This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

Justice for the Congo

Watch A Portrait of a Congolese Symphony Orchestra on PBS. See more from Need to Know.

A decade after its creation, The International Criminal Court in the Hague – the world’s first permanent court for prosecuting international war crimes — has handed down its very first ruling, convicting Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga on charges of forcibly conscripting child soldiers into combat.  The court found that Lubanga kidnapped children as young as 9 years old and forced them into combat.

Lubanga’s so-called “Union of Congolese Patriots” was one of the many ethnic factions fighting across the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.  Those conflicts caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Congolese people.

Read All »

Photo: Not without a fight

Lynn Armstrong of Sarasota, Fla., holds a puppet of Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich outside a campaign stop in Duluth, Ga., Tuesday, March 6, 2012. After some disappointing results in the Mississippi and Alabama primaries this week, Gingrich vowed his campaign would continue onward. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Romney, doing damage control, says he supports the safety net for the poor. But does he?

The now infamous Bain Capital photo featuring Mitt Romney. Photo: Bain Capital/The Boston Globe

Mitt Romney attempted to backpedal from his now-infamous statement that he’s “not concerned with the very poor” Tuesday. In an interview with Nevada reporter Jon Ralston, Romney said, ”It was a mistake. I misspoke.” But in explaining the comment Romney repeated his assertion, which he has made many times, that the poor are the not the primary focus of his campaign because “we have a safety net that cares for the poor.” Romney added, “I want to keep that safety net strong and able.”

Except, as it turns out, the “safety net” isn’t doing much to help the “very poor,” or keep the numbers of people who qualify as very poor from skyrocketing. And Romney’s proposals would only make the situation worse.

Read All »

The psychology of why we’re so gung ho about war with Iran

Iranian security forces stand guard around the site of an explosion that killed a chemist working at a key nuclear facility in January. Even after a decade of war, Americans still support attacks on Iran like this one. (AP Photo/IIPA, Sajjad Safari)

The United States is just barely emerging from what has arguably been the longest period of war in its history. War-weary Americans say in polls that they support the speedy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a prospect that seems ever more likely after a series of tragedies there in recent weeks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of more than 6,300 American soldiers and run up a cost of more than $3 trillion. For a beleaguered public battered by three years of depressing economic news, one might think another war would be entirely out of the question.

And yet, two polls published on Tuesday show that, even as they remain skeptical of military adventurism abroad and disgruntled over high gas prices, most Americans support the idea of a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent that country from obtaining nuclear weapons. A CBS News/New York Times poll found that 51 percent of Americans support military action against Iran. A similar poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos put the number even higher, at 56 percent.

Read All »

A viral video takes on a dictator

Invisible Children, a U.S.-based advocacy group, staged a media coup last week with its 30-minute web video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his purported crimes against the people of this country. The video has been viewed more than 55 million times on YouTube since going live earlier last week, and #Kony 2012 continues to trend worldwide on Twitter.

The slickly produced video accuses Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army of abducting, mutilating and murdering thousands of Ugandan children who served as foot soldiers and sex slaves in the LRA’s rebel forces from the late 1980s, when the group first rose to prominence, to 2006.
Read All »

Who are you calling VAT?

Here in the U.S., we mostly think of taxes in terms of what we earn. The federal government, usually your state, and sometimes even your city take a percentage of your earnings to finance their operations. But what if we were taxed less on what we earn and more on what we consume? That’s the basic idea behind the value-added tax, or VAT, which is a type of consumption tax currently in place in more than 140 countries around the world, including every major Western country except the United States.

But some of you may be asking yourselves if we already taxed on consumption. In short, yes. Average sales tax in the United States is nearly 10 percent and like a VAT, sales tax is certainly a consumption tax. But here’s the difference: unlike sales tax, which only applies to the final retail transaction with the consumer, a typical VAT taxes each stage of production, while giving a credit for taxes already paid.
Read All »

Working class voters remain cold to Mitt Romney. Is his tax plan to blame?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with attendees at a town hall event in Dayton, Ohio, on March 3, 2012. Photo: Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour.

Mitt Romney has a demographics problem.

Really, multiple demographics problems. He’s had trouble connecting with evangelical voters, who catapulted Rick Santorum to a victory in Tennessee on Tuesday. Exit polls show that Santorum also won handily among independents and voters who describe themselves as “very conservative.”

Perhaps the most worrisome trend for Romney, however, is his poor performance among working class voters. Romney was edged out by Santorum among voters who make less than $100,000 a year, as well as voters who don’t have college degrees. Part of that may be due to his image as a well-heeled corporate titan. Part of it, however, may also have something to do with his tax plan.

Read All »

Campaign trail mix: A brief history of presidential theme songs

Every election season, politicians (and their spin doctors) select a song (or songs) that they hope will add some jazz to their campaigns. And as any presidential historian can confirm, the right song has the power to inspire, motivate and energize an electorate. This country’s first presidential campaign remains a case study for how a well-chosen campaign song — in this case “God Save Great Washington” (a play on “God Save the King”) — can boost a candidate’s bid for office.

Throughout this nation’s history, there have been a number of examples of how one song can make — or break — a political campaign. Some politicians commission their own original scores, while others tap into the popularity of hit songs. This listicle of the 10 most memorable campaign songs shows how picking the right music is a process that is only slightly less fraught than choosing the right candidate.

1. William Henry Harrison, 1840
“Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too”

For many, the nation’s ninth president, William Henry Harrison (whose presidency was cut short due to health complications) has receded into the dustbin of history. But his savvy choice of campaign music shows that he was a candidate ahead of his time. The song “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” helped Harrison on the trail by reminding voters of his victory in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe against Native Americans, while slyly poking fun at his competition, the fastidious Martin Van Buren.

2. William Howard Taft, 1908
“Get on a Raft with Taft”

William H. Taft aspired to be a Supreme Court judge, not president of the United States. But Taft accepted the Republican nomination at the behest of Theodore Roosevelt, who tapped the zaftig former judge as his successor. During his bid for the White House, the former White House administrator encouraged voters to “Get on a Raft with Taft.” The song featured original lyrics.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1932
“Happy Days Are Here Again”

Written three years before Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, Milton Anger and Jack Yellen’s 1929 song “Happy Days are Here Again” became the soundtrack for FDR’s historic three-term presidency. After the stock market crash of 1929, the U.S. spiraled into a dark period of economic uncertainty. On the cusp of the Great Depression, this relentlessly optimistic song reassured many rattled voters. It later went on to become the de facto anthem of the Democratic Party.
Read All »

Super Tuesday offers crucial test for Republicans hurt by protracted primary campaign

Presidential candidates at the 20th Republican presidential debate held on Feb. 22, 2012, in Mesa, Arizona. Photo: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Mitt Romney is, once again, poised to solidify his front-runner status in the Republican presidential primary Tuesday, as 10 states hold nominating contests. Of course, as we have seen before, attempts to coronate a Republican nominee can be premature. But Super Tuesday has long been Romney’s to lose– with his unrivaled ground game and piles of cash, he is the only candidate capable of competing in multiple states at once.

A Romney victory will come as good news to Republican eminences, who have been clamoring for a speedy resolution to an otherwise dispiriting primary campaign. Polls widely indicate that the protracted battle between Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum has tarnished the Republican brand and hurt its standing among key voting blocs, such as independents and the white, working class.

Read All »