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Last updated: Friday, August 29 2014 06:21 AM

How a book designer plucks a vision from an author’s pages

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:45 PM

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GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: Some people may judge a book by its cover, but what does it take to create a cover that best represents a book?

Jeff recently talked with a man who does just that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Book lovers — and you know who you are — will recognize the covers of numerous books that have appeared in the last decade, from reissues of classic writers to new novels and works of nonfiction.

The man who designed these covers is now stepping forward with two books of his own, one that investigates the act of reading itself called “What We See When We Read” and, the second, a glossy compendium of his work and his thoughts about it entitled “Cover.”

Peter Mendelsund is the associate art director for Knopf Books.

And welcome to you.

PETER MENDELSUND, Author, “What We See When We Read”: Thank you for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN: What are you doing in creating a book cover? What — how do you see the job?

PETER MENDELSUND: The job is really to represent the author’s words.

We read the manuscript when we get it and we try to find some way of translating those words into a visual that can sort of bear the weight of the narrative.

JEFFREY BROWN: You actually read — I was almost surprised — maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that you actually read it.

PETER MENDELSUND: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: But you do a deep reading of the book.

PETER MENDELSUND: Yes.

It’s a serious responsibility, and I like to read the work as closely as I can. It’s very important to me that the cover that ends up on the book not be in some way dissonant with the author’s project as a whole.

JEFFREY BROWN: You write about reading in a different way. You’re looking for different things than I would be as a general reader.

PETER MENDELSUND: It’s an extremely strange process reading as a designer.

I’m very interested in finding those visual emblems or occasions in a book that I can then translate into something visual. It could be a scene, it could be a character, it could be a metaphor itself, but just anything in the text that could be made visual, and then that thing can be sort of the vessel that the whole book can be poured into.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, when you say you bear the responsibility, that goes to, do we judge a book by its cover, right? You’re coming between the author and potential readers.

PETER MENDELSUND: Yes, it’s a very serious responsibility. And I feel a tremendous amount of guilt when I get it wrong.

It’s very important to me in my responsibility to the author to make sure that they’re comfortable with the thing that wraps their — their baby.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, have you developed a theory about what makes a great cover, and vice versa?

PETER MENDELSUND: I would say — well, there’s two answers to that question. One is a great cover is, as I said, a cover that really does a great job of representing that particular story, but, of course, a great cover is also a cover that sells a book well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

PETER MENDELSUND: And my theory about what sells a book well is not a popular theory, but I think any cover that looks very different from all the covers around it, that cover is going to draw your eye.

So if all the covers on the table are colorful, and you make a white cover, it may seem bland by itself, but that white cover, just by virtue of being different, will draw your eye and draw you to it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me give you — I want to give an example. One of the biggest sellers in your successes is Stieg Larsson books. Now, why did that work?

PETER MENDELSUND: Well, I think — I also have another theory, which is that, if you make something pretty enough, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, people will want it.

(LAUGHTER)

PETER MENDELSUND: And I think this is an extremely violent murder mystery.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

PETER MENDELSUND: And the cliches and tropes for jacketing those kinds of books are shadowy guys in trench coats, murder weapons, a lot of blood.

You can pretty put blood on any kind of jacket image and it will signal to you that it’s a crime novel.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

PETER MENDELSUND: In this case, there’s no blood, and it is very sort of delicately wrought. And the color is very unusual. It’s sort of a very bright DayGlo yellow.

And I think that kind of proves my earlier point, which is that it just looked so different and hopefully was visually appealing enough that, when you were in a bookstore, and you saw it, at the very least, you would come a little bit closer to it. Sort of it would appeal to the magpie in the shopper. You just wanted to kind of pick it up.

JEFFREY BROWN: And did you know it away, or does the — do sales tell you that you have succeeded?

PETER MENDELSUND: It was a horribly arduous process coming up with that cover. I probably did 50 to 70 different versions of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Really? And is that normal? You do that many?

PETER MENDELSUND: It depends. Sometimes, lightning strikes away, and you have your eureka moments.

But I do as much work as I need to do unlike I feel like I have done my job. And in this case, even after it was made, there was still some hemming and hawing about whether it was the right cover, which also just goes to prove that you can never get consensus on these things.

(LAUGHTER)

PETER MENDELSUND: But I was happy with it. And I’m not sure if it’s a good cover by association or whether it’s generally a good cover, but I’m proud of it, for what it’s worth.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the — we will call the smaller book, you ask the question, “What We See When We Read.”

Now, you’re actually talking about what we see, what we imagine. And I’m wondering. We’re in a visual culture now, and this obviously ties to the kind of work you do as a designer of covers.

PETER MENDELSUND: That’s right.

I mean, it occurred to me at some point I was plucking, as I said, these sort of visions out of an author’s work. And it occurred to me that it was a very strange process. It wasn’t quite the way that I had imagined it. And the way that I think I had imagined it is the way that most people imagine it, which is that the author provides you with their vision of a particular world that’s populated by particular characters.

And you read about them. And you see the author’s people and places. And then you close the book and it’s over. And the strange thing was really, I realized when I started to examine these kind of visions, that, in fact, the author’s prompts weren’t mattering that much.

He might — Tolstoy might tell me that Anna Karenina has a certain kind of a hair. It’s black hair and it’s tightly curled.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I’m not actually picturing that?

PETER MENDELSUND: No.

You know, when I’m reading about Anna, I’m picturing whatever the closest analogue I can come up with to the woman that Tolstoy very, very narrowly describes for us. And that might be a teacher of mine from grade school. It turns out, once you really start examining the process and parsing it, that we all do this. We sort of co-create the book along with the writer.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you think that all of this is changing because of a changing technology, a changing society that is more visual, perhaps, than print-oriented?

PETER MENDELSUND: In a way, it makes this idea of imagining things for ourselves, this kind of nebulous, amorphous world that we occupy when we’re reading, it makes it more valuable than ever, because we’re so bombarded all the time with visual stimuli, that there are very few other places, maybe other than when we’re dreaming, where we get to have this feeling of occupying this kind of metaphysical realm.

So it becomes very special in that regard. We text pictures to each other. We see pictures on the Internet all the time. Everything, you said, is visual. So it’s nice to think of this more, as I put it, kind of amorphous place that doesn’t exist in the corporeal world that we can sort of occupy. It becomes more precious, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, “What We See When We Read” and “Covers.”

Peter Mendelsund, thank you so much.

PETER MENDELSUND: Thank you for having me.

GWEN IFILL: You can find a photo gallery of Peter Mendelsund’s work on our Art Beat page.

The post How a book designer plucks a vision from an author’s pages appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Grad rates double after reinvention of Chicago City Colleges

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:37 PM

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GWEN IFILL: Next: For years, community colleges in America have opened their doors to everyone, offering a huge variety of courses at a fraction of the cost. But with only 5 percent of community college students graduating on time, should the schools be revamped?

The city of Chicago believes so, and has hired a controversial chancellor who has her own story of transformation.

Hari is back with the next in our series on Rethinking College.

CHERYL HYMAN, Chancellor, City Colleges of Chicago: These are all natural science classes.

WOMAN: Yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Cheryl Hyman knows these hallways better than most. After all, she walked them some 20 years ago as a community college student.

CHERYL HYMAN: Let’s see if I can recognize any of my old classrooms.

WOMAN: All righty.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Today, she walks as the boss. In 2010, Hyman was asked by Chicago’s mayor to leave a lucrative job at the utility giant Commonwealth Edison to become chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, one of the largest community college systems in the country.

CHERYL HYMAN: This is how much closer we need to get to the target.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hyman manages a budget of $650 million, oversees 5,700 of employees and seven college campuses.

CHERYL HYMAN: I just wanted to stop in and say hi.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Her task was to turn around a dismal record. Only 7 percent of the 115,000 students were graduating.

CHERYL HYMAN: Good luck, and thanks for attending City Colleges of Chicago.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Like many of the students at City Colleges of Chicago, Hyman had a challenging childhood.

CHERYL HYMAN: How are you?

GIRL: It’s my birthday.

CHERYL HYMAN: Happy birthday!

HARI SREENIVASAN: Raised in Chicago’s public housing by parents addicted to drugs, she left home at age 17, dropped out of high school and, for a time, became homeless.

Against the odds, Hyman returned to school, getting her high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, and an MBA from Northwestern University’s prestigious Kellogg School of Management.

How important is it for someone that’s sitting in that sort of prospective student’s chair to say, here’s a woman that came through the housing authority, she went through corporate America and she’s running this place; I could see myself in her shoes?

CHERYL HYMAN: I think a lot. I think a lot.

What many of our students need more than anything else is hope. A lot of times, they walk through our doors, and they don’t have that. And I think, without that, it doesn’t matter what type of education we’re providing them. They will never think that they can make it out of their circumstances, or they will somehow think that their circumstances dictate their destiny.

And I try very hard to give them that hope that that’s not true. That’s part of why I came from corporate America and took this job.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now Hyman hopes to reinvent the City Colleges of Chicago.

CHERYL HYMAN: Reinvention to me is, how do you establish a model which helps you shift the paradigm of how community colleges should be defined, shift the paradigm from institutions that have typically been solely focused on access to those who now couple access with success?

And what we mean by success is that students are completing what they came here for in a timely manner, and that those credentials are relevant.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Currently, only 5 percent of the 8.3 million students enrolled in community colleges around the nation graduate on time. That means 35 million Americans over the age of 25 have some college credit, but no degree.

Were students coming to City Colleges and taking credits that they didn’t particularly need or wouldn’t translate into a job?

CHERYL HYMAN: Yes. They were. They would come in with a perception of, I want to be X, and then they would thumb through this huge course catalog to try to put their future together with the limited information and guidance.

HARI SREENIVASAN: When Hyman arrived at City Colleges of Chicago, she says too many students were taking too many classes that didn’t advance them toward a degree. As a result, many dropped out.

Others like Shaina Henderson say they wasted time and money. Henderson ended up with 88 credits, 26 more than she needed for her associate’s degree.

SHAINA HENDERSON: I didn’t necessarily know how to navigate college and how to select my classes, so I took art because I figured that, you know, I like drawing, but I didn’t know necessarily if they will count towards my graduation.

CHERYL HYMAN: What’s really going to determine when we offer what and how often we offer it is students’ availability.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hyman tripled the number of student advisers and crated course-by-course career paths for every student.

CHERYL HYMAN: So, we have launched the Student GPS, the Guided Pathway to Success, which now takes what we know to be the relevant industries which represent the job market, which represent what four-year institutions look for, and so we have taken those and put them in clear semester-by-semester pathways.

HARI SREENIVASAN: New transfer agreements with four-year universities ensured college students were taking proper courses towards a bachelor’s degree.

That seems kind of basic. That seems fundamental.

CHERYL HYMAN: It does.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I would have expected that a city college or any college would have my credits to transfer.

CHERYL HYMAN: It does seem very fundamental to you and I, but it was revolutionary when I started talking about it through reinvention. Students would — they would get their associate’s degree and transfer and only half their credits would transfer.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The change helped Shaina Henderson transfer to the University of Illinois.

SHAINA HENDERSON: And no one else in my family had reached that type of milestone in their lives, because they always had — had to take care of their family or have — like, have to work. So I figured to take it upon myself to have that accomplishment for my family will make us all proud.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In three years since Hyman launched her reinvention campaign, graduation rates have nearly doubled. The number of degrees awarded jumped from 2,000 to 4,000.

But the reinvention of City Colleges has also met with controversy. Hyman, who has no background in education, was under fire from faculty for hiring expensive outside business consultants. At the same time, she took the drastic move of replacing six out of seven college presidents.

CHERYL HYMAN: We can those buildings open seven days a weeks, 24 hours a day. Students still have to juggle their schedules.

HARI SREENIVASAN: She cut staff, eliminating courses and other costs, and took a hard line on labor negotiations to save $51 million.

What is the hardest part of changing a culture?

CHERYL HYMAN: Well, the hardest part of change is culture. I think the hardest part of changing culture is, you have to convince everybody that you’re changing not to hurt them, but you’re changing so that everybody can have a win-win.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hyman’s sweeping changes at City Colleges of Chicago will be watched closely by both critics and supporters, as her reinvention plan heads into its fourth year this fall.

GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, Hari looks at performance funding at public universities. The more students graduate, the more money the institution gets from the state. Online, read about how an Arizona community college is running its campuses like a business, and whether its students benefit from being treated like customers. That’s on our Education page.

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On the front lines of care for undocumented children who cross the border

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:28 PM

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GWEN IFILL: The U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended nearly 63,000 unaccompanied children at the southwest border just this year.  Many of them are then relocated to various cities across the country, creating a growing need for health care and education.

Judy Woodruff recently visited a D.C.-based organization that is providing some of that support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When Maria Gomez was 13 years old, she and her mother emigrated to the United States from Colombia, after her political activist father was murdered.  The two settled in Washington, D.C., where Gomez grew up in the midst of a burgeoning Latino community.

Seeing the difficult time many were having, in 1988, Gomez gave up her job as a nurse to open Mary’s Center, a place for pregnant Latina women to receive free or low-cost prenatal care.  Many of these women had come to the U.S. to escape poverty and civil war in countries like El Salvador; 26 years later, a much expanded Mary’s Center is on the front lines of providing an array of services to an influx of Central American families and children.

Already this year, nearly 6,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed the U.S. border and have been released to sponsors in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.  Mary’s Center alone has received more than 500 of the unaccompanied children just over the past few weeks, putting a serious strain on its resources.

Since its founding, the organization has grown enormously, in order to address the needs of children and adults who’ve received little or no formal education, and many of whom don’t speak English.  Mary’s Center now offers schooling and social services, in addition to medical care.

A few days ago, I visited one of Mary’s Center’s four locations in the Washington area and spoke with its president and founder, Maria Gomez.

Maria Gomez, thank you very much for talking with us.

MARIA GOMEZ, President, Mary’s Center: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you have run Mary’s Center for over a quarter-of-a-century, since 1988.  You have seen families, children coming into the United States from Central America and other places.  What are you now seeing?  How is that incoming of people changing?

MARIA GOMEZ: Yes, the incoming that we see now is — it’s almost the same, but really people were coming really fleeing a war back in 1988 from El Salvador.

Now people are fleeing the gang members who are basically doing pretty much the same, killing their families.  We have one child after another whose families have been killed, their brothers and sisters, their mothers, their fathers.

Yesterday, we were at a vigil and one of the children, one of the boys, a 16-year-old, both of his parents were killed right in front of him, and was threatened that if he didn’t pay them whatever he earned from the rest of the family that was there that he would also be killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And these are not an occasional story.  You’re hearing these regularly; is that right?

MARIA GOMEZ: Every kid that comes in has a story, whether it’s their aunt, their grandmother, their father.  Many, many, many men, the fathers of many of these children have been killed because they refused to give them their daily payments that they earned.

And, sometimes, it’s for nothing, at the maximum, $2, $3, $5 that these people are making a day anyway.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How are most of them getting here?

MARIA GOMEZ: Well, what we’re hearing from the families and the kids is that the parents or the family members over there sold pretty much everything they had, the little land they had, whatever they had, their cows, their sheep, whatever they had, to make sure that they could get enough money you know, $5,000.

So not only do they now have nothing back home, but now they owe money still to those people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you also have young women, girls who are being raped, sexually abused on the way?

MARIA GOMEZ: Yes.

Many of them, unfortunately, because of the gang activities, particularly in Honduras, the individuals, these young women are being raped even back home.  And so they’re fleeing.  There’s a 50/50 chance that they will cross the border alive.  Then there is a chance for them to be living back home, because they’re either — they either be submissive to the abuse or they will get killed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But once they’re in the United States there’s a good chance they will be deported back to their home country.  What do they face if they go back?

MARIA GOMEZ: Death is really what they’re facing, because once an individual becomes a wage-earner, they are threatened daily for their wages or they will be killed.

That’s basically — that’s the option they have at this point.  That is why, you know, many parents are taking the risk of actually sending kids as young as 9, 11 years of age across the north.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re dealing with families with children who’ve seen trauma.  What are you seeing and how do you deal with it?

MARIA GOMEZ: Some of them have gotten pregnant.

Some of them come to relatives.  What we’re seeing when they come to relatives, they go through another trauma, because the relatives really can’t afford to have them in their apartment.  They realize that they’re sort of a nuisance, an extra.

Many of the kids come with the aspiration of coming to school, because they have never been to school.  Some of those kids have never been to school because it’s too dangerous.  One girl was telling us that they actually killed one of her friends and left body parts on the way to give her the message that, if she went to school, that would happen to her, unless she became part of the gang group.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where does the money come from to take care of all this?

MARIA GOMEZ: So, right now, it’s costing us over $800 to take care of these kids because they come…

JUDY WOODRUFF: A person.

MARIA GOMEZ: A person, every person, because — especially because we’re not only taking care of the medical piece, but the mental health and the dental health.  And when you add all those things together, we can get bills as high as $1,300, $1,500 per person, when you start dealing with that.

But the basic health care right now is about $800 per person, because we are having to do special tests now for young kids as young as 9 years of age for sexually transmitted diseases, for HIV, that we wouldn’t otherwise do that at that young, right?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And do you feel you’re able to address the need?  Are you able to do what needs to be done?

MARIA GOMEZ: Yes.  Well, we have the staffing.  We have the staff to be able to do that, even if it means we extend hours.  We have the psychiatrists, the psychologists.  We have the medical staff to do that.  We have the capacity.

I think what’s we’re concerning now is that, right now, we’re running — as of the end of July up to now, we are — we have racked up almost $400,000 worth of free care that we have given, because these individuals are not able to pay.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The stories you tell that they tell are so powerful, and yet there are still people in the United States who say, we’re very sympathetic, we wish it weren’t this way, but we first have to pay attention to problems in our own country.  We can’t receive people who are suffering from all around the world.

What do you say to those — to those people?

MARIA GOMEZ: Yes, I totally understand what they are saying, and — but I also know that this land has an opportunity we have — this is how we were created — to take people from all over the world.

And what I say to people who talk about the fact that we can’t take on, and we have so many people that we have to still take care of, I often wonder, are we really taking care of the poorest and the most vulnerable in this country?

When we’re given an opportunity, we, as Americans, always pay it back.  And that is, I think, what we need to look forward to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Maria Gomez, Mary’s Center, we thank you very much for talking with us.

MARIA GOMEZ: Thank you very much for the opportunity.

Hear more voices from the immigration debate. PBS NewsHour has invited an immigration judge, a border patrol officer, an immigration lawyer, an Arizona rancher and more to give a personal account from their front-seat view of the clash over the recent influx of migrants from Central America. Watch these conversations in the playlist below:

The post On the front lines of care for undocumented children who cross the border appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Ebola’s spread hastens preparations for vaccine testing

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:23 PM

Local residents gather around a very sick Saah Exco, 10, in a back alley of the West Point slum on August 19, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. The boy was one of the patients that was pulled out of a holding center for suspected Ebola patients when the facility was overrun by a mob on Saturday. A local clinic Tuesday refused to treat the boy, according to residents, because of the danger of infection, although the boy was never tested for Ebola. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

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GWEN IFILL: Adding to the difficulty, a different strain of Ebola has appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo, causing 13 deaths so far. 

Here at home, the National Institutes of Health announced today it will start testing an experimental Ebola vaccine next week.

For more on that development, I’m joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.  He will oversee those trials.

Dr. Fauci, thanks for joining us again.

What would trials like this look like?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Well, first of all, it’s an early phase one trial.

And by phase one, we mean this is the first time this vaccine has been put in humans.  So safety is paramount, so you take a very small number of people, 20 in total, three at a time, and you use the vaccine to determine if there are untoward effects, any inflammation, any idiosyncratic or hypersensitivity reactions, pain or anything that might be a red flag about safety.

And also you learn whether it induces the kind of response in a person that you would hope would be protective against Ebola infection.  The reason why we chose this vaccine is that it showed very favorable results in an animal model, a monkey model, in which it protected monkeys very well against a challenge with lethal Ebola.

So this is a first, because it’s the first time this has been in a human, in now what will be a series of steps to ultimately develop it to determine if, in fact, it is effective.

GWEN IFILL: This has been in development for some time.  You called this an uncontrolled outbreak in West Africa.  Dr. Tom Frieden for the CDC said it will get worse before it gets better.  Is it this West African outbreak which is moving this from development to trial?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: We have been working on an Ebola vaccine for a number of years now.  This has been one of the priorities of the hemorrhagic fevers, of which Ebola is actually the worst of those.

This is kind of the culmination of an iterative process of developing it.  It was certainly accelerated by what we’re seeing now with this extraordinary outbreak in certain West African countries.  So we were on the track of an Ebola vaccine, but we accelerated it.  We didn’t cut corners, but we really put the afterburners on to get things done much more quickly, so that we could get to the point where, next week, we will put this first time in a human, in a normal volunteer right here in our clinical center in Bethesda.

GWEN IFILL: We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out ZMapp, the small dosage which has been experimented on humans in this latest outbreak.

This plan that you’re talking about developing would be working with a large drug company, GlaxoSmithKline.  Does that make a difference in the timetable, how quickly we would see it come to market if it worked?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Gwen, it makes an extraordinary amount of difference.  It really is the game-changer in that.

When you have a company like GlaxoSmithKline, who partners fully with the NIH, with our science and their capability of producing this, that’s how you get things done.  And, in fact, one of the reasons why we had not gotten the vaccine up to now or even drugs is that there was relatively little interest on the part of many pharmaceutical companies for either drugs or vaccines.

And I think the extraordinary, dramatic situation which we’re going through right now is going to really get people’s attention and we will see a lot more interest in that, which I’m very pleased about because we really do need a vaccine and some therapeutics.

GWEN IFILL: Because Ebola is such a dangerous virus, how do you ensure the safety not only for those taking it in the trial, but also for those handling the virus?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, that’s a good question, Gwen.

And it’s important to point out there’s no chance at all of the vaccine giving Ebola to anyone, because we’re not giving them the Ebola virus.  We’re giving them a vaccine that has a very small component of the genetic material from Ebola that will make a protein that is again an important component of the virus, but not a virus that can actually replicate.

So there’s no chance.  When we say safety, which is the first part of phase one, we’re not talking about safety of giving someone Ebola.  We’re talking about safety of an adverse reaction to the vaccine itself.  That’s an important difference.

GWEN IFILL: If we’re talking about the possibility of 20,000 cases before this thing begins to subside, how do we know the vaccines are the right solution, or even are they the right solution?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, again a great question, because the solution, right now, is what we know can stop an outbreak, and that is the ability and the infrastructure to deliver infection control by isolation, by quarantine, by contact tracing, and by protecting the health care workers with proper personal protective equipment.

The difficulty in those West African countries is, they don’t have that kind of infrastructure in place, and it’s truly a struggle to be able to do that kind of infection control.  Historically, under other circumstances, there have been now about 24 outbreaks of Ebola, usually in geographically-restricted areas, where it was much easier to contain it.

You can contain it with good hospital and infection control capabilities.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, thank you very much.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: You’re quite welcome.

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WHO announces $490 million plan for fighting Ebola

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:20 PM

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GWEN IFILL: There were new numbers and a bleak projection today on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  At the same time, it appears human trials will begin for a possible vaccine as soon as next week.

The ominous forecast came from the World Health Organization:  Ebola cases could top 20,000 as the outbreak continues to spread.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD, World Health Organization: It is now not just remote isolated areas where you can rapidly contain, but we are dealing with this disease in large urban environments and over large geographic areas.  This is very unique.

GWEN IFILL: So far, the U.N. agency has confirmed more than 3,000 cases.  Of that number, more than half have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.  But the WHO says the outbreak could spread to 10 other countries.

To contain the virus, the agency announced a $490 million strategic plan for the next nine months.

DR. BRUCE AYLWARD: When we look at the numbers of people, to make this work, we are going to need 750 internationals at least and 12,000 nationals.  That is very difficult in the current — current environment, but that is the scale of manpower needed to do this.

GWEN IFILL: The current environment includes a sizable fear factor, especially in Liberia, the country with the most Ebola cases and deaths.  Doctors Without Borders opened a treatment facility in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, two weeks ago, but its 120 beds are already full.

LINDIS HURUM, Doctors Without Borders: The health care system has more or less broken down.  Hospitals have closed, clinics are closed.  Some of them have reopened, but the staff is afraid to go back because they are afraid to get the disease.

GWEN IFILL: In desperation, Liberian officials quarantined Monrovia’s West Point neighborhood, and armed police have used live ammunition to stop residents from getting out.  The medical emergency has also placed a heavy economic strain on affected countries.  The African Development Bank is urging an end to trade and travel restrictions.

DONALD KABERUKA, President, African Development Bank: Markets are not functioning, airlines are not coming in, projects are being canceled, businesspeople have left.  That is very, very damaging.

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What’s driving Russia to raise the stakes in Ukraine?

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:09 PM

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-POLITICS

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HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine, I’m joined by Andrew Kramer of The New York Times.  He joins us from Donetsk.

So, Andrew, you were visiting a town where the Russian troops were streaming in.  Describe that scene to us.

ANDREW KRAMER, The New York Times: Yes, this was in the town of Novoazovsk on the Azov Sea.  And we were standing on the outside of the town speaking with Ukrainian soldiers who were retreating.

These soldiers were convinced they were fighting the Russians.  At least many of them were.  We didn’t see the troops coming in, but they were said to have come across the border from Russia into Ukraine.  It was a very chaotic scene.  And, in fact, a day later, that town was seized by the pro-Russian forces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You also spoke of locals in that area.  What did they think about what’s happening?

ANDREW KRAMER: Well, people here who support the Russian cause are obviously cheered by this development.  The rebel organization had been on its last legs militarily in recent weeks.

The Ukrainian army was closing in on towns of Donetsk and Luhansk.  And now there’s been a reversal of fortunes, a turning of the tide here.  The separatists and, according to Ukrainian government, with the support of Russia, has moved across the Russian border and has now opened a new front in the south along the seashore with the cities of Novoazovsk and Mariupol as the objectives.

Now, a rebel commander I spoke with said the intention is to form a defensive triangle out of these two cities and Donetsk and hopefully force the Ukrainian government into settlement talks on more favorable terms.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the impact on the cities that you’re — you’re in Donetsk now.  But what’s the impact there on what’s happening in these other towns?

ANDREW KRAMER: For now, in Donetsk, little has changed.  We had an artillery barrage come into town today that killed two people, hitting residential areas.  The Ukrainian government is keeping up its pressure on Donetsk.

The assumption is that forces will be diverted from here to the south to address this new risk, this new push by the pro-Russians and possibly with support of Russian supporters coming in across the border.  That’s the hope at least of the separatists living in this town.  It’s a setback for the Ukrainians who are hoping to end this war quickly and on their terms.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Can you feel a level of tension increasing or decreasing from the events in the past week?

ANDREW KRAMER: The tension is certainly increasing, particularly in the towns and villages affected.

We drove along a 75-mile stretch of highway from here in Donetsk to the area where the battle is taking place and it was almost wholly deserted.  You would see only a few cars carrying refugees, burned-out military vehicles, and people who were very concerned, obviously, about this new development and the violence which is coming to their communities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a cognition of what’s happening and how the rest of the world is paying attention?  Do the people in Ukraine, the ones that you speak with, care about what’s happening at NATO or whether this is called an invasion or an incursion?

ANDREW KRAMER: People in the areas that have been shelled are mostly concerned about everyday concerns, like fetching water and food and staying out of the way of danger.

There is certainly, among the rebels, a larger understanding of the context of this war and this conflict.  Ukraine has now said — the president of Ukraine has said today that Russia invaded.  NATO was more cautious, saying that Russia had carried out an incursion into Ukraine.  In any case, what’s clearly happening here is a cross-border military action in Europe, and the consequences are very unpredictable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Andrew Kramer of The New York Times joining us from Donetsk, thanks so much.

ANDREW KRAMER: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Brown picks up the story from there.

JEFFREY BROWN: And to go deeper into these developments, I’m joint by Andrew Weiss, a former director of Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs at the White House National Security Council.  He’s now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Andrei Tsygankov, a political science and international relations professor at San Francisco State University.

Andrew Weiss first, how do you describe what’s going on and who are these Russian soldiers?  What role are they playing?

ANDREW WEISS, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: I think, throughout the crisis, we have seen the Russians try to disguise their ultimate moments.

So we may have a new front on the southern — southeastern — southeastern border between Russia and Ukraine.  We also might have a Russian attempt to create a land bridge between the Russian border and Crimea, which would allow them to supply Crimea more effectively in the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: Would you use the word invasion, incursion?  What word would you use at this point?

ANDREW WEISS: Well, there’s this interesting semantic game being played in Washington today, where U.S. officials are trying very hard not to use the word invasion, so you have the State Department spokesman, Jen Psaki, saying it’s an incursion.

What I think the reason for that is, is that U.S. officials, as President Obama said today, is they’re trying to avoid any perception that there’s a U.S. military response in the offing.  So they seem to be somewhat downplaying what’s happened.

But, at the same time, I think privately people are very worried that what we’re seeing is a dramatic escalation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andrei Tsygankov, what do you call it?  How much of an escalation do you see?

ANDREI TSYGANKOV, San Francisco State University: I would call it an escalation, and, as Andrew Weiss just described, the second front opening.

And certainly this is — this is something that’s been going on for quite some time.  We have seen the Russians’ assistance before.  And this is also not major news.  What’s actually new is that the Ukrainian side is beginning to lose on the military front and that in, Minsk, Petro Poroshenko, Ukrainian president, has not gotten what he expected to get, and that Germany is beginning to pressure Kiev for peaceful solutions.

So, now what is happening, in addition to Russia’s escalation, is that Ukraine, Kiev is launching a P.R. offense against Russia.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, you’re seeing this as coming from weakness by the Ukrainians, as opposed to more aggression by the Russians?

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: I see both.  I see both, but Russia’s intervention is not something that has happened just now.  Russia has been assisting the rebels, eastern rebels before.

As we know, Russian volunteers fought there.  We know that previous commanders of Donetsk and Luhansk, and primarily Donetsk, were Russian citizens.  So Russia certainly was involved.  And it makes sense for Russia, if it sees itself as a great power that needs to protect its interests in Ukraine, to be involved, so it has been — it has been taking place for quite some time.  This is just a new stage.

JEFFREY BROWN: And…

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: But what we also see is again that Ukraine is trying to launch a P.R. offensive against Russia.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Andrew Weiss, Ukraine seemed to have been doing — had — stronger militarily in many ways, which would counteract what he was just saying.

ANDREW WEISS: I think people’s expectation in recent weeks was that the Ukrainians were a roll and that it looked like the separatists were basically cornered in two strongholds, Donetsk and Luhansk.

And the question, what would Putin do?  Was Putin cornered?  And there’s this great vignette in Putin’s autobiography where he talks about chasing rats in the dilapidated building where he grew up in, and one day he cornered a rat and discovered that the rat was going to attack him.

I think what we have seen here is an example of how Putin wasn’t really cornered.  Putin has basically at various turns in the crisis, when it looked like Russia’s status on the ropes, has chosen to escalate and he’s done that once again.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you’re seeing this quite differently from what — the description we just heard?  This is Russia more on the defensive and reacting?

ANDREW WEISS: Well, it’s been restrained.

I don’t think Putin’s first choice is to mount a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  But what we have seen is that they’re not willing to lose and that when it looks like the Ukrainians are poised to do too much too quickly, the Russians raise the stakes and that that’s where we are today.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andrei Tsygankov, what’s your response?  What — well, go ahead.

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: I don’t disagree.  I don’t disagree.  I think this is what is happening.

I think Russia is raising the stakes.  But remember that Russia is raising the stakes in response to Ukrainians raising the stakes.  Ukrainians have begun this anti-terrorist operations, what they called anti-terrorist operation, which is in effect is search for a military solution, and military solution to the conflict.

And Russians certainly will see this as a need to restore balance of power.  For them, this is a necessity to negotiate better political conditions for their interests and values.  They have major interests, such as Ukraine not to be a member of NATO, such as Ukraine not to join the European Union, but ultimately to remain relationships with Eurasian Union.

They have interests to protect Russian language speakers there, those who gravitates toward Russia.  And this is something that they will be willing to defend, if necessary by military means.

JEFFREY BROWN: Just before — Andrew Weiss, just before we started, you heard word of a new pronouncement or a news announcement, was it, from Putin?

ANDREW WEISS: So, what seems to be happening ,as Andrew Kramer from The New York Times talked about, is that this Russian incursion in Southeastern Ukraine has really caused disruption in the Ukrainian ranks and soldiers are basically evacuating in a pretty sort of pell-mell kind of environment.

The Russian president, Putin, tonight has issued a statement at an unusual hour, 1:00 a.m. Moscow time, calling on the rebels not to kill the Ukrainian soldiers who are now encircled.  And he is saying, open a humanitarian corridor.  These people are being forced to fight.  Let them go home to their families.

It’s not clear what’s going on, on the ground, whether there is this significant risk that Ukrainian soldiers are going to be sort of ground up by the new Russian forces that have been introduced.  But it’s striking to me that Putin is reduced to sending out his commands via press release, and it just suggests to me that the situation is very messy and very uncontrolled.

JEFFREY BROWN: Andrei Tsygankov, you can comment on that, but I also want to know your sense of whether the Russians and Mr. Putin are feeling any impact of the American sanctions so far, whether the pressure from the West is having any impact?

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: Let me just make one observation about the situation in Ukraine.

Certainly, Russians — Russians were assisting the rebels, and the rebels were losing until recently.  But, a week ago, about a week ago, they began a counteroffensive.  And that’s what’s happening today.  Thousands of Ukrainian troops are now encircled.  That’s not sufficiently reported in Western media, but it is something that certainly helps Putin to negotiate better conditions.

This is one of the reasons why he felt so confident in Minsk.  This is one of the reasons why he didn’t feel that he would need to negotiate with Poroshenko over political conditions, because Poroshenko already knows all these conditions, and the ball in many ways is in his court.

Russia can wait until the fall, until possibly winter, when it will be able also to use energy weapons.  And in the meantime, the solution is only a political one.  This is something that now all sides recognize.  Russia recognizes this.  The European Union, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, recognizes this.  Barack Obama now recognizes this.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: So it’s now essential to move in this direction.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Andrei Tsygankov and Andrew Weiss, thank you both very much.

ANDREW WEISS: Thank you.

ANDREI TSYGANKOV: Thank you.

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Ukraine accuses Russian forces of invasion

Thursday, August 28 2014 10:06 PM

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GWEN IFILL: The crisis in Ukraine intensified today as the government in Kiev accused Russia of an outright invasion.

Hari Sreenivasan reports.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine: We can confirm that Russian military boots are on Ukrainian ground.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The cries of invasion came from Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and President Petro Poroshenko, who announced Russian forces have entered Ukraine.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukrainian (through interpretor): Amateur mercenaries, along with employed Russian servicemen, are trying to organize a counteroffensive against positions of our armed forces.  Without any doubts, the situation is extraordinarily difficult, but it is controllable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Ukrainians charged, Russian soldiers and armor are helping rebels open a new front in the southeast.  Kiev confirmed the rebels have captured the town on Novoazovsk on the Azov Sea, leaving the port city of Mariupol suddenly vulnerable to attack.

Ukraine’s government said images from Novoazovsk showed a Russian tank on the streets.  And NATO released its own satellite images showing Russian self-propelled artillery units on Ukrainian roads.  The alliance said well over 1,000 Russian troops have crossed the border and warned of more to come.

BRIG. GEN. NICO TAK, NATO:  These latest images provides concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine, but they are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Earlier this week, Ukraine had released a video showing what it said were Russian servicemen captured on its territory.  And, today, the rebel prime minister acknowledged several thousand Russians are fighting with the rebels on their own time.

ALEKSANDR ZAKHARCHENKO, Prime Minister, Donetsk People’s Republic (through interpretor): Among volunteers from Russia, there have always been many retired military servicemen.  There are also currently serving soldiers among us who preferred to spend their vacations not on sea beaches, but among us, among brothers fighting for their freedom.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The spike in tensions prompted angry words at the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power blasted previous Russian denials of complicity.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. Ambassador to the UN: At every step, Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth.  It has manipulated, it has obfuscated, it has outright lied.  So we have learned to measure Russia by its actions and not by its words.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In turn, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed the accusations, without directly denying anything.

VITALY CHURKIN, UN Ambassador, Russia (through interpretor): Everyone knows that there are Russian volunteers in eastern parts of Ukraine.  No one is hiding that.  We’d like to see similar transparency shown by other countries.  I would suggest that we send a message to Washington.  Stop interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states.  Stop trying to undermine a regime that you don’t like.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Later, President Obama discouraged talk of a U.S. military option.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem.  What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia.  But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The president argued that pressure from existing and possibly new sanctions will take an increasing toll on Russia, even if it’s not apparent now.

For more on what’s happening on the ground in Ukraine, I’m joined by Andrew Kramer of The New York Times.  He joins us from Donetsk.

So, Andrew, you were visiting a town where the Russian troops were streaming in.  Describe that scene to us.

ANDREW KRAMER, The New York Times: Yes, this was in the town of Novoazovsk on the Azov Sea.  And we were standing on the outside of the town speaking with Ukrainian soldiers who were retreating.

These soldiers were convinced they were fighting the Russians.  At least many of them were.  We didn’t see the troops coming in, but they were said to have come across the border from Russia into Ukraine.  It was a very chaotic scene.  And, in fact, a day later, that town was seized by the pro-Russian forces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You also spoke of locals in that area.  What did they think about what’s happening?

ANDREW KRAMER: Well, people here who support the Russian cause are obviously cheered by this development.  The rebel organization had been on its last legs militarily in recent weeks.

The Ukrainian army was closing in on towns of Donetsk and Luhansk.  And now there’s been a reversal of fortunes, a turning of the tide here.  The separatists and, according to Ukrainian government, with the support of Russia, has moved across the Russian border and has now opened a new front in the south along the seashore with the cities of Novoazovsk and Mariupol as the objectives.

Now, a rebel commander I spoke with said the intention is to form a defensive triangle out of these two cities and Donetsk and hopefully force the Ukrainian government into settlement talks on more favorable terms.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What’s the impact on the cities that you’re — you’re in Donetsk now.  But what’s the impact there on what’s happening in these other towns?

ANDREW KRAMER: For now, in Donetsk, little has changed.  We had an artillery barrage come into town today that killed two people, hitting residential areas.  The Ukrainian government is keeping up its pressure on Donetsk.

The assumption is that forces will be diverted from here to the south to address this new risk, this new push by the pro-Russians and possibly with support of Russian supporters coming in across the border.  That’s the hope at least of the separatists living in this town.  It’s a setback for the Ukrainians who are hoping to end this war quickly and on their terms.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Can you feel a level of tension increasing or decreasing from the events in the past week?

ANDREW KRAMER: The tension is certainly increasing, particularly in the towns and villages affected.

We drove along a 75-mile stretch of highway from here in Donetsk to the area where the battle is taking place and it was almost wholly deserted.  You would see only a few cars carrying refugees, burned-out military vehicles, and people who were very concerned, obviously, about this new development and the violence which is coming to their communities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there a cognition of what’s happening and how the rest of the world is paying attention?  Do the people in Ukraine, the ones that you speak with, care about what’s happening at NATO or whether this is called an invasion or an incursion?

ANDREW KRAMER: People in the areas that have been shelled are mostly concerned about everyday concerns, like fetching water and food and staying out of the way of danger.

There is certainly, among the rebels, a larger understanding of the context of this war and this conflict.  Ukraine has now said — the president of Ukraine has said today that Russia invaded.  NATO was more cautious, saying that Russia had carried out an incursion into Ukraine.  In any case, what’s clearly happening here is a cross-border military action in Europe, and the consequences are very unpredictable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Andrew Kramer of The New York Times joining us from Donetsk, thanks so much.

ANDREW KRAMER: Thank you.

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News Wrap: Islamic State executes captured Syrian fighters

Thursday, August 28 2014 09:59 PM

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GWEN IFILL: President Obama moved today to tamp down talk of imminent military action against Islamic State fighters in Syria.

At the White House, he said his priority is to roll back the militants’ gain in Iraq, where U.S. airstrikes are already under way.  He said calls to expand the campaign into Syria amount to — quote — “putting the cart before the horse.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We don’t have a strategy yet.  I think what I have seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.

But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

GWEN IFILL: Separately, there was word that Islamic State fighters executed more than 150 soldiers Syrian captured in recent fighting.  The troops were taken prisoner after militants seized a key air base in northeastern Syria.  A video posted on YouTube showed a long line of bodies lying face down in the sand.

Gunmen on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji today.  U.N. officials say it happened during fighting between an unidentified armed group and Syrian troops.  Another 81 peacekeepers from the Philippines were trapped.  Afterward, U.N. troops kept a close watch on the Syrian side of the Heights.  Their mission is to monitor a zone of separation between Syrian and Israeli forces.

J.P. Morgan Chase has confirmed it’s investigating a possible cyber-attack, but it says the scope is unclear.  Bloomberg News reported it’s part of a series of coordinated and sophisticated attacks by Russian hackers.  And The New York Times reported at least four other banks were also targeted in the last month.  The stolen data includes checking and savings account information.

A family feud over control of a supermarket chain in New England is finally over.  The disagreement, which began in June, spawned worker and customer boycotts of Market Basket that attracted national attention.  Now Arthur T. Demoulas will buy the majority stake in the chain from his cousin for $1.5 billion.  He celebrated with employees today in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.  The battle for control ultimately cost the grocery chain millions of dollars in lost revenue.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 42 points to close at 17,079.  The Nasdaq slipped nearly 12 points to close at 4,557.  And the S&P 500 dropped three points to 1,996.

The National Football League is getting tougher on domestic violence.  Commissioner Roger Goodell announced today players will be suspended for six games for a first offense.  They will be banned outright if it happens a second time.  Goodell was criticized when he suspended the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice for just two weeks for allegedly hitting his fiancee.

Today, Goodell acknowledged he — quote — “didn’t get it right.”

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Obama condemns Russia for Ukraine violence; rules out U.S. military involvement

Thursday, August 28 2014 09:09 PM

President Barack Obama spoke Thursday on efforts in the Middle East, announcing Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region to build a coalition against Islamic militants.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama suggested Thursday that the U.S. might impose new economic sanctions on Russia, blaming it squarely for the warfare in eastern Ukraine. But he ruled out any military options and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

Briefing reporters at the White House, Obama said he spoke by telephone with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a country that has led diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels. They spoke after two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles entered the country’s southeast and fired Grad missiles at a border post and 1,000 Russian troops poured into the country, according to NATO and Ukrainian officials.

“We agree, if there was ever any doubt, that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia, they are armed by Russia, they are funded by Russia,” Obama said. “Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see.”

Obama was cautious in foreshadowing a possible American response, expressly ruling out any U.S. military involvement. He said Russia’s recent activity in Ukraine would incur “more costs and consequences,” though these seemed to be limited to economic pressure that will be discussed when Obama meets with European leaders at a NATO summit in Wales next week. He also offered “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine and announced that its Western-looking president, Petro Poroshenko, would visit the White House next month.

The Russian offensive comes after months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, which U.S. and other Western countries say Moscow has orchestrated. After Ukraine’s pro-Russian leader fled the country earlier this year and a new government turned away from Moscow toward its European neighbors, Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Since then, it has continued to provide support for armed pro-Russian groups fighting the Ukrainian government despite rising U.S. and European sanctions against Russian government officials, banks and energy companies.

Obama said the sanctions have been “effective,” prompting capital to flee Russia and its economy to decline, but they’ve done little to convince Putin to end Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. The president said Russia has been involved in all separatist activity and that the latest its latest escalation appeared to be a response to progress by Ukraine’s government against the main rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“This is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine,” Obama said. Putin, he added, has “repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically” and “we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion.”

Russia continued Thursday to say there is no proof its troops are operating in Ukraine, without delivering firm denials, even as its forces and separatist rebels appeared to take control of the strategic town of Novoazovsk, breaking open a third front in the war. The new southeastern front raises fears Moscow is creating a land link between Crimea and Russia. Novoazovsk lies on the road between the territories.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia was engaged in a “pattern of escalating aggression.” But she, too, was vague about any immediate steps the United States might take even to help Ukraine, saying Washington’s focus was on “nonlethal” assistance and not any defensive or offensive military equipment.

Obama still held out hope for Russia to change course.

“What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia,” he said. “But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.” Russia’s actions have only hurt itself, he said, leaving it more isolated than at any point since the end of the Cold War — something he hoped would become increasingly apparent to its leaders.

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Obama: ‘no strategy yet’ for U.S. military action in Syria

Thursday, August 28 2014 07:44 PM

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama tamped down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria on Thursday, saying “we don’t have a strategy yet” for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.

The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. However, officials said Obama was not expected to emerge from the meeting with a decision on which avenue to pursue.

The U.S. is already striking Islamic State targets in Iraq, and officials have said the president is considering similar action in neighboring Syria. The militants have moved with ease between the two countries, effectively blurring the border.

But Obama, who has long been reluctant to plunge the U.S. military into Syria, said confronting the Islamic State would require more than just American action. He called for a regional strategy that could bring in other nations and focus on political as well as military options.

In blunt terms, the president said it was time for Middle Eastern nations to “stop being ambivalent” about the aims of extremist groups like the Islamic State.

“They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people,” Obama said, alluding to the group’s announcement last week that it had killed American journalist James Foley. The militants also have threatened to kill other U.S. hostages in Syria.

The president said he was dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East soon to discuss the matter with regional partners. Obama will also meet with world leaders in Europe next week during a NATO summit.

The heightened threat from the Islamic State comes at a time of instability elsewhere in the world that has challenged Obama’s desire to keep the U.S. out of military conflicts. Russia has escalated its threatening moves in Ukraine, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russia on Thursday of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops.

Despite the increased tensions, Obama ruled out any military options in Ukraine and proposed no shift in an American-led strategy that has yet to convince Moscow to halt operations against its far weaker neighbor.

In outlining his strategy for confronting the Islamic State, the president said his top priority remains rolling back the militants’ gains in Iraq, where he has said they pose a threat to U.S. personnel in Erbil and Baghdad.

“Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected,” he said.

Some of Obama’s top military advisers have said the Islamic State cannot be defeated unless the U.S. also goes after the group inside Syria. The president didn’t rule out that possibility, but said that if he were to expand the military mission, he would consult with members of Congress, who are due to return to Washington in early September.

“The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark,” Obama said. “That’s not what’s going to happen.”

However, the president did not commit to seeking a vote from Congress if he were to decide to proceed with military action. One year ago, Obama was on the verge of taking strikes against the Syrian government it retaliation for its use of chemical weapons, but abruptly shifted course and decided to seek congressional approval.

The surprise move threw his policy into chaos. Congress balked at Obama’s request for a vote, contributing to his decision to ultimately scrap the strikes. The White House said it also abandoned plans to take military action after Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.

This time, with the midterm elections just over two months away, lawmakers may be even less inclined to take a politically risky vote on military action.

“I see no reason to come to Congress because, if he does, it’ll just become a circus,” Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said this week.

Still, some lawmakers are calling for Obama to put military action in Syria to a vote. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a frequent critic of the administration’s foreign policy, has said Congress should “certainly” authorize such steps. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and White House ally, has also called for a vote on the president’s broader strategy for going after the Islamic State.

“I am calling for the mission and objectives for this current significant military action against ISIL to be made clear to Congress, the American people, and our men and women in uniform,” said Kaine, using one of the acronyms for the militant group. “Congress should vote up or down on it.”

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Amazon acquisition ‘Twitch’ boasts audience rivaling primetime TV

Thursday, August 28 2014 07:15 PM

Twitch users collaborated to play a game of Pokemaon live.

175,000 people participated in “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” a collaborative playthrough of the popular children’s game that crowdsourced directions from Twitch viewers.


On Monday, Amazon announced that it had finalized a deal to acquire Twitch.tv, a live streaming video service geared towards the broadcast of video game gameplay. For $970 million, the world’s largest online retailer bought a website where people from around the world could log on to watch other people play games like World of Warcraft, Pokémon, and Minecraft. For months ahead of the announcement, it was rumored that Google was in talks of buying the service in a move similar to its purchase of YouTube in 2006. Talks between Google and Twitch deteriorated amid concerns about antitrust violations that left Amazon in the green to seal a deal.

While popular in online gaming circles, Twitch as a company has not carried the same kind of brand cachet as other streaming services like Netflix, HBO Go, or Hulu. According to statistical research coming from cloud-data analytics firm DeepField, however, Twitch accounts for about 1.8% of all peak, U.S. internet traffic, outpacing Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, and Tumblr. Amazon’s “Instant” video streaming service, which is a lesser known feature of its Prime membership, has slowly been expanding its programming catalog to go toe-to-toe with its main competitor Netflix. Numbers recently published in the New York Times, though, point to Twitch’s potential to overtake many traditional broadcasting networks in terms of viewership.

At 715,000 concurrent viewers, Twitch’s primetime viewing audiences outnumber those of MSNBC, CNN, and E!. Sporadically, Twitch will boast numbers larger than MTV. But, the amount of video consumed on Twitch’s network is relatively small when compared to its online rivals. Measured in hours, Netflix users consume eight times more video content than Twitch users each month. Moreover, YouTubers consume up to 24 times more video. Twitch’s audience may be smaller, but it is the way that people create, collaborate on, and consume its content that sets it apart from the competition.

Earlier this year more than 175,000 people participated in “Twitch Plays Pokémon,” a collaborative playthrough of the popular children’s game that crowdsourced directions from Twitch viewers. The experiment, a first for Twitch, demonstrated that the service’s audience could be as interested in actively interacting with the content as they were in consuming it.

In 2013, 58% of Twitch’s 55 million users reported watching about 20 hours of video content each week, or about 3 hours per day. The average user reported watching about 106 minutes of content per day, and those numbers translate to very real sources of revenue for Twitch, advertisers, and creators. Where YouTube videos can vary in length from a few seconds to a few minutes, the nature of video game playthroughs lends itself to longer videos, translating into more opportunities for ad placement and profit generation for people broadcasting themselves.

Like Amazon’s self-publishing book platform, Twitch’s barrier to entry in terms of content creation is relatively low. With a gaming console and internet access, anyone can set up a Twitch channel to stream their play with the knowledge that if they can reach a built-in audience that comes for the games, but ultimately stays for the personalities.

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White House prepares to defend coming executive orders on immigration

Thursday, August 28 2014 06:32 PM

Immigrant rights activists shout slogans in front of the White House on August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Immigrant rights activists shout slogans in front of the White House on August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With impeachment threats and potential lawsuits looming, President Barack Obama knows whatever executive actions he takes on immigration will face intense opposition. So as a self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline to act approaches, Obama’s lawyers are carefully crafting a legal rationale they believe will withstand scrutiny and survive any court challenges, administration officials say.

The argument goes something like this: Beyond failing to fix broken immigration laws, Congress hasn’t even provided the government with enough resources to fully enforce the laws already on the books. With roughly 11.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally — far more than the government could reasonably deport — the White House believes it has wide latitude to prioritize which of those individuals should be sent home.

But Republicans, too, are exploring their legal options for stopping Obama from what they’ve deemed egregious presidential overreaching.

While Obama has yet to receive the formal recommendations he’s requested from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, administration officials said the president is intimately familiar with the universe of options and won’t spend much time deliberating once Johnson delivers his report.

Obama’s goal had been to announce his decision around Labor Day, before leaving on a trip next week to Estonia and Wales. But a host of national security crises have pushed the announcement back, likely until after Obama returns, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

In a sign of how heated the issue has become, protesters demanding Obama halt all deportations mounted a display of civil disobedience outside the White House midday Thursday. Some draped themselves in American flags and held signs saying “I am a witness for justice.” An Associated Press reporter counted roughly 100 protesters being arrested, as onlookers cheered them on with chants of “Yes, we can.”

In a sign of how heated the issue has become, protesters demanding Obama halt all deportations mounted a display of civil disobedience outside the White House midday Thursday.After resisting calls to act alone in hopes Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration fix, Obama in June bowed to immigration activists and said that “if Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.” The most sweeping, controversial step under consideration involves halting deportation for millions, a major expansion of a 2012 Obama program that deferred prosecutions for those brought here illegally as children.

Roughly half a million people have benefited from that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

But while prosecutors are routinely expected to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis, such blanket exemption of whole categories of people has never been done on the scale that Obama is considering — potentially involving many millions of people if he extends relief to parents of DACA children, close relatives of U.S. citizens or immigrants with clean criminal records.

“The question is how broadly can the president extend the categories and still stay on the side of spectrum of ensuring the laws are faithfully executed?” said Cristina Rodriguez, who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2013 to teach at Yale Law School.

Other options under consideration, such as changes to how green cards are distributed and counted, might be less controversial because of the support they enjoy from the business community and other influential groups. But Derrick Morgan, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Obama will still face staunch opposition as long as he attempts an end run around Congress.

“Any potential executive action the president takes will be rooted in a solid legal foundation,” White House spokesman Shawn Turner said, but Obama’s actions will almost surely be challenged in court.

What’s more, Obama may have undermined his case because he has insisted time and again that he’s the president, not the king, and “can’t just make the laws up by myself.” In a 2012 interview with Telemundo, a Spanish-language TV network, Obama defended his decision to defer deportations for children but said he couldn’t go any bigger.

“If we start broadening that, then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option,” he said then.

Republicans are already hinting they’ll consider legal action to thwart what they’ve denounced as a violation of the separation of powers. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a conference call this month with GOP House members, accused Obama of “threatening to rewrite our immigration laws unilaterally.”

“If the president fails to faithfully execute the laws of our country, we will hold him accountable,” Boehner said, according to an individual who participated in the call.

The House already has passed legislation to block Obama from expanding DACA and, through its power of the purse, could attempt to cut off the funds that would be needed to implement the expansion. House Republicans could also consider widening or amending their existing lawsuit against Obama over his health care law, a case both parties have suggested could be a prelude to impeachment proceedings.

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When will Christo wrap the Arkansas River in 5.9 miles of silver fabric?

Thursday, August 28 2014 06:07 PM

Over the River (Project for Arkansas River) Drawing 2007. Photo: Wolfgang Volz © 2007 Christo

A drawing depicts artist Christo’s “Over the River” project. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2007 Christo

Imagine stringing nearly six miles of translucent silver panels above a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in southern Colorado. That’s the latest dream for installation artist Christo.

The 79-year-old — who goes by just one name — described the venture at New Mexico’s Albuquerque Museum on Aug. 22. The museum is exhibiting a collection of the artist’s drawings, photographs, sculptures and collages relating to Christo’s large-scale works.

Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for Over The River, 2011. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo

Christo in his studio with a preparatory collage for “Over The River.” Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2011 Christo

The Bulgarian-born artist and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, are known for their massive outdoor art installations, which have often sparked controversy over their scale and impact on the environment. This project is no exception.

For the two weeks that “Over the River” would be up, kayakers and rafters at the most popular whitewater rafting river in the U.S. will see the Rocky Mountains through industrial strength fabric. As the wind blows, motorists will see reflections of the bright blue western sky.

Over the River (Project for Arkansas River, State of Colorado) Drawing 2010 Photo: André Grossmann © 2010 Christo

Over the River project for the Arkansas River in Colorado drawing. Photo by André Grossmann, © 2010 Christo

“It’s not like a normal sculpture,” Christo told a crowd of 400 at the museum. “You will need a full day to experience it.”

A special bus will take tourists to a vantage point where they can look down on the art and raft under it for five hours.

The idea came to Christo 37 years ago. He and his wife scouted more than 15,000 square miles of western wilderness investigating 89 rivers before selecting the Arkansas.

Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their team at work in the Arkansas River valley, Colorado, August 2000. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2000 Christo

Christo, Jeanne-Claude and their team at work in the Arkansas River valley, Colorado, in August 2000. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2000 Christo

“The hardest part is getting permission,” said Christo. “Everything in the world belongs to somebody.”

In this case, it’s mostly the federal government. Christo got a permit from the Department of Interior after filing an Environmental Impact Statement, usually reserved for major construction projects. Numerous other local, state and regional agencies had to approve, too. Still, a lawsuit filed by Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, a nonprofit created to preserve the headwaters of the Arkansas River, is pending against the Bureau of Land Management. Christo is confident he will be allowed to proceed but acknowledged it will be at least three years before the project is completed. For now, Associated Press reports that the project is on pause.

The artist isn’t fazed by the criticism. Christo noted it took 26 years of negotiations before he could erect the more than 7,500 saffron colored fabric panels that comprised “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude  The Gates, Central Park, New York City, 1979-2005  Photo: Wolfgang Volz  © 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005. Photo by Wolfgang Volz, © 2005 Christo and Jeanne-Claude. See more photos of “The Gates”.

He said that $14 million has already been spent on “Over The River” before ever erecting a single panel. All costs are funded from the sale of Christo’s artwork. No public money is used, nor will any admission fees be charged.

Abroad, Christo has an even bigger vision: to create the world’s largest sculpture. In Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he aims to use 410,000 oil barrels to create “The Mastaba,” nearly 500 feet high.

The Mastaba (Project for Abu Dhabi, Al Gharbia, near Oasis of Liwa) Collage 2012. Photo: André Grossmann © 2012 Christo

Drawing of the proposed project, “The Mastaba,” in Abu Dhabi. Photo by André Grossmann, © 2012 Christo. See more sketches and plans for “The Mastaba”.

A mastaba is an ancient Egyptian tomb made from mud bricks in a rectangular shape with sloping sides and a flat roof. Christo’s version will be constructed from 55-gallon steel barrels painted in a rainbow of colors that echo Islamic architecture. Unlike most earlier works, “The Mastaba” will be permanent.

The exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum continues through Sept. 14 before it moves to the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and on then on to St. Mary’s College Museum of Art in Moraga, California.

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Ebola outbreak could affect 20,000 people before it’s over

Thursday, August 28 2014 06:06 PM

This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

This undated handout photo provided by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline (NIAID/GSK) shows a vaccine candidate, in a vial, that will be used in the upcoming human Ebola trials. Photo from GlaxoSmithKline

It will take six to nine months to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa according to a road map released today by the World Health Organization. During those months more than 20,000 people may become infected with the disease.

Controlling the epidemic could cost $490 million and will need the help of thousands of local health workers and hundreds of international experts.

So far, 1,552 people had been confirmed dead in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria, while 3,062 had been infected. Almost 40 percent of all the cases have been reported in the past three weeks which shows the virus is accelerating.

Health officials in Nigeria confirmed the country’s sixth Ebola related death on Thursday. The victim died in the southeastern oil city of Port Harcourt, located just outside of Lagos — Nigeria’s main international transit hub. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation.

In response to the epidemic, the U.S. announced that they will begin testing Ebola vaccines on humans next week — much sooner than previously planned.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH said the Ebola outbreak “is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response.”

He added that results from this initial round of testing won’t be available until the end of the year, and the success of the vaccine was not guaranteed.

Health care workers will be the first to take the vaccine if it works, given the fact that more than 240 workers have contracted the virus, so far. However, Fauci said that residents in affected areas could be eligible to receive the vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci will be on PBS NewsHour tonight to discuss the upcoming trials.

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Changing the face of leadership in Nepal

Thursday, August 28 2014 05:42 PM

Students participate in a two-week boot camp for encouraging teamwork and creativity. Photo courtesy of Women LEAD Nepal

Students participate in a two-week boot camp for encouraging teamwork and creativity. Photo courtesy of Women LEAD Nepal

They grew up in two different countries — Claire Charamnac in Singapore and Claire Naylor in Nepal — where they independently became conscious of the disadvantages women faced. After meeting at Georgetown University, they decided to do something about it.

They focused on Nepal, which in recent years has made strides in equality, such as creating a ministry dedicated to women’s and children’s affairs, and mandating that 33 percent of the candidates for Constituent Assemblies (Nepal’s version of parliament) are women. But Charamnac and Naylor could see that in general, women were not equipped to take advantage of the opportunities, and still faced deep-seated biases against women.

“We said this is something we need to start working on with the younger generation of women in Nepal to be prepared to take on those leadership positions, and be the very competent, ethical and passionate leaders that their country needs,” Charamnac said from Women LEAD’s U.S. office in Arlington, Va.

With a $1,000 grant from Ashoka’s Youth Venture and a Georgetown fellowship, they traveled to Nepal in summer 2010 to run a two-week leadership program for 28 girls.

Their pilot program was geared toward teaching leadership skills and showing the girls what female leaders can do by hosting a series of women speakers. It was so popular that after graduating from Georgetown in 2011, Charamnac and Naylor officially launched Women LEAD (Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Advocacy and Development). They’ve since had more than 700 women complete their program.

The way it works is 30 girls are selected for two-week leadership training at Women LEAD’s Kathmandu facility, where Naylor is based. They learn about the challenges women face in their communities and bone up on the political process. They also practice public speaking, resume-writing and interviewing.

Participants then choose their next year-long venture. One option is to co-run an afterschool leadership program for 30 girls and boys, ages 14-15. (Charamnac said it’s important to involve boys in some programs for inclusivity, but also to normalize the concept of women in leadership roles for both genders.)

As a second option, participants can intern at a local company or nongovernmental organization in a chosen subject area. After graduating from Women LEAD, many students stay connected to mentors and colleagues as they advance to their next step in life, usually going to college.

Co-founders Claire Charamnac (left) and Claire Naylor (middle) with one of the program’s participants. Photo courtesy of Women LEAD Nepal

Co-founders Claire Charamnac (left) and Claire Naylor (middle) with one of the program’s participants. Photo courtesy of Women LEAD Nepal

Dipeeka Bastola was one of the first participants. She said when she first heard about the leadership program starting at her high school in Kathmandu, it sounded appealing because it would be a place to discuss issues with other girls. “That kind of platform was missing for us,” she said.

“When you live in the capital, it’s easy to live in a bubble and not know what’s going on around you and not be aware of the issues or know the leaders in the community.”

Those issues can include domestic violence and early marriage in rural areas, or discrimination in jobs and lower pay in urban settings.

Bastola signed up but didn’t know quite what to expect. In fact, when she and her friends saw the shared name “Claire” of the two founders, the girls assumed it was a married couple. They were surprised and inspired to see two young university students leading a program for other young students. “They’re very democratic. Our opinions were taken into account. It was a very youth-led, youth-focused organization, and it made me want to stay involved.”

Bastola ended up taking a year off after high school and interning with Women LEAD. She’s now a junior at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, studying accounting and international organizations with a minor in Spanish.

The government in Nepal is working to help people in rural areas, but it lacks programs for young women at the university level who just need some guidance, said Bastola. That’s where Women LEAD, which is funded by foundations and individual donors, fills the gap, she said. “It helped me branch out and network with other girls who have that passion to do something for their country.”

“We don’t claim we completely changed their lives, but I think we’ve been able to bring something in terms of support and tools and connections. We help them with scholarship applications and professional skills,” said Charamnac.

Bastola said after graduating, she’s thinking about earning a master’s degree and possibly starting a business in Nepal.

In the meantime, though, she’s putting her leadership skills to work as head of her university’s student resident adviser program.

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