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Last updated: Thursday, July 30 2015 02:38 PM

U.S. official: Washed up plane debris appears to match Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Thursday, July 30 2015 03:00 PM

French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, July 29, 2015. France's BEA air crash investigation agency said it was determining whether it came from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished last year. Picture taken July 29, 2015. Photo by Prisca Bigot/Reuters

French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, July 29, 2015. France’s BEA air crash investigation agency said it was determining whether it came from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished last year. Picture taken July 29, 2015. Photo by Prisca Bigot/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Air safety investigators have a “high degree of confidence” that aircraft debris found in the Indian Ocean is of a wing component unique to the Boeing 777, the same model as the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last year, a U.S. official said Wednesday.

Air safety investigators — one of them a Boeing investigator —have identified the component that was found on the French island of Reunion in the western Indian Ocean as a “flaperon” from the trailing edge of a 777 wing, the U.S. official said.

Given that there are no other missing 777s, if the piece is confirmed to be from such an aircraft, it would almost certainly have to belong to Flight 370, which vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A discovery of debris from the missing plane would confirm the prevailing belief based on satellite data that the plane turned south into the Indian Ocean after vanishing from radar, and put to rest other theories that it traveled north, or landed somewhere after being hijacked.

The piece itself could also help investigators figure out how the plane crashed. But whether it will help search crews pinpoint the rest of the wreckage is unclear, given the complexity of the currents in the southern Indian Ocean and the time that has elapsed since the plane disappeared.

A French official close to an investigation of the debris confirmed Wednesday that French law enforcement is on Reunion to examine a piece of airplane wing that was found. A French television network was airing video from its Reunion affiliate of the debris. U.S. investigators are examining a photo of the debris.

The U.S. and French officials spoke on condition that they not be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.

If the part is from Flight 370, it would be the first debris found from the vanished airliner. A massive multinational search effort of the southern Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand has turned up no trace of the plane.

The last primary radar contact with Flight 370 placed its position over the Andaman Sea about 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of the Malaysian city of Penang. Reunion is about 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) southwest of Penang, and about 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) west of the current search area.

At the United Nations, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that he has sent a team to verify the identity of the plane wreckage.

“Whatever wreckage found needs to be further verified before we can ever confirm that it is belonged to MH370,” he said.

The discovery is unlikely to alter the seabed search, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan, who is heading up the hunt in a remote patch of ocean far off the west coast of Australia. If the find proved to be part of the missing aircraft, it would be consistent with the theory that the plane crashed within the 120,000 square kilometer (46,000 square mile) search area, 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) southwest of Australia, he said.

“It doesn’t rule out our current search area if this were associated with MH370,” Dolan told The Associated Press. “It is entirely possible that something could have drifted from our current search area to that island.”

Dolan said search resources would be better spent continuing the seabed search with sonar and video for wreckage rather than reviving a surface search for debris if the part proved to be from Flight 370.

It was well understood after the aircraft disappeared that if there was any floating debris from the plane, Indian Ocean currents would eventually bring it to the east coast of Africa, said aviation safety expert John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. But the debris is unlikely to provide much help in tracing the oceans currents back to the location of the main wreckage, he said.

“It’s going to be hard to say with any certainty where the source of this was,” he said. “It just confirms that the airplane is in the water and hasn’t been hijacked to some remote place and is waiting to be used for some other purpose. … We haven’t lost any 777s anywhere else.”

Robin Beaman, a marine geologist at Australia’s James Cook University, said there is precedence for large objects traveling vast distances across the Indian Ocean. Last year, a man lost his boat off the Western Australia coast after it overturned in rough seas. Eight months later, the boat turned up off the French island of Mayotte, west of Madagascar — 7,400 kilometers (4,600 miles) from where it disappeared.

“I don’t think we should rule anything out, that’s for sure,” Beaman said. “The Indian Ocean is a big ocean, but the fact that a boat can go that distance and still be recoverable on the other side of the ocean … the possibilities are there.”

Beaman believes experts could analyze ocean currents to try and determine where the plane entered the water, though given the time that has elapsed and the vast distance the debris may have traveled, it would be very difficult.

If the part belongs to Flight 370, it could provide valuable clues to investigators trying to figure out what caused the aircraft to vanish in the first place, said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. The nature of the damage to the debris could help indicate whether the plane broke up in the air or when it hit the water, and how violently it did so, he said.

The barnacles attached to the part could also help marine biologists determine roughly how long it has been in the water, he said.

A comprehensive report earlier this year into the plane’s disappearance revealed that the battery of the locator beacon for the plane’s flight data recorder had expired more than a year before the jet vanished. However, the report said the battery in the locator beacon of the cockpit voice recorder was working.

Investigators hope that if they can locate the two recorders they can get to the bottom of what has become one of aviation’s biggest mysteries. The unsuccessful search for Flight 370 has raised concern worldwide about whether airliners should be required to transmit their locations continually via satellite, especially when flying long distances over the ocean.

Over the past 16 months, hopes have repeatedly been raised and then dashed that the plane, or parts of the plane, had been found: Objects spotted on satellite imagery, items found floating in the sea and washed ashore in Western Australia, oil slicks — in the end, none of them were from Flight 370.

The most infamous false lead came in April 2014, when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said officials were “very confident” that a series of underwater signals search crews had picked up were coming from Flight 370’s black boxes. The signals proved to be a dead end, with no trace of the devices or the wreckage found.

McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia, Hinnant reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, and Edith Lederer at the United Nations and Colleen Shalby of the PBS NewsHour contributed to this report.

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Senate on track to approve 3-month extension to highway bill

Thursday, July 30 2015 02:57 PM

Congress must act this week to meet a Friday deadline, when authority for the Department of Transportation to process aid payments to states expire. Photo by Bret Hartman/Reuters

Congress must act this week to meet a Friday deadline, when authority for the Department of Transportation to process aid payments to states expire. Photo by Bret Hartman/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Facing a Friday deadline, the Senate is on track to shore up federal highway aid and veterans’ health care, leaving a raft of unresolved issues for a jam-packed congressional agenda in the fall.

The Senate plans to take up a House-passed bill on Thursday that would extend spending authority for transportation programs through Oct. 29 and replenish the federal Highway Trust Fund with $8 billion. That’s enough money to keep highway and transit aid flowing to states through mid-December.

Authority for the Transportation Department to process aid payments to states is slated to expire at midnight Friday.

Just before leaving for its August recess on Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly approved the three-month extension on a vote of 385-34.

Lawmakers said they were loath to take up yet another short-term transportation funding extension — this will be the 34th extension since 2009. But Republicans and Democrats don’t want to see transportation aid cut off, and they are eager to pass an amendment to the extension bill that fills a $3.4 billion hole in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget. The money gap threatens to force the closure of hospitals and clinics nationwide.

The three-month patch puts off House action on a long-term transportation bill, adding one more messy fight to a fall agenda already crammed with difficult, must-pass legislation.

The three-month patch puts off House action on a long-term transportation bill, adding one more messy fight to a fall agenda already crammed with difficult, must-pass legislation. Twelve annual spending bills face a Sept. 30 deadline but are being held up by a clash over the Confederate flag. Congress must also decide whether to approve or disapprove President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and whether to pass a contentious defense policy bill that faces a veto threat from the White House. Another fight is certain over raising the nation’s borrowing authority.

Spending authority for the Federal Aviation Administration expires Sept. 30. Since long-term bills to set aviation policy have yet to be introduced in either the House or the Senate, lawmakers acknowledge they will have to pass short-term extensions there as well.

“I think it will be an extremely active fall with the potential for either terrific accomplishment or a train wreck,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of House Republican leadership.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was more sanguine. “We’ll manage our way through this,” he told reporters at his weekly news conference. “This is part of the legislative process. Frankly, it’s nothing new. A little more pronounced these days, in 2015, than it would’ve been 10 or 15 years ago. But listen, it’s the legislative environment, and legislating is hard work.”

The Senate had been ready to pass a $350 billion, long-term transportation bill that would make changes to highway, transit, railroad and auto safety programs, but only provide enough funds for the first three years of the six years covered by the bill. The bill also would renew the Export-Import Bank, which makes low-interest loans to help U.S. companies sell their products overseas. The bank’s charter expired June 30 in the face of opposition from conservatives, who call it corporate welfare.

Senate GOP leaders had hoped the House would pass the long-term bill and send it to the White House before the recess. But their Republican counterparts in the House have made it clear they won’t be hurried into accepting the Senate measure.

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Body camera footage of Samuel DuBose death contradicts indicted cop’s claim

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:50 PM

University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing's body camera shows driver Samuel Dubose pulled over during a traffic stop in Cincinnati, Ohio July 19, 2015, in a still image from video released by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office on July 29, 2015. A University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man has been charged with murder after a grand jury investigation, the Hamilton County prosecutor said on Wednesday.  REUTERS/Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX1MBHI

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GWEN IFILL: A white police officer was indicted today for killing a black motorist during a traffic stop in Cincinnati. Ray Tensing is accused of murdering the driver, Samuel Dubose, when he was pulled over near the University of Cincinnati campus on July 19 for not having a front license plate.

Tensing said he was dragged by the car and forced to shoot Dubose. But footage from the body camera he was wearing revealed a different sequence of events, as the car rolled away only after Dubose was shot. We’re not showing the moment the gun fired.

After reviewing the video, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters said there was no doubt in his mind it was murder.

JOE DETERS, Hamilton County Prosecutor: Could you imagine the outrage you would have if this was your kid or this was your brother over a stop like this? And he didn’t do anything violent towards the officer. He wasn’t dragging him. And he pulled out his gun and intentionally shot him in the head.

GWEN IFILL: The victim’s family pushed authorities to release the body camera footage today. Dubose’s sister, Terina Allen, said it was crucial to show what really happened.

TERINA ALLEN, Sister of Victim: He didn’t have a gun. He didn’t do anything to that officer. No one deserves this. So, I’m angry, but I’m as pleased as I can be that we’re actually going to get some kind of justice for Sam, but I don’t think we would be getting it — to get back to that, I just don’t think we would without the camera.

GWEN IFILL: Tensing turned himself in this afternoon and was processed on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. He has a court appearance scheduled tomorrow morning.

For more on this, I spoke a short time ago to Sharon Coolidge of The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Sharon Coolidge, thanks for joining us.

Tell us, what new details emerged today after the announcement by the prosecutor?

SHARON COOLIDGE, The Cincinnati Enquirer: Well, we haven’t — I think the biggest surprise came when the prosecutor actually had his press conference today.

Judging from what we heard from the police chief and the city manager this week, we were expecting an indictment, but nobody was expecting the prosecutor to say the word murder. And so that really has kept — I mean, put people — we were propelled out from there today.

GWEN IFILL: So it was the video that changed the course of what you saw happen today, the actual showing of that video?

SHARON COOLIDGE: Oh, definitely. We had all really been clamoring to see the video. And The Enquirer, we filed a lawsuit for the video last week. We have believed it’s public record all along. And the prosecutor did finally release it today. And seeing the video really made things a lot more clear in this case, I think, for the American public.

GWEN IFILL: Now, how did what we saw on the video differ from we had known or what the officer had said had happened before?

SHARON COOLIDGE: I’m working through that right now, and I have had the opportunity to see a second video this afternoon.

You know, the officer — and we have not spoken directly to that officer, only to his attorney, Stewart Mathews — is insisting that the officer was dragged and knocked down during what — during the incident. And we just have not seen that on video yet. Definitely, the video released by the prosecutor today doesn’t show that.

The second video which was attached to a body camera from another officer arriving at the scene does show officer Tensing on the ground, but it doesn’t show what lead up to the officer being on the ground.

GWEN IFILL: So, all we know right now is that that gun was discharged. The car rolled away. And the question is what happened between those two moments.

SHARON COOLIDGE: That is correct.

The prosecutor is insisting that nothing happened between those two moments. And the video really, it just doesn’t show something happening. It shows a peaceful, you know, conversation where, you know, the person — where Samuel Dubose says — asked a couple of questions about why he is being pulled over, but it’s very civil, it’s very respectful.

And it’s just a couple of questions. And we just — we don’t see a reason on any of the video for a shooting. And I think that’s what led to the murder charge.

GWEN IFILL: Joe Deters was — talked pretty tough today, the prosecutor. Was that unusual for him so, or is that what you have come to expect covering him?

SHARON COOLIDGE: Joe Deters does tough — he has tough talk for criminals in this town. And he’s known for that.

But in police officer cases, he’s typically been more reserved. And we have never, of course, seen something like this. This really is, I think, is a first in the country. But in other cases where there is an officer-involved shooting, he doesn’t talk like this. Those cases are reserved really for what we — he can see in videos in different kinds of cases, not in officer cases.

So to hear him talk today like he did in a case involving a police officer was really stunning to me.

GWEN IFILL: Was there a distinction between the fact that this was a university police officer and not a city of Cincinnati police officer?

SHARON COOLIDGE: Well, there definitely is a distinction. And the city police have been reminding of that all week, because they are completely different police forces. And I think that’s been made clear. But they are still police officers.

They are trained. They’re part of a union. These are police officers protecting our citizens, our students. So, in this, there is no difference. This was a police officer.

GWEN IFILL: And so far, what do we know about community reaction, especially in the wake of the family’s statements today?

SHARON COOLIDGE: Community relations in Cincinnati, I would say, are — it’s tense. People wanted to see the video. No one is quite sure what to expect tonight because it was handled so well within — this wasn’t a case where people will think, oh, this officer was undercharged.

So I’m expecting there to be a peaceful march, where people will make their voices heard, but do it in a respectful manner. And certainly the family is calling for that.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Sharon Coolidge of The Cincinnati Enquirer, thank you for taking time from a breaking story today to talk to us.

SHARON COOLIDGE: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: We will have more on this story online, including the community’s response from a member of The Enquirer’s editorial board, Byron McCauley. That’s at

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News Wrap: Turkey strikes new round of Kurdish targets

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:45 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 6.35.08 PM

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JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news, the Turkish military unleashed a powerful new barrage of airstrikes on Kurdish rebel targets in Northern Iraq overnight.

They pounded Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, sites in six areas. The pro-Kurdish political opposition demanded an end to the attacks today, charging a political motive by President Erdogan. But in Ankara, Turkey’s prime minister warned that peace will only be achieved if rebel fighters stop all their attacks.

PRIME MINISTER AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Turky (through interpreter): Our might is enough to simultaneously fight not just three terror organizations, but 33. And we will show that might. Within this framework, we will continue to take our precautions and this process will continue until terrorism elements lay down their arms and until they get out of Turkey and until public order is absolutely restored.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also today, Turkey’s cabinet officially approved an agreement to allow the U.S.-led military coalition to use its Incirlik Air Base to launch strikes on the Islamic State.

GWEN IFILL: In Washington, the military’s top brass joined the secretary of state on Capitol Hill to defend the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Republican John McCain insisted he can’t make an informed decision without all the facts, and that includes documents Iran negotiated with international nuclear inspectors.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: We agree, all of us, I believe, that we should see those instruments of verification. Otherwise, how can we make a judgment as to these — this agreement can be enforced and verified with a country that has a long record of cheating?

GWEN IFILL: The nuclear deal’s lead negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry, again played down any talk of secret agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: We have relied on the IAEA for years and years. And, historically, the IAEA always creates what’s called a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, a CSA, which they negotiate with a country. And we don’t get that exact — it’s not shared with the world.

And their reasons that it’s confidential have to do with what you can get out of that country, but we do get briefed on it.

GWEN IFILL: After a 60-day review period, the House and Senate will vote on the Iran nuclear agreement in September.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The House of Representatives late today approved a three-month funding extension of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The fund, which funnels federal money towards bridge, road and transit projects is due to run out of money at midnight this Friday. The Senate plans on taking up the $8 billion bill later this week.

GWEN IFILL: Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah was indicted today on federal racketeering and bribery charges. The longtime Philadelphia congressman allegedly paid off a campaign loan with charitable donations and used campaign money to pay down his son’s student loan debt. Charges ranged from bribery to bank and mail fraud to money laundering. In a statement, Fattah said he’s never participated in any illegal activity or misused taxpayer dollars.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Federal Reserve Board opted today to keep interest rates unchanged, for now. In its latest statement, the Central Bank said it’s still waiting to see further economic recovery and higher inflation before it will raise them. Today’s Fed statement caused stocks to close higher on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 121 points to close at 17751. The Nasdaq rose 22 points and the S&P 500 added 15.

GWEN IFILL: Outrage grew around the world today over the death of a famous lion in Africa. Minnesota dentist Walter J. Palmer paid Zimbabwe hunter Theo Bronkhorst to go on the trophy hunting trip that ultimately led to the lion’s killing.

Bronkhorst left a courtroom in Zimbabwe with his lawyer today, charged with failing to prevent an American from unlawfully killing Cecil, the country’s most well-known lion.

QUESTION: How do you feel?

MAN: Terrible.

GWEN IFILL: Earlier this month, the beloved Cecil was allegedly lured out of his sanctuary at a national park into unprotected territory, where he was shot with a bow and an arrow. The man behind the bow and arrow was American Walter J. Palmer, who has killed wild animals before, like this lion in 2008. He admits he killed Cecil, but said he thought the hunt was legal.

Cecil, one of the park’s oldest lions, didn’t die right away, but he had to be shot days later, when he was also beheaded.

PRINCE MUPAZVIRIHO, Zimbabwe Environment Ministry Permanent Secretary: If we had not been having strong conservation efforts in terms of protecting the animals from poachers, it wouldn’t have gone to that age of 13 years.

GWEN IFILL: Amid a social media backlash, Palmer is now being sought on poaching charges, and the public has turned his dental practice in Minnesota into a makeshift memorial to the dead lion. For now, the office remains closed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pledged today to assist officials in Zimbabwe in whatever manner is requested.

JUDY WOODRUFF: New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady vowed to fight his four-game suspension by the National Football League for his involvement in deflating footballs during last year’s playoff run.

In a statement, Brady also denied allegations made by the NFL that he destroyed his cell phone to hide information. The NFL Players Association filed a motion in federal court in Minnesota today challenging the league’s decision to uphold Brady’s suspension.

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Why is word of Mullah Omar’s death coming out now?

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:40 PM

Mullah Omar of Afghanistan's Taliban regime is shown in this undated U.S. National Counterterrorism Center image. Afghanistan said on July 29, 2015 it was investigating reports that Mullah Omar, leader of the militant Taliban movement behind an escalating insurgency, was dead. Photo by National Counterterrorism Center/Handout via Reuters

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the future of Afghanistan after a longtime enemy of the United States is reportedly dead.

Earlier today, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence agency confirmed the death of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. According to the agency, the reclusive figure died two years ago at a hospital in Pakistan. So far, the Taliban has not publicly commented on the claim. But as recently as two weeks ago, the group was issuing statements in his name. He had not been seen publicly since 2001.

Jessica Donati is covering the story for the Reuters news agency. She’s in Kabul. And I spoke to her a short time ago.

Jessica Donati, welcome.

So, tell us more about what these reports say and how solid are they?

JESSICA DONATI, Reuters: Well, we’re not getting a lot out of the reports, other than that the Afghan intelligence agency has said that they confirmed that Mullah Omar is dead.

And we have the Afghan government saying that they have reason to believe that the reports are credible. But from the Taliban side, we don’t have anything.

And in terms of he died two years ago in a hospital in Pakistan, any more information than that about why he died, how he died?

JESSICA DONATI: There isn’t a lot of detail.

We have been speaking to some commanders who suggest that he might have died of tuberculosis. And there are different rumors about different illnesses that he may have had. And it’s not clear where he died or what he died of. I think the question really is, why is it coming out now, about two days before there was supposed to be another round of peace talks scheduled to take place somewhere on Friday?

So the question is, why are the reports now? Because it’s possible that they would weaken — make the Taliban appear more weak. So there are a lot of questions being asked as to who is behind these reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there a theory about who is behind them? And you’re saying the Taliban would be weakened because their leader would be gone?

JESSICA DONATI: Yes, and that would suggest that there is more of a split, which would put them in a more difficult position if they were going to be bargaining with the Afghan government.

On the one side, there seems to be a group of commanders who are in favor of going ahead with the peace talks. And on the other side, there are commanders who are saying, well, look, the paramilitary foreign forces have left and we’re making progress this year in the fighting season. So, this is not a good time for us to be negotiating.

So it is not really a good position for them to be in without leadership. And that could be why they aren’t commenting either way.

So how strong is the Taliban seen to be right now in Afghanistan?

JESSICA DONATI: At the moment, they have — they’re coming out stronger this year than last year.

First of all, the Afghan security forces are on their own. The — most foreign forces have left and there is only a limited amount of air support, along with the training mission. So the casualty rates are higher. They have taken over tens of villages in the north. They have captured a couple of district centers which are quite symbolic.

They have threatened a major city in the north, although they haven’t really come close to recapturing it. So they are making progress. On the other hand, they also have to face the fact that there is an Islamic State threat that is rising and is getting attention and perhaps competing for young fighters.

So, this might not be such a bad time for them to negotiate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how far along are the talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government seen to be?

JESSICA DONATI: At the moment, we aren’t even entirely clear how official these talks are. There were talks taking place in early July between the Afghan government, the Pakistani government. There were American and Chinese officials present and several Taliban.

But it is not clear who these Taliban leaders were representing and whether they had authority from leadership — the leadership. So we have statements from the Afghan and the Pakistani side saying that these were the first round of official peace talks and that the next time, they would be talking about an agenda and a possible cease-fire.

But the Taliban never said anything about whether these talks were official or not. So you could say that they’re not very far ahead at all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one more twist in, I guess, an endless set of twists and turns.

Jessica Donati with Reuters in Kabul, we thank you.


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NATO steps up Ukraine mission in response to Russia

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:35 PM


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GWEN IFILL: The role of the U.S. military in Europe has shifted since the start of the Ukraine conflict. Along with other NATO countries, American forces now have a sizable presence in the region.

Today, the dispute was once again on view, at its center, Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Just over a year ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 crashed in a field in Eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board, most of them Dutch, were killed. The government in Kiev and in many other Western countries said Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane with a surface-to-air missile. It’s a claim Moscow still denies.

Now Malaysia, along with the Netherlands, Ukraine and others, wants to set up an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible.

LIOW TONG LAI, Malaysian Transport Minister: An international tribunal will be best place to deliver justice to the families of all victims.

GWEN IFILL: The U.N. Security Council took up the proposal this afternoon, but Russia vetoed it.

VITALY CHURKIN, Russian Ambassador to United Nations (through interpreter): What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation? Can it resist the aggressive propaganda backdrop in the media?

GWEN IFILL: There have been 15 months of heavy fighting in Eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbass, between separatists backed by Russia and the kin military. More than 6,500 people have been killed.

The fighting there followed Russia’s March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. But even beyond that conflict, there’s been a spike this year in Russian air incursions near NATO countries, including the United States. Last month, American fighter jets intercepted Russian TU-95 bombers off the coasts of Alaska and California.

In response to Russia’s actions, NATO countries have stepped up military exercises in Ukraine and across the Baltic states. In a visit to Estonia last fall, President Obama made the U.S. commitment clear.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: An attack on one is an attack on all. So, if, in such a moment, you ever ask again, who will come to help, you will know the answer, the NATO Alliance, including the armed forces of the United States of America, right here, present, now.

The U.S. has been training Ukrainian forces. So far, it’s limited to instructing national guard units, but the State Department said last week that the mission will be expanded to include regular military forces later this year.

The man overseeing U.S. operations in Europe and serving as NATO supreme allied commander is General Philip Breedlove. He visited Ukraine last week. And I spoke with him today at the Pentagon.

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NATO Commander: Russia’s use of force in Europe is a major threat

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:30 PM


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GWEN IFILL: General Breedlove, thank you so much for joining us.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, NATO Supreme Allied Commander: Oh, thanks for having me.

GWEN IFILL: I want to start by talking about Turkey. How significant is it that Turkey has allowed us to start using Incirlik for a basing to attack ISIS?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Those things that we are working at now to use bases like Incirlik and Diyarbakir, those will be very important to our ability to prosecute a joint campaign with Turkey as a part of our coalition.

GWEN IFILL: How far does that buffer zone go and how far do we go into it?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: We’re not creating any specific zone.

What we’re talking about is bringing Turkey into an arrangement where, as a part of the coalition, they cooperate in our counter-ISIL campaign in the north. And that’s the real key to this.

GWEN IFILL: So, it’s not a no-fly zone, per se, is what you are saying?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: That’s correct.

GWEN IFILL: I want to take you to Ukraine, especially Russia’s role. The new incoming nominee to be — for Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, said at a congressional hearing last week that he saw Russia as our chief global threat. Is that something you agree with?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: I have testified to the same thing in the past.


GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Well, clearly, there are lots of threats out there, for instance, ISIL.

But I think what you hear from numerous leaders is that Russia is a different case. This is a nation that for 20 years we have tried to make a partner. And in the last few years, we have seen that they’re on a different path. So now we have a nation that has used force to change internationally recognized boundaries. Russia continues to occupy Crimea.

Russian forces now are in the Donbass in Eastern Ukraine. So this nation has used force to change international boundaries. And this is a nation that possesses a pretty vast nuclear inventory, and talks about the use of that inventory very openly in the past. And so what I think you see being reflected is that we see a revanchist Russia that has taken a new path towards what the security arrangements in Europe are like and how they are employed.

And they talk about using, as a matter of course, nuclear weapons. For that reason, these senior leaders, I believe, see that as a major threat.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Kerry has not said that. And I wonder if the distinction there is between the diplomatic approach to dealing with Russia on things like Iran and the military concerns.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So, Russia can and we hope in the future will be a great partner. There are many places where our needs and requirements match.

But, again, in Europe, they have established a pattern now, Georgia, Transnistria, Crimea, Donbass, where force is a matter of course. And that’s not what we look for in partners in Europe.

GWEN IFILL: So NATO has talked about providing training and artillery and some sort of support against this force you describe, this Russian bear on the border. Is that enough?

Well, NATO nations are offering some assistance to Ukraine, as is the United States. Many nations now are coming along to be a part of helping Ukraine to defend themselves. They have the right to defend themselves.

But is it enough?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: I think that question is yet to be determined.

We believe that there is a diplomatic and a political solution. So when you ask, is it enough, the question is, is it enough to set the conditions so that we can get to a political and a diplomatic solution?

What about the Baltics? There is a lot of nervousness that Russia is going to expand its view of aggression in that direction as well, and they will be entirely unable to defend themselves.

Both NATO, as an alliance, and the United States have come to great measures of assurance for our Baltic nations.

We have U.S. soldiers alongside British and other soldiers inside of these countries now, exercising, doing training, to assure those allies that NATO is there and will be there. I was privileged to sit in the room at Wales when the leaders of 28 nations, including our president, were rock-solid on Article V, collective defense. And that includes the Baltics.

And I think that Mr. Putin understands that NATO is different.

GWEN IFILL: There is a lot of nervousness, however, that this option, if this doesn’t take hold, is war.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Well, the best way not to have a war is to be prepared for war. So, we’re in there now, training their soldiers.

As you know, we are looking at and have decided to preposition stops forward. We have heavy equipment that we train with in these nations now. And so we need to be prepared, so that we can avoid.

GWEN IFILL: Is there a line between preparation and provocation?

Absolutely. I believe there is.

We do defensive measures, and in, I think, very easily defined defensive stances in our forward bases. We’re not putting big forces into the Baltics. Right now, there is a company of U.S. soldiers in each of the three Baltic states. That is well below a proportional issue.

If it is possible for there to be a diplomatic or a political solution to head off any future conflict, what would that look like?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: We always talk about a European land mass whole, free, and at peace.

To get to that, we need to have a partner in Russia, not someone that we are competing with. The Russian energy…

GWEN IFILL: Do you see a partnership that I don’t see?

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: No, no, I’m saying we have to have one in the future.


GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: If we really believe we’re going to get to whole, free, and at peace and prosperous, then we need a partner in Russia.

Well, give me an example of one way to get there, especially if the person who has to be your partner is Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t show any indication, other than being helpful at the Iran nuclear talks, of being the partner you envision.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: So first, it’s communication. We need to reestablish those lines of communication.

You have seen our secretary of state, undersecretary of state reaching out in several forums. Mil-to-mil communications need to become routine again. They are not routine now, where they were once before, communication first.

GWEN IFILL: I guess I hear what you are saying, but I don’t see how you get there.

GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE: Its’ not going to be an easy road. And it’s not going to happen quickly. This business with Russia is a long-term thing.

I have said in testimony in other places that this is global, not regional. And it is long-term, not short-term. But we have to start down the path.

GWEN IFILL: Assuming for a moment there is a diplomatic-to-diplomatic impasse or president-to-president impasse, is there a military-to-military way of forging that kind of agreement?

There is.

It is important also that, even if our countries are not getting along, when you are flying airplanes in close vicinity, when you are sailing ships in close vicinity, when you have soldiers on the ground exercising sometimes just on the other side of borders, military men and women have to be able to communicate in a very matter-of-fact way to preclude anything ugly from happening.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and we hope nothing further ugly happens.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove, thank you very much.

No, thank you very much.

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A Catholic enigma found in a grave at Jamestown

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:25 PM


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GWEN IFILL: But, first, a new discovery at the historic Jamestown settlement. The remains of four important residents and a mysterious religious relic have added new insight and raised new questions about life at the nation’s first permanent English colony.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: The men were leaders in the colony, and as seen in this 3-D animation of the settlement site, they were buried in a long-vanished church some 400 years ago.

Inside one of the coffins, that of Captain Gabriel Archer, was a silver box containing what appear to be Catholic relics, a striking finding in the Anglican settlement. Digging has gone on at Jamestown since 1994. These remains were uncovered by archaeologists in 2013, and just made public after two years of research by the Smithsonian Institution and the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.

The president of the latter group, and himself an historian, James Horn, joins me now.

And welcome to you.

JAMES HORN, President, Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation: Well, thank you. Pleasure to be here.

JEFFREY BROWN: First, set the scene for us briefly here. This is the first colony, dire straits, almost coming to an end very quickly, right?

JAMES HORN: Yes, that’s right.

It’s the first English colony, first permanent English colony in America, the first beachhead of what was to be a great English empire in the New World. And the first two, three years are some of the most challenging the colony ever endures, a combination of starvation, food shortages, Indiana attack, and disease really decimates the numbers of settlers.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, the discovery of these four men, how did it come about? Did you know you were looking for them in particular?

JAMES HORN: We didn’t.

What we were looking for, what we hoped to find was the original church, the 1608 church, which is the first English church, Protestant church in America. So, we went looking for that.

JEFFREY BROWN: And so Captain Gabriel Archer, Reverend Robert Hunt, Sir Ferdinando Wainman?

JAMES HORN: Wainman.

JEFFREY BROWN: Did I say it right?


And Captain William West.


JEFFREY BROWN: What do we know about them, and why is it important to find their remains?

JAMES HORN: Well, we know a good deal about two of them.

And if we start with the Reverend Robert Hunt, first Anglican minister at Jamestown, he’s responsible for ministering services, Church of England services to the settlers, but also to begin the long process of preaching to local Indian peoples.

We know a little about bit about his background, where he was from. But he plays a very important role in founding the Church of England in Jamestown.

JEFFREY BROWN: Can you — you’re confident about their identity because of a lot of forensic research, right? This is high-tech stuff that you are applying.

JAMES HORN: High-tech stuff and low-tech stuff.



JAMES HORN: Yes, a combination of different methods, including the archaeology, obviously, then the forensics, and documentary research, genealogy, and even high-tech — involving some high-tech processes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the small box found in the coffin of Captain Archer, with items identified as Catholic relics, this was a surprise? How much do we know? What do we not know at this point?

JAMES HORN: Well, it certainly was a surprise, for two reasons.

Objects found in graves are rare, in the English context, at least. So we were surprised to find any artifact. But this artifact is a real enigma, because it wasn’t clear to us who placed it there, what it is doing there. Is it a Catholic reliquary? Is it a Catholic reliquary that was repurposed for Anglican uses, retranslated for the new church in the New World?

We have got a lot of questions to answer and what we will be working on — on this for some time to come.

JEFFREY BROWN: But it complicates this early history of religion in the New World, right, although it goes back to — from Tudor history, right?


JEFFREY BROWN: I know that the fight is still going on at the time in England over Catholicism, hidden, right, vs. the new church, the Church of England.

JAMES HORN: Well, yes, and in Europe, of course.


JAMES HORN: So Europe is really split in two.

There’s a great contest between Protestantism and Catholicism. And that struggle shifts to a New World theater. And Virginia gets caught up in that early. Jamestown is part of that. And so what we have now is the possibility of perhaps an organized Catholic cell in place in Jamestown, at Jamestown, in the first years. And that was — I don’t think we anticipated finding that.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, briefly, what happens next? Where do you go from here?

JAMES HORN: More forensics, because we are not — we cannot be 100 percent certain of the identification at this stage. We have not done DNA.

And so we are confident in our analysis so far. But we want to follow up with DNA. And we’re doing that right now. And then much more research on the English backgrounds of these four men, and particularly Archer. He is the real mystery in this.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, James Horn, Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation, thanks so much.

JAMES HORN: Pleasure.

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After 50 years, how do we ensure Medicare and Medicaid longevity?

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:20 PM


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Health spending in the U.S. grew by 5.5 percent last year to more than $3 trillion. And new projections show spending will keep rising by nearly 6 percent a year over the next decade.

This comes after several years of a slowdown in spending growth. And it potentially has major implications for Medicare and Medicaid, which together cover about one of every three Americans. By 2024, nearly four out of every 10 health care dollars will be spent on enrollees in the two programs. The latest warnings comes as both programs are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Before President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law in 1965, with President Harry Truman by his side, the country’s social safety net left many seniors living in poverty in their retirement years.

There are those alone in suffering who will now hear the sounds of some approaching footsteps coming to help.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifty years later, the programs cover tens of millions more people and are deeply woven into the fabric of the American health care system. Nearly one in six Americans, or about 53 million people, receive coverage through Medicare.

Medicaid, which provides care for low-income and disabled people, has grown even larger. It covers nearly one in four Americans, 71 million in all.

The success of both programs was hailed by President Obama at a recent White House event.

When Medicare was created, only a little more than half of all seniors had some form of insurance. Before Medicaid came along, families often had no help paying for nursing home costs. Today, the number of seniors in poverty has fallen dramatically.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But new projections underscore worries over long-range solvency. Among them, 10,000 people become eligible for Medicare each day. Medicare’s growth rate is below that of the private sector, but the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will run out of money by 2030, and only be able to cover 86 percent of costs, unless there are more changes, such as higher costs for beneficiaries, raising taxes or cutting benefits.

Choice of doctors and providers has shrunk in recent years, as payment rates decline. Beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs are rising. People enrolled in Medicaid have a harder time finding specialists and dentists willing to treat them. Nearly a third of beneficiaries reduced their use of dental, vision and hearing care.

Medicaid, which has expanded through the federal health care law, remains the focus of major political battles around the country.

I sat down recently with two former secretaries of health and human services, who oversaw the programs, Kathleen Sebelius, who served under President Obama until last year, and Dr. Louis Sullivan, who served under President George H.W. Bush.

Welcome, Secretary Sullivan, Secretary Sebelius.

And, Secretary Sebelius, let me start with you.

What difference have Medicare and Medicaid made in this country?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Former Health and Human Services Secretary: Well, I think they have made an incredible difference in the lives of about 120 million Americans and counting.

So, seniors were the poorest group of Americans when Medicare was passed 50 years ago. They were going bankrupt because of medical bills. They couldn’t afford the care they needed. And to have that guarantee once you turn 65 or are so disabled that you qualify early, that you have a set of benefits, and you don’t have to be qualified by health, you qualify by age, has made a huge difference in this country.

And, Secretary Sullivan, what about Medicaid?

Former Health and Human Services Secretary: Medicaid has also contributed greatly to improving the health and access to health care for our citizens.

For example, 50 percent of the births in the country are paid for by Medicaid, most of the care for HIV/AIDS patients, poor patients and families. So this is really the safety net for the health system. So I think Medicaid, along with Medicare, are two successes that we can all congratulate.

At the same time, we know that so many more people in this country depend on these programs than was ever envisioned. The costs have skyrocketed to the government at the federal level, and, in the case of Medicaid, also at the state level.

Secretary Sebelius, how sustainable are these two programs?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, I think that the cost issue is something that this administration particularly has taken head on.

And part of the framework around the Affordable Care Act was really to look at government spending on health and whether we’re getting the best bang for the buck. The good news, Judy, is in the five year since the president signed the ACA into law, health costs have risen at the lowest level in 50 years. And, in fact, Medicare was supposed to be insolvent by 2017. When I came in with the president, that was what the trustee report said. It’s now 2030.

And each year, years are added onto that solvency, because costs are going down, in spite of the fact that we have 11,000 people a day turning 65 in this country. We have a baby boom increase in Medicare, but the costs are lower than they have ever been.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, Secretary Sullivan, there is still concern about the long-term financial viability of these programs, isn’t there?

DR. LOUIS SULLIVAN: Oh, yes. And that’s a fair question.

I think all of us want to be sure that we do a better job in holding back the increases in health care costs. But one of the features in the Affordable Care Act that I’m very pleased with is a greater emphasis on prevention. I believe that the 21st century really will be the century in which we improve health literacy of our citizens and have them play a more active part in remaining healthy, staying out of the hospital, coordinating care better than we have been able to do it in the past.

So there a number of things that can be done to help ameliorate the increase in costs, while seeing that our patients and our citizens get access to care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How does that happen, Secretary Sebelius, in the long run?

And we already — we know many doctors are saying they won’t accept patients who come to them saying they depend on Medicaid. And, in some cases, Medicare physicians are saying they won’t see them.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, it is still about 70 percent of the doctors, less than 100, but 70 percent take Medicaid patients. And almost 95 percent of doctors accept Medicare patients.

So we still have the vast majority of providers. But I think, again, it’s reasonable to look at what their payment is. Are they being compensated enough? And, as Dr. Sullivan said, what we don’t do very well is pay doctors for keeping their patients healthy in the first place. That payment system is changing rapidly within the government.

Paying for outcomes, paying for health, paying for people to actually have less contact with the hospital system is a new way of actually using the trillion dollars that the government spends every year to try and drive health and wellness, and not wait until somebody comes into the acute care system, goes into the hospital, does more tests, does more prescriptions. It’s really about health and wellness at the outset.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Sullivan, what else needs to be done?

We know there are proposals out there to cut benefits, to raise premiums, to make it harder for people at various income levels to access Medicare. What do you think needs to be done to make these programs sustainable?

DR. LOUIS SULLIVAN: Well, I believe there are a number of things that we can do.

For example, the 20th century was a tremendous growth in the scientific community, with many advances that really were miracles. We have developed vaccines of all kinds. When I was a medical student, I took care of patients with paralytic polio. In the mid-50s, when the polio vaccine was introduced, overnight, polio almost disappeared from our country.

But we have a misunderstanding with some of our citizens about the value of vaccines, where people have misunderstandings, so they’re not using these advances that have been made properly. So, that’s why I say we need to improve the health literacy of our citizens, have them understand the value of these scientific advances.

And they have to be partners with the health professionals to see that they get the care that they need. The 21st century is going to be a century in which our citizens play a more active role in maintaining their health, working with their health professionals. But we also need to have new kinds of health professionals.

We don’t need doctors or dentists in every town or hamlet. We have developed physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. They are valuable members. In dentistry, we are developing dental therapists, mid-level dental providers. We can get care to citizens at less costs.

So there are a number of things we can do to change the way we provide care and keep our costs under control.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, what would you add?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: Well, I think he’s right.

And I think the notion that people need more information, they want to stay healthy, they don’t know exactly what to do, but that, in the long run, focus on prevention and away from acute care, having a real health care system, not a sick care system, is really what I think the goal is in the long run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary Louis Sullivan, we appreciate your being with us on this 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. Thank you.

Nice to be here

Thank you. And happy anniversary, Medicare.

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Disconnected by war, family reunites through student history project

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:15 PM


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Editor’s Note: The full name of the National History Day program that Josh Slayton was selected for is called Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute.

GWEN IFILL: Earlier this week, we showed you a national history program that teaches high school students about World War II and D-Day by having them follow the life of a U.S. service member from their own community to the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

Tonight, the NewsHour’s April Brown has the story of how one of those students’ research projects united families from two continents. It’s part of our American Graduate series, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

APRIL BROWN: Just a few months ago, Judy Shumaker of Meadville, Pennsylvania, had no idea she had French family members longing to connect.

JUDY SHUMAKER: I’m so happy.

APRIL BROWN: Decades after losing touch, relations on both sides of the Atlantic met at the American Cemetery in Normandy to honor a World War II soldier killed in action just after the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944.

ANNOUNCER: Six o’clock, D-Day, landing time for the first beachhead boats.

APRIL BROWN: Though he was born a Frenchman, Pierre Robinson died a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He was the adopted son of Shumaker’s grandfather, John Robinson.

JUDY SHUMAKER: He was very quiet and very mannerly.

I heard that grandpa loved him very much. He said that. I heard that he was killed and grandpa was very sad and never really got over that. I often wondered over the years if any members of the family on his side were still alive.

APRIL BROWN: There were. And they were interested in their American family.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: I’m Pierre’s second cousin. So, Pierre’s mother, Blanche, was my grandmother’s sister.

APRIL BROWN: Gilles Grosdoit-Artur had been trying to reach out to Pierre’s American family for years.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: I had always heard about Pierre from my grandparents. I had always heard about my grand-uncle and my grand-aunt, lived in Meadville.

APRIL BROWN: But the families never connected until a Meadville-area high-school student, Josh Slayton, began looking into the soldier’s life and death.

JOSH SLAYTON: Through all these months of research, you really do feel like you know this person.

APRIL BROWN: In March, before heading to France, The Meadville Tribune profiled Josh and his efforts to find out more about Pierre.

And that led to meeting Judy Shumaker.

JUDY SHUMAKER: I went, yes, finally. Finally, somebody recognizes an ordinary man with an extraordinary story.

Pierre was born in France in 1914. His birth father would die just two years later, killed in action during World War I. His mother, Blanche, remarried in 1920, and her new husband was Judy Shumaker’s grandfather, John Robinson, an American soldier still stationed in France after the war.

Robinson adopted Pierre and moved to Pennsylvania, where Pierre would spend the rest of his childhood. In 1941, Pierre enlisted in the U.S. Army and, by 1944, Sergeant Robinson became one of thousands of soldiers taking part in Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of France.

JOSH SLAYTON: This morning, we went to Omaha Beach, and that was really amazing, because that is the beach that he actually came in on, on June 6, 1944, D-Day.

It was just really amazing to feel like we were there with Pierre.

ANNOUNCER: Through the cloud gaps, the airborne spearheads saw something of the invasion armada.

JOSH SLAYTON: You have seen all of the pictures, all of the ships and landings crafts all out in the channel. And just to see how much things have changed, but still you can just imagine how massive this invasion was.

APRIL BROWN: Pierre had made it back to France, but would never again meet his French family. At his grave site, with the French and American families together after so many years, Josh delivered a eulogy to Pierre.

JOSH SLAYTON: Pierre survived the initial landing, but on the afternoon of June 7, 1944, the 3rd Battalion was facing strong opposition just below Vierville-sur-Mer. While out on patrol, Pierre was killed by a rifleman. In the reflective words of Pierre’s adopted father, John Robinson, “I couldn’t have had a better son if I had one of my own.”

APRIL BROWN: Pierre’s mother, Blanche, requested her son be buried in a permanent American cemetery in France, the one nearest to where he gave his life.

JUDY SHUMAKER: War can take away things that can never be given back. It can break families.

APRIL BROWN: The American and French families began to lose touch after Blanche’s death three years later. Now they are finally reunited.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: There is a sense that there’s more to it than American students. It’s kind of too beautiful to be true.

APRIL BROWN: These cousins are now in regular contact with each other, as well as Josh and John. And they all plan to keep in touch, making sure Pierre’s story lives on.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m April Brown in Normandy, France.

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Photos: Thousands turn out for 90th annual Chincoteague pony swim

Wednesday, July 29 2015 11:08 PM


CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies are herded into the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. Wild ponies were rounded up on the national wildlife refuge and herded across the channel to be auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Wild ponies are herded into the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. Wild ponies were rounded up on the national wildlife refuge and herded across the channel to be auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thousands of spectators gathered today to watch the annual pony swim, now in its 90th year, from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island on Virginia’s eastern shore.

The ponies are descendants of ancestors that came to Assateague more than 300 years ago and live on Assateague Island, according to the National Park Service. Each July, a volunteer group called the “Saltwater Cowboys” shepherds the ponies to Chincoteague Island for an auction to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the herd year-round. The auction is set for tomorrow. On Friday, the rest of the herd will return to Assateague.

Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel “Misty of Chincoteague” celebrated the rite. It also has a practical purpose: to limit the pony population on Assateague, which is limited to 150, according to a National Park Service rule.

See more images from the pony swim below.

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies come ashore from the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event.  Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Wild ponies come ashore from the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Spectators pet wild ponies after they swam across Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some ponies are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Spectators pet wild ponies after they swam across Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Seven-year-old Carlin Makibbin of Ocean City, Maryland, kisses a wild pony after ponies swam across the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some ponies are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Seven-year-old Carlin Makibbin of Ocean City, Maryland, kisses a wild pony after ponies swam across the Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies are herded toward the carnival grounds after they swam across Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Wild ponies are herded toward the carnival grounds, where they will be auctioned on Thursday. after they swam across Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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The worst humanitarian crisis since World War II

Wednesday, July 29 2015 10:36 PM

Syrian refugee children, who have been living in Jordan with their family for 2.5 years after fleeing the violence in their Syrian hometown of Idlib, sit in front of their family residence in Madaba city July 9, 2015. The number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries has passed 4 million, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

Syrian refugee children, who have been living in Jordan with their family for 2.5 years after fleeing the violence in their Syrian hometown of Idlib, sit in front of their family residence in Madaba city July 9, 2015. Photo by Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. And we think people should know more about it.

Of the 4 million refugees, the vast majority are women and children. And nearly 3 million of those children are out of school with no hope of returning to any formal education.

For this week’s Shortwave, P.J. Tobia interviews Saba Mobasalat from Save the Children. She talks about a little boy who makes a dollar a day crawling into empty diesel tankers to sponge up and sell leftover oil, and she talks about food aid that’s about to run out of funding.

He also interviews Nihad Sarmini in Jordan, who travels into Northern Syria to help child refugees.

“There is a lot of child labor there, and we found out that their work is very dangerous, and actually it’s affecting their mental and physical health,” he said. Click “listen” on the podcast above to learn more.

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World’s first transgender modeling agency to open this summer

Wednesday, July 29 2015 09:35 PM

Apple Model Management transgender modeling agency

Apple Model Management’s L.A. director, Cecilio Asuncion, with the six models who will launch the firm’s modeling agency for transgender models this summer. Photo courtesy of Apple Model Management

At a time when transgender models are gaining more recognition than ever, Thailand-based firm Apple Model Management is set to open the world’s first modeling agency for transgender models this summer in Los Angeles.

The agency began representing transgender models in 2014 and its new branch in L.A. will exclusively represent transgender models. Apple has signed six models for the venture so far and is looking to add more.

Angel Qinan, model from Apple Model Management

Angel Qinan will be one of the first models in Apple Model Management’s transgender-only agency. Photo courtesy of Apple Model Management

Angel Qinan, one of Apple’s models, started her modeling career at Apple Model Management in Bangkok, Thailand, and eventually became a member of Apple’s transgender board. She said the agency has been supportive from the beginning.

“I’m excited to be able to express my authentic self and be the best model I can be in Los Angeles,” Qinan said.

Qinan became the first transgender model to walk the runway during Sacramento Fashion week in February. She said the support she received from the fashion community was “inspirational.”

The agency prioritizes equal treatment for transgender models, Cecilio Asuncion, Apple Model Management’s L.A. director, said.

“It’s important for transgender models to be treated equally in the workplace. At Apple Model Agency you are an Apple model first, and transgender second,” Asuncion said.

The move comes during a transformative time for transgender talent in the fashion and beauty community. Just this year, Andreja Pejic was the first-ever transgender model to be profiled in Vogue. Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old transgender activist, landed a deal this year with Johnson and Johnson’s Clean and Clear skin care line. There’s also Brazilian model Lea T, who became the face of Redken in 2014, the first transgender model to become the face of a global cosmetic brand.

But the fashion community can still do more to create supportive spaces for transgender models, Asuncion said. “Fashion is just one instrument” to create change, Asuncion said.

The post World’s first transgender modeling agency to open this summer appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Why we’re drawn to fizzy drinks

Wednesday, July 29 2015 09:34 PM

Gin and tonic. Photo by Nathan Blaney/ Getty Images

Gin and tonic. Photo by Nathan Blaney/ Getty Images

Snap-click, ahh, gulp. It’s a familiar sound at a barbecue, an ingredient in summertime nostalgia. Who doesn’t crave a fizzy drink on a hot summer day?

Indeed, sales of carbonated water have seen a sharp incline over the past half decade, increasing by 56.4 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the market research firm, Euromonitor International. Sales of La Croix alone, the trendy carbonated water in a can, have tripled to $179 million since 2009, the Washington Post reports.

But why? What’s happening in our mouth when we guzzle fizzy drinks? Why are we drawn to carbonation?

“The main component of carbonation sensation is the pain,” said Paul Wise, a scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Scientists like Wise have studied the interplay of gas and bubbles on the human taste system.


The slightly painful quality of the drink — its bite — is thanks to a receptor found on our tongues. This receptor, called TRPA1, detects sour tastes, among other things.

Sour receptors protect us from hazardous chemicals like the hydrogen peroxide found in cleaning supplies — our tongues are designed to taste danger. They also give seltzer its bite. It’s the carbon dioxide in carbonated drinks that triggers these sour receptors.

Carbon dioxide – the bubbles in our beverage – enters the mouth and dissolves into oral tissue. A protein in the mouth, called carbonic anhydrase, converts carbon dioxide into acid. The TRPA1 receptor detects the acid and sends a message to the brain.

The degree to which this receptor is stimulated may determine whether the signal is interpreted as pleasure or pain. Such a theory could explain our varying response to the cinnamon flavor, which also excites TRPA1. We happily chew Big Red gum, but consuming large amounts of cinnamon — known in pop culture as the cinnamon challenge — is painful, and extremely dangerous.

In fact, the body mounts a defense response when many TRPA1 receptors are activated, Wise said.

“At higher levels [of stimulation], in addition to sensation, you’ll get physiological defense responses designed to dilute and clear – so that is increased saliva, coughing, sneezing, tearing and also respiratory reactions.”

Pain sensors that detect harmful gases are also found in your nose. But the skin of the tongue and the mucous in the nose are different as they relate to carbon dioxide, said Bruce Bryant, a scientist also at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

In the case of the tongue, carbon dioxide has a thick layer of cells to get through before it reaches the receptor. But in the nose, that layer is thin. This is why a belch can burn in our noses — the nasal cavities are more sensitive to the carbon dioxide that gurgles back up.

Which brings us back to the bubbles. What role do the bubbles play in the bite? Researchers tested this by asking people to drink carbonated drinks in a hyperbaric chamber, where controlled atmospheric pressure removes the bubbles, but not the carbon dioxide, from the drink. Without the bubbles, they found, participants still taste the bite.

Not true for mountain climbers who take carbonic anhydrase inhibitors to avoid altitude sickness, which keeps the bubbles, but removes the bite. Such medicine prevents carbon dioxide from becoming an acid and stimulating TRPA1. The adventurers described their victory beverages as dishwater-y, according to a researcher interviewed in this NPR segment. (This taste could be due to more than just the lack of acid, Bryant adds. The medicine “plays havoc with your taste system.)

A close up look at sparkling water. Photo by Foodcollection RF/ Getty Images

A close up look at sparkling water. Photo by Foodcollection RF/ Getty Images

Scientists have also found that bubbles increase the perception of sourness. Bryant and colleagues collected evidence showing that bubbles can enhance the pungency of carbonation. Even when paired with sugary drinks, bubbles can actually decrease a drinker’s perception of sweetness. A study published on July 10 in Neuropsychologia showed that foods with rougher textures are rated as more sour.

But Bryant thinks that seltzer’s success may be thanks to it’s “refreshing” taste, which he defines as “some combination of cooling and clean mouth feel.” Mucins are proteins in the mouth that reduce friction between oral surfaces, like your tongue and teeth. Astringent drinks, like lemonade or tannin-heavy wine, wash out mucins and give that clean-mouth feeling.

And just like all cold beverages, chilled seltzer stimulates nerves that detect cooler temperatures. “The cooling may interact to reduce or change the quality of the pungency that you get out of carbon dioxide,” Bryant said. From personal experience, we probably all agree that seltzer cans left in the sun are less refreshing on a hot day than the chilled version.

By the way, only a small amount of the fizz released from a bottled beverage makes it into the stomach. Despite concerns that have been raised, research shows that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastrointestinal cancer or bone disease. And while sugars and other acids found in sodas can contribute to tooth decay, carbon dioxide alone doesn’t have a significant impact on oral health.

Seltzer scientists agree that our love for carbonation and other pain-inducing foods like chili peppers is learned.

“A lot of kids take a while to develop a taste; I saw it with my own kids,” Wise said.

And interestingly, animals in the lab reject carbonated drinks, Bryant said.

Children develop strong flavor associations. Consider spicy desserts: Habanero jam, kiwi salsa, or ghost pepper brownies. Pair the spice of a hot chili with a pleasurable carbohydrate like sugar, and over time you develop a preference for the painful taste.

This may be true for seltzer and soda too. Today’s carbonated soda does pack a lot of sugar — just over ten sugar cubes. And many of us start with soda and graduate to seltzer water.

But would we love seltzer if we’d never loved soda?

As yesterday’s soda drinkers enter today’s low-sugar diet, they are increasingly turning to seltzer – a calorie-free drink with a sensation that reminds them of the sugar. Some food for thought: if our passion for bubbles comes from a previous love for sodas, then will new, health-conscious generations avoid soda and never learn to love seltzer?

The post Why we’re drawn to fizzy drinks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.