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

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    JOHN LARSON: A potentially important story that got little attention this week was a proposal by the Food and Drug Administration to limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Health officials worry that overuse of these drugs makes us more vulnerable to infectious diseases. For more about the FDA’s proposal and the likelihood that it will be implemented, we are joined now from Washington by Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times. She’s written extensively about the topic. Sabrina, thanks so much for joining us. What are these new rules?

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: So, John, the rules essentially lay out changes that the pharmaceutical industry needs to make to the labels of drugs they make for farm animals, uh, antibiotic drugs. Uh, and essentially, uh, once the changes are made, uh, that will mean that the—the farmers and ranchers and the agricultural businesses will no longer be able to use antibiotics in feed and water, um, for growth promotion purposes, in other words, uh, to make the animals grow faster and be plumper.

    JOHN LARSON: And we know that these proposals, these rules are al—already coming under criticism. Why is that?

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: So, essentially there’s a great deal of skepticism in the public health community, understandably, uh, that the agricultural businesses are going to use a loophole, uh, to essentially allow them to continue using the same low doses of antibiotics over the course of a lifetime of the animal and just say, for example, they needed to use it for disease-prevention purposes instead of for growth-promotion purposes. So, in other words, to keep the animals from getting sick.

    JOHN LARSON: Your sense is though, however, this is—they’re going to be more than just a, uh, “why don’t you do and—and trust us to do the right thing” type of regulation. You feel like there—there are some more teeth to it.

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: I think so. I mean, the skepticism on the part of the public health people is understandable. It’s been years, decades even, uh, with very, very little action on this problem. We’ve gotten to the point in human health where, uh, infectious disease doctors and pediatricians are ju—extrememly worried about this. Uh, but, you know, essentially, the FDA’s response is, well, there are going to have to be prescriptions from veterinarians, so—so, it won’t just be, uh, like it is now, where, uh, farmers and ranchers can simply go to a feed store and buy as much of this stuff as they like. Uh, you know, for human health, we have to get prescriptions for antibiotics, but that is not the case for farms and farm animals.

    JOHN LARSON: Sabrina, you had written in some of your articles that the CDC has some alarming new numbers on this.

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: Yes, the CDC says 2 million Americans get sick every year from these antibiotic-resistant bugs and about 23,000 of them die.

    JOHN LARSON: So, what’s the timeframe here? How-how’s the rollout going to proceed?

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: The FDA is, uh, taking the temperature of the pharmaceutical companies. It’s giving them three months, uh, to tell the agency whether they will be participating, and then it will be—they will have actually three years to, uh, make the changes.

    JOHN LARSON: Sabrina Tavernise joining us from Washington, DC. Thank you so much.

    SABRINA TAVERNISE: Thanks a lot.


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    On this edition, Rick Karr reports from Colorado on the growth of the drone industry. Proposed FDA regulations that would put a halt to the use of growth-promoting drugs in farm animals. And, a year after Newtown, techniques and practices some schools are implementing to make their students safer.

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    Lincoln Electric has paid an employee bonus for 80 straight years, and once again there were no layoffs in 2013. How do they do it?

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    CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Friday that a school shooting suspect died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound and was found in a classroom at Arapahoe High School in suburban Denver.

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    JOHN LARSON: Now that Nelson Mandela has been buried, we thought we'd spend some time looking to the future of South Africa. For more on that we're joined by Marcus Mabry, Editor at Large for the New York Times. Marcus Mabry returned to South Africa and reported from there this summer. 

    We heard President Zuma say just recently that he thought South Africa would continue to rise. I guess the big question is will it?

    MARCUS MABRY: You're right, John, and that's the hardest question to answer as well. Mandela has left an undeniable legacy of reconciliation and even progress but the country has massive challenges especially when it comes to the inequalities in educational and economic opportunities between the Black masses and a white minority and a Black middle class that has exploded and didn't exist when I was originally in South Africa. At the same time, this country has challenges that very few countries an overcome. The fact that it has come this far is already a miracle. I think when South Africans talk about Mandela, you hear it in their voice -- a wonderment and unity -- we can't know what his absence will do to that country. We can't know, for instance, to the Black majority, if there will be the patience, which has been pretty enduring so far.

    JOHN LARSON: I was truck by a number of things in your reporting-- one is the detailing of the accomplishments an challenges. The discrepancies between White and Black South Africans is growing each month. 

    MARCUS MABRY: If any one group has benefited from it as far as a racial group,  you'd say White South Africans. They're actually better off right now than at the end of Apartheid. And that's because democracy and free enterprise for those with some means -- an opportunity already. Whereas for the Black masses, those opportunities have not really come. For a small percentage of Black elite, the opportunities have been extraordinary -- they are now rich and their children speak with an accent that no Black person had when I was based in South Africa, because it's an accent of the educated. But for the Black masses that just hasn't happened. 

    JOHN LARSON: Even in the reporting, we're starting to focus on the divisiveness of South African culture, of course the exact opposite of Mandela's legacy. In local politics they are starting to talk about this. How do you think this will play out -- in national or local elections? Or do you think it will be an unscripted event.

    MARCUS MABRY: I think national and local elections. I think not in the next round, but in the round after that -- when Mandela's memory is fading more and the idea of reconciliation and patience is fading. I think at that point you will see the Black middle class, which was already starting to look at alternatives to the ANC, more willing to break with the ANC. While you'll see the Black masses probably less patient, and saying the ANC should have more radical policies indented to change their life. And that's when I think you'll see the ANC change and the Black middle classes move away from the ANC -- and the Black working class demand greater change from the ANC.

    JOHN LARSON: Of all the experience you've had there, which is extensive, that you were legitimately moved when you went back to the extent that Mandela's message of reconciliation, stability had permeated the country that you knew so well?

    MARCUS MABRY:  There’s no question about it. When I left South Africa back in 1999 when I was Newsweek’s bureau chief there versus this time when I went back this year – a 14-year difference, the country had radically changed. This black middle class I talked about didn’t exist. These young black kids who could be African-American kids from the best private schools from this country – this species of South African didn’t exist when I left. These changes, even some changes like that they have a high speed train now that goes from Johannesburg up to Pretoria; we don’t have a high speed train in America that goes anywhere.

    These changes and the depth of emotion that South Africans of all colors conveyed to me when I talked about the prospect of Mandela’s dying . It didn’t matter where you came from, what your race was, what your politics were – they were all visibly emotionally moved. That’s a unity that was unimaginable when I left there 14 years ago. I don’t know how long its going to endure now that Mandela is gone and as the memory of Mandela fades – but to me it was unimaginable that you would have this kind of unity, depth of feeling in all present in all the South Africans who are so different and who had very different interests from each other 14 years ago.

    JOHN LARSON: It’s one thing for a political leader to rise to power – to be elected -- to transform government. This happens on many different stages. But this message of healing and reconciliation was truly Mandela’s totally unique, powerful legacy. And you’ve met him. You’ve spoken with him – this man was also a brilliant politician. This was not a person who just waltzed into good graces.

    MARCUS MABRY:  Machiavellian may seem like a too strong a term to use. But Rick Stengel who was his biographer, in Long Walk to Freedom, talks about how Mandela is not a man without anger or pain or bitterness or edge, and if you were in his government you knew that. But the public image we have of him is almost like a saint-like, right -this guy who has forgiven everything. But he was no Gandhi, in fact  but from a Machiavellian point of view – from a real politic point of view  he realized what South Africa needed to peacefully move from where it was to where it needed to be. He had to be this saintly kind of image. He couldn’t share his bitterness. He had to be better than he really was. The image had to be better, less human, than he really was himself. And he pulled that off. 

    JOHN LARSON:  I was struck by your recent reporting from South Africa about how the older black South Africans are almost angry at the younger black South Africans because they don’t have the anger; they don’t have the bitterness. And essentially from your writing, the younger black South Africans are saying “exactly,” and that’s Mandela’s legacy. ‘We now have to build something new.’

    MARCUS MABRY:  That’s right, they say that they can’t construct the new South Africa if they hold on to the old grudges. The older South Africans say that was just 14 years ago – or 20 years ago for the end of apartheid, what are you talking about? And the younger South Africans say ‘well, 20 years ago was a long time.’ It’s amazing that they can forget so quickly. That too, seems very American – the ahistoricism. At the same time it is the hope of South Africa.  You must put all that behind you if you plan to construct this kind of new country that allows for the kind of problems they face today to not erupt in the future.  So those kids may have something on the older ones. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone could turn away so quickly from all that bitterness and say ‘oh but that was the past – I’m not worried about all that stuff, I’m worried about the future.’

    JOHN LARSON: And you warned about how quickly it could come back if things took a turn for the worse.

    MARCUS MABRY:  I think the middle class perspective versus the black masses, who still remain the majority of  the country and still remain poor, and shut out from opportunity. I think their fate and their lack of opportunity will turn out to be what determines the future of  South Africa.

    JOHN LARSON: Marcus Mabry, thanks so much. 


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    KARLA MURTHY:  For most of us, going to the local bank to deposit a check is second nature, but for many poor people in the New York neighborhood of the South Bronx, it’s not.  

    More than half the residents there don’t have a bank account, so on a Friday afternoon customers trickle into Ritecheck, a check cashing store. They are paying bills, buying money orders and cashing checks at a type of business often criticized for seeming to exploit the poor - by charging high fees.

    But on this day, one of these tellers is not like the others.

    Lisa Servon is actually a professor of urban policy at the New School in Manhattan, and her job at this check cashing store is part of a research project to find out why people choose to come here, despite the fees, rather than going to a bank.

    KARLA MURTHY to SERVON:  What were your impressions of check cashing places?--

    LISA SERVON: 
    I thought the same thing that you see in the press. I would cite the literature that called check cashers abusive and predatory and-- you know, being businesses that were really taking advantage of the poor.  So I believed that.

    KARLA MURTHY: But that belief was challenged when a man who runs one of these businesses visited Lisa Servon’s class as guest lecturer five years ago.

    JOE COLEMAN: Lisa's like, "You know, I'll get my graduate students and they'll really lay this guy to waste, you know?"

    KARLA MURTHY: Joe Coleman is the president of Ritecheck, a chain of 12 check-cashing stores in Harlem and the Bronx.

    JOE COLEMAN: She just had that usual kind of, you know, idea like everybody else that check cashers are evil.  So you know, I took my horn and my tail off and I showed up at The New School.

    KARLA MURTHY:  After Coleman appeared in her class that day; Servon started rethinking the role that check cashers were playing in poor communities.

    LISA SERVON:  The-- kind of the underlying assumption if they're bad businesses is that the people who use them are not very smart, right. And I knew that wasn't true. I knew from my other work that when you're low income or working poor, you're really good at managing your money because you don't have very much of it. So it didn't make sense to me that people would willingly pay more for something that they could let less-- for less. And the only way of figuring that out was to get as close to the problem as I could get. So I couldn't really-- you know, go undercover as a poor person, it wouldn't have really worked.  But I called Joe five years after he came to my class and I asked if he'd hire me as a teller.

    KARLA MURTHY:  For four months last fall, the professor commuted to the South Bronx and worked weekly as a teller in one of Coleman’s stores. She soon discovered that just getting quick access to their money, as opposed to waiting for a check to clear in a bank is a big reason poor customers use check cashing services, despite fees that nationally average about 4%.

    KARLA MURTHY to SERVON:  They're having to pay fees to cash a check.  I mean, isn't it better to do that at a bank where it costs almost nothing?

    LISA SERVON: In fact a lot of people did have bank accounts and a lot of others had had bank accounts and didn't any longer. 

    banking fees

    KARLA MURTHY:  Servon interviewed customers for her research. And she says, one reason banks are seen as more expensive is a lack of transparency about fees.  Many customers didn’t know what the fees were and when they were going to hit.

    LISA SERVON:  When you walk into a check casher, you see the fees for every service is posted in huge font. You walk into a bank and there's no signage at all.

    KARLA MURTHY:  People with bank accounts are given disclosure agreements laying out when you’ll pay a bank fee and for how much. But those agreements typically run nearly 70 pages.

    KARLA MURTHY to PATRON: Would you rather use a bank if you could?

    KARLA MURTHY:  We spent time at some check cashing stores in the South Bronx and heard a great deal of distrust about banks and complaints about their services.

    The time it took for checks to clear, there not being enough branches in poor neighborhoods, the high penalties for bouncing a check, and hidden fees.

    FRANCIS DARKO: I would rather cash my money and then have the whole money that I need instead of putting it in a bank where by the time I realize it they would have taken half my money out.

    KARLA MURTHY:  Average fees just to maintain a noninterest-bearing checking account have tripled in the past four years according to consumer surveys. Meanwhile the percentage of free checking accounts being offered by banks is only half of what it was in 2009.and free often means needing to maintain a minimum balance or using direct deposit.

    JONATHAN MINTZ: Financial security is everybody's problem. 

    KARLA MURTHY:  Despite all the complaints about banks, Jonathan Mintz, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs says banks still play a vital role helping the poor get ahead.

    JONATHAN MINTZ: Banking is really the key on-ramp to whether or not you're involved in a productive step forward or whether or not you're just treading water or drowning .

    The problem is, is that when people are having to pay for each and every one of their financial transactions, it's just this cycle of unproductive banking activity.  People aren't connecting into the financial mainstream, which means that their ability to become financially stable and grow and open businesses and save for their kids to go to college, all of that pathway that you and I take for granted-- is being denied to millions and millions of Americans.

    KARLA MURTHY:   But critics say it’s very hard for the poor to save in the first place and the little money they do set aside gets a minuscule return in a bank.

    And Joe Coleman of Ritecheck argues that his business model works perfectly well for low income customers.

    JOE COLEMAN: Our customers are really what's called low balance, high volume customers, and banks don't-- aren't very cost-effective at serving that population. If you're a low-income consumer that's working on a very small budget, and you don't have any money to keep on deposit in the bank, we're faster, cheaper and better than banks. Look, sure, if you've got $100,000 check, it doesn't make sense to pay 1.95% to cash it; if you've got a $300 check and you're going to pay $5 or $6 to get $294 back for your-- to have immediately, it makes sense.  

    KARLA MURTHY:  In New York, check cashing stores can charge 1.95% to cash a check. But the estimated national average is more than 4%. And all those fees add up: a study from the Brookings Institution shows that over a lifetime, relying on check cashers instead of a low-cost checking account could potentially add up to more than $40,000 for a low income worker.

    KARLA MURTHY: It's estimated that New York residents spend about $225 million in fees for cashing checks at businesses like yours, I mean, that's a lot of money, wouldn't that be better for people to be putting that into a saving s account or something else to build, you know, assets and-- credit?

    JOE COLEMAN: Right, right.  Well, I think, first of all, if you look at the number of transactions, it's-- per transaction is a very small amount.  And if you are using a bank, I mean, the banks are p-- profit-making organizations and they're getting fees. The problem is that people can't keep money-- asset building's good, if you can afford to build an asset, but what about the people that can't?

    KARLA MURTHY: But just as Coleman criticizes banks, many criticize check cashing businesses for other services some provide, particularly what are known as payday loans, short-term advances with extraordinarily high interest rates. Something allowed in 36 states, but not New York.

    payday lending map

    KARLA MURTHY: Coleman does acknowledge his industry has its problems.

    JOE COLEMAN: Well, I mean, look I won't say that everybody in my industry is angelic and pure. You know, we have bad actors, too, like every industry. What I'm hearing is that kind of, almost, you know, unconscious presumption that somehow this industry tends to be more evil or something or we tend to be taking more advantage  and there’s this sort of intrinsic almost unconscious connection that If we're down here making money-- I must be ripping off the poor.

    JONATHAN MINTZ: Check cashers are addressing this market gap, not by solving the problem, but by profiting off that problem. 

    KARLA MURTHY:  Commissioner Mintz acknowledges that traditional banks have not done a great job serving the poor either, but he’s working on how cities can convince banks to serve this population:

    JONATHAN MINTZ: When a city says to banks and credit unions, "This is our product need, and we are offering you tens of thousands of people who are going to receive this product," banks will respond. And banks will come up with the best product that they have, the more appropriate product than the one that you and I might get off the shelf or that somebody might get off the shelf walking into a branch.

    KARLA MURTHY:  He says banks are already making more of an effort to reach this community.

    Dozens of cities have launched a program called bank on, which does offer free or low cost bank accounts for low income residents. This fall, Mintz announced the start of bank on 2.0 to expand on these efforts.

    But for Lisa Servon, how best to serve low income consumers is no longer as simple as advocating for bank accounts.

    KARLA MURTHY to SERVON:  In general are you saying that check cashing places right now are the-- are necessary to serve this population?  Or are they kind of a necessary evil?  How do you view it?

    LISA SERVON: It's really hard to understand why people would pay those prices if they-- if there's a bank nearby, right, because you don't see the on the ground kind of decision people-- decision making people are doing.  So it's a leap-- from looking at the facts of the fees to saying, "It must be bad and it must be abusive."  And it's a logical leap, right.  I think unless you go down there and you really talk to people, it's not obvious.

    Additional funding from Citi Foundation.


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    JOHN LARSEN: The White House said Friday it had received a report from a presidential advisory group asked to recommend changes in the nation’s surveillance programs. What comes next? For more, we are joined now from Washington by David Sanger. He’s the national security correspondent for The New York Times.

    JOHN LARSEN: David, what recommendations do you think the group made and what’s the president likely to do with them?

    DAVID SANGER: Well you know, right now we only know about a few of the recommendations that are in the report. There are more than 40 total recommendations in the report, while not classified, is gonna remain confidential the White House says until the President’s had a chance to review it and make some decisions. But a few things we do know. The first is that the President has decided to continue the bulk collection of domestically gathered telephone numbers. These are the very controversial program that was revealed by the Snowden documents. The Edward Snowden documents, which involves the United States keeping records back about five years of every telephone call that is made from the United States, in the United States and what number that call was made to. Does not record conversations. The second big decision that we know the president has made and the White House has now announced is the National Security Agency is not going to be split off from US Cyber Command. Now Cyber Command is the Pentagon’s branch that both defends the Pentagon’s networks against cyber attacks and puts together offensive attacks very similar to the one that the United States conducted on Iran a few years ago. Some people have been concerned that puts too much power in the hands of one military commander. The president has decided to go ahead with it.

    JOHN LARSEN: I’m struck by the combination in your stories and this issue about you know, the perceived need for some sort of transparency. And yet, the public’s either not seeming to be too alarmed on this or at least giving the government some leeway on this. It’s almost like a, you know, the public’s right to know, in this case it’s almost like the public doesn’t want to know. Do you sense that push and pull?

    DAVID SANGER:  You certainly do sense that push and pull and there was a bit of a sense right now that the committee that reported to President Obama was in fact significantly more aggressive in talking about cutting back on some of these programs than the public has at least articulated so far. We think that the committee in fact wants to have significantly greater transparency for a number of the programs. There’s a good indication that they are in favor of making sure that if the government goes to get a warrant from a foreign intelligence surveillance court that there’s someone to argue the other side, the privacy side of that. That’s been debated some in the elite circles in the United States but it hasn’t become a regular subject of say cable news shows and so forth and it does raise an interesting question: are Americans in a post-911 era simply not only accustomed to increased government surveillance but increasingly accepting of it?

    JOHN LARSEN: You must watch with great interest what the public’s reaction or sometimes lack of reaction is on this. Do you feel like at any point there will be a tipping point one way or the other where all of a sudden the public really grabs on to a part of this issue?

    DAVID SANGER: Well you know as my colleagues at the Times reported this morning, the Snowden revelations are not yet over. In fact, the NSA doesn’t really have a full grasp of how much material he left with so we don’t have a full sense yet of what’s to come and it’s easy to imagine that some future revelation could change the American public view. But I think the overall sense right now is that Americans are willing to accept a level of surveillance that it’s hard to imagine they would have been willing to accept prior to 911 even though that was a dozen years ago. And it’s also possible that a younger generation that has grown up on Facebook and had their digital lives out for many to see simply does not get as upset about the fact that the government collects this data. And as you know, when you go online, it’s clear that many private companies collect far more about that. Your shopping preferences and so forth, you see it from the ads that show up on the edges of your screen whenever you’re typing in a search. So it is very possible that there’s been a sea change in the American public view of this problem.

    JOHN LARSEN: As you mentioned earlier, it’s also, it’s our government that is taking these actions whereas over in Europe you know it’s their president’s that are being hacked. They’re the ones it’s being directed at them and the population there has a completely different response to this story. It’s still headline news.

    DAVID SANGER: Their populations overseas, particularly in Germany and Mexico, and Brazil, all countries where the NSA conducted extensive surveillance on the leaders, their reactions have been very different. And you know, it raises a really interesting question which is one that the current head of the NSA, Keith Alexander, raised in an interview that we had with him two months ago. And that is, can the United States continue to view its partners who it needs so much in things like defending against cyber attacks as targets as well?  Now during the cold war the Germans sort of accepted the fact that their government was under American surveillance because the US was in charge of Germany’s existential security against a Soviet threat. Today, most Germans don’t view the United States as central to their security and they may not be willing to put up with as much surveillance from the American government.

    JOHN LARSEN: David Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times. Thank you so much for joining us.

    DAVID SANGER: Thank you.


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    Protest Against Rape Indian protesters shout anti-government slogans during a protest against rape in New Delhi on January 2, 2013. Credit: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

    Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the gruesome gang rape of an Indian woman on a bus in New Delhi. The 23-year-old medical student later died in a Singapore hospital.

    The incident sparked massive protests around India and led to a national debate about women's rights and safety. The men accused of carrying out the crime were put on trial and this past September, four men were found guilty and sentenced to death.

    But what has happened in the year since the rape to address violence against women?

    India's parliament passed anti-rape legislation earlier this year that would criminalize offenses like stalking.

    Organizations launched campaigns, in an effort to bring awareness to the prevalence of violence against women and offer suggestions for ways to stop it. This in-depth PBS NewsHour report from April details the some of those efforts.

    Earlier this year, in New Delhi, a help line was set up to encourage women to speak up and report crimes when they happen.

    And police in Delhi say that they conduct "surprise raids" on public transportation routes in which large numbers of women travel to monitor the incidents of harassment

    According to the Wall Street Journal, more women in India are coming forward - reporting rapes and harassment. " In Delhi, for example, 1,493 rapes were reported to police in the first 11 months of this year, more than double the number reported in the same period of 2012."

    It's an encouraging indicator, but experts caution that there is much work to be done.

    Ranjana Kumari who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, told the AFP:

    "The society is indeed becoming more sensitive to rape victims now, but there is still a long way to go. You cannot deny there is a rape epidemic in the country."

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    A Syrian woman holds her kids after air raids in Aleppo pic.twitter.com/GtNxlCg0EH#AFP

    — Agence France-Presse (@AFP) December 16, 2013

    'Barrel bomb' raids in Syria's Aleppo kill 76 http://t.co/R60jDXDznn via @YahooNewspic.twitter.com/oo110wvqoM

    — Agence France-Presse (@AFP) December 16, 2013

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    Yours the Moon

    Yours the moon mine the Milky Way a scarf

    around my neck I love you as the night

    loves the moon's dark side as the sky, distant,

    endless, wears her necklace of stars over her dress

    under my scarf that she wears against the cold

    Photo by John Tranter

    David Lehman is the series editor of "The Best American Poetry." His new collection, "New and Selected Poems" draws on more than 40 years of material. He has published seven other books of poetry, including "When a Woman Loves a Man," "The Daily Mirror" and "Valentine Place." He teaches at The New School and lives in New York City.

    Hear David Lehman read "Radio."


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    A report by the Chronicle of Higher Education sheds light on the growing salaries of private college presidents. Photo by Flickr user John Walker.

    The number of college presidents at private colleges making more than $1 million dollars rose from 2010 to 2011, according to a report released Sunday by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The report used federal tax information from 2011, the most recent data available, to track the compensation of presidents at the 500 private colleges with the largest endowments.

    In 2011, 42 presidents earned more than $1 million, up from 36 in 2010. The University of Chicago's Robert J. Zimmer was the top paid college president making $3,358,723 in total compensation, $919, 333 in base pay. The lowest private college compensation was $0, which was the pay of several college presidents at religious based institutions.

    View the full report on The Chronicle of Higher Education website and the conversation college president pay on Twitter using the #collegeprespay

    H/T Bridget Shirvell

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    The US Drug Enforcement (DEA) joined Twitter on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. According to an announcement posted on the DEA website the organization will use Twitter to reach a larger audience and provide the latest news, tips and useful information.

    RT @josemedinajr Just act cool. RT @borderreporter: The DEA has come to Twitter. Everyone sober up. @DEANEWS

    — Amy Isackson (@BorderAmy) December 15, 2013

    As of Monday morning the DEA Twitter was following 19 people, had more than 500 followers and had only tweeted twice.

    You can follow the DEA at their Twitter handle @DEANews.

    H/T Bridget Shirvell

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    A video still from Nelson Mandela's memorial service shows Thamsanqa Jantjie on the right.

    The fake sign language interpreter at last week's Nelson Mandela memorial was reportedly among a group that burned two men to death in 2003.

    The Associated Press cited one of Thamsanqa Jantjie's cousins and three of his friends in its story on Monday. Jantjie never went to trial for the 2003 killings, which stemmed from the discovery a stolen TV, because authorities deemed him not mentally fit to stand trial.

    The group set fire to tires placed around the necks of the men, the relatives and friends told the AP. That account matches the description Jantjie gave in an interview published Sunday by the Sunday Times in Johannesburg.

    The AP said Jantjie was not at his house Monday and was unreachable by phone.

    H/T Sam Lane

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    By Larry Kotliokoff

    While, under certain circumstances, you can receive all of your suspended retirement benefits in one lump sum, it's not necessarily a good idea if you've got survivors to think about. Photo courtesy of Flickr user dumbeast.

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

    Here's my Social Security question to myself for this week, to which I just learned the answer.

    Question: Dear Larry, I just read a column by the superb personal finance columnist Mary Beth Franklin. Mary relates learning that if, after reaching full retirement age, you file for and suspend your retirement benefit (in order to permit your spouse to receive a spousal benefit or your young or disabled children to receive child benefits) you can, before reaching age 70 (beyond which there is no value to waiting to collect your retirement benefit), undo your decision and receive all your suspended benefits in one lump sum payment. Is this true?

    Larry Kotlikoff: Yes, Larry, it's true. And this is highly relevant to someone who may run into health care or other crises and need money right away. However, if you do this, your retirement benefit, from the point you take your lump sum onward, will be calculated as if you had never suspended your benefit.

    This may also be relevant to a person who discovers that he or she is going to die a lot sooner than expected and wants to get his or her suspended benefits back instead of waiting. But this thinking may be off base. By continuing to delay the collection of retirement benefits through age 70, one increases the survivor benefit one's widow(er) will receive. So cashing out in order to party big may make for a fun exit, but can permanently harm one's survivors.

    Question: My husband died yesterday. I live in Houston, Texas. Am I entitled to his Social Security paycheck?

    Larry Kotlikoff: My deepest sympathies for your loss. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to your question. As described below, your survivor benefit may be less or more than what your husband was receiving depending on when he took his retirement benefit and when you take your survivor benefit.

    Here is what Social Security makes widows like you go through when trying to determine when to take their survivor benefits.

    First thing is first. If you are 60 or over (or 50 or over and disabled, which I'll assume you are not), you can collect widow's benefits starting immediately.

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Boomers Beware: Are Online Social Security Benefit Calculators Safe?

    If your husband took his retirement benefit after full retirement age and you take your benefit at or after full retirement age, you will, indeed, receive his full retirement benefit. This may be more than the check he was receiving each month because his monthly Medicare Part B premium may have been withheld from his monthly Social Security check. His check may also have been less than his retirement benefit if Social Security was withholding some of his retirement benefit for income taxes.

    If your husband took his retirement benefit after full retirement age and you take your survivor benefit before full retirement age, your survivor benefit will be reduced. For example, it will be reduced by 28.5 percent if you take it at 60, assuming you were born between 1945 and 1956.

    If your husband took his retirement benefit early and you take your survivor benefit at full retirement age, your survivor benefit will equal the larger of either the early retirement benefit he was receiving or 82.5 percent of his full retirement benefit. For example, if he took his retirement benefit at age 62, the early retirement benefit he would be receiving would be smaller than 82.5 percent of his full retirement benefit. In this case, your survivor benefit would exceed what he was receiving.

    If your husband took his retirement benefit early and you also take your survivor benefit early, your reduced survivor benefit can be less than what he was receiving if you take your survivor benefit early enough. In this case, your survivor benefit will equal your late spouse's full retirement benefit reduced by your survivor benefit reduction factor.

    If you take your survivor benefit early, but not too early, your survivor benefit will equal the larger of what your husband was receiving or 82.5 percent of his full retirement benefit. In this case, it won't help you to wait until your full retirement age to collect your survivor benefit. For survivors in this situation, they will get the same widow's benefit by taking it as much as four years before full retirement age. In other words, if they were to wait until full retirement age, their survivor benefit would be no larger.

    John Dewey -- Athens, Ga.: I am planning to retire June 2014 at age 65-and-a-half. My primary insurance amount (PIA) will be about $2,150 per month. If my wife takes her spousal benefit at the same time, she would receive half of this or $1,075, correct? Now, because she is taking this 24 months before her full retirement age (FRA), however, she will only get approximately 41 percent of the $2,150 and not 50 percent. Am I still assuming correctly?

    Larry Kotlikoff: You are assuming incorrectly. If your wife is eligible to receive her own retirement benefit (she has 40 quarters of covered employment), she'll be deemed to be applying not just for an early spousal benefit, but also for an early retirement benefit. The term "early," in this context, means reduced. So by doing this, she'll be stuck with reduced benefits for the rest of her life.

    But, the story gets worse. If you take your spousal benefit having filed for your own retirement benefit (which will be her case), you are thrown into the world of excess spousal benefits. Google "excess spousal benefit" and you'll probably just get hits to my columns. The reason is that Social Security goes out of its way, it seems, to hide the fact that the calculation of spousal benefits is different if you have filed for your retirement benefit.

    Your wife's excess spousal benefit will equal (before it is reduced because she's taking it early) half of your full retirement benefit, then less 100 percent of her full retirement benefit. If this quantity is negative, her excess spousal benefit will be zero.

    So your strategy will condemn you to permanently reduced retirement benefits. (The benefits would be 35.5 percent higher after inflation if you were to wait until 70 to start collecting them. Your strategy will also condemn your wife to permanently reduced retirement benefits. (They'd be 46 percent higher after inflation if she were to wait until 70 to start collecting them.) And, lastly, your strategy potentially ensures that your wife never ever collects a single penny in spousal benefits.

    A better strategy is likely to be either that you and your wife wait until 70 to collect your retirement benefits, and when your wife reaches full retirement age, she applies just for her spousal benefit (at which point it will be her full spousal benefit equal to half of your full retirement benefit) and you apply for, but suspend collection of, your retirement benefit. Or, the other strategy is that your wife files for an early retirement benefit when you reach full retirement age, you then file just for your full spousal benefit (based on her earnings record), and you file for your retirement benefit at 70, while she suspends her retirement benefit at full retirement age and starts collecting an excess spousal benefit when you are 70. Then she restarts her retirement benefit at 70.

    Janet Turvey -- Clinton, N.Y.: I have consulted with our local Social Security office three times and always get different answers. I intend to retire at age 65 in April. My husband intended to retire this year too. But, we have now been told we are subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision -- we have to have worked in the U.S. for 30 years or we will lose some of our U.K. pension. It would take me another 10 years to work in this country and I would be around 75. My husband will have worked in the U.S. for 30 years in August of 2015. Should I claim my Social Security when I retire in April or in May at age 65 and wait until my husband retires to claim off of his in 2015? Should we draw on our retirement savings and not claim our Social Security until we are both 70?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I'm not surprised you are getting different answers from different offices. But let's try to get you the right answer.

    First, the good news! Because your non-covered pension comes from earnings you made abroad, neither of you will be hit by the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision, which would otherwise reduce your spousal and survivor benefits by two-thirds of your non-covered pension.

    You, Janet, will get hit by the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) because you won't have 30 years of substantial earnings. But your husband, who has 30 years of substantial covered earnings, will not.

    The WEP will simply reduce your own Social Security retirement benefit. It won't wipe it out.

    Second, here is what's possibly some additional good news. The WEP won't apply to you until you start collecting your U.K. pension. So if your U.K. pension is structured so that it rises the later you take it, you may do best to take your own Social Security retirement and spousal benefits as early as possible.

    Your husband, though, should wait until age 70 to collect his own retirement benefit. But when he reaches his full retirement age, he should file for his own retirement benefit and suspend its collection. This will let you collect an excess spousal benefit (which may or may not amount to much) in addition to your own retirement benefit.

    Tracy Porter: Can I draw a check from my husband's SSI credits before he ever retires if I was already disabled prior to our marriage?

    Larry Kotlikoff: I'm going to assume that "SSI" refers to your husband's Social Security income and not Supplemental Security Income. You have to be 62 to qualify to receive spousal benefits based on your husband's earnings record. Were your husband to pass away, you could collect a widow's benefit starting at age 50. Your spousal benefit will be reduced because you are taking it prior to full retirement age. But because you are disabled, you won't be forced to take your spousal benefit early.

    So you can wait until full retirement age, and withdraw your retirement benefit, and, assuming your husband has filed for his own retirement benefit (which he can suspend if he's full retirement age or over), apply just for your full spousal benefit. Then, at 70, you can apply for your retirement benefit, which will equal your disability benefit times 1.32. The fact that you were disabled prior to getting married doesn't matter for these questions of when to take what.

    Kim -- Alburtis, Pa.: I am 53 and have worked since college. My (only) husband passed away two years ago. If I stop working, can I collect his Social Security benefits until I reach full retirement age? I'd like to stop working at 60, but not begin collecting my pension and Social Security benefits until age 65.

    Larry Kotlikoff: You can collect a reduced widow's benefit starting at 60 and then collect your own retirement benefit later. It may be best for you to start your own retirement benefit at 70, when it is as large as possible. Or, it may be best for you to wait until 62, take just your own retirement benefit, and wait until full retirement age to start collecting your survivor benefit when it will be as large as possible. I'm presuming your husband was not collecting early retirement benefits from Social Security when he passed away. If he were, it may be, as discussed in my other answer today about survivor benefits (above), that there's no advantage, even before full retirement age, to waiting to collect survivor benefits.

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


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    Workers chant outside a McDonald's restaurant in Harlem in April, 2013. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

    In "Life in the cash economy for 'underbanked' Americans" and "One NYC family's struggle to survive on a fast food salary," PBS NewsHour looks at the ways working families are trying to make ends meet in today's economic climate.

    The graphic above draws information from The Poverty Project's Living Wage Calculator, recently highlighted by NewsHour's Paul Solomon.

    The project tracked what hourly rate an individual needs to make to support themselves or a family -- drawing on local prices for food, child care, medical costs, housing, and transportation.

    In Omaha a single person needs $8.70 an hour to make ends meet; a family of four requires $18.46.

    Minimum cost of housing for a single person in Miami runs about $878 or $1,206 for a family, but in Manhattan those numbers are $1,129 and $1,359, respectively.

    If you don't see your city listed above -- check out the calculator -- it covers the entire nation.

    And watch our latest report:


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    Daily marijuana use has a measurable effect on the brain, a new study finds. Photo by Dean J. Koepfler/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT via Getty Images.

    Teenagers who smoked marijuana daily for three years performed poorly on memory tasks and showed abnormal changes in brain structure, according to a Northwestern Medicine study.

    Researchers in Chicago observed the brains of teenagers who were heavy users of marijuana. In those individuals, memory-related structures in the brain appeared to shrink and collapse inward, possibly indicating a decrease in neurons.

    These abnormalities were recorded two years after the teens stopped using marijuana, possibly indicating long-term effects, and look similar to schizophrenia-related brain abnormalities.

    The brains were shaped more abnormally for individuals who began marijuana use at a younger age, according to the reports, which suggest that memory regions of the brain are more susceptible to the drug at earlier ages.

    The research was published in the December issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin.

    More:

    58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana

    New labs risk DEA raids to test medical marijuana for safety

    Correction: The title of this post was corrected to indicate that researchers have not concluded a direct link between heavy marijuana use and abnormal brain structure or poor memory, but to reflect that the study shows a possible association between the two.

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    Robert Hilburn was the only music journalist at Johnny Cash's famous 1968 concert at Folsom Prison. He was also the last person to interview Cash with his wife, June Carter Cash, before they died in 2003. With that intimate, long-term knowledge, Hilburn reconstructs the story of the iconic musician in "Johnny Cash: The Life."

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    In well-rehearsed public statements, politicians rarely stray from their talking points. But on social media, they tend to loosen up. They express personal tastes, share humorous quips, and occasionally make unfortunate gaffes.

    So how well do you know politicos? Take PBS NewsHour's quiz and see if you can identify some of 2013's most memorable political tweets.

    Support Your Local PBS Station


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    A Syrian man feeds his child in the Arsal refugee camp in Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon on Sunday. Syrian refugees weathered a winter storm that brought snow, rain and freezing temperatures to the country. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

    The United Nations and other aid organizations are calling on international donors to pony up $6.5 billion to help Syrians inside and outside the country -- their largest appeal yet in Syria's nearly three-year-old civil war.

    The last appeal was for $4.4 billion in June, only 60 percent of which was funded. The U.N. regional response plan released Monday anticipates the number of Syrian refugees will grow from 2.3 million this year to 4.1 million by the end of 2014. "This would make Syrians the largest refugee population in the world," the report says.

    Another 6.5 million people have been displaced within Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, a number that is expected to increase to 9.3 million, according to the United Nations.

    Syrians line up to be registered by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to receive aid in the Arsal refugee camp in Lebanon. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

    About half of the Syrian refugees are children. Aid groups are concerned that a generation of refugee children will go going without a formal education and that babies are born in the camps without birth certificates, which will harm them later in life when they try to enroll in school or get health care or other services.

    Host countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, are straining from the influx of refugees. Lebanon, which already has about 500,000 Palestinian refugees, reportedly is reluctant to set up formal housing for the Syrians in case it will encourage them to stay. Lebanon houses the most Syrian refugees -- 905,000 -- compared to other neighboring countries Jordan (575,000), Turkey (562,000), Iraq (216,000) and Egypt (145,000). By the end of 2014, the number of refugees in Lebanon is expected to grow to 1.65 million, the United Nations predicts.

    More than 100 Syrian refugees live in a snow-covered makeshift camp in Amman, Jordan. Photo by Shadi Alnsoor/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Among the Syrians who want to return home are those who have sought refuge in Jordan from Daraa, the southwestern Syrian city where the uprising began, said Andrew Harper, the U.N. refugee agency's Jordan representative, at a recent briefing for reporters. But "as society (in Syria) continues to get destroyed, the potential of people to go back gets more and more difficult."

    A conference in Geneva aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis is planned for Jan. 22.

    Syria's turmoil is different than other typical conflicts because there are a number of different anti-government groups, including extremist elements, which makes it difficult to negotiate an agreement, said Ewen Macleod, UNHCR's senior adviser on Lebanon. Nonetheless, "it's extremely important that a dialogue takes place. It may be this is a long learning process."

    Read more:

    Syrian refugees seeking safety in Lebanon find more crises

    For Syrian refugees in Jordan, welcome might be wearing 'thin'

    Bringing the classroom to Jordan's exploding refugee population

    View all of our World coverage.

    Follow @NewsHourWorld

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    How would Nobel laureate Bob Shiller approach tapering? Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bengt Nyman.

    The Federal Reserve celebrated its centennial Monday, marking the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve Act, signed on Dec. 23, 1913. Former chairs of the Fed Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and current chair Ben Bernanke addressed board members assembled around the vast wooden table often associated with the board and its decision-making. This is a big week for the Fed. Starting Tuesday and continuing Wednesday, the Federal Open Market Committee will meet to decide on the Fed's policy for the upcoming months. The big question is whether and if, then by how much, they will taper their stimulus policy.

    In fact, this has been the prevailing question for most of this year each time the FOMC has met since the partial government shutdown and also after each monthly release of the official unemployment number: has unemployment reached the threshold the Fed considers low enough to gradually lower their purchase of $85 billion a month in bonds and mortgage-backed securities?

    After the FOMC's June meeting, Bernanke suggested 7 percent unemployment might be a reasonable target for tapering, sending markets into a tizzy. His subsequent public comments have been much vaguer on thresholds, although at Monday's centennial, the outgoing Fed chair echoed his commitment to transparency and "two-way communication" with citizens.

    The necessity of taking the pulse of America's people and its institutions makes the Fed chairmanship what Nobel laureate Bob Shiller calls "the ultimate job that will not be replaced by a computer." At the same time, Shiller explains, there's always legitimate reluctance on the part of the Fed to communicate its judgments.

    Here, for more of what he would do if he were Fed chair, is our (condensed and edited) conversation with Yale's Robert Shiller.

    For even more with Shiller, see our two conversations from last week on how the stock market reflects psychology and on why the Fed can't say there's a housing bubble. Learn more about the Fed and the FOMC's meeting on the NewsHour Monday.

    Paul Solman: The issue has been the Fed -- if and when it's going to taper. So, what do you think?

    Bob Shiller: This is what I fear, in the sense that these are very different issues that we don't have any scientific theory about. It's all about expectation and public attitudes.

    Paul Solman: Well, what would you do if you were the Chair of the Fed, which isn't inconceivable...

    Bob Shiller: You're not filming this...

    Paul Solman: Yeah, we are filming. Filming everything. What would you do?

    Bob Shiller: Well, okay. If I became the Fed chairman, that would redefine my life, because now I would have a policy tool at my disposal that I find a bit unnatural, but historically important. As far as I can tell, well, and this probably saved us from another depression. They've done things that made me feel uncomfortable, like expanding the Fed balance sheet to such a high level -- almost $4 trillion dollars. They're buying up $40 billion of mortgage securities every month. ... I probably would not sound that different from Janet Yellen.

    Paul Solman: Well, she's a good friend of yours.

    MORE FROM ROBERT SHILLER: New Nobel Economist Robert Shiller on the Insanity of Markets

    Bob Shiller: Well, that's true. We are in a weak economy, and I also wrote a book with Janet's husband [George Akerlof] called "Animal Spirits" where we talk animal spirits as a broader concept of confidence. It's something about our emotions, our feelings -- let's get on and do something; the economy's okay, everything is okay.

    Paul Solman: Keynes, when he uses the term, he says, "spontaneous optimism."

    Bob Shiller: It has this spontaneous component. There's what they call "endogenous depression" ... People have nothing to be depressed about, but they're depressed.

    Paul Solman: Because "endogenous" means from within.

    Bob Shiller: Yeah. I think there's kind of a social component; society can become depressed because of a world view that develops.

    Paul Solman: And there's a feedback mechanism -- you're depressed, so I'm depressed; I then depress somebody else by being on television and saying: Oh, woe is me.

    Bob Shiller: That's why becoming Fed chairman is such a challenge. You're dealing with psychology; even though economic theory recently hasn't spoken about that so much; maybe it's because they don't know what to say about it. But Fed chairmen instinctively realize that every word they say has an effect on confidence and animal spirits.

    Paul Solman: In 1983, I interviewed Paul Volcker on camera. And off camera, he was lamenting the fact that he couldn't say anything because when he made some speech the night before, the bond market reacted immediately.

    Bob Shiller: Well, the general public knows that he's being careful in what he says, so any slight nuance can suddenly be interpreted as much more than it is. So that's a difficult position. Well, it's like a physician. If a physician looks at you and says, "I don't know...", you suddenly think, I'm going to die. That is the same problem.

    When Would You Taper?

    Paul Solman: You're not Fed chairman, but if you were at some point, you'd have to taper off the buying of securities -- mortgage-backed securities for housing and United States bonds. When do you suppose you would?

    Bob Shiller: Well, I would have to think of some economic indicator that suggests that the economy is fixed, is repairing itself. And now that the Fed has given a suggestion that they will keep interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent and, see, that sounds like a rule of thumb.

    ... But I would also temper it with -- I suppose Janet Yellen will do this -- with my judgments of our psychology and our politics. That would inhibit us from stimulating on a fiscal basis. The reason we have a Federal Reserve Board as an economic metric model guarding these is that it involves so much judgment of people and institutions, judgment that really cannot be computerized. This is the ultimate job that will not be replaced by a computer.

    Paul Solman: So what the Fed has been doing, and ought to be doing, going forward, in your view, is basically taking the pulse of the economy and if there's enough optimism, "animal spirits," or positive outlook, then the Fed perhaps should taper off its stimulative buying of bonds and mortgage backed securities, and so forth.

    Bob Shiller: Right. That's what I suppose they should do. It's also what the public expects them to do. If they were to behave differently, it would be a surprise. It might be disruptive. That's the Keynesian prescription that the economy is basically unstable and it is capable of falling into a funk, and you have fiscal and monetary policy. Fiscal policy seems odd, because of our deadlock in Congress.

    Paul Solman: You can't spend more money.

    Bob Shiller: You can't spend more money. And so this [stimulative policy] is what's left. You wish it could be more scientific, or more precise, but I think it's a good thing to do.

    Paul Solman: The Fed has been accused recently of creating a stock market bubble -- maybe now a housing bubble, too -- by putting so much money into play and buying up government securities to keep interest rates low, and making every other asset, every other investment, attractive by comparison. That's not a fair critique?

    Bob Shiller: Well, that's the policy tool left to them. ... I wish they could conduct fiscal policy to expand our scientific research and increase funding to the NSF, bring in teaching assistants in our schools. How about dealing with prisoners who have been released and who are unable to find a job? There's a million things that I can think of that would be good to do, but as Fed chairman I can't do those things. People expect me to limit my policy to certain policy instruments. So given that, given the importance of keeping the economy stimulated, I suppose I would have done something similar.

    Paul Solman: But, is there, as a consequence, a stock market bubble, for example? I think the stock market bubble is related to the very low interest rates. Both at the short and until recently, at the long end. That's because investors don't see the alternatives in the debt market as attractive, so they pile into the stock market and bid it up. But I don't think that's the whole thing. The psychology of the market has so many dimensions to it. Back in 2009, when the market bottomed out, people were afraid of a 1929 style crash. I know because I was asking, "Are you worried about 1929 or 1987 again?" And I got record high numbers saying that. It's the mindset that we had just a few years ago that people forget now. You think of it now as: That was the bottom of the market. They didn't think it was the bottom. They thought it could go a lot further down and then, however, the market turned around and started going up.

    That brought on people thinking: Hey, maybe that was too much. Maybe I should get into this. And so more and more people desired to get in at that price and that caused the price to go up. And it's been a feedback loop for, you know, going on four years now. That's a long time, and that is not just the doings of the Fed. People imagine that the Fed is more powerful than it really is.


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