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N.H. Promises To Let D.C. Residents Buy Booze There

Jul 29, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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A volunteer at a Christian church in Qosh, Iraq, loads aid onto a handcart Monday for delivery to displaced Shiites who are sheltering there. (NPR)

For Iraqis In Crisis, Dividing The Country Seems A Poor Solution

Jul 29, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Iraqi children play on swings during an Eid al-Fitr celebration in the city of Mosul on Monday.

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The muscular farmer sits in the basement kindergarten of the church, perched on a tiny chair intended for a child. He and his family are spending the holiday here, after being forced to flee from extremists.

"Our village is more than 300 years old," Ahmed Ali says of Shreikhan, near Mosul, "and we never had any such problems."

For most Muslims around the world, Eid is a time for gifts, feasts and visiting relatives. But for him and others in a militant-controlled swath of northwest Iraq, it's a strange and unhappy holiday.

He and his family, Shiites who left their homes when extremist Sunnis took over Mosul, are spending the holiday in Qosh, a nearby Christian village. They have been living for a month in a kindergarten with Santa Claus and snowmen painted on the walls.

"There's no mosque here," he says, "just a church."

His family had been in Shreikhan since it was founded and are so long-tenured that he described his house as historic.

He says that relations were so good with the Sunni village down the hill that, two months ago, he married one of its daughters. And as evidence of the peaceful coexistence in this mixed area, he says the Christians here in Qosh have welcomed him. Men at the Chaldean Mar Mekha church pile boxes of aid onto handcarts and into trucks to deliver to families sheltering there.

"The church is very helpful; they give us food," he says. "And even the people from the town, they gave us everything we have here."

But some wonder whether it's time to partition Iraq along religious and ethnic lines. Fueled by the war in Syria, new waves of highly sectarian Sunni and Shiite militias are threatening civilians, and both sides scare the Christians. Meanwhile, the ethnic Kurds' calls for independence in the north are growing louder.

Already Ali says most of the Shiites from his village have moved to Shiite-dominated southern Iraq. But for Ali, a divided Iraq wouldn't be the country he loves.

"If that happens it will be something very, very painful," he says. "I'm a farmer. I have 50 tonnes of potatoes in cold storage. It's my home; it's my place."

Around the corner, a government building is sheltering an extended Sunni family from Mosul. The paterfamilias, Saad Mahmoud, says he fears that the extremists will target him because he worked for the government. Usually at Eid, he pays calls to his neighbors: Shiites, Christians and other minorities among them.

"If you did this partition, I would consider it a tragedy," he says. "Because we're a family, it's like somebody came to your house and took away one of them."

At the church, aid co-ordinator Fadi Youssef also says that Iraq — the land of the two rivers, he calls it, as Iraqis do when feeling proud — should be a place of diversity and co-existence, not a split state with no place for minorities.

Iraq's deputy minister for the displaced, Asghar al Moussawi, echoes that sentiment. Visiting the church for Eid, he says he sees the signs of Iraq breaking up into segregated regions. But so much of Iraq — including this area around Mosul — is so mixed, he says, it's impossible to divide.

"As an Iraqi, I wouldn't wish for Iraq to be divided or even head in that direction," he says. "Especially because that division would happen on the basis of ethnicity and sect."

For many Iraqis, commitment to a united Iraq is part of their identity — and something their leaders insist they believe in. The deputy minister even says Western countries shouldn't offer asylum to Iraqis — which might encourage them to leave — but rather give aid with the aim of helping them stay where they are.

But such assistance would need to arrive swiftly.

Youssef, the church aid coordinator, says the church waited until after Eid to tell the displaced families that they can't live in the kindergarten forever.

He thinks they'll probably end up in Shiite-dominated southern Iraq, with the rest of the Shiites from their village.

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A volunteer at a Christian church in Qosh, Iraq, loads aid onto a handcart Monday for delivery to displaced Shiites who are sheltering there. (NPR)

Venezuelans Celebrate Chavez With A Focus On His Handwriting

Jul 29, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Iraqi children play on swings during an Eid al-Fitr celebration in the city of Mosul on Monday.

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A volunteer at a Christian church in Qosh, Iraq, loads aid onto a handcart Monday for delivery to displaced Shiites who are sheltering there. (NPR)

Ruling Against D.C.'s Gun Law Sends Local Officials Scrambling

by Patrick Madden
Jul 29, 2014 (Morning Edition / WAMU-FM)

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Interns who host tours on Capitol Hill, stopping at sites like the small Senate rotunda, don't always have their facts straight. (The Architect of the Capitol)

Ghost Cats And Musket Balls: Stories Told By Capitol Interns

Jul 29, 2014 (Morning Edition / WAMU-FM)

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Every summer thousands of interns flood the offices of Capitol Hill. One of their primary duties is to give constituents tours of the famous buildings. They parade visitors from the rotunda to statuary hall, offering stories and anecdotes.

But while these intern tours provide a great deal of information, they are sometimes a little short on actual history.

On any given day in the Capitol, thousands of visitors listen to Senate and House interns. They point to the paintings and murals, the statues and architecture and talk about U.S. history. You can forgive them if sometimes things get a little jumbled.

The Capitol burned down during the War of 1812 — not the Civil War, as one intern told his group. One of the largest paintings in the Senate shows Commodore Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie — not Washington crossing the Delaware. And the frescoes were painted by Constantino Brumidi — not, as one intern said recently, Benito Mussolini.

But summer after summer, some of the stories have become so entrenched, they have begun to sound like facts, even though they're not.

In the old Supreme Court chamber on the first floor of the Capitol, for instance, an intern is describing a large clock. It was ordered in 1837, when Roger Taney was chief justice.

"He actually set the clock 5 minutes early, and if anyone was late on his time, they weren't let in," the intern said. "And today, the Supreme Court still runs on Taney time."

She's telling an often-repeated story — and none of it is true.

"The 5 minutes fast is not something Taney asked for," says Melinda Smith, head curator for the Senate. "There's just no telling where this myth started."

Smith's office has scoured the Capitol's records and cannot find a single mention that this clock was ever set 5 minutes ahead.

"We do know from examining the mechanism of the clock itself that it is designed to strike 1 minute before the hour," she says.

Interns go through tour training, but they must absorb a lot of information. Visitors are sure to ask tricky questions, such as when one constituent asks whether Supreme Court justices sit in particular seats.

"I don't believe so," an intern guesses. "I think they just sit in the same seats every time. But I don't believe they are assigned. OK?"

The Capitol's official tour guides are called Red Coats, because that's what they wear. This room's Red Coat visibly bristles at that answer. The chief justice sits in the center, the most senior associate justice to the right, the second most senior associate justice to the left, and so on.

But she can't say anything. It's Senate tradition: Red Coats don't correct interns unless they are asked a direct question.

So in the hallway, when interns tell visitors that the pockmarks on the corncob columns are musket-ball holes from the War of 1812, neither Melinda Smith nor the Red Coats can pipe in that it's just the sandstone oxidizing.

"There's a lot of facts and a lot of information throughout the building, and it's very easy to kind of intertwine stories," Smith says. "Hopefully the visitor comes away with the larger story, and the smaller facts kind of float to the bottom."

Smith says that larger story starts with the architecture, especially in the small Senate rotunda. Benjamin Henry Latrobe designed a circular colonnade, with 16 columns topped with leaves of the native American tobacco plant and flowers, supporting an ornate dome. From the center, you can see all the way into both ends of the House and Senate galleries — open, accessible and of equal stature.

But most tours passing through are talking about something else — a set of markings on the concrete floor.

"Well, it all started back in 1783," intern Zac Santos tells his group. "There was a den of black cats on Capitol Hill ... "

Santos says the markings may be from the Ghost Cat of the Crypt.

Smith laughs and tries to continue her story of the architecture, but another intern starts pointing at the floor markings.

"They're cat prints," the intern says. "They used to release cats in here to catch the mice ... "

But then the intern turns and steps under the rotunda and tells his group about Latrobe, about his 16 columns and tobacco leaves, about the open nature of American government. Smith is beaming.

"Terrific," she says. "That's terrific. I like that."

Architecture, democracy and black ghost cats — that's about as American as a tour can get.

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