick” that Trump was stirred to tweet that the DNC election was “rigged.”

    “We lead with our values and we lead with our actions,” Perez said, describing a party focus that will emphasize protecting Social Security, Medicare and “growing good jobs in this economy.”

    “You know, our unity as a party is our greatest strength. And it’s his worst nightmare,” he said. “And, frankly, what we need to be looking at is whether this election was rigged by Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin.”

    The former labor secretary in the Obama administration acknowledged that swaths of the U.S. had felt neglected, saying he had heard from rural America that “Democrats haven’t been there for us recently.”

    “That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Perez said, stressing grass-roots efforts in all 50 states. He pointed to Democrats’ success Saturday in one of their strongholds, Delaware, where they found themselves in an unexpectedly competitive race. Stephanie Hansen won a special election for a state Senate seat after vigorous party campaigning that helped preserve Democrats’ control of the chamber.

    [Watch Video]

    As DNC chair, Perez must now rebuild a party that in the last decade has lost about 1,000 elected posts from the White House to Congress to the 50 statehouses, a power deficit Democrats have not seen nationally in 90 years.

    “A lot of people feel forgotten, and we will not allow that to happen,” he said.

    On Saturday, the DNC elected Perez as its chair in a competitive race that took two rounds of voting — unprecedented in recent memory for either major party. They picked Perez, who was backed by former President Barack Obama, over Ellison, backed by liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

    Sanders had pushed the party’s eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton, into a protracted 2016 Democratic primary fight, gaining strong support from young voters in particular as he described a primary process as “rigged” by party establishment.

    Piercing cheers after Perez’s election were boos, yells and expletives from more than a few young Ellison supporters in the gallery, some of them in tears. Reaction wasn’t enthusiastic among the liberal groups that had embraced Sanders and have intensified their efforts since Trump’s stunning victory over Clinton in the November election.

    “We don’t have the luxury of walking out of this room divided,” Ellison said Saturday over the jeers. Afterward, he told reporters he trusts Perez and that the burgeoning resistance movement aimed at Trump should do the same.

    On Sunday, Sanders praised Ellison’s strong bid to be DNC chair, taking on “Democratic insiders.” Describing the party as broken and urging a “total transformation,” the Vermont senator said Perez now “has a real opportunity on his hands. And I hope he seizes it.”

    Sanders said the party has to open up to working people and youth, and “make it crystal clear that the Democratic Party is going to take on Wall Street, it’s going to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s going to take on corporate America that is shutting down plants in this country and moving our jobs abroad.”

    Perez, the first Latino to be DNC chair, indicated Sunday that Democrats would continue to speak out forcefully against Trump’s policies, even if it meant at times coming across as a “party of no.” He referred to what he described as harmful policies, such as a “racist” travel ban affecting seven predominantly Muslim countries and administration efforts that he said would restrict overtime pay and make it harder to save for retirement.

    “We’ve seen no evidence of anything constructive from this president,” Perez said. “He’s governed from the far right in everything he’s done.”

    Besides Trump in the Oval Office, Republicans now control Congress and about two-thirds of statehouses, and they’re one Senate confirmation vote away from a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

    After Perez’s victory, Trump took to his preferred medium to rub it in. “Congratulations to Thomas Perez, who has just been named chairman of the DNC. I could not be happier for him, or for the Republican Party!” the president wrote on Twitter. Early Sunday, the president asserted that the Democratic contest was “of course, totally ‘rigged.’ Bernie’s guy, like Bernie himself, never had a chance. Clinton demanded Perez!”

    Progressive Democrats reacted to Perez’s election with dismay. Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, called Perez’s election “incredibly disappointing” and said the “resistance will persist … with or without the leadership of the Democratic National Committee.” Dan Kantor, leader of the Working Families Party, said Democrats “missed an opportunity.”

    The son of Dominican immigrants, Perez actually comes to the job with a demonstrably liberal record as a civil rights attorney and backer of organized labor. In the chairman’s race he carried the establishment label as a Maryland resident who’s spent years in the Washington orbit, working in the Justice Department and ultimately as an Obama Cabinet secretary.

    Perez and Sanders spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union;” Perez also appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week.”

    Yen reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Michele Salcedo contributed to this report.

    The post New Dem Party chairman Perez pledges to repair, unite party appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    terrorism People walk through the 9-11 Empty Sky memorial across from New York's One World Trade Center at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, September 9, 2013. New York will mark the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center on Wednesday.  REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: ANNIVERSARY SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX13EX4

    People walk through the 9-11 Empty Sky memorial across from New York’s One World Trade Center at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, September 9, 2013. Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters

    On a scale of one to seven — one being not at all and seven being very much — how similar do you think you are to a terrorist?

    When Boston College researchers asked hundreds of students this question, they noticed that the ones who had been taught about terrorists found it easier to relate to them — an outlook that they say could help improve policy against terrorism.

    Researchers of the study “Know Thy Enemy: Education About Terrorism Improves Social Attitudes Toward Terrorists,” which was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology last month, concluded that the education system can be a tool to more effectively combat terrorism. This is pressing at a time when the word itself can provoke emotions that are counterproductive to progress, Jordan Theriault, a doctoral student and lead author of the study, said.

    “We are probably never going to meet a terrorist in our day-to day-life, but we still vote and there’s a public discussion about what we should do about terrorism,” Theriault said. “[People] should be understanding what drives them.” “[Terrorism] is a highly charged term and it tends to signal an extremely negative group and it comes with a lot of preconceptions.” — Jordan Theriault, Boston College doctoral student

    People in the U.S. hear variations of the word “terror” every day, both in media and politics. President Donald Trump since he was elected has used it at least 40 times publicly, most often in connection to people from other countries. His remarks underlie recent controversial executive actions, including a ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries traveling to the U.S., which was rejected by more than one judge.

    “My administration is committed to your security, which is why we will continue to fight to take all necessary and legal action to keep terrorists, radical and dangerous extremists from ever entering our country,” Trump said in a recent weekly address after the court’s decision.

    Experts say that people who only think about terrorism through the lens of political rhetoric might have a very specific type of person in mind when they hear the word — making it much harder to imagine a terrorist as someone who looks like them.

    After Robert Dear opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, killing three and injuring nine, he later murmured “no more baby parts” to investigators. Within two days a congressman said he didn’t think that Dear’s actions constituted terrorism; instead, he suggested they were part of a mental health crisis.

    While that was one of many comments in a public debate about whether to call Dear a terrorist, it did not take experts funded by the Department of Homeland Security long to decide that he is.

    [Watch Video]

    The earliest days of terrorism

    People have been trying to understand how to interpret terrorists and terrorism since the bloodiest phase of the French Revolution.

    On September 5, 1793, France’s Revolutionary government decided that the only path to morality was to destroy its enemies through mass guillotine, making “terror” the order of the day — and introducing it to the political lexicon.

    During a speech at the National Convention in 1794, the leader Maximilien de Robespierre, who was originally opposed to the death penalty and extremely liberal, justified what is now known as the Reign of Terror.

    “Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice; it is therefore an emanation of virtue,” Robespierre said.

    Journalist and political agitator François Noël Babeuf is credited for making the distinction during that period that therefore, the people who agreed with Robespierre were patriot “terrorists” supporting dictatorship.

    By July, as many as many as 40,000 people had been killed through terrorism by the state. Then the government, tired of the bloodshed, executed Robespierre after overthrowing him and accusing him of terrorism.

    As terrorism began to emerge in other countries like Russia and Bulgaria during the 19th century, so did an international debate on how to define it and the notion that it described attacks against the state, not by it.

    Since then, scholars, organizations and government agencies across the world have created more than 260 definitions of “terrorism,” which have been chronicled by Alex Schmid, a research fellow at the think tank the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. And debates continue about whether some historical figures, such as Gavrilo Princip who in 1914 assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajewo leading up to World War I, are terrorists, heroes or something else entirely.

    READ NEXT: Experts skeptical that limiting refugees would deter terrorism

    The United Nations has spent more than 20 years trying to form a consensus on what constitutes terrorism, but has yet to succeed. Sticking points are usually about conflicting national interests and unwillingness to change national legislative traditions.

    Having sat in some of the meetings, Schmid noted during a presentation on terrorism at a symposium in 2014 that the political value of the term to individual nations continued to prevail over a legal definition that would make it universally punishable. He recently wrote in an email that his best short, legal definition that he proposed during the symposium was the, “peacetime equivalent of war crimes.”

    But the political value in the U.S., as with other governments, is power, said UC Berkeley linguistics professor Robin Lakoff who wrote the book “Language of War,” which explains why it can be too hard to come to a consensus. It is in the government’s best interest to have a narrow definition that demonizes people from different countries as “others,” in part to give the illusion that the U.S. can protect citizens from them, she said, instilling a stereotype in their minds.

    “We want terrorists to be a specific thing so if we run into one on the street we know he’s a terrorist because he looks a certain way,” said Lakoff, “because we like to think that the government can keep us safe.”

    Can a white Christian be a terrorist?

    Lakoff says the definition of terrorism will always be subjective and that it lies somewhere within crime and war, though the three words often overlap and can conflate one another.

    Since former President George Bush declared the War on Terror after the September 11 attacks in 2001, people might only see terrorists as someone affiliated with well-known terrorist groups such as al-Qaida or the Islamic State. This hard-line definition can lead to preconceptions about what religions terrorists align with, languages they speak or the color of their skin.

    And then it becomes a circular problem because, “the less you understand someone the more frightening they are,” Lakoff said.

    “A white Christian guy can’t be a terrorist in some people’s eyes,” she said. “We don’t like to think that. We like to think that they’re weird-looking people with funny costumes from outside, speaking a language we don’t understand.”

    That’s why so many people debated whether Dylann Roof, a white Christian, could be one. Roof called himself a white supremacist because, “our people are superior,” and killed nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

    A national correspondent for the Washington Post wrote an article claiming he should not be called a terrorist.

    READ NEXT: Analysis: Deadly threat from far-right extremists is overshadowed by fear of Islamic terrorism

    But there is no reservation in the mind of an authority on the subject to call Roof or Planned Parenthood killer Dear terrorists; their ideologies are clear. Erin Miller is the program manager at the Global Terrorism Database, which is funded in part by the Department of Homeland Security and considered an authority across all lines of race, party affiliations and countries.

    Miller and her team at the University of Maryland have compiled information about more than 150,000 terrorist attacks across the world between 1970 and 2015. Their numbers are often cited in leading news reports, as well as by the federal government. When it comes to labeling an act as terrorism, Miller said, “there are a lot of presumptions that people can make based on what the perpetrator’s social, cultural or national situation might be. We always try to avoid those.”

    She says their definition of terrorism is fairly inclusive. For an act to be considered terrorism, it has to be an intentional act or threat of violence that also meets two of three additional stipulations. Those stipulations are that it has to be an act aimed at attaining a political, economic or religious goal; a violent act intended to coerce, intimidate or convey a larger message; and an act that precepts laws about armed conflicts. Using a broader definition makes it easier for people to search the database for specific criteria.

    But there are still gray areas. For Miller, a different case in 2015 was too tough to call: when Craig Hicks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, killed three Muslim students. Investigators said it was over a dispute about a parking spot, while their families maintain it was a hate crime.

    “You have a pile of things indicating ideological motivation and you have a pile of things indicating personal motivation,” she said. “There is literally no way to resolve some of these cases.”

    Her team flagged the attack as unclear. In 2015, the database reported that 43 Americans in the U.S. died because of terrorist attacks. Together, Roof, Dear and Hicks were responsible for 15.

    The Boston College researchers did not get into typologies, nor did they have the goal in mind of teaching tolerance.

    Instead, they simply asked approximately 400 college students to imagine they had met someone belonging to a group that had carried out at least one terrorist attack. On a scale of one to seven, they were asked to rate their social affiliation, whether they would get along, whether they would interact, how similar they might be and their interest in terrorism.

    Often, students who took a class on terrorism rated their potential similarities closer to a 3, while the students who hadn’t rated closer to 2.5. This difference was sustained across the board.

    “[Terrorism] is a highly charged term and it tends to signal an extremely negative group and it comes with a lot of preconceptions,” Theriault said. “This could be disarming that sort of rhetorical use.”

    The post When it comes to defining ‘terrorism,’ there is no consensus appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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