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

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the protests and what it all means, I'm joined by former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Steven Pifer, now a director and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    So, tell us more about why these -- these protests have been happening. They started, what, a week ago Sunday.

    STEVEN PIFER, former U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine: Well, 10 days ago, President Yanukovych's government said it was going to suspend its effort to sign an association of unity that would have brought it to closer to the European Union.

    And you saw it a week ago yesterday Sunday, 100,000 people on the streets of Kiev protesting that. The turnout yesterday was bolstered by the fact that there is huge outrage in the Ukraine over the use of force on Saturday morning. More blood was shed in Ukraine on Saturday and Sunday than in three weeks of the Orange Revolution. And there is a visceral reaction on the parts of the Ukrainians to that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why do they feel so strongly about this deal with the European Union falling apart, at least for now?

    STEVEN PIFER: Europe has a lot of attraction for Ukrainians. Polls show more than 50 percent of the Ukrainian population now would like to get closer to Europe.

    And it's because of the living standards, but it's also because of rule of law. For a country where there is corruption, where crony politics, they would like to have a more normal democratic system, and that is the attraction of Europe.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But their leader, Mr. Yanukovych, has been under a lot of pressure from Russia, from Vladimir Putin.

    STEVEN PIFER: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Why did he give in to that pressure?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, I think there were a couple of things.

    First of all, it wasn't clear before the government made its announcement that it was suspending its work. It wasn't clear that they had met all of the European Union conditions, because the European Union said, in order to do this, for the European Union side, there had to be certain criteria in the democracy area.

    The other consideration was the pressure from Russia and concern that at least in the short term, the association agreement, which would have brought Ukraine into a free trade arrangement with Europe, would have had some dislocation costs for the Ukraine industry, although the payoffs in the long term would have been huge.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, for Yanukovych, was he seriously considering the E.U. arrangement?

    STEVEN PIFER: I think Mr. Yanukovych, he certainly wanted to sign the agreement.

    And there were reports that some of his advisers were saying, if you sign this agreement, you could then campaign for reelection in 2015 as the man who brought Ukraine into Europe.

    I'm not sure he understood what all of the implementation would require, but that was sort of a longer-term consideration, and he tends to think short-term.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And why -- why are the Russians, why is Putin, in particular, so determined that Ukraine is going to remain within its orbit and closer to Russia?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, there's a couple of reasons, first of all, the long historical connections between Russia and Ukraine.

    But, also, you have seen, I think, over the last several years under Vladimir Putin an effort to really reestablish Russian influence in the post-Soviet space. He doesn't want to rebuild the Soviet Union, but he does want his neighbors, particularly Ukraine, to pay attention to Russians' interests on big questions.

    And I think from the Russian point of view, a Ukraine that signs an association agreement and implements it is going to be well out of Moscow's geopolitical orbit.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as you -- as you look at the terms of what they were talking about with the European Union, short term would have been difficult for the country economically, but long term they stood to gain a lot in terms of commerce...

    STEVEN PIFER: Exactly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: ... and trade. Why was that not -- why was that not enticement overriding the Russian offer?

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, again, I think the attraction certainly was there.

    But when Mr. Yanukovych looked at it -- again, I think he looks in the short term, and he saw problems both in terms of some dislocation to Ukrainian industry simply from joining a market with more competitive European industries, but he also saw the threat which the Russians have demonstrated over the last four months of perhaps economic sanctions and cutting off Russian -- or the Russian market to Ukraine.

    So, again, his short-term considerations led him to make a decision in terms of suspending the agreement that I think denied his country some huge long-term benefits.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now he has huge these protests on his hands.

    STEVEN PIFER: Right.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: How much -- how much of the population do these folks represent? I think you said over 50 percent. But if it -- is it -- is it possible to know how much of the population wants one thing or another thing?


    STEVEN PIFER: I mean, that is a difficult question.

    I mean, most of the polls in the last several months have shown 50 -- one even had 58 percent of the Ukrainians say that they wanted to see their country move towards the European Union and that they favored the association agreement.

    The numbers are always -- it's hard to tell exactly how many people are on the streets, but there is no doubt that what we saw yesterday and then a week ago, these were the largest demonstrations in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution nine years ago. So there really has -- there is chord out there on the public part that has been touched, and they are pushing hard.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And so what are the options at this point? They continue protesting, what does -- what can Yanukovych -- Mr. Yanukovych do?

    STEVEN PIFER: I think Mr. Yanukovych's options have become more narrow.

    There is no way -- and I don't think he was inclined to turn back towards Russia and the customs union. What his decision was, was to pause on the way to Europe, not reverse course. But perhaps the best course now is, can he find a way to do a political dialogue with the opposition and basically the street and try to find some kind of accommodation?

    The longer this demonstration goes, though, and the longer the numbers stand out, it is going to be harder for him to do that.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Does he have the connections, the communication and the ability to have that kind of communication in negotiation to find a way out of this?

    STEVEN PIFER: I'm not sure he has the political disposition to get into that kind of dialogue, because it's going to require a real sense of compromise. And he's going to have to reach out to political opponents in order to find some kind of settlement. So it's pretty tricky ground he's on.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying he really has no choice, that he's -- he's -- he has to go in the direction of the Russian offer at this point.

    STEVEN PIFER: Well, I think, at this point, he's limited.

    He -- turning back towards Russia is going to cause even more disquiet on the part of the Ukrainian public and the Ukrainian elite and also on the part of Ukrainian business. So, he's limited on that point.

    And, also, I mean, I think he's now seen he can't use force. One of the reasons why you have such a large number of people out on the streets is because of the use of force on Saturday. So, again, his options are becoming narrower and narrower.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Steven Pifer, former ambassador to the Ukraine, thank you very much.

    STEVEN PIFER: Thank you for having me.



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    JUDY WOODRUFF: The NewsHour continues now with a second look at an education story with big implications for both students and teachers. It's about a new set of standards known as the Common Core. Our special correspondent for education, John Merrow, reports.

    JOHN MERROW:   Today, Erin Garry's eighth grade English class is having a debate.

    ERIN GARRY, The School for Global Leaders: Thirty seconds.

    JOHN MERROW:   And round one is about to begin.

    ERIN GARRY: You guys can start.

    STUDENT: Freedom of speech should mean what it's saying, freedom of speech. There shouldn't be limitations on freedom.

    STUDENT: I disagree.

    JOHN MERROW:   Students in the center of the room argue their case.

    STUDENT: But you have no proof.

    ERIN GARRY: Thirty seconds.

    JOHN MERROW:   Team members on the sidelines offer support.

    ERIN GARRY: They're passing notes saying, you should ask this follow-up question, or look at this page in your text so that you can reference this piece of evidence to support your ideas.

    STUDENT: They have power, but we also have power.

    JOHN MERROW:   To prepare for the debate, the eighth graders have read several articles about freedom of speech.

    STUDENT: You can't just say what you're saying because you feel, like, that's right. You need to have evidence about it.

    STUDENT: You said that the government, that we have more power than the government.

    JOHN MERROW:   Teacher Erin Garry keeps score.

    ERIN GARRY: Kids collect points for using certain discussion skills, according to the Common Core standards.

    JOHN MERROW:   The Common Core standards have been adopted by her state, New York, 44 other states and the District of Columbia. The new standards expect a lot more from students and teachers.

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY, New York City Chief Academic Officer: You have so many different skills that you're exploring in that one activity.

    JOHN MERROW:   Shael Polakow-Suransky is New York City's chief academic officer.

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: You're getting kids to defend their ideas, to speak persuasively, to analyze the presentations that their peers are making, using evidence from nonfiction texts.

    JOHN MERROW:   Is that what the Common Core holds in the future, that kind of teaching?

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Yes. Critical thinking is the -- at the heart of this. Working in teams and collaborating is at the heart of this.

    JOHN MERROW:   So, before the Common Core, what was the situation?

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Every state had its own standards. If you went to Massachusetts, you had some pretty rigorous, tough standards -- Alabama or Louisiana, not so much.

    ERIN GARRY: Students were learning different things in Florida from what they were learning in New York City from what they were learning in Nebraska, and even what they were learning in each school in New York City.

    JOHN MERROW:   To clear up the confusion, some governors and state superintendents developed a common set of standards, which states could choose to adopt or not. From the beginning, the Obama administration pushed the states to adopt them.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We laid out a few key criteria and said, if you meet these tests, we will reward you by helping you reform your schools.

    JOHN MERROW:   The reward was significant: hundreds of millions of dollars to states that pledged to do what Washington wanted. States competed for a share of the $4.35 billion in what Washington calls Race to the Top.

    MAN: We're nervous.  

    JOHN MERROW:   Forty-six states and the District of Columbia presented ambitious plans.

    RAYNE MARTIN, Recovery School District, Louisiana: Oh, we believe Louisiana is one of the top candidates for this. I mean, we have such exciting reform going on.

    JOHN MERROW:   Only a handful of states have actually won federal money, but most have fallen in line and adopted the Common Core.

    The Common Core standards are only the what. They describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. They're not the how. How the standards are taught, what happens in classrooms, that's the curriculum.

    Developing and selling curriculum materials is a billion-dollar business, but some states, including New York, are harnessing their own resources.

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: We started by asking our teachers to build curriculum units, and the best ones go up on our Common Core library as models.

    JOHN MERROW:   Both New York City and New York state offer free Common Core lesson plans developed by teachers.

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: Last October, one went up. It was so popular, in one day, there were 3,000 downloads.

    JOHN MERROW:   Suransky expects teachers to teach differently. New York City selected 35 schools where it's helping teachers make the transition.

    Erin Garry teaches in one of them.

    ERIN GARRY: Two minutes, one polish, one praise.

    When we started implementing the Common Core at our school two years ago, I started giving students more responsibility within the classroom so that they can be responsible for their own learning.

    STUDENT: Let's get the main idea about what we think about it, and then we can find evidence.

    STUDENT: I think one of the most important ones was the last one.

    JOHN MERROW:   Jessie Startup has also modified her teaching.

    JESSIE STARTUP, The School for Global Leaders: With mathematics, it used to be, this is how you do it. Here are your steps. If you don't do it that way, you're wrong.

    Why you think this graph matches to one of the situations here.

    Now the Common Core says, do it any way you want. Just be able to do it and justify your answer. So, students could draw a picture to figure out an answer, set up an equation, make a table. There's a variety of methods to do the same problem.

    JOHN MERROW:   Things may be changing in a few hundred classrooms, but New York City has 75,000 teachers. Brenda Cartagena has 13 years of teaching experience. She says many teachers, especially new ones, are feeling overwhelmed.

    BRENDA CARTAGENA, The Courtlandt School: We were not given curriculums, and said this is what you guys are going to do. They just told us, this is the expectation, and you figure it out.

    JOHN MERROW:   How far are you to changing the teaching to line it up with the Common Core?

    SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY: I think we're about halfway there.

    JOHN MERROW:   Higher standards, innovative curriculum and changes in teaching are three aspects of what could be a sea change in America's schools. As challenging as they are, the final part, testing to find out if all of this is working, may be the highest hurdle of all.

    When Kentucky tested Common Core skills last year, scores fell 30 percentile points.

    Is this test a high-stakes test for you, the teacher?

    ERIN GARRY: Yes. If my students bomb the test, that looks very, very bad for me.

    And in first place with 66 points is team six.  


    JOHN MERROW:   Schools, students and teachers will have this year and the next to transition to the Common Core. Serious testing begins in 2015.


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: this year's National Book Award for Fiction went to a novel that retells a very familiar story from American history with a thoroughly new twist.

    Jeff is back with that.

    JEFFREY BROWN: "I was born a colored man, and don't you forget it, but I lived as a colored woman for 17 years" -- the words of Kansas-born slave Henry or Henrietta Shackleford, who in the novel "The Good Lord Bird" becomes one of the ragtag followers of the abolitionist John Brown and survives to tell of the raid on Harpers Ferry.

    This is the third novel by James McBride. He's also author of the bestselling memoir "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother."

    But, first, congratulations to you.

    JAMES MCBRIDE, "The Good Lord Bird: A Novel": Thank you very much.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So the story of John Brown has been written and written about in nonfiction and fiction. You, what, felt you had something more to tell?

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Well, I wanted to tell it in a funny way and I wanted people to, you know, know about them. And I wanted to -- I tried to come up with a way to tell his story that was compelling and funny, I suppose.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Funny, you use that word twice. This is a very funny book about a very serious subject. I mean, why did you want to put humor into it, into the life of John Brown and slavery?

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Well, slavery is such a droll subject.

    And it's depressing. I didn't want to write a book that was depression. I don't want to read a book that's depressing. So I just thought that -- and he's -- and John Brown was so funny. I mean, he wasn't funny. He was -- he actually had no sense of humor at all...


    JAMES MCBRIDE: ... which made him perfect, the perfect person to make fun of.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All those pictures of him and, you know...

    JAMES MCBRIDE: So strict and...

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.

    JAMES MCBRIDE: ... just so stern-looking, and he was very religious. And it just made him a perfect caricature item.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and in your telling he's often going on and on with the prayers, forever mangling passages from the Bible, right?

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Well, he actually -- yes, he mangles the Bible pretty badly in my book, but in real life he was a little more -- he probably was more cognitive of the Old Testament than most people he came across.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, you used the word caricature. Was that the intention from the beginning or -- is that a way into a more -- well, what is it a way into?


    JAMES MCBRIDE: Historical novels are hard to do for the general public for commercial writers like myself.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes.

    JAMES MCBRIDE: So I had to create something that would allow people room to laugh at things they can't really talk about easily. And that's really -- that was really the point of it, to kind of give people space to laugh at everyone so they can see some of the truths inside the historical facts.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And the way in is this wonderful character Henrietta, whose nick named by John Brown Onion...



    JEFFREY BROWN: ... Little Onion, right?

    A vernacular voice that you write in, a black voice telling this story.

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Well, I love that old country, that old country talk, you know. We still have a lot of Americans who talk like that black and white that sort of direct black vernacular. I was born by the river and, you know, the kind of hee-haw chitchat.

    A lot of the old men in my family talk like that. And I always wanted to find a way to put that in a narrative. And this was just the perfect place.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So you just had fun with it? How did you do it?

    JAMES MCBRIDE: I just had fun with it.

    Well, once the character Onion became real to me...


    JAMES MCBRIDE: .. I just tell fell into his voice.

    I mean, in real life, I was going through a lot of personal trauma, divorce, my mother died, and my niece passed away. And this was a chance for me to just have fun with someone, to dip into a world with a character who had deep problems, but just managed to laugh them off and kind of keep moving.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And along the way you're messing with some big icons, John Brown, of course. Frederick Douglass comes in for a cameo here. And you -- it's not the most reverent view of Frederick Douglass I have ever read, that's for sure.

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Well, yes, I got scorched a little bit by that Frederick Douglass depiction, but it is funny.

    And Frederick Douglass in real life was married to a black woman and had a white mistress and they lived in the same house together. I mean, that -- you know, you can't do that in Brooklyn now.


     JAMES MCBRIDE: I don't know where you can do it. Maybe there are places you can do it.

    But my point is that it's just ripe for making -- for cracking a joke about it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So did you start -- I mean, the inevitable question is, how much did you stick, feel you had to stick to facts? Did you do research and then throw it all aside or check your facts along the way? Because you also have a past a journalist, I happen to know, too, right?


    Well, you know, I made sure to make people understand that this is a novel. But I would say about 70 to 80 percent of it is true. The basic facts are quite true. I mean, they couldn't be truer. I had to have -- I took some liberties with John Brown's praying, you know, and some his language.

    But the facts are, John Brown did do the things he did. He was against slavery. And he fought in the wars in Kansas and then he attacked Harpers Ferry. And he Frederick Douglass did -- he did ask Frederick Douglas to join him, and Frederick Douglass said, no. Are you crazy? This is a suicide mission.

    And John Brown did fumble through life. He was a failed businessman. He failed at a lot of things. And he always managed to do things, but he never did them on time. They kind of never -- they never -- he just -- the train just kind of rumbled forward, but never arrived on time and with the passages on it that should have been there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And just briefly, how did you come to see John Brown in the end?

    JAMES MCBRIDE: I loved him. I mean, I grew up in the church. And he was very religious, and that was one of the things that really attracted me to him and the power of religion that made him so -- that made him such a force as something that still exists in my own life.

    And so I really admire him. I admire him now more now than I did when I first learned of him.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we're going to continue this conversation online.

    But, for now, the book is "The Good Lord Bird." National Book Award winner James McBride, thanks so much. And congratulations.

    JAMES MCBRIDE: Thank you very much. Delighted.


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    Darth Vader poses for a selfie. Photo from Star Wars' new Instagram feed.

    Star Wars is now officially on Instagram. And what better way to make their debut than with a selfie from a Sith Lord?

    Though the feed only has two photos at time of writing, expectations of more 30-year-old behind-the-scenes photos that emphasize the "later" in #latergram and the potential chance for photos from the upcoming sequel movie "Episode VII" may see followers rise quicker than Luke's X-Wing from the Dagobah swamp.

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    How do students in the United States compare to those around the world?  According to the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, American students scored in the middle range on the reading, math and science tests taken last year by 500,000 15-year-olds around the globe. Students in several Asian countries earned the highest scores on the 2012 exams created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

    “They are never perfect but PISA shows what is possible in education,” Andreas Schleicher, OEDC's Deputy Director for Education and Skills said on a video explaining the scores. “It helps countries see themselves in the mirror of the educational results and the opportunities that are delivered by the world’s educational leaders.”

    The PISA test is given every three years in more than 60 countries in an effort to measure achievement. Before the OECD developed the test two decades ago, governments were being compared by how much money they spend on education, not how well students performed, Schleicher told the BBC.

    The 2012 survey had a special focus on math literacy, and in that subject Shanghai, China (Taipei, Macau and Hong Kong were also among the testing sites in China) scored higher than any other country measured in the testing round. The United States fared slightly below average compared to other participating countries.

    While the U.S. as a whole did not earn high marks on the tests, individual states stood out in some subjects. Massachusetts scored better than the U.S. average in the math test, putting it on par with Germany. Florida scored below the U.S. average.

    The report also analyzed the correlations between social background and learning outcomes and examined how spending on education relates to academic performance.

    With the U.S. scores below the average of other participating countries, suggestions about how to improve student performance will almost inevitably follow the release of the PISA results. But a January 2013 report from the Economic Policy Institute (and therefore not reflecting any analysis of the 2012 PISA testing data but including data evaluation from the 2009 test), found that conclusions drawn from international test comparisons can often be oversimplified and exaggerated. It suggests making meaningful policy decisions about the U.S. educational system based on the data alone is ill advised without a more comprehensive study of the results and methodology.

    American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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    Seeking to move past the health care law's website woes, President Barack Obama, seen here Monday speaking about AIDS, will refocus the public's attention on broader benefits of the sweeping law. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

    Consider it a sort of Affordable Care Act advent calendar, just in time for the holidays.

    President Barack Obama will spend the next three weeks evangelizing the health care law in a carefully coordinated campaign with Democrats and political allies joining in the effort.

    Mr. Obama will begin highlighting his signature domestic accomplishment at the White House at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, joined by people who support the law.

    An administration official previewed the new push, saying the president will detail "the benefits that have already kicked in for millions of middle class families who have insurance and the importance of continuing to help as many hardworking Americans as possible enroll for their new health care options through the Marketplaces."

    The president will talk about recent improvements to HealthCare.gov and "focus attention back on the core principles of reform that have been lost in the attention on the website, and invoke the successes that are already flowing from the law and what it means for the millions of Americans who are already directly benefitting. And he will make clear what the cost of repealing the law would be for these middle class families who have already begun to rely on these benefits," the official said.

    The Morning LineAt the same time, the Democratic National Committee is going live with a new website to remind voters that Republicans have sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    Carrie Budoff Brown and Jonathan Allen had the early details of the "three-week drive to refocus the public on the law's benefits," as the president returns to what they describe as "sales mode."

    They write:

    The White House will take the lead in emphasizing a different benefit each day until the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. The daily message will be amplified through press events and social media by Democratic members of Congress, the Democratic National Committee, congressional campaign committees and advocacy organizations, officials said.

    The fresh push is an attempt to get back to the game plan that Democrats wanted to pursue before the faulty website forced them into full-time damage control. The president needs to rebuild confidence in the law among the public and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, who have threatened to roll back aspects of Obamacare if the insurance marketplace didn't improve quickly -- and wants to focus attention on what would be lost if it were repealed.

    Lori Lodes, senior vice president of the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, told Politico: "We are able to hit reset on the conversation ... We have to make sure people understand how the law will benefit them."

    The coordination has included daily communications calls with House Democratic leadership aides and the White House will start daily calls with Senate Democratic leadership aides, Politico reported.

    The Associated Press' Julie Pace notes that the under-siege president also will "take aim at Republicans, arguing that the GOP is trying to strip away those benefits without presenting an alternative."

    But it won't be easy for the president to keep focused on the positive, with problems continuing to plague the sign-up process and those same Republicans eager to keep after Mr. Obama's administration.

    Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin reported for the Washington Post that some Americans who thought they signed up for new insurance online "might not get the coverage they're expecting next month" thanks to computer glitches affecting roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1.

    Talking Points Memo, meanwhile, rounds up the best and worst state exchange websites, two months into the rollout.

    The NewsHour on Monday discussed the improvements to HealthCare.gov and the problems remaining for insurers trying to access enrollment data. Gwen Ifill spoke with Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News and John Engates of RackSpace. Watch the segment here or below:

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    Women in Avadi, a suburb of the city of Chennai in southern India, try InVenture's phone-based accounting tool InSight. Photos courtesy of InVenture

    While growing up in northern India, Shivani Siroya says she encountered entrepreneurs on a regular basis. Now, she's helping them track their finances in order to boost their businesses.

    It all began in 2008 while she was working for the U.N. Population Fund. While there, Siroya said she interviewed many entrepreneurs and saw how they operated their businesses, bought raw materials and spent their profits.

    She found that many people didn't have access to the financial tools that would help them get loans and expand their businesses. They didn't even write down their expenses and profits.

    "It's not that they weren't doing money management -- a lot was being done in their head -- but they weren't making a budget," she said. They weren't planning ahead and were basically just trying to make ends meet.

    These entrepreneurs had great potential but didn't have anything in writing to show banks that they were running a profitable business and deserved a loan, said Siroya. The resulting perception that they couldn't handle a loan persisted to the point where they didn't even try, she said.

    That's why she entered the picture to try to give them the tools to track their finances in a way that would help them as well as the lenders. Siroya started InVenture in 2011. Her organization developed a product called InSight that aims to make it easy for people to enter and keep track of their financial information in a database.

    Here's how it works: Users call the number for InSight and answer questions either by voice or text messaging in their own language. They can view their financial information in the form of pie charts and other visuals.

    InVenture doesn't charge people to use InSight. Instead, the company makes money through licensing the product to microfinance institutions, nongovernmental organizations and banks. The product appeals to those groups because it gives them data about their beneficiaries, Siroya said. So they promote the use of InSight to their clients, and that in turn helps InVenture with distribution.

    Siroya tweeted about the beta test in India on Dec. 6, 2011:

    @inventurefund heading to Vandavasi w/ #txtweb team! 1st day of rolling out the beta of #insight! #sms#mobile#indiapic.twitter.com/chw1Z1eT

    — Shivani Siroya (@shivsiroya) December 7, 2011

    Siroya also came to realize that, in any country, a credit score helps you prove your financial reliability. So why not create a standard credit score in India that was comparable to other countries, she thought.

    She used the cash flow information collected by InSight to help create that credit score. People can use those credit scores to prove their buying power at financial institutions that have partnered with InVenture.

    Siroya said she's been meeting with government officials in India and elsewhere to convince them of the value of the financial data and the global credit score. When asked how successful she's been, she said it depends on the country. Places that don't have a credit bureau or microfinancing institutions tend to be more receptive because they are interested in systems that help provide transparency, she explained.

    Residents of Bangalore in southern India undergo InSight training.

    InVenture's clients have incomes that range from $100 per month to $1,500 per month, but most are in the middle -- those who earn about $300 to $600 per month, said Siroya. Because of the improvement in their accounting, some even have gone on to qualify for home loans up to $19,000, she said.

    "It's amazing to see a woman use [InSight] and say, 'I have awareness of my finances and now I can get a home for my family.'"

    The biggest challenge, she said, is getting people to "buy into" the concept of tracking their finances after a lifetime of not keeping a written record. The group tried using lotteries and prizes to encourage clients' repeat use of InSight, but realized those gimmicks weren't needed if people bought into the idea of its usefulness.

    InVenture, which now has a staff of 16, continues to refine InSight and confer with members of the community on how it's marketed. "We are still working on the messaging and figuring out how to make the product fun" she said, so that people will be more inclined to use it in their daily lives.

    The NewsHour's Agents for Change series highlights individuals helping communities solve problems, build businesses and create jobs. Read more Social Entrepreneurship profiles.

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    By Nick Corcodilos

    An employer who tells you what to expect in the interview -- imagine that! There's no benefit to the employer in trying to trick the interviewee. Photo courtesy of David Gould via Getty Images.

    Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

    In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees -- just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

    Question: I'm a training and placement specialist and a long-time subscriber to the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter. I'd like to share an email one of our clients received confirming an interview. I've changed the identifying information, but otherwise this is exactly how it was written. I love it when employers tell us what they expect. Too often, we are left to guess. What do you think of this approach to interview invitations?

    Chris Walker Employment & Training Solutions Akron, Ohio


    Letter received by a job applicant:

    Dear Joe,

    You are confirmed to interview on Thursday November 17, 2011. You will be interviewing for the Mechanic position with [XYZ, Inc.]. The meeting will take place at the address and time listed below

    ADDRESS 1234 Main St Akron, OH 44313 (330) 888-8888

    INTERVIEW SCHEDULE 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

    INTERVIEWERS [name], Vice President, Operations [name], Manager, Process Control [name], Electrical Engineer

    INTERVIEW PREPARATION During your interview, you should expect to be asked behavioral-based questions where your responses need to be specific and detailed. Be ready to share several examples from your past experience -- jobs, projects, teams, volunteer work -- where you demonstrated strong behaviors and skills, and think in terms of examples that will show off your selling points. Be sure to come prepared with both positive and negative examples.

    To learn more about XYZ products and services visit [our website].

    Contact me with any questions.

    Thank you.

    [name], MBA Director, Human Resources


    Nick Corcodilos: Gee -- imagine that! An interview invitation that includes the actual names of interviewers a candidate will meet and talk with. Most employers won't disclose this information for fear that the candidate might actually call them prior to the interview. Perish the thought!

    That's right, HR managers don't want anyone bothering their managers with questions about an open job -- least of all people who are about to invest their valuable time in a job interview. It's better to let the applicant show up guessing what the employer wants, rather than help a candidate get hired by sharing a clear set of expectations. (The smarter alternative for managers is to open the door.)

    Why don't employers do everything they can to help you get hired? For that matter, why don't managers invest heavily in interview futures, rather than shop for talent at the last minute?

    MORE FROM NICK CORCODILOS: Ask The Headhunter: You Think YOU Have Job Troubles?

    Most employers don't want to tip their hand about what you will be asked in a job interview. That would be giving it all away and it would destroy the element of surprise! Why enable candidates to prepare before they interview? Better to let them show up wondering! Do these same managers also give their employees surprise assignments without any suggestions about how to do the work?

    Employers behave like total dopes when they schedule interviews. It's a rare employer that actually helps the candidate prepare. My hat is off to this organization -- it clearly believes that helping a candidate succeed in the job interview will help make a better hire.

    But I'd take this further. As an employer, I would:

    Call the candidate in advance and suggest specific resources the candidate should use to prepare for the interview. Offer to let the candidate talk with team members to ask questions so he or she can prepare fully for the interview. Conduct a "cook's tour" of the facility prior to the interview, so the candidate can see firsthand what the work -- and the business -- is all about. (See "Kick the candidate out of your office.") Tell the candidate to be ready to explain or demonstrate how he or she would do the job effectively and profitably.

    Some employers might scoff that this would be a waste of time and claim that the purpose of the interview is to discuss all these things. I say bunk. A good manager would never blind-side an employee with a work assignment. A good manager would encourage and help an employee prepare in advance to help ensure success. The point of a job interview is to expedite hiring a capable candidate -- so why not help ensure success by prepping the candidate? It's all the same challenge: to get the work done!

    Why do managers and HR folks act like a job interview is some sort of trick, where they try to see if they can get the applicant to stumble and make a mistake? Could it be that some managers and HR people have no idea how to assess a candidate's ability to do the job -- so they play childish games instead? Let's keep in mind that interviewing people is a way of working with them to get a job done -- it's not a gauntlet designed to intimidate the applicant.

    Dear readers: Help extend my list of what an employer can do to help a candidate prepare for an interview -- and to help the candidate succeed.

    What would you like to see employers do to help you get hired -- and to help themselves efficiently fill a job and get the work done? What would you add to the list of helpful information offered by the employer in Chris Walker's example? Is anything "too much," or how extreme could an employer get?

    Special thanks to Chris for sharing "a live one" from one of his clients. This is a great topic -- especially if hiring managers are out there listening!

    Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters...and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

    Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

    Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown -- NewsHour's blog of news and insight. Follow @PaulSolman

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  • 12/03/13--06:50: How to save a dying heart
  • In a monthly column for PBS NewsHour, Dr. Howard Markel revisits moments that changed the course of modern health and medicine on their anniversaries, like the world's first human heart transplant on Dec. 3, 1967. In the photo above, Amy DeStefano of Portsmouth, N.H., recovers after a transplant in 2012. Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

    Dec. 3, 1967 is a red-letter day in the history of medicine. It was also an important date in the personal history of Dr. Christiaan Barnard.

    The South African surgeon made international headlines by successfully removing the dying heart of a 54-year-old grocer named Louis Washkansky and replacing it with a healthy heart.

    Dr. Christiaan Barnard in 1969. Photo by YOU magazine/Gallo Images

    The donor, a 25-year-old woman named Denise Darvall, was in a car accident the day before. While still technically alive, Darvall was diagnosed by her physicians as "brain-dead." The operation, at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital, lasted nine hours and required a team of 30 people, including Dr. Barnard's brother Marius, who was also a surgeon.

    Louis Washkansky emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa in 1922 and built a thriving grocery business in Cape Town. A decorated World War II veteran who saw action in Africa and Italy, Louis was once an avid athlete who excelled in swimming, football and weightlifting.

    Unfortunately, Washkansky was also a diabetic who developed a progressive and incurable form of congestive heart failure. Unresponsive to medications and rest, Washkansky's cardiologist referred him to Dr. Barnard, who had been hard at work experimenting with heart transplants in animals.

    Although the kidney transplant was still a relatively new but successful procedure, having been developed in the early 1950s, heart transplantation was a far more difficult problem both in terms of surgical procedure and in effectively turning off a patient's immune system to prevent the rejection of another person's heart. There was also the issue of finding suitable organ donors -- a concept now well-known and acceptable to most people, was once a disturbing, ethical dilemma.

    Dr. Barnard was hardly the only surgeon interested in heart transplantation during this period. He had active competition from Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz and his surgical team at Brooklyn's Maimonides Medical Center, where the world's second (and the United States' first) heart transplant was performed on Dec. 6, 1967. Two other surgeons who performed the controversial procedure soon after Barnard were Drs. Norman Shumway of Stanford University, on Jan. 6, 1968, and Richard Lower of the Medical College of Virginia in May of 1968.

    As Dr. Barnard later wrote in his memoir, "One Life," it was relatively easy to convince Louis Washkansky to undergo the novel operation: "For a dying man, it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side."

    Dr. Barnard in the operating room. Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images.

    Getting a suitable heart to replace Washkansky's damaged one was a bit more difficult. Brain death was a controversial diagnosis back in 1967 and several judges around the globe threatened to arrest and jail surgeons who took organs from such afflicted individuals. Nevertheless, Dr. Barnard secured permission from Denise Darvall's father and commenced with the operation.

    Recalling these historic moments years later, Dr. Barnard explained, "as soon as the donor died, we opened her chest and connected her to a heart-lung machine, suffusing her body so that we could keep the heart alive. I cut out the heart. We examined it, and as soon as we found it was normal, we put it in a dish containing solution at 10 degrees Centigrade to cool it down further. We then transferred this heart to the operating room, where we had the patient and we connected it to the heart-lung machine. From the time we cut out the heart, it was four minutes until we had oxygenated blood going back to the heart muscle from the donor's heart lung machine. We then excised the patient's heart."

    Louis Washkansky, the world's first heart transplant patient, recovering in the Groote Schuur Hospital. Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images

    After suturing the donor heart into Washkansky's chest cavity, it was gently warmed up to body temperature and began to beat with a lively vigor. The procedure worked!

    Sadly, Washkansky lived only 18 more days. The massive doses of immunosuppressive drugs (azathioprine and hydrocortisone), along with the radiation treatments he received in order to prevent a rejection response, left the grocer wide open to contracting life-threatening infections. The all-but-forgotten medical hero died of pneumonia on Dec. 21, 1967.

    A few weeks later, on Jan. 2, 1968, Christiaan Barnard again made global headlines by transplanting the heart of a bi-racial young man into the body of a retired, white dentist named Philip Blaiberg. This was especially controversial not only because of that era's vastly different views on race and integration, but also because of South Africa's racist apartheid policies. Blaiberg survived 19 months and 15 days, probably due to a marked reduction of immunosuppressive drugs.

    Today, nearly half a century after the first heart transplant, organ transplantation medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds and has prolonged and improved the lives of countless people with failing kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs and other organs. Better drugs, better procedures, more advanced technologies, and modern systems of organ donation have all made this once-shocking surgical approach a common means of saving lives in the 21st century.

    What a remarkable legacy for a pioneering surgeon and a brave grocer from Cape Town, South Africa.

    Dr. Howard Markel writes a monthly column for the PBS NewsHour website, highlighting the anniversary of a momentous event that continues to shape modern medicine. He is the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.

    He is the author or editor of 10 books, including "Quarantine! East European Jewish Immigrants and the New York City Epidemics of 1892," "When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed" and "An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine."

    More Stories on the History of Medicine

    One man's rise from 'Dr. Unqualified' to surgeon-in-chief

    The Real Story Behind Penicillin

    A Curious Inspiration for the First Stethoscope

    'I Have Seen My Death': How the World Discovered the X-Ray

    How a Boy Became the First to Beat Back Diabetes

    The Day Scientists Discovered 'The Secret of Life'

    How a Doctor Discovered U.S. Walls Were Poisonous

    The Day Polio Began Losing Its Grip on America

    The Day Doctors Began to Conquer Smallpox

    A Hormonal Happy Birthday

    How 'Going Under the Knife' Became Much Less Deadly

    The Painful Story Behind Modern Anesthesia

    Do you have a question for Dr. Markel about how a particular aspect of modern medicine came to be? Send them to us at onlinehealth@newshour.org.

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    President Obama spoke on the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, in an effort to resell the health care law's benefits to the public. Video by PBS NewsHour

    WASHINGTON -- Seeking to move past its website woes, the Obama administration is launching a two-pronged health care strategy this month aimed at avoiding enrollment snafus come January while also trying to refocus the public's attention on broader benefits of the sweeping law.

    Case in point: Tuesday morning the administration released a 50-state report saying that nearly 1.5 million people were found eligible for Medicaid during October. As website problems depressed sign-ups for subsidized private coverage, that safety-net program for low-income people saw a nearly 16 percent increase in states that have agreed to expand it, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

    President Barack Obama will focus on such benefits at a White House event Tuesday. Flanked by Americans who the White House says have gained as a result of the overhaul, the president will try to remind Americans that his health law is preventing insurance discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions and is allowing young people to stay on their parents' coverage until age 26. He'll also take aim at Republicans, arguing that the GOP is trying to strip away those benefits without presenting an alternative.

    Behind the scenes, the administration is furiously trying to rectify an unresolved issue with enrollment data that could become a significant headache after the first of the year. Insurers say much of the enrollment data they're receiving is practically useless, meaning some consumers might not be able to get access to benefits on Jan. 1, the date their coverage is scheduled to take effect.

    On Monday, administration officials and insurance company representatives began holding daily 7 a.m. meetings to discuss the enrollment data. Officials at the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services - the department overseeing the insurance exchanges - are also personally reaching out to individuals who have enrolled online to make sure their information is correct and that they are sending payments. Call center representatives are doing the same with people who enrolled over the phone.

    "We are very mindful of making sure that consumers who want coverage starting in January are able to get it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

    The White House's approach comes as Obama tries to recover from the deeply flawed rollout of his signature legislation. The failures have emboldened Republicans, put Democratic lawmakers facing re-election on edge, and contributed to a drop in Obama's overall job approval rating.

    Obama had set a Nov. 30 deadline for ensuring that the website was working properly for the vast majority of users. While administration officials declared over the weekend that they had met their goal, counselors helping people use the online health exchange gave the updated site mixed reviews, with some zipping through the application process while others are facing the same old sputters and even crashes.

    The website troubles resulted in significantly lower enrollment than what administration officials had hoped for and it's questionable whether the program will reach the 7 million sign-ups predicted by the Congressional Budget Office. The sign-up period runs through March 31.

    But officials now say they are no longer as concerned about the overall number. They say the insurance exchanges will succeed regardless of the total, as long as about one-third of those who sign up are healthy in order to offset the cost of those with more expensive health problems.

    "Our goal is to make sure that everybody who wants to enroll through the exchanges is able to do so during the open enrollment period," Carney said. "We believe those numbers will be sufficient and that the pool of people who enroll will be of the necessary diversity to make sure that the ACA works as envisioned."

    The White House says it is buoyed by high traffic flocking to the website. As of Monday at noon, the site had about 375,000 visitors. However, officials would not say how many of those had actually enrolled in the insurance policies.

    Medicaid signups are proceeding on a separate track. While subsidized private coverage is available to middle-class people in all 50 states, the expanded version of Medicaid currently is only provided in states that agreed to accept it. So far 25 states and Washington, DC, have done so.

    Tuesday's HHS report did not tease out a separate statistic for the number of Medicaid recipients newly eligible under the law in October. Instead, the total of 1.46 million also included those who signed up and would have been eligible anyway, even without the program expansion.

    Nonetheless, the impact of the law was evident. States that expanded their Medicaid programs saw a nearly 16 percent increase in Medicaid applications during October, as compared to previous averages. States that did not expand saw a smaller, 4-percent increase.

    Associated Press writer Julie Pace wrote this report. AP writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to it.

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    Though many Americans know him through his columns for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books, Clive James inhabits a much larger, more diverse role in British culture. This man of letters is a journalist, a cultural critic, a TV personality and an author of poems and novels.

    An Australian by birth, James has lived in England since 1961. He has written five books of "unreliable" memoirs, and has several volumes of essays, including his most recently published, "Cultural Amnesia." His translation of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" was also published this year.

    Reports circulated last year that the writer was "getting near the end." James, at 74 years old, has serious, life-threatening health concerns. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and then with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or onset emphysema. He can no longer fly and he is restricted by his physical limitations. But he keeps writing, with his sickness a source for new subject matter.

    James' latest collection of poems, "Nefertiti in the Flak Tower," was published in the U.S. in October 2013.

    Clive James recently talked to Art Beat by phone. This excerpt has been lightly edited for length.

    ART BEAT: From where are you speaking?

    CLIVE JAMES: I'm speaking to you from my house in Cambridge, England. And it's a cold day. This is a house full of my books and probably this is as far as I will get, since I have been quite, quite sick lately.

    But if I make it through this winter, I plan to get some more writing done. I don't think I've got a big poem like Dante to translate, but I might pull out a few surprises yet.

    ART BEAT: Surprises for us? or Surprises for you?

    CLIVE JAMES: Surprises for me. Yeah. I like best to be surprised. I like it when the idea suddenly comes to me. As the idea came to me for a poem about Walt Whitman whom I admire so much. I was sick at the time.

    Walt Whitman posed for photographer Samuel Murray in 1891, staring out the window of his Camden, N.J., home. Click to enlarge the image. Photo by Samuel Murray/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution

    I think it was in 2010. I had just died a couple of times that year. And in New York, which I was visiting, I got sick again and I had to spend 10 days on my back in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

    And my friend, Adam Gopnik, did the wonderful thing of bringing me books. And one of the books he brought was a Van Wyck Brooks, his book about Melville and Whitman. Van Wyck Brooks was a formidable character, not as well remembered now as he might be. He was a great, great critic.

    And when he was talking about Whitman, he said this wonderful thing, 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 called "Whitman and the Moth."

    Listen to Clive James read "Whitman and the Moth," a poem from his collection, "Nefertiti in the Flak Tower," or read the complete poem.

    ART BEAT: In the introduction of your new book, you write "the short poem is the form that lies at the heart of everything." Does that mean you consider yourself a poet, above all other titles that you have held?

    CLIVE JAMES: It's a big thing to call yourself a poet. All I can say is that I have always written poems. I don't think I'm interested in any discussion about whether I'm a good poet, a bad poet or a great poet. But I am sure, I want to write great poems. I think every poet should want that.

    I want to write something that you won't forget. And that usually comes in short forms I think.

    "Ban poetry. And make sure that anyone caught reading it is expelled from school. Then it will acquire the glamour."

    ART BEAT: Your poems from "Nefertiti in the Flak Tower," there are many poems with phrases that express both desire and regret. What is the connection between these two sentiments?

    CLIVE JAMES: Yeah. I think nowadays there is more regret than desire. One of the things I regret, perhaps there was too much desire.

    I am looking back on the passions and mistakes.

    The great thing about living until you get a bit older if you are a writer, and especially a poet, is that you have more life to reflect on. And I think that if I am better now -- and I think that I am probably better than I was --- is because that I simply have more to think about, more to get under control, more to understand. Try to understand myself, for example.

    ART BEAT: Would it be wrong to think then that in your poems you express wishes to be young again, maybe with the wisdom that you have now?

    CLIVE JAMES: I don't think the desire to be young again ever goes. Not until the last minute. Being young is wonderful. But one of the secrets of being a human individual -- a mature human individual shall we put it rather grandly -- is that you can see this desire in perspective.

    You can't be young always. The day will come when everything will fall apart.

    The secret for an artist is to make that a subject and not bang your head against the wall and give up. But to turn it into and treat the new subject matter, which is one's own vanishing.

    Don't worry, I am not going to die during your (interview). But I have been quite unwell and I must face the fact that I won't last long. But I am making a subject of that. And I am rather enjoying that.

    The fact is that one's last time on earth can be quite interesting.

    ART BEAT: Before your illness, you wrote you were afraid that you would run out of things to say. But now, being confronted with your own mortality, you say that you have a new subject matter to explore in your writing and poetry.

    Are you afraid that you will not get to write everything you want?

    CLIVE JAMES: There are two factors here that we need to separate. One is aging. The other is the question of being sick. I don't think I am in any way afraid of aging or even of death.

    But being sick is a different matter, it alters the future. It alters the amount of time you've got left. You might had not had much left at all and it concentrates the mind.

    It helped to concentrate my mind on the way I lived and whether I had lived worthily and whether I had written worthily. And I make (being sick) the subject.

    I can't emphasize enough that I am very, very glad to have got this far and even to be in this state of taking eight different pills in the morning and six different pills at night. It's because I've got the whole of modern technology helping me stay alive

    I've got life for a subject because as life starts to drain away, you start seeing very clearly what life is, for the first time.

    "I don't think I'm interested in any discussion about whether I'm a good poet, a bad poet or a great poet. But I am sure, I want to write great poems. I want to write something that you won't forget. And that usually comes in short forms I think"

    Young men especially -- I don't know if young women feel much the same -- but young men think they are immortal, automatically. They have no idea of time because they have so much energy and I was like that.

    I had so much energy, I was a fireball. I had to lose some of it in order to see that life was a process and things had done at a certain rate in certain time and order. And now that is my subject. And I am very grateful for it.

    I think that in this collection is the strongest concentration that viewpoint that I have yet shown in my work.

    ART BEAT: When you write a poem, do you ever prescribe an intended lesson for readers?

    CLIVE JAMES: No, I think the poem does that. What I do is seize a moment. Suddenly, a subject comes and hits you.

    Nefertiti's bust was rediscovered in Akhenaten's capital Amarna in Egypt in 1912. The statue now resides in the Neues Museum in Berlin. Click to enlarge the image. Photo by Philip Pikart/Wikimedia Commons

    When I learned about a beautiful bust of Nefertiti, which is right now in a museum in Berlin, in one of the museums. She's there. You know, the bust with the hat? She look like a 1920s film star. She spent the whole of World War II locked up for safety in a giant, concrete bunker, called a flak tower, right there in Berlin. And I thought, now there's a subject.

    Here, you've got this eternal beauty being protected against the accidents of time so that she'll survive longer. It raises all kinds of subjects: why is a statue more valuable than a living human being, for example. Because there were a lot of human beings who would have liked to have been in the flak tower. It was quite safe there. Yet it was reserved for this statue.

    I found myself writing it, but I didn't feel a sort of history lesson or a civics lesson. These were the living moments, the permanently living moments. I try to communicate the moment.

    I try to be specific. One thought at a time. Clear. Articulate.

    And above all, memorable, if you can be. You'd like to write phrases that people can't forget as soon as they read them.

    ART BEAT: And that is certainly a way to capture the attention of the everyman as well?

    CLIVE JAMES: Well, I hope so. Whether there is an audience for poetry is a big question, because mainly the people who are dealing with poetry are writing it. There are more poets alive now than there ever have been in history. I don't think that many of them know how to write a poem, but that is a separate question.

    ART BEAT: How do you think young people should be introduced to poetry?

    CLIVE JAMES: Ban poetry.

    And make sure that anyone caught reading it is expelled from school. Then it will acquire the glamour. But I am only joking.

    No, I think children should be taught to recite poetry, under pain of death.

    At my school in Australia, a long time ago now, back in the 1940s, we had to stand beside our desk and recite a few lines from a poem or we weren't allowed to go home. And it worked wonderfully. But I know the whole idea of compulsory teaching of anything has now vanished from the world.

    It's a kind of pity because really there are things about poetry you will never appreciate unless you actually see how it works internally -- the way it rhymes the way the meter works -- all these things can be taught, but it takes inspired teaching.

    ART BEAT: In the digital age, if you have a computer and you have the ability to put something online, then you can call yourself a writer. But that doesn't mean you will be good at it. How do you discover what poems are worthy of notice?

    CLIVE JAMES: That is where criticism comes in. It's judging. It's not taking a scornful viewpoint on something. It's judging it. You have to be able to judge what has weight and what hasn't; what is actually profound and what is mere noise.

    This quality becomes important at a time when almost everyone is a poet. And as I have said, before, we live in an age where almost everybody is a poet, but scarcely anyone can write a poem.

    They're pouring the stuff out, especially from the creative writing classes, and unless you can take one look at a poem and decide whether it's alive or not, you will spend the rest of your life sorting through the output.

    "People should be stopped from writing poetry. There's far too much of it."

    The fact is that you can tell if someone can write, within a second or two. The minute you look at the first couple of lines, you can tell if they are alive or not. To do that, you have to burnish your critical ability.

    You can't read everything. And you wouldn't want to. But you can be guided towards what is alive and what is important, usually by people who already love poetry, often by your crusty old teacher, the old man who is shambling up the block, mumbling to himself; he has known about poetry all his life. He'll tell you.

    ART BEAT: What books of poetry should young people start off with?

    CLIVE JAMES: I try always to think how I got started. Because that's more by luck than judgment. Some of my early passions among the poets were right. I was right about T.S. Eliot. I was right about Auden, right about MacNeice, right about Yeats, about Hopkins.

    But I would recommend any young poet to get started on the later poems of Yeats, not the early ones. Read the book from the back. That would be my first choice, because there is the ideal, an instance of natural language made poetic by the way words are chosen and balanced. And the lines are poised in relation to another line and built into a stanza and the stanza is built into a poem. Nothing beats it.

    Read James' essay "Interior Music" on William Butler Yeats, originally published in the September 2013 issue of Prose magazine

    So start at the back (of a book). It's pretty good advice. If an artist is any good at all, then he or she will have a later phase that's more interesting than the early one. A great American poet like Elizabeth Bishop, for example, she is like that. Elizabeth Bishop's last (poems) are just beyond wonderful.

    ART BEAT: For aspiring poets, what can they do to improve their craft so that they one day can truly call themselves a poet vs. just claiming the title?

    CLIVE JAMES: I don't think anyone should claim the title. The wise ones never do. The important thing to do is to concentrate on the poem and get the attention off of yourself.

    "William Butler Yeats said, 'Always, I encourage. Always.' Well, I hope that I would have the guts to say, 'Always, I discourage. Always.'" Click to enlarge the image. Photo by George Charles Beresford/National Portrait Gallery

    It's the great thing about the arts; generally, it's a holiday from yourself. I know that a poem is going to be worth finishing, when I forget everything else as I am writing it out.

    I just finished a poem today and I am already missing that feeling of being in the poem, where nothing else counts except making the choices, shifting the words around and it's a great, great feeling.

    Unfortunately, I think that bad poets feel the same way. In fact, that's what's wrong with them; they feel that way all the time. They are too impressed with what they're doing.

    Some poets need discouragement. Yeats used to say "Always, I encourage. Always." He was pestered by young people who showed him poems. Somebody asked him how he reacted. He said, "Always, I encourage. Always." Well, I hope that I would have the guts to say, "Always, I discourage. Always."

    People should be stopped from writing poetry. There's far too much of it. And if they're any good, they'll go ahead anyways.

    ART BEAT: What are your hopes for the next generation of poets and poetry critics?

    CLIVE JAMES: They will surprise us. We can be sure of that. We're not going to be able to predict what they're going to do. They going to have stacks of information; they'll be able to find anything they want on the net.

    The question will be, will they know what to look for.

    But I think the number of connoisseurs of poetry will go up. If you roam around the websites, you will find there are all kind of sites that print poems, and reprint poems and steal them. They are occasions of piracy. And always they're choosing something alive and vivid. And so there is a new kind of education going on.

    Sometimes I feel if I was young again, I would wrap a bandana around my head like Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and I would become a pirate of the Web. And I would go around stealing poems and assembling into one spot like a treasure cave.

    ART BEAT: And you can, with your website.

    CLIVE JAMES: I can do anything with my website that my health and time allows. What I can't be sure of is that I'll have the time. It's so quite finicky and exhausting and I have to avoid exhaustion.

    But I have plans to get on with it. I've got more to do.

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    Making observation services in U.S. hospitals more effective and efficient could save the system billions each year, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

    It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what goes on in an emergency department, intensive care unit or pediatric wing. But what about a hospital's observation services? Few Americans understand them or even know they exist. Which is why -- as health care costs continue to climb by the year -- it might come as a shock that these are the very services that could end up saving hospitals billions each year.

    Put simply, observation services are designed to determine which patients can be safely discharged from the hospital and which should remain for a longer stay. All hospitals provide some form of observation services -- typically to emergency department patients who might be too sick for outpatient treatment but not sick enough to be fully admitted to the hospital.

    "I call them the 'six- to 48-hour patients,'" said Dr. Michael Ross, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. "These are patients who need more than six hours of emergency care but who might only need to spend 24 or 48 hours in a hospital if actively cared for. But hospitals are so focused on inpatient care or outpatient care, and these patients really fall between the cracks."

    Ross, lead author of a new study in the journal Health Affairs, maintains that inefficient and disorganized observation services are putting huge drains on the country's already taxed emergency health care system. Between 1997 and 2007, visits to emergency departments in the U.S. grew at double the rate of population growth, while the number of emergency departments decreased. The heightened demand and shrinking resources didn't bode well.

    And observation services that are administered without a dedicated setting or defined care guidelines are only adding weight to the load. It's estimated that two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. use inefficient practices, which translates to longer stays for patients and an additional $331 per patient in costs for the hospitals themselves. It also translates to poorer care conditions for some, who may find themselves in "observation purgatories" awaiting better treatment.

    By focusing on the way they deliver observation services, the Health Affairs article concludes, hospitals could see big savings. Implementing designated observation units with clear care protocols could get people back to their normal lives more quickly and keep them out of the hospital for longer. They could provide up to 28 percent shorter lengths-of-stay and potentially a 44 percent lower probability of subsequent inpatient admission.

    In total, it could all add up to nearly $1 billion per year in savings for hospitals -- or much more. Some patients who would normally be admitted to inpatient care could be eligible for observation care, if it's provided correctly, and that could mean a possible savings of $5.5-$8.5 billion annually.

    But does changing the way observation services are provided really make that big of a difference? Are protocol-driven observation units feasible in hospitals throughout the nation? And worse -- could they even prevent patients from getting the inpatient care they might need? PBS NewsHour recently spoke with Ross about the potential for improving observation units nationwide and its money-saving potential.

    PBS NEWSHOUR: Dr. Ross, thank you for joining us. Let's start with some context. What is the role of observation services in a hospital setting?

    DR. MICHAEL ROSS, Emory University School of Medicine: Observation services are essentially outpatient services, provided usually to emergency department patients to determine if they need to be admitted to the hospital as an inpatient for a longer stay.

    Patients admitted to emergency departments usually spend about five or six hours there, since emergency departments are not designed to take care of patients for periods of time that are much more extended than that -- otherwise they become overcrowded.

    After the five- or six-hour threshold, a decision has to be made to move the patient on to another setting or not. What this has done is create an orphan population of patients, for lack of a better term -- I call them the "six-to-48-hour patients." These are patients who need more than six hours of emergency department care but who might only need to spend 24 or 48 hours in a hospital if actively cared for. But hospitals are so focused on inpatient care or outpatient care, and these patients really fall between the cracks.

    NEWSHOUR: What do you mean "fall between the cracks"? What happens to these patients?

    ROSS: What's occurred in hospitals across the U.S. is that these observation patients are often placed on a floor where they're mixed in with five-day patients, and they often don't get the most optimal care in terms of timing and efficiency. If we're trying to determine -- within 48 hours -- which patients need to be admitted to the hospital for a longer stay and which patients can be discharged, their care needs to be actively managed.

    Some things that hospitals can do, and have already started to do, is to either have a dedicated unit for these patients, and/or provide defined care guidelines for these patients.

    The best practice is to combine the two together, which we call a "Type 1" observation unit. About a third of hospitals in America have a dedicated observation unit, and about half of those hospitals treat patients using defined protocols -- so about 1 in 6 hospitals are using this Type 1 practice.

    But most observation patients in the U.S. are treated using the most ineffective practices -- in a bed anywhere in the hospital, with inconsistent and inefficient care. News stories, research and Medicare claims all suggest that this setting is the least optimal for these types of patients.

    NEWSHOUR: What are these sources saying, then, about the treatment patients get from disorganized observation services? How bad can it be?

    ROSS: Most observation patients in the U.S. are managed in a bed anywhere in a hospital at the discretion of the treating physician. Roughly 7 percent of these patients will remain in observation for more than 48 hours, compared to less than 0.1 percent of patients managed in a Type 1 unit. Previous news stories have described problems that arise for these 7 percent patients. This includes confusion that they were never admitted as an inpatient even though they were in an inpatient bed, increased out of pocket costs, and potentially having to pay costly nursing home bills.

    The two prime drivers of the growing length of stays for these patients are the payment policies and the setting. Regarding the payment policies, the criteria required for inpatient admission had become increasingly strict, forcing patients that should have been inpatients to be kept as outpatients. This policy issue prompted (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to write what has been called the "two midnight rule," making it easier to admit patients whose observation stays would go beyond 48 hours.

    However, this rule does not address a bigger issue -- the setting. Our Health Affairs study shows that most of the time, savings between Type 1 units and disorganized observation settings occurs between 24 and 48 hours. Unlike an inpatient bed spread anywhere throughout a hospital, Type 1 units are designed to treat patients and make admission decisions in less than 24 hours.

    NEWSHOUR: And these observation service units with defined protocols for care -- Type 1 units, as you call them -- can really prevent these bad scenarios from playing out?

    ROSS: These "observation horror stories" are driven by excessive length of stays. Type 1 units by design have lower length of stays. Just as ICUs are designed to provide for the needs of critical patients, Type 1 units are focused on the timing and decision-making nature of observation patients.

    NEWSHOUR: Your study also says that Type 1 units are the key to getting patients out of the hospital sooner and keeping them out of the hospital for longer. Why is that the case?

    ROSS: When a patient comes through an observation unit, they're often receiving testing or treatment for a critical condition, like a heart attack or stroke. And while they're utilizing observation services for this, it can be a great opportunity for what we call a "teachable moment" -- a time to educate them about how to prevent future heart attacks and strokes, or how to take better care of their health in general. So this certainly can help patients stay healthier and remain out of the hospital or emergency department for longer.

    NEWSHOUR: What about the potential cost savings? Where do they come in?

    ROSS: Type 1 units can provide big monetary savings, as well, and it all comes down to efficiency: the things that are essential for the treatment of a patient are identified, and then the hospital's resources are aligned to make sure that they happen promptly -- so that rather than taking three, four or five days to complete the treatment, it all happens within 15 hours.

    Within an average of 15 to 18 hours, it's identified that a patient can be discharged and sent home safely, or that they need to be admitted to the hospital. So the real savings come through that efficiency -- that decrease in length-of-stay. In our study, we estimated that applying this type of care to all observation patients in the U.S. would save the U.S. health system about $950 million a year. Another study showed that patients who are cared for in the worst type of observation setting -- no dedicated unit with any defined guidelines for care -- causes hospitals to lose an average of $331 per patient.

    NEWSHOUR: But savings can also come into play when you consider the number of patients that might be saved from spending unnecessary amounts of time in inpatient care, correct?

    ROSS: Sure. These savings can also apply to patients that have already been admitted to hospitals as inpatients, but who have conditions that really could be treated in the observation units. These patients make up about 11 percent of all hospital admissions per year in the U.S. If these patients were given shorter lengths of stay in Type 1 observation units to determine if they really needed more hospital care, it could save the U.S. health system about $5.5 to $8.5 billion per year.

    NEWSHOUR: It sounds like these protocol-driven observation units have a lot of advantages. But are there any drawbacks to implementing more of these in hospitals across the U.S.? Could they hold people back from getting the real inpatient care they might need?

    ROSS: No, not at all. In fact, it could lead to getting better care. For example, some Medicare patients who are admitted to the hospital may need to go on to a nursing home after they're discharged. But they need to spend at least three days as an inpatient in the hospital in order to get their first 21 days in nursing home care covered. What's happened in some cases is patients waste a lot of time in inefficient observation before they're admitted, and then because of that, they end up spending less than two days as an inpatient. When they go to the nursing home, the benefit isn't covered.

    The benefit that guideline-driven observation units offer in this situation is if the decision to admit is made within 15 hours instead of 4 days, those patients could get into inpatient care faster and are less likely to lose their nursing home benefit. So does it hold people back from getting the inpatient care they might need? No. Type 1 units are driven to treat and diagnose patients efficiently and to quickly decide if they can be admitted or discharged.

    There have even been three studies where patients were randomly placed in these Type 1 units versus a regular hospital bed, and in all three studies, patients were more satisfied with the care they received in this setting. Patients like feeling that their care is being actively managed, not passively managed.

    NEWSHOUR: But what about cost concerns for patients? It might save hospitals money, but aren't some patients -- Medicare beneficiaries especially -- going to have higher out-of-pocket costs?

    ROSS: There's definitely a concern among Medicare patients that if they're placed in observation, their out-of-pocket costs will be more than if they're admitted as an inpatient. This concern led to two class action lawsuits against Medicare. And as this has played out, the Office of the Inspector General has investigated observation services to see if this is true.

    What they found is that actually, for 94 percent of patients, their out-of-pocket expenses are less than if they had been admitted as an inpatient. The 6 percent that had higher out-of-pocket costs were overwhelmingly those who had coronary stents or angiograms -- both things that are really not done in Type 1 units as a rule. So there's been an exaggerated belief that observation is more expensive, when, in fact, for 94 percent of Medicare patients, it would be more expensive to be admitted as an inpatient.

    NEWSHOUR: What would it take to have these kind of units widely implemented in hospitals across the country? Is it even feasible?

    ROSS: It's absolutely feasible. It's estimated that between 10 to 25 percent of patients that stay in the hospital following an emergency department visit fall into this category. Some hospitals have wondered if they have enough patients for a dedicated unit. I can't answer for all hospitals, but I think it's likely that most hospitals have enough of these types of patients to support a Type 1 unit.

    Think about it this way, we would never think of placing an ICU patient in a bed on a regular hospital floor -- it's a service that requires a distinct and separate setting. Observation services, on the other hand, are the only evaluation and management services recognized by the American Medical Association that are not consistently provided in their own dedicated settings. There's just been kind of a learning curve for hospitals to realize that these really are distinct patients who really need their own distinct setting.

    And what would it take to make more of these dedicated observation units a reality? I think the best, first step would be for Medicare to simply ask hospitals to report the settings in which observation services are provided -- if it's a Type 1 unit or not. Then they could look at the outcomes, the length of stay, and the costs associated with different levels of care. What they'd likely find is that Type 1 units offer the best outcomes, and from there they could create payment incentives for hospitals to adopt these types of units. This would be the strongest driver of change.

    NEWSHOUR: Michael Ross, thank you very much for joining us.

    ROSS: Thank you.

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    Using a 3-D printer, a Texas man fabricated a working handgun from 15 plastic parts. Similar technological advances have renewed debate on the expiring ban against plastic firearms. Image courtesy of PBS NewsHour

    WASHINGTON -- With 3-D printers increasingly able to produce plastic weapons, the House voted Tuesday to renew a 25-year-old prohibition against firearms that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines.

    On a voice vote, the House passed a bill to renew the Undetectable Firearms Act for another decade.

    The Senate could vote on the bill next Monday when it returns from a two-week Thanksgiving recess. The law is due to expire the following day.

    Some Senate Democrats have mounted an attempt to amend the law to require plastic guns to have at least one metal piece for making it fire. But with the National Rifle Association opposed to the measure, the House bill is likely to pass the Senate unchanged, particularly going into an election year when many lawmakers would prefer to avoid a new fight over gun legislation.

    Rep. Robert Scott, a Virginia Democrat, said passage of the bill Tuesday "should not be interpreted that the statue should not be updated for the duration" of the new 10-year ban.

    Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has championed gun reform laws this year, has pledged to introduce legislation to close what he and others describe as a dangerous loophole.

    Just prior to Tuesday's vote, the NRA issued a statement saying it opposes any expansion of the law, including applying it "to magazines, gun parts, or the development of new technologies."

    Another group, the conservative Gun Owners of America, opposed renewing the law at all, saying it wouldn't stop criminals intent on printing weapons.

    "They've just spent all year trying to effectively destroy the gun lobby," Mike Hammond, legislative counsel of the small group, said of Democrats. "So why in heaven's name, given this intransigence, should we give them this Christmas present?"

    The expiring law forbids firearms that aren't spotted by airport X-ray screening machines or metal detectors. To meet that requirement, today's plastic guns often come with a metal part that can be detached and isn't necessary for the weapon to function.

    Lawmakers and law enforcement officials alike have long been concerned that technological advances could allow for the production of guns that don't have any metal, first passing the ban on such weapons in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. It has been renewed twice since then.

    Today 3-D printers can spray repeated, thin layers of plastic or other materials to create objects from toys to automobile parts to medical devices. They are being used increasingly by companies, researchers and hobbyists, and the technology is constantly improving.

    The use of 3-D printers to manufacture guns received heightened attention in May when Cody Wilson, then a University of Texas law student, posted blueprints online for using the printers to make the Liberator pistol, which he says he designed. Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed, a nonprofit that advocates the free distribution of information on 3-D printed weapons, was ordered by the State Department to take down the instructions after two days because of allegedly violating arms export controls, he said.

    By then, the plans had already been downloaded more than 100,000 times and they remain available on file-sharing websites, he said.

    "If you want to do this, it's plainly obvious there's no one standing between you, your computer and your 3-D printer. Anyone can make this gun," Wilson said Monday.

    According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which regulates gun manufactures and sales, 3-D printers can range in cost from $1,000 to $500,000, though they can also be leased.

    ATF tested two plastic guns from different plastics using Wilson's design earlier this year. One of the weapons exploded when it was fired. The second one shot off eight rounds before ATF stopped the test.

    Reluctant to oppose renewal and anger allies, Democrats have backed a renewal of the ban, despite their preference to also require permanent metal components that would make plastic firearms more detectable.

    "We can't let a minute or hour or day go by without having a renewal" of the ban, said Brian Malte, a director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The group's strong concerns about the availability of plastic guns are "no reason to hold up renewal," he said.

    Schumer said he will seek swift Senate action on both renewing the ban and tightening the restrictions.

    "The House bill is better than nothing, but it's not good enough," Schumer said Monday. He and other critics contend the current law allows for detachable metal parts that can be removed before a gun is passed through a metal detector.

    But many believe the Senate will then accept the House bill, thanks to the imminent deadline and the eagerness of Democratic senators seeking re-election next year in GOP-leaning states to avoid difficult votes in a fresh battle over gun control.

    The measure is being debated with the approach of the first anniversary of the massacre last Dec. 14 of 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Those shootings prompted a drive by President Barack Obama and his gun control allies to expand background checks and other restrictions, which Senate Republicans squelched last April.

    Associated Press reporter Alicia A. Caldwell wrote this report. AP writer Alan Fram contributed to it.

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    GWEN IFILL: The president sought to shift the focus today away from what's gone wrong with implementing the health care law to what's gone right. He said the benefits are being overlooked amid problems with the Web site and policy cancellations. But insurers still warn they're getting unusable data. We will have a full report on the president's new P.R. push right after the news summary.

    The University of Notre Dame is suing again over the health care law's mandate to cover birth control for students and employees. School officials went to court today arguing they are being forced to violate Roman Catholic teachings. A federal judge dismissed a similar suit last year, saying the school wasn't yet facing imminent penalties under the law.

    A federal judge has cleared the city of Detroit today to proceed with its bankruptcy filing and shed up to $18 billion in debt. It's the largest public bankruptcy in U.S. history. The judge turned aside challenges from unions, pension funds and retirees who stand to have benefits cut.

    Later, retiring Mayor Dave Bing called for all parties to work together.

    DAVE BING, mayor of Detroit, Mich.: We have got to start changing the conversation. And we can't think that bankruptcy is the worst thing that ever happened to us. It can help us now because it will allow us once again to deal with the things that should have been dealt with over the last 20 or 30 years. The city cannot go forward with the kind of debt and liabilities that we had on our balance sheet.

    GWEN IFILL: Detroit's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, has said the city is now using 40 cents of every dollar collected to pay its debts. He warns that figure could rise to 65 cents without bankruptcy relief.

    Illinois moved today to make major cuts in retirement benefits for thousands of state employees and retirees. The legislature approved a bill that also raises the state retirement age. It is the latest effort to help erase the state's $100 billion pension shortfall, worst in the nation. The governor has said he will sign the bill.

    The House voted today to renew a longstanding ban on plastic firearms that can evade metal detectors and X-ray machines. The Republican-sponsored bill passed on a voice vote, extending the ban another 10 years. Democrats supported the measure, even though they wanted greater restrictions.

    Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott said the guns should contain metal parts that cannot be detached.

    REP. BOBBY SCOTT, D-Va.: The law has a critical loophole that may enable and encourage the production of firearms that may escape detection. Under the statute, someone may produce a plastic firearm which is detectable only because it has a metal component, which is not essential for the operation of the firearm, but is easily removable by the firearm user seeking to avoid detection.

    GWEN IFILL: The Senate could take up the bill on Monday, when it returns from Thanksgiving recess. The existing ban expires on Tuesday.

    On another issue, the House decided to spend the money that air travelers accidentally leave at security checkpoints. All those coins added up to more than a half-million dollars in 2012. Under the Loose Change Act, it will go to nonprofit groups that run airport lounges for military personnel and their families. The bill now heads to the Senate.

    In Japan, visiting Vice President Joe Biden rebuked China for imposing an air defense zone over islands that Tokyo also claims. He said the U.S. is deeply concerned. The vice president travels to China tomorrow. We will focus on what's fueling the tensions in the East China Sea later in the program.

    Protests eased today in Thailand, as the prime minister ordered police to avoid new confrontations with demonstrators demanding her ouster. Days of violence had left four people dead and more than 250 hurt.

    We have a report from Jonathan Sparks of Independent Television News from Bangkok.

    JOHN SPARKS: For three days, anti-government protesters and the Thai police waged war in the center of Bangkok. Today, however, the barricades came down and the two sides shook hands.

    Flowers were exchanged and tears were shed, and the police got out of the way. The protesters had tried to take this government complex by force. This morning, however, they simply walked in.

    PHONGNOI SIMORA, protester (through interpreter): I think we have won. It feels like victory. I think we have 90 percent won it now.

    JOHN SPARKS: But there was a problem: The protesters may have occupied the lawn outside the prime minister's office, but Yingluck Shinawatra was still the prime minister.

    Until a few hours ago, this area was one of the most protected areas in the country, but it is now rammed with anti-government protesters declaring a victory of sorts. It's a bit like an opening day fete, all very festive people.

    Protest leaders accuse the government of corruption, and they're promising far-reaching reform, but they're not prepared to wait for the next election.

    THAWORN SENIAM, protest leader (translated): Normally, we give them power for four years, but they have used it in the wrong way. They're corrupt, so the people want the power back.

    JOHN SPARKS: The decision by the police to dismantle the barricades has come as a surprise. They'd spent days defending key government ministries, so I asked them, why?

    POLICE MAJ. GEN. PIYA UTAYO, Center for the Administration of Peace and Order (through interpreter): We did this so we could talk to each other and reduce tensions, but we are not going to let the protesters do whatever they like. This decision was made to avoid further confrontation.

    JOHN SPARKS: For the country's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, a small measure of relief is expected, with the nation now preparing for the Thai king's birthday on Thursday. She's asked people to use the time to brainstorm.

    But the leaders of this protest, as well as their followers, are in no mood to negotiate. We watched at the Ministry of Finance, which they have occupied for several weeks, as volunteers were trained to resist and besiege. They are organized and committed to their cause, and they seem increasingly determined.

    GWEN IFILL: The Ukrainian government survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament today. That followed days of angry protests after Ukraine's president shelved a landmark trade deal with the European Union. Thousands of pro-E.U. demonstrators rallied outside the Parliament building today. They vowed to continue their fight to overthrow the government.

    The United Nations' food agency is warning that hundreds of thousands of people in Congo will lose their food aid. The World Food Program said today it's received just a quarter of the money it needs to feed more than four million Congolese through 2015. Eastern Congo, in particular, has been ravaged by repeated armed rebellions.

    The driver of a New York commuter train that derailed Sunday was nodding off just before the crash that killed four people. A rail union leader says engineer William Rockefeller told him that he had nodded and then caught himself, but it was too late. The National Transportation Safety Board is interviewing Rockefeller as part of its probe.

    In economic news, home prices -- the Big Three Detroit automakers reported a resurgence in auto sales last month. Chrysler said today it had 16 -- a 16 percent jump in sales. General Motors saw a 14 percent increase. And Ford sales were up 7 percent. Toyota and Nissan had double-digit gains, but sales were down at Honda and Volkswagen. Large pickup trucks were among the best sellers.

    Home prices rose just slightly in October. It's the latest sign that the market is stabilizing after a big run-up in prices over the past 12 months. And on Wall Street today, stocks fell again amid concerns that holiday spending is falling short. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 94 points to close at 15,914. The Nasdaq fell eight points to close at 4,037.


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    Job seekers line up at an employment fair in Washington D.C. in 2012.

    Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    WASHINGTON -- Republicans controlling the House oppose a drive by Democrats to renew jobless benefits averaging less than $300 a week nationwide for the long-term unemployed, a senior GOP lawmaker said Tuesday.

    "I don't see much appetite on our side for continuing this extension of benefits," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I just don't."

    Benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed people expire just three days after Christmas. Lawmakers say another 1.9 million people would miss out on the benefits in the first six months of next year.

    Democrats are pressing for legislation continuing a program in place since 2008 that gives federally paid benefits to jobless people after their 26 weeks of state benefits run out. Federal benefits have typically been offered during periods of high unemployment, though fewer weeks of extended jobless benefits are available than in previous years. The unemployment rate is averaging 7.3 percent nationwide.

    "These have been extraordinary extensions, and the Republican position all along has been 'we need to go back to normal here at some point,'" Cole said.

    The additional weeks of benefits have been extended each year since 2009, sometimes after bitter battles over whether they should be "paid for" with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. They have usually been part of larger packages extending tax cuts, which has made it easier for Republicans to support. That's not the case now, however, because most Bush-era tax cuts were permanently extended in January.

    Democrats are pressing to make the jobless aid part of Congress' year-end agenda and hope to include it in a budget pact that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are trying to assemble.

    The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that the Democratic legislation to extend federal benefits to people who have exhausted their state benefits would cost $25 billion but stimulate the economy by 0.2 percent next year and create 200,000 jobs.

    Long-term unemployment aid once added up to 73 weeks in federal benefits to the 26 weeks of state benefits for a maximum of 99 weeks. Now, 73 weeks is the maximum allowed from both sources combined, with 54 weeks being the nationwide average.

    By Andrew Taylor, Associated Press

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington today, President Obama worked to refocus the health care law debate on the successes of the Affordable Care Act.

    NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

    WOMAN: The president of the United States, Barack Obama.


    KWAME HOLMAN: The president touted benefits of the Affordable Care Act at the White House this afternoon, flanked by people who've gained under the program.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, what this law is doing is helping folks. And we're just getting started with the exchanges, just getting started with the marketplaces. So, we're not going to walk away from it. If I have got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I will do.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The president's appearance opened a new public relations offensive to move beyond the law's troubled rollout.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Do not let the initial problems with the website discourage you, because it's working better now, and it's just going to keep on working better over time. Everyday I check to make sure that it's working better.


    KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough reported the healthcare.gov website had more than one million visitors yesterday after weeks of work to fix it.

    There also were reports not all the kinks have been smoothed out. Yesterday, enrollment counselors in some states reported delays mounted as the day wore on and traffic at the website increased. And another problem loomed: Insurers warned that the system is generating faulty enrollment data that could prevent some people from getting coverage by January 1.

    At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney challenged those claims.

    JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: That statistic that was cited in the newspaper today doesn't reflect at all the picture of what is happening right now. In fact, I'm not sure it's an accurate picture of issues with the back end of the system even going back weeks.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The administration also reported that nearly 1.5 million low-income people gained coverage under Medicaid in October. Twenty-five states have expanded Medicaid under the health care law.

    But Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, kept up their assault on the broader program.

    REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: This bill is fundamentally flawed. It's causing people to lose the doctor of their choice, causing them to lose their health plan. And if that isn't enough, they're having to pay much higher prices at the same time.

    KWAME HOLMAN: Other Republicans looked to buttress those claims with stories from constituents.

    Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy:

    REP. SEAN DUFFY, R-Wis.: In my district, Denise needs a kidney transplant. She's lost her insurance. She's lost her doctor. She's going to the exchange, looking for insurance, and the one option that she has doesn't provide coverage with her current doctor.

    KWAME HOLMAN: The political back-and-forth has intensified as polls show opposition to the health care initiative growing and support for the president falling.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much, everybody.


    KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Obama himself has acknowledged he faces an uphill fight to recover, even when the website is fixed.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: To get inside some of the politics here, we turn to strategists on each side of the health care fight.

    Republican Ron Bonjean worked as communications director for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and served as chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference. And Brad Woodhouse, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, he's now president of the Democratic group Americans United for Change, which has been backing the president on health care.

    Thank you both for being here.

    So, Brad Woodhouse, to you first. Why is this regrouping on the part of the White House necessary?

    BRAD WOODHOUSE, Americans United for Change: Well, look, I think it is necessary because of what we have seen.

    This has been a tough eight weeks. The rollout of healthcare.gov could not have gone worse for the White House or for Democrats or, frankly, for the people who want access to health care. But, look, there is a front-facing, aggressive period here where we are going to try to get people signed up.

    And first two days, it looks like the health care website is working, so we will see what Republicans complain about next.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Ron Bonjean, if the White House is able to do what they say they are, they are going to get the website working, if they can address some of these other problems, why won't they be able to undo some of the damage that has been done to the president...


    RON BONJEAN, Republican strategist: This is what's -- this is what the president is really worried about.

    He is putting a firewall around Obamacare right now, because Democrats are running away from it in droves. And he is trying a last stand to put the best face of Obamacare, you know, best face of its -- of the branding around Obamacare that he can, because next year is an election year, and it is so critical. And millions of Americans are losing their health insurance this January 1, and they need to get signed up into these -- into Obamacare quickly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But, if they get a lot of people, if they get millions of Americans signed up, the website is working better, can't they undo that first impression?

    RON BONJEAN: See, what is really interesting is that Republicans knew -- we all know that the website is going to get fixed. It's technology.

    Eventually, it's going to happen. But what we're talking about now is, we're talking about the access and affordability of Obamacare. People's premiums are likely to go up. People's deductibles are going to go up. The access around to getting to their doctor is going to be troublesome.

    And I think that is what you are going to see, along with the security and lack thereof of the exchanges.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Brad Woodhouse, you hear what he is saying, and that is even if the website is fixed and working very well, it is the other parts of this law that are going to create problems.

    BRAD WOODHOUSE: Well, Judy, these are -- these are just scare tactics.

    Remember, you are talking to the same people who said there were going to be death panels as part of this law. First of all, let me say this. Democrats are not running away from this law. All of the political committees on the Democratic side today and the White House announced aggressive and offensive efforts to promote this law and to hold Republicans accountable, frankly, Judy, for sabotage.

    And we have Republican governors throughout this country who have been given a gift. They can expand Medicaid and take care of people who are just right above the poverty line and can't afford health care. They're refusing to do it. So, we are going to hold them accountable -- accountable.

    We are not afraid of the politics of this. Ron is right. The website is fixed. People are going to get signed up, and people are going to like it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: So how are Republicans going to respond to that, if Democrats come back and say, hey, it is working, there are people who are being helped by this?

    RON BONJEAN: Well, it is, frankly -- the people are speaking for themselves.

    People are getting dropped from the plans. They're have problems getting access to it or they're going to be paying more. What Republicans are doing right now this week is holding oversight hearings, at least five in the House, over everything from should the government be running your health care, to the quality of -- what is going to happen to small businesses with health care.

    You know, they're -- they are going the gamut. The RNC is going to be putting out a major digital push in the next 24 hours to talk about the problems with Obamacare. So there is no question about it. I think the product doesn't sell itself.

    I mean, President Obama, to have an anecdote, sold us a lamp and instead now, they are saying, well, look at this great paperweight.


    BRAD WOODHOUSE: Here is the issue, Judy, is that Republicans still, 100 years into this debate, still haven't offered their plan.

    Speaker Boehner today just kind of was flippantly like, yes, we will see if we offer our own plan. Look, Obamacare has had problems in the rollout, but what Obamacare offers for the American people is far superior to going back to the type of discrimination that insurance companies participated in before, the gender discrimination, paying more for health care coverage just because you are a woman.

    So, you know, they can argue for the status quo ante. We will argue for the success of Obamacare. And, look, things will play out next year.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ron Bonjean, is it enough for Republicans to criticize, which they clearly are doing, or do they need to come up with an alternative of their own?

    RON BONJEAN: Well, absolutely.

    Republicans were shut out of the process of developing Obamacare.

    BRAD WOODHOUSE: That's not true.

    RON BONJEAN: And they need to talk about the law. They need to talk about the problems in the law, because that is what it is.

    But, yes, they need to talk more about the answer to Obamacare. What do they have to sell? There is plenty. They believe in market -- market-moving solutions. They believe in -- they believe in helping -- having small businesses pool their insurance costs to have them lower. They believe in going for trying to -- for allowing for people to buy their insurance across state lines.

    They believe in expanded health care savings accounts. They believe that people who have preexisting conditions should keep their health insurance if they are making continuous payments. There's all kind of things that they can talk about.

    And there will be a time for that, definitely.

    BRAD WOODHOUSE: Well, Judy, that plan leaves millions and millions of people uncovered.

    It doesn't deal with people who can't get health insurance because of a preexisting condition. And that plan was shown I think during the Romney campaign to cover one or two million additional people in the country.

    RON BONJEAN: But the fact of the matter is, you're leaving millions of people off health insurance now and raising their premiums, Brad. And you know that.


    BRAD WOODHOUSE: That is not true. Premiums are down. The cost of health care inflation is down to its lowest point in 40 years.

    The cost of this law, The New York Times reported, Judy, is lower than it was estimated. There's a lot of good about Obamacare, and we are proud of it.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Brad, let me ask you one final question.

    We know that a lot of Democrats, a number of Democrats have been really nervous about the rollout of this, the content of the health care law. To what extent has the president been able to calm those fears on the part of people who are running for reelection next year?

    BRAD WOODHOUSE: Well, you know, I think the president has done what he could do and what he can do.

    He has reflected the frustration with the website. But all this came down really -- or comes down to getting that website fixed and making sure that people who got those cancellation notices can go on the website and get signed up for new and better and lower-cost plans.

    And there is going to be a sprint here in the next three weeks to make sure that this first cohort of people can do that before January the 1st.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ron Bonjean, now that the White House, the Democrats are clearly focused on fighting back on this, does it make it harder for Republicans to make the case you are trying to make?

    RON BONJEAN: Well, I think it is really going to be up to the Senate, the Democrats, especially those who are vulnerable in red states, to make the decision.

    If their blood -- really, the question is, if their blood pressure is still up and they're signing on the bills to -- on the legislation that delays Obamacare for at least a year, then they are still going to have problems. If this bill smooths out and their blood pressure goes down, the White House is not going to have as many problems.

    I think it is going to be up to the Democrats to see what happens next.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. We are going to leave it there.

    Ron Bonjean, we thank you, Brad Woodhouse.

    RON BONJEAN: Thank you.


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    Liftoff! #SES8#Falcon9pic.twitter.com/VBqPxcy64c

    — Jason Major (@JPMajor) December 3, 2013

    Updated 6:15 p.m. EST | SpaceX succeeded in launching a commercial communications satellite, its third scheduled attempt, on Tuesday. Liftoff occurred at 5:41 p.m. EST. The SES-8 satellite deployed after liftoff.

    Spacecraft separation confirmed! SES-8 is now in its targeted GEO transfer orbit.

    — SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 3, 2013

    Video by Space.com

    Updated 6:53 p.m. EST | Engineers scrubbed a second attempt to launch the Falcon 9 rocket, determining they needed more time to review the data. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said another attempt will be made in a few days.

    If launch aborts, we will bring the rocket down for engine inspection, so probably a few days before next attempt

    — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 28, 2013

    Updated 6:28 p.m. EST | The countdown has started again with 17 minutes to liftoff.

    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the abort was triggered by a slower than expected ramp-up of thrust. http://t.co/FfC79YU3nx

    — Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) November 28, 2013

    Updated 6:00 p.m. EST | The Falcon 9 rocket aborted liftoff with about a second to go. SpaceX said the rocket is safe and that its flight computer shut down the launch. As engineers reassess the situation, SpaceX said there's still a 65-minute launch window to try again. Otherwise, another attempt will be made tomorrow at the same time of day.

    After delaying its launch this week because of a technical error, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is now scheduled to launch at 5:39 p.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Thursday.

    SpaceX is attempting, for the first time, to send a commercial communications satellite into orbit. If the spacecraft's journey is successful, it would establish the commercial spaceflight company as a "lower-cost player able to recapture commercial launches all but lost to overseas competitors," USA Today reports.

    "Let me put this very clearly and maybe not too dramatically: The entry of SpaceX into the commercial market is a game-changer," Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer for SES told USA Today. "It's going to really shake the industry to its roots."

    Will be toughest mission to date. Requires coast + upper stage restart + going to 80,000 km altitude (~1/4 way to moon).

    — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 23, 2013

    In October 2012, the Falcon 9 rocket was the first commercial rocket to send an unmanned space capsule to the International Space Station. Then, PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien spoke with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about the company's goal to someday "send millions of people to Mars."

    Support Your Local PBS Station

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    GWEN IFILL: Now to rising tensions in Asia and the United States' strong words for China.

    VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The only conflict that is worse than one that is intended is one that is unintended.

    GWEN IFILL: The vice president issued that warning in Tokyo today, on the first stop of a weeklong Asia tour. He sought to reassure an anxious Japan, as a tense standoff continues with China over which country controls a string of uninhabited islands.

    VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We, the United States, are deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea. This action has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculation.

    GWEN IFILL: The dispute over the islands, known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan, has spiked sharply during the past 10 days. It began when China announced a 600-mile-long East China Sea air defense zone, which includes the islands' airspace.

    The U.S. ignored that declaration by dispatching two unarmed B-52 bombers to fly over the islands, ostensibly part of a training mission, without informing the Chinese first. On Wednesday, Beijing announced it knew about the flights, but it offered no insight into how the zone might be enforced.

    QIN GAN, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): We have said many times before that we will react accordingly, depending on the extent of possible threats we are facing and the circumstances.

    GWEN IFILL: A day later, Japan announced its aircraft, too, are continuing surveillance missions in the region, also ignoring China's demand that they get permission first.

    YOSHIHIDE SUGA, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary (through interpreter): We have no plans to change what we are doing out of consideration to China.

    GWEN IFILL: South Korea, which has interests in the East China Sea as well, said it also wouldn't recognize China's new defense zone.

    KIM MIN-SEOK, South Korean Defense Ministry (through interpreter): As of now, the South Korean government will allow our airplanes to pass the zone without notifications to China.

    GWEN IFILL: Chinese officials have not backed down and instead accused Japan of refusing to negotiate in good faith.

    HONG LEI, Chinese Foreign Ministry (through interpreter): China proposed that China and Japan should enhance communication and dialogue to properly solve the issue of flight safety in the overlapping zone. We have demonstrated our sincerity, but the Japanese side on one hand keeps saying we should talk, but when it comes to dialogue, they keep the door closed.

    GWEN IFILL: All of this comes against the backdrop of China asserting its growing economic and military might. Last week, the Chinese sent their sole aircraft carrier into the South China Sea, where other territorial and mineral rights are in dispute.

    Vice President Biden, who will visit South Korea later in the week and Beijing tomorrow, says he will raise the airspace issues with China's president.


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    GWEN IFILL: So, what is behind the recent escalation, and what's at stake for the region and the U.S.?

    I'm joined by Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs during President Obama's first term. He now has his own consulting firm. And Susan Shirk, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for China policy in the Clinton administration, she's now a professor of China and Pacific relations at the University of California.

    I think it would serve us well to repeat some of the words of Joe Biden today, Kurt Campbell, where he said that China's action -- quote -- "has raised regional tensions and increased the risk of accidents and miscalculations."

    How serious is this?

    KURT CAMPBELL, former State Department official: It is pretty serious, unfortunately.

    If you had to choose two countries that you wouldn't want a crisis to occur between their two militaries, it would probably be China and Japan. Japan has not fired a shot in anger in over 70 years. China has, I think, still an unknown relationship between the party and the military in times of crisis.

    What we have is higher operational tempos of fishing vessels and other vessels and airplanes around these uninhabited rocks, really in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific, with both countries determined not to back down.

    I think the situation is relatively fraught, and this new air defense zone that China has just demarcated really captures an enormous amount of civilian overflight. And, remember, this is the cockpit of the global economy here. And to raise risks and uncertainty about civilian airliners, this is a lot like the dynamic that led to KAL 007 in 1983, the tragic, unfortunate and deeply preventable crisis that took place between South Korea and Russia.

    GWEN IFILL: Susan Shirk, the vice president says the U.S. has an interest in lowering tensions in that region. What are the U.S.' interests and how can they go about lowering those tensions?

    SUSAN SHIRK, University of California: Well, I think Obama administration has done an excellent job of sending very clear signals about its interests in maintaining stability in the region, and standing by its ally Japan.

    Both the secretary of state and the secretary of defense made official statements, something that doesn't happen all that often, and, of course, we did send the B-52s through as well. And the U.S. presence and our forceful response to China's unilateral actions, I think, has prevented a much worse kind of crisis, because, if we had not been there, then perhaps the Japanese would have felt they had to react more strongly, the Chinese would have reacted to that, and things could have spun out of control.

    GWEN IFILL: But this has been bubbling for a while.

    I want to continue with you for a moment, Susan Shirk. And yet now we have this action. Was it purposefully provocative on China's part?

    SUSAN SHIRK: Well, actually, I am kind of puzzled about the timing.

    We certainly believe that Xi Jinping must have personally approved it, but coming so shortly on the heels of the announcement of China's reform blueprint that just a few weeks ago we were discussing, which got pretty good reviews internationally, and now everyone is discussing China's assertive, even aggressive, actions.

    Now, of course, this air defense notification zone is perfectly legal, and China has every right to do it. But if they had done it in consultation with their neighbors, if it were really aimed at safety, instead of strengthening its claim to these islands, then things would have been, of course, much, much better.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Kurt Campbell about that.

    Why do you think...

    KURT CAMPBELL: Yes, I am actually with Susan on this.

    I'm mystified about the timing and the approach. Remember, Chinese strategy really is to narrow this between China and Japan, to try to ease the Americans out of it, and certainly not to regionalize the dynamic.

    But by doing it the way they have, they have undermined one of the great achievements of the last several years, which is an improvement in China-South Korean relations, which we support. And it has also brought the United States very clearly into play.

    And so my sense -- and it is also on the -- it takes place right on the eve of Vice President Biden's visit. So I think this wasn't well-executed. I don't think it was well-conceptualized. And I don't think it has furthered Chinese foreign policy or national security.

    GWEN IFILL: And so what we have seen happen, Kurt Campbell, is U.S., Japan, South Korea has continued military fights over that airspace, that defended airspace. Was this -- what are the chance this becomes a diplomatic standoff and escalates from that to a military standoff involving any of those -- those...


    KURT CAMPBELL: Yes. Look, I...


    GWEN IFILL: ... players?

    KURT CAMPBELL: What has gone on between Japan and China has now gone on for over a year.

    And we have had -- this is like a case of the mumps. You know, it comes and goes. These territorial issues are nothing new in Asia, but this particular cycle has been longer and more intense. I think the most likely thing is not a diplomatic crisis which then turns into a military crisis, but a lone actor, a guy on a fishing boat or a plane captain, that basically exceeds what, you know, hopefully are cautious rules of engagements, and there is a collision or a crash or a local crisis, which then has an intense, short duration, but in that particular area, which will really cause a crisis in relations between China and Japan.

    GWEN IFILL: Susan Shirk, what is the U.S. stance on the sovereignty of these islands, these rocks in the middle of the sea?

    SUSAN SHIRK: Well, we take a neutral position. We don't side either with Japan or China on the sovereignty claim.

    GWEN IFILL: Why not?

    SUSAN SHIRK: But -- why not? Well, that is our position. We are neutral on those sovereignty claims, just as we are neutral on the claims in the South China Sea.

    We don't have a position. But we do have a treaty commitment to Japan, which extends to areas under Japan's effective control, which means the Senkaku, Diaoyu islands. So this is a position that certainly in China is not accepted. It doesn't make much sense to them, but that is what our position is, and we stand by it.

    GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask you finally whether you think that, given what has happened, the fact that there have been planes which have done flyovers, with no incident, no reaction, that -- what are the chances, especially with Vice President Biden visiting there tomorrow, that the Chinese will back off?

    KURT CAMPBELL: I don't think they can formally or publicly back off.

    I think what they are likely to do is either tailor their operational dimension to very narrow circumstances. They may just stop talking about it for a while, or they may decide to change the subject. I don't think it is likely that they will continue with launching fighter aircraft against uncertain civilian overflight. I just think that is so contrary to their strategic interests.

    Ultimately, I think the U.S. role here is to privately go in to Japan, to South Korea and to China and say, look, you have got to put some of these issues behind you and work more constructively on future, larger issues, and not what are really tertiary issues.

    GWEN IFILL: Susan Shirk, how about -- what do you think? Will China back off, or does the U.S. have a role?

    SUSAN SHIRK: No, I don't think China will back off and I don't think -- I mean, although that would be our preference.

    I think what we should do is to press both sides to consult on emergency communication measures in order to prevent accidents. And we should also ask China what its intentions are in the South China Sea, because, in that announcement it made on the air defense notification zone, it said it intended to announce further zones in certain areas, which could mean that where we are heading up on a similar crisis in the South China Sea.

    And this is really very dangerous, because, right now, the nationalist public in China is pressing the government and saying, are you just a paper tiger? You have made this threat, and you are not acting upon it. And that is one thing I am quite concerned about.

    GWEN IFILL: Susan Shirk, Kurt Campbell, thank you both very much.

    KURT CAMPBELL: Thank you.

    SUSAN SHIRK: Thank you.


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     JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: how the American education system stacks up in global rankings and the questions surrounding that assessment.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

    WOMAN: You got it. You got it. Good. Good. Good. Good.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It's considered by many the world's most important exam. The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA test, has been given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries and educational systems every three years since 2000, a way to test and compare performances in reading, math and science, with an emphasis on how facts and figures can be not just learned, but used.

    Results from 2012 were released today, and, once again, the U.S. hovered near the middle of the pack, lagging in some areas, even as other countries advanced. Math remains the biggest challenge; 29 other systems had higher average scores than American high schoolers.

    The U.S. fared better in reading, where it ranked 20th, and in science, ranking 23rd. The best results were in East Asia, where students from Shanghai, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, among others, placed near the top.

    As in the past, though, some education question just what and how much PISA tells us, given social, cultural, and economic differences among nations.

    The PISA test is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD.

    Andreas Schleicher serves as deputy director for education and skills there. He helped develop and runs the test, and joins us now.

    And welcome to you.

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Thank you very much.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, explain to us first, what is the role and importance of these tests? What do they actually tell us?

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Well, they allow us to look at what is possible in education.

    They show us what the world's leading education systems -- shows possible in terms of student achievement, in terms of equity in educational opportunities, the very important mirror in which we can look at ourselves in the light of what other countries show is possible, really.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So when we look at ourselves here in the U.S. the headline once again was average. Is that the -- even as some countries have moved ahead.


    JEFFREY BROWN: Is that the takeaway that you would put for the U.S.?

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Well, yes, I think the U.S. is an average performer.

    But we have seen actually a lot of movement around the world, Shanghai, Singapore moving from good to great, in Europe, Poland, Germany actually addressing many of the same challenges the U.S. faces in terms of creating a more equitable distribution of learning opportunities. There a lot of lessons in there, not just sort of seeing where you are, but also how things can become better.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, one of the criticisms -- you mentioned Shanghai, Singapore. How do you compare them, Shanghai, a city, to the United States, where there are so many huge differences?

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Absolutely. That is a very fair point.

    It would be more appropriate to compare, for example, Shanghai, the top-performing province in China, with Massachusetts, the top-performing state in the U.S. But, still, you have an average -- a gap of two-and-a-half school years Shanghai leading Massachusetts, so it is relevant for us to look to those places, how they actually deliver those kind of outcomes.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, give us some examples. What do you see some countries doing well that we are not doing here?

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Well, A., particularly in East Asia, they give a great value to education. They attract great people into the teaching profession.

    They attract the most talented teachers into the most challenging classrooms, something the U.S. has great difficulties with. I mean, every student believes that they are the owners of their success, that investment in learning, effort is going to make a difference, not talent.

    I think there are a lot of lessons, I think, all over the world can learn from East Asia. But you can also see high-performing systems in Europe, or you look to your northern neighbor, Canada, very impressive results in some of the provinces there.

    JEFFREY BROWN: And you see them taking actions that have -- you have seen the shift from the last time of the results?

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Yes, absolutely.

    You know, I mean, Shanghai did really well last time, but they are doing a lot better now. It is not only the relative position that we have seen, but also the pace of change. Also, at the bottom of the list, you can see a country like Brazil rising from the bottom, Turkey, Mexico. Actually, there is a lot of improvement. Out of 65 countries, 40 have seen some improvement in one of the three subjects.

    JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. has a higher proportion of lower-income students than many of these countries. The U.S. has a more diverse population, including immigrant groups, than many of these countries.

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Actually, these are common beliefs. On the income, for example, that is not actually right.

    In terms of child poverty, the U.S. is around the average. Among the OECD countries, it has a more diverse population. But even if you account for all of those factors, you know, to take Vietnam, a country that is actually where every child lives in poverty, and still its results come out better than the OECD average.

    So poverty is a challenge, but you can actually see some countries very good at moderating inequalities, very good at helping disadvantaged students actually to excel. You can see that in Asia and Singapore and Japan. You can see that in Northern Europe, where you have children coming out of poverty, but the education system then assures that those children get the best educational opportunities.

    JEFFREY BROWN: These numbers are inevitably pounced upon by advocates of all kind, right?

    Once we know the results of the tests, can we therefore say policy X is the right way to go, policy Y for any particular country? And I am thinking specifically of the U.S. here. We have these -- have all kinds of discussions and debates on the table.

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: It is always hard to discern to cause and effect when you have a study like this.

    And you can't copy and paste an education system. But I do think what the comparisons allow you, they allow you to study the drivers of success. What have those countries actually done that have moved upwards and have realized good results?

    And then to think about how you can configure those drivers in your own context. Actually, a country that is doing that really well is Singapore. If you go to Singapore, you find nothing that you haven't seen somewhere else, but they made it really work coherently over time, coherently across the whole system. They are very, very good at policy implementation.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Well, but you mentioned Singapore again. And people say Singapore. OK, that is an interesting country. It's a smaller country. It has a much more regime -- much stricter regime than -- and it is a different form of government in a way than the U.S.

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Let me give you another example.


    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: In the year 2000, my own country, Germany, came out quite poorly on PISA, both in terms of average performance and in terms of the achievement gap.

    But the country has really worked hard on those kind of issues, giving immigrant students better chances in school, investing into the teaching of lower-income students. And the performance gap between the richer and the less wealthier children has halved in the period of nine years. So, actually, these are challenges, but, actually, there are very good examples, Poland, another middle-income country that has seen dramatic improvements on its learning outcomes...


    JEFFREY BROWN: So, just in our last 30 seconds, your advice is, use the -- get past the headlines...


    JEFFREY BROWN: ... and try to see what can work in a given country?


    The world is a fantastic laboratory. We can actually see different ideas playing out in different ways, and we can actually -- we don't have to copy every mistake that is being made. But we can look at how have ideas like choice, like competition, like standards, how they have been played out?

    And the U.S., I think, has made -- is one great example. If you look at the Common Core standards that are now being implemented by states, this is exactly an idea like this, internationally benchmarked. They are actually modeled on the top-performing education systems. If they are actually done in classrooms, they are going to get the U.S. pretty much upwards.

    JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

    Well, that is an ongoing example that we will be watching over time.

    Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, thank you very much.

    ANDREAS SCHLEICHER: Thank you very much.




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