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

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: One factor contributing to poverty, stagnating wages. As this graphic shows, wages adjusted for inflation have been virtually flat for 45 years, but consumer prices have been rising sharply during that same period. For more about this and its connection to poverty we’re joined now via skype from Richmond, Virgina by Roben farzad. He’s a contributor for Bloomberg Businessweek. So let’s talk about this gap between wages and purchasing power. Why is that different?


    ROBEN FARZAD: Because if you’re just tempted to look at the fact ‘Oh, I made $50 a week’, let’s say for argument sake, ‘in 1970 and I make $60 right now so it’s not bad,’ in reality you’re fooling yourself in real terms. Because inflation is pernicious even if it’s growing in the low single digits like 2 percent or 2.5 percent, like we’ve been used to for the past decade. When you compound it over several decades it’s like singeing off three quarters of your dollar every time you take it out of your pocket. People tend to look at things in nominal terms and in the end when they can’t buy as much as they’re used to on what they were making, they get blindsided.


    HARI SREENIVASAN: But what are some of the factors contributing to it? People will say, ‘listen now I have access to goods and services from all over the world at even cheaper prices, so maybe I don’t need to make as much.’

    ROBEN FARZAD: Well that has tempered the pain certainly. But that is also a function of really aggressive offshoring and outsourcing. And these jobs, these decent manufacturing jobs, used to be able to be a high school graduate, or at worst you know maybe have an associates degree from a two-year program at a college and get a decent living wage, and maybe get benefits and have hopes of raising a family of four and putting kids through high school and what not. And that has so deteriorated in a cloud over the past several decades. You can’t count on there being good paying jobs. People are realizing that their pension programs are no longer guaranteed, that companies are using increasingly part-time workers and contract workers.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay, let’s talk finally about the cliff effect. This urge for people to not want to raise or not make a dollar more than what actually gets them in the poverty zone?

    ROBEN FARZAD: It’s one of the evergreen and very valid criticisms of the social safety net in the United States. It’s so frustrating for people who are on the brink of being able to get out of assistance, whether you’re talking about food stamps or Medicaid, but they know that for every incremental 10 dollars that they make, they’re gonna lose all their benefits, and they can’t do that. Suppose you’re making 19,000 dollars a year and you have a chance to make 22,000 dollars a year, but you’re going to have to pay for out-of-pocket health insurance, or go uninsured, and then pay out-of-pocket groceries when you were getting food stamps before. So it gives you a disincentive to go out and find better paying work. and until the system becomes more proportional you’re going to have millions of Americans, especially during a time of record food stamp use, sticking to that cliff.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Robert Farzad, thank you so much for your time.

     


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    Tonight on the program, a look at the life and legacy of Ariel Sharon, who died Saturday. In our signature segment, the number of Americans living in the suburbs has surged, and in turn, so has suburban poverty. Also: wages in the U.S. have been largely stagnant over the past 45 years, but during the same time span, consumer prices have risen dramatically. Hari Sreenivasan discusses this trend and its effect on poverty with Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter, Roben Farzad.

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  • 01/12/14--05:30: What we're watching Sunday
  • Pope Francis names first cardinal selection

    Pope Francis named his first group of cardinals on Sunday. Francis chose 19 men from Asia, Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world, including Haiti and Burkina Faso.

    Sixteen of the appointees are under the age of 80 and will be eligible to vote in the next papal election.

    The men will be formally installed at the Vatican on Feb. 22.

    Kerry and top envoys put pressure on Syrian groups

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top envoys from 10 other countries are increasing pressure on the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government to proceed with face-to-face talks in Geneva.

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said these talks are the only hope for a way out of the fighting that has gripped the country for the past three years.

    Two car bombs leave 14 dead in Baghdad

    At least 14 were killed in two car bomb explosions in Baghdad on Sunday. The deadliest blast occurred outside of a bus terminal and claimed nine lives.

    No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

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    WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court is refereeing a politically charged dispute between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans over the president's power to temporarily fill high-level positions.

    The case being argued at the high court Monday is the first in the nation's history to consider the meaning of the provision of the Constitution that allows the president to make temporary appointments to positions that otherwise require Senate confirmation, but only when the Senate is in recess.

    The court battle is an outgrowth of increasing partisanship and the political stalemate that's been a hallmark of Washington for years, and especially since Obama took office in 2009.

    Senate Republicans' refusal to allow votes for nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau led Obama to make the temporary, or recess, appointments in January 2012.

    Three federal appeals courts have said Obama overstepped his authority because the Senate was not in recess when he acted.

    The Supreme Court case involves a dispute between a Washington state bottling company and a local Teamsters union in which the NLRB sided with the union. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the board's ruling. Hundreds more NLRB rulings could be voided if the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court decision.

    More broadly, if the justices ratify the lower court ruling, it would make it nearly impossible for a president to use the recess power. Under such a ruling, presidential nominees could be blocked indefinitely when the president's party does not control the Senate.

    Three federal appeals courts have upheld recess appointments in previous administrations.

    Senate Republicans also are taking part in the case, in support of the company, Noel Canning.

    The impasse over confirming nominees to the NLRB and the CFPB was resolved last summer, and majority Democrats have since changed Senate rules to limit the ability of the minority party to block most presidential nominees.

    A few hours after the court hears the case Monday, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Robert Wilkins, currently a federal trial judge, to serve on the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia.

    Senate Democrats changed the rules over fierce Republican opposition after the GOP had blocked the nomination of Wilkins and two others to the appeals court.

    While situations like the one that led to the current court case are unlikely to arise in the short term, a Republican takeover of the Senate after the November elections could prompt a new round of stalled nominations, said John Elwood, a Washington lawyer who served in the Justice Department during the Bush administration and has written extensively about recess appointments. "We may be back where we were before," Elwood said.

    The justices will be considering two broad questions and a narrower one as well.

    The big issues are whether recess appointments can be made only during the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress and whether the vacancy must occur while the Senate is away in order to be filled during the same break.

    Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. told the court that 14 presidents have temporarily installed 600 civilians and thousands of military officers in positions that were vacant when the Senate went into recess at any point, a practice that has been well understood by both presidents and lawmakers. A high court ruling that a recess only happens once a year would "dramatically upset that long-settled equilibrium," Verrilli said.

    The narrower issue is whether brief, pro forma sessions of the Senate, held every few days to break up a longer Senate hiatus, can prevent the president from making recess appointments. That's what the Senate did, at Republicans' insistence, during the time when Obama acted.

    Senate Republicans say the answer is easy.

    "Who determines -- the Senate, or the president -- whether the Senate is in session? The Constitution's text and structure point to only one answer: the Senate," the Republicans said in court papers.

    But Verrilli said the Senate made clear in voting for the pro forma sessions that no business would be conducted and that, in essence, the Senate would be in recess. "The president took the Senate at its word. And rightly so," he said.

    The parties' roles were reversed when a Republican president, George W. Bush, was in the White House and Democrats controlled the Senate in the final two years of his presidency. Then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., employed the same tactic of convening the Senate every few days to keep Bush from filling vacancies through recess appointments. Unlike Obama, Bush did not press the issue.

    Associated Press reporter Mark Sherman wrote this report.

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    Iran and six world powers have agreed on how to carry out the nuclear deal agreed upon in November, officials announced Sunday.

    The accord will go into effect on Jan. 20, the New York Times reports.

    Prior to the agreement, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had delivered harsh criticisms of the U.S. and EU partners as recently as Thursday, when Khamenei said the nuclear talks showed "the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims."

    European Union negotiator Catherine Ashton lauded the deal in a statement, saying "the foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation ... have been laid," according to the AP.

    Secretary of State John Kerry issued the following statement Sunday:

    We've taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.

    As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran's nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community's concerns about Iran's program.

    Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.

    Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran's actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.

    While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program.

    As the United States has made clear many times, our absolute top priority in these negotiations is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have been clear that diplomacy is our preferred path because other options carry much greater costs and risks and are less likely to provide a lasting solution.

    We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress' critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.

    We are clear-eyed about the even greater challenges we all face in negotiating a comprehensive agreement. These negotiations will be very difficult, but they represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.

    The Office of Website Management, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department.

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    The U.S. Surgeon General's first Smoking and Health report marked its 50-year anniversary Saturday.

    Led by then Surgeon General Luther Terry with the help of an advisory committee, the 1964 landmark report linked smoking cigarettes with dangerous health effects, including lung cancer and heart disease.

    After consulting more than 7,000 articles about cigarette smoking, the committee concluded smoking was a cause of lung and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis.

    Read through the original report, published on Jan. 11, 1964:

    Smoking and Health by


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    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  From the outside, it looks like a beautiful old estate, but this is no private residence. Inside, investigators for the German Federal Government are poring through decades old records, searching for the last remaining Nazi war criminals who might have escaped justice.

    This is part of a much broader national effort underway in Germany to wrestle with the legacy of the holocaust… it includes the construction of memorials and museums at a record pace ---  the revamping of the nation’s curriculum so that all German school kids get a fuller understanding of the Nazi era.

    But perhaps few are as crucial to this effort as this man.  His name is Kurt Schrimm, and he runs the central office in Germany that’s still trying to bring former Nazis to justice.

    KURT SCHRIMM: (translated from German) Right now only murder is punishable. All other crimes have passed the statute of limitations and can no longer be punished.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Thirty one years ago, Schrimm was a local public prosecutor investigating robberies, murders and gun crimes… but when this history buff heard of an opening in a regional office investigating war criminals, he jumped at the chance.  And soon after, a conversation with one Holocaust survivor drove home the importance of this work.

    KURT SCHRIM: (translated from German) I met an elderly Jewish lady in New York at the end of the 1980’s who had survived the war. She said “I’ve been waiting more than 40 years for a German official to be interested in my case.” She told me “it doesn’t matter whether this person is put to trial or goes to prison; the most important thing is that you listened to my story.”

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   Schrimm would like to see the men he’s investigating prosecuted… but establishing their guilt in court has been complicated….   Following World War II, to convict a German soldier of murder, prosecutors had to prove a direct, personal responsibility for the killing of an innocent person.

    But several years ago, Germany successfully prosecuted 91 year-old retired Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk with being an accessory to the murders committed while he was a guard at the Nazi’s Sobibor death camp.…and now Schrimm is hoping to use that legal precedent to prosecute dozens of others, including guards who worked at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. 

    To build their cases, they’ve not only talked to survivors… but drawing on the Nazis own meticulous records and maps of the camps, investigators try to determine if guards, or even low-level workers like cooks, knew about, or witnessed the genocide. 

    KURT SCHRIMM: (translated from German) For these cases we went to Auschwitz personally and looked at the whole camp and checked whether it was possible to see from the kitchen whether a new train of prisoners was arriving, or whether you could see the gas chambers.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   After completing their investigation, Schrimm’s office has recommended that thirty former Auschwitz guards – men now in their late 80s and 90s – be prosecuted as accessories to murder.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Given that many of these men are in their mid to late 90s, and many of them may not even live to see a trial, let alone a prison cell, how much of this, do you believe, is symbolism, and how much of this justice being served?

    KURT SCHRIM:  (translated from German) I think on one hand it’s important for the survivors, for the victims, that these cases are investigated. On the other hand, it’s also important for Germany. // Germany during the war committed such terrible crimes that, after the war, Germany had a terrible reputation.  So we try to improve that reputation by prosecuting these cases.

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) The current generation no longer has to confront what happened, so in my opinion, the Demianiuk trials, and these 30 or however many names that were found, they have a function to explain again to people what happened -- the crimes of that period.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Ernst Grube is an 81 year-old Holocaust survivor. As a child growing up in Munich, he and his family lived right next to the old Jewish synagogue, which the Nazis destroyed… he and his family were eventually sent to a concentration camp.  (we sat down in Munich’s Jewish museum, directly across from the newly built synagogue.)

    Grube says the priority today must be to understand the roots of those crimes, not just prosecuting the perpetrators of them.

    WILLLIAM BRANGHAM: As somone who has witnessed these crimes firsthand, it seems you must have a very personal connection to these prosecutions?

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) Given that, apart from my parents, all our family was killed, it goes without saying that it‘s always a difficult moment for me, and the older I get, the more emotional the impact it has on me.  But it can’t be about that. // We want the words we say to help make sure these crimes don’t happen again.  The emphasis should be on the time running up to the war, and, of course, what’s happening today.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   What’s happening today, is the rise of what Grube believes are frighteningly similar prejudices in German society – similar to what he experienced as a Jewish child seventy years ago.

    According to the German government, there has been a rise in neo-Nazi crimes in Germany in recent years. Most of them targeted at germany’s growing immigrant population, including Turks and Roma immigrants, derisively called „gypsies“

    In one of Germany’s most high profile cases – members of a neo-Nazi subgroup are currently on trial for ten racially motivated murders across the country.

    Last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel felt the need to publicly apologize for these racist crimes, calling them her country’s “shame”

    And later, Merkel visited the Dachau concentration camp– and again warned of the growing extremism in her country.

    For his part, Ernst Grube counters that extremism by visiting classrooms, telling his story, and reminding students that there are echoes of the past all around.

    ERNST GRUBE: (translated from German) So, what shapes my life today are my childhood experiences of being ostracized, being mocked for being a Jew, being isolated for being a Jew, being attacked for being a “gypsy”, as people said at the time this is something that must – and I believe can – be conveyed to young people. That is what drives me to be so active today.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This ongoing remembrance of the Holocaust is hardly limited to the few remaining survivors of the war… 

    Germany has been putting up holocaust memorials, Nazi musuems and historical exhibitions in nearly all its major cities.  The nations’ schools are required to teach in depth lessons on the Nazi era to middle and high schoolers and almost all German students have visited a concentration camp or holocaust museum.

    And the commemorations also come in more personal ways

    WOLFRAM KASTNER:  I hope that it will never happen again, but if it would start again, it would start not anywhere but here.  In our mind, in our streets, in our city, in our village, in our school. 

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:  Wolfram Kastner is an artist in Munich – the city which Adolph Hitler called the capitol of the Nazi movement and one city that has often been criticized for down-playing its role in the rise of the third Reich.

    While Munich saw the opening of the Jewish museum in 2007 and is currently building a major center on the history of Nazism, critics argue the city still doesn’t do nearly enough to acknowledge its past.

    For example, at one of the city’s major landmarks -- the Konigsplatz – there’s barely a sign that it was center stage for many of Hitler’s large Nazi rallies or that this was where Nazi youth had their notorious book burnings.

    WOLFRAM KASTNER:  They want the city very clean for tourism.  To invite all people from all over the world to come to Munich to Oktoberfest, and it's all nice and wonderful and pretty, and it's so marvelous,  And the black marks, the dark points of the history are cleaned away.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   among his many works, Kastern has defied authorities by burning black circles in the grass at Konigsplatz – a symbolic reminder of those book burnings seventy years ago.

    Kastner’s current project has been to tell the stories of particular Jewish families who lived in Munich during the 1930s, and were sent to concentration camps by the nazis. To do so, he paints these suitcases – similar to the ones victims carried to the camps -- and places them outside the very buildings where the families lived, along with a plaque telling their stories. 

    WOLFRAM KASTNER: There lived a family-- Meyer.  And-- they were killed.  Why?"   But if you see a girl, a face, a story, a history of her, It's another feeling, and it-- history comes near.

    WILLIAM BRANGHAM:   In the end, Germany is doing what few nations have done before…. Not celebrating its greatest accomplishments, but building monuments to its darkest time.   …determined to keep history clearly in sight.

    ERNST GRUBE:  I think nowadays, it’s about communicating how it even came to pass that such things could happen. What happened before Auschwitz, what happened before Buchenwald, what happened before Dachau, and after Dachau, after the concentration camp? So it’s about the question: “how could this happen?”, that’s one aspect. And the other is: “yes, ok, but what’s that got to do with me, today?

    KURT SCHRIMM (translated from German) According to German law we are committed to prosecuting these cases --  it is true that because of their age they may never reach trial or go to prison, but  it is just and right that we go after these cases.

     

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1964 report by then Surgeon-General Luther Terry warning about the dangers of smoking. That report is widely credited with saving millions of lives. For more about the government's current efforts to reduce smoking, we are joined now from Washington by Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.he is the Acting United States Surgeon General.

    Thanks for being with us. I just wanted to start with, where are we on this war against tobacco, war on smoking, considering the long time we’ve had in fighting it?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Well it’s interesting. We’ve had fifty years of progress since that landmark Surgeon General’s report back in 1964. Over these fifty years incredible things have taken place. Our society has changed. Changed in terms of tobacco use, in terms of its acceptance of smoking in public establishments; in restaurants, in bars. So things have really changed for the better. In addition, smoking rates have come down in the United States. We went from 43 percent of adult smokers in the United States to 18 percent currently. So that’s really made incredible headway, yet I have to emphasize the battle isn’t over, the war isn’t over.

    Eighteen percent of American adults who are still smoking, basically 40 million people in our population. So this is really still concerning to me as acting Surgeon General. Certainly of those 40 million people who are actively smokers, the idea is that their health is really being hurt by this incredible habit, by this incredible addiction to nicotine. That being said we have to realize also that of that whole group, we’re going to have roughly a half million people every year dying from smoking related diseases. So although we’ve made progress in a half century the reality is we still have a lot of work to do.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, you know, we increasingly see tough advertisements on the air against smoking. Really graphic descriptions whether it’s targeting teens or people that might have emphysema. Are these ads working?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: I think they’re working. In particular, the CDC- the Center for Disease Control and Prevention came up with a series of advertisements from former smokers called TIPS. And that really was quite effective in terms of reducing the number of smokers. In addition. There’s various policies that need to be implemented and further implemented in order to make us a tobacco free society. So we really have to work at the idea of using media, using those advertisements. We have to look at really concentrating on the youth of America to make it more difficult to actually get cigarettes. And in addition we have to look at the idea of pricing cigarettes appropriately so that ultimately it becomes a hardship to use those products.

    HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, let’s talk a little bit about packaging those products. Other countries have much more graphic detail of the potential dangers of smoking. I know the US Court struck down one of the plans here but what’s next? Do we change packaging?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Well, we’re currently working closely, the office of the Surgeon general is working closely with the Food and Drug Administration, specifically the Center for Tobacco Products and are reanalyzing the whole row of the idea of the warning labels and the idea of how graphic they should be and so there will probably be more information coming out on this in the near future.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ok, does it make sense to increase taxes on cigarettes? Are the as high as they could be?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Well in terms of one of the effective methods of us decreasing the number of smokers in America is oddly enough the pricing of cigarettes. So whether it’s the form of taxation of cigarette pricing, that is an effective measure. And although this does become, I use the term before, a hardship, in reality my role as acting Surgeon General is to make sure that we’re doing the right public health thing which is to decrease the number of smokers in America. So yes, pricing is an effective way of dealing with this problem.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ok, one of the things that I wanted to ask and a lot of people were asking about this when we said that we were going to interview you is this to e-cigarettes- what does the Surgeon General think about e-cigarettes? Is there good data on any deleterious effects to the rest of us or even to those people who are still using them?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Yes, and the e-cigarette movement has certainly become strong, there’s many more people using e-cigarettes and right now we’re still gathering data. I don’t feel comfortable in terms of the e-cigarettes being a substitute for cigarettes at this point. The reality is there’s still an addictive product within those e-cigarettes that are introduced into the body via the repertory tract via breathing. And so the reality of the situation is we’re still waiting on gathering more data, and again we’re working with the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Tobacco Products that are beginning to look very much more aggressively at the e-cigarette issue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now is it possible that we’re going to waiting for data for so long, we don’t get ahead of stopping it in the sense that we might have this actual switch in this transition to e-cigarettes which keeps people unhealthy and then we’re fighting an uphill battle again?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Well once again my hope is we’ll have data coming out rather soon. What we already know is the e-cigarettes certainly are becoming much more popular. We also know that in many cases the tobacco control policies that are being utilized for regular cigarettes are in fact being utilized for e-cigarettes as well.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Ok, another question we had from a mother in Colorado where marijuana has recently become much more accessible. She’s saying ‘well what about the impact of second hand marijuana smoke on kids? Is there anything that the Federal Government ‘s going to be doing to try and keep her kids safe?

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Well again, from a public health perspective, the marijuana issue has become big. Certainly with the legalization that has taken place in Colorado and in Washington State, it is of concern to me as the acting Surgeon General of the United States. That being said it’s really on several fronts here. One of which is marijuana is addictive. Secondly, once again, it’s something that breathed in and so I really am concerned about the repertory effects of marijuana. And third, it does alter one’s cognition, one’s thought process. And so of those three realms, my concern is not only the secondhand smoking issue but also the issue of the primary issue and the public health effect on that individual.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Boris Lushniak, the acting Surgeon General. Thanks so much for your time.

    BORIS LUSHNIAK: Great. Thank you so much, Hari.


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    Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, the German government is ramping up its efforts to pursue prosecution of individuals who committed war crimes during the Nazi era.

    In turn, Germany has started to use new technologies to identify former Nazi criminals and combat neo-Nazis.

    Nazi era files

    Operation Last Chance

    Tracking war criminals from a distance can require hours spent sifting through dusty files. But the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem has turned to the public and the media in what could be a last-ditch effort to obtain justice for Holocaust victims. Wiesenthal Center Poster

    The poster for Operation Last Chance reads "late, but not too late." The Center used the poster during its campaign to encourage people to come forward if they have information about crimes committed during the war.

    The project began in the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, and Cologne, and later expanded to a number of other locations. According to The Center's Efrain Zuroff, response to the first round of posters increased greatly due to the international media attention.

    "In total we got about 111 names of suspicious people," he said. "The Simon Wiesenthal Center then investigated about 65 of those 111 names. In the end we turned over four cases to the German federal prosecutors office."

    One recent victory for Zuroff occurred on Jan. 8, when an 88-year-old man was charged by a Cologne court on 25 counts of murder, connected to the slaughter of 642 men, women and children in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.

    "Nazi Shazam" targets right-wing music

    Neo-nazi rally

    Germany's Der Spiegel reported on Dec. 2, about a new technology that might soon be adopted by police forces across Germany.

    The interior ministers of the country's 16 regional states met to discuss a mobile app dubbed "Nazi Shazam," named after the mobile app Shazam that identifies snippets of music picked up by a mobile phone.

    The new software aims to quickly identify neo-Nazi rock music, which officials say can be a "gateway drug" into the far-right scene.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining us now from Charleston via Skype is Ashton Marra. She is the statehouse reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. So, you have been living through this for the past two days. What has it been like? 

    ASHTON MARRA: We have been living through this. I will say that this morning was the first time that I got the opportunity to take a shower since Thursday morning. Had to drive about a half an hour to find a hotel that luckily was on a public service district that is a lot smaller, and I think that is the experience that a lot of people are having - having to drive twenty, thirty, forty minutes to find another water system. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: How are people in the area dealing with this? Are tempers rising? 

    ASHTON MARRA: I think we are starting to see them slowly, collectively rise. I experienced a lot of frustration just at the hotel that I was at this morning that was offering these free showers to people. Obviously, I think people are grateful for what these businesses are trying to donate. But at the same time you can't drink the water, you can't bathe, do dishes, do laundry. I think all of that is starting to build up and really be frustrating for the people in the area. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: And what has happened to all the businesses in the area? We were talking about hotels and restaurants that cannot stay open, because people can't wash their hands, right? 

    ASHTON MARRA: At this point the public has - I'm sorry the county health department in the nine effected counties have ordered all businesses and restaurants to close. Now, beginning yesterday, they started taking applications for you to be able to open during this time, but you have to show that you are using a secondary water source. So, this morning, here in the capital city of Charleston, we have about four restaurants that have been able to open so far using bottled water, paper plates, hand sanitizers in the restrooms, but basically at this point those are the only contingency plans. The public health department is still taking those in and reviewing the applications and doing on-site reviews, where anybody can reopen. Obviously those are long processes to get everybody to be able to open their businesses again. 

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Ashton Marra from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much for your time. 

    ASHTON MARRA: Thank you.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN: And now to a new occasional segment featuring your thoughts about our program. What we're hearing from "viewers like you."

    A few of you who visited the NewsHour website last night complained about a graphic we created for yesterday's show. It accompanied an interview we did and was meant to explain the relationship between stagnating wages and inflation, but you said we got it wrong.

    Bernie Rose wrote us...

    "Hold on folks. If you correct wages for inflation, then you cannot compare that to inflation. You need nominal wages...current dollars...versus inflation."

    Candid one replied to Bernie, saying:

    "For those of us who've been along for the ride for the past century...chuckle...we didn't need the graph to know the story."

    consumer price index

    wages graph

    (The two lines should not have been included on the same graph.)

    That graphic, since corrected above, followed our signature piece about Leigh Scozzari, a single mom on Long Island struggling to make ends meet despite having a full time job.

    The piece prompted a vigorous conversation on the NewsHour website about poverty in America. These are some of the comments judged "best" by those visiting the site.

    She-shell 59 commented:

    "In today's world, one can work their fingers to the bone and not be able to cover the basic cost of living on their wages."

    Purple bouquet said: “What we need to do differently going forward is stressing the link between economic hardship and single parenthood...we need to be more honest about this connection even if it might not be politically correct."

    On Facebook, we heard from Marcie Rosenzweig who wrote us: "Poverty didn't win the war. We just stopped fighting it."

    Our correspondent on the story, Megan Thompson, has been answering questions on Facebook from viewers sinceThursday when we posted a clip of her poverty piece.

    Just a reminder: there is an active conversation happening online right now about several NewsHour pieces.

    Feel free to send us your thoughts either through the comment sections below our stories at  NewsHour.pbs.org or on our Facebook page.

    Or tweet us back @NewsHour.


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    The New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., and New York City. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie weathered the initial storm over the bridge scandal with his performance during a nearly two-hour news conference last Thursday, the release of new documents on Friday and continuing intrigue mean the Republican is a long way from getting beyond the episode.

    Christie has maintained that he had no knowledge of the decision to shut down two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September. The documents made public Friday by a New Jersey State Assembly committee did not contradict that claim, but the materials revealed that Christie appointees at the Port Authority and top aides to the governor sought to squash media inquiries into the incident.

    The Morning Line

    There are likely to be additional questions Christie will have to answer as more information about the lane closures comes to light. Politico's Maggie Haberman notes that could spell trouble for the governor:

    For Christie, the open-ended nature of the situation is dangerous. He can't calibrate a strategy because it's not clear when it will be over. And he acknowledged he's uncertain about what more might come out.

    The old saying about ripping the band-aid off fast has applied at no point during the scandal. The documents released last week showed that Port Authority officials and Christie's own staff blew off media inquiries asking what was going on at the time of the closures, and for weeks afterward.

    Adding to Christie's difficulties is a growing rift with his political mentor, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean. The New York Times' Kate Zernike explains that the discord is the result of Christie's push to oust Kean's son, Tom Kean Jr., from his role as Republican leader in the New Jersey State Senate.

    The split with Kean also highlights the fact that Republican officials have been slow to come to Christie's defense in the aftermath of the scandal.

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who like Christie is a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender, said Sunday that people should "reserve judgment" because "this is a story that's still developing."

    Arizona Sen. John McCain told CNN on Sunday that he thought Christie did an "excellent job" at his Thursday news conference and said he was a "great admirer" of the governor. But he also said the episode's effect on Christie's political future was still up in the air. "Now we'll have to wait and see whether there's any more to the story," McCain said.

    The scrutiny surrounding Christie is only going to increase following the bridge saga, a point made clear by Monday's report from CNN's Chris Frates that the governor is facing questions over his use of relief funds from Superstorm Sandy:

    CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used those relief funds to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family.

    The news couldn't come at a worse time for the scandal-plagued Republican, who is facing two probes into whether his staff tied up traffic near the country's busiest bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his successful re-election bid.

    If the Sandy inquiry finds any wrongdoing, it could prove even more damaging to Christie's national ambitions. His performance during and after the superstorm has been widely praised and is a fundamental part of his straight-shooting political brand.

    In the new probe, federal auditors will examine New Jersey's use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after Sandy decimated the state's coastline in late 2012, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone told CNN.

    For more on the bridge scandal, be sure to check out N.R. Kleinfield's detailed tick-tock in the New York Times.

    And finally, to highlight what's become a pivotal national moment for a governor, both the New Yorker and The Onion used satire to reflect on the deeper meanings of the scandal: that voters' perception of Christie matters more than the reality, and that the governor's persona tiptoes dangerously close to what his staff had done on the George Washington Bridge.

    LINE ITEMS

    The Supreme Court returns from its winter recess to hear arguments Monday morning in a case that tests the president's power to appoint federal officials when the Senate isn't in session. The case looks at three appointments to the highly political National Labor Relations Board President Barack Obama made when the Senate was technically in session but not in town.

    Another Monday, another deep dive into Hillary Clinton-land. [Politico again and The Hill preview Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen's new book about the former secretary of state in this excerpt. Among the highlights: Clinton keeps a spreadsheet of friends and foes, and her State Department successor John Kerry didn't rank highly; and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill had an icy relationship with both Clinton and her husband before announcing she would support Clinton's possible 2016 presidential run.

    Vice President Joe Biden spends the day in Israel attending the funeral services for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. While there, Biden will meet with Israel's President Shimon Peres and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Mr. Obama will give a speech Jan. 17 outlining his plans to reform the National Security Agency, the data surveillance arm made controversial by leaker Edward Snowden.

    Larry Speakes, who served six years as press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, died Friday at his home in Mississippi. He was 74 years old.

    Democrat Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as Virginia's 72nd governor Saturday.

    The federal government will recognize same-sex marriages that took place in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed them to stop temporarily. The state has declared it won't recognize the marriages until the issue has a more definitive legal ruling.

    Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan for the Washington Post write that Congress' major legislative load is front-loaded this year. "Once the appropriations and farm bills pass, the era of big legislation -- at least for 2014 -- will be over."

    And David Rogers of Politico outlines the details on the $1.1 trillion government spending bill.

    Ross Ramsey at The Texas Tribune rounds up who will be on ballots in the Lone Star State this year, and what races, including the gubernatorial contest between Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, might signify.

    Republicans in Kentucky want a U.S. attorney to investigate the campaign practices of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

    NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

    Mark Shields and David Brooks tackled the Christie scandal and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' book in their weekly analysis.

    Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston, W.V., told Hari Sreenivasan on the NewsHour Friday he tasted the water made unsafe by a chemical spill at a coal processing plant, and that he wants the water company to fix the issue as soon as it can. It's still unclear when the people of Charleston, W.V., and surrounding counties, will have usable running water.

    NewsHour Weekend continues its coverage of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty with this story about a family in Suffolk County, New York.

    Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

    TOP TWEETS

    largely due to bad reporting RT @SavannahGuthrie: Gates to @MLauer: "in a way disappointed" by reaction to book. Says it's been "hijacked"

    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) January 13, 2014

    In the screen adaptation of "January: Fairfax County" Meryl Streep gets stuck on I-66 with Benedict Cumberbatch. Horn honking ensues.

    — Ryan Andrew Clarke (@RyanAClarke) January 13, 2014

    Thanks to Maria, my Russian counterpart, for preparing me for upcoming Winter #Olympics. @mfa_russiapic.twitter.com/SioKEtlVP0

    — Jen Psaki (@statedeptspox) January 13, 2014

    For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

    Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

    Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

    Follow the politics team on Twitter:

    Follow @burlij

    Follow @kpolantzFollow @elizsummersFollow @ljspbs

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    WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans are squaring off at the Supreme Court over the president's power to temporarily fill high-level positions.

    The high court is hearing arguments Monday in a politically charged dispute that also is the first in the nation's history to explore the meaning of a provision of the Constitution known as the recess appointments clause. Under the provision, the president may make temporary appointments to positions that otherwise require confirmation by the Senate, but only when the Senate is in recess.

    The court battle is an outgrowth of the increasing partisanship and political stalemate that have been hallmarks of Washington over the past 20 years, and especially since Obama took office in 2009.

    Senate Republicans' refusal to allow votes for nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau led the president to make the temporary, or recess, appointments in January 2012.

    Three federal appeals courts have said Obama overstepped his authority because the Senate was not in recess when he acted. The Supreme Court case involves a dispute between a Washington state bottling company and a local Teamsters union in which the NLRB sided with the union. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the board's ruling, and hundreds more NLRB rulings could be voided if the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court decision.

    More broadly, if the justices ratify the lower court ruling, it would make it nearly impossible for a president to use the recess power. Under such a ruling, presidential nominees could be blocked indefinitely when the president's party does not control the Senate.

    Three federal appeals courts have upheld recess appointments in previous administrations.

    Senate Republicans also are taking part in the case, in support of the company, Noel Canning.

    The impasse over confirming nominees to the NLRB and the CFPB was resolved last summer. And majority Democrats have since changed Senate rules to limit the ability of the minority party to block most presidential nominees, spurred by GOP efforts to block three Obama appeals court nominees.

    But while situations like the one that led to the current court case are unlikely to arise in the short term, a Republican takeover of the Senate in the midterm elections in November could prompt a new round of stalled nominations, said John Elwood, a Washington lawyer who served in the Justice Department during the Bush administration and has written extensively about recess appointments. "We may be back where we were before," Elwood said.

    The justices will be considering two broad questions and a narrower one as well.

    The big issues are whether recess appointments can be made only during the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress and whether the vacancy must occur while the Senate is away in order to be filled during the same break.

    Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. told the court that 14 presidents have temporarily installed 600 civilians and thousands of military officers in positions that were vacant when the Senate went into recess at any point, a practice that has been well-understood by both presidents and lawmakers. A high court ruling that a recess only happens once a year would "dramatically upset that long-settled equilibrium," Verrilli said.

    The narrower issue is whether brief, pro forma sessions of the Senate, held every few days to break up a longer Senate hiatus, can prevent the president from making recess appointments. That's what the Senate did, at Republicans insistence during the time when Obama acted.

    Senate Republicans say the answer is easy. "Who determines -- the Senate, or the President -- whether the Senate is in session? The Constitution's text and structure point to only one answer: the Senate," the Republicans said in court papers.

    But Verrilli said the Senate made clear in voting for the pro forma sessions that no business would be conducted and that, in essence, the Senate would be in recess. "The President took the Senate at its word. And rightly so," he said.

    Highlighting the new rules, the Senate is scheduled to vote a few hours after the Supreme Court argument on the nomination of one of those previously blocked Obama appointees, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, to serve on the federal appeals court in Washington.

    By Mark Sherman, Associated Press

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    Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor faces a tough re-election in 2014, in part because of his ties to President Obama and the national Democratic party. Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

    GILLETT, Ark. -- It's voters like Jammy Turner who give Republicans hope of ending an Arkansas political dynasty and taking control of the U.S. Senate this fall.

    Turner, among the hundreds who attended the annual "Coon Supper" on Saturday in this town about 100 miles southeast of Little Rock, said he respects Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who wants a third term. But Turner supports Republican Tom Cotton, a freshman congressman who says Pryor's ties to President Barack Obama make him the wrong senator for Arkansas.

    "I think Pryor is a good advocate for Arkansas," said Turner, 34, a salesman for Monsanto crop products who wears a neatly cropped beard and denim jacket. "But I don't think the Democratic Party, in general, makes decisions for the better good." That good, he said, includes personal freedom and self-reliance.

    If Republicans are to gain the six seats they need to take control of the Senate, they almost surely must win in Arkansas this year, which would add to their big victories in the past two elections in Arkansas.

    If anyone can stop the GOP streak, Democrats say, it's Pryor, who has spent his life politicking in a state where many voters still want to know their candidates personally. Pryor's popular father, David, long represented the state in Washington, in the House and Senate, and also was governor.

    Faced with a deeply unpopular president, Mark Pryor sidesteps Obama rather than criticizes him, and asks voters to see him more as an Arkansan than a national Democrat.

    At Saturday's no-alcohol event, where etiquette calls for participants to take a few bites of boiled-and-baked raccoon, pretending to like it, before switching to ribs and brisket, Pryor tried to make the best of his two political worlds.

    He has attended Gillett's annual suppers since the mid-1970s "with my dad," Pryor, 51, told the crowd. He then introduced his three guests from Washington: Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who joined Pryor for a duck hunt Sunday.

    When Cotton, 36, took his turn at the microphone, he said "my name is Tom Cotton," and introduced his mother, Avis, who appears in his TV ads.

    Arkansas politics are changing at a neck-snapping pace.

    Six years ago, Republicans didn't bother to challenge Pryor's bid for a second term. Two years later, when his Democratic colleague Blanche Lincoln ran for a third term, she lost in a landslide to Republican John Boozman, now the state's junior senator.

    For a time, Arkansas dragged its feet while other Southern states shifted strongly to the Republican Party. Now it's catching up, and Pryor's re-election campaign will test how far the realignment goes.

    For nine straight presidential elections starting in 1972, Arkansas backed the national winner. But everything changed when Obama ran, and Arkansas veered sharply from the national mainstream. Obama lost the state to Arizona Sen. John McCain by 20 percentage points in 2008. He fared even worse against Mitt Romney in 2012.

    After decades of dominance, Democrats lost control of the Legislature. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe withstood the tide, however, winning in 2006 and 2010.

    Boozman, who spent a decade in the U.S. House before moving to the Senate, says native son Bill Clinton postponed Arkansas' partisan shift.

    "It missed out on really going Republican during the Clinton years," Boozman said. Now, he said, Obama's unpopularity and the public's intense dislike of the president's health care law are feeding a GOP wave that threatens to end Pryor's career.

    Roby Brock, who hosts a business-and-politics TV show in Arkansas, said both parties are airing attack ads that boil down to "Pryor equals Obama, Cotton equals extremism."

    Obama "has been toxic for Arkansas Democrats," Brock said. "There is a cultural disconnect," he said, and unpopular policies such as the health insurance law "have been exploited expertly by Arkansas Republicans."

    Some see talk of a "cultural disconnect" between white rural voters and a black president as code for racial resentment.

    Janine Parry, a political scientist and pollster at the University of Arkansas, says it's simplistic to attribute Arkansas' declining Democratic loyalty entirely to race. But race "is central" to the shifting election patterns, she said.

    Lincoln's lopsided loss in 2010 clearly is a red flag for Pryor, Parry said, but he has some advantages Lincoln lacked.

    "First," she said, "he's a Pryor." Also, Parry noted, 2010 was a devastating year for Democrats nationwide, and November seems unlikely to produce a comparable "wave election."

    For Pryor to win, she said, "he's got to convince people he's a Pryor even more than he's a Democrat."

    Cotton is doing all he can to prevent that.

    "Senator Pryor has been voting with President Obama more than 90 percent of the time," Cotton told about 50 people who helped open his Little Rock campaign headquarters this weekend. He never fails to mention Pryor's vote for the 2010 health care law, and often cites Obama's support for the 2009 economic stimulus.

    Pryor says efforts to equate him with Obama won't work. "People in Arkansas know that's not true," he said in an interview. "They know me, and they're fairly pleased with the job I've done," he said.

    Pryor promotes his efforts to ease partisan gridlock, such as his role in two-party negotiations to end the October government shutdown. His campaign emphasizes his local initiatives, such as "saving Arkansas State University's ROTC program."

    While Cotton portrays Pryor as indistinguishable from national Democrats, the senator paints Cotton as someone beyond the GOP's normal conservatism, a tea partyer and "outlier" even in Arkansas' all-Republican House delegation.

    In 28 House votes last year, Cotton "was the only Republican in the Arkansas delegation to vote a certain way," Pryor said in an interview at a duck-hunting supply store in Stuttgart. "So he's not only out of touch with Arkansas, he's out of touch with the Arkansas Republican Party."

    In one of those 28 votes, Cotton opposed renewal of a massive farm bill. House conservatives blocked the bill, demanding deeper cuts in food stamp spending.

    Pryor says Cotton's three Republican colleagues were reasonable in supporting the bill, which would help Arkansas farmers.

    Cotton, in an interview, said he wants to tighten eligibility and enforcement rules for food stamps. Congress eventually must resolve its differences to avoid sharp increase in diary prices, he said.

    "I don't think Arkansans should have to pay $8 for a gallon of milk because Washington politicians can't get their act together," Cotton said.

    It's the kind of snappy sound bite that annoys Democrats. Cotton's fellow Arkansas Republicans, they say, were seeking just such a bipartisan accord by backing the farm bill that Cotton opposed.

    Cotton grew up on an Arkansas cattle farm and earned bachelor's and law degrees at Harvard University. He joined the Army, saw combat in Iraq as a platoon leader and also served in Afghanistan.

    Tall, slim and ramrod straight, he is a bit stiffer in public than Pryor. He accepts the tea party label with a caveat.

    "I want to be the candidate of the tea party," Cotton said. He added: "I want to be the candidate of the establishment."

    Brock, the TV host, said Cotton appears thus far to being uniting the state's fractious GOP. But having run only one fairly easy House campaign, Brock said, Cotton, hasn't endured the statewide races that Pryor has.

    Pryor might be able to fend off Cotton because of his political skills "and the good feelings about the Pryor family" in Arkansas, said Rex Nelson, a longtime Arkansas politics reporter before joining Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee's staff.

    However, Nelson said, "as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, it's going to be hard for anyone in Arkansas with a "D'' next to his name."

    By Charles Babington, Associated Press

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    From TV Pool producer Jamie Crawford, Lavrov called the potatoes from Kerry "impressive." (They clearly had a peel.) pic.twitter.com/RkKz6eaXbT

    — Mark Knoller (@markknoller) January 13, 2014

    Secretary of State John Kerry gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov two Idaho potatoes at a meeting in Paris on Monday. Kerry and Lavrov are meeting in preparation for Geneva II peace talks over Syria next week.

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    By Larry Kotlikoff

    Social Security is an insurance policy, not an investment, so don't let thoughts about breaking even influence when you collect your benefits, argues Larry Kotlikoff. Photo courtesy of Tetra Images.

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

    Once again, I'm posing a question to myself this week.

    Question: Dear Larry, I'm having trouble explaining to my friend Fred that thinking about Social Security from a break-even perspective is inappropriate.

    Answer: Dear Larry, man, you ask the best questions. The proprietor of the Business Desk, Paul Solman, surely whispered this one in your ear.

    I've come across many, indeed, far too many people who are absolutely convinced that the break-even period is relevant for thinking about when to take Social Security benefits. Many software programs, including "leading" commercial ones, display break-even analysis.

    "Breakeven" refers to the number of years and months you need to receive extra benefits (which arise from waiting to collect) before you get back more benefits from waiting to collect than you gave up by not taking reduced benefits early.

    MORE FROM LARRY KOTLIKOFF: Why Many Widows Lose Nothing from Taking Survivor Benefits Early

    Associated with the focus on breakeven is the notion that "I can take my Social Security benefits early and invest them in stocks and make more money than I'll get from Social Security." And yet, a third proposition is that we should run Monte Carlo computer simulations to see the chances of doing better on the stock market by taking our benefits now.

    As Paul would be the first to tell you, this way of evaluating Social Security is just plain nuts. (Paul, by the way, is an economist by acclamation. He's interviewed so many boring, pompous economists about so many fantastically dry economic issues, yet retained his marvelous sense of humor, that we've had no choice but to make him an honorary member of our tribe.)

    Anyway, I digress.

    Viewing Social Security as an investment rather than as an insurance policy leads one to think about breakeven, but doing so is actually beyond nuts. It's out-and-out stupid. Don't do it!

    If you feel obliged to think about an insurance product as an investment and consider breakeven, do so with your house. In other words, think about whether it makes sense to buy homeowners insurance on a break-even basis. How? Just compare the money you are giving up in premiums to buy the policy with the very small chance your house will burn down. Next, multiply this small chance by the cost of rebuilding your house. If this expected payoff from the policy is less than the premium, the insurance "investment" fails the break-even test.

    Now, I guarantee that the expected payoff from "investing" in your homeowners policy is less than the premium the insurance company charges you. In other words, I guarantee that you can't break even buying homeowners insurance. The reason is that the premiums insurance companies charge on their various policies include "loads" to cover administrative and other underwriting costs. Thanks to these loads, the payoffs from homeowners insurance, life insurance, car insurance, health insurance or any other type of insurance we normally buy always are less than the premiums we're charged for the policies. Therefore, if we are just focused on breakeven, we should never buy these or any other forms of insurance.

    But that would be crazy. We don't analyze standard insurance this way because we are focusing, properly so, on the worst case scenario: our house burning down, our car getting totaled, developing cancer.

    For better or worse, we aren't insurance companies. We don't have millions of homes that may or may not burn down, we don't have millions of cars that we might or might not crash, we aren't Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day," able to restart our lives every morning. Very few of us can afford to play the odds. And we're in no better position to play the odds when it comes to Social Security's longevity insurance.

    In the longevity sphere, the worst case scenario is, frankly, living too long -- living to our maximum possible age of life, and, as a result, outliving our savings and income. Social Security provides insurance against this worst case scenario. This insurance is safe against inflation and against default. It's also dirt cheap. There is no close substitute for it in the market.

    So Larry, tell Fred to forget about breakeven, Monte Carlo simulations and any other actuarial analysis. Instead, have him focus on the worst case scenario because worst cases happen and we can't assume them away.

    As ever,

    Larry

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


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    The Terror

    When we come full circle to the rose garden in the Imaginary will we remember the Terror

    the names who crimes are invented in order to have something else to kill the king's absent face at the window

    across from the dock the names of the trains that run on time for the first time

    I think of this when I read of the stupidity of princes with breakfast, by midday

    the stock market has made one of them rich and part of my breakfast has bought his lunch

    and paid someone to espalier his roses across an adobe wall they never die, the pronouns

    become so malleable they refer to anyone but never oneself

    something must be exchanged for the privilege of joining a word to its source , something must not fit

    for its replacement to be the wrong size then the Terror begins in the hot weather

    when they drain all the pools and the bidding wars keep them empty the contractor who will inherit the earth

    is figuring out how to do it even as we speak just listen

    Photo by Sophia Davidson

    Michael Davidson is a professor of literature at University of California, San Diego. Davidson has published five other books of poetry, including "The Arcades" (O Books, 1998). "Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems" (Coffee House Press, 2013), published in December, is his first book of poems in 15 years. "The Terror" is reprinted by permission from Bleed Through (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Michael Davidson.


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    The Supreme Court Monday declined to reconsider an Arizona law that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

    The justices, according to SCOTUSblog, refused to hear the case filed by the state of Arizona "without comment and without any noted dissents."

    The ban, signed into law by Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012, was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May 2013. The lower court ruled that the ban violated previous Supreme Court rulings concerning a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy up to the time when the fetus was "viable" enough to live outside the womb -- currently considered around 24 weeks.

    In the appeal, filed by Ariz. Attorney General Tom Horne, the state questioned whether the fetus' "viability", taken from the Supreme Court's previous decisions upholding abortion rights in 1973's Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was correctly used as the only critical factor when deciding on constitutionality. The appeal also included a reference to evidence of fetal pain and whether the previous precedents in two seminal Supreme Court cases should be revisited considering said evidence.

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    GWEN IFILL: There were signs of hope today for West Virginians who have no water service since Thursday. Officials announced a chemical spill near Charleston has largely dissipated, so they're lifting a ban on tap water in stages. We will get the latest details right after at news summary.

    New numbers on the president's health care law show enrollments are weighted towards older Americans. The administration reported today that adults 55 to 64 years old are one-third of the two million plus who signed up. Younger adults account for just under a quarter of the total. Officials hope for a surge of younger, healthier enrollees before the March 31 deadline, to hold down premium costs.

    The day's numbers from Wall Street were down sharply due partly to falling oil prices and to uncertainty about the Federal Reserve's plans. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 179 points to close below 16,258. The Nasdaq fell 61 points to close at 4,113.

     Israel held a state funeral today for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He died Saturday at 85 years old after languishing in a coma for eight years.

    We have a report from Geraint Vincent of Independent Television News.

    GERAINT VINCENT: The coffin of a national hero wrapped in the flag. Ariel Sharon was in so many ways the embodiment of Israel, its rights and its wrongs, its hopes and its fears.

    Outside the Parliament building, statesmen paid tribute to a man who devoted his life to Israel's defense.

    TONY BLAIR, former British Prime Minister: The state had to be protected for future generations. When that meant fighting, he fought. When that meant making peace, he sought peace.

    VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission, a non-breakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now.

    GERAINT VINCENT: Israel remembers a brilliant battlefield commander. So, as Sharon's body arrived for burial at his family's ranch, weapons of war stood ready nearby.

    The funeral is taking place just the other side of those trees on the hill there. And just behind me on the ridge here, the Israeli Defense Force has deployed what it calls the Iron Dome, a missile defense system to protect the funeral from any rockets which might be launched at it from inside Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip, just a few miles away from where Ariel Sharon is being laid to rest.

    It was Prime Minister Sharon who ordered the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, but after a lifetime of confrontation, no one was morning him here.

    "Sharon is buried near Gaza," said this man, "so he can feel our suffering and God can judge him close to us."

    This evening, two rockets were fired over the border, but they fell well short of the ranch where Ariel Sharon may have found peace, but the land is still waiting.

    GWEN IFILL: In Iran, reformists welcomed a plan to scale back the country's nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions. Hard-liners have rejected the deal, calling it a poisoned chalice.

    Meanwhile, U.S. and Russian leaders working on a Syrian peace deal announced today that the Syrian government, and elements of the opposition, will allow humanitarian aid into the country. We will examine Iran's role in Syria and on the nuclear agreement later in the program.

    Anti-government protesters in Thailand tried today to shut down Bangkok. They want to derail elections set for next month, and force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office. The protesters seized key intersections in the heart of the capital, blowing whistles, waving flags and even spreading out picnics. But they insisted they won't go away

    SUTHEP THAUGSUBAN, anti-government protest leader (through interpreter): Whoever is thinking about negotiations, compromise, hoping for a win-win situation, a win for both sides, I tell you now there is no win-win. There can only be one winner. Either I win or you win.

    GWEN IFILL: For the most part, police didn't interfere with the protesters.

    The Supreme Court refused today to hear Arizona's bid to revive a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A lower court struck down the ban last year. The justices also heard arguments over presidential recess appointments. The fight centers on President Obama's nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. We will talk to our Supreme Court expert, Marcia Coyle, later in the program.

    New Jersey Democrats are pressing two new probes involving Governor Chris Christie. A special counsel will investigate the partial closing of the nation's busiest bridge, apparently to punish a Democratic mayor. Christie denies any role in the decision. Separately, a Democratic congressman announced a federal audit of an ad campaign that featured Christie after superstorm Sandy.

    Baseball star Alex Rodriguez filed suit today to overturn his record suspension for doping. On Saturday, an arbitrator ruled Rodriguez must sit out the entire 2014 season. He cited clear and convincing evidence of using banned drugs and obstructing an investigation. Rodriguez denies the charges. His federal suit names Major League Baseball and the players union.

     


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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A few drips of good news greeted residents of West Virginia today, but the fallout from last week’s chemical spill is far from over.

    There's finally relief for some of the 300,000 West Virginians who've been unable to drink, cook or even bathe with tap water for five days.

    Governor Earl Ray Tomblin announced today that test results are now below toxic levels.

    GOV. EARL RAY TOMBLIN, D-W.Va.: The numbers we have today look good, and we're finally at a point where the do-not-use order has been lifted in certain areas. We have made a lot of progress, but I ask all West Virginians to continue to be patient as we work to safely restore service to the affected areas.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: It can't happen soon enough for people who scrounged for ice and bottled water over the weekend. More than 230 visited emergency rooms complaining of exposure symptoms; 14 were admitted. Still, some were undaunted. A local beauty pageant went on as planned.

    WOMAN: We cannot take showers, so some girls are using water bottles to wash their hair, using a lot of dry shampoo, baby powder, lots of hair spray and teasing.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The crisis began Thursday, when 7,500 gallons of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol leaked from a storage tank at Freedom Industries. Some of the substance, used in coal processing, escaped a containment area and ran into the Elk River, just upstream from the region's water treatment plant.

    The breach shut down the water supply in nine West Virginia counties, an area that includes Charleston. The plant is not subject to state inspections, but local leaders now say there were obvious problems.

    KENT CARPER, Kanawha County Commission: You can actually see where there were cracks in it, where the chemical came through it. The condition of the plant was not good. The danger was known by the previous owner and the danger was known to the current owner.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Federal authorities have opened an investigation of the Freedom Industries site.

    Meanwhile, the water company is watching contamination levels downstream.

    JEFF MCINTYRE, West Virginia American Water Company: Water sampling continues on the Elk, Kanawha and Ohio rivers to detect any evidence of the chemical. We expect there will be considerable dilution in the rivers that will work in our favor and mitigate the impact of the spill on the water in Huntington.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: As for Charleston, water officials say the licorice odor may linger for a while, as water service is restored in stages.

    We turn now to Ashton Marra. She is in Charleston and has been covering the spill for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. I spoke with her a short time ago.

    Ashton Marra, thank you for talking with us.

    So, what is the very latest?

     ASHTON MARRA, West Virginia Public Broadcasting: The very latest is now two zones have been approved to open and begin flushing out their homes and their businesses, and able to use water again.

    Now, those zones have been prioritized, as West Virginia American Water president told us earlier today, to zones that include hospitals and the highest population density areas. So zone one and two have been approved to start the flushing process. Both of those include major hospitals.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And tell us in brief what is this flushing process?

    ASHTON MARRA: Basically, the flushing process is a three-step method.

    First of all, you're turning on your hot water faucets for 15 minutes. And then you're turning on your cold water for five minutes, and then you have to go through the process of cleaning and flushing all of the appliances in your home that use water. There's a very, very detailed list, things like washing machines, dishwashers, icemakers, any type of water filters.

    There is this detailed process for each of those appliances. So this is something that is not really very easy. It might not be common sense or there might be things that people could forget. So it's very important for West Virginians who are able to start using their water again to check on those protocols, and West Virginia American Water has made those available.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But once they do this process, they are then able to drink the water?

    ASHTON MARRA: We have been told that once they go through the process, completely flushing out of their homes and their businesses, the water is good for use.

    The tests that are coming out of the treatment facility show that the water is testing at a safe level, safe for consumption, safe for use, safe for bathing. So, anything -- after you get all of that water out of your home system, the water is good to go. No further precautions need to be taken.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Ashton, you have been reporting on this story since it started a few days ago.

    How are people -- finally, how are they holding up?

    ASHTON MARRA: I think people have been frustrated, to say the least.

    This is obviously a hard time for everyone. But I can say that emergency management officials have really been handling this very well. People who are stuck in their homes, the elderly, maybe sick, they haven't had to do anything. They have had water and supplies delivered straight to them.

    Now, as far as businesses go, you have to think about these people who work in restaurants, who are making minimum wage. This is a difficult time for them, because they haven't been working. But we do have some lawmakers who are putting a campaign together, asking West Virginians, as they return to these restaurants, to tip a little bit extra. Think of those people who are struggling to make ends meet and have lost a few days of work and need a little bit of extra help.

    But we are recovering, and we will get there slowly.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know that's good news to everybody involved and all of us watching.

    Ashton Marra with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, thank you.

    ASHTON MARRA: Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: A number of questions have been raised about the regulation and oversight involved in this case and other recent accidents in the region.

    Coral Davenport has been reporting on those as the energy and environmental correspondent for The New York Times.

    Coral Davenport, welcome to the program.

    As we just reported, this plant wasn't subject to state inspections. Why not?

    CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times: Judy, it turns out the plant hadn't been inspected since 1991.

    But that was legal under West Virginia state law. The state law stipulates that, because this was a storage facility, rather than a production or manufacturing facility, it wasn't subject to any regulations, inspections, permitting.

    And so one of the first developments that's come from this is an immediate call to change the state regulation. The governor and the head of the state environment department are talking about introducing some legislation that would at least firm up that inspection process.

    It would add -- you know, add annual inspections to storage facilities. But there are a lot of complaints broadly about the regulatory environment in West Virginia and also West Virginia's history of accidents and disasters related to the chemical and coal industry.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we -- we also just heard the county commissioner, I think it was, said that the current owner of this plant and the previous owner knew, he said, that the conditions were poor in this plant. What is known about the state of this plant?

    CORAL DAVENPORT: Well, that is -- that's sort of slowly unfolding -- or more rapidly unfolding as we go on.

    The attorney general has launched an investigation. And although we don't yet know -- you know, there haven't yet been allegations of violations or any kind of criminal allegations, the attorney general's office did say that, when you have a spill or a disaster, an accident of this magnitude, they're almost certain to find major violations, possibly a violation of the law.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Any evidence of previous accidents there?

    CORAL DAVENPORT: Not that we have seen, you know, not that we have seen from these particular companies.

    What's interesting again is, you know, this facility has a clean record from the EPA, no record of violations whatsoever. But that's also because there haven't -- there haven't been any inspections. So, its record is clean, but there really isn't anything -- you know, there hasn't been any inspections to make that record.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the fact that this is a plant, a storage plant for a chemical, but it's located on a river and very close to a water treatment plant?

    CORAL DAVENPORT: On a river just a couple miles up from a water treatment plant. Again, this is something where a lot of local advocacy groups who have been pushing on this for a while say this is an example of sort of a systemic environment of lax regulations in West Virginia.

    This is an area, the Kanawha Valley is known as Chemical Valley, because the chemical industry is the core central part of its economy. It has major chemical plants, companies like Dow, like DuPont. And these -- these are very influential both in the region and in state politics.

    So this is, you know, kind of one of the reasons that these outside groups are saying, you know, these chemical companies seem to have a lot more influence in weakening regulations than -- you know, than necessarily -- than the push by environmental advocates.

    And, again, this is -- just in this area, this area known as Chemical Valley, this is the third chemical accident in five years.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are going to leave it there, a lot of questions being raised, for sure.

    Coral Davenport with The New York Times, thank you.

    CORAL DAVENPORT: Good to be here. Thanks.

     


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