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

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    Credit: Paramount Pictures

    If you're in Bismarck or Dickinson, North Dakota, you may have tuned into local CBS affiliate, KXNews, last night for the local goings-on in the central and western regions of the state.

    You would probably expect to see weekend anchor, Amber Schatz, reporting on local business, weekend meteorologist, Jared Piepenburg, giving the latest weather updates, and weekend sports anchor, Jon Schaeffer, recounting Friday's hockey game between the Austin Bruins and the Bismarck Bobcats.

    And you would be right.

    However, if you were expecting to see legendary San Diego Channel 4 News anchor, Ron Burgundy, co-anchoring on Saturday night, then (A) that's a very odd thing for you to expect and (B) you would be right as well.

    Actor Will Ferrell, in an apparent promotion for the upcoming sequel to "Anchorman"--"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"-- appeared on KXNews last night in full Ron Burgundy regalia and guest-anchored the nightly news.

    Amid stories of Christmas trees on Main Street, Black Friday shoplifters, and hockey fights, Ferrell injected a "Burgundian" flavor to the proceedings.

    Highlights include his passionate introduction of Piepenburg in the "Dakota STORM CENTER!!!", his light banter with his co-anchor ("Amber you look lovely tonight... Are you married? ... Well, I am, so don't get any ideas."), and his report on the use of 500, "I repeat, 500 GALLONS of water and foam" in extinguishing a trash fire in the parking lot of a local Sam's Club.

    KXNet - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson

    Ferrell ended the broadcast with his trademark Burgundy candor ("You guys did a good job tonight. I can't wait to do it for real. That was a good warm-up."), but neglected to read his classic sign-off from the teleprompter ("Oh. Am I supposed to read that?").

    Apparently, only San Diego gets to stay classy.

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    BY PHILIP ELLIOTT, ASSOCIATED PRESS

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.

    But that doesn't mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.

    Officials acknowledged more work remains on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but the White House's chief troubleshooter cautioned some users could still encounter trouble.

    "The bottom line -- HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1," Jeff Zients told reporters.

    More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it's a dramatic improvement from the system's first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze, the website crash and error messages multiply.

    The figures -- which could not be independently verified -- suggest millions of Americans could turn to their laptops to shop for and buy insurance policies by the Dec. 23 deadline.

    "There's not really any way to verify from the outside that the vast majority of people who want to enroll can now do so, but we'll find out at least anecdotally over the coming days if the system can handle the traffic and provide a smooth experience for people trying to sign up," said Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    But, he added, HealthCare.gov is clearly working better than when it first went online. Its challenge now is to convince users who were frustrated during their first visit to give it another chance.

    Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats after a wave of bad publicity surrounding the president's chief domestic achievement.

    "This website is technology. It's going to get better. It's already better today," said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is a co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus. "And we're only going to be working out more kinks as we go forward."

    HealthCare.gov was envisioned as the principal place for people in 36 states to buy insurance under Obama's health care law. But its first few weeks were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.

    Obama set Saturday as the deadline to fix several significant problems and the administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to boast that 400 technical problems had been resolved. Officials, however, declined to say how many items remain on the to-do list.

    Even with the repairs in place, the site still won't be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.

    "The security of this site and the private information does not meet even the minimal standards of the private sector, and that concerns me," said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who leads the House intelligence panel. "I don't care if you're for it or against it, Republican or Democrat, we should not tolerate the sheer level of incompetence securing this site."

    Obama promised a few weeks ago that HealthCare.gov "will work much better on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, than it worked certainly on Oct. 1." But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that "100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience."

    Obama rightly predicted errors would remain. The department reported the website was up and running 95 percent of the time last week -- meaning a 1-in-20 chance remains of encountering a broken website. The government also estimated that pages crashed at a rate less than once every 100 clicks.

    "Yes, there are problems," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "There's no denying that. Let's work to fix them."

    The nation's largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain and could be a barrier for consumers signing up for coverage effective Jan. 1.

    "HealthCare.gov and the overall enrollment process continue to improve, but there are significant issues that still need to be addressed," said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans.

    Republicans, betting frustration about the health care law is their best bet to make gains in 2014's congressional and gubernatorial elections, continued their criticism of the system.

    "I don't know how you fix it, I'll be honest," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "I don't know how you fix a program that was put together in this manner with only one side of the aisle, and taking the shortcuts we're taking to put it in place."

    Democrats, sensing their potential vulnerability, sought to blame Republicans for not offering ideas on how to improve the website.

    "Yes, we have to fix it. We should be working together to fix it," said Van Hollen, a former chairman of the committee tasked to elect more Democrats to the U.S. House.

    The first big test of the repaired website probably won't come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

    Avoiding a break in coverage is particularly important for millions of people whose current individual policies were canceled because they don't meet the standards of the health care law, as well as for a group of about 100,000 in an expiring federal program for high-risk patients.

    Ellison spoke to ABC's "This Week." Rogers and Van Hollen were interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Corker joined CBS' "Face the Nation."

    Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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  • 12/01/13--12:07: Illinois pensions in peril
  • Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Tonight, we continue our coverage of the pension peril, a public television initiative that will shine a light on the more than one trillion dollar shortfall in funding for public employees’ retirement benefits. We’ll explore what it means for retirees and taxpayers, examine how it might threaten the fiscal stability of cities and states, and report on proposed solutions. This week, we focus on new efforts at pension reform in Illinois, the state with the worst funded public employee pension system in the nation. Estimates are that they are underfunded by a hundred billion dollars. The situation’s so serious that, according to one recent report, about twenty cents of every taxpayer dollar in Illinois is now used to pay for pensions. But on Wednesday, state legislators announced a tentative bipartisan deal to address the problem. For much more about all this we’re joined now from Chicago by Sara Burnett. She’s with the Associate Press, has been reporting this story. So what’s the framework of this potential deal?

    SARA BURNETT: Well, the biggest change is that it affects the cost of living increases, those annual increases that retirees receive on their pension benefits to keep up with the cost of living. So, it will reduce those increases from the current level. Some of the workers who have worked the longest and received the smallest salaries will continue to get increases at the level they do currently, but most everyone else will see their, um, their benefits grow at a much slower rate. Other than that, it’s raising the retirement age and making some other changes in how the state directs money to those funds.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, people have been critical about this process, as it’s been happening, from both sides. Some conservatives say, these cuts don’t go far enough, and some of the labor unions say, this is almost unconstitutional and this is too deep a cut.

    SARA BURNETT: Yes, exactly. They believe this plan is unconstitutional. The labor unions have already said that if it passes the legislature on Tuesday, they will file a lawsuit to have it thrown out. Their, their belief is that these public workers and these retirees spent their careers paying into retirement systems, holding up their end of the bargain while the state did not, and that it’s unfair for them to cut their benefits to the degree that they’re being cut. The labor unions did propose a compromise deal earlier in the year, but it couldn’t get through the house because lawmakers there didn’t think it saved enough money.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And so, how unique is the Illinois state constitution? I mean, are there—is this a case that other states are going to study and say, “Wait, you know, we have a very similar clause. The outcome matters to us as well.”

    SARA BURNETT: Many states have constitutional protections, and you’ve seen—I mean, many, many other states have already dealt with these problems and are fighting them out in the courts right now. What I’ve been told is that Illinois’s constitutional protection is a particularly rock-solid one, compared to how the language is written into some other states. And so it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but certainly people are going to be watching this one because it is such a huge case and it is so critical to the future of the state’s finances.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And—and what about the fact that this is a heavily Democratic state. If this bipartisan deal can be agreed on and really challenges where the labor unions sit, can that have longer term or wider implications for the labor movement in the US?

    SARA BURNETT: Well, that is one of the things that we’ve been looking at, is—you know, labor has taken a hit in some sort of surprising places like Michigan in recent years, and, um, you know, certainly this would be a blow to the labor unions. They have had a pretty amicable relationship with both Republicans and Democrats up to this point, but it will set off what I believe will be some pretty hostile interactions between the unions and these lawmakers going forward.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what impact does this sort of a credit crunch have for the state of Illinois and the taxpayers?

    SARA BURNETT: Well, the repeated failures by the lawmakers to come up with a solution for this problem has led the credit rating agencies to downgrade Illinois’s rating multiple times over the last several years. Illinois now has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation. So that means when they go to sell bonds, borrow money for capital projects, roads, things like that, taxpayers in Illinois are paying them a higher interest rate on that borrowed money than taxpayers in any other state. At the same time, in order to make these payments each year, as you mentioned in the intro, the state is putting about 20 cents of every taxpayer dollar into the pension funds. That’s money that could be going to schools. There are social service agencies that have not been paid what the state owes them for months at a time. They’ve got a multi—I think it’s close to eight billion dollar backlog of unpaid bills sitting in Springfield waiting to be paid because there isn’t money to do it.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So what are the chances? Now, this coming week, we’re going to have this be sort of proposed, maybe, in both sections, the house and the senate and state legislature?

    SARA BURNETT: Correct. We’re expecting this to move fairly quickly on Tuesday. The house and the senate will both come in and both chambers can address it on that day. Um, it has the support of the Democratic and the Republican leaders in both chambers, and this is the first time that there has been any pension proposal. There have been previous proposals that the two chambers couldn’t agree on or the two parties couldn’t agree on. This is the first one that has the support from all four of those leaders, which makes it—you know, people believe this is the best chance yet.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay, so stepping back for a second, is there a lesson that other states can learn in preventing themself from getting in such a hundred billion dollar mess?

    SARA BURNETT: Yes, there’s probably a lot of lessons to be learned from the things that Illinois has done wrong here. Um, first of all, legislatures, going back for decades, Republican and Democrat-controlled legislatures, for years and years did not put in their required contribution into these pension funds. They agreed to certain benefits, and then, instead of putting the money away to pay for them, they used that money for something else. And, um, you know, now, obviously, the unfunded liability has grown to the point where that just cannot continue any longer.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright. Sara Burnett from the Associated Press, thanks so much.

    SARA BURNETT: Thank you.


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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    Editor's note: This piece was previously broadcast on The NewsHour on September 10, 2013. The exhibit is on at The Brooklyn Museum until February 2, 2014

    JEFFREY BROWN: A Marine in Afghanistan has a close call with Taliban fighters. A Republican militiawoman training on the beach outside Barcelona in the Spanish civil war. A Bosnian soldier stands on a mass grave outside his destroyed home. A class photo of young children, many later killed in Argentina's dirty war. And so familiar now, a jet crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

    They're images from 165 years of war, broadly defined to capture what happens before, during, and after battle, part of a wide-ranging exhibition titled "War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath."

    Now at Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art, it was developed and opened at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts by curator Anne Tucker.

    ANNE TUCKER, Houston Museum of Fine Arts: I thought there was a human story to be told through the eyes of photographers about the full aspect of war. When people talked about war photography, it was either fighting or death, and we just thought there was a much greater story, and we wanted to open the discussion up.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Many famous images are here, Robert Capa's 1944 D-Day photo of a G.I. struggling through the surf at Omaha Beach, Alfred Eisenstaedt's Times Square shot of a soldier kissing a woman on V.J. Day, and Nick Ut's 1972 photo of Vietnamese children running from a napalm bombing.

    And there are moments of world-shattering drama, like this one taken from a Japanese plane.

    ANNE TUCKER: The torpedoes going into Pearl Harbor, I can still cry when I see that picture.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Really? You see it from above?

    ANNE TUCKER: You see the torpedoes going into Battleship Row, and you think about the people who are sitting on their bunks, writing a letter home, getting dressed for church, and they're going to die.

    Then there are pictures that feature an individual, and you grieve for that individual or you wonder what happened to them. You see the soldier Carolyn Cole waiting to go into battle with all of his war paint on, and you can't help but wonder, did he survive? You know, is he home? Is he OK?

    JEFFREY BROWN: The exhibition is organized by themes that cross through wars and time, including recruitment, seen here through the eyes of Australians heading off for battle during World War I, captured by Josiah Barnes, executions, a shirt worn by Mexican emperor Maximilian during his execution in 1867, a photo by Francois Aubert, and homecoming and memorials.

    In "Bedrooms of the Fallen," for example, Ashley Gilbertson captures the childhood rooms of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, portraits of lives that are no more. Anne Tucker says she and her team saw patterns to wars and their portrayal.

    ANNE TUCKER: The patterns were, for instance, photographs of women weeping on a grave.

    We only have one in the exhibition, but we saw hundreds. Somebody with a prosthesis, there's only one in the exhibition, but we saw hundreds. People in military formation. People in transport. We began to look at these recurring types of pictures and realize that these were the stages of war.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Another theme, waiting, the in-between moments before the battle begins, as in this photograph of Italian women ambulance drivers knitting.

    ANNE TUCKER: It is momentary calm, because the fatality rate for these women ambulance drivers in Italy was very high. Our reason for putting it in the exhibition is precisely to show those quiet moments and also to show these essentially heroic women who are civilians or military who are part of the story.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Photojournalist Louie Palu has covered the war in Afghanistan since 2006. His portrait of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos O.J. Orjuela was taken after a muddy patrol in 125-degree heat through an area filled with IEDs. It became a signature image for the exhibition.

    LOUIE PALU, photographer: Every day, I would go with these Marines, and instead of taking photographs of them on patrol, which I had been doing for years, I would get to know them and talk to them. I wanted to know them so I could photograph them and then pass on that experience to the viewers. I really wanted a photograph that confronted you and brought you to task to understand the psychology of what the experience of war is.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Will Michels, exhibit co-curator and collections photographer at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, says works like Palu's are a mirror on to the subject and the photographer.

    WILL MICHELS, Houston Museum of Fine Arts: I'm a big believer that especially with many of the portraits, that it's a double portrait. It's a portrait just as much about the person in the picture as the photographer his or her self. It's the photographers' choices that made the portrait as powerful as it is. The better the portrait, the more universal it becomes. It becomes every soldier. It becomes not a specific one. It becomes about the whole experience.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Some of the images here are horrific. A sign at the entrance warning viewers is a reminder that the portrayal of dead bodies and other images have often been difficult for the public, the news media, including our program, and for government officials.

    Another fraught issue in the history of war photography, the sheer beauty of images that portray death and horror, the balancing of documentation and aesthetics. Tucker explains her approach.

    ANNE TUCKER: If the beauty brings somebody to engage with that picture, then it's essential. And so you feel this push-pull to the aesthetics and the horror, and that war within yourself is fruitful to your thinking more about the picture.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The exhibition offers visitors the chance to share their own reactions in a reflection room, just part of the continuing exchange among warriors, photographers, and viewers capturing the horror, beauty, boredom, bravery, and so much more of war. 


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    @Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich keeps working despite being wounded by Ukraine riot police. pic.twitter.com/6mtaM4dl2n

    — Pedro da Costa (@pdacosta) November 30, 2013

    The above image--reportedly of Reuters photographer, Gleb Garanich, in the Ukraine during protests yesterday--has been making the rounds on Twitter and on news media sites today.

    The photo serves as a reminder of the dangers that members of the press face when covering violent situations. One such incident has been reported in today's Kyiv Post, the Ukraine's leading English-language newspaper.

    According to a report by Olga Rudenko, police attacked protestors who had run into the Writers Union building in Kiev.

    Earlier, the Union's secretary, Serhiy Pantiuk, had taken a dozen women inside the building. After some young men ran inside, police broke in through the back windows and reportedly began attacking the 50 people hiding there.

    "I happened to be the first one in their way," says writer Bohdan Humeniuk. "I met them with my Writers' Union ID in one hand, and journalism ID in other hand, and asked them to be calm down. For that they kicked me on the ribs with a club."

    People were eventually able to leave the building and Pantiuk told the Kyiv Post that the Union will ask for an official investigation into the damage caused by the police.

    Reports vary on just how many journalists have been attacked in the Ukraine during the protests. Reuters reported today that 29 journalists "had suffered at the hands of police while covering the weekend events in Kiev. At least 12 of these had been beaten by riot police."

    The Kyiv Post reports that 35 journalists have been injured in harrowing circumstances.

    From the Kyiv Post:

    New York Times photographer Joseph Sywenkyj was injured when a piece of a sound grenade struck him in the face, his colleagues reported. Mustafa Nayem, a reporter with Ukrainska Pravda website and Hromadske TV who called people to start the protest that later turned into Euromaidan rally on Nov. 21, was hit by a rock thrown by one of the protesters and suffered the effects of tear gas.

    While some journalists suffered from flying rocks, tear gas and noise grenades when being in the middle of the clash, many report they were deliberately beaten by the riot police, and showing their journalist IDs didn't help.

    Agence France-Presse photographer Serhiy Supinskiy was attacked by a riot police officer at Bankova Street as well, he said. The officer deliberately hit his photo equipment, and destroyed his flash and lens, Supinsky said.

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    Welcome to a special edition of the Doubleheader with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. I'm filling in for Judy Woodfuff and Gwen Ifiill as they take some time off for Thanksgiving, so tune in for our discussion on the "sport of politics" on Friday's PBS NewsHour.

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    The Health and Human Services Department released a progress report Sunday on its effort get the troubled HealthCare.gov website on the mend. Administration officials said the worst of the online glitches, bugs and delays may be over. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    The White House announced Sunday that it had met its goal of making sure the beleaguered HealthCare.gov website was running smoothly for the vast majority of users, but the Obama administration still has work to do to repair the political damage from the troubled rollout of the program.

    "The bottom line is HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was Oct. 1," said Jeffrey Zients, the administration official charged with overseeing the improvement effort. "The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity at greatly improved performance."

    Administration officials said the site is now working more than 90 percent of the time, up from about 43 percent in October, following a series of hardware upgrades and software fixes.

    The Morning Line"The site now has the capacity to handle 50,000 concurrent or simultaneous users at one time," wrote Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in a blog post on the Department of Health and Human Services website. "We know that each visitor spends, on average, 20 to 30 minutes on the site per visit. So the site will support more than 800,000 consumer visits a day."

    "So we have a much more stable system that's reliably open for business," she added.

    The Associated Press' Phil Elliot reports that the improvements could lead to more people signing up ahead of the deadline. He notes:

    The first big test of the repaired website probably won't come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.

    Congressional Democrats, who have been put on the defensive because of the problems with the launch, welcomed the news.

    "This is the equivalent of having a great item that you want to buy in a store but not being able to get through the front door. It sounds like the front door has been opened successfully now, and hopefully we're going to have Americans get access to that health care they desperately need," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Sunday during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

    Republicans, meanwhile, said fixing the website would not change the underlying problems with the health care law.

    "I do hope that the efficacy of this is much better today and will improve. But at the end of the day, while there will be a few winners, most Americans are going to find a less dynamic health system," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on CBS. "I still think the foundations of this plan have some of the same kinds of problems that the rollout has had, but they're fundamental, very hard to overcome. And unfortunately, as people enroll, I think there's going to be a lot of negative surprises as to what they're able to enroll in."

    The New York Times' Robert Pear and Reed Abelson report that insurers remain concerned that the repairs to back-end parts of the system will not be completed before the start of 2014. They write:

    The issues are vexing and complex. Some insurers say they have been deluged with phone calls from people who believe they have signed up for a particular health plan, only to find that the company has no record of the enrollment. Others say information they received about new enrollees was inaccurate or incomplete, so they had to track down additional data -- a laborious task that would not be feasible if data is missing for tens of thousands of consumers.

    In still other cases, insurers said, they have not been told how much of a customer's premium will be subsidized by the government, so they do not know how much to charge the policyholder.

    The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, notes that insurers are also looking at ways to bypass the federal exchange altogether.

    And Bloomberg is reporting Monday that "about 100,000 people signed up for health insurance through the online federal exchange last month, a roughly four-fold increase from October."

    With lawmakers in the House returning to Washington late Monday after a weeklong recess, there's little doubt Republicans will continue to challenge the Obama administration on the site's rollout and other difficulties. That's one reason the White House announced last week that the administration will delay the mandate and penalties for small businesses to enroll in that provision of the health care law.

    Between HealthCare.gov's troubles and insurance companies canceling some policies in response to the Affordable Care Act, the issue will remain front and center. For the Obama administration, getting the website up and running is just the first step in what is likely to be a long rebuilding process.

    CONTINUED PUSH FOR IMMIGRATION

    Mr. Obama kept up the drumbeat for comprehensive immigration reform last week while traveling to the West Coast. But his call for House Republicans to allow a vote on the measure that overwhelmingly passed the Senate earlier this year was interrupted by supporters frustrated he has deported 1.4 million undocumented people, and is on track to have deported 2 million by the end of his presidency.

    The NewsHour examined Mr. Obama's policies on deportation with a debate between two backers of a comprehensive approach who differ on how the president has handled deportation. Watch here or below:


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    In May of 1891, photographer Samuel Murray accompanied the New York sculptor William O'Donovan to Walt Whitman's home in Camden, N.J., Murray photographed Whitman as an aid to O'Donovan's sculpting the poet: "they took hell's times in all sorts of polishes," Whitman groused, but he was excited about this profile portrait, admiring its "audacity" and its "breadth and beauty both," calling it "an artist's picture in the best sense." Photo by Samuel Murray/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution

    Clive James wrote his poem, "Whitman and the Moth" during a 10-day stint at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital. In 2010, James was diagnosed with leukemia and already battling terminal emphysema. His friend, Canadian writer Adam Gopnik, brought him books to pass the time in the hospital. One of those was "The Times of Melville and Whitman" by American literary critic Van Wyck Brooks.

    "(Van Wyck Brooks) said this wonderful thing," James recounted in a recent phone interview with Art Beat, "that Whitman had spent his last few weeks on Earth, his last time as it were, sitting beside a pond wearing nothing but his hat."

    "The idea struck me so much that I wrote a poem about it right there in the hospital."

    Whitman and the Moth by Clive James

    Van Wyck Brooks tells us Whitman in old age Sat by a pond in nothing but his hat, Crowding his final notebooks page by page With names of trees, birds, bugs and things like that.

    The war could never break him, though he'd seen Horrors in hospitals to chill the soul. But now, preserved, the Union had turned mean: Evangelising greed was in control.

    Good reason to despair, yet grief was purged By tracing how creation reigned supreme. A pupa cracked, a butterfly emerged: America, still unfolding from its dream.

    Sometimes he rose and waded in the pond, Soothing his aching feet in the sweet mud. A moth he knew, of which he had grown fond, Perched on his hand as if to draw his blood.

    But they were joined by what each couldn't do, The meeting point where great art comes to pass -- Whitman, who danced and sang but never flew, The moth, which had not written Leaves of Grass,

    Composed a picture of the interchange Between the mind and all that it transcends Yet must stay near. No, there was nothing strange In how he put his hand out to make friends

    With such a fragile creature, soft as dust. Feeling the pond cool as the light grew dim, He blessed new life, though it had only just Arrived in time to see the end of him.

    Reprinted from "Nefertiti in the Flak Tower: Collected Verse 2008-2011" by Clive James. Copyright © 2013, 2012 by Clive James. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation."

    Clive James is a public writer, cultural critic, TV personality and an author of poems (he would prefer not to be called a Poet). An Australian by birth, James has lived in England since 1961. He has written five books of unreliable memoirs, and has several volumes of his essays, including most recently, "Cultural Amnesia." His translation of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" was also published this year. James' website, clivejames.com provides not only an archive of his own writing, but a portal for other writers and critics' work.


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    Spencer Michels looks on as a cameraman shoots the artworks hanging at the exhibit "David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition" at San Francisco's de Young Museum while. Photo by Cat Wise/PBS NewsHour

    You may get a jolt when you enter David Hockney's new "bigger" exhibition at San Francisco's de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I did. There's something welcoming and inviting about this huge display of nearly 400 of his recent works, something that says "come on in and look around." It's not even subtle.

    Hockney, now 76 years old, is not a mysterious artist; what you see is what you get. And, perhaps a bit like Van Gogh, almost anybody can relate to his work. But that hasn't diminished his stature.

    A museum-goer walks past Hockney's work "Under the Trees" (2010). Photo by Cat Wise

    Art critics often tend to complicate what they see, and over-interpret the works they are expounding. And maybe that's what good criticism is: connecting the artist with the past, finding things that the rest of us can't see. For example, Hockney acknowledged to the critic for the San Francisco Chronicle that he has been influenced by Chinese artists, who, the critic explained, find "graphic equivalents not only for physical detail but for the changing play of light and shade across shifts in weather and time of day." That's pretty complicated stuff that certainly wasn't apparent to me while soaking in the vast profusion of representational form and color that make up this exhibit.

    In basic terms, Hockney draws pictures, whether with a brush, a piece of charcoal, an iPad, a camera or an array of 9 or 18 cameras that record scenes and video. In fact he uses practically every media he can think of, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated and technically challenging. It's not that he is a technological wizard, making 3D movies about space. This art show is no "Gravity" or "Avatar". No, he has learned how to manipulate an off-the-shelf app called "Brushes" on his iPhone and iPad, and he uses it to make the kind of pictures he likes, very quickly.

    He told me in an interview he wasn't so much fascinated by technology itself, but only so far as it can help him make pictures. He has blown up simple iPad sketches and photos to gigantic size and the de Young has accommodated him by finding space for these huge pictures. From what I was told, he is very happy about the way his work has been displayed. Bigger may not always be better, but big is important in this show, aptly titled "David Hockney: A Bigger Exposition," to contrast it with "big" expositions he has had recently in England.

    "Still from Woldgate Woods" (November 26, 2010) is nine digital videos synchronized to comprise a single artwork. Hanging in a dark room at the de Young Museum, it clearly displays Hockney's willingness to use different media for his artwork. Photo by Spencer Michels/PBS NewsHour

    Hockney obviously likes what he does, and intends to keep on doing it until he drops, as he told me -- this despite a recent stroke and a smoking habit he boasts about. He rushes out into the woods and sketches and takes pictures, sometimes even from his car, and he comes back and blows up the work to a size he is comfortable with. His subject matter has ranged all over the lot, from his earlier famous swimming pool scenes in the hills above Los Angeles, to the woods near his childhood home in Yorkshire, to hundreds and hundreds of portraits that are fascinating to look at. Earlier in his career he painted his parents in poses that gave clues to their lifestyles. He still uses that technique in the current show. But he also seems fascinated by the human face and has sketched hundreds of them; it reminded me a bit of Abraham Lincoln's comment: "God must love the common man; he made so many of them." Hockney said he intends to do more portraits in the months ahead -- portraits that are fun and revealing to look at.

    David Hockney talks to Spencer Michels in the exhibit halls at the de Young Museum. Photo by Cat Wise/PBS NewsHour

    Several times during our interview, Hockney talked about seeing things that the average person does not, in nature, and even in his portraiture. He said he is fascinated by the different ways people sit down in chairs when they pose for him. His mission seems to be to show what he sees and then paints to those of us with less acuity. His vision, he thinks, may be his greatest gift. Whether that's true or not, looking at what he sees and then records is a thrill. He is not speaking to us in riddles or hidden meanings, but laying it all out there for us to see and enjoy, and doing it with a well-honed sense of humor or playfulness. I'm not saying he isn't deep and thoughtful; but you don't come away from this show with a feeling you didn't get it. "David Hockney: A Bigger Exposition" is on show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco until January 20, 2014. You can watch Spencer Michels' full report on the exhibit on Monday's broadcast of the PBS NewsHour. Live stream the show on our Ustream channel at 6 p.m. EST or check your local PBS station's schedule.

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    Approx 5 seconds before the engine came to a stop, pressure in the brake pipe dropped from 120 psi to 0 - which resulted in max braking.

    — NTSB (@NTSB) December 2, 2013

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Rumors about Social Security policies abound; it's important to consult the Social Security Administration, especially their technical experts, about your specific circumstances. Photo courtesy of Tetra Images.

    Larry Kotlikoff's Social Security original 34 "secrets", his additional secrets, his Social Security "mistakes" and his Social Security gotchas have prompted so many of you to write in that we now feature "Ask Larry" every Monday. We are determined to continue it until the queries stop or we run through the particular problems of all 78 million Baby Boomers, whichever comes first. Kotlikoff's state-of-the-art retirement software is available here, for free, in its "basic" version.

    Babs -- Twin Cities, Minn.: Your advice on your website is very helpful, but I have not had much luck finding whether my scenario is presented anywhere within the pages of "Ask Larry," so I'm hoping you can put my mind at ease.

    I am about to turn 61, and I have been receiving disability income (from the Social Security Administration) since 2003. I had been a full-time worker for well over 30 years prior to becoming disabled.

    I was first married for 11 years and then divorced in 1983. Then I was legally re-married to my second husband, for over 15 years, who died almost seven years ago at the age of 53.

    When I became widowed, I was told that when I notified the Social Security Administration (SSA) of his death, my Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) would automatically stop all together because it would convert to a survivor benefit -- and because I was disabled and under the age of 60 -- the amount could either increase or decrease; I would not know which until the SSA determined the amount. And so, I panicked and I did not notify the SSA of his death back then (nor ever since).

    My reasoning was simply because at the time of his death, not only had he become my caregiver, but I relied on him financially, even though he was no longer employed and had started a small home-based business nearly three years prior to his death.

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: How Social Security Discriminates Against Young Divorced Parents

    Our lifestyle had already changed considerably and at the time, his modest and unstable income of late had barely provided enough to cover our housing related expenses. My SSDI income was used for other incidentals such as groceries, prescriptions and gas (thank goodness our home was mortgage-free because we often struggled to make ends meet). I have two questions. First, did I make a mistake not notifying the SSA of his death? And second, how can I best proceed from here on out? Which benefit pays better in my situation -- can I continue receiving my disability (and later my retirement) benefit and also receive any of the other spousal or survivor benefits concurrently? And at what age should I make the change in benefit status and what benefit should I seek?

    Larry Kotlikoff: It seems you, like so many others, have been hit with very bad information or advice. From what you wrote, though, it sounds like the source of this bad advice was not Social Security itself.

    Regarding your situation, the act of asking about available benefits and explaining that you are both divorced to one spouse after a 10 plus-year marriage and a survivor of another does not trigger their payment or force you to file for anything. You need to compare your highest lifetime benefits associated with collecting on the two spouses and choose the strategy that produces these highest benefits.

    What you have done is possibly pass up some disabled widow survivor benefits that are available starting at age 50. You could have been receiving 71.5 percent of the difference between your deceased husband's primary insurance amount and your own primary insurance amount in addition to your disability benefit. There is a 12-month retro-activity limit, so you may have foregone about six years of extra benefits based on the bad advice.

    At this point, you should go into the Social Security office right away and see if you qualify for this additional disabled widow's survivor benefit. The nice thing about it is that at full retirement age, the 71.5 figure rises to 100 percent. In other words, disabled widows don't face reduced survivor benefits for their entire lives -- just up through full retirement age. Stated differently, you have nothing to lose by applying for a survivor benefit.

    Once you reach full retirement age, you should consider withdrawing your own retirement benefit (to which your disability benefit automatically converts) and then taking either your full survivor benefit or your full spousal benefit (on your ex-spouse's earnings record). At 70, you could start your retirement benefit, which will likely equal your disability benefit times 1.32.

    Brenda Howl -- Arlington, Texas: How long did you need to be married to someone to be allowed to collect their Social Security?

    Larry Kotlikoff: If you are divorced or thinking about getting divorced, you need to have been married for 10 or more years to collect divorcée spousal and survivor benefits. If you are thinking about getting married, you need to be married only for one year to collect spousal benefits and just nine months for window(er)'s benefits. So if you are "living in sin," consider getting married on Social Security's dime. This is especially the case if your potential hubby is older or otherwise may pass away well before you go heavenward.

    Now, please realize, as I've been warning readers of this column for over one year, if you are married, there is one and only one way to collect a full spousal benefit (half of your new husband's full retirement benefit). First, you need to reach full retirement age and apply just for your spousal benefit. Second, you can't have filed for your own retirement benefit. And third, your husband needs to have filed (but possibly have suspended) his own retirement benefit. If your new husband files before you reach full retirement age and you file for your spousal benefit, you'll be deemed to have filed for your retirement benefit too, which means your spousal benefit will be computed as your excess spousal benefit, which could well be zero. The excess spousal benefit is your full spousal benefit (half your husband's full retirement benefit) less 100 percent of your full retirement benefit. Given the progressivity of Social Security's benefit formula, this difference could be negative even if you were the lower earner. If it's negative, it's set to zero. Even if the excess spousal benefit is positive, it will be reduced based on the early spousal benefit reduction formula.

    If your new husband dies after nine months (sorry to be morbid, but you asked), you can collect reduced survivor benefits as early as age 60. But be strategic about when to take your survivor and retirement benefits since one will wipe out the other. They key is to take the smaller benefit first and generally, as early as possible, then take the larger benefit as late as possible, by which I mean when it has reached the point where its value will no longer increase the longer you wait to take it.

    Judy Baran -- Hatboro, Pa.: My 70-year-old husband passed away and he was collecting Social Security at 62. I am 64 and still working. Will I receive a portion of my husband's Social Security?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Very sorry for your loss. Yes, you can potentially collect a survivor benefit. I say "potentially" because if you take your own retirement benefit and your survivor benefit at the same time, you'll get the larger of the two benefits.

    So I'd normally recommend you take the smaller of the two earlier and then switch to the other after you reach the point where that higher benefit no longer rises with age.

    But in your case, because your husband took his retirement benefit early, your survivor benefit is calculated based on a formula informally called the widow(er)'s limit -- or the RIB LIM, which means your survivor benefit will be 82.5 percent of your husband's full retirement benefit if you take it now or if you wait until your full retirement age.

    In other words, for you, there is no advantage to waiting to collect your survivor benefit. There is a possible advantage -- and a large one -- from waiting to collect your retirement benefit. If you wait, for example, until age 70, when it's as large as possible, it may exceed your survivor benefit, in which case you'll collect it rather than your survivor benefit.

    But your retirement benefit may exceed your survivor benefit even before age 70. So both Jerry Lutz, the former Social Security technical expert who checks over my responses, and I think you should apply right now for your survivor benefit and then apply for your retirement benefit at or after the point that your retirement benefit exceeds your survivor benefit, which, again, may never happen.

    One big caveat. The annual earnings test may prevent you from receiving all or part of your potential survivor benefit before you reach full retirement age.

    Clyde Tyler -- Rocky Hill, Conn.: I was a police officer for 33 years. Prior to that I worked at various jobs, but I am 10 quarters short to collect Social Security. I had always planned on working again after retiring from the police department in order accrue the required Social Security quarters. However, as I was preparing to retire, I was diagnosed with oral cancer, which left me unable to work. Is there any way to collect from my current wife or my ex-wife? Things are really hard right now, and any help would be appreciated. I was married to a teacher for 27 years, divorcing in 2001. I remarried in February of 2013, at the age of 60, to a 62-year-old woman, who has worked most of her life. Thank you very much.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can't collect spousal benefits on your ex-spouse's earning record because you are married. On the other hand, since you re-married after age 60, you can collect a survivor benefit based on your ex once your ex passes away. Normally, a divorcée who remarries can't collect survivor benefits based on his or her first spouse. But if you remarry after age 60, Social Security makes an exception.

    But your ex was a teacher, whose earnings might not have been covered by Social Security. If she were covered from Social Security-covered employment outside of teaching, her primary insurance amount (upon which your own spousal benefit would be based) would be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision. The good news is you can collect on your second wife's earnings record. The bad news is that your spousal benefit will be hit by three whammies if you take it starting at age 62. First, it will be reduced due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision. Second, it will be reduced due to the early spousal benefits reduction factor. And third, your current wife will need to apply for reduced retirement benefits in order for you to be eligible to collect a spousal benefit.

    The GPO may also prevent you from drawing a surviving divorced spousal benefit -- if your first wife dies before you.

    Emery Butler -- Boulder, Colo.: I will be 62 next year. My wife is 69. The only Social Security benefit that she qualifies for is as my spouse. Can I file and suspend so that she begins to get her spousal benefit? I'm still working. How much will she receive? I've done a lot of reading and research but have not been able to find an answer that fits our circumstance. Thanks.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can't file and suspend before full retirement age, which is 66 for you. The only way to get your wife a spousal benefit (which would equal half of your full retirement benefit) based on your earnings record is for you to file to collect reduced retirement benefits right now. But if you are still working, your reduced retirement benefit and her spousal benefit may both be reduced or wiped out by the earnings test. If the earnings test wipes out your benefits, it will be made up to you in the form of permanently higher benefits once you reach full retirement age. In this case, you don't really lose anything from the earnings test, but you will permit your wife to become eligible for Part A Medicare coverage when you reach age 62.

    One strategy to consider is filing for reduced benefits sometime prior to reaching age 66 and then suspending your retirement benefit at 66 and starting it up at a 32 percent larger value at 70.

    Maureen Noteboom -- Wausau, Wis.: My husband and I plan on stopping work in our late 50s and living on retirement savings until we reach age 70. At age 70, we'll start receiving the maximum Social Security benefit. I am six years younger, so I cannot start receiving a spousal benefit until my husband is almost age 73. Is there any value to either of us "filing and suspending" our Social Security? We do not intend to have much earned income after we stop working. Thank you.

    Larry Kotlikoff: Given your age difference, there is no value to your husband filing and suspending. When you are 67 -- which I presume is your full retirement age -- you can apply just for your spousal benefit and collect "free" spousal benefits for three years prior to reaching age 70 and going for your own retirement benefit. You could file and suspend yourself at 67. This would let your husband collect an excess spousal benefit starting at 73. But it's not likely to be positive or large compared to your collecting your full spousal benefit. Expert software can figure out what's best here.

    This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow @paulsolman


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    Flickr user ZaldyImg

    David Kwiatkowski plead guilty to infecting 46 people with Hepatitis C after they were administered shots using syringes tainted with his blood. Photo by Flickr user ZaldyImg

    CONCORD, N.H. -- A federal judge sentenced a hospital technician to 39 years in prison Monday, The Boston Globe reports, after he pleaded guilty to infecting 46 people with hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that damages the liver.

    As a traveling radiology technician, 34-year-old David Kwiatkowski engaged in drug diversion, which the FBI describes as "when a person steals a syringe containing narcotics intended for a patient, injects himself with the drug, and replaces the drug in the syringe with another liquid (such as saline), which is then injected into the patient." Kwiatkowski reportedly stole syringes filled with the anesthetic Fentanyl and, to avoid getting caught, rotated in syringes he had used filled with saline. Patients who were administered those "dummy" syringes were infected with his tainted blood.

    Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to 16 federal charges in August, and told investigators he has been stealing drugs since 2002. The plea agreement reduced the prison sentence to at least 30 years instead of nearly 100 if convicted in a trial, CBS News reported.

    Kwiatkowski worked at 20 hospitals in eight states, the Globe reports, before being arrested as the source of a hepatitis C outbreak involving at least 30 individuals, at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital in 2012. Noticing a spike in patients contracting the viral infection, health officials found that the patients and Kwiatkowski shared the same strain of hepatitis C.

    The Associated Press reports that Kwiatkowski job-hopped around the country, despite being fired at least four times over drug use and theft allegations.

    In total, the AP reports, 46 people have been diagnosed with the same strain as Kwiatkowski's, including patients in New Hampshire, Maryland, Kansas and Pennsylvania.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: This was touted as the biggest day of the year for online shopping, as hundreds of retailers tried to lure millions of holiday shoppers on Cyber Monday. Early numbers suggested a sharp increase over last year, after a four-day holiday weekend that turned out to be disappointing. In a few minutes, we will take a deeper look at the numbers and retailers' prospects.

    The U.S. Supreme Court declined today to decide whether big online retailers have to collect state sales taxes. The justices turned away appeals from Amazon and Overstock.com after they lost a case in New York State. In the absence of a national ruling, more states may try to tax sales on the Internet.

    A New York commuter train was doing 82 miles an hour when it hit a sharp curve and derailed Sunday, killing four people. The speed limit there is 30 miles an hour. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board announced the findings today from the train's two data recorders. They said it's clear what the train was doing, but not why.

    EARL WEENER, National Transportation Safety Board Member: So the question is, was this human error or faulty equipment?

    The answer is, at this point in time, we can't tell. At this point in time, the data is preliminary, but we can say, here's what happened. We know speeds and positions and power settings and brake application. We don't know whether the brakes went to zero pressure because of a valve change or because of the train breakup.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The wreckage on the track meant some 26,000 commuters had to find alternative routes today.

    The government's health care Web site is hitting on more cylinders. White House officials say that it handled 375,000 customers by midday. That's after weeks of work to fix the site's disastrous rollout two months ago. We will get the details on that effort and what lies ahead right after the news summary.

    A medical technician faces 39 years in prison, in New Hampshire, for infecting at least 46 people with hepatitis C. David Kwiatkowski was sentenced today. He admitted stealing painkillers and replacing them with syringes of saline tainted with his own infected blood. His victims were spread across four states.

    In Thailand, the embattled prime minister pledged to do anything it takes to end days of violent protests, except give up power. But thousands of demonstrators demanded just that.

    Jonathan Sparks of Independent Television News has this report.

    JOHN SPARKS: It was supposed to be peaceful, a nonviolent campaign against the Thai government. But it's turned into a bare-knuckle battle for power, parts of Bangkok streaked with tear gas and rubble bullets today as protesters tried to seize government ministries from the police.

    Many here are driven by hatred for the country's prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and those seen to support her. We watched as protesters crept up to the barricades around the prime minister's office with an assortment of homemade weaponry.

    But several rounds of tear gas saw them off. The protest leader, a fiery politician called Suthep Thaugsuban, told euphoric supporters that the government would soon fall. The prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, also spoke, offering to hold talks. But Mr. Suthep refuses to negotiate.

    It's a problem I put to her foreign minister today.

    He said he's not negotiating.

    SURAPONG TOVICHAKCHAIKUL, Thai Foreign Minister: I don't know. That's the way Suthep is thinking. Maybe he's thinking right now he's a god, he can do anything.

    JOHN SPARKS: As evening approached, police lines were rammed with a rubbish truck. They responded with a scorching mix of water and pepper spray. The police won themselves a few minutes, but the protesters returned. And they will be there tomorrow as well.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Protests also raged for another day in Ukraine's capital city. Thousands of demonstrators stormed government buildings in Kiev to demand integration with the European Union. In turn, the country's president asked to renew talks with the E.U. and he appealed for calm. We will have a full report from Kiev and analysis from a former U.S. ambassador later in the program.

    China launched its first robotic mission to the moon early this morning. The Jade Rabbit rover aboard a landing craft blasted off atop an unmanned rocket at 1:30 a.m. The rover is expected to land on the lunar surface in mid-December. If successful, China will become the third country to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon.

    Wall Street retreated today after retailers got off to a disappointing start for the holiday season. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 77 points to close at 16,008. The Nasdaq fell 14 points to close at 4,045.

     

     


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    GWEN IFILL: This week marks the beginning of an important enrollment period for the health care law and its battle-scarred federal website. but, for now, the Obama administration says it has good news. Although performance can still be spotty, things are better than they were.

    The White House and the nation's top health agency say users shopping for insurance on healthcare.gov are having far more success today than a month ago. The troubled site, officials said, is working nearly 90 percent of the time for consumers, and that today, there were 375,000 people visits by noon.

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: We believe we made the important progress that we set out to make by November 30, but, as we said in November, and as I have said just now, the work continues to make improvements that still need to be made to the website.

    GWEN IFILL: Officials say the site can now handle 50,000 users at one time and up to 800,000 each day.

    The Health and Human Services Department also said the site's so-called back end, which delivers information to insurers, had been largely repaired. But problems persist. Insurance companies remain unhappy. And increased volume could provide new tests as the December 23 deadline for enrollment nears.

    Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker said Sunday, even if the site gets fixed, the law that spawned it remains deeply flawed.

    SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: The fundamentals of this, to me, were done in a way, a chaotic way much like we're seeing the rollout. It was done in a way that, really, there wasn't a vision at the end. It was just an amalgamation of legislation that didn't have a central focus.

    GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, the cost of fixing healthcare.gov has reached $600 million and counting.

    By the end of the day, the White House was reporting there were 750,000 visitors to HealthCare.gov. That's just today.

    We get more information on all this from two people watching the rollout from behind the scenes, Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News, an independent news organization, and John Engates, the chief technology officer at Rackgates, a server and software company. He's been inside the government website's command center.

    Welcome to you both.

    Mary Agnes Carey, 750,000, well on its way to the 800,000 number that the White House was talking -- that the White House was talking about today, by 5:30 p.m. Eastern. How is that different from what we saw a month ago?

    MARY AGNES CAREY, Kaiser Health News: They say that it's more than double the usual traffic for a Monday. And, of course, there has been a lot of news coverage of the changes they made on the website. So maybe they are getting some people back who had some problems before.

    GWEN IFILL: But there are still problems. And, first, I want you to explain what people mean when they say the front end and the back end of the site. And then we can get to what the problems were.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Right.

    The front end is the consumer experience, consumers logging on to healthcare.gov, shopping or purchasing insurance. The back end is information that goes to the health insurers, how many people are enrolled, do they have a subsidy, how much and so on.

    GWEN IFILL: So the back end is the remaining problem right now. Even though we assume that the patches that are made today will hold at the front end, nine back end is where the insurers are not so happy.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Right. They are very unhappy about -- they are saying they are not getting accurate enrollment information. They don't know if someone qualifies for a subsidy, how much of a subsidy that they're receiving.

    Consumers are calling health insurers and asking if they are enrolled. Insurers in many cases are saying they don't have any record of this. And even with the fixes announced today, the insurance industry was telling me tonight that they still see significant enrollment challenges the way they're getting data right now.

    GWEN IFILL: And yet today on this call -- you were on this call that the White -- that the Health and Human Services officials gave -- they said 80 percent of that back-end insurer's problem had been improved, but they didn't say over what.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Exactly right.

    They're not giving the error rate. Reporters kept asking repeatedly, how many of these forms sent to the insurers had bad information? They're not answering that question. And insurers are saying tonight even the fix that was proposed today hasn't been tested. They don't know whether it's going to work on not.

    GWEN IFILL: What was it fixing? What was the source of the problem?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: They said 80 percent of the problem dealt with a snafu that -- on the Social Security number, entering that into the form, and that created part of the problem.

    GWEN IFILL: And are the fixes you're talking about, whether it's on the front end or on the back end, are they permanent fixes they are putting in place or are these just Band-Aids to get us over this deadline?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: The assumption is that they are permanent fixes, but they have made it very clear, as Jay Carney said, they need to do more and monitor and do more work as they need to going along.

    GWEN IFILL: John Engates, I said you were with Rackgates, but you are from Rackspace.

    JOHN ENGATES, Rackspace: That's right.

    GWEN IFILL: But I want to start by asking you what you saw when you went backstage, as it were, at the command center?

    JOHN ENGATES: Sure.

    So we got a peek behind the curtain last Monday. We got invited up to Washington, D.C., to go to the exchange operation center, where these fixes are being orchestrated. And they have a team of people up there that sit in a command center. Everybody's got computers on their desk. Everybody has got a phone. And there is sort of this air of sort of a, you know, kind of like a control room you would think of at NASA or some sort of launch center.

    It's much smaller, certainly. But they are monitoring the site very carefully. They have screens on the wall with, you know, data about how the website is performing. They have people in the front of the room that are sort of bringing together all of the different vendors and contractors to make sure that they're on the same page when they institute these fixes and upgrades.

    GWEN IFILL: Is the problem, as you see it, about scale, the volume of people who are trying to get on the site, or is it about the performance of the site itself?

    JOHN ENGATES: Well, I mean, those are two sides of the same coin.

    If the site is designed to perform at a certain level, and you have too many users, the site falls over, I mean, basically has a real problem performing. On the flip side of that, if the site was designed for an extraordinarily large number of visitors, then the traffic that we're seeing today or previously wouldn't be a problem.

    GWEN IFILL: Is what you saw in Washington that part of the tech surge that we heard about right after the first problems were discovered?

    JOHN ENGATES: We did.

    We saw the people that were part of that surge. And the surge was basically an addition of more contractors to do sort of these fixes. But it was also an infusion of outside expertise. And so they brought in a gentleman that is on leave from Google. He's now leading -- he was leading the way when I was there that day last week.

    He was in the front of the room sort of running the conference call in the morning. They have a twice-daily conference call to sort of decide what's going right, what's going wrong, what they need to do for that day. And so some of the surge is basically enhancing the level of expertise, bringing in outsiders, but also just ramping up the number of people that are on board from the contractors.

    GWEN IFILL: Without getting too technical, are the problems that you have seen hardware problems or software problems?

    JOHN ENGATES: It's actually been both.

    I mean, we did talk about some of the things that they had done. They did upgrade hardware. They added more hardware. They made settings, changes to the settings on certain pieces of hardware that were potentially configured -- or misconfigured. Then they also made software upgrades to help streamline the system.

    There are elements of this website that, you know, prior to the surge, prior to the fixes, they were doing some complex database look-ups that would take an extraordinarily long period of time on a per-user basis. Some of the changes they made will allow for some of that data to be stored locally, cached, if you will, and make the look-ups a lot faster and make -- that streamline -- or streamlining the process that a user goes through as they're looking at the site.

    GWEN IFILL: And, finally, I want to you ask you this and then I will ask Mary Agnes. What is the next big problem that they need to solve, assuming that the problems that they have already fixed hold?

    JOHN ENGATES: Right.

    So you alluded to this in the beginning of the chat here. The front end is what they have been focused on. The front end is what the user experiences when they're browsing the site or filling out information on the site. The back end is sort of the completion of that transaction to take the sign-up process to completion and sort of feed that data over to the insurance carriers.

    I think that part of it is sort of -- remains to be seen whether they fixed that, whether it's working well. There's another aspect of this that seems to come up from time to time on conversations that I have heard, is the security aspect. And it sort of again remains to be seen whether that was a big element of the focus or whether that got sort of pushed aside as they were working on the performance.

    GWEN IFILL: Mary Agnes, what do you -- today, they say they put in a shopping winnow feature, all these little bells and whistles. But is that the problem that they are facing in the next month or so?

    MARY AGNES CAREY: They have to make sure they can handle the demand. They say they built the site to handle 800,000 people in one day. People need to have a good experience, especially people who have stayed away, are now coming back to be able to process their application.

    There was some mixed experience today on Twitter. Some people had a good experience. Some didn't. They have also got to fix this problem with health insurers. Coverage starts January 1. People have until December 23 to enroll. If insurers don't know that you're in the system, imagine what's going happen when you go to the doctor or the hospital and they have no record of your insurance coverage.

    GWEN IFILL: A big challenge still ahead.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Absolutely.

    GWEN IFILL: Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News, as always, thank you so much.

    MARY AGNES CAREY: Thank you.

    GWEN IFILL: And John Engates of Rackspace, thank you so much.

    JOHN ENGATES: Thank you.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: Cash registers are ringing and many merchants are sing online and in the mall, but how's the economy really doing this holiday season?

    Jeffrey Brown explores that question.

    JEFFREY BROWN: One hundred and thirty-one million Americans, more than a third of the country, are expected to shop online before this day is out. That's according to the National Retail Federation.

    And Brad Wilson at the coupon site BradsDeals.com says a lot is riding on that prediction.

    BRAD WILSON, BradsDeals.com: This day is the single largest e-commerce day all year round. It's so important for the retailers to be competitive.

    JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, holiday cyber-shopping is already well under way. The analytic firm comScore says online sales for Thanksgiving weekend were up 17 percent from last year, helped by greater use of mobile devices.

    At the same time, the Retail Federation estimates that total spending over the weekend, including brick-and-mortar stores, was actually down nearly 3 percent from last year. A record 141 million people went shopping, but the average shopper spent nearly 4 percent less than a year ago, partly due to deep discounts.

    Some big retailers, Wal-Mart and Macy's, for example, say they're not expecting any growth this holiday season, with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 


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    JEFFREY BROWN: Some perspective on these early reports and what it says about the economic health of the American consumer. We turn to Jerry Storch. He has his own advisory firm. He's a veteran of the retail industry, including as former chief executive of Toys 'R' Us.

    So, welcome to you.

    So even as we await for firmer numbers, what are you seeing so far in terms of just how tough a season this will be?

     JERRY STORCH, retail industry veteran: Well, there's no doubt that it started off slow.

    Whether it was up a few points or down a few points, it really wasn't as good over the weekend as people had hoped. We will get final numbers later. But there's no doubt that bricks-and-mortar retailers didn't see the growth in footsteps and in traffic that we had all hoped to see.

    Meanwhile, the big winners as usual were online, with a large growth in smartphone and tablet shopping. Overall, it's moving online rapidly.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us first -- go back a step to the big box stores that you're talking about. They're offering steep discounts. What are they doing to lure people in?

    JERRY STORCH: They're doing everything in the book. We used to have just Black Friday. Then we added green Monday opening earlier on -- -- Green Thursday -- sorry -- opening on Thanksgiving day. They're using the whole box of Crayola crayons now. Every day will its own color with own color, with different sales, different promotion.

    Every weekend, they say, it's just like Black Friday. If every Saturday is like Black Friday, then every day of the year is going to be highly promotional. With that six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, then we know that it is going to have to go rapidly on each day to even make up that shortfall. Six days fewer is a drop of 18 percent in the number of shopping days.

    So each day has to be 18 percent higher to make up for that gap. That's a lot of growth for each day. And we haven't seen it -- we haven't seen it yet.

    JEFFREY BROWN: well, so what's the strategy -- what's the strategy, though, in trying to lure people in with deep discounts? They're expecting -- they're accepting a lower profit margin?

    JERRY STORCH: Well, for a long time, the consumer has said, I want to see big sales or tremendous value at the off-price type of stores, so they're looking at discounts that are 40 or 50 percent off, or nobody's even shopping.

    Now, no retailer wants to plan for weak gross margins, but given the consideration of the season, given the state of the consumer right now, retailers know that if they want to drive the top line, they are going to offer real bargains, not just fake ones, but real bargains. And retailer after retailer has made an announcement that they expect weak gross margin rates for this holiday season.

    And as everyone knows from history, you don't want to lose that top line. The last thing the retailer wants to do is give up the customer to someone else. So, the competitive environment this year is very fierce and consumers are going to be the big winners.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you mentioned the continuing move online. So where are we now in this continuum of online vs. brick-and-mortar shopping? Where is the line now?

    JERRY STORCH: Well, most of the shopping still takes place online. But you -- I'm sorry -- still takes place in the stores. At least will 85, 90 percent of the shopping is in the stores for almost every category.

    Unless a product can be digitized, like books or pre-recorded music, where the Internet has a natural huge advantage, for everything else, 85 to 90 percent is still in the stores. But the stores are struggling just to stay flat, while the Internet is growing at 15 to 20 percent year after year, season after season.

    You heard some of those numbers on your preamble to this discussion. So the Internet is growing. It's all the growth. Meanwhile, the stores are flat or declining, and that shift is taking place gradually but certainly in the balance of power.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I know that a lot of this battle is now being fought over delivery, right, who can deliver most quickly, most efficiently.

    JERRY STORCH: Well, that's true.

    And one of the things to remember is that when we say that the battle is moving online, that doesn't mean it's moving to online-only retailers. A lot of the growth we're seeing online is from the online outlets of the bricks-and-mortar retailers, so Wal-Mart.com, Target.com, ToysRUs.com, Saks.com, Macy's.com.

    That is where a lot of the growth is too in addition to Amazon.com, because the stores over time have an advantage in that fight, because they are physical locations. You can choose to pick the product up in the store. You can order it from the store and have it sent to your home. Over time, what we have termed omni-channel retailing is a winning model, certainly can hold up very well against the online-only model.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jerry Storch, thank you very much.

    JERRY STORCH: Thank you.

     


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    "I had to create something that would allow people room to laugh at things they can't really talk about easily," said James McBride about his National Book Award winner "The Good Lord Bird." The humorous book, set in pre-Civil War Kansas territory, follows abolitionist John Brown through the eyes of a young slave boy.

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    GWEN IFILL: A new show in San Francisco features the work of a prolific contemporary artist.

    Special correspondent Spencer Michels has our story.

    SPENCER MICHELS: It's a huge exhibition, and it features 398 pieces of art by the British artist David Hockney, the largest show in the history of San Francisco's de Young Museum. Hockney has painted or produced most of this art in the last decade using 14 different media, including charcoal, oil, watercolor, cameras and iPads, digital art that is a major feature of this show.

    Among the most dramatic work here is "The Massacre and the Problems of Depiction," a grisly and intriguing watercolor that harks back to Goya and Picasso, with the added twist of a hooded photographer apparently figuring out how to depict what he's seeing.

    That's been one of Hockney's major preoccupations throughout his long career. In this show, some work repeats techniques and themes he has used before. He has continued painting portraits, often of his friends and family, long a favorite subject for him. He even did a series of uniformed museum security guards, which he whipped out a decade ago.

    But he has always been innovative in subject matter and technique. In the '60s, he moved from England to Los Angeles, and began a series of vivid paintings of swimming pools and nude friends in them or getting out of them, pictures he became famous for. Some critics classified his work as pop art, a term he doesn't embrace.

    DAVID HOCKNEY, artist: Well, I never thought that, but, I mean, other people did. I mean, I didn't.

    Somebody said, actually, I was more related to Alexander Pope than pop. I'm just an artist who's done my work. I have done it now for 50, 60 years, and I will do it until I fall over, actually.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Hockney, who has had a stroke and is hard of hearing, recently turned 76, placing him in the ranks of older artists. But many critics consider him young because of his use of technology, especially the use of the iPad and multiple digital cameras.

    He used 18 purposely slightly-out-of-synch cameras to record "The Jugglers" in 2012 in what he regards as a cubist movie. He has blown up to gigantic size images he created on an iPad, nature scenes from his childhood home in East Yorkshire and pictures of Yosemite in California. They are part of his stated mission to get people look at their surroundings.

    DAVID HOCKNEY: I have always been very excited visually. I have. And I think I see a bit more than other people do. I mean, I have pointed out, you know, most people don't really look very hard. They scan the ground in front of them, so they can walk.

    SPENCER MICHELS: And "Yosemite" that is behind us here, you're seeing things that I might not see, perhaps?

    DAVID HOCKNEY: Well, actually, that day was a remarkable day in Yosemite, because the clouds were below us, and that's quite rare. And I drew it quite quickly, actually.

    SPENCER MICHELS: You think speed is important. You have mentioned that several times.

    DAVID HOCKNEY: Well, any draftsman knows about speed. I mean, Rembrandt drawings, you can see speed in them.

    I am interested in speed. I think most painters paint faster than they tell you.

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    SPENCER MICHELS: Hockney doesn't slow down, except for frequent cigarette breaks; he's adamant on that subject. He is a celebrity among art lovers, and has been in the public eye for decades.

    According to the museum director, Colin Bailey, he defies the traditional view of an aging artist.

    COLIN BAILEY, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: In a celebrated essay about aging, the art historian Kenneth Clark talked about transcendental pessimism and raging against the night. And that is an idea, a sort of cliche almost, that we have. We certainly don't see it in late Hockney.

    This is a man who is very active, very energetic, but we are in a period where every day counts, and I sense that with this desire to work all the time. However, the idea of old age and old age style is something that when you look at Hockney's recent work, you're sort of dumbfounded, because these look like the work of a very young man: energetic, exuberant, vital, optimistic.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Hockney's fascination with new development in digital images goes beyond a simple camera, which he says provides only a split second snapshot in time.

     

    He sketches directly on the iPad using an app called Brushes. You can see him here making pictures in these recordings on display in the museum.

    Somebody your age, my age, all that technology, is it -- it must be tough, huh?

    DAVID HOCKNEY: Well, I mean, it's not that tough for me. I mean, I'm only interested in the technology of picture-making, anything that makes pictures.

    So, cameras, I was always interested in. The iPad is a -- I think a terrific new medium, much better than drawing on the Photoshop and things, because you can pick up a color. In fact, you can be very, very fast on an iPad, faster than watercolor.

    SPENCER MICHELS: But Hockney's reputation comes not from his digital images, but according to Richard Benefield, the museum's deputy director, from his skills as a draftsman.

    RICHARD BENEFIELD, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: I think the draftsmanship is at the core of everything that he does, whether it's making the photo collages that he did in the '80s, making prints, even the way he puts together the screens or the video cameras to make these multi-camera movies.

    SPENCER MICHELS: In this grouping, Hockney has taken four video views of the same woods in Woldgate in different seasons using nine cameras. The images surround the visitor and provide a dramatic, yet peaceful experience.

    Like the seasons depicted here, Hockney's work changes constantly, which is part of his allure, but so too is his continuing fascination with nature. "The Bigger Exposition" contains a raft of new charcoal drawings of the wooded English countryside.

    And full-color landscapes are prominent in the Hockney show, despite what Benefield says is a trend in the art world against them.

    RICHARD BENEFIELD: There have been people who have said, who's painting landscapes anymore? Landscapes are dead.

    But David has said, it's nature and it's always changing, so how can you not want to paint it? And, you know, with his landscapes, spring is always coming at some point, no matter where you are. So I think in some ways the landscape is a really life-affirming sort of choice for him.

    SPENCER MICHELS: Life-affirming is really what Hockney is about. And he executes his work with a twinkle in his well-trained eye. The Hockney exhibit runs only in San Francisco through Jan. 20, 2014.

     


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    Amazon announced its intent to use drones to deliver packages under five pounds within a few years. Photo by Amazon.

    A U.S. Senate committee will hold a hearing early next year on the potential economic impact of companies using drones, including the newly announced Amazon Prime Air.

    BuzzFeed reported Monday an aide to Sen. Jay Rockefeller -- the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation -- acknowledged plans for the hearing began before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans for drone delivery.

    Rockefeller said Amazon's plan is "just one example of the potential this technology offers consumers."

    "As we move forward toward integrating drones into civilian life and capitalizing on the economic opportunities they offer, we must make certain that these aircraft meet rigorous safety and privacy standards," he said. "I plan to hold a hearing early next year to explore the potential economic benefits of unmanned vehicles in our airspace as well as the potential risks they may create."

    H/T Sam Lane

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Hundreds of thousands of protesters have stormed the streets of the Ukrainian capital in recent days, upset that the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych, walked away from a deal with the European Union after warnings from Russia.

    We begin our coverage with a report from Kiev by Matt Frei of Independent Television News.

     MATT FREI: Ukraine's winter of discontent has only just begun. Today, protesters were back on the streets of Kiev, their intention, to paralyze government by blockading it.

    Thousands of demonstrators marched on the seats of executive power at the Cabinet of Ministers' headquarters.

    "We have to block entire streets, the streets behind us also, to make sure that not even one official will get to their office," this protester shouted.

    So far, it seems to have worked. The Ukrainian government is paralyzed between protesters calling for revolution and President Putin of Russia threatening at least economic revenge if Ukraine rekindles its flirtation with the E.U. It's not the first time that Ukraine, a nation of 45 million souls, finds itself in this tug of war between Eastern and Western Europe.

    Nine years ago, the Orange Revolution led to a rerun of suspect elections and Mr. Yanukovych's ouster from office. He seems determined not to repeat that experience. The question is whether he has overplayed his hand by giving into Russian demands.

    The new generation of protesters empowered by the memories and failed promises of the Orange Revolution and the organizational tool of the Internet are equally determined not to give in. For them, this battle is about the soul of their nation. They were outraged by the government's 11th-hour U-turn against an agreement with the E.U., which would have been an essential milestone towards full E.U. membership.

    The toxic situation here was further inflamed by the heavy and brutal hand of the police. The riot police used tear gas, baton charges and stun grenades. The protesters responded with rocks. The result? Dozens of injured on both sides and a foretaste of things to come in a crisis with no elegant or obvious solution.

     


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